Monday, December 5, 2011

Hello and Goodbye but Not Really


As I see that folks are still continuing to drop by despite the last post in November 2011.  I'd like to say, "Hey, drop on by the new site!"

www.toysaretools.com

I hope you'll love reading it at least half as much as I enjoy writing it.   Thanks for dropping by Can Mom Be Calm?

-Jenn

p.s. I may be absorbing my old one into the new one so my followers can get my latest updates.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Final Post: Can Mom Be Calm?

No one wants this kind of attention but thank goodness the media is here for us
I hate to be one of those people who leaves a blog hanging. But that is exactly what I've done. I know there is no great damage. I have no contracts, no stakeholders, no ads, and yet it pained me whenever I saw it or was asked about it.

I decided a few months ago to close Can Mom Be Calm? but I think I was just waiting for the right moment to close it and that time is now.

Sheesh, I was in the newspaper again. The last time I wrote about being in the newspaper, it was to defend myself about how I pay my teen babysitter after a wonderful New York Times article talked about the special needs babysitting program that my kids' babysitter had completed. But this time, the issue was very different. This time, I was in the paper because I was in the middle of a shame-on-you article where I shared the story of my eight-month-long battle to get safe school bus transportation for my preschooler receiving special education.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Seeing Socially Through Their Eyes First





















So this is not the last post. I am actually done with the last post. I am just not done with the next blog. Yes, there is a next blog. That announcement will come soon.

However, I needed to post this because I had an explosive learning experience at recent a YAI conference here in New York and for me the best way to keep this memory alive is by recording it and sharing it.

You may have heard me discuss this in previous posts but after having listened to the Michelle Garcia Winner in person, I can appreciate even more now why her curriculum, Social Thinking is being used all over the world.

I first heard about her after an auction win for a 2-day session for a sibling dyad (relationship/play therapy) at Emerge and See an NYC-based educational center for special needs children. One of the owners, Alison Berkley spent a lot of time on the phone with me trying to explain how she uses the principles taught by Michelle Garcia Winner in her approach to helping siblings play with each other.

"Michelle Who?" is all I thought and then moved on. I wasn't interested in the curriculum. I honestly didn't even know there were different social skills curricula out there. All I thought was, "Could you just make my kids play with each other without it erupting into a fight, three seconds after I walk away?"

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Final Post is Coming Soon














I know there have not been any recent posts in a long long time but I have been working on a big bang final post. I hope you can come back next week for it. It will be posted after Labor Day.

I hope you'll enjoy it. I am writing this announcement of my final post because I still see Twitter followers coming in and I thought I should write something about the future of this blog.

Truth be told, I have been thinking, writing, deleting, writing something else, not finishing, writing, thinking, rewriting, and thinking some more about this. It's tough to wrap this up as I've enjoyed writing in it for the past two and a half years. So much good has come from this blog including making personal and professional connections as well as my favorite part, writing stories to share with others. The final post will be this blog's last attempt to answer the question, "Can Mom be calm, really calm, not just sedated by medicine, happy via cabernet, but rather, just really truly calm?"

The post will include a story about a huge fight that pretty much ate me alive until the very end. It was so vicious that it even caught they eye of the news media here in New York City. There was a big picture of me and my son in the paper that final day. Someone said to me, "You're always in the newspaper," and I thought, "but it's not on purpose...." I can't wait to share it with everyone. I hope you can come back very soon as I say goodbye. I promise to include a list of favorite blogs to share with you that you may not yet spotted on the blogosphere.

Jenn

Caption: Somewhere on this path of motherhood, my two boys have grown to be two kids who have sometimes been able to go to playground with each other and not need me at all. The little one still needs my help if he comes without his big brother but when the two of them are together, they are best friends. Here they are trying to do tricks on the Yobaby Kick Flipper which is usually under ten dollars for both the board and the DVD. I love this product. I wish they could practice their tricks at home by watching the DVD but we have neighbors downstairs. I could solve the problem by downloading the video to my iPod and letting them practice there but I never get around to doing that.

Still, I do like the culture of skateboarding for special needs kids. I see the older boys in the park doing stunts and while it looks a little dangerous, it looks exciting as well. I don't see them doing anything else (smoking cigarettes or worse..) The boys I've seen are respectful to the people around them. The culture also seems to be friendly to folks who may not be so chatty and just very into watching and doing. Thus is looks like the practice of being a "fan" of this sport is not as fanatical as some other sports. I can't say this for sure but that is impression I have. I still remember Travis from the movie Clueless who was one of my favorite characters. Yes, he did smoke pot but then gave it up to soar new heights as an athlete. I wish skateboarding could be a school sport like football and wrestling. I don't see how the latter two are less dangerous or less expensive than skateboarding might be.

Moreover, the learning that happens when they get together is best done outdoors and not in front of a screen with video game controls (although I do still like that if it is social, at least for now.) The sport seems to promote mutual support and invite constructive criticism and praise from peers in a non-anxiety provoking way. It also looks like it promotes turn-taking but waiting for turns involves watching your friend do a stunt so it is not so boring to wait. It is also independent like swimming, golf, and track which many professionals say is what are the preferred team sports for special needs kids. Last but not least, it uses my kid's favorite styles of learning: visual and video instruction and trial-and-error. When I ask the older boys in the park how they got so good, they usually tell me that they watched other kids or watched YouTube. Sports education via YouTube. What's next? I've even found someone who gives actual skateboarding lessons. I haven't done it yet but maybe someday....

I like the fashion too... just not all the skulls... nope, not into the skulls....why skulls? How do skulls connect with skateboarding? Is skateboarding connected to pirates somehow? I wonder if has anything to do with rejecting society or maybe just feeling like an outsider. I think my sons will likely struggle with finding their place in society once they reach junior and high school. They will need to be with kids who accept them and help them feel good about themselves. I wonder if they'll fit in with the skateboarder kids in the neighborhood. Oh well.. I don't know everything about this sport but for now, skateboarding culture is okay with me.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Can Emotional Intelligence Be Taught From When-I-Was-A-Kid Stories?

















