Friday, November 07, 2008

Turn the Music Down

"Mom, turn the music down!" Joey demands as I try to tuck him into bed. He has repeated this request several times every night for the last three, maybe four nights. The problem is, there is no music playing. He hasn't been very interested in his CD player, and the radio in the van is broken. Perhaps he wants me to turn down the music in Andy's room? I can just hear it, if the room is quiet; perhaps Joey is having some sound sensitivities, or problems filtering out sounds, and that faint sound is bothering him?

"Honey, you aren't playing any music," I remind him in my I'm-being-patient voice; the one that would probably infuriate me if I was trying to tell you something and you answered something completely absurd in it.

"Turn the music down, turn the music down!" he repeats, covering his ears as if several bombs were exploding all around the house. Andy's CD has ended. The silence is deafening. There is no music.

"Do you want me to turn the music on?" I ask, trying the same change of tactic I have tried the last three or four nights, trying to coax the words of what he's really asking out of his mouth. I do this because I am insane: trying the same thing over and over, in an attempt to get a different result. For some reason, Joey has taken to saying the opposite of what he means. For example, if something is cold, he complains that it is too hot.

"Turn my music down!" he tries again, just as insane as I am. However, the slight change in the phrase catches my attention: his music, not Andy's music. I go over to the CD player. He bounces and gives me some signals; the kinds of slight changes in his attitude and body language he once used almost exclusively to communicate, and I know so well. I have done the right thing- i have moved over to the CD player. Perhaps he really does want it on; but when I move to press the button, he flinches and covers his ears.

"Turn it down, turn my music down!" he cries out warningly. Connections are made, synapses fire, my brain reads his twitches, his face, the slight turn of a child at once wanting something very badly and yet terrified to get it. I turn the volume way down before pressing play. Sure enough, even with the turning down, it is a touch on the loud side; i quickly turn it down more, so that it is more of a soft-lullaby sort of volume. Waltzing Mathilda wafts gently through the air.

Joey squeals, giggles, claps, bounces. He begins to sing- a little loudly- to the song. He laughs and hugs me, unsolicited.

"Gold star, Mommy! You get a Gold Star!" he laughs, his whole person a beam of sunshine, as I have not seen him in weeks. I leave him dancing and singing in his room. He can do it all night for all I care, as long as that smile stays beaming upon his face.


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Come check it out!

Double, Double Toil and Trouble

I have a meeting with all three of Joey's main teachers on Wednesday at 11 o'clock.

Joey has been spitting in faces. He's been hitting other children, especially the classmate he sees the most. He's been screaming. He's been frustrated, angry, depressed, and bored, and he's acting it out for everyone to see.

When Joey was very small- brand-new, in fact- he didn't cry much. At the time, we just thought we had a "good baby"- and in fact, we did. He was such a good baby that if he cried, we jumped, because you knew something was seriously wrong. This was a child who didn't cry when lunch was late, sat patiently through lectures and appointments, and even stayed quietly in a stroller through my entire PhD graduation ceremony. When this child gets fussy, we want to know what the hell is going on.

Mrs. A sent home some "homework" a couple of weeks ago- words to learn five at a time until the end of the school year. Each year the kids have a list of these words, called the "word wall" (because they get posted up on a wall as they learn them). It was the list for first grade, with a note saying, "Joey, please learn these words!"

He knew them already. In fact, he's been reading these words for over a year now.

I emailed her, asking her what I was supposed to be doing with these words. Nine weeks into the semester, and Mrs. A had no idea that he already knew all these words- in fact, we're most of the way through the third grade word wall list. She suggested putting five of them in alphabetical order. Right. Apparently that was tedious (really? no kidding!) so now they are going to have him use the words in a sentence, maybe using the second grade words. OK, that's a little better, it includes some demonstration of comprehension, something Joey does need to work on.

But we didn't work this out before we implemented the lesson. In fact, Joey's needs were not only completely ignored, the teacher- nine weeks into the school year- appeared to be completely oblivious to what those needs are.

I remain not only unimpressed, but I'm starting to get plain pissed off.

She'd better be with the program by noon on Wednesday.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Artist at Work

We got out the sidewalk chalk and got to work today. The boys have decided playing out front is really cool.

Ah yes, the genius at work.

Portraits of a family, by Andy. That's Andy, a T-Rex, Joey, Mom, Dad, and Grandma.

And of course the masterpiece: T-Rex Stomps, by Andy.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

I voted.

Did you?

I took the boys with me to the polls. I want to be very clear about this with both of my boys: as American citizens, when they become adults, it is their right to vote, and it is their duty to vote. It is not optional. If you want to remain a free citizen in a free country, you vote. Period. (I also believe you serve on juries. When you are called to jury duty, you serve. Delaying it is fine, but you serve. Trying to "get out of it" is rejecting your duty and right as a citizen.)

I really don't care who you vote for at this point. Just make your voice heard. One of the stupidest things George Bush ever said was that he had a mandate from the people simply because he won an election. He ignored all those votes against him. No one is in perfect harmony with the universe enough to have a "mandate." No one agrees on every issue or policy 100%. It is our job as citizens to let our leaders know how we feel, to make them think about thing from a wider perspective. No issue is one-sided.

Voting is a way to stand up and speak. So stand up and speak. It is a rare right, and we should seize the opportunity for our everyday lives to be heard.

We are here! We are here! WE ARE HERE!!!

