Decision Time

The Twin Cities Marathon is less than a month away. New York Marathon is less than 2 months away. I’ve been (sort of) training all summer….more or less.  OK, less.

I had big plans back in May to have an incredible summer of training, and then life happened. Losing my father really took the wind out of me, and the spring out of my step.  In Joan Didion’s memoir “A Year of Magical Thinking” she writes that when a child loses a parent many times they re-evaluate their life.  This was definitely the case with me.  Anytime I did a high intensity workout I kept thinking, “Why am I doing this? What is the point?” Honestly.  Why am I getting up before the sun…in June and July…to run around in circles and get out of breath?  At one point one reason I did this was for the beauty of eating anything I want, and it was awesome.  But, after turning 40 I’ve noticed that no amount of exercise is going to allow me to eat 3/4 of a pizza at Pizzeria Lola’s along with 2 beers, some side dishes, and ice cream without some consequences in the region of my butt.  Which brings me back to…really, what is the point of a track workout?

Then my hamstring started to hurt.  It doesn’t hurt all the time, just when I would put speed in or sprint up a hill.  Although this is my deficit and area that I need the most help, I cut out track and hill workouts because they hurt. And they are hard.  And I generally hate them.  I added in more miles with friends and some slow long runs through the woods, because those fill my soul and felt good.  20 mile run?  No problem.  Want to meet the next day for 7 miles? See you then.  Track workout…no thank you.

According to my training schedule, which I’ve generally ignored all summer, this is my last hard week of training before the taper. Yet, I don’t feel like I’ve worked on my deficits enough (speed, strength) to even deserve a taper. And so I must make a decision, and soon. Will I race TCM or treat it like a training run for NYC? Will I race either? Perhaps this is the year I just enjoy the sights of both marathons and forget about the time. Will I be satisfied if I don’t push myself?  Maybe running two marathons in less than a month will already push me straight over the edge….

#1 started 8th grade this fall. Its his last year in middle school and soon we will need to make a decision about high school. He attends a small, charter school. It has been a fabulous experience for him thus far and he has the option to stay at the school through high school. Twin Cities Academy High School was just ranked #42 in the country by Newsweek magazine, and the top high school in Minnesota. He has gained confidence, will attempt to write again (something he wouldn’t do in 4th and 5th grade), and has improved his reading skills. The school pushes him in what is hard for him. Why do I falter?

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Because the school is small. Because I don’t know what he will do for advanced math at a small high school (next year he would be taking their most advanced class). Because there is no orchestra and he plays cello. Because there is no robotics club and his favorite thing to do at the state fair is to watch high school robotics competitions. Because there is no cross-country ski team, the sport he has poured himself into year round for the last couple of years. Because, perhaps he needs to spend high school exploring his gifts and his interests instead of grinding away at writing assignments, vocabulary workbooks and reading comprehension exercises.  Because I feel like I made a huge mistake when I moved him to a different school in 1st grade, which I thought would bring out his strengths….but a consequence was a total failure to teach him in his areas of weakness.  

I don’t want to make a bad school choice decision for #1 again.

At his small school there are no cracks for #1 to fall through. There is no place for him to hide. The school is structured to help students achieve in areas that are hard for them and they excel at this. But, what do I do with the kid that needs help, may not (who am I kidding….almost definitely will not) find help at a HUGE public high school, but he has the chance to shine in the areas he is most talented in? His English class in the public high school may be as big as his entire graduating class at his current school? A quiet, well-behaved child with a learning disability doesn’t stand a chance unless they receive A LOT of outside support.

If you need to choose, is it the most important to work on your gifts or your deficits in high school?

Ugh.

I have no idea.

We have until February/March to make our decision. Maybe I’ll string together some friends so I can go on some very, VERY long runs between now and then to process…..work with my gifts or mileage and verbal processing….and leave those hill, track workouts and tempo runs for another year.

Trust

Last summer my running partner convinced me to do track workouts.  I’m pretty new to running and had no idea what a track workout was.  Basically what you do is sprint twice around the track (1/2 mile) as fast as you can, jog around the track once….repeat….at least 4 times, building up more repeats as the training season goes on.

It’s grueling.

It makes me feel like I’m going to barf.

It makes me slightly dizzy and forced to run with tunnel vision toward the finish line.

It wipes me out for much of the day, and sometimes the next day too.

And yet, I did it, and went back throughout the summer.  I trusted my running partner.  I was training for my first marathon where speed, not just finishing, was a goal.  I knew she was pushing me in the right direction and had my best interest in mind.  She is a much more experienced runner than me. I listened to her and pushed myself to be uncomfortable and work very hard.  I trusted that this new training method would deliver results.  Trust is the cornerstone of any great relationship.

 

When you ask someone for help, you are essentially saying that you trust the person enough to actually help and you believe they know what to do.

This week I will go to #3s post-assessment meeting.  I have been asking for help all year.  After initially being denied an assessment, #3 received more interventions in the classroom and with Minnesota Reading Corp.  After 6 weeks we had another meeting, and not only had he not made progress, he went backwards in his reading achievement.  Although he was still not as far behind as they initially told me he had to be according to the Mondo Achievement test, the school agreed to assess him for special education services because the interventions were not helping him move towards grade level.

The assessment guarantees nothing.  If I sound jaded, I am.

For the past week I have noticed my anxiety on the subject climbing and I have wondered why.  It is possible that he will qualify for special education and the IEP they propose is something that would help him reach grade level in reading and writing.  I have seen IEPs for children from this same school and I think the goals and steps are excellent.