How can I get my son to grow up faster? I don't mean grow as in physical growth (he needs that too). I mean maturity.....

I looked at a couple of books about "emotional intelligence" and I have to say that I lost interest so quickly. It was overwhelming and I still have such little patience for reading, even at this age (perhaps it is just plain worse at this age). And with all that goes on in this house, I barely have time to read any parenting books or even peek at the parenting magazines for which I have paid subscriptions. The magazines are still sitting in the plastic wrappings they came in through the mail.

I really do not know how to teach emotional intelligence. It is a new term for me and all I know how to do is talk so that is what I've been doing - just talking to my son. I have noticed that he seems interested in the stories of my youth which is something my mom did not do much of when I was little. But these stories of what I did and how I overcame or didn't overcome things seem to interest Logan very much.

As I get to know Logan more, I see myself in him quite often. I recognize his irrational fears even before he says anything about them. I recognize his difficulty with reading comprehension even though he can read (decode) words quite well. I recognize his low self-esteem and his preoccupation with what people are thinking about him. I actually still feel like this today. Sometimes when I am talking to someone, I don't hear them because I am wondering what they are thinking about me. It really is ridiculous but it is what I do and I am imagining that Logan does the same. Thus, I am just teaching him about emotional intelligence through examples of my own life. This is my shoddy plan because I can not get through a book that tells me how to teach it to my kid.

Logan and I really do have so much in common. For example, I used to complain about how Logan is so young and yet has managed to get stitches and break his arm before the age of six. Thinking about this now, I don't know why I complained. I broke my leg on two occasions before the age of six and I would have also had stitches but I fought off the doctors so hard at the hospital that they finally gave up on me, my mother told me. (This was in Korea when I was about 3 or 4 years old.)

On one occasion when I broke my leg at the age of 4. It was because I could not voice my concern over a broken slide but felt like I needed to go down it and so I did. I broke my leg but hid my pain for the longest time. I was taking piano lessons at the time and was visiting family that day. My parents asked me to play piano for everyone and put a portable keyboard on top of my broken leg. After playing a few notes, I broke down crying because of the pain. My parents took me to the hospital and there they were told that their daughter's leg was broken. I have a vague memory of my exasperated father telling me that next time, I should tell him what is going on. Ohmigosh, I say the same things to Logan so often now!

So as I recognize myself in him more and more, I am trying to open his horizons about fears, living life, and possibly even spirituality.

I haven't come out and said, you have this disorder and that disability. He already knows that he has some issues but I don't know how he sees himself in the context of the world. All I am doing right now is just telling him about him and myself without the labels. I feel like I can really start talking about the world outside his window. I am telling him that the school across the street has a 1st grade class of 24 kids and one teacher. (He gasped when I told him that.) I am telling him that I went to such a class.

This is such a great time to talk to him about my own life because he is now in 1st grade and 1st grade was so memorable (traumatic) for me. That year was not only my first school experience but it was also my first year in the United States. In Korea, kids start school 6 months after American children do. So basically my parents didn't bother to put me in kindergarten. I learned everything from my big brother anyway who taught me how to read and do math.

But starting life as a student without being able to speak English, having no parents at home until 7 PM, and not having much money was tough on me, to say the least.

When I say no to Logan about buying something and he whines, I remind him about how my mother didn't have enough money to buy me a sufficient supply of socks and so if the laundry wasn't done, I would go to school without socks. I tell him how the other kids made fun of me (true story).

I know that eventually he may tune me out like the When-I-was-little-I-walked-five-miles-to-school-story but for now, the look on his face tells me that he believes me and is imagining what that must have been like. Thankfully, Logan is one of those kids that can walk out of a toy store empty-handed. He may ask and he may even whine but tantrums are rare.

I also let him know that I consider it a gift for him to have me at home. I kind of see it this way because my mother had absolutely no choice but to work. That first year in the United States was probably horrendous for her. She literally worked all day in a garment factory and then brought work home so she could be paid piecemeal.

Last year, I actually cried when I went to Logan's Thanksgiving Lunch Event at his school. It was only when I walked into his classroom that day did a flood of emotions come over me because at that moment it occurred to me that my mother was never able to do this. Logan gets so anxious about me coming to school. Perhaps if he understood how it is not a choice for some kids and how he is fortunate that his own mom could attend an event.... maybe he can open his mind a little more and not be so stuck on what should be and what shouldn't be.

I know that he is immature and yet his intelligence and ability to grasp large ideas seems to allow him to understand some of these things. I suppose you can call it something akin to building upon his strengths. I sometimes wonder what the real meaning of strengths-based programming is. I have to be careful to make sure it is not lip-service and that institutions really walk the walk when they say that.

Back to emotional intelligence: My friend once told me that when she talks to Logan, she feels like she is talking to a grown-up. This struck a chord with me because now I know why Logan is always making me laugh. The things he says is funny because it usually does not come from a child's mouth.

When Logan was four, I told him that Daddy will stay home for a week because he is taking off work and then Logan asked how we will have money to live. I think I laughed for about 15 minutes straight that day.

When Logan was six, he told me that he would buy me a car and I asked when and he said.... "After I go to college and get a job." I didn't realize that he thought of such things so far ahead. I think the future worries him a bit even though he's only 7 years old. But the cute part of that story is that when I joked to Logan saying that I don't want to share a car with his father and that I would want my own car, he said, "Okay, but then Spencer is going to have to help me."

Is that weird? When he says things like this. I never think, "He's so smart." Rather, I think, "do you seriously think like that?" It is hysterical. I wish I had more examples to share but I have a really bad memory now. So bad that I am now starting to do more brain exercises like Scrabble Flash or puzzles. And now, as I write this, I am thinking that I should write his funny-sayings all down and make a book out of it and call it, "Sh*t Logan Says." Really, he makes me laugh like this almost everyday now and strangely he is not telling me a joke to make me laugh.

