Category Archives: Teaching

The “Good Enough” Parent

I am the first to admit, I am not perfect.

I have a temper. I get tired and frustrated. There are times when I am feeling vulnerable and stressed, and yeah, those are the days when the kids watch too much TV.

So. Not perfect.

But I’ve also taught in Special Ed for almost ten years. I’ve seen just about every kind of parent. I’ve met the rock stars, where you say, “Oh, my God, that is an awesome mom! How does she do it? I wish I could be like that.” And I’ve met the not so awesome, and those… well, I don’t want to talk about them.

The rest of us fall somewhere in the middle.

Here’s the thing that ten years in Special Ed has taught me: you don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be interested.

As moms, I think we’re hardwired to worry about everything. We worry that we don’t see the problems with our own children–that we’re in denial. We worry that we’re hypercritical, and that, because of it, our children will wind up needing Prozac in kindergarten. We worry because we worry so much.

I will admit, I do all of these. All that time in college, and then ten years working in Special Ed, and I still don’t know if I have it right. I probably don’t, so take everything I say with a grain of salt.

What I know (or think I do) is this: anything can be fun for little kids. Children learn at every experience. On walks through the city, they are learning vocabulary, and safety skills, and adaptive skills. A trip to the zoo and they learn about categories of animals, science, and the descriptive words for the sights they see and the sounds they hear. At the grocery store, they can learn colors, numbers, money, more categories. Staying home? You can talk to them about what you’re doing.  You can have them help cook (because once they hit about ten, they don’t care to help anymore). They’ll learn about weights and measures (nice for math skills) by learning words like half, whole, a quarter, all of it, more, less. And if you totally flub a recipe? Well, I have to tell you, I have gotten more language out of my failures than I have out of my successes. In fact, imagine what we talked about when I presented this awesome disaster for my son’s third birthday:

Yes, this is an ACTUAL picture of my son's birthday cake. I know, it's really sad.

I’m the first to admit, I’m not much of a baker. This was my first attempt at baking since discovering I’m allergic to eggs, and, well… it didn’t turn out so great.

But you know what? It totally didn’t matter. The kids liked eating it. We got to talk about what went wrong. We talked about textures (it was WAY too dry), and the kids learned words like binding, dry, moist… and the list goes on.

What was a complete baking fail actually turned out to be great fun. I could have gotten upset–actually, I was upset it turned out to be such a mess. But I got over my bad self, and we all had a laugh. We ate with our hands (it didn’t stay together well enough to use utensils), and made a huge mess. But Chewey got his cake, and the kids learned some good language. On top of that, they also learned that it’s okay to make mistakes. 

And even enjoy them.

I’ve made loads of mistakes. I’ve made mistakes in raising them, I’ve flubbed with the blog more than a couple of times. I’ve had days when I’ve just said yes to their requests because I’m too tired to say no, and if I’m going to eventually give in once the fight starts, I’m better off starting with a yes and avoiding a fight. After all, better to say no when you really mean it and won’t be tempted to give in if they’re sticking to their guns.

I’m sticking with my story that no should mean no. So, if I’m not prepared to battle it out, I’m better off saying yes every once in awhile, because if I give in after the tantrum starts, then what have they learned? That if they tantrum, if they scream louder and longer, they can wear me down to where they eventually get a yes, and that’s a bad lesson for everyone. Or, at least, that’s what I think.

But you don’t have to agree with me. After all, I’m not perfect. 🙂

Don’t You Judge Me!

So, today I was reading the blogs, and I realized something, which is probably readily apparent to everyone else, but just dawned on me: we’re so freaking judgmental of one another.

It comes out in our critiques. It comes out in reviews of books. It comes out in the comments in reviews of books. Now, this isn’t a new phenomenon. I think we’ve always judged one another. Whether it’s to build ourselves up because we feel like we’re lacking or to condemn a behavior we, as a society, deem unacceptable (female sexuality, anyone?), we’ve always been judgmental.

