Archive for the ‘Kids’ Category

Dear Parents (from someone who works with your kids)

Dear parentsI read a blog post the other day written by a parent of a child with special needs. The post is titled Think Before You Judge An Autism Parent: Until You’ve Walked in My Shoes and it covered two main topics – one, don’t judge the parents of children with special needs because, quite simply, you have no idea what their lives look like or what their children need, and two, health care providers, child care providers, behavioral health workers, mental health professionals, etc. don’t care about your child – they just want to shove meds on your kids and collect their checks at the end of the week.

To point one – I 1,000% agree . . . 10,000%, 100,000% . . . . as much as you possibly fathom an exaggeration of completely effing agree, that’s how much I agree. Though I would elaborate to say that we need to stop judging parents all together. Whether it’s a rowdy kid in a supermarket or a tantrum in a restaurant . . . or whatever . . . as the person standing on the sidelines, we have NO IDEA what the situation is really about and we would do well to remember that.

It’s the second point that I’d really like to address in this open letter. The one that says that we don’t care about your kids. I have worked with children, both with and without special needs, in several different capacities for 20 years. I babysit, provided personal behavioral support, I taught elementary school kids in both special education and general education, I taught preschool, worked at an afterschool program, and am currently a therapeutic support staff for children with behavioral health needs. . . . I won’t lie and say that I’ve loved all of the children I’ve worked with. I won’t even say that I’ve liked all of them. What I will say, quite emphatically, is that I have, without a doubt, cared about every single one of them.

I’ve never looked to blame parents, ignore parents, get parents in trouble, or in any way make parents’ lives more difficult. In fact, I’ve always tried to do the exact opposite . . . listen, take everything they say into consideration, and help make their lives easier, if at all possible.

I know that all of us aren’t like this. I know there are bad teachers and bad therapists and bad doctors and, well, bad everything out there. I’ve seen people who were supposed to be working with kids sit and play on cell phones all day. I’ve read about teachers who say things like this. I will not discount the author’s experiences, though they do sadden me. But I know I’m not alone. I know I’m not the only one who cares . . . . and it’s heartbreaking to think that some parents may avoid getting services for their children because they think anyone who is paid to work with them doesn’t care.

Here’s the thing. Yes, it’s my job. Yes, I collect a paycheck for what I do. But honestly? I could make more as a waitress . . . . and without the stress of being cursed out by preschoolers or almost having my nose broken by a 12-year-old or cleaning feces off of playroom walls. I’m not in this for the money. I need what little I make to live, but I do what I do because I care about your kids.

I really can’t stress that enough. I care about your kids. I care about how they’re feeling and it makes me sad when they’re upset. I care their progress and light up when I see them achieve a new success. I care about what I can do to help them succeed . . . so much so that I think about it on the bus on the way home and talk about it while eating dinner and even get out of bed write down some new ideas to try the next day.

So, please, all I ask is that you don’t judge us . . . . in the same way that we should not judge you. We’re not the enemy. And the best way to help your children is if we work together.

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Sesame Street tackles divorce

or Um, why is this controversial?

Sesame StreetThere are a lot of articles I read that seem to provoke controversy. Some I understand and many I don’t. The latest to fit into the latter category is the fact that an upcoming segment of Sesame Street (which is only airing online, by the way, not on TV) will discuss divorce using one of their more recent characters, Abby Cadabby.

The issues regarding the segment (or the idea behind the segment because I doubt most of those complaining have even watched the teaser) seem to hold a few common themes – we should let kids be kids, television is not the place for kids to learn these things (or parents should be the ones talking to their kids), and the only preschool-aged children who should learn about divorce are those whose parents are getting one.

Televising a character with whom real-life children can relate is not keeping kids from being kids. This is a real issue. Real kids deal with this. I certainly don’t think we should talk to children the same way we talk to adults, but we shouldn’t treat them as if they’re stupid either. As a parent and a former teacher, I can assure you that children understand a lot more than we give them credit for. I would prefer to sit down and talk with kids about the real-life things they see and experience on a daily basis than to ignore them altogether, leaving kids to run wild with their imaginations.

So yes, parents should be the ones talking to their kids about these things, but why does it have to be one or the other? My ex-husband and I separated when my daughter was 2 ½ years old. I remember with perfect clarity the night my ex moved out. I remember trying to explain to my daughter that her daddy wasn’t going to live with us anymore and how she was going to have two homes. I would have loved to sit down with her and watch an episode of a show she already knew that showed a character she already loved who has gone through exactly what she was going through.

