Clouds, May 2010

Clouds, May 2010

Monday, September 28, 2015

Dear Hayden,

I had to speak in front of your whole class last week. I was very nervous & felt my face starting to sweat, which only made me even more self conscious. Your teacher let me use one of her easels when I was presenting, but all I really wanted to do was stand behind it.

I smiled & tried to hide my anxiety. I had typed a rough outline of what I wanted to say & held on to that sheet of paper like it was the most important document in the world. I began reading but had to force myself to keep glancing up so the students would stay engaged.

Anyway, I know your class started learning about genes, traits, & heredity so I changed my annual fragile x discussion this year to include that. I told them I was there to chat about a genetic condition called fragile x. After I gave them a very short textbook definition about how it's not only genetic but also inherited, I then explained it more simply. I told them that fragile x is the most common form of learning challenges that can be passed from a parent to a child.


I gave them an example by sharing about your cousin. I said, "One of my nieces has down syndrome. That is genetic, but since there is no pattern of how it’s passed it is not inherited. Fragile x is inherited because I have the gene for it." I smiled, & in a very matter-of-fact way, told them your dad & I learned this after you were born.

I was still nervous. One of the boys sitting near the front looked bored & several of the kids had a crinkle between their eyebrows. Somehow I just kept going. I told them, "Speaking of genes— fragile x syndrome is the most common known single gene cause of autism." A girl in the back kind of tilted her head to the side & raised one brow. I continued looking at the class & said, "Scientists know that it’s not the only cause— there are other genetic causes of autism still being discovered— but so far fragile x is the most known cause."

One boy raised his hand & said, "But what is it?" I told him we were going to read a book to learn more. That's when I pulled out "Fragile X Fred" from my bag. I told your class it's a story about a little girl named Claire & her younger brother Fred. (The author, by the way, is an amazing mom & household name within our national fragile x community.)

I know I was looking down at the book almost the whole time, but I was relieved to have something for the students to focus on instead of my blushing face.

After we read the book the boy who had asked me what fragile x is, raised his hand & said, "So basically fragile x means you have a lot of energy." It was such a perfect observation I could have easily handed the goody bags & parent flyers to the teacher at that point, & left.

I was grateful for his excellent comment because it was the perfect segue into our next part of the conversation, about differences. I usually go first so they don't feel uncomfortable sharing. Previous years I've offered examples about you, such as: sometimes you clench your hands together near your face when you're excited, or sometimes you're jumpy, or sometimes your speech is more clear than other times.

I think it's important to talk about things I know they already notice. They should realize it's okay to recognize differences because it just means they're paying attention. The only thing that's not okay is to make fun of someone for it.

You know, other years when I got to that part they would follow my lead & raise their hand to share stuff that is different. Back in first grade, one boy said sometimes you get applesauce on your shirt when you're eating it. In second grade a little girl said she couldn't always understand what you're saying. And last year someone said that when you write it's more like scribble. So this year I wanted to explain to the kids that since preschool, you have been able to visually recognize that the letters 'H-a-y-d-e-n' spell "Hayden". And that you are such a strong visual learner with such an incredible memory, that even back then you began to recognize which names on the class job chart went beside which chore. I remember opening school valentines with you in kindergarten, & you would look at the name & tell me which classmate they were from.

But this year, just last week, when I was presenting my annual fragile x chat with your classmates & we got to the part about differences... something else happened.

Your classmates started raising their hands to tell me what they notice, but instead of calling out differences they were raising their hands & saying you're always smiling... & you're happy... & sometimes in gym if there's music, you dance... & that you laugh... & you always like to say something, & you're funny.

I felt my eyes well up a couple of times but we kept going.

Near the very end there were a handful of comments I may have stalled just a little bit trying to answer on the spot... mainly questions about how you learn to do different things... getting dressed, swimming, etc.  I did say that sometimes if you're not paying attention you might put a piece of clothing on backwards, but I know adults who do that too.

