Trying to put my chopper on the ground

Well, here we are at the start of week three of school. It is hard to believe we are already into September and a new school year has begun. There have been a lot of changes this year. As I have mentioned before, my oldest (Mr. Minecraft or MM) is a sixth grader and the Princess has just started first grade! What happened to my precious little babies? Now they are growing up and way too fast.

Last school year was a little easier. Both my kids were in schools close by and we had a nice little system going. I walked my kids to and from school everyday. I knew what was going on with both of them by staying “in-the-know” as much as I could. And yes, I hovered. And as much as I hate to admit it…I am helicopter parent. Well, not entirely, but I think I have the traits. I have always “loosely” described myself as one. And since that may be the case, I decided to educate myself on what it is and what it means for my kids (and for me). I mean I think its good that I am always there for them. But you know what they say about too much of a good thing.

So, I did what anyone who needs some information on a subject does…I googled it. I really don’t like looking up something that is a bit scary, like anything medical. Because it seems that every time you do a little investigating on the subject, it becomes something horrific. That seemingly innocent bump on your arm may very soon become a large, cancerous tumor that will kill you at any moment. Ok, so I over exaggerated a tiny bit. But why is it that the worst possible outcome is the first thing that usually pops up?

Knowing all this, I decided to just go for it anyway. After typing in “What is a helicopter parent?”, I found several definitions right away. Here is a good one, courtesy of Wikipedia. It said, “A helicopter parent is a parent who pays extremely close attention to a child’s or children’s experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions. Helicopter parents are so named because, like helicopters, they hover overhead. It is also known as over-parenting.” Unfortunately, so far, I fit the bill.

I decided to dig a little deeper. As I did, I found some other nifty names for it. Some are lawnmower parent (uh ok..haven’t heard that one before), cosseting parent (not in my usual vocal, so I looked it up. It means overprotecting.) or bulldoze parent (that sounds rather harsh). Wow the names alone say it all.

While researching even more, this interesting post popped up on the parents.com site. It is called “What is helicopter parenting?” by Kate Bayless. Here’s the link: www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/what-is-helicopter-parenting/. The post is very informative and a good read. Here are some of the highlights from it:
• This term is commonly used for parents of high school/college-aged students, but can apply at any age (like toddlers or elementary school children).
• Examples of over-parenting are arranging class schedules, talking to professors about grades, shadowing child (in reference to the little kids), ensuring child has the right teachers, coaches, activities or friends, and always directing play time and behaviors.
• Why do we hover? Because of fear of dire consequences, anxiety, overcompensation, and peer pressure from other parents (That one was a surprise.).
• Consequences of hovering: Kids could develop low self-esteem, no coping skills, increased anxiety, undeveloped life skills, and a sense of entitlement.

The last thing that post talks about is how to avoid all this. And how a parent can love and take care of their kids without overdoing it. It says that you have to let them do tasks they are able to do physically and mentally. They also need to struggle and fail. We parents are supposed to allow that to happen and help them work through the problem but not solve it.

Ok, now that I have more information on the subject of helicopter parenting, I do feel better about myself. Yes, I do hover and have some of these traits. I’d say my over-parenting is mostly directed toward my daughter, Princess. With MM, I really have done so much better. He is in a new environment (sixth grade and still can’t believe it!) and is really doing well. He gets himself ready and to school without me doing a thing. I’ll admit there are some days where I lapse and hover a bit, but overall I am doing pretty well.

It is a different story with Princess. She is in a new school with all new people. So yes, I do have to meet with her teachers (all of them..gen. ed, special ed, and speech) and will do this often throughout the year. I also shadow her when we go places or do new things. And sometimes, I direct her play time and some of her behaviors. Because of her challenges, her needs are greater right now. So being heavily involved is essential, but maybe not all the time. After reading about all of this, I do see I need to pull back more than I am. I can still be present but not be so overwhelming. She needs to try more things on her own and she can do them.

