Tuesday, December 20, 2011

News of note

Right now there is a very important court case going on in Baltimore. The parents of a Special Needs student are suing the school system for $1.3 million for gross negligence in connection with bullying at two different City Schools. I can't express how much this trial and the testimony breaks my heart. Bullying is a sign of a lack of control in a school. The fact that special needs students are far more likely to be bullied then other students is a sign of a lack of compassion among students as well as a reflection of how the school body as a whole feels towards a different and vulnerable population. I believe that a school with calm hallways and a atmosphere of respect for everyone in the building would not have these type of problems. You want to know why school choice is so important? So that parents in these desperate situations don't feel forced to keep there kids in this school. There has to be a way out.

Yes, I know I'm being emotional, but how the hell can you read this story or this story or this post or this post and not become emotional? I can't.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Two more essays to go... blah

I think I've written on this before, but I would just like to say one more time for emphasis - college essays suck. How do they suck and why to they bother you so, you ask? Let me count the ways, or at least give you my top ten.
  1. Believe it or not, not everybody is a writer or finds writing a great outlet to express themselves
  2. Essay topics such as "what do you think is great about this school?" invite nauseatingly suck-up writing - painful to generate, painful to edit
  3. College application time is emotionally fraught to begin with - putting yourself out there for acceptance or rejection - in this state hardcore editing to make a polished essay often leads to tears. I am tired of being the enforcer for other people's stupid rules and making my children cry. Tired, tired, tired.
  4. Why do different colleges have similar essay topics with vastly different word count requirements - it's impossible to use anything over when the word count goes down to 25% of the original, or do you really want to go under the word count by 75% if you try to share the essay that way?
  5. How the heck are they actually using these essays to make judgements anyway? If they're looking for that "stand out" essay, not everybody is a wild extrovert (see reason #1 for a similar concept)
  6. No matter how much time you put into essays there's some sort of guideline someplace that says you should have put in more time. There's only so much pushing for get it done early so we can edit, edit,edit...yuck
  7. Really, being able to hit submit and say done is worth a lot. How many revisions can you stand?
  8. Did I mention that not everybody is passionate about writing? Let's have everybody submit an imaginative solution to a geometric brain teaser with explanatory illustrations. Seem a little unfair to the non-math types? Logical thinking and proof construction seems like a reasonable thing to ask to me and HSS would blow the competition out of the water.
  9. Eight applications is not excessive with two safety, two reach and four that seem like a good shot. Close to fifteen finely crafted and well polished essays is excessive.
  10. By not getting together and coming up with a reasonable number of common essays like the Common App these schools are playing some sort of ego-trip, how-much-do-you-love-me game because you have to spend more time on some essays than others. It's hard not to get pissed at the schools with the most off-the-wall essay requirements

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Reflecting, now become – image is pure

All lake-ness overwhelmed by bigger sky

As water’s color, spirit is obscured

Grey feelings show azure, cloud accents high

And joyful days when storms come rolling by -

Show bitter, fiercely grey to others, though

Deep water, massive, rests in many an eye

Lone swimmers diving through are all who’d know

But eyes tight shut, still unseen, soul’s subsumed

Faint rippling texture hints, spirits persist

Reflecting petty feelings now entombed

Defined by monoliths we dwell amidst

Though wishing I could steer what others see

How, hidden by illusion, I’m set free

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Second Acceptance

Good dog!
Got an acceptance letter from UMBC today. Not sure if this is the best fit for HSS since there's no electrical engineering or civil engineering, but they've got lots of student supports and I think the CWIT program sounds pretty awesome.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Getting close now

Yes, that is a dog butt in the lower right corner
So on this 9-80 Friday I pretty much did nothing. I know I should be getting ready for Christmas, but I'm procrastinating. I've actually made a big dent in my list post from a few weeks ago:

