I’m literally driving around the country- traveling through space and time.
Back on August 2nd! I have nice news …
In the meantime, please feel free to read older blogs of mine and some of the excellent blogs on the Blogroll!
I’m literally driving around the country- traveling through space and time.
Back on August 2nd! I have nice news …
In the meantime, please feel free to read older blogs of mine and some of the excellent blogs on the Blogroll!
I watch my happy, chirpy son these past few days, and I wonder how he can switch so fast from one extreme to another- how he can change his mood, his outlook and his behavior that leaves the rest of us gasping. And exhausted.
Sunday was the day before James was to come join us. Camp is over, which means that there is no schedule, there is no routine and there is no structure. Which means that Ray was completely beside himself.
My mom and I took the children to the Santa Fe Children’s Museum this past Sunday. It was relatively quiet, and Elizabeth was in her element- face painting- ahhh the sensuality of that activity! Bubbles- ahhh- the sensuality of that activity! And designing roll patterns for balls to roll down- ahhh- the intellectualism of that activity! She waited, patiently, for her turn on the rock climbing wall, and didn’t even sulk when the place closed before they could get to her. She played with the puppets, played with the concaves of sound that transported whispers over a huge distance. She remembered when she made fairy houses two years ago and was deeply confused because she knew, she truly knew that fairies weren’t real, and yet the adults- the ones who knew better- were telling her to make small houses for these wee creatures. She made them, and then proceeded to look for fairies everywhere. This past Sunday, she chuckled at her little-girl self who didn’t recognize the line between imagination and reality. Elizabeth had a wonderful time.
Ray… Ray stood in the middle of the room and rocked. I have never in my memory seen him literally wringing his hands from anxiety and rocking side to side. Rocking, rocking. Watching, watching. I sat down at the side and he sat next to me, curling up his arms around his head like a pretzel and rocking for several minutes. I talked- using my chatter so that he could “see” what was around him, so that the stream of words could help him ease back from what ever abyss he was staring into. “Look Ray, see the little girl lifting the bubble wands? She’s got a triangle-shaped one! It’s amazing how even a triangle shape makes a funny-shaped curved bubble! And my goodness- I can see the albino frogs from here- they sure have white bellies, don’t they? Do you see the balls moving down those wavy things? That’s using friction and force when they crash into each other. See how the two balls stop dead when they crash? When they’re going the same speed, neither one has enough force to move the other one anywhere…” I chattered, pulled all of my long-forgotten physics knowledge off of my memory shelf and tried to reach my child.
He watched for over an hour, until the rhythms of animals eased him out of his scary place. He watched a snake eat a mouse, and while I was grossed out, the normalness of eating, the basic necessity of eating, brought him out of his shell. He finally interacted with the pin activity where you press all of the plastic pins in and then go around to the other side and press parts of your body against it. It’s a very sensual, pin-pricky activity, and one that he pressed his hands in- again and again. Talk about being on pins-and-needles…
And the next day, he woke up chirpy. Monday, the tension was eased. He was happy to go and get James from the airport. His waiting for Daddy was over. He was resistant to eating, of course (some things never change), but he was back to “Ray”. I, however, am haunted by the vision of his overwhelming anxiety as he rocked and rocked, wringing his hands. He might have recovered, but I will take a little time.
Who am I today?
Elizabeth has always been amazing with her observations. Since she was small, she would watch other children and television and mimic. She took echolalia to a whole new level when she would mimic conversations- try them on for size- repeat, and repeat again. When people asked her questions, she would answer, not with the “truth”, but with a conversation she had heard before. When she was four years old “What is your name?” might elicit “Elizabeth”, but it would just as likely elicit “Dora”, or “Ariel”, or the name of the little girl in daycare. Once she learned to talk, around age 3, she quickly learned that conversations were expected- that they were what other people wanted. And so, she learned to respond. But she never quite knew what response it was that they wanted.