Starting now, my goal is to really put that into practice. In fact, I started that today. This morning, I dropped Princess at her classroom door and told her bye. Last week, I walked her in the classroom, checked in with her teacher and aide, helped her do the morning routine, and stayed way too long. You know, I hovered. But this morning, I didn’t do any of that. At the door, Princess waved bye to me, went right in and did the morning routine all by herself…just like the other kids. It was so great and I am so proud of her!

I agree wholeheartedly that it is important to let your kids struggle and fail. It is equally important for us, parents, to do what we can to help them through it. But, sometimes that is easier said than done. I find it challenging trying to figure out when to let them solve problems that come up. I guess that is what parenting is. So, the best thing I can do is keep doing what I did today, and trust that my kiddos can handle some of these things.

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No more

I am a mom.  I am white. My husband is white.  We have two boys.  One is Latino, the other is African-American.  That means that both my boys, as they grow older, are more likely than their white friends to be followed by security at stores, “scare” people and/or be stopped by police.  They are more likely to be hurt or killed by those same police officers.  Or hurt or killed by someone with a gun because of the color of the skin.  Once upon a time, an African-American man came up to me as he saw my husband and me playing with our younger son and asked me if I was prepared to raise my son.  I took offense to his question and told him, of course, we were.  We are his parents.  We love our boys with all our hearts. And as any parent, we would do anything to protect them from harm.  The man, however, did have a point.  I am white.  I will never have to face what my boys will have to face because of the color of their skin.  Recently, I heard a story on NPR about an African-American man’s run in with the police in Denver.  Alex Landau had been adopted by a white couple.  They never spoke about race at home.  When Alex was growing up, they lived in mostly white suburbs around Denver. His mother thought that “love would conquer all and skin color didn’t really matter.” At the age of 19, that all changed.  He was stopped for a traffic violation.  After he was stopped, he was patted down.  He had a white friend in the car who was also patted down.  His friend had a joint in his pocket and was put in handcuffs. Once that happened, Alex thought he would be ok.  Then he asked to see a warrant before the police continued the search.  He was severely beaten and almost shot by those officers.   You can read and hear the whole story here. http://storycorps.org/listen/alex-landau-and-patsy-hathaway.  The story really hit home for me. I, too, believe that love is the answer. Unlike the family in the story though, we talk about race in our home.  We have also discussed with our boys and will continue to discuss with them that they will be treated differently in the world because of the color of their skin.  We have told them if they are ever stopped by the police, to act politely, keep their hands in sight, don’t do anything quickly, their lives may depend on it. We also tell them that it is not fair.   Although we as a country have come a long way from the days of segregation, before the civil rights movement, we still have a long, long way to go as seen again in the town of Ferguson, Missouri this week.  Michael Brown who was stopped for jaywalking is dead.  Although I don’t look like his mother, I feel her pain as a mother. That could be my son.  When is this going to end?  How many young men have to die because of the color of their skin before we as a nation say it’s time to stop?  I think it is time for the parents of this country, no matter what skin color, to stand up and say enough is enough.  No more. As parents, these are all our kids.  Until then, I hug my boys tighter and explain to them things that I wish I didn’t have to about the world. But I still do in order to hopefully keep them safe.

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The Chore Chart

dustpan & broomI have been threatening to do a chore chart or list for such a long time. But just kept putting it off. Once in a while, I would get the kids to help around the house. But I never really stuck to it. My son, Mr. Minecraft or MM, claimed school was really hard, time-consuming, and he didn’t have the time to do extra work. And I bought that excuse…hook, line and sinker. And as for my daughter, the Princess, I just didn’t push too hard. On occasion, I would have her help me do something. But, again, I lacked consistency.

Well, my procrastination on this has come back to bite me big time. Now I am the one who pretty much does everything around the house. When summer started, I decided it was time to change all that. And frankly, I am tired of doing all of it. They definitely need to pull their own weight around here. So, I told MM that there was going to be a chore chart. After sharing some of my ideas about it, MM was not very enthusiastic. He claimed none of his friends were doing any chores like I described.

