Monday, February 28, 2011


It seems like people are very happy to generalize about “good parents” and “bad parents”, but in my experience it’s quite a bit murkier. So here’s a replay of the past weekend’s situation and if anyone wants to comment, they can tell me if my actions qualify me for the good or bad tag. Honestly, beyond saying that I tried, I’ve got no idea.

So yesterday marked the first kid birthday of the year as HSS@14 became HSS@15. This is the year where I will be living with three teenagers, although I’m not there yet. I had asked the birthday child a week and a half ago if she wanted to do something for her birthday. I know some friends from years past, but as I’m never really sure about the complexities of teenage friendships, I didn’t make any suggestions. I got a mumbled “I don’t know” for an answer. I decided that since I didn’t really want the complexity of figuring it out, I wouldn’t push the issue. I’m guessing this is a point in the bad parent column.

Thursday evening HSS@14 asked if she could go to a sleep over at a friend’s house. I knew this would add complexity to our already complicated weekend, but it seemed like the least I could do to acknowledge her birthday. I went over what would be happening that weekend with her – sleep over, an all afternoon Girl Scout event, Sunday’s church (I may be an atheist, but if she wants to go to church I support her), birthday dinner with the family… there wasn’t too much time to get her homework done, but she assured me she didn’t have too much to do.

I didn't see her after I left for work Friday morning until I picked her up around noon on Saturday. After a very hectic Saturday afternoon of Scout activities, she was playing some sort of Sims game on the Wii Saturday evening. I gently said something about homework, but I didn’t want to push the issue. I had hoped that she got started Saturday evening, but I think that after playing on the Wii she spent too many hours on-line writing/reading fan fiction. Honestly, I needed an evening break on Saturday and after falling asleep in front of the TV I went to bed early without tromping up to the attic to see what was going on. Another mark in the bad parent column.

Sunday morning was not the best with sleep deprivation leading to tears when some computer/technology issues were brought up (falling asleep on the netbook without plugging it in to charge is a battery killer). It was a birthday so I worked to smooth over the issue and get homework started on Sunday around 1 or so. Good parent points, maybe?

I checked that homework was in progress fairly often without hovering over her shoulder Sunday afternoon. After her family birthday dinner & cake, I was assured there wasn’t too much homework left to finish up. I was attempting to get laundry done before the start of the week, so I left it at that. I re-iterated that I needed to go over the homework assignments before bed. I knew she was running late, but it felt heartless to get into one of those discussions on her birthday. By the time I was ready for bed all lights were off in the attic and it seemed wrong to wake a sleep deprived birthday girl to check on homework status.

I decided that I would wake her early on Monday, which I did. Even with an extra 15minutes she was late coming down with her backpack. She couldn’t find her homework assignment sheet. She assured me she had all her homework done. I couldn’t check it versus her assignments, so I don’t really know. I made sure her new assignment sheet for the day was in her folder along with her homework. I spoke fairly sternly about how we keep repeating the same homework disaster. I stopped before she started to cry – doesn’t take much for HSS@15 to cry, I’m telling you.

Good parent, bad parent, what should I do differently, when should I let personal responsibility for a 15 year old kick in? I’m at a loss, so maybe you can tell me.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Saturday Night's Alright...

So I knew I had booked Saturday kind of full, but really, what choice do you have? Msk is a man of routines, so Saturday morning means practice with his Special Hockey team - the Baltimore Saints. This Saturday was the last Saturday in the build season of First Robotics season, so the high school students, me, and probably hubbie needed to spend some time in the robotics lab in said high school. Roller skating is an every Saturday routine for msk and behavior-dude. I had gotten tickets for a hockey fundraising game in the evening. Msk would play a single period, then he and I and msk's behavioralist (b-d) and b-d's significant other and her autistic client would watch a Hockey 4 Hope game between Caps alumni and police/firemen.

It was a packed day. I had not slept too well in anticipation, but reality was different.

I dropped the HSS (high school students) off at 9:00 and waited for the coach to open the door. Then it was off to hockey practice. The goal for the day was to avoid skating into the net during practice. Msk is totally drawn into enclosed spaces. A hockey goal and dog's crates seem to suck him in. We had worked out a plan where he could go in before and after practice, but not during practice. This seemed to work pretty well, with him shooting lots of goals and avoiding skating into the net - much to the goalies' relief. Unfortunately, after a correction (msk has a hard time with corrections) he skated into the goal two times. Still, he did a lot better than last week.

Next stop was picking up b-d and dropping him and msk off at the roller skating rink. Because of the evening's hockey game they were going to have to cut an hour off of roller skating. Unfortunately, this meant missing the birthday song routine (there are always lots of birthday parties on Saturday afternoon at this rink). Msk started getting upset, but I knew that b-d would handle it better than I could so I headed back to the robotics lab.

The stress was turning up at robotics, and I tried to figure out what I could do to help out after I had checked in with my HSS. Not long after I got a call from the Baltimore County police. My pulse started racing. "Can you describe your son?" I started to flip out with worry. Eventually I found out that someone had decided to call the police because msk was upset.

One of the joys of having a significantly autistic kid is that everybody seems to notice his behaviors and come up with a story that matches their judgement. With me, it's usually a matter of "why don't you discipline that child?" With b-d, who is a 6'3" African American male, the question turns into "Why are you kidnapping that cute little white boy?" My husband has put up with the sexism that says men shouldn't be around children - he's a stay at home dad. Add to that the whole racism of our society...