What has changed? Oh, that we’re so willing to share it with one another. We hide behind keyboards and vilify one another from the comfort of our couches.

It annoys me. (That’s me being judgmental)

In any case, what I came across today was a critique of a work of literary fiction. Now, I don’t read this particular author, but I thought the critique was harsh. Because it wasn’t a critique about style or plot, or general story-telling ability. It was a critique about this author’s very American-ness. About how, because this author is so very American, and so willing to both embrace and deride Americanism in its grandiose gaucheness (is that even a word?), people in other countries can embrace it as a masterwork.

And then came the comparison to genre fiction, in which genre fiction was found lacking.

It smacks of the superiority I found in another blog, where the author denigrated those who graduated from “mediocre state college.” Hmm.

I resemble that remark.

I write genre fiction. In fact, I write in the genre most derided by… well, everyone (including my mother).

I write romance.

It’s not because I’m stupid, or I like porn. It’s not because I can’t speak in complete sentences.

I write it because I like it. Because my dirty little secret is that I’ve been a closet fan of the romance novel since I was sixteen years old and picked up my first historical.

I was an English major in college, all angsty and tortured. I’ve read everything from Jane Austin to Chaucer to Shakespeare to Thoreau. I’ve read A.S. Byatt and Salman Rushdie and Walt Whitman. I’ve read Rick Bass and Mark Twain and Kafka and Gael Garcia Marquez, Pablo Naruda and Heine and Hesse and Rilke, Hemingway and George Eliot. When I once filled out a list of the 100 greatest works of all time (it was one of those silly quizzes that stated that most people had only read 7 of the books), I had read 84 of them.

I’ve read literary fiction. And I liked it… at the time (though I still loved my romance novels). Now, I don’t want that. I read genre fiction because I am looking for an escape from real life, and with a good romance novel, I can get a happy ending, too.

The reason why I don’t read literary fiction anymore? Oh, because real life sucks.

Real life is unpaid bills and cars with flat tires. Real life is sick kids with snotty noses and paperwork and a job that makes you so nuts your hair falls out.

Real life is a seven-year old girl you just can’t fix. Real life is knowing that child will die and you can’t do anything about it. It’s knowing that no matter how much you try, your effort will go nowhere. Real life is about crying in the principal’s office while you beg for a variance, because it’s the only thing you actually can do for this little one and her family.

Give me a happy ending any day, because some people just aren’t going to get one, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.

When one of my best friends was dying, I devoured romance novels. I think I was reading four of them a week (Johanna Lindsey was a favorite). I needed that happy ending because my friend wasn’t going to get one. I needed everything to work out so I could be the one friend who stayed with her until the end, the one who could look upon her face and not cry. I could be upbeat and perky, and still tell jokes while I watched Zorro the Gay Blade and she slept.

It’s one of the things I’m most proud of: I was the friend she needed, the one who never cried. And just because I never cried while she lived doesn’t mean I don’t miss her every day. It doesn’t mean she didn’t know that I would.

Romance novels and silly movies and  my M got me through that. My M was fabulous and wonderful, and when I wanted to bury my head in the sand, he told me jokes so I could go back to her house and sit with her and tell her jokes just to make her laugh. Hm. I should remember what he did the next time he’s being annoying and I want to strangle him.

In any case, I didn’t need tortured literary fiction then, and I still don’t. Real life sucks enough.

So, to all of you who look down on romance novels… Read one. The world is filled with enough tortured souls as it is. Don’t judge me because I read them. Don’t judge me because I write them.  And if you do judge me, well…

Keep your opinions to yourself.

Occupational Hazards

Every job has its occupational hazards. Here are mine.

1. I’m never clean. Today a little one wiped her nose on my shirt, and another one ran grubby hands (covered in mystery substance) on my nice clean capris. It was impossible to get off. I will never be clean again. It’s like when you first have a baby, and you go back to work with baby barf on your shoulder and you don’t notice. I rarely notice how dirty I am until I go somewhere where I’m expected to look like an adult… and not one who lives in a box under the bridge.

