Monday, June 27, 2011

Special To the Fourth Power

In case you missed it, this weekend I was over at The Squashed Bologna with a guest post for her Special Needs Sibling Saturdays series.  When Varda (the Squashed Mom) asked me to contribute, I knew immediately what I wanted to do.

While I most often focus on Little Dude's Asperger Syndrome, the reality here is that all four of our kids have special needs.  Cookie has anxiety that's severe enough for a 504 Plan at school.  However, she's also been accepted into the Smartypants Program Gifted and Talented Program at school, so now what she has is a Gifted IEP with her 504 accommodations rolled in.  (You can't have an IEP and a 504.) 

The Pork Lo Maniac has a 504 for her ADHD, but we've also realized recently that she has some language processing issues.  We're still trying to pin down what the exact issue is, but suffice to say that she takes things very literally.  Even our autistic son has been known to say to her, "PLM, it's just an expression."

The Peanut Butter Kid has some anxiety issues (often manifesting in the infamous "tummy troubles") and is also freakishly smart.  I know it's a great problem to have, but I also know that having a wicked smart kid is just as much work (if not more) for a classroom teacher than any other kind of special needs kid.  At home it means that she's breezing through workbooks for the next grade up, and she's working on multiplication along with her older sisters. So we've put in a Smartypants IEP for her at school as well.

And then, of course, there's Little Dude.  He has Asperger Syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum.  He also has Sensory Processing Disorder, motor planning deficit, speech delay (clarity), Potty Avoidance Syndrome, Lego Obsession, and Let's Meltdown in Public Places Disorder.

It's a lot.  It's a lot of driving to appointments and sitting in the waiting room while your sibling is in therapy.  It's a lot of being patient, repeating yourself, and understanding that your sibling can't play right now because she/he is busy freaking out.  It's a lot to ask of a child -- even a smart, caring, loving child.  It's hard to be empathetic all damn day.  I know.  Especially in the summer when we're pretty much together 24-7.

And yet, they do it.

I am constantly amazed by my kids.  Their capacity for understanding is seemingly limitless.  Sure, we have plenty of bumps along the way.  People lose patience, become frustrated, feel jealous.  But overall, they are absolutely incredible.

I interviewed each of the Young Carnivores to ask them about how their siblings' quirks affect them.  I also asked them each how they thought their own, um, unique awesomeness affects their siblings. 

Their answers were insightful and surprising, and sparked a boatload of positive conversations for our family.

To read my guest post at Squashed Bologna, "Special to the Fourth Power," click here.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Five Summer Freak-Outs for Moms

Okay, so I adore Summer Break.  However, summer is the season for me to freak out about stuff that for some reason, our parents didn't even worry about.

Awww ... sunburn is so cute!  Surprisingly, Noxzema did not prevent my shoulders  from turning into a field of dysplastic moles.
1. Sunburn.  If you're in your thirties or older, you remember the coconut smell of that brown bottle of Coppertone.  One eight-ounce bottle lasted about three summers, and the cap was all encrusted with sand.  I believe that "suntan lotion" had about SPF 0.003.  You know how now they tell you that even a few bad, peeling sunburns as a child increase your chance of skin cancer later in life?  Yeah ... things are not looking so good for me.  Plus, during the time we were crisping my skin on the rocky beaches of Rhode Island, my grandfather was having melanomas removed.  Now I go to the dermatologist every six months so weird-looking moles can be lopped off.

Now when you see the crazy lady at the beach whose entire family is wearing long-sleeve rash guards and giant floppy hats?  That's me.  Also, obviously, I am now a sunblock freak.  I buy sunblock by the gallon.  Literally.  I buy gallon-sized jars of a sunblock that's made for Australian people, where there is no ozone layer left anymore.  (By the way, sorry about that, Aussies.  I assume my excessive use of AquaNet in 1987 is at least partly to blame for that.) 

My kids used to complain about it, but then I took them with me to the dermatologist for one of my mole inspections.  He removed three dysplastic moles at that appointment.  They turned to the wall and sang Girl Scout songs during the removal, but they got the picture.  Also, I have trained them to say "I'll thank you when I'm thirty" while I apply the sunblock.

"Dear Crazy Mom, Thanks for your Dead Bird report.  Please don't call us."
2. Mosquitos.  I freaking hate mosquitos.  The Peanut Butter Kid and I are mosquito magnets, and then the bites swell up into quarter-sized hives.  And there is no sound quite as annoying as the high-pitched whine of a mosquito hovering around your head in the dark while you're trying to sleep. 

