Thursday, April 27, 2017


I mentioned in my last post that we have had some challenges.  Actually, in some ways, I think that it would be more accurate to say that we have had ongoing frustrations over the last several years.  I know that some people are going to read this and immediately decide that I am a bad parent and that I need to just "get over it."  For me, at least, this has been easier said than done.

I'm a teacher.  I work for a school board with a fairly prestigious reputation that touts itself as being on the cutting edge and doing things right (in contract with several other local boards which are so inferior to us is the implied message).  I'm an idealist and while I have times of feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, I've always listened to the workshop speakers or the staff meeting presenters and agreed (and, at times, felt a bit guilty that I wasn't doing everything perfectly).  I've always put a high value on making parents happy, treating families with respect and not judging their parenting.  I've always tried to do right by my students who weren't excelling and I've tried to stay current in terms of our understanding of how to support students with learning challenges.

I had been a teacher for 10 years when I had Pk,  I assumed that school for her would be the same as school for me.  I thought it would be easy, she would excel without a whole lot of effort and that she would be one of those bright, well-behaved and engaged girls who make life easier for teachers.  Early on, though, I noticed some things that surprised me.  Her vocabulary was incredible and at times, she showed real strengths but at other times, I was ready to lose my mind.  She had so much trouble following how to play games and in her piano group classes, she never answered questions and never seemed to really know what was going on.  The other kids seemed smarter than she was and I was worried but everyone (well, my mother and my husband) kept telling me that I was crazy and that I was pushing too hard.  I didn't want to have the smartest kid but I was seeing some signs that concerned me and everyone was dismissing it as my being an ambitious mother.

Then, she started J.K.  I have taught kindergarten, grade 1, 2 and 3 for years and years and I have seen lots of kids.  Initially, her teacher told us how bright she was - she started J.K. (pre-K in the U.S.) knowing all of her letters and their sounds, some words, she wrote her name and she could count collections with ease.  She learned to read lots of words but she just didn't seem to care about anything academic.  She had a vivid imagination and told wonderful stories but at times, she could be really vague and we had a three year fight about not keeping her water bottle inside her backpack and soaking everything.  I had this gut feeling that she wasn't who I had expected her to be and everyone around me kept telling me either that she was wonderful or that I just wasn't seeing how talented she was.

S.k. continued in the same vein and then, she began grade 1.  She read really well but her writing left a LOT to be desired and for math, she seemed to be almost incapable of learning simple rote math facts.  I still remember the time when she dragged me down the hall to see the self-portrait and personal description she had done.  The art was good but the writing?  I was shocked to see it on the wall next to the work of the other students.  She had done so little  I was a bit surprised that her teacher hadn't required more and I actually spoke to the teacher, asking whether I thought there were problems.  No, she thought that Pk was bright but "social" and that all would be well.

Grade 2, things got much worse very quickly.  It would take me days to tell you the ins and outs of it but let's say that it included marks plummeting, a teacher who didn't know the curriculum, Pk being tormented by two boys to the degree that she broke down crying at school one day at 11:30 a.m. and when I picked her up at daycare at 4, she was still crying and nobody had thought to call me, tremendous anxiety when a new boy moved in who was emotionally very unstable and was dragged daily from the class, screaming and attacking adults.  It was a horrible, horrible, horrible year and with all of the anxiety that developed, we didn't have a clue what was academic and what was due to her high level of stress.

I would say that grade 3 was the absolute worst.  It became clear from day 1 that her teacher didn't like her, viewed her as spoiled and indulged and really, just couldn't be bothered.  We were told that the teacher "had bigger fish to fry", that our expectations were unreasonable and, after 10 weeks of not talking to the teacher, when we tried to contact her to check in on how things were going, that she was "too busy" to talk to us.  I can't describe it.  I'm a teacher myself and I've been at this for 20 years.  Over and over and over again, the teacher was treating us like we were crazy for asking how to help our daughter and refusing to speak to us at all.  In the meantime, the marks continued to fall and yet, the teacher kept telling the principal that there were "no academic concerns."   It was like an alternate universe.

Finally, we gave up on the school system and went to our doctor.  That was the first step in things getting better.  She referred us to a top pediatrician who in turn sent us to a FANTASTIC psychometrist (an expert in educational assessments and the interpretation of results).  Guess what?  Pk is EXTREMELY bright but also has a learning disability (well, actually, three areas of very significant weakness).  By this point, she had moved schools (that happens in grade 4 in our community) and the new school was as wonderful as the old school was frustrating.  I have to be honest, hearing that your child has real deficits is a hard thing to face.  I had a friend whose son was diagnosed with ADHD and learning disabilities and I remember her telling me about the grief.  Having experienced it myself, I think that was a very good way to describe it.  You still love your child, in fact, in some ways, it helps you to appreciate him or her even more.  On the other hand, though, you begin to understand that life may not be easy for them.  I have overheard one of Pk's friends talking about how Pk just "isn't good at writing and can't do that stuff" which is 1. untrue, she just needs more time and 2. really, really hurt her feelings.  I know that we will be dealing with terrific teachers like the one this year, who loves her, admires her strengths like her sense of humour, her optimism and her kindness and yet is willing to work with her through the challenges but there will also be the teachers who either think Pk is stupid or lacks potential or who insist on viewing her executive function issues as being laziness.  I know that the transition to high school may be challenging and that while according to the psychologist, Pk should be able to pursue any university studies she wishes based on her intelligence, she may well have to work a lot harder than other people.  And, from a purely selfish standpoint, I have to learn to live with 1. that she will never measure up to the standard of the "perfect child" in the competitive world of "mommy-wars" (not that I buy into it but knowing that you will always be inferior in some people's eyes is still frustrating) and 2. that I will probably have to fight for her and that I will often face the dilemma of having to face the choice of being the nice, easy-to-deal with parent or being the mama bear who keeps the system honest for my kid but who knows that teachers are cringing when they see me coming.