  • Company Party - big on obligation, small on fun
  • BSO holiday concert with 2 kids
  • Visit (with interview) to Stevens Institute in Hoboken
  • Two hockey games in one day (one played, one viewed) in Hershey PA
  • Christmas shopping, and since they closed Daedalus at Belvedere I'm going to have to figure out something new - blah
  • Heading up the Adopt-a-family drive for House of Ruth at work
    • Counting/sorting gifts
    • Spending cash donations on un-claimed gifts
    • Taking gifts to House of Ruth
  • Financial Aid meeting at the High School - bailed on that one having done the online course
  • Hockey Holiday party
  • Some sort of birthday celebration for msk  - we did a family dinner at TGIFridays and he was OK with that
  • Christmas tree and house decorations - see picture above
  • Shopping for the massive holiday buffet party at our house
  • Making a dish to share for work -  thinking about bailing on this as well...
  • Mailing gifts to out-of-town relatives
  • More harping on college essays and submitting remaining applications - on going, but down to 3 now
  • Final report and submittal of 2011 Cookie sale

I thought about presents, but couldn't commit to shopping vs. Amazon. The hockey party is tomorrow. I really should get some packages mailed. It was lazy, but today I took a break. Breaks = boring posts. Sorry.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Another tough day

Nobody's happy to watch a child suffer
Sometimes (maybe most times) it's one of my "neurotypical" kids that drives me up to the brink. That's where both my husband I were teetering last night. As a result, today I feel washed out and stretched thin. I think I need to read my own response (paraphrased below as it has seemed to disappear from Facebook) to a parent who was frustrated and vented last week. Her son was going through a rough patch and she was saying what a bad parent she was. I commented:

"You know, I think most of our kid's qualities are how they are wired rather than how we guide or lead them. They make their own choices and live with the consequences. Some times you need to just sit back and look at an old picture and remember how much you love them. That's really what we are there for - unconditional love. There are some jobs you just can't quit. Being a mom is one of them."

You know the thing about advice? It truly is much better to give then receive.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


So yesterday, while moaning, I promised a more cheery post today - here goes.

Hard to miss the joy in this picture of an autistic kid, eh?
 Among the autism tweeps I follow, #AutsimPride was trending, with 140 character snippets about how people with autism are not a tragedy, but are pretty inspiring. Here's my own tweet:
  • My son has the most independent mind & best smile. He is brilliant and honest. He's taught me so much about patience & empathy #autismpride
A little background. On December 6th, a court in Colorado found that a mom, who murdered her autistic infant son, would not stand trial for murder. You can read more here. Infanticide of autistic kids is not that uncommon of an event. The tragedy triggered one of the aut-rent bloggers that I follow to to post this and call for everyone who was also appalled to "Vanquish the forces of autism evil! Declare your #AutismPride" The basic concept is not to deny that autism can be a big challenge, but to be vocal about the up-sides as well. We need to be vocal to counter the popular perception of "the tragedy of autism". That popular perception kills people, as it did in Colorado.

I think it's hard not to get caught up in our personal problems. Heck, yesterday's post was one giant whine-fest. That does not mean my life, or my son, is a tragedy. He brings me joy and I am proud of him. Did I tell you he made the Honor Roll first quarter? But I'll go a step further - I am not proud of him in spite of his autism, I am proud of him as a whole, including his autism. If I list the things about him that bring me pride, you'll see how autism is integral to them:
  • He is genuine every minute of every day - he doesn't have the ability to put on a show that isn't honest
  • He can access almost anything he's seen or heard his entire life
  • He sees things as they really are, not how we're supposed to see them, and this helps me understand
  • He lives in the moment - he remembers the past but he doesn't regret or hold grudges.
  • He never gets frustrated when people misjudge or underestimate him - he truly doesn't care
  • He likes people, but he is content to be by himself - I never worry about keeping him entertained
  • He's very smart - he taught himself to read, caught up academically after a placement that had no academics, he really gets the abstraction that is math even though his language is very limited
Autism is not a tragedy. Ignorance is the tragedy.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Off the wagon

If ever there was a post that deserved the TL;DR response, this would be it. Sorry - I just feel like venting a bit.

