Teacher Professor

June 30, 2011

Expanding and Tethering

Filed under: Autism,Gifted,Home Things,Twice-exceptional — Teacher Professor @ 8:48 pm

Last night, for the first time ever, I put my little girl, my baby, my first-born, on a plane that took her across the ocean- far, far away from me. And for the first time, I understood what my mother felt when she hugged me goodbye as I took my first steps away from her. My daughter may be across the ocean, but I am tethered to her in a way I never quite understood before.

Back in January, I was looking for ways to celebrate James’ 50th birthday. “0″ birthdays are big deals in our family.  I was playing with the idea of using fabulous deals available on travelzoo.com, a site that is designed to torture me.  And then… the car died.  Big bills came due.  Money became tighter.  So- no family trip to Ireland or San Diego, or really even Disney, a relatively close 3 hours away.  At the same time, Vicki decided to go and visit her uncle who is a scientist at Cambridge… in England.. for a month.  And she invited all of us to go… All of us.  For a month.

Heck, YES!  An opportunity to stay in England for FREE?!  I was all over that- until I looked at airline prices.  For all of us.  Which, given our financial limitations, meant that there was enough money for… one.

I briefly considered going.  Running away from it all, leaving the children, leaving James to take care of them.  For a month.  Leaving autism and Tourette’s and tantrums and book due dates and deadlines and…. all of behind… for a month.  Far away- across the sea…. ahhhh.

And the responsible mommy, the one who adores her children, the one who knows that such a break would break too much had to decline. But I could give Elizabeth the opportunity.

For Elizabeth, you see, is a traveler.  She has been on planes since was 3 months old.  She adores the planning, the organization, the feeling of airplanes.  New places do not scare her.  I have distinct memories of her interpreting the symbols in Switzerland and navigating us through the maze of an international airport.  At the age of 3.  She can filter out noise and extraneous “stuff” and find the important details.  Similar to her abilities with hidden pictures and puzzles, she is able to visually locate and identify what she wants to find.  In so many ways, autism works for her now and highlights her abilities.

For months, she and Vicki have been planning this.  She was excited that she would miss the 4th of July- fireworks are not her thing.  They will go punting on the Thames.  They will take tea. They’ll go see Phantom of the Opera- live- in London.  They’re going to see “Much Ado About Nothing”- at the Globe Theater.  And then, Vicki found an opportunity to go to Paris.  As in, not Texas.  As in France.  Paris- the romance of it is just amazing.  I found Grace Potter’s song “Ooo la la” to become her anthem.    And they’re going over Bastille Day- which means that Elizabeth won’t miss the fireworks- they’ll just be in a French accent.  She’s been practicing French- badly, but learning that there are different ways to say “Hello”.  I am now “Maman”.

I have marveled watching her expand her horizons.  So many people have asked me “How could you let her go?” and my response has always been, “How could I not let her go?”  I trust Vicki a whole lot more than I would trust some sleep-away camp counselor.  Vicki understands her need to sleep, her need to reduce stimulation when she’s overwhelmed, her need to plan and have structure. And it’s LONDON!  And PARIS!!   It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  And I’ve been battling wild envy at the same time that I’m feeling so grateful that my daughter has come this far that she can do this- and that the opportunity came at a time when she is ready to learn about a bigger world.  I can’t allow my own fears to get in the way of her growing up.

I helped her pack, full of pride, full of joy, tinged with “Can I go, too?” and a small dribble of sadness at missing her.  So many people expressed that they would be afraid; that they would be lonely; that they couldn’t let their daughter go.

Somehow, I am strangely not anxious.  I realized why when I was hugging her goodbye, and I realized that I was acting like my mother- and I finally understand the mix of emotions.

**********

When I was 10 years old, I spent two weeks with my father, my step-mother, and my half-brother. I went off for the longest I had ever been away from home.  I was nervous, but it ended up being a lovely summer of learning how to play tennis, learning that you can drink tea with cream, the movies “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” and “Superman”, and staring in the mirror with my brother as we marveled over how similar our faces were.  I got letters from my mother almost every day- letters that were full of the small details of our home.  Stories about the cat, stories about the weather.  Stories that let me know that she loved me, she was thinking of me, and that I always had a place at home.  Even as I was exploring new places, I always had a place of my own.  That level of security grounded me.  It never occurred to me that my mother was very consciously letting me explore at my own pace.

****

As I followed Elizabeth and Vicki at the airport last night- close, but not hovering; there if she needed me, but far enough away to let her try it on her own, I realized I must be feeling what my mother felt.  It’s the same feeling I had when I let her climb the slide at 10 months old- surrounding her with my arms, but not touching.  Letting her know that I was there if she fell, but that she could stretch and explore at the same time.  I was alert; I was proud, but I was never really scared because I knew that she would be all right.  We are tethered together in such a way that mere distance- whether it’s inches from the almost-a-toddler as she crawls up a slide ladder, or across an ocean from the almost-a-teenager- cannot disconnect me from my baby, or my baby from her place.