That didn’t sound right to me. I know his friends’ parents. I also know for sure those kids don’t get a completely free ride. Then I found out for sure. I happened to hear MM’s conversation with one of his friends. His friend said that he couldn’t stay and talk right then because he had to go home and clean the toilets. He said he would call MM later when he finished all of his chores.

MM looked at me and groaned. Yep, he was busted alright. “Well now,” I said, “isn’t that interesting? Your friend cleans the toilets. Hmmm…I really like that one.” MM was mortified. Later on, I found out that MM was right. His friends weren’t doing the chores I had talked about earlier. They were doing more! This included cleaning the whole bathroom and mopping floors to laundry and making meals. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Now I was really inspired!

And so, our chore chart was born (much to MM’s dismay). As I was working on it for him, he asked about his sister. What about her? Shouldn’t she be doing chores, too? And I had said that they both needed to do some work around the house. It’s only fair. And you know what, he was completely right. She needs to be treated just like he is. Most of the time she is, but sometimes I tend to give her an easier ride on things. But that won’t help her in the long run. Just because my daughter has a disability, doesn’t mean she can’t do things. The Princess certainly can and has shown that often. Plus, she can make a nice mess like no other. So it is time for her to get in there and do some work.

This has been quite an education on my part. I realized that I am not helping either one of them by doing everything. They need to contribute to our household. Sometimes, I get impatient and just want the task done, instead of waiting and letting them do it their own way. Patience is not a virtue of mine, but I am getting better at it.

Now that the chore charts are done, the kids are beginning to accept and follow them. The chores aren’t hard or complicated. Actually they are really rather easy. The best part is that they are honing their skills and learning a few new ones. It isn’t always smooth sailing but for the most part both of them are doing great.

Next up….summer/school work charts. Oh yea, they have been warned. I expect more groans and complaints, but it won’t be bad at all. And to make sure I don’t go chart crazy on everything, I have made them (and myself) a promise that this will be the last one. Well, maybe.

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My Favorite Momcast…I mean Podcast

13665148371094505635free-grey-button-icons-podcast-md (2)“The podcast for moms who are trying to do it all and then some.”

I have two friends that I look forward to being with every week.  They chat about the challenges of being working moms raising kids who are on the verge of becoming teens.  They deal with homework, IEPs, demanding kid schedules and the general chaos of the whole work/life so-called balance thing” with a great deal of humor.

The weird thing is that I have never met these friends in person.  They are Erin and Kristin, the “Maniac Mommies,” who do a weekly podcast.  I found their show shortly before I returned to work.  And they became my companions during my commute as well as other times, such as late night work sessions.  They helped me get through that very rough transition.  At that time, they were neighbors in a suburb of Boston.  They had started the podcast a few years before when their kids were just toddlers. Since then, Erin has moved to New York State yet, through the wonders of technology, they were able to keep the podcast going.

They each have two kids who are around the same age as my two boys.  Erin has two boys and Kristin has a boy and a girl. Their eldest boys have entered or are entering middle school. One of their kids has dyslexia. Their kids are involved sports and other after-school activities. They both work outside of the home.

When I listen to them, they sound just like my friends and I when we sit around and talk.  They talk about their lives as well as what’s going on in the news, books they are reading, movies/TV shows that they have seen.  They also play voice mails left by their listeners responding to the show. Sometimes, they have a guest on who is usually a mom addressing mom-type issues.

They also host the Maniac Mommies Escape in November of every year at some fabulous place.  At the escape, they have workshops, drink cocktails and offer lots of other fun, relaxing things to do. Last year, they went to Santa Fe, New Mexico.   I actually looked up flight information but couldn’t swing it. Unfortunately, they aren’t going to do it this year.  But hopefully next year they will and I will escape with them!

So if you are a mom (or even a dad) who is doing it all and then some, check out their podcast.  It will be like hanging out with friends. How to listen can be found at their website http://www.manicmommies.com.