So why am I so nervous?  I really have no reason to be.

It’s because my trust is gone.

This is not about the teachers at this school.  I trust the teachers.  I trust the special education teacher at this school…that is why I want her to be #3’s case manager.

I don’t trust the system.  I have asked for help so many times only to be ignored or turned down I no longer believe they have my children’s best interest in mind.  I don’t trust the policies surrounding qualifying children with learning disabilities.  My experience was so horrible when #2 had an IEP and the services he received only made the situation worse, I know that having a piece of paper saying my child gets help doesn’t mean the help with be appropriate or, in fact, helpful. If I don’t agree with the assessment results, I’m quite certain that no one in administration is going to listen to my concerns.

When I asked the school to test my child for special education I was putting myself in an uncomfortable and vulnerable situation.  I was putting #3 in an uncomfortable and vulnerable position too and letting him know that I think something is wrong.  I was openly admitting he is failing.  I was asking for help, and not just a little help, but a lot of help, to simply get my child to read at grade level….nothing that incredible and something that is quite easy for many kids.  During this process I was reminded of all the hurt and anguish I went through seeking help for #1 and #2 in the same school district, and never finding that help.

It’s hard to ask for help.  It’s hard to ask people to listen to your concerns.  And it’s really hard to ask for help when you don’t trust that things will get better.

I want to trust the system again.  I want to trust that they understand the importance of early detection and early intervention for children with learning disabilities….BEFORE they have failed so enormously that catching up seems nearly impossible and their self-esteem is crushed.  I want to trust that special education is set up to help students and not protect the school district from law-suits.  I don’t want to be jaded anymore.

I want to be presented with a plan, that is researched based, telling me the steps they will take to teach #3 how to read at grade level.  I want to come out of an IEP meeting with a smile on my face and breath a sigh of relief knowing I can trust the new initiative, the new training method, to help my child who is not reaching his own goal of learning how to read and who is beginning to show signs of frustration and learned helplessness.  I want to trust that they will push him in the right direction.  I want to trust that his best interest, not dollar signs, case loads, or misguided policies determined the education he will receive.   I want them to push him to work hard and try what is difficult even when he’s uncomfortable, which will lead him to achieving success.

 

After my first track workout, when I was standing on the track, hands on my knees, gasping for breath I looked at my running partner and said, “Why did you make me do this?  That was awful!!!! It’s quite possible I almost died.”

She replied, “Physically it makes you stronger and gives your cardio a wake up.  Psychologically you are learning that even when you don’t think you can keep going, if you just trust your body, your legs continue to carry you along.  You are learning to trust yourself.  You are learning to listen to your body and know how hard to push.”

“OK, fine.  That was awful, but I’ll do it again if it will help me.  I’m going to trust you on this.  Same thing next week?”

With a sly smile, my running partner grabbed her water bottle and said, “No, next week I introduce you to hill drills, and that is an entirely different out of body experience.”

 

Dear School District……I have a rebuttal.

On Feb 11, 2014, at 3:57 PM, SAINT PAUL PUBLIC SCHOOLS wrote:

Dear Saint Paul Public Schools Families,

Saint Paul Public Schools and the leadership of the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers – the union that represents teaching staff in your child’s school – have been negotiating the terms of our teachers’ next employment contract since May of last year. That contract outlines wages, benefits, and other work-related issues. The purpose of this letter is to inform you that the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers has scheduled – on Monday, February 24, 2014 – a vote asking its 3,200 teacher members to decide whether or not to authorize a strike.

We want you to know that if the teachers union votes to strike:

  • Your child’s PreK-12 classes will be canceled at all Saint Paul Public Schools for the duration of the strike. This might be one day, one week, or longer.
  • Before and after-school childcare, Discovery Club, Early Childhood Family Education and Community Education programs will not be held.
  • Your summer plans could be impacted. Classes for K-12 students could extend into summer to make up for lost instructional time. Summer school (S-Term) dates would need to be rescheduled.
  • The district would be unable to provide any food service for your child.
  • If a strike lasts more than a few days, it will likely have an impact on Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) scheduled for April 2014.
  • All teachers, school staff and district staff will be affected. Many staff members, including teachers, will not be paid during the strike.

And…my response:

Dear Ms. Silva,

     This e-mail was very insulting to me.  I have e-mailed you in the past with my concerns about St. Paul Public Schools and I have never received a response from you.  One e-mail was just last week when my child was denied an assessment for special education even though he is behind 1st grade benchmarks, is labeled gifted and talented, has been formally diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia, and I put my formal request in writing.
     I support the teachers in this conflict.  There are NO RESOURCES to help my child learn to read.  NONE.  My child’s 1st grade teacher has a large classroom with a huge range of cognitive and emotional needs.  She is an amazing teacher.  She cares deeply about each student in her classroom and wants to meet all of their individual needs.  To help my dyslexic child learn to read she was handed a curriculum she has never seen before and told to individually teach him.  This is wrong and unfeasible but there is no other option.  How can she teach all the children if so much is demanded of her to teach one.  Other children’s needs are just as important as my child’s, but there just aren’t enough teachers to help.  There are no reading specialists at my child’s school…..and the district denied my written request for a special education assessment, leaving the classroom teacher as the only option.  If his classroom was smaller, much smaller, it may be possible for the classroom teacher to teach him individually with the type of intense intervention he needs.  But, the classroom isn’t small.  Because of your policies, it’s large.  My life, the life of my 1st grader, and the career of his teacher is effected every single day because of this reality…..but I should worry that his Community Ed. class is cancelled?
     Because of your policies my child and his amazing teacher have been set up to fail, but you are telling me my concern should be that he can’t take a standardized test…which would only show me that my child is failing to learn and no one in your district is able to help him.  Parents are stressed, teachers are stressed, children are stressed….but I need to worry that his unhealthy breakfast in a plastic bag won’t be available to him.
     I want nothing more than for St. Paul to have strong schools for ALL children.  This is why I’m siding with the teachers.  I am willing to have my life disrupted for however long it takes for the school board and you to sit down with the negotiating team and work out your differences.  During my 12 1/2 years with a child in this district (I started with ECFE in 2001) I have only seen the situation for students and teachers get worse and worse.  I worry on a DAILY BASIS about how my children are going to read and write.  DAILY…and many times at 3:00 AM.  Administration has never been of any help.  I have been shut down time and time again.  My life has been disrupted enormously because of failed policies in your district.  I have homeschooled.  I have changed schools.  I have tutored my children.  I have had heart wrenching meetings.  I have had to look at test results that show them in the bottom percentages of the district.  I have put my oldest children in charter schools.  I constantly worry about their future.  And because teachers want to make the educational environment better for children you send me an e-mail telling me to worry about after school programs.  When are you going to worry about my children not learning how to read and write?  When are you going to worry about their crushed self-esteem?  When are you going to worry about my feeling of helplessness?
     Don’t tell me I need to worry about breakfast, lunch, and vacations.  Thanks, but I can handle those things.  Easily.  Actually, feeding my child is my job.  Figuring out summer vacation is my job.  Teaching my children how to read and write….that is your job.  And, so far with my children you are 0/3 on fulfilling your responsibility of teaching them the basics.
     I want to thank Mary Doran, chair of the school board, for reaching out to me last week to share her personal story.  I appreciated her taking the time to listen, really listen, to my concerns.  I do have hope that things will change in St. Paul Public Schools.  The conversation I had with her was heartwarming and I felt listened to.  This was the first time in many years I felt listened to in St. Paul Public Schools by anyone except a teacher.
     The e-mail that the district sent, however, took away much of that good feeling.  Again, the district is not listening to what parents are saying, just proving talking points.
     I speak for many when I say the parents are sick of the talking points.  It’s time to really listen.  Listen to parents.  Listen to teachers.  Listen to the children.  Don’t assume you know what is best.

We won’t help

I finally had the meeting.  The meeting that was cancelled because of Polar Vortex #2.  The meeting that I thought would start us down the road of getting #3 individualized help.

That wasn’t the meeting that happened.

I was told he isn’t far enough behind yet. We won’t test him.

I countered with:

He hasn’t made progress.

He is far behind when you look at where he should be.

He gets further behind each day.

He is far behind if you look at his intellect.

He’s had a ton of interventions and he is still just creeping along with progress.  The interventions need to be more intense.

I was told again and again….he’s not far enough behind the rest of his peers yet.  He is behind, but not far enough.

The teacher sat there and said how he is reading at a level of a kindergartener and hasn’t made progress this year which is very concerning.  He does not know the sight words automatically.  And he knows less sight words now than he did in the fall.  Yet, he isn’t far enough behind yet.  They won’t test him.

What about writing? He can barely write his letters.

What I heard was……We won’t help.  I know this is not what they said, they told me about what the classroom teacher will do, and how the special ed. teacher can answer her questions, but this is how I feel.  We won’t help. Over and over they said he isn’t far enough behind his peers yet.  On a standardized test for the district curriculum he is not enough standard deviations behind the rest of his peers.

I sat in an office with the principal, an LD teacher, a school psychologist, the classroom teacher, and a student teacher (who I probably completely freaked out) with tears streaming down my face saying “I’ve been down this road.  I’ve already had two children fail.  I want this time to be different.  Please help this be different.  If we all work together, imagine the difference we can make. There are so many children that need help.  Let’s start here. Let’s make a difference and help him sooner rather than later.”

I was met with stone faces by everyone except the classroom teacher, who was also tearing up by this point……we won’t help.  Perhaps their stone faces were because they were following orders from people higher up.  Perhaps district office has tied their hands.  I don’t know.  My takeaway was we won’t help.

“We can’t help you because of the laws in this state.  We must follow the laws.  Perhaps you should put your energy into changing the laws surrounding this topic.”

This was their solution to the problem.  Oh yes….that sounds simple.

“Why do you want him labeled?” they ask.

I said, “I don’t want him labeled.  He is labeled.  This is the reality.  He is dyslexic.  I want him to have help for that.”

The LD teacher says, “I can’t label him dyslexic.  That’s a medical diagnosis.”

Oh, don’t get me started.  Honestly.  My head was exploding.  My insides were churning. That was a discussion for another day.

To say I’m devastated is an understatement.  Where can I go to get my children the help they deserve? I want them to read.  I want them to write.  I want them to feel successful in school….and not dread anything that requires them to write a sentence or read a paragraph.  I want them to live up to their potential academically.  I want them to not have their self-esteem crushed.

“Here is some information on why you shouldn’t label a child or test them before the age of 8.” the LD teacher tells me.