All that is bad enough.  But now there is West Nile Virus to freak out about.  Last weekend I found a dead bird in my backyard and got about ten mosquito bites all within the space of about five minutes: let the freak out begin.  I reported the dead bird through Pennsylvania's handy "I Found a Dead Bird" West Nile Freak-Out Reporting Page.  I assume the good people at the Pennsylvania Department of Health put this page up so that crazy moms would stop calling them every time they find a cat with a dead bird in its mouth.  The best part of reporting a dead bird through this website is the subsequent e-mail you receive, with the subject line, "Thanks for your Dead Bird report."

There ya go!  That 4-ounce popsicle should hold you for the next 10 hours.
3. Dehydration.  When I was a kid, one popsicle in the afternoon was apparently enough to keep us hydrated.  Now I need to carry water with us at all times, plus possibly a back-up IV.  My dad asked why they can't just drink when they get thirsty.  I don't know.  It might have something to do with the fact that they are so unaware of their own bodies, they can't tell they need to go to the bathroom until it's a dire emergency.  (Note: this system sucks in a house with one bathroom.  Because as soon as one kid realizes she has to pee like a racehorse, at least one other kid will realize the same thing.)

Also, I cannot just buy bottled water while we're out, because then I get a lecture from my environmentally-conscious kids.  So I have to plan ahead (not my strong suit) and bring water in a reusable bottle.  And don't forget: the bottle cannot have BPA in it, because that causes autism.  Oh, wait ... too late.

"Children Losing Their Math Facts,"
by Mary Cassatt, 1884.
4. Brain Drain.  As smart as my kids are, the learning falls right out of their heads during the summer.  This is especially true of math facts.  I wouldn't care so much except then in September, I have to spend more time helping them with their homework.  If I just stay up their butts all summer with flashcards, it actually saves me time in the long run.  This is one of those things we didn't worry about when we were kids, because, let's face it, school moved a lot slower back in those days.  It was okay if you didn't know your alphabet in first grade.  Now you need to be able to parse sentences and draw Venn diagrams.

I'm not sure our dinner table needs a percussion section.
5. The "Medication Vacation."  Oh. My. Gawd.  We have had ONE day with the Pork Lo Maniac off the medication, and I'm already questioning whether we can do a whole summer like this.  Honestly, it doesn't seem to bother the Pork Lo Maniac as much as it bothers the rest of us, especially her twin sister.  The ADHD meds help keep her fidgeting and repetitive sounds under control.  We spent the entire day yesterday listening to her be a human beat box.  I can tune it out pretty well, but Cookie needed ear plugs.  "I'm with her all. the. time.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Summer Break (Again)

If I just let my daughter scarf down Nutella like this,
can she stay on her ADHD meds this summer?
Today is the last day of school and I am freaking stoked.  My first post ever post for this blog was about my love of Summer Break.  I hadn't figured out how to put images in my posts yet, but my thoughts still hold true. Except now you have to substitute out the Texas standardized testing for Pennsylvania standardized testing. 

I always hear moms groaning about summer break, and honestly, I don't get it.  Sure, I'm a tad petrified concerned about taking the Pork Lo Maniac off her ADHD meds over the summer so she can put some weight back on.  I'm planning a slightly more structured summer than usual, to counteract the absolute randomness that happens when she's not on her meds. 

But overall, I love Summer Break.  I love having my kids home with me.  I love not having the homework anxiety, the testing anxiety, the "are we going to be late?" anxiety.  I love shutting off the alarm clock, easing up on bedtime, and hanging out with friends.  Also, I'm pretty sure that I love not having homework even more than my kids love not having homework.  I mean, they only do one batch of homework each.  I sit there with each kid, trying to keep them focused and tear-free as they slog through long division and present perfect verbs.

See?  The happy face
indicates that feet
moisturizing is a fun,
child-friendly activity.
Sure, we'll work on a little bit of school-related stuff.  Otherwise all the math falls out of their heads over the summer, and in September they're like, "what plus what now?"  Normally I buy one of those "summer bridge" workbooks for each kid, but this year our school district handed out a big fat packet of summer schoolwork for free.  Sweet.  Of course, they made the mistake of giving the Peanut Butter Kid her packet last week, so she's almost done with it.  Maybe she can start earning money by doing other kids' packets for them; you're never too young for a summer job.
I guess one of the things that some moms worry about is that their kids will get bored.  I would like to refer those moms back to My Excellent Advice to a Bored Child.  I can guarantee that if you make suggestions like "assuming you're done with your summer schoolwork, you can moisturize my feet," your kid will stop telling you she's bored.  Unless your kid likes to moisturize your feet.  In which case, win-win.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Don't Be the Crazy Lady

Actual photo of me upon learning that
someone made my baby cry.
When I picked up my kids from school, the first thing out of Cookie's mouth was, "I had a really depressing day. I cried in music class." 