And let us know what podcasts you listen to.

 

“The podcast for moms who are trying to do it all and then some” is the line that Kristin and Erin say at the start of each the podcast.

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Summer finally…blah!

PrintIt was inevitable. I knew it was going to happen but later not sooner. After one week of summer break under our belts, I heard it. I’m bored!!! And it happened on day two! My soon-to-be 6th grader (referred to in an earlier blog as Mr. Minecraft or MM for short) announced it. My 6-year-old (Princess) is also showing the signs of tedium. Oh boy!

So what are we to do about it? When asked, they had no real answer or response. It is, of course, up to me to solve this conundrum. I didn’t throw out one of my parent’s go-to responses when I became bored with summer. “Oh you’re bored and need something to do? I can definitely find something for you to do!” That is when a huge chore list would appear. Or “Bored huh? Sounds to me like you need a summer job.” That definitely kept my mouth shut and brain searching for some creative things to do.

The beginning of summer break always is a big adjustment in our house. It especially is for me. Gone are the large chunks of silence, time to get projects done and (since I am a freelancer) work time. Now that summer is here, I have added new jobs to my ever growing list of things to do. Some of them are activity planner, entertainer, shuttle driver, and educator. Oh yes, we still have to fit in some type of schooling to stay on top of things. And all of this takes planning, which isn’t something one can do simply.

It would be great if I could put them both in back-to-back camps. But that isn’t feasible. And despite the upheaval in my routine and the extra jobs, I am really glad to have the extra time with both of them. I want to have it as long as I can. Because pretty soon they aren’t going to be interested in spending time with me. So I am thankful to have it.

Now we just have to get over the hump and get a summer routine going. It is tricky having kids with a big age difference (6 years and 11 years). So I have to make sure our outings have something for both of them. If not, we alternate days and activities (one for MM and one for princess) with the strict agreement that no one will declare that the other’s activity is lame or sucks. That agreement usually gets broken.

I do know that there are worse things out there to complain about. And I am very grateful that right now this is all that I am dealing with. Considering all of the problems out there in the world, I will take boredom any day!

If  you are dealing with some bored children, here are a couple of links to a few site that I found. There are many more to choose from with lots of really creative things to do. So get out there and enjoy before the boredom invades your house too.

Here are the links:

http://redtri.com/

http://brainchase.com/10-ways-beat-boredom-summer/

http://www.sixsistersstuff.com/2013/05/50-outdoor-summer-activities-for-kids.html

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Another Milestone…

free-graduation-clipart-22

Yesterday, Frick graduated from elementary school. It was a bittersweet celebration for me. The kids in his school stood in the corridors and “clapped out” Frick and the 5th graders. Then each of the 5th graders were given a certificate in a graduation-type ceremony. The principal, a truly lovely person, gave a short “commencement” speech about how the “graduates” had been given the foundation to dream big. She also told them to remember that their parents loved and supported them. Each student was called up one by one to receive their certificates and shake both their teacher’s and the principal’s hands. After the ceremony, there was a pizza party with some loud music and a bit of group dancing. Good practice for the future.

The last ceremony like this that I attended was Frick’s “graduation” from pre-school. It seems like that was only yesterday. But that was different. It was so precious. They were just little kids acting like big kids. The ceremony yesterday felt like the true start of things to come.

And these things will be coming faster and faster. The numbers that I had always known kept playing over and over in my head. Frick has been at his elementary school for six years. He will be in middle school for half that amount of time. The time that he will spend in middle school and high school will be just a year longer than the time he spent in elementary school.   And, boy, that six years went by so fast.

Frick’s second week of kindergarten, I went back to work after staying home with my boys for three years. Have I really been back to work for six years? Sometimes, as a working mom, I feel cheated that I don’t get to participate more at the boys’ school. And I feel that even more when I attend events like this at the school. But when I see what a wonderful job the parents who do get volunteer do, I feel so lucky that my boys go to such a greatly supported neighborhood school. It seems that Frick’s middle school also has that same type support as well.

