Monthly Archives: May 2012

Sometimes getting down the mountain is the hard part

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The Himalayan mountain range with Mount Everes...

The Himalayan mountain range with Mount Everest as seen from the International Space Station looking south-south-east over the Tibetan Plateau. Four of the world’s fourteen eight-thousanders, mountains higher than 8000 metres, can be seen, Makalu (8462 m), Everest (8850 m), Lhotse (8516 m) and Cho Oyu (8201 m). The South Col Route is Mount Everest’s most often used climbing route. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There have been a number of news stories in recent weeks about the challenges related to climbing Mount Everest.   Apparently, many climbers (and media) tend to focus on getting to the summit; in fact, getting down is as hard, if not harder than getting to the top.  Aside   from the unpredictable weather and generally hazardous conditions, climbers often have to deal with fatigue, delays, altitude sickness and a raft of other factors that can make getting off the mountain treacherous.   This year alone, several people reached the summit and later died on the descent.

I was thinking about how reaching a goal can often be half the battle as I sat in the hallway of the school this morning.  M was in the staff room with the principal and his Educational Assistant, trying to persuade him to take his medication.  At that point, M had been in meltdown mode for over an hour – running away to Mount Everest was looking pretty good (except I’m terrified of heights).  We had just come back from 3 days travelling out-of-town to attend to my husband’s grandmother’s funeral.  M had done very well in coping with being in the car for hours, sitting through funeral and burial services, being ignored by all the adults around him.  He had excessive amounts of time on his iPod and playing on the computer at my in-law’s house, but he was quiet and didn’t make a fuss.   He even finished an overdue homework assignment while we were away.

As funerals go, it went well, but we were all exhausted by the time we got home.  My husband and I both made sure that we told M how impressed we were with his behaviour over the last few days.

This morning started off well.  M even left the house early.  For once, I had made my lunch the night before and was ready to go shortly after M left.  I did have a moment’s pause when I realized that I had forgotten to make sure M took his meds, but I figured I would drop by the school on my way to work and give them to him.  A couple of minutes and I would be on my way to work.

What I didn’t know was that the Grade 6s were taking the last of a series of standardized tests this morning.   So the grade 5s, including M, were with another teacher in another room.  I asked the school secretary to call M down but she was in the middle of putting out several other fires, so she suggested I go up and find M myself.  Since I volunteer in M’s class on a regular basis, I know my way around the school and found M without any difficulty.

Except what I thought was easy – take 3 little pills – was not at all easy for M.  He refused to take them and insisted he could get through the day without them.  We started stumbling down the mountain.  M didn’t want to take the pills where anyone could see him, so I enlisted his EA’s help to try to persuade M.  No go.  We went downstairs to the EA office to find a more private place  so he would feel less self-conscious.  M yelled at two different children to “mind their own business,” on the way down the stairs, so I was pretty sure he wasn’t going to make it through the day successfully,  no matter what he told himself.

When the Spec Ed teacher joined us, I knew we starting to lose our footing.  But we didn’t go into free-fall until the principal got involved/  At that point,  I was sitting in the hallway with the Spec Ed teacher while the EA and the principal were in another room with M.  They weren’t so much concerned about getting M to take his meds, as much as they were trying to keep him from tossing furniture.  We were 60 minutes into our (rapid)  descent and I emailed my boss to say I was running a bit late.

By the time I went back into the room, M was on the verge of totally losing it.  Not only had he moved the furniture around the room, but he had crawled under one of the tables and was refusing to come out.  Plus being adamant about not taking his pills.

It took another 30 minutes for the 4 of us to convince M to leave the school.   For a few seconds, it looked like he would take the pills, but he was concerned about what the other kids would say about his absence.  The only option was taking him home.  Not ideal from my perspective, since I had missed a day last week due to a migraine and had been away for the two previous days because of the funeral.  But M was beyond being able to discuss anything rationally and was fast moving into the zone where he was a risk to himself or  more likely, to others.

Once we left the school, M began to calm down.  At home, he was able to eat a small snack, so he wasn’t  taking the pills on an empty stomach and finally swallow the medication.  Thankfully, my boss was very understanding when I called to say I was taking the day as vacation.