As for only discussing it with kids who have divorced parents, why is it not okay to explain different types of families to children? Having divorced parents is a lot more common now than when I was a kid. I felt like the only one in school whose parents didn’t live together. It was isolating at times because other kids just didn’t understand. Similarly, I didn’t understand kids whose families were different from mine. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to teach kids that families are unique and work in so many different ways.

One of Abby’s favorite songs as a toddler and preschooler was We All Sing with the Same Voice, or as she called it, My Hair is Black and Red (since that’s the first line). She used to make me sing it over and over and over and over again. (Oh, and it’s a song from Sesame Street.) The song is about how kids come from all different places, have all kinds of families, like all kinds of different things, but how they still have things in common. One of her favorite books was Whoever You Are by Mem Fox, also about the differences and similarities of children around world. Both have been excellent teaching tools and neither disallowed my kid from being a kid.

From Mr. Hooper’s death to dealing with fires and hurricanes, Sesame Street has always offered honest explanations to kids about real-life events, not to mention a cast that demonstrates real-world diversity. This segment on divorce is following a well-established path of talking to kids at their level about things going on in their lives, and I 100% support that.

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***Side note – my daughter walked over to the computer when I pulled up the YouTube video for We All Sing with the Same Voice, so I decided to ask her thoughts about this. I said, “What would you think if, when you watched Sesame Street, there was a character who had divorced parents?”

She responded, “Actually, I’d think I have a lot in common with that character and that we should play together.”

I told her about the upcoming segment and how Abby Cadabby’s parents are divorced. She gasped and said, “We do have a lot in common!” (If you’re new to my blog, my daughter’s name is Abby 🙂 )***

Some more thoughts on marriage equality – from a 7-year-old

I had another post scheduled for today, but I had to rearrange after the impromptu conversation I had with my daughter last night.

While playing board games, we had a discussion about hate. She knows I don’t like the word and she rarely uses it, but it slipped out a couple of times over the course of our games. I told her that it’s a very strong and hurtful word. She asked me what a “strong word” means. I explained that our words have power and used a few examples of how certain words have stronger meanings than others – happy vs. ecstatic, yummy vs. delicious, scared vs. horrified, etc.

Then our conversation moved into how hate and fear have been used to deny people rights. We talked about segregation – a topic that has always fascinated her as she thinks about what it would be like if my boyfriend and I couldn’t be together or if she couldn’t play with her own cousin or friends.

The conversation continued to progress toward the issue of marriage equality and we talked about the rights that are given to couples when they marry and how same-sex couples who want to get married are not given those same rights because they can’t get married. Her response was a very adamant, “What?! Well, that’s not fair!”

I explained that some people don’t think two men or two women should be allowed to get married and she looked at me funny. We talked about how the same kind of hate and fear that people used to deny rights based on race are being used now to deny rights based on who a person loves.

She continued with, “One day, if I meet the president, I’m going to tell him that two men or two women should be allowed to get married!”

I explained how the president doesn’t get to make all of those decisions on his own, but how our current president came out and said the other day that he believes same-sex couples should be allowed to get married and how that’s a big deal because no other president has ever done that. She smiled.

I asked her what made a family and she answered, “Love.”

She told me that she understands now why I don’t like the word “hate”. And we hugged and tickled and went back to our game. This whole conversation lasted a whopping 10 minutes.

So, my question is, if my 7-year-old understands all of this, why can’t so many adults?

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From the mouths of babes: New Year resolutions

I don’t typically do the whole New Year Resolution thing. I think the changes that need to be made in our lives are changes that can be made on any day, at any time. I do, however, love using the opportunity to find out what my daughter thinks are important changes that need to be made.

The first video is from December 31, 2009. Abby’s was 5 years old. The second video is from tonight. Abby is 7 years old.

And I will leave with one New Year Resolution to myself . . . In 2012, I will follow through with difficult decisions, no matter how much I want to fight against them.

They’re just clothes

I was called many things as a child. Among them were “tom boy”, “dirtball” and “orphan Annie”. They were accurate. I would get myself as dirty as I possibly could and I would love every second of it. I climbed trees and fences. I scraped knees and elbows. I played in mud and dirt and then wiped my hands on my clothes.

More importantly, my mom didn’t stop me from doing it.

I don’t recall having a lot of “dressy” clothes. There were “picture day” clothes, of course, but otherwise I wore play clothes. And I was meant to play in them.

I’m still not an incredibly neat person. I have my perfectionist issues – you should see my coupon folder, day planner or index card box. But when it comes to the bigger picture, I’m a mess. I cannot keep a clean desk to save my life. I live in complete clutter.