All day today, I have been aware of her- not her absence, but her presence… elsewhere.  “Oh, now she’s landing.”  “They must be getting on the train now.” I can sense her tiredness, her clinginess to Vicki and her interest in everything she’s seeing.  I can sense her need to hold on to Bunny, her stuffed pink bunny, and Bear, her stuffed pink bear (names have never been her strength).  I have been sending her “Mama’s here.  Mama’s always here” feelings all day.  She’s tired; she’s inundated with the newness- but she’s not overwhelmed.  She’s with Vicki, and she’s with Bear- and I’m there for her when she needs to reach out to me.  We’re tethered, but not tied.

Instead of letters like my mother wrote, I send her emails.  Instead of phone calls, we Facetime.  Technology may change, but not the mother instinct – that remains constant.

So- to my mother- I get it now.  I get it that our job as a parent is to let them explore their world, while letting them know that we are always there for them.  To quote the old phrase, for giving me- and now her- “wings with which to fly and roots from which to grow”.  Thank you for giving me that- and giving me a role model to let my daughter explore the slide then- and Paris now.

But I have to admit, I do miss her. And I really, really wish I could experience Paris with her.  

*************

If you want to read about her adventures, she’s blogging them at http://allieinternational.wordpress.com.  I may be a proud, scared, slightly envious mommy, but I’m still a teacher!

June 12, 2011

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

Filed under: Exceptionality issues — Teacher Professor @ 5:02 pm

We’re stuck inside today because of the fires.  How a swamp- the Okeefeenokee Swamp, to be specific- can burn is beyond my understanding of swamps.  We, like much of the United States, have wildfires burning to the north of us, the south of us, and to the west of us.  When the wind stops blowing, or blows too hard, or blows from the west, we have a pall of smoke that hangs over us, making our clothes smell funny, the air burn our throats, and keeps us inside.  Even on an island, we are impacted.

My mother in New Mexico is impacted by the huge Arizona fire- the one that is out of control, doubling in size, and sending a plume of smoke as far as Iowa.  She, too, is spending the weekend inside, with the extra fear that the land around her will burst into flame in moment’s notice and she will have to run.  She is 200 miles from the fire, but there is nothing but bone-dry land around her, and the threat is there.

However, irritating and anxiety-producing as it for us, we are not on the front lines.  We are not fighting the winds, the lack of rain, the tinder-dry landscape.  My heart goes out to the firefighters and their families.  I was reading up on the AZ fire, and I found this picture of this man.  His name is Jan Koch.

Take a moment and really look at Mr. Koch’s face.  I was flipping through a slideshow and all of sudden, I saw it- his face.  And it’s a face I recognize.  Not him, personally, but his face.

He’s tired.  The exhaustion shows in his eyes, his skin, the angle of his head.

His eyes are dark and weary- they have seen more than I can possible imagine.  I feel that if I look hard enough, I will be able to see deep in his irises the images of the hellish scenes he has witnessed.  He’s trying to smile, but the images in his eyes are more than the smile can touch.

He’s not bursting with bravado; there is no cocky attitude of “Oh, yea- we got this thing beat.”  His eyes are steady, recognizing that he is fighting something that is big… bigger than we can really imagine.  His eyes demonstrate respect for this fight.

The grime on his face shows evidence of hours of back-breaking work followed by intensity.  It is his own sweat, his own tears and the remnants of the fight that leaves its mark on it.

The hat on his head shows that he has equipment and knowledge that will help him.  But there is the understanding that tools and training and technology doesn’t win the day.  His hard work and the hard work of his team is required- they depend on each other to battle this… thing.

And if you look beyond the bone-deep weariness that threatens to overwhelm him, you’ll see an incredibly stubborn spirit.  This is hope without a timeline; he is going to go back to the fire after his picture is taken.  He is not giving up, despite every good reason to do so.  He plans, and re-plans and re-plans again.  He works as a team.  And he gets up after a restless sleep to try again, hoping that today will see some progress- any progress.

I do not know this man- but I know his face.  His face that looks like so many faces of parents and teachers whom I know.  The face of so many people out of work around here. The face of so many veterans who are facing illness and disability.  The faces of all of these, within a community that doesn’t know what to do with them- a community that is afraid.

Because I work in the field I do, because I have the family I do, because I live where I live, I see so many people with this same face.  I see the faces of families who are fighting the fight of autism, of appropriate services, of human respect.    I see the faces of researchers who are trying very hard to get something to happen very fast, because they know that they are running out of time for a child that they know, a child they care about.  I see the faces of teachers who are fighting a budget battle, a lack of support and a lack of knowledge.