2. Carpal tunnel (from all the data I have to collect, and all the reports I have to write).

3. Being peed on (I’ve only been barfed on once, and since I know for a fact I’ve barfed more often at work than I’ve been barfed on, I won’t count that). Or accidentally sitting in pee (I’ve done both just this week… Bet you didn’t know that after eight years of University, you’d get out of school to get peed on and run lessons on why we don’t pick our noses. And yes, I do run month-long booger picking lessons, complete with social stories).

4. Parents who make you cry because they’re so mean.

5. Parents who make you cry because they’re so nice.

6. Falling in love with a kid just have them break your heart when they leave. Or you can’t fix them anymore. Or you’ve actually fixed them and have to dismiss them (though this one is a fun meeting).

7. Getting stuck in a preschool chair. When I was nine months pregnant with my son (just a couple of days before I had him), I was in a meeting with some parents in the preschool room. When the meeting ended, I tried to stand up to thank the parents for coming in and couldn’t get out of the chair. The principal had to help me up. I basically required a crane. It was awful and embarrassing. But not as bad as the time I got stuck in a bounce house.

8. A very sweet kid asking you, “You’re having a baby?” (No, no, honey. I’m just fat.) Or  asking, genuinely concerned, “You have pock?” (No, no, honey, those are freckles. Not chicken pox. I look like this naturally. Sad, but true. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I am a ravishing beauty. Honestly).

9. The Germ Factory. When you work with kids, for the first year, you get sick all the time. It’s not as bad after that, but I basically get exposed to EVERYTHING. I’m sick right now, in fact.

10. War wounds. I managed to get beaned in the eye by a flying shoes yesterday (I’m really not that fast, and by the time I realize something’s flying at my head, it is usually too late). So yeah, on top of being chunky and pocky, I also have a black eye.

Yeah, I really am a ravishing beauty.

The Forest

I sometimes forget how much I actually do.

You see, I get so wrapped up in the “big picture” of my job–creating functional communicators–that I can’t see the minor improvements that we make. Sometimes, it takes looking at where the child was six months ago for me to actually “see” progress.

And sometimes, it shocks me.

Today was one of those days.

I guess it’s a matter of losing the trees for the forest. I look at that forest and I think, “But it’s so different from all the other forests out there.” I didn’t see the beauty of the trees. I didn’t notice how much they’ve grown or how many more of them were.

I only focused on the difference of that forest and how I could make that forest more like all the others.

I don’t think for a minute that the forest is bad. It’s not. The ground it grows in might be a little more rocky, and so it needs more nurturing than the others to grow. Sometimes, it’s hard to see that growth. Sometimes, I get frustrated because things aren’t coming along the way I would like them to, and when I get frustrated, I want to abandon everything I’ve been doing and revamp my approach.

See, I hate taking data–I’d rather just work with the kids and do what I do. Taking data makes me want to tear my hair out and run screaming from the room. It takes away some of the spontaneity of therapy, takes some of the “fun” out of it. But I recognize the importance of having it, because if I hadn’t had some really good baseline data, I never would have seen the difference I’ve made. I would have revamped my therapy without really recognizing how well what I’ve done has worked. There were no amazing breakthroughs that made me believe I was on the right path.

When you work with kids with significant language impairments, it’s not always clear what the right approach is. There are no signs in the forest that say, “Our roots are growing deep. Keep doing what you’re doing!”

That’s what data’s for.

Damn, I hate data.

But damn, where would I be without it?

A Good Day

Some days, it’s all worth it, and I love my job. Today is one of those days.

About two weeks ago, we started a new communication system with one of my little kiddos with autism, who is nonverbal. I love this kid. I think he’s funny and cute, and he’s got great potential. Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, in addition to picture exchange, we began a system where we immerse him in using pictures to communicate, meaning that, when I work with him, I use pictures too. I use them to comment, to request, to clarify what he wants. I use them for everything. I thought it would be a pain, but it’s actually been really… fun.

