Saturday, January 25, 2014

One of the Tribe

Soccer practice can be chilly and long. We had arrived at the field, and Andy was in one of his I-haven't-had-enough-food-and-am-out-of-fuel moods. Joey was edgy, knowing he had an hour wait in front of him, echoing away with his script of math problems that made him giggle. We had been there a few minutes, but the coach wasn't there yet. Another little boy, much smaller than Andy, was running about in antsy frustration as well. They were like two peas in a pod, though Andy is always oldest (his birthday is a week after cutoff), and this boy was probably among the youngest. I let Andy run. It was better than the brittleness I knew was coming. I didn't have any snacks in the car, I hadn't made it to the grocery store.

Joey did was Joey does, especially if he is uncomfortable and knows I am trying to work with Andy. He walked up to a complete stranger and started talking.

This stranger was soon barraged with math questions, liberally sprinkled with Joey's favorite, "What is eight times zero?" But Joey says it like this:

(Giggling madly)
(More mad giggling)

Yep. That's scripting. And the answer, as you know, is Zero. Every. Single. Time.

Andy started to break down. I couldn't break off to pull Joey to a chair. I could hear the patient answers, each question answered in a soft, factual voice, calm, as if this was an ordinary game one played with 9-year-olds you didn't know.

Andy was on the ground. Done. Tears. I managed to get him to the car, a short distance, but far enough to make me cringe. Joey was still bolting, and could do it at any second. To let him out of my range, out of my sight, with a complete stranger. I was becoming overwhelmed myself.

I ripped open the car, tore it up looking for something, anything. Crackers. There was a package of crackers. I coaxed Andy into eating one. And some water. It wasn't enough. He screamed, he hid behind a tree, he was totally out of his own control. Another cracker. Another sip. We might have to go home.

How many times do you think you could answer the question "What is eight times zero?" without starting to go a little kooky? A little batty? Maybe you'd break off the conversation. Maybe you'd start giving a wrong answer, just to change it up. Maybe you'd try to disengage, walk away, excuse yourself. Especially if you have a child who is also starting to show signs of frustration and boredom.

The coach arrived. The practice started.

I never found how many times that gentleman would calmly, quietly, patiently answer math questions, liberally sprinkled with "WHAT is EIGHT times ZEEEEEEE-RRROOOOOO?" But I can tell you it is many, many times. And more than an hour. Because soccer practice lasts an hour, and he calmly, patiently answered Joey the whole time.

His name was Matt Wilkerson. His was the other child with the issues on the field. But he wasn't really aware of the extent of his child's issues yet, they were just figuring out something was up. He had an awesome wife and new baby twin girls. I got to meet them the next week. I got to hold those babies at a moment I so wished I was having another of my own. But more importantly, this was not yet a Special Needs Dad.

He was just a Dad. And he accepted my boys, immediately, patiently, without question. He laughed and was happy, answering math questions, listening to my child giggle hysterically over the words. And this became a regular ritual for Joey, when he would see Matt (though not for the whole practice). Patiently, calmly, Matt would give him those answers, as if this was normal conversation.

His wife is the same way. They were simply born part of the Tribe. Some people are just born Awesome.

On January 24, 2014, Matt was driving home early from work. He had a bad cold, one that had been spread in his house for the week before. He wanted to get home to his family, and take a rest, and get better. A car in front of him hit the jersey barrier at 75 MPH. That car flipped.

It landed on his. He was killed instantly.

I don't think he ever knew what those practices, those calmly answered questions meant to us. I don't know how much he knew I considered his family to be part of my own, or if he did, he probably didn't really know what that means to us, either. I hope his wife and beautiful children know.

We miss you already, Matt. Thank you for the Awesome.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Three Sentences

We have a reading problem here. For Andy, with his vision screwed up for so long and other processing issues, reading takes an incredible amount of energy. He loves books- but he would prefer to listen to them. I have tested his auditory comprehension with books he has "read" by audio book, and he seems to get almost every word. If I read books to him, he loves it, and he loves the stories, the information, and he likes the pictures if there are any. Reading by himself is a much bigger problem. I find myself thinking, what is more important? Him reading the words himself off the page, or him getting the information, the narratives, the understanding? And how to broach the issue with his teachers?

Joey also scores poorly on reading comprehension tests, but has a lot of issues with auditory processing as well. I can't just pop in a CD and expect him to get when he needs that way. Narratives often make no sense to him. Visualizing a story, a character, a place, is a real challenge. Understanding the inferences of words remains a challenge.

At least his teachers think so. I have often said he could read War and Peace, if you gave it to him one sentence at a time. If you give him the smaller bits and let him process it, he not only gets it, he keeps it. It never goes away. My brain used to be like that. It has its pros and cons, but at this age, the pros are far greater- if you allow him to process and retain.

I now can say he can read War and Peace- and now, you can give him three sentences at a time (maybe even up to five!). You can break it down, discuss it in these smaller bits, get through the page, and he can answer questions about what he read. Don't read it to him- let him do the reading. He can focus and pay attention that way.

Why these learning differences can't be accepted and worked on, I have no idea. By the end of the school year, we should have those five sentences consistently- that's a whole paragraph at a time. Last I looked, that' show I read- in paragraph units, think about it, then move to the next one. Why does everything have to be such a rush? Yes, it takes me longer to read things. However, I understand them when I am done. I have noticed many folks who read faster, but have to go back and read it again. Which is better?

(The answer is neither. They are just different ways of reading, learning, and gaining understanding.)

So this coming week, provided no one showers us with any homework, my goal is to do some reading with Joey, and see if I can't get him enjoying books again. Even if its just three sentences at a time.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


Welcome back friends, followers, family, and fun-loving fantastics! Yes, I'm back, I have about five posts I could write right this second, and I may even get some time together to write some of them. Several are very serious posts that will probably piss some folks off, but in the light of some of those very same posts, I think I won't go there today.

You see, its a snow day here in our corner of the interwebs. I have boys home to squish and make snow cream and watch movies and eat popcorn. The making of popcorn is one of our great achievements since I saw you all last. Joey and Andy can both now handle the air popper and melting the butter in the microwave. Next step: cleaning said microwave. But hey, they have their own warm snacks. One giant leap at a time, right? We won't mention the popcorn that is now spread from one end of the house to the other, either. No, no we won't.

Watching a movie with Joey is both super fun and super annoying. For one, when we watch a movie he likes, he gets all happy and bouncy, but likes nothing better than to have me lay on the couch and then lay on top of me. Thorough Mom Squishing. He'll even kick back with his kindle, watching the movie and playing his Zones of Regulation app. Then he spends the entire movie providing interpretative and descriptive commentary. You will discover which zone each character is experiencing at any given moment, motivations for their current behavior and actions, stages of their developing relationships, and even interesting details about future events. Yes, I said it was partly super annoying. At the same time, listening to him understand the narrative, understand the characters, and have those words come together and out his mouth?

Gimme the couch. And let's put on Monsters, Inc for the 5467th time. I'm totally game.

So we can be serious tomorrow. Or Thursday. Whenever I get some time to write next. Today? Today I am going to play round-robin with the movies (yes, we are in Monsters, Inc now... Andy will want Pokemon next... and then I get to indulge my current perseverative obsession with the Rockettes 75th Anniversary Christmas Special). We're going to eat popcorn and drink hot cocoa. I am going to enjoy my babies, treasure every word, every giggle, and even every moment of Andy running through the house destroying zombies, and Joey pretending to be one (I'll tell more about that later).

They aren't little long.