But I think he is really starting to like the feeling of making people laugh. (ohmigosh, another Jim Carrey?) I think he has been attempting to do this for a long time now but he had been failing miserably. I finally taught him how to tell a joke and he felt really empowered. I also told him how to do a Ha-Fooled-Ya-type joke but it is backfiring a bit. He is starting to make up stories for fun and then admit later that it was a joke but these jokes are not funny. I think in his mind, he is doing some sort of what-would-happen-if-I-said-this-test not really to make someone upset but rather he is experimenting people's reactions.

He is so inquisitive and it is so hard to explain to a kid who sees the world a little differently, "Uh, Logan, people are not toys. Get that through your head buddy." I think he is starting to get the picture but his impulsivity is strong and when he gets an idea to do something...... ugh... trouble..

The bottom line is that I remind myself that this child of mine who can infuriate me in 60 seconds is the same child who when given a choice, will always pick the less expensive toy to lessen his parent's financial hardship and will always share his chocolate and candies with his little brother without being told. It really just dawned on me these days, why he doesn't ask for more Wii games. I thought he was oblivious but I think he doesn't want to burden me.

Maybe, I don't have to worry. On my most sane days, I think he is going to be just fine. Like I said before in another post, I just have to survive his childhood.


Photo: Probably even just a year ago, I would have never thought this picture was possible. But now I have a boy who likes books such as the Berenstain Bears and Olivia. He wanted to buy that book that he's holding here in this picture and of course, I said "Seventeen dollars! No way!" We found a great book on sale though. He clutched it with anxious hands until we took it to the register. I was so happy that finally we could both be at Barnes and Nobles in peace and he was no longer that toddler taking all the books out of the shelves.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Learning to Accept Gifts Makes Me a Better Mom






















When he was 2 years old, Spencer's therapists used to tell me, Spencer is Spencer and Logan is Logan. I did not listen. Since Spencer exhibited traits of inattention and feeding difficulty, I just assumed that Spencer would come to have an ADHD diagnosis as well. That PDD-NOS diagnosis that he received when he was 2 was taken seriously but at the same time, I always felt that he'd grow out of it with therapy.

But as my kids get older, the acronyms have changed. We are now looking at ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) as an acronym for Spencer. Many people don't believe it. I am not even sure I do myself but irregardless, one test does say that and he was very much himself the day he was tested.

For Logan, we are looking at adding more acronyms. Obsessive Difficult Temperament could be one and thus ODT. Anyone ever heard of ODT? And no, it is not ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder). I have never heard of it until I met Logan's new doctor in the fall.

And there are more labels. The term "gifted," is another. I always knew he was smart but "gifted" seemed like a stretch to me. I asked Logan's doctor about this last week. Kai was with me. And the doctor said that he thought Logan was gifted but not a genius. There are very few geniuses in the world, he told us. Since the category "genius" was ruled out, "gifted" was a bit more easy to accept and my husband is starting to accept it too.

You would think that we would be embracing the notion of having a gifted child but right now, the "gifted" part of Logan is likely causing him a lot of trouble. It is like ADHD X 3.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I Am Still Here and Still Have Something to Say

















Once a week I receive an email from a free service that tells me how many visitors have taken a peek at this site. I am continuously surprised that there are people coming to a blog that hasn't been updated in 7 weeks. Such a long drop in time is a record, but not a record to be proud of...

It sounds weird to apologize but I do feel bad to myself and to others. I don't know quite what to say except that as usual, I'm a wreck. I haven't had much direction these days. I am not quite sure if I ever did. As usual, there is a lot going on. Whenever there is nothing going on, I frequently take deeper breaths because peace is so foreign sometimes that it almost makes me a little nervous.

What I am learning these days is that I see myself in my children more and more as they grow. I see their behavior and recognize it because I used to have similar fears and strange tendencies. We may not manifest all of our feelings in the same way but many of the things that bother them, bothered me too when I was young. Heck, they still sort of bother me now.

I should fess up as to why I haven't written much lately but why bore you? I have been doing good work these days and I hope to organize those thoughts and write about them but since all of us are getting coupons come down on us from internet clouds above, why not take the time to talk about how to spend your money this season, belated as it is... the sales are still around and we all know that we shop more for ourselves and our immediate family after the 25th.

So here is my list of cool things:

1. Whisperphone: I love this crazy little invention. I had been having a hard time with Logan on reading. When he is not focused, getting him to clean his room is easier than getting him to read. However, I found that once he directed his energy into his voice, he really heard himself read out loud and I could tell that he was helping himself focus by hearing himself read. I've been told in the past that when you read, you are not supposed to read the words out loud in your head but I have always done that. That is my speed. This whisperphone allows Logan to hear himself more clearly when he reads. I also make him wear them when his voice is too loud. He basically ends up screaming into his own ear. He doesn't like that very much. Okay, it might be a little cruel but I don't use it all the time but it does help. I think I paid $7.99 for it. Cool factor: Cooler than a weighted vest for sure! Click here for Whisperphone's homework activities and tips.

2. Ryan's Room Dollhouse - Some people got annoyed with me because I bought my son a dollhouse but I am so glad I got it. Spencer loves pretend play and the house allows him to do it and practice good speech at the same time. It is also seems like it can capture the very core of play therapy. Once Spencer enacted a scene at which he had one doll tell another doll not to be afraid of the washing machine and the other doll said that he would just like to look at it for a while (he is afraid of the washing machine in our building). I was floored when I saw that. A few days later, he finally went to the washing machine area with me! The house was not cheap but it was worth every penny. I only wish the Asian family that fits with the house was not clothed in Asian garb. I mean hello?!? We are not in China and even if we were, I think the moms would be sporting a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and not a silk dress! Luckily these dolls are small. I am going to make the mom a pair of khakis. I am not so good with the needles so she may look kinda homeless but still....

