The big breakthrough was when he began using the pictures to request snacks and comment. Today, I was requesting that he throw the ball by pointing to “My turn” and then the two pictures “throw” and “ball.” I require nothing of him. But he loved it, and he was pointing to the pictures too, in order to request that I throw the ball back to him. I thought the session was going fantastically. He had even made a couple of comments, like “I don’t like that.” It was awesome. I stayed way longer than the normal amount of time I give him.

I was bouncing the ball and waiting for him to tell me he wanted a turn. When he did, I started pointing to the numbers, and I said, “One… Two…” as we had been doing. But before I got to three, I got distracted. In that space–way longer than the five seconds I’d been waiting–I heard a tiny voice say, “Three.”

I’ve been working with this boy since August. I’ve only heard him cry, and rarely even that. He’s so silent, this boy, walking around the room like a ghost. He uses some signs, and he’s gotten pretty good at pictures, but I’ve never heard him babble or vocalize in any way. I’ve never really heard his voice.

I heard you today, little man.

When I looked at him, thinking someone else must have come up behind him, he was smiling at me–at me–with a look that said, “Yeah, lady, it’s been there all along. All you had to do was wait for it.” And then he kissed me on the cheek.

It still gives me chills.

I waited, and I heard him. I was patient, and I believed, and he spoke.

Will the same thing happen tomorrow?  I don’t know. Maybe it will be awhile before I hear his voice again. Maybe he’ll start talking all the time.

Until then, I will keep trying, and I will be patient. I will wait.

And I will hear his voice again. I know I will.


How Justin Bieber Saved My Day

I’m not much of a crier… Only twice in the last ten years has a patient or a student actually made me cry–or almost cry–at work. One of them was when I worked in a skilled nursing unit (almost 10 years ago), but that’s a story for another day.

The other one was today.

I have a student on my caseload who has very high needs. She is a seriously darling child, quite the kick in the pants, and she makes me smile every time I see her. Because she’s so medically fragile, and her condition is deteriorating, we got her an iPad for a communication device, and I was programming it–or trying to, at least. The way I do it is super slow and cumbersome, and I’m sure there’s a faster way to program it, but it works.

So, we’re talking about music and TV shows, and I’m programming away. And then I made an innocent, if fatal, mistake: I asked her what her favorite song was.

The first time she said it, I hoped to God I hadn’t understood–she can be quite unintelligible. But then, she said it again, as clearly as she could, and I realized I hadn’t misunderstood.

She said, “Fix You. By Coldplay.” Clear as day.

And because I’m a speech path, I looked up at her aide, who gave me a confused shrug, and repeated it back to her.

And this little doll of a child replied, “Yeah. Fix You. My daddy sings it to me when he thinks I’m sleeping.”

“Fix You.” I know this dad, and he would if he could, but all the king’s horses and all the king’s men…

Oh, darlin’, I would if I could too.

But I can’t, so I’ll keep programming this device for the day when she needs it.

So I swallowed the lump in my throat and croaked, “What about Justin Bieber?” Because crap, I would program every god-forsaken Justin Bieber song into this damn computer just so long as I don’t have to put “Fix You” in there. Nothing like a little Justin Bieber to dry the eyes and make you want to run a spike through your skull (I’m over 30… My parents didn’t understand NKOTB, and I will never understand the allure of Justin Bieber, but more power to him).

And, because she’s six, she immediately brightened, stood up, and began singing, “Oh, baby, baby, baby… Oh, baby, baby, baby. I just love Justin Bieber!” and I started to laugh. Because at that moment, I loved him too. Anyone who can make this little person so happy is alright in my book. So, I programmed him in there while she danced around my office, singing.

After work, I came home and kissed my kids, the two little hearts that beat outside my chest. Kids who, God willing, will never need a device like that. Kids who, I pray, I WILL NOT sing “Fix You” to while they sleep, because I’m hoping for a cure that may never come.

I think I’ll go listen to some Justin Bieber now.