This is when my adrenaline kicked in.  Fight or flight…..I chose fight.  I couldn’t hold back any longer.  I stared into her eyes and said, “That piece of paper is crap.  Research does not support that anymore.  How dare you tell me that catching my child’s dyslexia early and fighting for him to get services is not what he needs.  I know what he needs.  I’m his mother.  I’ve been down this road 2 times already, and I refuse to watch one more child fail.  I will not do it again.  I’ve pulled 2 kids from schools where they weren’t getting help.  I’ve worked very hard to put them back together.  I WILL NOT DO THAT AGAIN!  This time I want my child to get help before he falls apart.  Before the anxiety.  Before the low self-esteem.  Before they hate school. I honestly can not understand why you believe its OK to not teach him with the methods he needs in order to learn how to read. I do not understand why my children get punished because they are smart enough to not completely fall apart academically.  I do not understand why I am being asked YET AGAIN to sit back and watch my child make very little progress while I watch the rest of his peers learn how to read with relative ease.  I have a diagnoses.  I have paperwork saying he needs intensive and individualized help.  I do not understand why we can’t work together and get him the help he needs.”

And then I started to cry uncontrollably, put my jacket on, and shoved the papers in my purse that told me why they won’t test him.

Meeting over.

My heart is broken.

Connect

“OMG.  Sorry for the verbal vomit for approximately 6.5 miles. I feel better now.  Thanks for listening and caring.”

Above is a text I send all too often to my running partner at 6:45 AM after a therapeutic run.  It’s amazing how much better I feel after getting it all out and leaving it behind on the pavement (or 4 inches or snow and ice).  My running partner doesn’t normally attempt to solve my problems, but she does show up at my house before dawn, listens and then gets me laughing by the end of the run.  In other words….she is there for me physically, emotionally and at many times….to remind me of logic.  I no longer feel alone in my struggle and sometimes that makes all the difference.

Last week I went to a workshop at Grove’s Academy about helping your child with anxiety.  I was quietly hoping there would be a cash bar in the back of the auditorium to help all of us parents dealing with an anxious child.  No cash bar, but there was good information, thoughtful philosophical parenting ideas, and Cheetos.

There is so much to go into concerning anxiety.  I will only touch the tip of the iceberg and talk about 2 takeaway ideas from the workshop.  I also don’t want to simplify something that is so difficult for people.  I know so many people are hurting because they or someone they love suffers from severe anxiety and have tried these simple steps a million times.  The social worker who spoke at the conference was very insistent that these examples will work when the child is suffering from stress, not an anxiety disorder, which needs professional help.

The first was a stress scale.  A stress scale looks basically like a pain rating scale

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This is used as a communication tool with your child.  When you see them becoming stressed about something, this can be a tool to help the child communicate and understand how to deal with the problem.

0-2: Push through the feeling.  Get the job done.

4-6: Child gets to choose if they push through the feeling or calm themselves down.

8-10: Get control and calm down.  This is not a time to solve the problem.

If your child is at an 8-10, do not try to solve the problem!  Wow.  This was incredible and eye opening to me.  How many times have I said, “Ok, time to do your homework (or practice violin, or read out loud, or set the table……).” and I was met with a tantrum.  Screaming.  Pulling hair.  Stomping.  A regular chorus is, “I hate violin!  I’m horrible!!!!!”

What do I normally do? Basically my insides churn, my adrenaline kicks in and my internal monologue goes, “There is NO WAY I’m letting you win just because you are having a temper tantrum.  NO WAY.  You can’t complain and get out of something….or else you will complain about EVERYTHING in hopes of getting out of it.”

And then I flip out.

Really awesome parenting happens when you are screaming “YOU CAN’T SCREAM ABOUT THINGS ALL THE TIME IN THIS HOUSE!!!!!!”

Instead of 1 anxious person, we now have 2.  You can determine who was the first anxious person.

You job as the parent is to help your child understand how they feel on the inside and act on the outside to coincide with the different numbers.  With a stress scale, your child determines if they are going to solve the problem or take a break and get calm.  When there is too much stress, problems do not get solved.

The second takeaway was the vital importance of a solid and well-connected relationship with your child.  This is true for any child, of course, but becomes more challenging with an anxious child.  When you child begins to push (see above) don’t push back.  When your child screams “I can’t do my math!!!” do NOT ask a “why” question.  Why questions, or any question your child can answer beginning with the word “because” only gets your child more stuck.  The because is endless…..

because its hard.

because I don’t understand it.

because I hate math.

because I’m horrible at everything.

because my teacher doesn’t like me.

because I forgot it.

The only thing this is accomplishing is the parent getting more frustrated, the child spiraling further into stress and the homework is not getting done.  The child continues to beat himself up, when he already felt like a failure to begin with.  An angry parent only makes it worse. (this is the point in the presentation where I really needed that drink!)  Here was a core belief the presenter shared, and one that I also believe in:

Children want to please their parents.

If the child is struggling in school and the parent gets upset, its a double whammy.  In their mind they are failing at school and failing at home.  This is not the recipe for a healthy self-esteem and endurance to try hard when faced with difficulty.

A child who struggles in school already feels bad about the subjects that are hard for him/her.  I see this on a daily basis with #2.  He doesn’t need me to remind him that things are hard by asking a “why” question….he is reminded by how hard school is constantly throughout the day.

A better question when #2 screams “I can’t do my math!” would be, “Can you tell me what you don’t like about it?”

I’m not solving the problem.  Quite the opposite actually, I’m validating.  I’m letting him know its OK that something is hard.  I’m here to listen.  I’m here to care.  The homework will come later, after he has calmed down (that will happen, right?).  But first step, let him know his feelings are OK, it,s safe to let his ugly emotions out, and I will be at his side the entire time.