3. Books with Little to No Words- I have gotten really into these books lately. My ADHDer is smart but he can't tell a story for his life. These wordless books are very cool, creative, and makes my kids want to comment and narrate to me. They really need
to improve these skills and I'm learning now that it really hinders Logan's reading comprehension and writing skills which is frustrating for him because the reading part of reading class is easy for him so he checks out and ends up fumbling later. My favorite books so far are: Art and Max, Chalk, The Red Book, Flotsam, and The Lion and the Mouse.

4. Wooden Subway Cars - If you have a boy, especially one with special needs, it is very likely that you have a wooden train track set at home. With these toys, they seem to dance around the border between stimming and playing appropriately. I didn't realize this but to collect the trains of the New York City subway system is actually not as expensive as collecting trains from Thomas the Tank Engine. What is also great is that if your kid loves maps, the trains represent the actual lines of the New York City subway system and so your child can get a map and look at his trains and dream up a million travel scenarios in his head. (Hey, I just got an idea for a speech exercise!) The map is free and available for pick-up at any station booth. Spencer is in love with them so much that I think I will find a way to use them to entice him to poop in the potty. He is being extremely slow in that department. I will start after I give him this book of cut-out subway trains. I got a very nice copy that was advertised as "used" but it was brand new and super cheap.

5. Snap Circuits Jr. - A couple of months ago, Logan took apart a cheap plastic toy jeep that ran on batteries. He cracked it open to see how it worked. When I saw that, I immediately started balking at him. What if he hurt himself? But I knew what he wanted and so I got him this kit even though he is not 8 yet. What I've learned so far is that I must watch him to make sure he doesn't give up when it starts to get a little challenging, eg. a word problem. Each experiment comes with a checkbox which I love. It helps Logan to remember to not skip to #101 (the last one) when he didn't even get past #19. I also told him some basic rules about what not to do to prevent shortcircuiting (as described in the instructions) and so far he has been very careful about that. Anxiety can be a friend in this situation.

6. Cardboard Sheets - Recently, my building installed new windows into each unit so they left a ton of cardboard pieces (heavy duty) in the garbage every night. Naturally, I picked up a stack and took it home and with another existing box (big), my two boys and I built a "house" or "elevator" whatever... I gave them stickers to decorate and made some windows. Logan taped pieces of his K'nex toys to symbolize buttons in his home. I remember playing with cardboard boxes when I was little. They are the best toys and it is free. Husband annoyance factor: med-high (he is tired of seeing the boys' stuff taking over the whole apartment)

7. Digital piano- I can't help it. I know things are hard for my kids but I really want them to learn how to play piano. The trouble was to find something affordable. I found one for a good value but there were too many bells and whistles on this thing. I really dislike extra buttons. You are only asking for yet another reason to yell at them. So I got something that doesn't have too many buttons and also had weighted keys to give the feel of a real piano. I also love the way I can turn off the sound in an instant while teaching them how to play. It helps them slow down and pay attention instead of impulsively banging on the keys. I absolutely love my piano. I can play music with headphones at night while everyone is asleep. It is better than a real piano in so many ways. Guitar center gives you a great warranty. Even if you break it or spill water on it, they will fix it or replace it. I haven't tested the warranty out yet but that is what they promised. But my kids have been really good so far. I put up a sign on the first day that says "The Piano Only Makes Music" and they've stuck to the rules so well that I don't have to hide the plug anymore.

















8. Handyman/Carpentry services - I really wanted to make a hideaway space for Logan. Tents are great but they end up getting broken and it is a pain to fold out and fold back for storage. However, I found these curtains at Ikea and I figured out that I can hang them around their bunk bed so that each kid could have the private enclosed feeling of a tent without needing extra space. The curtain would be retractable too so that the "tent" could easily disappear and reappear when wanted. I have already purchased the curtains but have not put them up yet, I am doubting when I will actually do it. I am not a handyman in anyway but Kai doesn't like this idea so there is no chance he'll put it up. Anyway, what my point is that we need to look at handyman services as something that we should be willing to purchase, just as much as we are willing to purchase a Nintendo DS. While our children may not have any physical disabilities, if they did, I am sure we would be more willing to pay for alterations made in our home. We should give our neurologically-challenged kids the same consideration and be grateful that such alterations and additions could possibly make a big impact on them.

I should mention that my dear husband did follow the recent advice of our doctor and created a work closet for Logan. We will present it to him at Christmas time or on his birthday which is coming up soon. The workstation will allow him to tinker, build, or do whatever without his mess disturbing others or causing a hazardous condition for his little brother. It will also help him to not lose things and the fact that he's practically inside a closet will help him to focus. When Logan's doctor suggested this idea, I realized how important it was for Logan to have this space. I also had to admit that it was time to teach Logan how to really make good use of screwdrivers and other tools since I want to teach him how to use them safely. Kai resisted at first but the next thing you know, he was using his day off to saw and hammer and make a beautiful space for Logan, complete with music speakers for his new iPod Shuffle (for Christmas)! You would never think it was possible in our small urban space but so far, it looks fantastic. My kids don't really use their closet anyway since these hyper little guys would rarely ever be seen in clothes that need to be hung on a hanger. Total cost: only $40.00 sans tools and storage shelves.