Had it been any other day, M might have been able to adapt and take his meds with a minimum of strum and drang.  But his routine had been completely thrown off by our trip out-of-town.  Plus, the class schedule was

topsy-turvy this morning.   My arrival was the tipping point.  We’ve always been pretty open about the fact that M takes medication for both ADHD and anxiety.  But M was extremely concerned that if his classmates knew, they would see him differently.  I didn’t bother telling him that most of the kids in his class are likely aware that M is a bit “different” – he has trouble getting along with other kids, he crowds their personal space and at least once a week, he refuses to participate in a class activity.  I figured this would just add fuel to the fire that was already burning pretty hot.

So after a very successful couple of days, under less than ideal circumstances, we hit a few snags.   We’ve taped a note to a cupboard to remind all of us tomorrow morning.  And M and I discussed how we would handle things differently, in the event that we forget to make sure he’s taken his pills before he leaves the house:  call up to the classroom or ask his EA to give him the pills.

No doubt there will be other mountains.  We’ll scale some of them successfully and descend without incident.  Others will be more challenging, both up and down.   Next time I plan for the descent, everything will go swimmingly.  Hopefully, each time, M will get just a little bit better at adapting to the changing conditions.

Some questions are best not asked at school

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Death

Death (Photo credit: tanakawho)

Today at school, M wondered aloud what it was like to be dead.  Most of us have asked this question at one time in our lives. Very big brains spend years reflecting on this question.  However, this is the kind of query that triggers an immediate phone call to a child’s parents, followed by a visit to the local children’s hospital, where a medical doctor needs to assess the child before e or she can return to school.

I’m glad the school board is taking children’s mental health issues seriously.  Starting when he was about 6 years old, M would talk about wanting to die from time to time.   Having experienced mental health issues at various points in my life, I found this distressing.  But at first, my husband didn’t take it as seriously and neither did M’s family doctor.  Eventually we figured out that M tended to talk about dying when he was very anxious and feeling upset about something.   But I know other parents whose children have tried to harm themselves and have struggled to get them help – despite greater public awareness of mental health issues and suicide, services for children under 12 years of age are hard to come by.

Fortunately for all concerned, M’s teacherquickly figured out that this was not a cry for help.  M didn’t say he wanted to be dead – just what would it like to be dead.   Not a simple question and certainly there are no easy answers.  If it was, then someone probably would have pronounced on it before now.

I expect that M’s philosophical musings came  less out of a desire to take on one of life’s big questions and more because his great-grandmother (on my husband’s side) is in the process of dying and one of our neighbours is terminally ill with cancer.  We haven’t spoken to M directly about either situation, but we haven’t hidden the fact that we will probably have to go out-of-town for Nana’s funeral before too long.   She is quite elderly and has not been well.   M is a curious kid and it probably isn’t a big surprise that he is wondering about what happens when we die. 

My husband had a brief discussion with M about his question on the walk home from daycare.  M asks a lot of questions and often loses interest in the middle of his parent’s answer.  He can ask a serious question one minute and then move onto describing his latest Pokemon game in the next.  He may very well come back to this question at another time.  Just not at school.

The troubles with testing

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English: School children doing exams inside a ...

English: School children doing exams inside a classroom, 1940. Children sitting at their school desks in a classroom doing scholarship examinations, 16 April 1940. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Few of us have fond memories of taking tests when we were in school.  I can still remember completely blanking out on one of my final exams in university – one look at the test paper and I totally forgot everything I had studied.  I recall passing the course but just barely.  I still have dreams about failing an exam.

As a general rule, M’s school doesn’t rely on formal testing to evaluate students.  The teachers tend to use more informal methods of assessment.  There are standard tests that are administered in a couple of the grades, but by in large, testing isn’t a focus in the  school.

For a child with ADHD and anxiety, this approach works.  M’s performance is assessed but he isn’t required to sit at a desk and answer questions on a particular subject.   But this week, his teacher has been using a formalized evaluation tool to determine the student’s progress in reading comprehension against standardized norms for his grade.   M’s EA sends us a progress every couple of days, so we knew he was struggling with the evaluation.    We didn’t know how much until M burst into tears at supper.  

According to M, everyone else in the class had finished the questions except him.  He didn’t understand the questions and neither the teacher nor the EA were allowed to help him.   It was clear to us that he was very stressed about the evaluation.  We  tried to help him identify what it was about the process that was distressing him, but after a few minutes of tearful declarations about how dumb the test was, how he didn;t understand the questions and how stupid he was, he decided he didn’t want to talk about it anymore.

