A Tale of Two Grads

This blog has been mighty neglected since I started a full-time writing job, but I couldn’t let Justin’s Grade 6 graduation go unmemorialized. So I’m recopying the same Dr. Seuss quote that his preschool teacher put on his diploma seven years ago. We’re so proud of you, buddy!

You have brains in your head
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself any direction you choose
You’re on your own
And you know what you know
And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

On to middle school!

Say What?

I pity the fool who tries to get my son to explain anything.

Justin has the phenomenal memory that comes with Asperger’s, which you’d think would make it easier for him to relay the facts of a situation. But he also has the perspective-taking problems that come with Asperger’s (he often acts like if he saw it, you must already know about it, even if you weren’t there), which means he tends to leave out key details.

Take yesterday. Justin came home from school and said something about the “theme assembly.” I asked what that was.

“You know, the theme assembly,” he repeated. “We have one every year.”

This is his seventh year at that school. Not once has he ever mentioned a theme assembly.

After some more prodding, I came to understand that it’s an assembly wherein the entire school chooses a theme for the way they will behave in the coming year. It’s basically a forum for agreeing to a code of conduct. This year’s theme is love. Ah.

Back to his original story. “So at the assembly I got to sit on the benches…” (a privilege reserved for the sixth graders; here he looked at his younger brother in a neener-neener kind of way) “…and then we watched a pig rescue a goat.”

I waited for some context, but he had already moved on.

Brayden took pity on me. “We saw a film where a pig saved a baby goat from drowning,” he explained. “It was illustrating the love theme.”

It’s going to be a long year.

After the Final Bell

There are generally two types of parents that come through the drive-thru drop-off service at the school. The first type pulls up, kisses their child, hands them their backpack and lovingly assures them that Mommy/Daddy will see them after school. They wave to their child and hold up traffic because they can’t bear to leave until their little one is out of sight.

The second type barely slows down long enough to open the door, boot their child out and toss a water bottle out the window as they speed away. Sometimes they are in such a rush to flee that their child ends up running after the vehicle trying to get Mommy to stop and give them their backpack. Seriously.

I am the second type. I get it. It’s not that I don’t love my children. It’s just that I spend plenty of time with them as it is, and I cherish the hours when they’re in class so I can write my articles, cut the grass, buy the groceries and finish the laundry in peace.

I am especially militant about “my” time as the school year draws to a close, because I know what 10 weeks of summer with two boys can be like. Not my first rodeo.

On the eve of my fifth grader’s field trip to the waterslides this week, another mom asked if I was going along as a chaperone. She asked it perfectly innocently, but I had to stifle an urge to laugh. Not on your life. Not with a mere two days left of school. There will be plenty of time this summer to deal with hordes of screaming children.

So on this, the final day of classes, I will treat my children by giving them a ride home from school. I will offer them ice cream and help them celebrate the end of math tests, book reports and science experiments.

And we’ll see how long we all stay friends.

Confronting the Facts of Life

It’s the subject you most need your child to understand but you least want to talk about. When I was in school, the class was called “lifestyles.” At Justin’s school, they call it “family life.” And all the fifth graders are being introduced to it in the last few weeks before the summer break.

The school gave parents the option of exempting their child from the lessons if they had any moral or religious objections. There may be some people who prefer to teach these things to their kids in their own way, but I am not one of them. If a professional educator is willing to explain the birds and the bees to my child, leaving me to cover my ears and chant “blah blah blah” in blissful ignorance, I’m good with that.

Except I don’t think I’ll really get a free pass. I am somewhat saved by the fact that I have boys — their father will be on the hook for the nitty gritty details. (A friend of mine once mentioned that while her mother had explained about menstruation, she was given to understand that it was a one-time thing. I don’t want to be responsible for such misinformation.)

Brayden got an early introduction to the whole concept of reproduction when his grade 2 class raised baby chicks last year. The eggs stayed in an incubator for a few weeks, eventually the chicks hatched (the odd one died, which was a lesson in itself) and the kids got a hands-on study of the cycle of life. I wish I knew exactly how the teacher explained it all, cause Brayden somehow accepted that the hen got a seed from the rooster without ever being curious about how. (He recently commented that “you kiss someone and they have a baby,” so there’s still some work to be done.)