So with another milestone passed, summer begins once again….

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The Dance of Acceptance

dancer1This past school year has been frustrating, scary, wonderful, exciting and challenging. It has been definitely a roller coaster ride. There have been so many extreme ups and downs without a lot of middle ground. Every time I had been asked how school was going for the kids, I usually replied that it was “Well, ok with some good days and bad days.” Which is typical I guess. But I really would have preferred mostly great days!

I still can’t believe we only have a few more days before school is over. My husband and I are stunned how quickly the school year has passed. I mean we are about to have a sixth grader and a first grader! Both of these grades are going to be major transitions for them. First grade is much harder and more curriculum focused than kindergarten. And sixth grade…ugh. We are on the cusp of teenagedom. And as we talked about in the last post…middle school is scary. We are approaching it from a different situation. My son goes to a K-8 school. So he is moving up from elementary, but will be in the same building he has always been in. There are advantages to this school model. He will be transitioning into a whole new situation (new teachers and different, more demanding classes), but will still be with people he knows and who know him. As for my soon-to-be first grader, she will be going to a new school and that will be a whole new ballgame. It will be larger and a new, unfamiliar routine.

Wrapping up the school year is always what I dread the most. Because it is IEP review time! Nothing like stress to start your summer off right. Since both of my kids have IEPs, we double our pleasure with this yearly routine. IEP stands for Individual Education Plan/Program. An IEP is a written legal document that’s developed for each public school child who is eligible for specialized educational services. In order to qualify for one, your child is assessed by a multidisciplinary team to determine if they have a disability and if they require special education or related services to benefit their general education program. Whew, what a long definition (from internet) but I think it fits. In my opinion, it would be nice if every kid had some type of educational plan made up for them. It would highlight strengths, goals and what needs work.

There is quite a difference between by son’s and my daughter’s IEPs and school experiences. In my daughter’s case, it is a dance. A huge one! Her IEP includes a team of about ten people (Gen Ed teacher, Special Ed/Learning Center teacher, Occupational Therapist, Physical Therapist, Speech teacher, a district representative, Vice Principal, School Psychologist, and finally my husband and myself!). My son’s team is usually 3-4 people tops (his teacher, myself, my husband, Learning Center teacher). My daughter’s review is tense, stressful, hard, highly emotional and very opinionated. My son’s is easy and slightly tense at times but overall highly positive. My daughter’s IEP took two days and about four hours to complete. My son’s took about 45 minutes.

Why the difference? Well, my daughter’s disability is different from my son’s. Hers is more profound and she does have more needs than he does. We also feel that the school does not see them the same way. My son is viewed as intelligent and capable. The view of my daughter is vastly different. Because of her needs and struggling communication skills, the focus tends to shift towards the negative. Her struggles always take the spotlight. Yes, they have to be discussed and reviewed. But it is vital to talk about progress and growth (which she has had this year). Only then can you set goals for the next year to help her reach her full potential.

As with all IEPs, the most stressful part is left until the end…placement! As I mentioned earlier, this is all a dance. With my son…not so much. There is no question about where he will be next year or the years after that. He is fully included, accepted, and his placement is never questioned. He has help along the way but there is never a doubt that he will succeed. But his disability is easier to manage. It is hard for him (no doubt) but staff/teachers are there and willing to help. My daughter, on the other hand, has harder road to travel down. People are not so willing to jump right in there and make things successful. And placement for her will always be in question. And that is where the dance comes in.

The dance is tricky and complicated. You can’t just suddenly bust a move or break into a spontaneous slam dance (homage to my flying mom pants partner). You can’t be demanding, hostile, angry or aggressive. That gets you nowhere. This has to be more like a classical ballet or a waltz. Planning, strategy, and subtleties are the keys. You have to think it through, choose your words carefully, and be prepared. That way you can ask for things to be in place and usually get what your child needs. You do have to ease your way in because there are a lot of personalities and emotions to deal with. But if the whole team is working together (which is the ultimate goal), then you can have a successful outcome.