Her behavior has often mimiced other children’s as well. When she was five, she hung around “Trudie”, a little girl who had some severe behavioral issues. Trudie’s mother was very nice, and although we weren’t “friends”, and since I certainly cannot be one to judge, I encouraged the relationship. Although we never said the words aloud, I wondered if Trudie was on the spectrum as well- she was odd, socially behind, and ohhh- the tantrums. However, her mother was in the middle of adopting another child and going through a divorce, so I was happy to provide support however I could.
Until the day the girls snuck into the kindergarten classroom after school, when they were supposed to be in Aftercare at the school, and proceeded to dismantle it- dumping trash over, writing on the walls and throwing things off of the shelves. When the teachers came in the next morning, they almost called the police. Beyond the issue of adult supervision (where WERE the grownups, and how could two little girls have snuck away and not been missed?), I was deeply concerned when Elizabeth’s response to “But WHY?”, was “Trudie thought that it was funny!”. Elizabeth did not realize that the teachers would be upset- she did not realize that she would get in trouble- it did not occur to her- only that Trudie thought that it would be funny. There was no concept of “right” or “wrong”.
Now, I’m a good fan of Lawrence Kohlberg,’s stages of Moral Development that says that children of that age do not have a sense of “Right” or “Wrong” at that age- only a sense of “Will I get in trouble?” If the answer is “Yes”, then it’s “wrong”, and if the answer is “no”, then the answer is “right”. It made me so sad that Elizabeth did not/could not think to even ask “Will I get in trouble?”, but only copied her friend’s behavior. And let me assure you- she did, indeed, get in trouble.
Convinced that I had the next juvenile delinquent on my hands, I quickly ended that friendship. No more playdates, no more time together outside of school. I didn’t want to abandon that little girl, but I was thinking as a Mommy Tiger- and if I had a child who going to follow others and I still had some control over her friendships, then I was going to help find friends who could be good role models. Ironically, Trudie’s mother immediately stopped calling as well, so apparently we both figured out that the two together were a bad combination. I didn’t know whether to be relieved or offended.
Since then, Elizabeth has been a good child, a very good child, an almost TOO good child. She didn’t sass, she didn’t get in trouble very often. The worst thing she does is pick on her brother. But she still reflects the people around her.
When her friends got into baby dolls, she carried them around. When her friends played Barbies, she got a bunch of them and dressed and undressed them, with no semblance of play. When Jack, her brother’s friend got obsessed about Legos, she played Legos, too. When Emily loves dogs, she loves dogs. There always were some constants- swimming, math, babies, and putting things in her mouth.
Even her accents shift. In Kentucky, when talking to the little girl who had a deaf mother, Elizabeth lost her clarity-clarity that had been hard-won with four years of speech therapy. When she talked with Miss Vicki, she takes on an Ohio accent. When she hangs out with her friends in Georgia, she gets a Georgia country accent. And most annoying of all, her vocal accents are also taking on a Disney accent.
I hear the accents and intonations of Hannah Montana in her voice now. I hear the sass of Selena Gomez. I hear the angst of Taylor Swift. I hear the California tones and the exact conversations. Often these days, I will overhear Ray say “You got that from Hannah Montana!” I hear her reaching for new models in her conversations now. We have clamped down on Disney watching, but its effects are significant.
This summer, when she is on vacation and taken out of her comfort zone, out of her “place” on the Circle, out of her circle of friends, she is unsure how to act, and so she mimics Disney. She has changed her name- she is “Call me Ellie”, and she is choosing clothes that are pure, unadulturated attitude. Cute, but old for her years. She’s becoming a wannabe teenager right in front of me.
I know that fourth grade is a tough year for girls. I’m actually rather amused that she’s hitting this developmental step right on time. They are starting to grow up and are trying on teenager angst for size. Warming up their parents for the real show later. I’ve taught fourth grade girls; it’s not an easy age.
And I’m torn- I’m torn between being relieved that she’s growing up on time, and frustrated that she is such a mirror. I’m torn between being annoyed at the materialism and self-centered attitude of her clothing choices, and admiring of her fashion sense. These two conversations pretty much sum it up- both in the last 24 hours.
Elizabeth Ellie: I want a job where I can dress my baby in really cute clothes all the time
Me: Really? I would hope that you would want your child to be a really nice child, to help other people. It’s what I want for my children.