So anyway, after Justin’s class had their introduction to family life, I happened to overhear some parents talking. One of them said that at one point, the teacher mentioned the word “vulva,” and one kid blurted out, “Hey, my dad drives one of those!”

You wonder how we got this far as a species.


The Devil is in the Details

One of the first things I learned about Asperger’s was that kids who have it generally see and remember details that other people miss. That’s a polite way of saying they zero in on completely irrelevant facts. They are human databases of totally useless information.

And they often miss the big picture. Justin is famous for missing the forest for the trees. A few years ago I repainted Brayden’s room while Justin was away at summer camp. The walls changed from yellow to blue — a dramatic difference. When Justin came home, he immediately noticed the 3×3 sticker of a new Pokemon character on Brayden’s dresser, but failed to pick up on the fact that the walls were a different color. Classic.

And while I know that hyperfocusing on details can be a useful skill, it can also be a huge pain in the butt. Years ago, when someone would ask him what he did on the weekend (just making small talk), he would say, “Jack came over at 1:26 pm on Saturday the 13th and we played until 3:42.” It took months of therapy to get him to understand that yes, everything he said was true, but that was way more detail than anyone wanted to hear.

It’s been a battle at school, too. Last year he was supposed to make a personal timeline of important events in his life — things like when his brother was born, when he started school, when he went to Disneyland, etc. He had all that — but he also noted the “birthdates” of 18 of his favorite Skylander characters. (We could argue about the definition of “important events in his life”, but that timeline was so full of what I would call irrelevant info that you could hardly read any of it. Ugh.)

Things are getting better, though. This year he was given a blank map of Canada and was told to label and color the provinces, territories and capital cities. He did all that — but he also added a couple dozen other cities, labelled every waterway, and even filled in the names of the bordering U.S. states and their capitals. It was still way too much detail, but at least it was on topic. I call that progress.

Now to see what his teacher calls it…

Limping to the Finish

70 down, three to go. Sounds easy, right? 95% of the summer break is over, so what’s three more days? OMG THREE MORE DAYS. We had a good holiday, but that’s hard to remember now that we’re having day-long arguments over who let the spider in the house and coming to blows over who looked at who. We are done. Out of gas. Kaput. Finito.

But like I said, we had a good summer. It helped that this was the first year I could leave the boys at home alone for short periods, so no dragging them through the grocery store and fighting over who has to push the cart. They found plenty of other things to fight about, however, as evidenced by the following exchange during a 10-minute car ride:

CHILD 1: Look! Squirrel!
CHILD 2: (turns his head) What?
CHILD 1: Made you look!
CHILD 2: No you didn’t.
CHILD 1: Yes I did!
CHILD 2: I didn’t look there.
CHILD 1: You totally did!
CHILD 2: My head was pointing that way, but my eyes were looking over there.
CHILD 1: Liar! You can’t point your head and your eyes in different directions.
CHILD 2: Sure you can!
CHILD 1: But that’s cheating! MOM! Is that cheating?
CHILD 2: Look! A buffalo!
CHILD 1: I’m not falling for that.
CHILD 2: OK, fine. Look! A deer!
CHILD 1: I’m not playing with you, Cheater.
CHILD 2: MOM! He’s calling me names!

(Meanwhile, Mom is seriously considering crashing the car into a tree.)

To those moms who cherish these last few days as time at home with their offspring relaxing and enjoying each other’s company: I salute you.

To the rest of you: I’ll meet you at the bar on Tuesday.

‘Tis the Season…For Report Cards

I have a whole new appreciation for good grades now that my kids are being judged on their progress. When I was in school, I had great success with little effort – the A’s came so easily that I came to expect them as my due. I never had to sweat out an exam or worry that I might not pass. I wanted to do well in everything, and I did.

I wish I could go back to that smug teenager and smack her upside the head. How dare she take all that success for granted? How dare she complain because she got slightly below 90% on an assignment? She had no idea of the kind of effort some kids had to put in just to squeak by. Because everything came easily, there was no challenge – and no thrill in the results. It was just expected. Ho hum.

I’m singing a different tune now. On the whole, both of my kids are doing great in school, but it’s not like they haven’t had to work at it. Brayden shines in reading, math, science, social studies…but it has taken months of work with an occupational therapist to get his printing up to grade level. I’ve never been so thrilled to see “meets expectations” on a report card. Go dude!