As I’ve written about before, one of the most important things when parenting a dyslexic child is to listen.

I are their strongest support in a world where they don’t fit into all the time.  School is hard enough. Its my goal to make home a place where they do fit in, a place they feel connected and understood.

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Quirks, tantrums and all.

Just please don’t as me to listen at 5:15 in the morning, I’ll be out on a run.

Another lost day

We’ve been vortex’d…..again.  And, looking at the weather forecast for Minnesota, there is more bitter cold on the way for next week.

While many people are cheering because there is no school today, I am filled with anxiety and sadness.  Today was the day I was going to sign the paperwork to allow #3 to get tested by his school.  I’ve been asking for action since September (actually, I’ve been asking for attention since September of his kindergarten year), paid a large sum of money to a private tester, had meetings, phone calls, e-mails, written a letter, more phone calls, supplied the classroom teacher with information about dyslexia, had other conversations…..and finally I had broken through.  I’ve been asking for a team to sit down and discuss #3 since December.  And now, near the end of January, I was finally given the opportunity to share my opinions and sign a paper that brings all this to the next step, getting #3 closer to the education he deserves.

And now….it’s cancelled.  The process has frozen.

Perhaps it will be rescheduled for next week.  Maybe the week after.  The entire time I hear the clock….tick, tock, tick, tock….and see time wasting away.

1st grade is half over.  #3 has made very little progress.  He doesn’t have weeks, days, or even hours to waste at this point.  I see the other kids in his class making progress, while he stays at the same exact level he was at in kindergarten.  The gap becomes bigger by the day.  Education matters.  School matters.

I can see the future.  I’ve been here before.

He will be tested…eventually.  Results will be questioned.  There will be more meetings….but after spring break.  There will be a lot of head scratching.  I will have a lot of tears.  At some point its the end of April and I’m told, “Maybe we should just put something really minimal in place and figure it out next year.”  Summer school will be suggested….because if the approach didn’t work for 9 months, let’s try it for 2 more!  That sounds logical.  At this point I will lay my head down on the table and ask someone to wake me up when its all over.

How many other children are out there needing school to be in session?

How many other parents are filled with dread because of the lost days?

Time for me to focus on things I actually have some control over.

 Today #3 will weave potholders,

build with legos,

and perhaps make cookies.

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And pray for warmer weather.

 

Small Steps

This is my second winter attempting to skate ski.  Each time I head out to the trails I filled with anticipation, excitement and an ample amount of dread.  Last weekend I was out on a local golf coarse skate skiing with #1.  For awhile he was behind me and I would randomly hear (I’m sure there was some reason for it….but to me it was random) commands such as:

“Mommy, V1!”

“V2!”

“I said V2!”

“V2 Alternate!!!! Mommy….are you listening?  V2 Alternate!”

Quickly #1 became frustrated with me and I heard him coming up to my side.  He looked at me and mutters, “Do you realize that you are supposed to put your poles down at a specific time and not just randomly?”  He then takes off fast enough to insure I do not catch up to him.  Mothers are already really embarrassing when you are a 7th grader…they are infinitely more embarrassing when your mother is clueless and flailing on skis…in public…with other people around…that you know.

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#1 showing some speed around a curve.

When I’m out on my skate skis I’m literally just trying to continue some sort of forward momentum, making sure my poles don’t actually hit my skis, praying I don’t have a heart attack, and wondering what crazy person invented a sport where you are supposed to glide up a hill on long slippery sticks.  Trying to figure out what my poles are supposed to do based on the terrain and speed completely overwhelms me.  I have enough things in my life that frustrate and challenge me, why am I taking on a sport that is so frustrating and challenging?

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This is me….struggling up a teeny-tiny slope, I can’t even call it a hill.  
(It’s OK if you laugh at the horrible form.  It’s truly awful.)

This week Gabrielle Giffords had an inspiring editorial in the New York Times, “The Lessons of Physical Therapy.”

In it she write, “It’s gritty, painful, frustrating work, every day. Rehab is endlessly repetitive. And it’s never easy, because once you’ve mastered some movement or action or word, no matter how small, you move on to the next. You never rest.”

This is how I feel so often raising three children with dyslexia.  The moment I feel like one child is on the right track I turn my head and realize that another child needs more support.  When I spend time advocating at one school, I realize I haven’t talked to the teachers at another school enough.  If they aren’t struggling on a writing assignment, there is a large history project, or a science fair project, or a book report, or a spelling list….   When I feel like I’ve made some progress with advocating for #3, I realize just how much more I have to overcome in order to get him the help he deserves. When one small thing is mastered by one child, I don’t get a break, I move on to the next challenge without a pause.

It’s overwhelming.  It’s daunting. It makes me want to crawl back into bed.

However, Gabbie Giffords goes on to talk about how her resolve to achieve great things with her physical therapy are a bit like her resolve to achieve great things with gun control.  She writes:

“Our fight is a lot more like my rehab. Every day, we must wake up resolved and determined. We’ll pay attention to the details; look for opportunities for progress, even when the pace is slow. Some progress may seem small, and we might wonder if the impact is enough, when the need is so urgent.

But every day we will recruit a few more allies, talk to a few more elected officials, convince a few more voters. Some days the steps will come easily; we’ll feel the wind at our backs. Other times our knees will buckle. We’ll tire of the burden. I know this feeling. But we’ll persist.”