We concluded by talking about different things they like
— last year I asked them in groups to list what their favorite aspects of school are, & what their hobbies are at home, etc. This year I just bundled it all together & we made one big list. Working off of that, I pointed out the things that you also enjoy, & the kids were able to see just how much you all have in common. (I learned this idea from another amazing mom, & friend, & household name... who I also met on this fragile x journey.)


Mainly I just wanted them to know three things— I told them fxs is just something you were born with & they can't catch it— the same way everyone is born with a certain hair color & eye color. I also said that sometimes when you get overwhelmed, they may see behaviors or hear speech that is different. But lastly, at the end of the day, you like a lot of the same things as they do! (More ideas that I picked up from the excellent support of the fragile x community.)

By the end, our discussion which was supposed to be 15-20 minutes turned into nearly a half hour. And the room full of quiet, curious kids were now very enthusiastic & eager to contribute— way more hands were up than down. And even your buddy J was there visiting from the other class, because his mom had the smart idea to ask permission for him to join us. (I promise next year I will rethink talking to the whole grade... I will at least consider it.)

But I just want to tell you the very day before was when you were having a hard time at recess. And one of your other buddies at school happened to take the brunt of your verbal outburst when he was only trying to help. But you know, your peers are really great about recognizing that it's not about them. Your reactions are almost always about something else entirely— & not the person or object that you seem to be upset over. And that you do enjoy being around them, but it's very difficult for you control how your environment makes you feel sometimes... or to be able to verbally explain what's bothering you even if it's something small.

And I'm not just guessing— I will tell you how I know that they understand you. I know because that boy was one of the kids who kept talking about your likable qualities.

I have been meaning to record everything about that day. There were some other great sidebar conversations with faculty members as well. But I didn't have time to discuss my discussion (if you will), because I had to get ready for St Louis. The day after I spoke with your class I left for the biannual NFXF CSN Leadership Summit.

And you know, that's another bone I was going to pick with you... making me get on that plane when you know how much I hate to travel. I do not look forward to the idea of being locked inside of a claustrophobic tube that flies through the sky, & I don't know why some people do. Never mind all of the other features of travel which heighten my anxiety... too many to list I'd have to start another post.

However I am not going to do that because someone interrupted my thought process. It was a parent of one of your classmates who I don't even believe I have ever met. As a matter of fact, I couldn't even picture which one her son was when she mentioned his name in her email. So, I will confess, I looked up the name on social media & you pointed to which kid he was in a picture. He sure is a handsome, happy looking boy.

But anyway, here is what she wrote:

I just wanted to say how incredibly brave you are. Thank you for explaining fxs and giving the children a chance to ask questions. My son came home and told me all about your presentation. This was a great way for the children to understand that we are all different in our own ways. Beautiful message!"

Four homerooms in four years & that was the first time anyone ever emailed me. I tried to read it to daddy after he got home but when I got through the first sentence I was too choked up to continue. 

You've got some nerve inadvertently making mommy face many of her worst fears, head-on. Having to speak in front of people. Having to travel. Having to make new friends at this stage in my life— when I was perfectly content with the ones I had. And still am.

But I didn't know what else I was missing out on. I didn't know that meeting new people just because I have something in common with them, would turn into genuinely liking them. And missing them when we're apart. And building friendships that feel like family, to the point where I might not see some of them more than once a year (some even less), but when I do we honestly pick up right where we left off. 

I am still exhausted from this past week. More tired than I can remember feeling in a long time. And I am grateful for this.

I will even go so far as to say that I am grateful I experienced the 10th Annual Fragile X Mouse Races— with my fellow Summit attendees of course— hosted by the Fragile X Resource Center of Missouri. Even though I was in the same room as real, living, breathing, creepy, long pink-tailed mice... who were actually racing inside of an upright, glass-front wooden case with lanes. And not to mention the ones who had a turn on the open-top roulette table! Oh my goodness. It was so weird to me I needed a picture but couldn't build up the nerve to get close enough, so I gave my phone to a friend to do it for me.