In all of them, I see the face of tiredness, resoluteness, and grim determination with a flicker of hope. I pray that the hope remains.

The firefights are all around us.  When I think of all of the tired faces and I feel the need for hope, a lump comes up in my throat and there is a blurriness in my vision.

Must be the smoke in my eyes.

June 6, 2011

Studying Tourette’s

Filed under: Tourette's Syndrome — Teacher Professor @ 7:46 am

It is clear that Tourette’s is inherited.  My father has Tourette’s; my brother had Tourette’s.  My husband has Tourette’s (undiagnosed), and my son has Tourette’s (diagnosed).  Gee- you think there’s an inherited quality to it?  Gee- you think that somehow I’m surrounded by men with Tourette’s?

But there’s two problems with declaring it to be an inherited syndrome:

  1. Tourette’s is so intertwined with:
    • Autism
    • Bipolar disorder
    • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
    • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD)
    • Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
    • Generalized Anxiety Disorder- Not Otherwise Specified (GAD-NOS),
    • Even dysgraphia,  and a whole host of other initials, that it’s hard to separate out what is a Tourette’s tic, what is an autism tic, what is a vocal tic versus impulsive speech, what is a repetitive behavior versus a tic, and what is just little boy anxiety.
  2. There are no good genetic studies that can pinpoint that there- right there in the DNA strand- is where Tourette’s lives.

But the Tourette Syndrome Association International Consortium for Genetics (TSAICG- now that’s an acronym that rolls trippingly off the tongue) is trying to work on both issues.  They have identified some potential chromosomes and need volunteers to contribute to a study they’re doing.  A study that is sponsored by the National Institute of Health.  A study that requires blood to analyze.A study that is very, very important.  A study where I will never see the direct results for my child, but one that I know that can impact future medications, future therapy and future understanding of this… this… whatever this “Tourette’s” is.

See that number on the right hand side?  One of those numbers is my son, I’m proud to say.  And I’m most proud of why he agreed.

  • Setting– In Ray’s bed as I’m reading to him at bedtime.  Normally, a time when we can talk and he’s not so distracted by… everything.
  • Me- Ray, there’s a study that wants to look at what causes Tourette’s!  And you’re invited.  They have my email in their systems and they emailed me today and invited you to participate (I didn’t tell him about the online survey I had already filled out that yup- found that he’s a candidate)
  • Ray- Oh.
  • Me- Yea.  They need your permission to do it.  It means getting your blood drawn, but they’re going to analyze your blood and look at the teeny tiny parts in your blood called DNA and learn all kinds of things about Tourette’s.  Isn’t that cool?!
  • Ray- NO WAY!
  • Me- And they’re going to give you a $10 gift certificate to Target when you’re done! (It’s really $5, but in the name of science, we’ll contribute $5 ourselves)
  • Ray- No. (Starting to shut down now)
  • Me- You know, sweetie, these results aren’t going to help you.  It’s going to take them a long time to find out the information they need to help people with Tourette’s.  But it might help your child. 
  • Ray- I’m not having children. (Contrary kid)
  • Me- Certainly that’s your choice.  But the results might help Elizabeth’s children.  Or even their children.  Just imagine!  Your blood could actually be part of a study that helps so many children.   But they can’t take it without your permission.  They already have my permission- but they have to have yours.  You have to agree to it.  And it’s ok if you don’t.  I can see where this might be scary.
  • Ray- no response- and he got down from the bed to get a drink of water.

End of conversation- or so I thought.

  • Setting– early the next morning
  • Elizabeth- HEY!  How come Ray gets to get a Target gift card for some blood of his?  I want a Target gift card!

I’m not sure if it was sibling rivalry, the opportunity to get money towards a DSi game at Target, or the opportunity to help his sister’s future children- but he talked to the researchers from Children’s Hospital in Boston and agreed to help.  They’ve sent us the tubes for us to mail, and next week, his pediatrician will be drawing his blood to FedEx to Boston.  He’s nervous. He’s more than a little anxious about it.  But he knows that he’s helping.

I encourage anyone who has Tourette’s, who knows someone with Tourette’s, who finds this blog through Googling Tourette’s, to participate in this study.

Someday, you might help your sister’s children, too.

June 2, 2011

Kung Fu Eyes

Filed under: Exceptionality issues — Teacher Professor @ 7:03 am

We just saw Kung Fu Panda 2 as a family and I have to admit I fell asleep during it.  Predictable?  Yes.  Silly?  Oh yes.  But my mother noticed something really quite disturbing- and the more I watched, the more I closed my eyes… See if you can spot it.

Here is Po.

and Monkey

and Crane

There’s Master Shifu

Even Mr. Goose

Then there’s Mantis- not as obvious, perhaps, but then, he’s angry

These are the Good Guys.  See anything they have in common?