So, that's been my tough battle this year.  A friend with a son with a diagnosis told me last fall, when I was in the worst of feeling discouraged that we were almost at the top of the hill - that fighting the system initially and finally getting the diagnosis was the uphill part of the battle and that you spent a bit of time on the level at the top when things aren't so bad but you aren't seeing success yet and then, finally, you realize that the coast down to the easier part of the journey has arrived.  I think that we have finally crested the hill and are starting the descent.  I'm grateful because the trip has left me very tired.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Happiness Update

I'm sorry that I haven't been around (although I don't think many read here anyway but it's still fun).  I always find winter tough and this year seemed to be especially so.  My mom was diagnosed with Parkinsons, which threw all up of for a loop, my parents-in-law sold their house and are moving in with my sister-in-law, which feels like the end of an important era for us (we had quite an attachment to their town), Pk was diagnosed with a learning disability, which, while actually good news (it proved that she is VERY bright but also legitimately struggling with some things that aren't due to poor parenting, which was the message the school gave us), led to some really struggles and, as always, our schedule kept me drained and overwhelmed.  I didn't use to like spring very much but, as the raising of my spirits can attest, I loathe winter and the longer daylight and warmer temperatures really do change my outlook on life.  I'll probably write longer about some of our challenges in another post but this one is going to be happy.

I am finding myself brimming with contentment these days and it often leads to my walking around with a stupid smile on my face (when the world isn't driving me crazy).  I thought I'd write a post about some of the things that are making me feel so happy these days.

1.  Being outside.  Having my dogs (more about that in a minute) means that I need to walk and most of the time, daily, more than once.  I often don't feel like going but once I do, I get such a sense of well-being and clear-headedness from being outside.  I walk at lunch at work, which is a lifesaver and I have taken to either listening to books on Audible or listening to some of my favourite podcasts.  The kids are getting old enough that they now often like to walk with me (and don't whine about being exhausted the entire time).  On Friday, we walked to a field literally five minutes from home and discovered a little waterfall in the creek in the forest.  I had to drag the kids away.  I know, we have started to overly idealize the "freedom childhood" but I really do think that being outside makes kids happier.

2.  Our pets.  We have two dogs, both brittany spaniels, Lucie and Harris and a cat, Sadie.  I can't tell you how much I love these guys.  I know the world is divided into pet people and no pet people and I most definitely fall into the first category.  They can be royal pains in the tush and cause all kinds of trouble and aren't especially well-mannered (having kids seems to have destroyed our ability to train a dog) but the joy they show when I come in the door, having a little body asleep on the floor beside me when I am working or having that presence in whichever room I am in changes my outlook on the day entirely.

3.  Our small town.  I know, small town life isn't for everyone and our proximity to the city means that we get to avoid some of the worst aspects of small down life but we love living here.  I love that we run into people we know everywhere we go, that there isn't pressure to be out doing something all of the time and that there is quiet around us.  I feel a sense of belonging here that I never felt growing up in a big city and I think my kids are really benefitting from that, at least at this stage.  This was Little Man walking to school with a big friend who he worships who he has known since he was born.  The kindness of the big and rough older boy to the little boy trying to keep up just about brought me to tears.

4.  My knitting.  Just before March Break, one of Pk's skating coaches approached me to ask me if she could pay me to knit a ponytail hat in worksocks colours for her.  I wasn't sure but after some research,  I found a pattern and got to work.  These are fun to knit and I have had so many requests for hats!  At the moment, I am making a set of 12 for Pk's synchro skating team for the fall.  They are easy, require little attention and look great.  That makes me happy!

5.  The thrift store.  I love second hand shopping, especially in stores that are clean and well laid out.  There is a wonderful thrift store in the town in which I work that is owned by a particular church group for whom I have tremendous respect and who do wonderful and responsible work globally.  My favourite treat is to go and browse and to buy some fun treasures.  Their books are especially cheap (3 for $5) and generally in wonderful condition.  I love this little treat that involves so little guilt!

6.  Getting out into my garden.  I have these very big dreams of a gorgeous garden and while they are rarely realized, I think that I am slowly and surely having some decent results.  I can't get over how an hour in the garden can change my entire outlook.  I have peas planted in my veggie bed already, I have started chives and dill from dried seed heads I found when weeding and tidying, I have morning glories and sunflowers started inside and many of my perennials have come back.  It's silly but it feels like a miracle to me each and every year.

7.  Podcasts.  I love podcasts and I have found some terrific ones of late.  I have always been a big fan of several shows from CBC (I especially like The Current) but I have stumbled across several that I really have begun to enjoy this year.  I ADORE What Should I Read Next with Anne Bogel (Tuesday is the day the new episode is released and it's silly how excited I become), I have really enjoyed some of the world on The Liturgists and Ask Science Mike, which Mike McHargue and Michael Gungor, Sorta Awesome with Megan Tietz and friends, Serial with Sarah Koenig and a few others that I can't remember at the moment.  I almost never watch t.v. and listening to podcasts is entertaining to me but also lets me do the things I need to do like gardening, knitting and cleaning (which I seem to do so much of these days).

8.  Reading.  I have been on a huge book binge of late.  Anne Bogel has made my life complicated by sharing so many wonderful books and since I discovered, I have become addicted to ordering used books online.  It's so much fun to have books arrive and to find little treasures that someone else has left behind.  I am bleary-eyed too much of the time these days because I can't go to bed without a good session of reading!

So, that's a few of the things making me happy right now.  I hope that spring is infecting you with an appreciation of all that you have.  I'd love to hear what is making you happy at the moment.