It was the second week in a row I had heard this.  But this time, when we got home, the anxiety completely overwhelmed her.  She crumpled to the floor and wept. 

Once the anxiety takes over, it's hard to get her back.  It takes hours.

On the one hand, Cookie has an anxiety disorder.  She cries a lot, or at least she used to, before she started therapy and medication.  We also put a 504 Plan in place at school, which gives both Cookie and her teachers tools to help her cope with her anxiety.  It's not perfect, and sometimes she still freaks out.  I understand.

On the other hand, she's my baby.  She may be ten years old, but she's still my little girl and I go all momma bear when I think someone made her cry.  My train of thought goes something like this:

What the HELL?  Hasn't the teacher read the 504?  Doesn't she know about the anxiety?  Putting pressure on Cookie to perform perfectly totally undermines everything we're working on at home and in therapy.  The kid's on three prescription psychiatric medications.  Give her a break, already.  Stop making my baby cry.  

My first inclination is to turn the van around, go back to the school, and give the teacher a piece of my mind.  I don't do this, because:

a) I've got a carload of kids who just want to go home to eat grapes and string cheese in air-conditioned happiness.

b) Something magical happens the moment I pick the kids up from school: at least one of them suddenly needs to pee like a racehorse.

c) Seeing Mommy go batshizz insane at school probably isn't going to help Cookie's anxiety.

d) I don't want to be The Crazy Lady.

The Crazy Lady is the woman who yells at cashiers for pointing out that her coupons are expired.  She mumbles loudly in line at the bank about how slow the tellers are.  She always, always, loses her shizz at the Department of Motor Vehicles because they will not accept the warranty from her wiper blades as a valid form of identification.  The Crazy Lady expects the school cafeteria to cut her child's sandwiches into four crustless triangles.

The Crazy Lady goes into the school without appointments and yells at teachers, and sends angry e-mails without asking for the teacher's side of things.

No one likes The Crazy Lady.

Crazy Cat Lady Action Figure from Archie McPhee.
Give her a laptop and cup of coffee, and it's
pretty much me.
More specifically, no one wants to help The Crazy Lady.  Being The Crazy Lady gets you nothing but eye rolls and empty promises, because people will say anything to get The Crazy Lady out of their office / home / classroom / line at the DMV. 

I didn't storm into the school.  Instead, I went home and wrote an angry e-mail.  I let the e-mail stew in my computer for a few hours, and then I deleted it. 

The next day, I wrote a calmer e-mail, explaining the anxiety and offering suggestions on how to help Cookie feel less anxious in class. I emphasized that we're working on teaching Cookie that it's okay to make mistakes. I didn't gloss over how seriously I take Cookie's mental health, but but hopefully I wasn't a raving lunatic, either.

Within hours, I received the most wonderful response.  She clarified what had happened in class.  While she apologized for a possible poor choice in words, she assured me that they were said with love.

What more can you ask for?

The angry e-mail feels good when I'm writing it.  Sending it?  Probably doesn't feel as good.  Besides, the point isn't to make me feel good.  It's to make Cookie feel good -- or at least, reasonably non-anxious in the school environment.

I know I'm exactly one stray cat away from becoming The Crazy Lady.  From Day One of our public school experience, I've had to ask for special attention: because of food allergies, because one year we wanted our twins placed together, because of fine motor delay, because of anxiety, because of ADHD, because of smartypantsness, because of autism.  There is always something with our family, and it probably annoys the crap out of people, especially people who have to deal with us in a professional manner and in accordance with a boatload of education laws.

I try to balance it out.  I volunteer at the school whenever I can.  I've been PTO secretary, homeroom mom, random helper.  I hope it's harder to write me off as That Crazy Mom with All the Kids with All the Problems when I'm shelving books in the library.  An added bonus, of course, is that I like being there.  It's a great school and I'm glad to help.  I love the teachers, and I love being around my kids. 

Also, I don't send crazy e-mails, even when I'm cut to the core because my daughter is crying.

Remember: becoming The Crazy Lady is easier than you think.  It's a slippery slope, people.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Top 10 Skankeriffic Sandals My Daughters Will Not Be Wearing This Summer

Holy crap.  This Michael Kors sandal for girls
has a 1" platform and 2.75" heel. 
Also: needs more glitter.
Also: needs more trends jammed into one shoe.

If you've been following along with my blog for a while, you know that I cannot stand skanky stuff for little girls. If you're not clear on my stance on this, please review my take on Halloween costumes, my thoughts on Bratz dolls, or really the the entire "Stop Dressing Like a Skank and/or Dressing Your Kid Like a Skank" section on The Best of SRMM.