But putting that aside it was an enormous community gathering... not only fundraising by betting on the races, but there were silent auctions, & raffles, & games, & so much more. Many high-end auction items, too-- very impressive display of contributions. The energy in the room was just exhilarating.

On that note, I wanted to thank you Hayden. Thank you for essentially daring me to put myself out there, & for making mommy a better person.

I think you have that affect on a lot of people & something tells me that will open many doors for you in life.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

speaking my piece

The students began their new school year in their new classrooms barely two & a half weeks ago. The elementary school just had Back to School Night last Thursday, middle school is having theirs tonight, & both schools have Picture Day on Thursday & Friday respectively.

The kids probably still have unsharpened pencils in their desks & notebooks without any creases in the cover. Many of them are carrying backpacks that are barely broken in. But we're all getting back into the swing of things together.

So don't mind the fact that many of us raised an eyebrow over our absent Principal at last week's Back to School Night-- as for me, I innocently assumed she must have had a personal emergency. And never mind the fact that the middle school is having their BTS Night tonight, when Yom Kippur begins-- you know, the holiest day of the year on the Jewish calendar. I completely understand that our community does not have enough of a Jewish population to warrant school closings during Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. But to actually schedule an event that both parents & faculty should not miss...?

And in the middle of all this I have been trying to set a date to visit H's class for our annual fragile x chat-- of course not understanding why it was taking so long for anyone to get back to me. Well the iceberg was certainly visible last night as the news about our Principal became public, & our community suddenly learned that said person was spontaneously resigning. The position was filled just over a year ago, so basically it's as if someone cued a bunch of bricks to unexpectedly crumble from the walls.

So pardon me if this feels like we are in the middle of a Twilight Zone.

I have my own suspicions just like the next person, but truthfully I don't know everything that is going on (although even if I did, I certainly wouldn't publish it here). What I do know is that the teachers & the kids-- they are the ones who are going through this & it frustrates me because they are the ones who make school great. When one is enthusiastic it's reciprocated by the other. I have said this many times before but it's an appropriate time to re-share, that when Hayden was new to his current school we had a specialist in the fx community come out & observe him. I met with his team & we were in complete agreement that it would be helpful to have input from an expert. The importance of crafting an appropriate education plan for Hayden was mutually recognized. And at the end of the day when we were saying goodbye to the psychologist from the fragile x clinic, she told me & Dan that the people who work with Hayden renewed her faith in education. I am proud to brag about that-- I don't envy our teachers but I respect them & I am one of their biggest fans.

So while everything is still fresh-- new school year, new school supplies, & unfortunately new surprises-- I hope everyone remembers that even amidst this uncertainty we ought to strive to continue to be a district to be proud of.

And when it's time to stand in front of that camera for Picture Day so close to the start of such an unsettling school year, I hope chins are up & brows are relaxed. I hope the faculty carries happy, confident expressions knowing that the parents in the community stand beside them. And I hope the students carry the same poise in front of their dedicated educators. 

If someone pulls the rug out from underneath us sometimes we have to remember it was only covering the floor. 

Just wanted to speak my peace.


Monday, September 14, 2015

moving up

In our world July & August are a combination of summer school & sitters, in between family time & outdoor activities (usually involving water). Hayden is always busy but during August, especially, there is much less structure. It's extremely difficult because as much as he needs the extended school year instruction, & he clearly benefits from it, the timing is very challenging to schedule around.

However I was pretty psyched at the beginning of summer when I had three great sitters lined up & schedules mapped, nearly two months out! Let's call them sitters A, B, & C. We even found Sitter D when Sitter C accepted an opportunity elsewhere. However we also knew Sitter B would not be available in August. (Still with me?) Then unfortunately as it turned out, Sitter A realized she would not be available for two weeks (also in August). Then things got even more interesting when Sitter D (who essentially replaced Sitter C)-- very nice young lady-- was not able to adhere to the original schedule we discussed (or didn't want to).

These are among the reasons why I switch to a wipe-board calendar before summer every year.