This is pretty typical for M – he will get to a certain stage in the discussion and then shut down.  If it is a difficult or upsetting topic, the shut down point will come sooner in the conversation, rather than later.   So it wasn’t surprising when he closed the door on the conversation.

Like most parents, we are not so easily put off.  We also understand that when M gets anxious, even simple things become seemingly impossible.  He is a strong reader and understands most of what he is reading.   Writing, however, is not his strength.  On one level, he probably did understand the questions, but his anxiety about having to write down an answer got in his way.  Since he didn’t even feel he understood what he was being asked to do, he felt doubly inadequate.

Given his exceptionalities, M has an individualized learning plan.  We have had a number of discussions with the school about what sorts of supports and modifications M needs to succeed.  He has a computer in class but apparently he wasn’t using it in this instance.  Why, we aren’t entirely sure.  We haven’t discussed putting in place specific accommodations for tests – more time, a quiet place to do the test, etc – because us until now it hasn’t been an issue.

Interestingly, it was M who identified what he needed – practice at doing tests.  He knows that he will have to do more tests in middle school.  We aren’t exactly sure how we are going to ensure he gets more experience in this area.  First step is identifying the issue.   We need M’s cooperation to come up with a solution, which may take some time.  We need to get beyond the stress and the tears so we can strategize on the best way to tackle the problem.  That will have to wait for another day.

No rest for the worried

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Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While M is an anxious child, he is not necessarily a big worrier.   We know from experience that sudden changes in routine, like getting a new EA at school cause his anxiety to spike.  But when he found out that the EA would be away for a couple of weeks, M didn’t spend a lot of time fretting about it ahead of time.   Like most 10-year old, M tends to live in the moment.

Except Sunday nights.  That is the one night all the worries come home to roost,  As a consequence, M has trouble falling asleep on the one night we want him to have a solid night’s sleep, in preparation for the week ahead.  

This past Sunday,  he seemed to be having a harder time going to sleep than usual.   M’s light goes off at 9 pm and he generally nods off shortly after.  But at 9:45, he was still awake.  I have learned that the direct route rarely works with M – if I ask what’s worrying him, he’ll say “nothing”.  So I sat beside him and started talking about what we had done during the day.  I told him how much I liked the picture he’s painted me for Mother’s Day and  how I appreciated his help distributing poster for an upcoming school event. 

After a few minutes, M asked me how long the women in my family lived.

Me:  They live a long time.

M:  How long?

Me:  My grandmother was 93 when she died; one of my great-grandmother’s 100; and Grandma Edie was 101. 

M was silent for a few moments.

Me:  Are you worried about Mommy because of Ms. M (our neighbour, who is ill with cancer)?

M:  Yes.

Me:  I am a healthy person and cancer doesn’t run in my family, so I don’t think you have to worry.

M:  How do you get cancer?

Me:  It isn’t something you can catch from someone else.  There are lots of types of cancer and the causes are sometimes complicated.

My answer seemed to satisfy him and he started to tell me other things that were bothering him:

– the upcoming school trip, since he would be with his whole class

– the fact that supper would be lasagna which he doesn’t like

– not being able to sleep because he needs his white noise machine

– bugs (anything with more than 8 legs is scary)

– the fact that he wasn’t hungry at lunch because of his meds.

Given the length of his list, I am not surprised M was having trouble falling asleep. 

Me:  Do you feel better now?

M:  Yes.

Me:  I want you to give all your worries to me and when I leave, I’ll take them with me.

So I kissed him good night and mimicked trying to drag a heavy object out of the room and push them out the door.  I’m not much of an actress, but it seemed to be enough for him.  He was asleep a few minutes later.

Next Sunday, I won’t wait until almost 10pm to check in with M to see what’s on his mind.  We’ll kick those worries to the curb much earlier, so he can rest a little easier.

Mother’s Day

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Mother's Day card

Mother’s Day card (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am not a huge fan of manufactured holidays. Valentine’s Day, for example, is largely a commercial creation, designed to sell chocolates and cards, wrapped in the quest for romantic love. I love my husband, but after nearly 18 years of marriage, we are more concerned with the practical aspects of daily life – working full-time, running a household, raising a child, etc.  Not to say that the romance is dead, but we can’t magically conjure it up on February 14.  What if one of us has a headache?