Ellie, without missing a beat: Well, it’s a good thing you have Ray. Did I mention that she has perfect comedic timing?
And today in the car, Ray said “I miss Elizabeth. I don’t like Ellie. Ellie just wants to put on lip gloss.”
Elizabeth had a form of autism I could deal with, I could manage, I could control. Ellie’s autism… Ellie’s autism looks similar- baby fixation, echolalia, all things oral. But this is a while new world… And one I have to learn to manage without controlling.
Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun- Rudyard Kipling
And girls with mild autism who are on a mission. My mom asked Elizabeth and Ray to weed her dry, hot rosebed for $2, to be split between them. Ray chopped weeds with a spade for about 20 minutes and then started complaining- “I’m hot…. This is boring… Why do we have to weed? This is the desert…. ” and announced he was finished. Mamamum will pay him $.45.
Elizabeth, who really wants to go to Disney, continued to pull- and pull- and pull. Every single small speck of weed was gone. She admired their colors as she pulled them out- little succulents with green tops and purple undersides. She developed a system- holding a bowl in one hand, pulling with the other one, and then emptying the bowl when it was full. She took a sniff and said “Yum, Mommy- that smells good!” She sat for hours, crouched in a position that I am unable to achieve, but is oddly reminiscent of Jess’s daughter, Brooke– whom we do not know, but who also crouched for hours at the seaside. Repetitive behaviors. Joy in the small, sensual thrill of finding, of pulling, of cleaning. Mamamum will pay her $1.55 for her work, but there was more joy in the perfection of the task than in the dollars.
And because of autism, my mother’s flower beds are weeded. She is loaded with sunscreen, and it is hot, but I watch my daughter take pleasure in her day- out in the noonday sun.
I just read the post over on Autism Speaks about Sarah Shaffer, a young woman from New York who wanted to give back to her community, and chose autism as her “cause”. She works with Autism Speaks 2 Young Professionals, and they have raised a tremendous amount of money for the organization and for research and for education. It’s all good. And on August 5, there is a party from 7:00-10:00pm to raise money that is going to be held on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Tickets are $75.
And just like that, reading her post, I was taken back to BA days, the Before Autism days. The days where on a whim, I could go out dancing. I could ask the DJ to play Britney for me (she- and I- have been around a while…). I could laugh at myself dancing with “unprofessional” moves. I could plan an activity from 7-10 and move on to another party, another band, another night of fun. Although I have never lived in New York, I, too, was a young, professional woman of twenty-something who cared and wanted to make a difference. I could do good, feel good, and be good- and look good while doing it all.
And I, too, had causes. I helped animals, I helped the environment, and I helped the library. I looked at my world and knew that there were so many things that needed help- too many needs and not enough money. I was young and relatively untouched by these things and who better to do the hard work of cleaning and advocating and standing at tables to get signatures than me? And so I went to fundraisers and I signed petitions and I danced. I knew that I was lucky.
And then… and then autism hit. And then I truly learned that behind all of those fundraisers, all of that work, all of that joy of doing good- there was a reality that I didn’t want to face, or even imagine, when I was young. I learned that there were families, just like mine- who had done all of the “right” things, who were facing dreams deferred, who were staring at an abyss that I had no idea existed when I was young. I learned that there were families who have learned to laugh at things that I would have cried over when I was young. I learned that a shower and clean clothes are my definition of “dressed up”- unlike the full makeup and perfect hair I used to have when I was young. I also learned that there is joy mixed with tears in small steps, and tears mixed with joy in large leaps, and that the emotions are much more complex than I understood when I was young. I learned that there are an awful lot of children worse off than mine and that there are shades of gray along this spectrum that I never knew existed when I was young. I learned that I’m too tired and I’m too drained to even imagine dancing all night long like I did when I was young. I learned just how lucky I am.
And so, to those Young Professionals, I say “Thank you” and “Enjoy”- enjoy being able to contribute, enjoy making a difference, enjoy dancing. Enjoy being young.