Anyway, we get through all of that & then September comes. There are lots of people who are not exactly excited about September for the simple fact that we are that much closer to cooler weather. Some are just annoyed that their relaxing summer evenings & lazy weekends have turned into homework-consumed stress, & an overwhelming schedule of sports (which also tend to interfere with dinner time during the week). Even corporate America as a whole just seems much more busy, & most commuters would admit that life in general is more congested, post-summer.

I am glad we have summer & I'd be sad without it, but I welcome the change of the season. And I will not miss the days of receiving a continuous stream of text messages-- I think the record was about 25 in an hour-- from any one of H's sitters because he is looking for a random red hat, or obsessing over his closet, or throwing the food that his meds are in, or playing with the dog's bowls (that was a new one), or emptying all the garbage bins, or stripping his bed to gather laundry, or refusing to come inside, or only wanting to cut pictures out of nice books (hello, random), or playing with the hitch on the neighbor's boat, or swearing, or disassembling any number of things with his screwdriver, or not letting the sitter close the front door when the AC is on, or taking stuff off the shelves in the living room, or grabbing all of the silverware out of the silverware drawer & dumping it in the sink, or, my favorite one... insisting that he can only drink out of a pitcher which inevitably led to a change of clothing, & Hayden having his mind set on wearing something that was of course nowhere to be found.

It's interesting because he does like each of these sitters-- I can tell because he's not good at faking it when he doesn't! But basically this summer was just a hint that regardless of his age, Hayden may always have a bit of toddler left in him. (Remind me to share that list with school administrators the next time I am trying to advocate for consistency, & the importance of familiarity in Hayden's schedule.)

So anyway, this is Hayden's final year in elementary school & in the fall of 2016 he will be on to the middle. This is his last year of having class parties for most of the holidays, & walking around the field for the annual Halloween parade, & occasionally being the unofficial teacher assistant for the preschoolers at the other end of the hall, & having a school-wide snack time, & using only a backpack & desk instead of a locker. This reality gives me a lump in my throat.

Hayden also went to preschool at the current elementary school he attends. So he has walked those halls since 2008! And for seven school years I have happily put together holiday goody bags for all the kids in his class/ homeroom... & for (going on) four of those years, I have spoken with his peers (& faculty) about fragile x... witnessed him gradually develop the courage to participate in three school concerts... & we've watched him parade in seven different Halloween costumes. They were (consecutively): a race car driver, chef, cowboy, cafe waiter, doctor, mechanic, & a UPS guy (complete with hand truck).

This Thursday is Back to School Night-- I will probably be that one  parent dotting their eyes with a tissue for no apparent reason. I also have little doubt that I'll be doing the same at the school concert. But if you see me at the Halloween parade watching my 4th grader marching around, with an expression on my face like a mom watching their kid go off to Kindergarten for the first time... just don't mind me.

I'm going to milk this school year for every single memory I can capture like a loony tourist.


A number of weeks ago, H said he wanted to dress up as Grover for Halloween. Aside from the fact that he would never keep that head piece on, I have only found Sesame Street costumes in either toddler or adult sizes but nothing in between-- not to mention the latter of the two is beyond my budget anyway. But somehow as we were talking about that, the hand truck came up in conversation-- as I tried to gently tell H the truth that I would keep looking for a Grover costume, but wasn't sure we'd find one. Maybe we were talking about possible props or accessories-- I am not sure. However, when he mentioned it I told him he can certainly use the hand truck again-- we just needed to think of someone different who uses one, that he could dress up as. In about two seconds he said, "Movers."

Done. This year we'll use wire ties to attach small furniture to the hand truck (instead of boxes, so it doesn't look like last year), & as my cousin cleverly suggested we should put on a back support belt too. And yes I will most certainly have to figure out some sort of a uniform shirt with a custom logo on the back ;)

I mean it is his last year of this & then...

(insert me sighing)

So I guess the costume will be symbolic after all.  

Don't mind me as I reach for a tissue...