I had been doing so good at posting in this month after NaBloPoMo, but clearly after taking three days off I'm starting to slip. Let me tell you about the day that led me to take a blogging break.

Saturday was an all hockey all day occasion. It started with the usual Special Hockey practice from 9:45 to 10:45 with a 40 minute drive to get there and 15 minutes worth of gear application before starting. I know I've posted before how much I love Special Hockey - the tremendous amount of volunteer support, the true joy in even the most minor victories, the time I get to network with other parents dealing with similar challenges. This practice felt more frustrating for me. Msk skates so well, but he just doesn't get the concept of working in a team or even wanting to be in the middle of a crowd. These are such basic concepts that relate to so much in life. At the moment I'm seeing no progress, and it bums me out.

After practice there was a game in Hershey PA at 2:30, followed by tickets to a 7:00 game with the Hershey Bears. Given the drive time there was basically just time for lunch. We had lunch at a fast food joint with a play place. Sometimes I wonder if msk will ever come to grips with the idea that even if he likes climbing and sliding, he is labeled as too big to play in these places. He didn't melt down, but he obsessively repeated the conversation we had about him being too big. I know he wouldn't break anything or hurt any of the little kids, but he has a hard enough time with rules without me doing any flip-flopping. His sorrow was infectious.

After lunch, I drove with another special needs parent and his son. The company was a life-saver, because that much car time with msk all by myself (40min to practice, 3:40 round trip to Hershey, for a total of about 4.5 hours) can be a bit much. He can get stuck on an echolalic pattern and work himself into a frenzy and although the best thing to do is ignore him that's hard when I'm not allowed to turn the radio on. With company and interaction we both did a lot better.

On the other hand, the conversation turned to our growing kids and the challenge to get a decent education out of the school system for kids with very significant disabilities. Because I'm looking towards msk's next placement, horror stories about other City Schools increase my anxiety level. The story I heard was very horrific, but it's not my story, so I won't tell it here.

At the hockey game in Hershey msk was totally disengaged. I don't think he hit the puck once and he was never in the action. That coupled with a statement about him inappropriately touching a female team member (which I'm not 100% sure of and there's no way he'll defend himself if it is false), and I felt like crying through the whole game.

Between his game and the Bear's game we went to the park. Nothing horrible happened, but a simple spur of the moment jaunt to an amusement park is so much more complicated with two special need kids in tow. Usually, I get a charge from how much msk loves rides, but the cold, number of rides closed and the ratio of line time to ride time all came together to make me grumpy.

After the cold of the park, sitting in the warmth of the Hershey Bear's game was nice. Unfortunately, I could barely get msk to glance at the game. I don't think he saw any connection from what he did see to his own performance on a hockey team. He spent the majority of the time we watched the game playing on his new iPod or watching lights and numbers on the jumbotron hanging over the rink.

It was way past msk's bedtime and pretty close to my own bedtime when we got home. I think it was 10:30 or 10:45.

Tomorrow's post will be back on the positive side. Sorry.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Parent portal 1st impressions

different school system, same portal
After a call to the help desk and several hours of waiting, my Parent Portal account is now working. I didn't do anything wrong. There's what strikes me as a pretty big bug in the system (but I was told it would be fixed very soon). You have to enter all your kids when you first log into the system. If one teacher, or school, is more swift on giving you the access numbers you need wait for the slower party. There is no way to enter an additional child once you have created your account without a call into the North Ave. IT help desk. This warning is probably too late, but there you have it. And if you don't work by a phone that you can sit on hold on... oh well.

So, now, nearly half way into the school year I can see all sort of grades on line. 