9. Classes for Twice-Exceptional Children - There is a recreational-educational center called The Quad Manhattan in New York City that opened earlier this year for kids who are very bright but also have significant special needs. I signed Logan up for a mini-session and I wish I could put him there more often but travel time and finances are always issues for us. Understandably these classes are not as inexpensive as a no-frills karate class in the neighborhood but then again, the way things are taught and the type of subjects they teach to kids are just perfect for my twice-exceptional kid. Thus, in essence it can't be too inexpensive, just like all other special needs classes. The difference is that these classes fit my kid's interests and intellectual abilities while at the same time meeting his needs for a small class size and knowledgeable (about their needs) instructors. I don't know where I could find a class that would teach a 7-year-old things like filmmaking, electronics, rock climbing, website building and even photoshop! Actually, when you think about the kind of classes they are offering, the tuition is quite reasonable. This is what I explained to my husband and he was finally able to understand it that way.

10. Choiceworks- I have said enough about this already but I finally coughed up the extra cash and bought myself the CD with extra images and also some extra stickers and magnets. Boy, was that a good move. Now, when I put the "choice time" magnet on their schedules, I can refer to an already placed row of magnets that actually show what their choices are. Honestly, if I don't tell them what their choices are, they will likely pick electronics and I think that gets old for even them. I realized just how hard it is for my kids to make choices and stick with them so not only is the schedule good for them but they really need to learn how to think about what they like and want. I think the Choiceworks helps them with that a lot. The only trouble is to stay consistent as the parent. I need to start out small so that not only they can get used to it but also I need to get used to it. We have all used it many times but incorporating any behavior modification technique on a daily basis isn't easy.

OOOH, last tip of the day: convince your child's teacher to make an Amazon wish list. Parents can know what she needs in the classroom and can donate them throughout the school year. She can put things that are not offered by Amazon as well and of course, if you happen to have the item at home, you can donate it and reserve the item on the list so that no one else will buy it. It's a very private way to donate too since only the teacher will know who bought what. I like that.

And that is all folks. I will post again hopefully very soon. I wish everyone a very happy holiday season. Thank you to all who have dropped by and thanks to my kindred spirits who have lent me a hand whenever I needed help.

photo 1: Logan uses his Whisperphone. He has been doing homework on his own these days. It is a miracle. Sometimes I take pictures of him doing good work to then show him later so that he has a visual picture of what he looks like when he is calm and productive.

photo 2: Spencer at work. We must tackle those sensory issues. He is still so defensive with his hands. He's been making some progress though. He's got a very good OT.

photo 3: Oops, I did it again. Last year, around this time, I broke my finger and had to get surgery. This year, I managed to not get surgery but rather give myself a nice 2nd degree burn on my writing hand. I have been spared dishwashing duties for the past two weeks but otherwise, this hand gets no brake.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Really, Just How Much Should You Pay a Teen Babysitter?






















I think I just got my first internet ass-whoopin'. I didn't expect it at all but that just goes to show you how naive I am.

Some background: In the past year, my teen babysitter has grown into a confident and adept teacher to my children. She is so fantastic and really beyond "babysitter" status now. In fact, she doesn't really do the traditional babysitting so much. She does things that are more akin to homework help and play therapy.

In the spring of this year, she signed up to get training to become a babysitter to special needs children at a JCC here in New York City. I also promised her a raise when she got her certificate of completion. Saying that she had learned so much from us, she tried to refuse it when she finally did get her certificate. Being an Asian American woman, I have been treated as a doormat on more that one occasion so I told her that she should learn how to accept what she deserves. It's harder than you think especially when you are a nice girl like Catalina Lopez (her real name). I also told her that I gave her a raise to stay competitive because it is in my best interest that she continue to work with my kids. Still I knew that the pay could have been more but that raise was all I could afford since she came on a regular basis and thus I would see my money leave me on a regular basis.

Raises.... That seems to be the big word right now because Catalina was featured in a column in the New York freakin' Times!!!!!! The story focused on how this program at the JCC helped turn this wonderful young person into a babysitter extraordinaire. In truth, she was always great but the training she received really gave her a stronger knowledge base from which she could be more effective with my children.

So when Susan Dominus, who was one of the most respectful and kid-friendly reporters I've ever met (I've met a lot), asked me how much I pay Catalina, I told her. I felt bad about it not because I didn't want people to know what I pay her but it was more to protect her privacy so she could have less pressure when negotiating rates with others. However, I didn't feel so bad when I found out that Catalina also told the reporter what she earned as well because if you think about it, salary or at least salary range is an important part of the story. If you are going to talk about how great teen babysitters are, then you must talk about how financially feasible it is.

Never did I imagine the verbal barbecuing that I would end up getting. I don't know why but people actually thought I was paying her $8 an hour to watch two children even though nowhere in the story was that ever written. Nevertheless, Catalina only gets $8.50 an hour from me to work with one child. She would receive more if she is babysitting both of them. In the story, the Ms. Dominus wrote $8 per hour because when she was factchecking with me, I didn't correct her. I was too embarrassed to point out the extra $0.50 an hour.

Irregardless, Catalina has grown into someone whose skills and experience could confidently command way more than $8.50 an hour from a family, whether that child is neurotypical or not. She doesn't just "watch" my kids and make sure they eat and sleep, she will get on the floor and really play with them. Also, if I give her a task like a puzzle or a worksheet to give to the kids, SHE WILL MAKE SURE IT GETS DONE.

However, I found my face starting to heat up as I read through the comments posted by readers of the article and saw that I was being criticized for the low pay. I am not sure if everyone thought I was paying her $8 an hour to care for two children but still, I couldn't help but feel terrible that so many folks may have missed the point of the story.

It is comments like these that make you not want to share your stories publicly. But I am quickly comforted by the fact that this story has enjoyed a most awesome response. On the day of publication, the JCC told me that they received calls from around the world asking them about their training curriculum so that they could replicate it in their area. Could you ask for better results? Ms. Dominus' story about Catalina and the JCC helped special needs families everywhere.

Back to salary- This is how I see it. You have to be as fair as possible because it is good for all parties involved. This means you have to pay as much as you can afford and hopefully for the family's sake, that will be at a competitive rate because a good sitter can't be kept at low pay unless there is some other draw like learning opportunities, flexibility and short commute. (Thank goodness our sitter lives in our building). All in all, I know that the rate I pay is all that I can afford. I wish I could afford more but I also wish my kids didn't have neurological issues and that I wasn't overweight.