And I love it.

It’s an organized chaos. I can find what I need when I need it – I just might have to move a few things around first.

I’ve been told that messiness is a sign of a creative mind. I don’t know if that’s true, but I like it so I’m going to say that it is.

You can't really see it in the picture, but the Sharpie is on her shorts and shirt as well! -- I still have the shirt :P)

The play clothes philosophy has carried over to my daughter’s wardrobe. She gets a fancy holiday dress every year and maybe one or two others. Otherwise, (aside from school uniforms) I do not give her any clothes that I don’t expect to become a complete mess.

I want my child to be a child. I want her to enjoy playing without worrying about getting a spot of dirt on her. She will ride her bike and fall off. She will play baseball and soccer in the dirt. Her clothes will get dirty and bloody and ripped and torn. And she’ll have fun throughout all of it. And her dirty, bloody, torn and ripped clothes will get washed or recycled into rags or bedding for the ferrets.

Who cares if she wears white shorts to soccer practice?

They’re just clothes.

First day of 1st grade

I know that I promised a melodramatic mom post for Tuesday, but this week has just been insane, so I’m a little late!

Abby’s first week of 1st grade has been fabulous!

Tuesday morning, I pulled myself out of bed at 5:45 a.m. and 15 minutes later groaned to myself as I went to wake up Abby. Last year’s mornings were typically met with “but I’m tye-erd” – and you know the voice I’m talking about, at least if you’re a mom! I expected some of the same. I walked in and cheerfully said, “Good morning!”

All ready to go!

Abby jolted out of bed, said “good morning,” clambered down the ladder of her bunk bed and ran, yes ran, to the bathroom. She was dressed, teeth brushed and ready to go by 6:15 a.m. I brushed her hair and we went down stairs so I could cook breakfast.

We (Abby, my 7-month-old niece whom I babysit and I) walked out the door at 6:45 a.m. to head to the bus stop. Kindergarten is not mandatory in Pennsylvania. Because of that, the school district will not pay for kindergarten students to take the school bus. For those who don’t know, last year I used to take by daughter by train and bus to school every day. I traveled about an hour there, an hour back home, an hour to pick her up and another hour home again. Yes, I spent four hours on public transportation just to take my daughter to school every day. What’s worse, SEPTA charges full price for any child five-years-old or older. So not only did I need a bus pass for myself, I needed one for Abby as well. It cost me $166/month for Abby’s free public education!

But I digress; the kindergarten not being mandatory thing is a post for another day.

Waiting . . .

This is Abby’s first year taking the school bus and I wanted to make sure we arrived early. The bus was scheduled to pick up at 7:07 a.m. and we arrived at 6:50 a.m. I knew the intersection, but not the exact corner. I saw a boy with a backpack on and asked if he was going to FACTs and sure enough! Well we waited . . . and waited . . . and waited.

and still waiting.

Another boy came to the bus stop by this time. His mom was waiting in the car to make sure the bus showed up. Obviously, she had done this before. At 20 after 7, the boys hopped in her car. She said she’d offer to take Abby and me, but she didn’t have a car seat. A quick call to Kessel at home solved that problem. He ran (ok, he didn’t run) to the bus stop, took the baby and Abby and I hopped in the car as well. Many, many thanks go to the mom!

So, Abby made it to school just fine.

And then there was the afternoon drop-off. The boys from the bus stop suggested I show up around 4:00 p.m. I thought that made sense. The bus company refused to give a drop-off time. (Oh, and apparently, they changed the pick-up time to 7:21 a.m.) I was standing at the bus stop, in the rain, at 3:45 p.m.

Home at last!

I waited . . . and I waited . . . and I waited. The awesome mom who drove us to school in the morning called me around 4:40 p.m. . . . you know, after I had already crossed the streets a dozen times hoping the bus I saw was Abby’s. Her son had called. Apparently, the bus was late picking them up and now the bus driver had no idea where he was. Fabulous! Well, at least I knew my baby was okay!

My umbrella was basically doing nothing at this point. I was drenched head to toe. Finally, Abby’s bus pulls up at 5:20 p.m. She happily screams, “MOMMY!!!” and runs to give me a hug. As we walked home, I asked how her day was and how she liked 1stgrade. Her response was, “I AB-SO-LUTELY LOVED IT!”

Walking home in the rain

So, bus issues aside, it was an awesome first day! Here’s a video of Abby talking about her first day of 1st grade:

Abby's second day of 1st grade, but her first day riding the school bus TO school!