There’s so much to say and so many things I want to blog about- the fancy dish that really was tuna casserole and reminded me of labels; Ray’s missing tooth and his belief in the tooth fairy; and Elizabeth’s mirror personality that is reflecting unusual things from camp, but the reality is that I’m too tired.
I’m deep into three big writing projects- a book and two grants- and one of the grants was due today, so I’ve been up until 2:00am working on it for more days than I want to think about. The other two are looming (I’m working on it, Lacey!) and I’m running on coffee and energy and just pure love of what I do. This is my summer bliss- I get to focus on what I love to do all day, take a break to feed and play with my mother and children when they come home from work and camp, and then go back to the computer. The deadline drives me; the pressure makes me problem-solve and the intricity of the projects fuel me. I flirt dangerously close to mania… and the lack of sleep is a problem.
I wanted this to be a post about sleep disorders, because sleep underlies so many, many problems. Lack of sleep fuels Elizabeth’s autism, it sends Ray into a literally twitchy state. It aggravates James’ ADHD and makes me a mean mommy, a mean person. I wanted this to be a post about sleep disorders, but I’m too tired to think much about it.
But while I worry about and think about and feel my thoughts flit about sleep, my daughter is not having these same issues.
My daughter is sleeping on the floor. And not just any floor- a cold, hard tile floor- next to the dog’s crate. She got mad at Ray, sharing a room with her, two nights ago and took her blankets off in a huff and flounced out into the hallway, where she made herself a nest. I figured that she would be back in her bed within minutes. Within minutes, she was snoring- asleep in the middle of the hallway. That was two nights ago. Last night, she went back to her spot, right in the middle of the hallway, where I have to step over her to go to the bathroom, where I had to move her to let the dog out one last time before I went to bed. She’s not complaining. She’s not achy.
I asked her “Why” this morning and she just shrugged. “I like it,” she said, unable to find the words to explain why she would choose a hard tile floor with no pillow beyond Bunny over a bed. Getting away from her brother? Wanting to feel grounded? Wanting to be close to me? Wanting not to miss anything going on in the house? Wanting to feel the coolness of the tile? And once again, I find myself trying to guess Elizabeth’s motivations, trying to see through the sensory experience to the anxiety? the anger? the fear? the novelty? that she doesn’t have the words to tell me.
All I know is that if she’s sleeping, it’s working for her. And I will not be joining her.
When I woke up this morning my girlfriend asked me, ‘Did you sleep good?’ I said ‘No, I made a few mistakes.’
Fear paralyzes; curiosity empowers. Be more interested than afraid.- —Patricia Alexander, American educational psychologist
of a duck. Hey- it worked. He got up on the horse today and curiosity won the day.
That’s my cowboy… Fighting off dragons with the help of his white steed, um, duck.
From my Iphone’s list for our trip…
After a three day road trip, we have made it to Santa Fe. And I have to say, it was rather nice- long, but nice. Even the children enjoyed it. As we pulled onto Highway 285, one hour from my mother’s house, after three days of driving, Ray said “That seemed like 10 minutes, Mommy!” While I can’t say that 1700 miles, 28 hours of driving, 3 days, and two motel’s worth of driving seemed like 10 minutes, it also was a nice way to get into a bubble and just drive.
James and I have taken our children on numerous cross-country trips. Almost every summer, we have driven to Santa Fe from the East Coast. When James was doing consulting in California, he drove the children to the West Coast when he went to settle in. We’ve driven up and down the East Coast. We put over 100,000 miles on one car in 3 years. And we pride ourselves that the children do not use a DVD player or any electronic games to entertain themselves.
When James is driving, I read to the children. We recently read “Harriet the Spy” and “Percy Jackson” on our treks this past year. Because I was doing the driving this time, I brought them books, and coloring books and crafts. As a result of this trip, Elizabeth made seven potholders and Ray read “The Cay”. We play a game where we each take turns picking a song from my Iphone and we all sing it loudly. This trip will be indelibly connected to “Say Hey, I Love You” by Michael Franti for all of us. We talk. We make up stories. We learn about time zones. We practice multiplication tables. We swim in motel pools. We eat bad food and we laugh. There are no deadlines, no work, no pressures, no autism, no Tourette’s, and no one else. There’s just Mama and Elizabeth and Ray- and Bailey Dog- barrelling on down the road.