Not that I'm not ecstatic about how skilled Catalina has become, but honestly, my original intention for hiring a teen was not really for the kind of work she is doing now. All I had wanted was to have someone safely occupy Spencer while I worked with Logan on academics and therapeutic activities. Back then, this was my only solution to not being able to find an afterschool program that was not just a good fit for Logan but also affordable and nearby. In our last effort to put him in to a neighborhood martial arts program, we were asked to leave before the one hour class was even over. I wasn't going to bring him back anyway since the other kids were so mean to him. That was a very bad day.

Bottomline, I was basically doing my own version of a homeschool-afterschool program and Catalina keeping Spencer out of our hair made it all possible. Even with this reasoning, it was hard to get my husband to agree to spend the extra money at first. He grew up in a Chinatown ghetto where he shared a bedroom with three older sisters. It is also important to mention that this apartment had no living room or dining room. Thus my "need" for help in order to pursue Logan's academic enrichment and a little alone time for Mommy and Logan was not really something he could easily understand as a "need." But like most things about the kids, my husband usually comes to my camp eventually.

But who knew that she would evolve into a dynamite mini-therapist? I certainly did not but there is no question that my family is extremely lucky. Again, I am SO SURE she can be paid more elsewhere but I think she might still be with us for other reasons. So to end this post, I'd like to leave with you what I've tried to do to make this job more meaningful to Catalina. Perhaps you can provide this to your teen babysitter if you have one.

I actually have some experience directing a youth program in New York City and I can tell you that many teens lack things like internship opportunities, professional connections, workplace communication skills, and self-promotion skills like resume writing and interviewing. Thus with college admissions and jobs being so competitive now, these teens really could use every boost they can get.

With that knowledge and my worship of all that is Catalina, I offered to help her write her resume, offered to help her find more jobs, and offered to help her with college applications. She has great parents to guide her but one more adult in her life can be helpful too. Schools are just too overloaded to give the amount of guidance that kids need now. Additionally, sometimes we'd just talk about her future. When she got her special needs babysitting certificate, I knew I'd scare her but I actually told her to negotiate her raise with me (even though I had already decided what to give her), because I wanted her to learn this valuable skill that so many young women often lack. While she hasn't taken me up on all of my offers, I hope I was successful in letting her know that I want to help her grow.

Additionally, I paid for her time to be trained. This is really beneficial for your babysitter. The training course was free so I just paid her registration fee and of course I made her ask her mother if that was okay because that is something that every employer of a teen should respect. I also paid her to watch Spencer's therapy sessions when she was off from school and the therapists had been coming to our house everyday. Once we had a therapy session outside of the home and I had her come and watch it because I thought it could help her. Since she usually babysits for us at home and has no commute, I paid her for the time that she traveled with us back and forth as well as the time for her to watch the kids' therapy session. In fact, whenever she ever came out with us, I would always pay for the travel time.

More importantly, I made sure that everything, and I mean everything was okay with her mom. This is really critical. If your babysitter's mom doesn't like you, then well... I don't think you will have her in your life too long. If I needed her outside of our neighborhood or did something else unusual then I would expect that she would have told her mother. From the beginning, I made sure that her mom knew my cell phone and knew to call our home if Catalina didn't answer her cell phone. I made sure that I would have Catalina's emergency numbers too. I don't believe you have to be chummy with your sitter's mother but if you are in her good graces, this can only help you.

Lastly, I try to set her up with learning opportunities by connecting her with other special needs professionals so that she can expand her network and attain some valuable advice. This can not only help your children right now but for the teen who is considering a career in special needs education or therapy, this kind of thing is just priceless. Current professionals can advise them on what are good college programs, where to find scholarships, and possibly know someone who can help her get admitted into a good school or help her find a good job later.

I thoroughly enjoyed doing these things because I feel grateful for the opportunity to be a part of Catalina's growth. Additionally, being a mentor to a talented young person definitely helps alleviate some of the emptiness I feel since I decided to press the pause button on my own career because of the kids.

Let it be said that all of these perks do not necessarily replace good wages. Some of the best internships are great because they are paid and so the person who needs to learn but also needs to earn can do both! Otherwise, you have only the privileged few that are already well connected get the unpaid-but-very-valuable learning and networking opportunities. I don't mean to sound naive. I am aware that the situation that I just described is basically the real world in which we live but, as employers of people who have a big influence over the beings most precious to your heart, we can all do our part to balance out this equation one teen at a time.

Photo:
If I had more money, I would have Catalina take Spencer to his soccer class. Because he wants to impress her so much, I know he would try that much harder to fight off his anxiety. When I take him, he usually just runs off the field and straight to me whenever the class becomes too stressful. In this picture, I was not at soccer class that day, my husband was.

P.S. One last thing! Feed your babysitter! They are young and most likely are still growing. If you have them afterschool or around dinnertime or really anytime then you better have some food in your house. The teens most likely enjoy the same things that your little ones do. Catalina loves chocolate milk and white cheddar puffs just like Spencer does. Seriously, if you ask her to feed your kids dinner then it is safe to assume she needs something too. It could be a doubly good thing if your kid needs a good model for eating.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mom Sucks at Transition Too

















This is probably the third or fourth post I have written since my last post in September. I start them and come near to finishing but something gets in the way, namely me.

One of the drawbacks of sending your kids to an outstanding special needs school is that an outstanding special needs school will be calling you frequently to let you know what is going on with your child. There may inevitably be some work attached to these phone calls, most of it self-imposed. Nonetheless, there is stuff to be done to help the kids and of course, it is the beginning of the school year so you want to set some good habits to continue for the rest of the year.