Monday, November 03, 2008


So we took Grandma back to her office after getting Joey off the bus. The afternoon was a perfect temperature for hopping in leaves in front of the office building, so I let the boys do that for a while before the proposed gathering of pine cones from across the street. Grandma has been held up by a phone call, the boys get restless. Snatching Joey off the bus isn't really the best idea, he has no downtime to dispel after-school-mood, so I want to get him engaged.

"Ok, guys, let's go get pine cones."

"OK!" Joey calls back and makes a beeline for the road at his trot-trot-trot. I run, but I am to going to be fast enough; I must rely on my voice to recall him from the blacktop as the car appears around the curve. Of course, it fails; audial processing takes too long. Fortunately, the driver is paying attention and there is a good stretch of road to react on. Joey processes a car is on the road with him and flees to the further side. I can see the driver wave at me. What if it had been someone less careful, someone on a cell phone, someone moving a little too fast?


Allan and I sit in the kitchen, a new breath in our routine. The boys are watching their new favorite, Max and Ruby. Recounting the day, having a drink together, a luxury. Allan's had a new claim. I'm making plans for the holidays. A boy walks in.

He has no shirt on.

Apparently this is incredibly funny, and Joey starts to giggle with his playful, "Oh! I have no shirt!"

"Yes, no shirt," we confirm. More giggles.

Andy appears, also shirtless, but this is less of a shocker. Andy is not as fond of clothes as Joey is. Whatever the joke it, the boys are in hysterics over it. We shoo them back into the livingroom. Adult conversation recommences.

A boy walks in, laughing.

Joey is now completely naked.

This is apparently even more funny than having no shirts, far too funny for articulate speech. Even funnier is Daddy's shocked question, "Where are your clothes?"

The other boy runs in, also naked as a jay-bird, and starts the "neeeee-kiiiiiiiid BUTTS! Nekkid butts! Nekkid butts!" chant.

Adult time over. Boy time recommences. Life is short.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Packing Breakfast: Help!

The internet has failed me. People think to post about pack lunches, but pack breakfasts? Yet our school system (and the surrounding systems) all include breakfast for everybody. Lots of sites for feeding the kids before they go to school- but what about schools where breakfast is served?

I am looking for things to pack for breakfast for Joey. They need to be:

200 calories or less
Including protein
Not requiring heating of any kind. Items requiring refrigeration needs to be able to withstand being unrefrigerated for about 30 minutes in an insulated container.
Be discrete (sending in lunch items as breakfast stands out big-time)

I'm worried he's going to get tired of yogurt and low-sugar snack-cakes; especially the yogurt. I can switch up the snack cakes (there's plenty of choices and flavors on the market, or I can make breakfast cookies), but portable protein is more of a problem.

I'm also looking for veggie alternatives. Carrots are still ok, but Joey has stopped eating celery (probably just the sharp fall crop, but still...) He does eat cold steamed broccoli. He does not eat bell pepper, cold string beans, uncooked broccoli, or cold peas. :(

Brain already in overload. Need some ideas. Thanks.

Distract and Engage

When I was young, my Dad had a knack for making weekends miserable. Yes, we went and did some fun things. But any time fun was in the cards, my Dad would go nuts about every little thing we did wrong. Shoes in the hallway? Commence yelling. Rooms not cleaned? Commence yelling. Over-excited children getting a little excited? Commence yelling. Everyone was miserable before we could go have fun.

And I have fallen into the negativity trap.

We've been having some sketchy weeks, which means my nerves are frayed. I wonder now if these weeks are not the result of falling into the trap. When one makes it a constant struggle to get through the day, it wears on everyone's nerves.

So I would like to take out this moment of this post to thank my Mom. I still have so much to learn. Growing up, my mom made life positive, even when things seemed to be upside-down. She may think she needs to stay out, to not say anything when I'm doing things she wouldn't do in raising my boys. Fortunately, she's also a good friend and does say something. The boys may not be her children, but I am. I'd rather she told me if I am doing something stupid.

And making holidays a negative experience is definitely in the stupid range.

Now, we have a system for working on behavior issues. If the boys are good all month, they get to go to Chuck E. Cheese. They have three "checks" over the day, which is a little stretched by the addition of "yellow light" and "red light" (so we weren't giving two checks for the same incident- and it gives the guys a little but of warning that something is wrong). Hitting and biting have no lights, just checks. So they earn their privilege.

Hence, holidays shouldn't be in the list of things to earn. Trick-or-treat is just a given. Thanksgiving dinner is eaten. Christmas morning comes (despite the general cultural threat of "be good or Santa won't come!"). Easter baskets appear on Easter morning. Fireworks light up the night on Fourth of July. These things are non-negotiable.

Instead of my father's, "Be good or no trick-or-treat!" (Can we believe that came out my mouth? And not just once! No parent of the year for me!), the more effective and positive method I'm going adopt is my mom's "Distract and Engage."

Distract the kids from the unwanted behavior (like "Don't touch me!" and smacking on each other) by engaging them in positive conversation or activity. When we started getting bored with putting up porch decorations, Mom had me fetch coloring books. When the guys, excited and giddy, started pushing each other's buttons in the car, she had them talk about trick-or-treat: what treats did they want? What costumes would other kids wear? What was their favorite part of Halloween?

No, the pinching the poking did not completely cease. The whining did not completely cease. They remains excited and giddy. But it was positive. It made them think about what was ahead. It kept them engaged in the excitement and happiness, rather than devolving into anger, frayed nerves, and resentment. It gave them focus on the joy and celebration.

And after all, that's what holidays and fun trips and adventures are all about.

Happy Halloween, Part Two