The increased expectations of fourth grade are throwing Justin for a bit of a loop, though. He still rocks the fact-based subjects (math, science, social studies) but language arts does not come naturally, and this year for the first time he has had to buckle down and do some serious homework to keep up. After many hours of sitting with him doing book reports and novel studies…he did get full marks for effort. You can’t ask for more than that.

Happy holidays everybody!

Wanted: Personal Assistant For Absent-Minded Aspie

At our annual IEP meeting a couple weeks ago, Justin’s teacher began the conversation with, “He’s going to be very successful.”

She was nice enough not to add, “which is good, because then he can hire a personal assistant to collect his coat, pack his bag, update his day planner and tell him where he’s supposed to be.”

Justin has always been an organizational train wreck. One of the pitfalls of Asperger’s is the impairment in executive functioning skills – all those mental processes that let us plan our actions, remember instructions and juggle multiple tasks.His desk is such a disaster that his teacher got him a whole separate bin to store his duotangs so they wouldn’t disappear into the abyss. He has 200 pencils in his room because they get buried under his mountain of papers and so he gets a new one every time he wants to make a new list. He left his gloves in his classroom on Friday, and when we went to retrieve them he also found the water bottle, gym clothes and math homework he’d neglected to put in his backpack. ARGH.

When he was younger, we had a written list posted in the kitchen of all the steps he was supposed to follow when he finished breakfast (get dressed, brush teeth, make bed, etc.) We had another (laminated) one for how to take a shower, one for how to tie his shoes, and so on. Eventually we could take the lists away and he would remember the routines. The terminology stuck, though – even now, when I want him to get dressed, I tell him to do his steps.

But he’s in fourth grade now, and his teacher puts a big emphasis on personal responsibility. The kids even get marked on their use of their personal agendas – they’re supposed to use the agendas to record their reading minutes, keep track of due dates and generally stay organized. You can guess how well that’s going.

He has learned something new, though. At swimming lessons the other day, Brayden complained that Justin walked out of the change room and left his stuff all over the floor instead of putting it in the locker. So Justin offered to pay Brayden in leftover Halloween candy if Brayden would clean up his stuff for him.

Delegating is an important skill, right? (Sigh…)

Breaking the Helicopter Habit

So my kids are now walking to school all by themselves. It’s a 20-minute trip that requires crossing one semi-busy street at a four-way stop. I used to drive them every day, at first because they were so young; later because it was a convenient stop on my way to work; most recently because that’s just what we’ve always done. But I’ve been trying to give them more freedom and responsibility (see The Independence Project), and this seemed like a natural step. They’re nine and seven; they can do this.

Those of us who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s walked to school every day, of course. My older brother once got turned around on his way home from kindergarten and was wandering aimlessly around a park when a woman spotted him from her window and went over to ask if he was lost. He told her his phone number, she called Mom, and Mom went and picked him up. But Mom didn’t drive him from then on; she just made sure he knew which landmarks to follow to get home.


It’s easy to fall into the helicopter parenting habit. I used to wonder how it was legal to send a kid down the street alone when it wasn’t legal to leave him unsupervised once he got wherever he was going. But our job as parents is to prepare our kids to go out in the world without us — and they’ll never know how if we don’t let them practise.

Not that I’m completely letting go. I still pick them up from school every day, mainly because I like to check if they have all their stuff (see Bringing Order to Chaos), but also because I enjoy chatting with the other moms while waiting for the bell. I know I’ll have to let them get home on their own someday (Justin is already clamoring to be allowed to do it), but one thing at a time.

We’ve all got a lot to learn here.


End of the 100-Day Summer

Words alone cannot describe how excited I am that my kids are finally going back to school tomorrow (only 100 days after this all started!) Professor Mom did what she could, but the boys are clearly bored and itching to get back to a real classroom. There were happy dances all around when we heard the strike was ending.

My parents are especially happy, since they long ago agreed to babysit for two weeks while Chris and I go off on vacation. We leave tonight; school starts tomorrow. This deal came just in time.

Much has been written about the actual deal and whether it’s good for teachers, taxpayers and kids. All I know is that my nine-year-old, after seeing a headline announcing the six-year deal, blurted out, “You mean we might get to go to school for six years without a strike?”

Dare to dream, buddy. Dare to dream.