The news that comes home will most often not be so good to hear. I know that they have special needs and that is why they are where they are but still I have a hard time listening to the 101 challenges that they have. I have been trying so hard not to let my happiness be predicted by their performance in school for the day but it is so hard to live by those words. I dread the phone ringing and when my Caller ID shows the school's phone number, I try to remind myself to hold it together when they talk to me. While I don't cry on them, I am sure I sound like I will just shrivel up and die. But really, how is a mom supposed to respond when she is told that her three-year-old is putting his hands on his classmate's neck because he doesn't know how else to say "Hey, I like you. Can you play with me?"

Luckily, as I write this post, both boys have been doing a little better in school. We have even changed medication for Logan AGAIN. I am feeling less and less insecure about school. I have come to recognize that I have a little complex about the school informing me of my child's challenges. When the news is really bad, I always worry if they will ask my child to find another school. I know in my head that my child should leave ASAP if he is not wanted. But I can't help shake the feeling that my children might be unwanted when a school calls me to tell me they are having a hard time. If they had to leave because they were too challenged, I would go crazy because it would likely mean that they are worse off than I originally thought.

When I get a phone call telling me about a continued problem, I have even asked them, "Are you thinking of suggesting he go to school somewhere else?" The answer is always "no," but still I worry. It is silly but I had a bad experience with Logan in a special education setting where he was asked to leave and it was very unprofessionally handled. Even though I received a letter of apology from the school, the damage has been done. I don't think I'll ever get over it until they graduate from college.

It is so much easier to worry when I have nothing else going on. While I am busy everyday, I don't think I am building anything right now. I am cleaning a lot. I am sorting and organizing all of my piles of things to sort and organize. However, they are really just another item off a to-do list that has no end. Since both of the boys are in school right now, I am actually experiencing what it is like to have seven hours to myself where I am not running around trying to get it all done before I have to relieve a babysitter so she can go home or my husband before the kids drive him nuts. I don't mean to sound ungrateful but it is not as great as I thought it would be.

I think that another reason why this blog has been so neglected is that I have been sad. I didn't realize it but I am feeling quite empty and anxious. I will just say it now: I have been trying to fill the void with shopping online. I don't know why people think shopping online is a big time-saver. It is not. It sucks up so much of my time especially when I am trying to save money.

I read so many of my emails that advertise sales, discounts, or free shipping because I think I might end up saving some money. However, because I am shopping on someone else's schedule, I end up diverting myself from my own goals and perhaps wasting way too much time. Sometimes, I see a sale and remember that I need to get something and then after spending time looking through their site especially, their overstock section, I end up not buying anything and find that one hour has been wasted. I get so depressed afterwards.

There are other things that I do and don't feel I have anything to show for it. Most of it involves the kids. I look up things online to buy for them. I email and call people looking for new opportunities and programs for them. Most are dead ends and are too expensive but still I keep trying because I love to find out things. However, after I eat my breakfast/lunch at noon because I can no longer ignore my hunger (or my stimulant wears off) and have a moment to break, I realize that it is almost 2 PM and I haven't even thought about dinner (all three of them not including mine), I haven't made their afternoon picture schedule, and I haven't showered either. This is not what I envisioned my days would be like once they started school.

I imagined a cleaner home. I imagined less chaos. I imagined a happier husband and a happier me. I imagined getting a part-time job. With all imaginations aside, I think only my home is a little cleaner and I wonder if only I think this. Perhaps my husband would not agree. He doesn't see the K'nex bin organized into 10 different compartments categorized by shape and size to make it more fun and easy for Logan to build things. He doesn't see that I cleaned out all the dust and debris from under the foam mats. He doesn't notice that I wipe off all the urine from the walls and the floor from the Logan's poor aim on an almost daily basis. He doesn't know that I spend so much time on the phone because of the kids or with another special needs parent who I'm helping or is giving me help. It would be so nice if I just knew that he knew how much I did and that all this work is indeed important. He may know it all and believe it is important but I can't tell that from the way he acts towards me.

Irregardless, this stay-at-home thing is really tough because I am my own boss and I hate it. When I was a publicist, I would be racing against deadlines imposed upon me by journalists or my bosses. There was pressure almost everyday and I needed it to focus and work faster.

Now the pressures are different and attaining focus is really challenging and while I may be productive, I don't feel like that at the end of the day so I am making some changes. The first is to get over my shame and start writing again. I learned something great about facilitating play between siblings at a place called Emerge and See here in New York and I will be writing about it soon. Additionally, I have decided to stop reading my sale emails. I am going to just put them in a temporarily folder if I want to read them later. Hopefully, I will have the courage to take myself off these lists for good one day. I think I am wasting more valuable time hunting for deals than I am saving money. I have to try to remember that.

The other thing I am going to do is to make small to-do lists and try to stick to them. My to-do lists get so long. It is almost laughable. Lastly, if I veer off-course, then I am going to write down what I did. Hopefully that will prevent feelings of depression because I can't remember what I did that day. This happens all the time.

I also would like to say thanks to all the friends that wrote and called me because they haven't seen a blog post in a while. If any of you thought I was depressed, you were right. I might have told you otherwise at the time but I think I didn't even know myself how sad I really was. It is so easy to lose yourself when you feel like you are racing to help your kids. Everyday counts, especially when they are so young. I also think I couldn't share anything because I felt so empty inside. I have been trying to fill these voids with bargain shopping for things we need or want and I have been so ashamed of falling into this trap. But hopefully, I have made some progress and I'll be doing more worthy things from now on. Thanks everyone for checking in on me!