Some pluses and minuses that strike me right off the bat:
+ This should mean no report card or status report comes as a surprise. 
- It seems like I'm going to be micro-managing how swiftly teachers use this online tool. So far there seem to be very few posted assignments, so the idea of keeping up with homework before a bad grade shows up isn't going to happen. These updates every two weeks? I guess we'll see. If I see a teacher not using this tool can I give them the same level of grief they give students who don't follow rules? And who would I tell, or is it just going to be another source of friction at meetings? This is worse case, but theoretically, I can see problems.
+ It's nice to know all sorts of information, for example, didn't that absence excuse get turned in? I know I wrote it.
- The interface seems needlessly complex, but I can work through it. I'm not sure what percentage of parents can.

That's all I've got for now - I'll keep you posted as the year goes on.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

1st acceptance

So, first acceptance email was received today! I'm pretty sure Drexel is the only rolling admission university that HSS is applying to, so it will probably be months before any more decisions are heard. Still, knowing that there is one school, which seemed pretty good, that wants HSS to attend is very reassuring.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Why does the word help come before desk?

Do you want to know my vision of hell? Pleading for help from people who either don't know how or can't help me, while being stuck on hold for indeterminate amounts of time, followed by answering tons of questions that are asked before I am transfered to someone else who (after another period of hold music) ask me the same questions all over again. Plus, everything is much more complicated than it needs to be. I work in rocket science, and this junk is not rocket science.

At work I believe we have the world's most complicated and annoying email program. It is an order of magnitude more annoying than iTunes, and that's saying a lot. The thing that kills me is that when I went on international travel I had to have a computer without this program installed. Ha! It would be a case of international sabotage if someone stole this program off my computer...but I digress.

Today, on my agenda is two separate help desk calls - one to work for the above mentioned email program, another to North Ave. for Parent Portal. Ugh! I actually have work that I'm supposed to be accomplishing, and neither of these calls will allow me to accomplish diddly-squat for who-know-how-long. And the hold music is Christmas carols.

Clearly, in a previous life I must have been a mass-murderer, to deserve this type of punishment.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Thirteen years

Today is msk's  thirteenth birthday. His present is an iPod touch with a bunch of apps and music and pictures that I'm hoping he'll enjoy. He's had access to most of these on my iPod touch for quite a while, but I'm hoping that something that is his might get more use.

I also got him a pair of bluetooth headphones, because the wires on headphones are no match for msk, and I'm tired of trying to re-splice stereo-mini jacks.

I'm especially interested in how he takes to Sosh and Conversation Builder.

I'll keep you posted.

I know Dr. Seuss apps might seem strange for a 13 year old, but he seems to love the familiarity of younger books, even though he's reading just at about grade level.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Another Sunday's hike

It's hard to believe it's the 4th of December. It was a beautiful day for a walk in the park. This poem was from a much colder day. Even on the coldest days msk is drawn to play in the stream. He's taught me to be quiet and patient and to be in the moment - not rushing him to finish playing or bugging him about how he might lose his shoes if he lets them float downstream. The joy of having a pair of shoes that double as boats in a current.

Late November Hike

Clear water - high, swift flowing,
A splash like a knife, cruel and cutting

At this late fall, early winter juncture
The park’s soul is cold and spare – in hiding
Beyond hidden - transparent
Revealing skeletal trees, cold grey rocks

Visitors all too visible,
While residents have disappeared
No fish in the familiar eddy,
No sounds of birds or insects
Current's rush, wind through branches
Mask any subtle sounds

Final clinging leaves surrender –
Fluttering down to ride flows
Into rock jam clogs or 
Captured in swirling vortexes.
Nature’s seclusion is lost
As exposed hikers wander naked paths

Barely audible, his soliloquy warms me
I hunker down with my dog and wait
Until chill water, raw wind push the boy home
Then rushing to keep up, the return path.