We have a memorial event to go to next month to honor my father-in-law, and it would be nice if my kids had something summery to wear on their feet besides Crocs. 

Last weekend, I went sandal shopping with my three daughters, aged seven, ten, and ten.  The horror ... the horror.

I'm not exactly sure when the Shoe Industry decided that little girls needed quite so many high-heel options, but I'm pretty sure it was before Memorial Day Weekend, 2011.

You know what?  We see enough medical specialists without adding in an orthopedist when they fall off the platform shoes, or the podiatrist by the time they're eighteen when their feet are a mess from wearing high heels while their bones are still growing.  I am seriously not in the mood to deal with teeny-tiny little bunions and itty-bitty hammer toes from these whacked-out shoes.

After going to three different stores, we found sandals for all three girls.  Perhaps Kohl's, Target, and Payless could help me out in the future by organizing their sandals into "skankeriffic" and "won't embarass their grandparents" sections.  That would totally speed up the process.

Yes, I know that there are brands and stores that probably carry more traditional sandals, but sadly those well-made shoes are a bit out of my budget.  There are a lot of feet to be shod in this family.  Also, lest you think that only the cheapy-cheap stores are carrying ridiculous wedge heels for little girls, please note that Michael Kors is hawking 2.75-inch heeled sandals for girls over at Bloomingdale's.

I was so horrified by what I found out there, that I was prompted to bring you the Top Ten Shoes My Daughters Will Not Be Wearing This Summer.

Before I do that, though, I need to clarify what I'm talking about.  I'm not talking about sandals that are ugly, tacky, or just plain overly trendy (gladiator sandals, I'm looking at you).  I'm not talking about sandals with little heels that are clearly meant for very special occasions. 

Let's take a look at what I'm not even talking about:
Conveniently, these gems come in toddler sizes, so that your two-year-old can pretend to be a very tiny, but flamboyant, ancient Roman swordsman.
Seriously, I just don't get cuff sandals.  Maybe they're for when you can't decide whether you want to go to the beach or re-enact Madonna videos from 1984?
Apparently these are for when your three-year-old can't decide between the gladiator style or the cuff sandals.  Because what toddler *doesn't* love having her heels and ankles be all sweaty in July?

I get it.  It's for some special occasion.  Okay.  But still; really?  Plus, it could really use more shine.

Okay, so now we know what I'm *not* talking about.  You know what I *am* talking about?  Shoes that are so inappropriate, Suri Cruise wouldn't wear them.  Here, then, are the Top Ten Most Skankeriffic Shoes My Daughters Will Not Be Wearing This Summer.  Please note that all the shoes shown in this post come in sizes to fit my seven-year-old daughter. 

10. Is That Wood?  Incredibly, after I looked at enough sandals, these 2-inch wedge sandals from Kenneth Cole started to look positively demure.  But then I remembered that there's really no good reason for my seven-year-old to wear 2-inch heels.  Plus, it appears that the insole is made of wood, which seems kind of ... not comfy. 

9. Wood With Lamé.  Kenneth Cole seems a little fond of wood.  Just sayin.'

8. WTF Flip-Flops.  I'm really not sure why a flip-flop would need to be two inches high.  Maybe for added height when spiking the ball in beach volleyball?

7. Because a Two-Inch Heel is Not Enough.  Here we go with the higher heels.  News flash, eight-year-olds: you're supposed to be short.
6. Cork-n-Glitter.  It's like a Birkenstock's skanky cousin. 

5. When Your Little Girl is "So Over" the Wedge Heel.  Don't fret, little one.  Wedge heels are not the only option.  There are also mules with ridiculous heels and even less ankle support.

4. For "Solid Gold Dancer" Try-Outs.  It just occurred to me that "Solid Gold" is possibly the only show from the 70s that hasn't been made into a movie yet.  Let's start a pool as to when that will happen.  I'm betting on this August.

3. For the Youngest Project Runway Enthusiast.  You know what?  I don't care if you *are* the next Heidi Klum, sweetie.  Children's shoes should not have 2.75-inch heels.

2. Make Up Your Mind.  These shoes creep me out because the leather (pleather?) part looks so much like the white sandals my girls wore when they were four.  But then they slapped it on top of both a wedge and a platform.  Here's a clue: if your child is too young to manage an actual buckle, and must resort to Velcro, she probably does not need 2-inch platform heels.

1.  It's a Hot (Glue) Mess.  While these don't have the highest heels of the bunch, they win the prize for overall tackiness and best use of plastic gems.  It's like somebody got wasted on tequila, broke into the craft store, and got crazy with the hot glue guns.
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