Even our pets are good travelers. Dog Bailey found her spot on the passenger seat floorboard, and other than a pained look when we hit the bad roads of Oklahoma and when the “Bam” from “Smooth Criminal” would be too loud, she was a trooper. She pottied when we stopped, she settled down in the motels. The children laughed and laughed when she got unhappy at the bouncy roads and we were off with a story about the “report” that Bailey would like to make.
We watched the coastal plains of GA give way to the rolling hills of the Ozarks to the flatness of the Great Plains to the mesas of New Mexico. We saw the transitions, the road bumps and the accents shift. We learned that while most people may live in cities, there is an awful lot of vast space in this country of ours.
And this enjoyment- this relaxation- this not-having-anywhere-to-be feeling meant that although we were tired when we arrived, it didn’t feel like the stress when we fly. We were rested, adjusted and we had the context of the place by the time we got here.
Driving is a bit like understanding a situation, a person, a place. Driving is comprehension. Flying- flying is like living with labels. JAX to LAX. DAL to SDF. ADHD to LD. Autism and Tourettes. The labels tell you where you are, but not how you got there.
We had the treat of getting there, of knowing. And the children’s understanding of Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico is so much richer as a result. I wish that professionals- doctors and teachers and therapists could also understand the importance of the context, the way. Sometimes, it’s not the destination; sometimes it’s the road you travel.
And I hope that I can always remember the value of the trip together.
I had one of the most amazing teaching experiences this past month- the kind that sustain you and reinforce that I am in the right field. I taught a class called “Diversity in the Classroom”- for the first time ever. It’s a required course for people who are thinking about being teachers- and so there is a wide mix of “maybe I want to be a teacher… or a nurse… or something with kids?”, to “I’m going to be an elementary school teacher”, to “I love English, so I guess I’ll get a teaching degree”, to “I heard this was supposed to be an easy class”. I’ve been teaching a long time, but this course was new to me, and the content “hot”, so I had prepped and prepped and prepped.
June 4– Room 213- blank walls. 1:00pm. Hot. The class started off inauspiciously. 25 students. 8 African-Americans. 4 males. Needless to say, that was exactly how the class was laid out geographically in front of me. The males on the edges of the aisle, African-Americans on one side, and white females on the other. I couldn’t have asked for a better sociological experiment if I had tried. “Oh wow- this is either going to be an amazing class, or they’re going to lynch me,” I thought as I stared out at a group of tired, crabby college students who were not, needless to say, excited to be spending every Tuesday and Thursday and Friday from 1-4:30 for four weeks in this hot, stuffy room. They perked up a bit when I informed them that, in fact, they would not be spending Fridays in this classroom, but having online discussions about the readings. Part of their grade was participation- both in class and online.
And so I waded in. I went over the syllabus. I reviewed the expectations. And then, we got to know each other. I asked them to share the stories of their names. One woman’s name is the result of her dad’s poor handwriting on a fax. Another is after her dad’s old girlfriend- a name originally unbeknownst to her mother. Another was named after her grandmother. Another, after what her parents thought was an unusual name- a name that was shared by three others in the class and countless others across campus. Humor and family stories and meanings began to creep out as people shared. And they were willing to share. We talked about how important names are- how they are part of your family history and part of your culture, and part of where and who you come from.
We talked about perspectives. I showed them my cell phone- a smart phone on one side, white plastic cover on the other. I asked two males from across the aisle from each other what they saw. They discussed how they “knew” it was a phone, but what they saw was just different parts of the phone. Different aspects. Different interpretations. And then, I brought up two women- one from each side of the room, and asked them what I could see from my perspective. With awkward glances and a literal step of discomfort backwards, they took turns muttering, “The class… it’s divided… blacks on one side… whites on the other…”. And we all stood there in discomfort, realizing that people tend to sit next to people who look like themselves, that you tend to find people who act like you do. And we talked about how this class would break down some comfort zones and that by recognizing differences, you might become uncomfortable. It is to be expected. It is going to happen. And in this class, I asked them to sit somewhere different every day so that they could see the class from different perspectives; so that they could see the class next to someone else.