Do a little more each day.  Wake up determined.  I love this.  It can be applied to so many challenges we face in life.

When raising children with dyslexia it’s very easy to get bogged down and overwhelmed by the big picture.  There are so many roadblocks to success.  Schools don’t help.  Teachers aren’t trained.  Administrators are overwhelmed with other problems.  There is no funding. Blah, blah, blah.

I can’t solve all the problems surrounding educating dyslexic children in one day.  But I can do something each day to make a difference in the lives of my children and hopefully make the path easier for others in the process.  In 2014 I’m resolving to do 1 thing each day to learn more, advocate, or help someone effected by dyslexia.  Before I know it, if I continue to work hard, and continue to gain allies, there will be enough change that it has made a difference in the lives of children with dyslexia.

And in the meantime, I’ll focus on being able to skate ski without my knees knocking together.  The poles…and all that V-something stuff…will need to wait.

Hitting the wall

Marathon runners talk about hitting the wall.  This happens, usually around 18 miles, when your body wants desperately to stop the madness but you need to make it to the finish line (if it’s a race) or a couch at your house (if it’s a long training run).  To get past the wall I focus on simply putting one foot in front of the other.  As long as I keep moving, progress is made.  This is where determination, grit, and a high pain tolerance comes in handy.  Also, some well placed stubbornness.

This week I finally heard back from the principal at #3’s school.  Last week handed in his assessment which clearly states he will qualify for special education and details how intense the correct interventions need to be NOW so that he doesn’t slip into failure (I would argue a deeper failure).  At first I heard back nothing.  So, I e-mailed the special education teacher and principal to let them know the paper work had been turned in.  I asked a simple question, “Is anyone at our school trained in an Orton Gillingham method?”  Again, no answer.

Finally, yesterday the principal came into #3s first grade classroom while I was there and asked me to stop into his office when I got a chance.  Yeah!  Progress.  I really like this principal.  He is responsive to parents and truly a nice guy.  He has a great love of what he does and it shows.  A couple minutes later I sauntered down to his office with high hopes of having a great conversation. He would share with me how quickly the school is going to move because of the thorough assessment I provided. We would end it with a smile and perhaps even a high 5.  Go team!

I’m so dumb.

He started by going over the qualifications for special ed. and I realized this was not going to be the conversation I had pictured.  First, there needs to be a discrepancy between achievement and ability.  #3 has a huge discrepancy.  He is labeled gifted by the district (and this was confirmed in his outside assessment) and is in the bottom 5% for reading achievement and phonemic awareness according to his psychological testing.  Second, his level of achievement must be very low.  Again, we have mastered this one…..he is below the 5% mark.  Third, he has to show no progress.

And this is where we hit the wall…..according to the principal.

#3 is holding his own, to a very low degree, in the classroom (I completely disagree with this).  In other words, he hasn’t failed yet according to the districts standardized testing.  He is on the low side, but until his standardized tests show that he is very low and he is falling further and further behind his classmates, no assessments will be made.  Its all about the number on one test in the Mondo Reading Curriculum.  What I say doesn’t matter.  What his classroom teacher says doesn’t matter.  What an educational assessment says…that doesn’t matter either.  He hasn’t failed enough.

I was stunned.  Am I supposed to hope for #3 to profoundly fail so that he can receive help?  Really?

Oh, but there is a solution the principal says.  The classroom teacher is going to do the Sonday System (Orton-Gillingham based) with him and another child.  I was speechless because how do you respond to insanity?

#3’s teacher is a master teacher.  She is disciplined, incredibly hard working, doesn’t waste a single second of instructional time in the classroom, and very skilled….however, she is human.  She has not been trained in how to teach children with dyslexia.  She has not been trained in the Sonday System or any Orton-Gillingham method and has not been trained in how to teach children with dyslexia.  So much of teaching a learning disabled child is about the pacing and the understanding of how frequent you need to go backwards and review.  These children learn at a very different pace and with very different instructional methods than other children….THAT IS WHY THEY STRUGGLE IN THE CLASSROOM.  A classroom teacher should not be expected to do everything twice, once for 90% of her classroom and another time for the other 10%.  Sometimes this is appropriate, but this should not be the final solution.

BTW, she has about 25 kids in her classroom, many of them with their own set of special needs: behavior, social, academic, highly gifted, poverty, struggles at home, etc.  She is supposed to figure out how to use an entirely different curriculum, find the time to do intense intervention (at LEAST 3 hours a week) AND teach the rest of the class all on her own?  Again, she’s excellent, but not a miracle worker.  This is not fair to her.  This is not fair to the classroom.  This is not fair to #3.  So much of what happens in the classroom for reading and writing does not apply to him, but he will be forced to sit there and watch his classmates understand and catch on to what is happening why he is continually learning “this does not apply to me” because the way reading is taught in the classroom is wrong for how his brain is wired.  Confusion sets in when a child is asked to do the classroom reading curriculum, guided reading and also a specialized curriculum.  That is 3 different approaches to tackle something that is already incredibly difficult…..when only one will work…..the other two only create anxiety and failure.

But, no help outside of the classroom will be given because he hasn’t failed enough yet. And I have yet to get an answer to my original question, has anyone in the school been trained in how to teach children with dyslexia?

I have hit the wall….in this case it’s the wall of crazy policies and bureaucracy in the district.  No help until your child is a puddle of tears on a daily basis, is so far behind his peers there is virtually no hope of getting caught up, and you and your child are both filled with hate and rage towards school.  Lovely.