I regard Mother’s Day as a similar social/commercial construct.  While “Mothering Sunday,” as it was originally called, may have had some relevance two centuries ago when women were considered second-class citizens and had little or no rights, it seems less like a celebration of “motherhood” and more a marketing opportunity.   “Celebrate Mom” seems to be code for “buy her stuff”.  As my family will attest, I will never say no to presents.  But I have little or no use for most of the items offered up by retailers as homage to mom: I am highly allergic to perfume; I don’t wear fancy pyjamas; and while I love jewelry, my taste runs to funky rather than bling.

Despite my reservations, I do have a special affinity for Mother’s Day, as that was the day I was born.  When I was a kid, I took no end of pleasure in reminding my brothers that I was born on Mother’s day. In my superior, older sister way, I liked to draw their attention to my extra specialness – I was after all, the first child and the only girl; thus, the ultimate Mother’s Day gift. To this day, my brothers remain resolutely underwhelmed by this fact.

Every few years, my birthday would fall on Mother’s Day. I liked the specialness of it, but didn’t much like sharing it with my mother. My husband hates when the two dates coincide, because it means he has to shell out for two sets of gifts. This year, my birthday preceded Mother’s Day by several days.  

Mother’s Day at our house was quiet this year.  We didn’t go out for brunch – having worked my way through 2 university degrees as a waitress, I know this is the worst day to go out for a meal with your family. Large groups, long line-ups, harried staff and screaming (and it is not always the children). So we stayed home and I made blueberry pancakes. I make them better than my husband – tells me “they are the best pancakes Mommy”.

In terms of gifts, I got some new gardening tools which always come in handy, since I like to garden. But the best gift, bar none, was a painting M made for me. He is not crafty or arty, so getting something he made is extra special.  Tis a picture of two stick people (a child and an adult)on a sunny day in a field of bright red flowers.  It won’t win any art prizes but that’s the best part.  The fact that he finished it is even more unusual – the last time I encouraged him to make a home-made gift for his dad, he only got half-way through the project – a little calendar covered in mosaic squares. My husband still has it – it isn’t really functional because the squares fall off if you move it.  I plan to keep my picture and show it to my grandchildren (lol).

They could get rid of Mother’s Day tomorrow and it wouldn’t matter to me at all. I know M loves me – he told me so this morning. I would still be my mother’s best Mother’s Day gift, plus I’d have a lovely picture to hang in my office.

Crafts by the book

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My Papertoy

My Papertoy (Photo credit: Viking KARWUR)

When M was little, I stocked up on markers, crayons and other basic craft supplies.  I had visions of us sitting at the table together, gluing and colouring and making little projects together.

Fast forward to reality…M’s not big on arts and crafts.  Even in pre-school, when other kids were drawing figures and animals, he would scribble a few lines onto his Mother’s Day card or whatever they were making.  I have long reconciled myself to the fact that it isn’t his thing.

The odd time he expresses the remotest interest in anything “artsy crafty”, I am all over it.  That why we have several different kits of those little plastic tubes that kids can make designs with and then iron them so they stick together.  Not to mention the pictures that you make with sticky pieces – paint by numbers with little pieces of coloured foam.  And 5 or 6 wooden puzzles with a jillion pieces that are made of balsa wood and inevitably a piece breaks and you have to throw the whole thing out.  Most of these sorts of things are not very expensive, which is good, because M generally loses interest fairly quickly.

On a previous trip to Michael’s (I am a frequent visitor), he asked me to buy him a book, Papertoy Monsters.  I hesitated because it was $20.  But he gave me the “pretty please, I won’t ask for anything else” treatment and batted his eyelashes at me.  I folded like a cheap deck of cards.

We got the book home, he flipped through it and moved onto something else.  So it sat on his bookshelf, untouched for several weeks

Tonight, he got the book out again and started working on making some of the “monsters.”  I got a better look at the book and I have to say it is pretty cool.   It comes with over 50 templates to make pre-printed paper figures.  Plus some blanks to make your own.

The nice thing about the book is that it has clear directions – this is particularly good for someone like M who can get easily frustrated.   The template pages rip out to make it easier to punch out the various pieces, but the page with the directions stays in the book.   So even if M punches out one of the figures and doesn’t finish it, he can just go back to the book and pick up where he left off.  I can’t count the number of times that M has set something aside and by the time he goes back to it, the directions have been misplaced.   The critters are printed on card stock paper which is easy to fold and manipulate but doesn’t rip or tear easily.