And then, we went outside. I had them pick a blade of grass- one blade of grass. They got to “know” their grass for one minute. Then, they threw their blade of grass into a pile- a small pile of 30 blades of grass and I asked them to find their own personal blade of grass. Within 30 seconds, they had each found their individual blades. And we talked about how among a group that all appears the same, there are still differences; there are still things that make their blade of grass unique. And how this class was going to look at big differences, big labels and big groups, and how group membership was important, but so was individuality. And therein lies the balance of teaching.
And they listened. And they thought and they participated.
Month of June- After this amazing beginning, the class continued to blow me away. Their online discussions were rich and full. They read chapters on disability and cultural differences and language issues and gender differences. We used Paul’s Wheel of Reasoning to analyze a variety of articles from multiple points of view. Perhaps the most exciting part was that a number of philosophical differences emerged. There was the guy who was deeply conservative. The girl from a very conservative background who was beginning to think her own thoughts. “My family would kill me if they read this,” is how she ended her final paper. The very liberal girl. And they continued to listen. And they continued to dialogue and respect each other. It was a community of thought- not a commune with one single thought. They followed the ground rules established at the beginning. They put aside their differences and focused on becoming teachers. They sat all over the classroom, which made passing out papers challenging for me, but I was happy to see new discussions and new relationships forming.
June 29– And then- and THEN, they presented their “Cultural Autobiography”- an assignment in which they were to discuss their family background, family cultural values, and how those values might conflict with others. I asked them to make it visual, NOT a paper. I asked them to present it like a science fair, so that we could walk around and talk about it, rather than be “formal”. I asked them to think about how they are shaped by their families. I asked them to understand others by understanding themselves. I had no idea what to expect.
And what I got was true sharing. What I got was in-depth understanding. Even from the ones who had blown off the assignment and just brought in “stuff” to share- even from them, I got insight and humor and sharing and fellowship and discussion of how they were individuals and yet proud of, and part of their families. We learned about the woman whose family had been illiterate for so long, and she was the first to go to college, and so she made a scrapbook- the written down story of her family’s oral history. We learned about the woman whose family “started” with a slave woman and her master, and how there is no history before then, but every single member of the family is accounted for after them- and the importance of reunions. The power of their name. The man from Central America who traced his art and his path to Southeastern Georgia. We learned about a woman whose family is from here, but she grew up in Germany because her dad was in the military, so she is from here, but not of here- how she sees the world differently than her family who has never left. We learned of one man’s humility that he learned from his family who comes from poverty, but that they have a strong sense of self-reliance. How they farm and they value education as a means of freeing yourself. Another woman made a scrapbook of her family and shared some of the family tensions that strain at those bonds.
We learned each other’s stories and histories and values that were different and shared. We learned about each other as people. As more than the roles of students, more than race, more than gender. I thanked them for their honesty and that I was humbled that they would share to that degree.
July 1- We came back together for the final exam, and I was struck at what I saw. The class was all mixed-up. There were no patterns of gender, age, or race to be seen in the seating . They were still talking about the presentations and asking more questions to each other. I thanked them again for the experience and I asked them how this would impact their teaching. Their answers made me teary.
“I will absolutely do this with my class. It’s so important to see kids as individuals, but to respect where they come from.”
“I don’t understand teachers who say that a diverse classroom is a problem. There is so much to be learned from so many different kinds of kids”.
“I used to see us all as grass, but now I see us as the different blades of grass. I get what labels help us do, but I also see how labels are only a starting point.”
“We were able to share because you modeled listening. I know that I can make that difference in my classroom, too.”
Sometimes, teaching is learning. I learned that with respect and trust, you can accomplish a great deal in a class. I learned that disability and race and cultural differences can be celebrated. I learned about the value of relationships and the power of reaching and teaching. I learned why I am a teacher of teachers.
— and those of you lucky enough to have these college students as your child’s teacher in a few years? I am glad that they spent June in Room 213.