Time to put one foot in front of the other.  Remember my form.  Breath.  Don’t freak out. Believe in myself.

I have trained hard for this.  I’ve been down this road before.  I know what needs to happen.  I have a good playlist.  I have friends and family along the road yelling encouragement, taking extra baggage, and handing me nourishment.  I have grit, determination….and let’s not underestimate my well-placed stubbornness.

I can’t see the finish line, but I know it’s there, and I will work with everything I’ve got to get there.  On the other side of the wall will be a child who believes in his academic capabilities and is given the chance to succeed.

family-27-2Failure is not an option.

When is it time to get your child tested?

Answer: When you have some money burning a hole in your pocket and you have a lot of grit.

Seriously.

First, financials.  Many places that understand and diagnose learning disabilities from an educational point of view do not accept insurance.  Which is particularly maddening because schools will not recognize/treat/accomodate dyslexia because it’s a “medical diagnosis” in their view (I can really flip out about this subject….since when are medical diagnoses not valid in the eyes of a school?).  Insurance doesn’t agree with this and tells you learning disabilities (aka problems in school) is not their issue because its not anything medical/health related.  Financials are just another area that parents are tossed around from one party to another with no one wanting to take some responsibility to help….and you are literally stuck with the bill.

Second, grit.  To go through this process you need determination and grit to face reality.  Determination just get to the process moving and see it through.  Grit to face what comes after the diagnoses.

Last night I sat in the office of the same educational psychologist’s office that diagnosed #1 and #2.  This time I was there concerning #3.  I had assumed he was dyslexic for years but didn’t have a formal diagnoses, paperwork and testing to back me up.  After a couple months in 1st grade it was clear I was going to need this to get attention so his teacher (whom I LOVE) wouldn’t continue to assume he just needs more time to practice reading the same guided reading books over and over and over…which quite frankly is a waste of his time.

Because I’m not homeschooling #2 anymore, and #4 is in school this year, I have time to be in the classroom volunteering.  On Tuesdays I volunteer at a program called Rocket Readers in #3’s first grade classroom.  I have a small group of some of the lowest readers in the classroom….because that is where my child is.  While another little girl, who started at a much lower reading level than #3 continued to improve through September, October, November and now into December, my child stayed at the exact same level with absolutely NO IMPROVEMENT.  The little girl has begun to sound out words.  She has different decoding methods.  Reading is still hard, but she is improving.  #3 can read some of the books at his level, but he is reading the pictures and using his background knowledge.  He is not reading the words.  He is not looking at the letters, understanding the sounds and putting the sounds together into words.  He could read a little book about a fire station because he has been to fire stations, I have read him books about fire stations, he had a unit in kindergarten about fire stations, etc….not because he saw the word “h-o-s-e” and can sound it out using phonics rules and know this word is hose.  The teacher continued to tell me that he was smart, a good student and he just needed more time.

Absolutely not.

I’ve been down this road before.  More time would only let him fall through the cracks more.  Let him fail further.  Bring about frustration, anxiety and a hatred of school.

He needs to be taught with different methods, something that is compatible for the way his brain is wired.  A whole language and guided reading approach will never EVER work.  He needs a systematic approach with phonics (aka the Wilson Reading System).  It was time to get the paperwork to back me up.

As I sat in the educational psychologist’s office hearing the words, “Yes, he is definitely dyslexic.  Its very obvious.  No one can question these striking results.  He needs appropriate interventions immediately.  It is so good you came as early as you did.”  He is more severely dyslexic than #1, but not profoundly dyslexic like #2. If I want to pursue special education, he would definitely qualify. I was filled with a sense of relief.  I was right.  Its always good to be right, isn’t it?

Later, at 3:00 AM, came the sense of dread.  Holy crap.  I have 3 kids with dyslexia.  And I live in a district that refuses to help them.  What am I doing?  Will this be a big huge fight too?  Will this principal treat me the same as the last principal (horribly)?  Will these teachers dismiss me and the needs of my child?  Will this school tell me its not their responsibility to teach him how to read and write and if I want that to happen I better find a tutor or private school?  Will anyone listen to me and understand that teaching a child with dyslexia is not outrageous, its just different?  (insert string of words I’m not going to type out……)

And then the alarm went off.  If I would have had time to get new spikes for my shoes (St. Paul is covered in ice right now) this would have been the perfect morning to get out my angst on a long, fast run.  Instead I hit off and prayed for strength, determination and grit.

Psychology professor Angela Duckworth defines grit as “sticking with things over the very long term until you master them.” She writes that “the gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina.”

Marathon?

Advantage is stamina?

Grit.

Its the one thing I actually do have.

Time to get those spikes for my shoes.  The road ahead may be treacherous, but with the right equipment, and a healthy amount of grit, anything is possible.  Especially when preserving #3s infectious personality is at stake.

family-34-2

 

Listen

The morning of the marathon my running partner dropped her husband (running dude) and me off near the starting line.  She was not running this year because of an injury and we found ourselves alone without our caretaker and guide.

“Time to get our watches on I suppose” said running dude.

With a panicked look in my eye I turned to him and said, “I forgot mine.”

“YOU FORGOT IT?!?!” says running dude in a squeak, his eyes flashing a feeling of panic that he trying to hide.