The various figures were made by a number of different artists, so they all look different.   Each creature has a catchy name and a short back story, which adds to the appeal.  M was quite tickled by Octopup, who among other things,  is a tap dance prodigy.

The templates are all pre-scored.  M had no problem removing the various pieces.  The only thing he needed to put them together was glue – we used a glue stick and white glue.  M doesn’t like to get his fingers messy, so I did most of the gluing.  In less than an hour, he got 4 little figures put together.  He started with the easiest ones – the level of difficulty is clearly marked on each project.   Apparently, we have to finish the easy figures before we can move onto harder ones.   Some of them look quite difficult so I can’t see that M is going to outgrow the book anytime soon.

I know M and I will never sit around making picture frames out of popsicle sticks or hand weaving bookmarks as Christmas gifts for family members.  But we can always make a few monsters together.

Scary Friends

Friend of a friend

Quick and easy Mother’s Day card

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Easy Mother’s Day card

So it’s less than a week before Mother’s Day and you haven’t bought a card for your mother.  You could rush out to the mall tomorrow on your lunch hour and fight your way through all the other people who weren’t checking their calendars either.  The card selection will be pretty picked over, but doesn’t every mom love SpongeBob SquarePants?

Or you could eat your lunch at a leisurely pace and make a card in 30 minutes.  Your mother (grandmother, aunt, etc) will be so impressed that you made the card yourself.  Anybody can buy a card, but making one with your own two hands…let’s just say that Mom really will love you best (never mind what your younger brother tells you).  And if you haven’t made anything for her since you were 8 years old, she really will be touched.

Here’s what I used to make my card:

1 piece of card stock

1 piece of double-sided patterned paper

1 12 inch pre-made border (cut in half)

die-cut letters

letter stamps/stamp pad

small piece of ribbon

stickers

The centrepiece of this card is the rosette.  Never having made one before, it did take me a couple of tries to get it right.  But once you get the hang of it, it is pretty simple.  Using a scoring board will make it even easier, but you could fold it by hand.

Some useful tips for making a successful rosette:

  • start with a piece of card stock or paper about 12 inches long and 1-1/2 inches wide.
  • score or fold the paper every 1/4 inch
  • if you want a smaller rosette, smooth out the folded strip, hold it down carefully and slice it down the centre with your paper cutter – re-fold
  • cut off 1/4 inch at one end of the folded paper before you adhere the edges together – this will ensure your edges meet on a fold
  • punch or cut out a 1 inch circle – it needs to be at least 1 inch wide; smaller won’t work when you try to glue it to the rosette (you may doubt me, but believe me, I tried several times to no avail)
  • be generous with the glue when you attach the circle to the rosette
  • if you are having trouble getting the folds of the rosette to stay in the centre as opposed to popping out like a cupcake liner), glue another 1 inch circle on the back 
  • place something heavy over your rosette (the circle punch worked for me) and let it sit for a few minutes while you work on the rest of the card
  • use the circle you glued on the back of the rosette to adhere it to the card – I tried double-sided tape but gluing the circle worked best

Once the rosette was completed, the rest of the card came together very quickly.  Since the patterned paper had a coordinating design on either side, I only used about half a 12×12 sheet or paper.  I used a strip of  another contrasting paper for the rosette.  I didn’t use any tools, other than my trusty paper cutter and 1 inch my circle punch (it has a slightly scalloped edge, just to make it even fancier).

This card is so quick and easy to make that you will have lots of time to make a couple more for a favourite aunt or your mother-in-law.  Or even better, do something for yourself.  But don’t tell your mother (or your siblings).  Let them think it took you hours.  Your mom is worth it.

Completed card

Inside of the card

I have linked up to the following: Think Pink Sundays at Flamingo Toes ; Making Monday Marvelous at C.R.A.F.T. ; Made by You Mondays at Skip to My Lou ; Get Your Craft on Tuesday at Today’s Creative Blog; Take-a-Look Tuesdays at Sugar Bee Crafts; Wednesday Wowzers at oopsy daisy; Flaunt It Fridays at Dotted Line Crafts; The Cure for the Common Monday at Lines Across My Face