Comfortably sitting in a warm, cluttered home,
Longing for the bleak simplicity of the frigid stream

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The pain, the pain

One of the things about msk's  speech is that it's almost like he's inventing a language built of the bits and pieces of things he's heard and strung together added with his own feels about words.

So, I thought I'd start a series of occasional posts on these phrases.

Your singing, it hurts my ears and my eyes

Ouch! I know my singing isn't great, but really, I was just a little off-key.

I can just feel him cringing and squinting in pain.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Is it 14 days already?

...or what I did on my 9-80 Off Friday.

On my day off I drove for 3.5 hours up the enchanting I-95/NJ Turnpike route to New Jersey with HSS to tour and interview at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken.

After getting lost for about 30 minutes (who knew Jersey City and Hoboken each had their own 9th St and there is no connection between the two), we made it to a beautiful campus.

With incredible views of the city.

Three hours later, with tour and interview completed, and with a sick child who was not up for any trouristing in the area, I got to drive another 3.5 hours back the now dark I-95 route.

When I started doing this every other Friday off thing I thought I'd be more rested and less rushed. Ha!

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Given that it's December 1st And I posted every day for the last 30 days should I take a break today? Nah!

Today's post continues on the topic of all the crap I'm learning helping my eldest (HSS) navigate through the college application process. One of the things that surprised me was that, outside of the massive poundage of mailings from colleges, there has been no paper involved in any of the eight college applications that are done or in progress.

When I say no paperwork, I'm including the parts of the application that HSS fills out, the transcripts that the high school sends out and the letters of recommendation that teachers submit as well. I have no idea if this is the way it has been for years or if this is something new. I know that last year there was all sorts of brouhaha about one school not sending out transcripts and parents and students being shocked and dismayed, so I'm guessing this is kind of new.

The two big tools that we've interacted with that make this "all on line" approach navigable, and actually fairly easy to negotiate, are the Common Application and Naviance. The Common App is driven by the colleges and seems to depend on a level of cooperation between the schools to have at least the main core of information requested be common. It makes sense and seven of the eight colleges being applied to accepted the Common App. The only exception was University of Maryland at College Park and I suppose when you're as big as they are plus have as high rankings as they do, you can pretty much do whatever you want. Even so, their application was on line, so even though it meant duplicating a lot of entry work, all of the applications were completed on line.

The other tool, Naviance, is less obvious to me. What I've seen of it (actually HSS has the password and does all the Naviance navigation, so really I should say what I've heard of it) has all been about picking schools to apply to, requesting transcripts and recommendations, and checking status of transcripts and recommendations. For someone like me, who tends to worry a bit too much, the fact that HSS can check status of these things is wonderful.

When I called a college to check on a visit/interview appointment (I would have had HSS do it, but there's school during normal office hours and no email had come through yet), I asked about the status of HSS's application, and that "according to some sort of on-line thing the school uses everything should be OK.". The counselor said, "Oh, you mean Naviance? That's what everybody uses." It struck me that a little web investigation might be interesting.

So, I guess Naviance does much more than track college application status. There's all sorts of stuff about plans and data and engaging parents. News to me. Then I checked their "In the news" section and found the title "Baltimore City Public Schools Selects Naviance to Empower 23,000 Urban Maryland Students to Become College and Career Ready" with a story dated September 22, 2011. Sounds cool to me, but I wouldn't have minded hearing something about it and what exactly the vision is for usage.

I suppose the concept is that in high school this is more of an issue to be communicated with students than with parents. I would have been interested, and I actually still am. Is this tool in use in all high schools in the city? Is it being used to "unite students, families, teachers, counselors and administrators in a collaborative partnership to promote, measure and improve college and career readiness"? Beyond just tracking college applications?

Don't get me wrong, I am totally grateful to be able to track college applications, but it seems like Naviance is about a bunch more and I wonder if there's something I'm supposed to be doing with it that I'm not because I've gotten no information. Especially in terms of my kids that are not high school seniors yet.