Anyway, b-d was pretty upset and my heart was still racing from images of msk getting hurt. Luckily, msk had calmed down by the time the cops got there and he didn't flip out. I felt pretty bad, but figured the day would get better.

The robot had other ideas. A shaft connection cracked and motors were overheating. It started to seem a lot like the stress of work with hard deadlines looming. It was getting towards the time I needed to leave so I called my husband. I explained that I was leaving our daughters and that he should plan on coming to help out as well as pick them up.

I quickly drove from the high school to the roller rink. Msk was fine (he had listened to the you tube of the birthday song). B-d was pretty bummed. A mixture of anger over racism and defensiveness towards msk's right to be upset if he is upset. We drove home to meet-up with b-d's significant other and her client to drive to the evening's hockey game. A little venting and listening to a Gil Scott Heron CD and everybody seemed to be ok.

We started driving to Laurel. The wind was fierce and I noticed some strange clouds after we drove through the Harbor Tunnel. After a while the traffic got weird and turned into stop and go. We were early so I didn't think much of it. Even when they forced us off I-95 I figured even if we were a little late everyone else would be too.

A car with two autistic young men could be a disaster, but with two behaviorists, an iPad and an iPod touch, we did fine. We eventually got to the road that the ice rink was on (phones with GPS are great!) only to be told the rink was closed.

We found a nearby Outback and had a uniquely autistic dinner. Not long after getting home husband arrived with the HSS. The robot was still being difficult, but better.

A long, strange day was over. I'm not sure if there's any point to this post. Sorry, guess I'm just rambling.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, February 14, 2011

Getting parents to come to school

In the course of sending three kids to 7 different schools, I’ve seen a lot of different results as far as parental involvement goes. If you have a high income school, where a lot of parents have the kind of job where leaving early is an option (i.e. professionals or stay-at-home parents), you will see a lot of highly involved parents, successful fundraising and annoyingly tedious meetings because everybody wants to share their highly informed opinions. If, on the other hand, you have a more diverse parent body and you are looking for ways to draw in parents, there are many things that work.

Things to do to get parents involved in your school that I have actually seem to work in practice:

  • Have meetings that are very focused on one issue and only expect the parents who are working on that issue to come
  • Let parents make appointments for conferences and let them actually talk to someone to figure out a solution for logistical problems
  • Provide child care that the kids involved actually see as fun
  • Give sincere thanks to parents who come and explain why their participation is so valuable
  • Let parents keep track of the time that they are volunteering at a school and at the end of the year give prizes for the top families
  • Have agendas and time tables that are followed and meet with parents after the meeting if they have things they want to talk about that won’t allow following of the agenda
  • Understand that different parents have different commitments and acknowledge their time contributions in terms of effort, not absolute hours or meeting attended
  • Get kids involved in why this meeting or this fundraiser or this progress report is important and let them lobby their parents to attend. A report card conference where a kid is eager to show-off a folder of work is very hard for a loving parent to refuse
  • Come to terms with the fact that you will not be able to get some parents involved, for whatever reason. Put a little extra effort into supporting these kids so they know that someone is valuing their work and is concerned about how they are doing

Things you can do to drive away parents:

  • Get defensive whenever a parent asks why an administrative decision was made
  • Never have decision makers (i.e. upper administrators) come to meetings where parents are voicing their opinions or asking questions
  • Always hold meetings at the same time and on the same day
  • Administer harsh and out-of-the-blue punishments on kids that have no basis in published rules or what has been done in the past
  • Start assemblies with yelling at the audience for not being quiet while they have waited for a performance to start for many long minutes
  • Have teachers talk to parents exactly the same way that they talk to their students, i.e. threatening and lecturing as opposed to seeing them as partners

Friday, February 4, 2011

(Let it !snow)Please

I know snow days are supposed to bring shouts of joy from kids. I remember that feeling of a burden lifted and a totally free day when I was in school. Maybe sledding, maybe a book, maybe TV. It was blissful.

These days when I hear about storms approaching I am filled with dread. Msk begs, pleads, cries for a little structure and order to his life... and what do I have to tell him? There might not be school tomorrow. It breaks my heart.

Last week was especially hard. It started with two days off for teacher training after an early release Friday. We had no plans - I had to go to work - so for msk this meant some computer and backyard time. As much as he likes the the computer time this change in routine worried him. Anxiety led to a level of grumpiness and tension.

We knew that there was a chance of a snow day on Wednesday so we prepped on Tuesday night at bedtime. "There might not be snow tomorrow." "If mom doesn't wake you up it's because there's no school." "You can look out your window in the morning - if it's too snowy there won't be school."

No school Wednesday and we repeated the discussion Wednesday night and Thursday night. There was no, zero, none, zilch school days last week. Lots of stress and outburst, but no school. Even the usual joyful weekend activities - hockey, roller-skating with the beloved Behavior Dude, Sunday's grocery shopping trip - none of these really brought joy. There was a manic tinge to msk's attitude through it all. B-D said, "He seems like another kid."

Sunday night we knew there would be school on Monday. The rest of the week was questionable, but we knew msk would go to school the next day.

I explained that to him and said, "I know there will be school tomorrow and I will wake you up and give you your uniform to get dressed." It was a way for me to say, you've made it through this stress and everything will be back to normal tomorrow. That made him start crying uncontrollably. Clearly he was too worried and too uncertain to trust anything that I said. My reassurance only reminded him that the world has no order and no reason. Never let down your guard because you can't trust anything or anyone.

His tears broke my heart that night.