When we went into this whole IEP experience with my daughter, my husband and I felt like we were really prepared. We had been to classes, seminars, workshops, etc. We are highly involved in support groups, school groups, and the PTA. My husband is even a board member for the Special Ed PTA. So we thought, we got this. After all, we had already been through one IEP before with our son. His was a cake walk, so clear and simple. It went great. Even my daughter’s kindergarten IEP went fairly well. The placement part was super scary and hard. But everyone was in agreement, goals set, and supports requested. She was accepted and fully included in gen ed. But even then we danced.

This year’s IEP for my incoming first grader was way different.  Since first grade really is the start of their true academic school life, we knew this IEP was going to be quite different from the last one. We had to hash out all of the goals and specifics before we would even come close to placement discussion. It was heated, emotional, and draining. We left part 1 of her IEP uncertain of how the team was feeling. No one would state their opinions and feelings clearly and concisely. When we got home, my husband and I felt like we needed a decoder book just to figure out what some of the team members was actually saying. But we kept a positive outlook and geared up for part 2 (which we had to wait a whole week for…painful to say the least).

IEP, part 2 begins. Everyone was refreshed, caffeinated, and ready for action. After finishing up all of her goals, supports and objectives, we got to the dreaded part of the whole thing, her placement. It was time for discussion and voting for either full inclusion (like she had this year) or a self-contained classroom. Everyone had two minutes to speak their piece and then cast their vote. The voting went as I had expected. It was almost split down the middle. The last person to vote and talk was the district’s special ed representative. And I would say his statements changed the direction of her placement.

The ones who voted for self-contained class felt that with her limited verbal communication skills and the smaller, quieter setting, a self-contained class was the answer. Their feeling was that she needed that academically but not socially. And that she wouldn’t progress in general ed setting. You see, meticulous notes were taken about my daughter’s progress this whole school year by her teacher. And these notes were referred to often during the meeting. What was interesting was that all of their documentation reflected progress, major progress. She had lots of struggles through the year (most kindergarteners do struggle). But she had some great, great progress (one of those has been her verbal skills). Yes, she is talking way more than ever after being around her classmates.

And the school district’s special ed representative recognized my daughter’s growth. He totally surprised us when he said that there wasn’t any hard evidence out there that showed that a person with a disability can only succeed (academically) in a self-contained classroom. A person with a disability (with the proper supports in place) can be successful in a general ed classroom. That is the key. The proper supports have to be in place. And based on all of the information at the meeting, there was proof that she has been successful.

In regards to fully including my daughter in school, I have been asked lots of questions about it. “It’s hard so why do it?” But the most surprising question I was recently asked was, “Who are you really doing this for?”  At the time, it also took me by surprise. It’s like when someone asks you this out-of-the blue question you aren’t prepared for. At the time, I scrambled around and said “for my daughter of course.” But now I would answer that question very differently.  So who are we doing this for? We are doing for everyone (my daughter, us, her school and her community). Everyone gains from this experience. My daughter learns how to live in and be a part of a community. Her classmates learn about differences in people, tolerance and kindness. And we definitely need more of that in this world. It is a win, win in my book!

Look, I am all for self-contained classrooms, too. There is definitely a need out there for them. And who knows what is going to happen down the road with my daughter. My beef about it is that most people think everyone with a disability belongs in there. It is not a “one size fits all” situation. Everyone (with and without disabilities) is a unique individual and needs to be treated that way. It has to be what works best for that person. If they need a quieter setting to be successful, then so be it. But if they don’t, then give them a chance to be included and succeed.

Now my daughter will have that chance. She will be a fully included first grader next school year. It is exciting and frightening all at the same time. With all of her supports in place, I know she will be successful. It will be hard but we have to give it a try. And as for my soon-to-be sixth grader…he will be equally successful. It will be a definite challenge dealing with a middle schooler. Are we up for it? I hope so.

 

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