This was bad.  I had trained all summer to run a certain speed.  I’m a slightly erratic runner and pace is a little bit of a problem.  Also, running like I was shot out of a cannon or like a racehorse is sometimes my style, and this is not the way to start a marathon.  I knew exactly what pace I was supposed to run to qualify for the Boston Marathon, but now I would have no idea if I was going to fast (and running the risk of crashing around mile 22) or going too slow for the cutoff.

After awhile of rising blood pressure, and a moment of “what would my running partner do?” I said, “You know, I think it will be fine.  I no longer will have something on my wrist pressuring me to go faster or slower.  I won’t be looking at it every minute and feeling bad that I’m not going the right speed.  I won’t get into my head with negative thoughts and panic.  I can just go out there, listen to the music, listen to my body and run.”

Before we had to line up we said our good-byes, wished each other luck and took a deep breath together….hoping the next time we saw each other we’d both be happy at the finish line and not in a first aid station along the way.

As I stood in my coral waiting to start people started turning on their pace watches and waiting for the satellite signals to kick in.  Panic started rising in me again as I wondered how I was going to have any idea if I was going the correct speed. Right before my coral started, and I started at the open streets of Minneapolis, I silently meditated:

Listen.

Run to the beat.

Listen.

Your running partner will guide you with the music.

Listen.

Your body will carry you.

Listen.

And with that, I was off to run the marathon.  The first song on my playlist started and it was “Easy on Sunday Morning” by Lionel Richie.  Hilarious.  I started at a nice easy pace, looked down at the pavement, and eased into the run while people were flying by me at a sprint.  Instead of joining in, I listened…..

And so it goes with raising children. Throughout my parenting journey I have discovered that listening to my children is many times the most important thing I can do.  I had to listen to #1 and #2 struggle to know it was time to figure out what was going on with their learning.  I had to listen to #2’s signals which told me his elementary school was failing him.  While I was homeschooling him I had to listen very closely to his signals.  I didn’t have any test scores telling me if he was progressing, I had to listen to his progress.  Sometimes I think test scores are like a pace watch.  We don’t listen to students, we simply wait for the score and adjust.  This feedback is helpful and necessary at times, but harmful when its the only thing you rely on.  I had also listened to his signals and decided he was ready to try going to a more traditional school again.

When #1 was having a very difficult time at his elementary school I had a series of meetings with teachers and administrators.  Every time I met with them they would have a stack of papers containing various test scores.  They would throw out numbers and tell me everything was fine. Because I am his mother, and I was listening to his signals I knew things weren’t fine.  Finally I said, “Has anyone in this room ever listened to him read? Just sat down and listened?” I received blank stares.  I was furious.  In the room was his classroom teacher of almost 2 years and his reading specialist of almost 2 years.  I had been raising concerns for 5 years about his reading progress and NO ONE had ever simply listened to him read a paragraph.  Everything they were telling me was based on a number that was spit out of a computer. They had never listened to what I was telling them or what #1 was telling them.

Ridiculous.

I replied, “I think if you listened to him read this would be a different conversation.  There are 6 adults here, perhaps someone could find 5 minutes to listen to him and then we can meet again in a week.”

Later that week the classroom teacher did listen to him, and she was shocked…..he couldn’t read anywhere near grade level. She said she had no idea.  However, it was nearing the end of 5th grade and the said there wasn’t much they could do that year.  They suggested lots of tutoring and summer school so he could improve over the summer and hopefully 6th grade would be better, but offered no help from the school.  I listened for solutions and signals that things would change, and there were none.  I took this as my exit sign.  Through listening, I heard it was time to get out.

I told them I was officially done with the school and they had failed two of my children.  Because they had refused to listen, they had failed.

Sometimes steps can be hard and painful, such as leaving your community and friends, but sometimes the best thing you can do is listen to what your environment is telling you.

And so it went with the marathon.

There I was, going around the lakes in Minneapolis.  I had no idea what my pace was and I was caught in the middle of the pack.  I definitely knew I wasn’t going too fast, that was for sure.  But, I was enjoying the run and not worried about my time because I had no clue what it was!  After some slow songs the tempo started to pick up.  When “Girl on Fire” came on, I knew this was the signal from my running partner that it was OK for me to go for it.  A couple miles later along the Mississippi River I heard “Have You Got It In You?” My answer was yes, as I started passing more and more people.  As I entered my home turf of St. Paul for the homestretch down Summit Ave. where I would see many friends and family the song “Don’t Stop Believin'” was playing.  Suddenly a good friend from from my running group I call Team Varsity ran out and screamed “You’ve got this! Oh my god!  Just go!”  Around mile 24, during “The Rockafeller Skank” my beloved running partner was at the side of the road jumping up and down and screaming “You’ve got this baby!”  I couldn’t believe my body was telling me to go faster.  I still had no idea my time, and every step seemed to be taking increasing energy, but my body was telling me I had enough in me to get to the end, especially if I got there quickly.

mile 25

A friend took of picture of me running up the last hill of the coarse at mile 25.  I think the smile was gratefulness that I knew I wouldn’t have to climb another hill and I could sit down soon.

And then I was across the finish line.  I still had no idea my time, or what pace I had run, but it was over.  Soon I got a call from my running partner who said, “You did it! That was pretty amazing.”  Hearing her excitement was music to my ears.

Later that day my official results were in.  I had run an average pace of 8:30, the exact speed I planned to run, with negative splits through the marathon.  My time was 3:42:40, Boston Qualifying by a hair.

I had listened to my body.  Listened to the music.  Listened to my friends.  Proof that amazing things can happen when you listen to the signals around you.