Archive for August 2013
Tuesday was a really hard day. We haven’t had a break in a while, and I was itching to escape. I booked a night away at the weekend, but it has been a relentless run of a couple of months without stopping, and one night away seems like too little, too late.
After another draining day at work, I collected the kids from school, and got ready to head back out- Tuesday evening was the back-to-school open evening for parents at Pudding’s school. No time for dinner.
To say I didn’t feel like going out there would be understatement. The school is a 45 minute drive at the best of times, and after dark in Johannesburg? Not so much the best of times. I try my best to avoid ever driving alone at night. But Spectrummy Daddy was staying with the kids, and I felt like I couldn’t not go.
Traffic was even worse than usual. I left at 5:10 to be there in plenty of time for a 6:30 start, but I soon realized it wasn’t going to be enough. All in all, seven (7!) traffic lights were out on the busy route, and not one of them policed. I turned on the radio only to hear that the alternative route by motorway was in the same condition. As day turned to night, and gridlocked in traffic, I felt a growing sense of unease. My frustrations darkened my mood further, and I let myself go…there.
There is where I imagine an easier life. Where we live close to family and friends, and I can count on them to give us a break when we need one. There is my kids going to a local school and growing up with the same community. There is building a life for us, and living it- not having to do the same thing over, and over, in far away lands. There is easy. Here is hard.
My legs were cramping from riding the clutch for so long that I almost missed driving an automatic. I did my best to avert my curious gaze from the casual prostitution happening at a particular traffic light where I idled for too long. I wanted to call my husband and tell him I was done with here, with this whole Foreign Service life, but I know better than to use a Smartphone here while driving alone in the dark.
Finally, finally, at just after 7 pm, I arrived at the school.
The Director saw me first, and gave me a friendly greeting on first name terms. Next I saw the mother of a child who was in Pudding’s class last year. We hugged, and I started to feel better. Next I got to check out her new classroom, where she’d left me a note asking to check out her “portit.”
I left her a note in return, then got to check out her new classroom, taking note of the many accommodations. As Ms. A, her new teacher had previously let me know- these supports are actually beneficial for all kids, and having them available to all ensured that Pudding isn’t singled out. I felt all my tensions slip away. My girl, she is right where she needs to be.
Next I got to meet Pudding’s art, music, and PE teachers. I had to smile as the new teachers shifted from polite interest to excitement as they found out I was Pudding’s mother. That kid really is a rock star, and I loved hearing all the anecdotes: such as Pudding turning on the music in class- the music teacher convinced it only happens when she talks for too long! Yes, that absolutely sounds like her.
Though it was getting late after a long day, I couldn’t resist popping in to see Pudding’s kindergarten teacher, who was in the middle of reassuring a new parent that her child (who had some differences of their own, but not like Pudding’s) was in the right place.
I couldn’t agree more.
The drive home was just about the complete opposite- I practically flew. What was I even thinking on the ride out there? Of course this isn’t easy, but she is where she belongs, and when we move again, we’ll start up a whole new village.
Here or there, it doesn’t matter. We are always right where we need to be.
First day of First Grade, complete with social story in her hand. First day for Pudding, at least- the rest of her classmates started last Wednesday, but we were still quarantined after the operation. Though I’m anxious to know how her day went, I know she is in good hands. Her new teacher emailed me to say she’d not only read my last post, she’d pinned it to her wall.
“We are all different and we all learn differently.”
Amen to that. I’m glad Pudding is back where she belongs.
Pudding is about to start first grade in her mainstream school. She is returning after completing kindergarten, so many things will remain the same, but there are new challenges for her to face. Most importantly, a new teacher. She asked me to tell her about Pudding, so here I will try…
1. She is always trying her best
Always. It may not seem like it. Especially at 3 am, it can be hard to see it, but she is aways trying her best. She isn’t lazy, or naughty, or clumsy. She makes every effort. Praise her efforts. Rejoice in her successes. Never punish her if the results don’t match her peers. She is trying her best. Always.
2. Make her comfortable
Sometimes you can’t tell she is trying her best, because she is trying to get comfortable. Getting comfortable for her could be a lot different for her than it is for you and I. Comfort needs to be on her terms, and you might have to try a few things out before you both figure that out. Does she need to be away from the bright light coming in from the windows? Does she need to be seated close so it is easier for her to hear you amongst the classroom noise? Is somebody doing garden work with loud equipment? Does she need to get up and move? Perhaps a stint in the sensory room. Try and make sure her every sense is satisfied, and you’ll have a much more comfortable learner. You’ll even find she tolerates more if you allow her to be in control.
3. Ease her anxiety
This one is easier said than done, I know. Let her be your guide. We’ve read the social story all through the break, and she is familiar with the school, but there will be changes to her routine that take her out of her comfort zone. She knows when she has had enough. Respect that, and know that if she trusts you, that is already half the battle won. When she gains confidence, she is bold and resilient. If she is pushed into doing something, she is scared and stubborn. Let her be your guide, and she will push herself harder than you could imagine.
4. Speak her language
There are no shortcuts here, I can’t really give you a phrasebook in Pudding. Communication will be a struggle until you figure out the idiosyncrasies of her language. You’ll get to know her quirks. She may reply ‘no’ if you ask if she is okay, and ‘yes’ if you ask if she is fine. If she is struggling to process something verbally, try a different way. Always respect her no.
5. Listen to your own language
What you say in the heat of the moment will echo in her heart. I’m working right now on assuring her that her writing isn’t ‘ugly’ and that she isn’t ‘clumsy.’ Thoughtless expressions like this resonate with her. She’ll repeat them to me, but worse than that, she’ll repeat them to herself for even longer. Let your lasting testimony be words that build her up, rather than knock her down.
6. Give her time
I mean this both literally and figuratively. Remember that she is taking in a lot of other information at the same time as your words, and these need to be decoded before she can respond. Give her a few extra seconds to process a question or verbal command. Better still, provide visual cues to assist her interpretation. If she doesn’t seem to pick something up, try another approach until you get the right one. You will.
7. Presume competence
Believe in her, and she’ll show you how right you are. Do otherwise, and you’re both doomed to failure.
8. Help her to belong
She is an amazing, fascinating, beautiful, kind, brave, multi-faceted little girl. She wants nothing more than to belong in her classroom. Help other classmates to understand her value, and interact with her in a positive way. Not just for Pudding’s sake, but for their own too. Sooner or later, all of us will feel that we don’t belong. Teach them that everybody does.
9. Embrace the special interests
Yes, you’re going to have to learn to love Hello Kitty. Special interests can be a weapon or a tool, depending on your approach. See Hello Kitty as a way of cutting through other distractions and helping her to focus. You can count the Hello Kitties, write stories about them, paint pictures…the list goes on and on.
10. We’re here
We aren’t going to tell you how to teach, but we can tell you how to help her learn. The most important thing is that the two of you develop your own relationship, and you learn from each other. Trust me, I’m still learning from my girl, and I’m constantly amazed at all she has to teach us.