Then, there are the Sexy Characters- on the side of Good, but with a little sex appeal thrown in.

There’s Viper…

And of course there’s Tigress- a “good” guy (small g),  but not exactly cuddly, warm, or funny.  Gorgeous- Exotic, definitely.  Sexy- oh my…

Now, the Bad Guys.

There’s Wolf Boss

There’s Gorilla

There’s Soothsayer, who while she’s not Bad, she’s not exactly Good, either.  And she works for Shen.  She’s sortof creepy and mysterious.

And of course, there’s Lord Shen- the Baddest Dude of All. (very hard to find a picture of Shen’s face, by the way)

…. do you see it yet?

The “Good Guys” all have round, open eyes, and most of the time, even have blue or green eyes. The mysterious, sexy characters both had exotically slanted eyes, but  they are definitely not Asian- they doesn’t have the epicanthal fold, which is the inner eye fold characteristic of Asians.  The “Bad Guys” all had dark eyes, with vaguely Asian casts to their eyes, and in the case of Lord Shen, very evident Asian eyes.  Even the “Asian Good Guys” had good ol’ American round blue eyes, like Master Shifu and even Mr. Goose.

And so, this light-hearted, family flick is reinforcing the stereotype that Asians are Scary!  Evil!  Out to take over the world!  Not to be trusted!  Baaaaad!  I’m certainly not the first to notice this: The Black Snob did back in 2008 for the first movie, as did Professor What If.  And certainly, the political, educational, and economic tensions have only increased between the United States and Asia since then.  Propoganda certainly looks cuter when there’s a chubby bear and Jack Black involved. But Angelina- I’m ashamed of you!

I’m not going to rant here about the perpetuation of stereotypes in Disney movies.  I leave that for the more serious scholars.  But I will introduce these concepts in my course this summer and let my students mull on the impact of stereotypes on children.  “It’s only a cartoon” is what most of them will say.  “Lighten up!

But you see, I can’t “lighten up”.  Because every time a person is denigrated for their race, their culture, the way they move, or the way they talk or interact, a little less humanity is taken away from all of us.  Because every time we allow ourselves to be scared of an Asian peacock, laugh at a person with mental retardation, or tease a child with autism, we are robbing ourselves- and our children- of understanding the richness and the diversity of beauty in the world.  And when we don’t see the beauty, we see the differences- while history and present day living shows us that those in power hurt those that are different.

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
I was not a Jew.

When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.- Pastor Martin Niemoller

It may be “only a cartoon”, but it’s an incredibly scary movie.  And I’m speaking out.

June 1, 2011

39 Clues About Who is the Worst Mommy in the World

Filed under: Home Things,Uncategorized — Teacher Professor @ 2:44 pm

I win the Worst Mommy in the World Award- at least, according to my son.  Turns out, however, it’s an award that several moms around here share.

I win this coveted award because school ended last Friday- and I started requiring the children to read for half an hour and do math for half an hour before they can go and play with friends, watch TV or get on the computer on Tuesday.  Last year, I had all kinds of plans– wonderfully structured and interesting summer lessons in language arts and math.  Complete with mini-field trips.  It was a wonderful plan- and it worked- for about a week.  Summer school classes that I was teaching, camp, and visits soon ended our formal summer learning.

One of the things that frustrates me to no end is that I LOVE teaching- I love devising activities for kids to engage in the material, I love making kids think, and I fancy that I’m pretty good explaining things- and my son (and daughter to a lesser extent) will have none of it.  “NO!” is the feedback I get when I suggest “What if we try it this way?”  “That’s not the way Ms.-So -Much -Smarter -Than -Mommy -Because -She’s -A -REAL -3/4th -Grade -Teacher does it” is the other favorite retort.  My reply of “You know, I used to teach 3rd/4th grade” gives me a little credibility, but not much.  But when I try to create an experience, take them beyond, or even explain, I get resistance.  A LOT of resistance.

So, our plans this summer are much simpler- much less dependent on Mommy and more dependent on the workbook.  I hate it, but at least the workbook is on Singapore Math and at least I can drop in small amounts of instruction.

And- it turns out, Abel- Ray’s new best buddy’s- Mom is doing something quite similar.  So, we got our heads together, and Ray and Abel are going to be reading the 39 Clues series together.  The boy in the series, Dan, is active, anxious, and good at math.  The series is written by a group of male authors (Rick Riordan is one of them!) who wrote a continuing series.  I read the first one and got completely hooked.  If the boys were in my class, I would totally have them start writing their own continuing story, starting with their own adventures.

But of course, I can’t- I’m only Mommy.  And the Worst Mommy in the World, at that.  It’s an award I treasure this summer, as I watch my son learn that friends can share even adventure stories together.

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