Photo: This is Spencer on a little subway-themed stage before one of his soccer classes. This child loves subways! What is it about special needs kids and subways!?! The soccer class started out good but turned out to be really terrible. I was so frustrated that he could not follow the class. The class changed their drills every week and it was really hard on him. I don't know why I let this class upset me but it did. This is what happens when you just plop them into a program for typically developing kids where the teachers have no idea what "special needs" really mean. I kind of wanted to see what happened when I enrolled him and hoped for the best but of course, when it wasn't so great, I let it upset me. I am such a fool. I even tried to use chocolate to encourage him to stay with the group. I really did whatever I could to get him to stay in the class without my help but it didn't work. He did okay at the very last class (after 8 weeks) and I think it was because the demands were decreased and there were less kids in the class. We might try again next semester but I may decide against it. I don't know..... I am just a wanna-be soccer mom. Pathetic, right?

Monday, September 13, 2010

How I Survived 4 Weeks of No School

















I feel like my summer started on August 13th, the day when Logan's summer program at his school finished. He is lucky enough (or unlucky enough) to be eligible for a 12 month special education program. The extra two months are given to prevent regression says the school system. I agree with that but for me, those six weeks of education at his school is my answer to what to do about Logan for summer camp, since obviously I would have a hard time paying for something that would have trained staff to accommodate his needs.

Even though I usually dread those few weeks when I have him at home without the support of my husband or his school, I am happy he was home this summer. This is the time when I learn about him the most. This is the time when we can play without worrying about school bus schedules or packing the lunch that he doesn't eat. This is the time when I can challenge him myself and take him to greet new challenges, new people, and new places. Spencer gets to do the same because this is the one time of the year, I will allow him to miss therapy at home. He finished that process anyway since he starts school today as a special needs preschool student. I miss the therapists at home but am relieved to have it all done at school now.

I am pretty much amazed at how much easier and happier this summer is. I wasn't sure what was making the difference and then I figured out that there was more than one factor that was making the difference.

1. I have good drugs. When my anti-anxiety medication stopped my digestive system from working, I was in complete misery but I kept going and my body became used to it. Now I don't feel so sick anymore and instead, I have been able to stabilize myself and have not had one panic attack or panicky feeling. I am even more patient now. I think that was the key to making this difficult time work for me.

2. I am just flat out ignoring my husband. Actually, that doesn't sound exactly right. What I really mean is that I am not going to want him to be happy just so I can be or stay happy. He has always been so quiet but sometimes I am uncomfortable with that. My husband is his own person and if he goes to a social gathering and doesn't talk to anyone then I am not going to worry about it and wonder whether I did anything wrong. I need to leave him be and hopefully he'll come around. Sometimes I ignore him for a couple of days and I swear he doesn't notice until maybe the third day or so and then he starts talking to me a little more. I'm not playing hard to get but perhaps that element needs to be explored more.

3. I was busy keeping them busy. I ignored everything else. I am behind on just about everything and I have decided not to care. When they were home, I barely looked at my computer or talked to anyone on the phone. I didn't even post on this blog for over 4 weeks! My mile-long to-do lists were gone. Everyday I woke up and just knew that I was going to get the kids to do something fun and that I wouldn't be scared to be alone with them.

4. I put Logan to bed later and I decided just to wake up earlier. I always used to give him his sleep aid earlier and just dealt with him waking up at 5 AM but I realized that it did no one any good. Instead, I decided that he can stay up a little longer and do the things to occupy himself quietly that I wouldn't allow him to do in the morning for fear of creating bad habits or waking up his little brother such as playing with the computer or playing the Wii... etc. Now he is up later at night and my husband can share more responsibility in watching him since I always had morning duty.

5. More importantly, I decided to shift my personal time from late evening after bedtime to early morning before the kids woke up. This change made a critical impact in my daily overall mood. I had energy to do things like yoga, write emails, read the news. Before when I used the late evening to make time for myself, I basically just watched t.v. because I only had enough energy for that. I didn't like to write at night because my mind would always be racing after I finished and then I couldn't go to sleep. Now, I wake up as early as 4 am and I absolutely love it. Because Logan's slept in more, I had the time to myself to be quiet and do yoga and just relax after a full night's sleep.

5. Logan's new medicine is working better for him. As soon as his vacation started, I came to better understand the pattern of behavior that they saw in school. We decided that perhaps his extended release formula was possibly not appropriate for him so we switched things around to a short acting stimulant and things seem to be better for him (and then for me).

6. I have become a playdate whore. I ask everyone for a playdate. Sometimes I get a yes and sometimes I get no response at all. I don't know if they are avoiding me or my kids or both. I just try to not take it personally and just move on. I understand fully that my kids are not the most socially appropriate peers for their child. For me, it is not about Spencer and Logan having typically developing social models for friends. At this point, it is just about them being happy with other kids. They also played with kids who have special needs and have had fun doing that too. Playdate whoring has led me to understand that all kids are unique in their own special way and that despite their odd behaviors, Spencer and Logan can be fun companions that children may actually seek.

However, on that last note, I really have come to appreciate the extremely kind souls that have seen the goodness in my children and have encouraged them to be with their own kids. This is relatively new to me. I literally asked them why they haven't shunned me and my kids. (That will be a future blog post). This summer has been so interesting and fun and it is all because I put my kids with other kids every single day I could. It didn't always work out great but I can see that with each playdate, they look forward to more social interaction and can improve their play and conversation skills.

I also found that me being with other parents eased my own anxiety and elevated my patience with my own kids. Everyone remarked how patient I was and I told them that I am not so patient but the difference is similar to what you experience when you are eating out with a group. Sometimes, you don't pig out in front of them because you just don't want to look disgusting. You almost see yourself through their eyes and then you regulate yourself. For this reason, I often did not lose my temper. That is what ended up happening as I surrounded my family with other families. It was healthy and healthy is good. Thanks to all the moms and kids who played with the ADHD Brothers this summer!!!! Not only did you make our summer bearable, it actually turned out to be a blast!

caption: First day of school this morning. Logan left our apartment with his shoes not quite put on. This is how he usually leaves the house. Here he is lying on the pavement (on top of his brand new schoolbag!) putting his shoes on.