Friday, August 1, 2014

Our Exhausting School Year, Part II

We learned in March that Noodle, who was 6 at the time, is gifted but has a processing delay. His profile makes his educational path a very interesting one. As soon as we had this information, I started reading about twice-exceptional (2e) children (a great book:, and one major theme kept cropping up: If 2e students are supported for their learning disability/ies but their gifted abilities are ignored, they are at risk for issues with poor self-esteem, depression, and--in extreme cases--suicidal thoughts. It's scary, but it makes sense: Who among us would thrive if the focus were always placed on our shortcomings and never on our talents?

Our public elementary school has a pull-out gifted program in which students are bused to another school building for a few hours of enrichment each week. There are many types of gifted programs, and probably none is perfect, but we were eager to discover if Noodle could participate, even though our district normally doesn't screen for giftedness until the end of second grade. We hit a stumbling block pretty quickly: One of the most important criteria for entrance to the program is that a child have a full-scale IQ of at least 130. Noodle's full-scale IQ doesn't hit that mark because when you average together his scores on the individual measures, his processing delay score drags the combined score below 130. As the child psychologist had forewarned, if you combined all of Noodle's scores, rather than looking at separate scores to see where he excels and where he struggles, he would look on paper like an average kid who was not eligible for support at either end of the educational spectrum.

Mr. Engineer and I had a conference with our school principal to discuss the possibility of Noodle being accepted into the gifted program, and he was supportive but forthrightly skeptical. We put in the letter to request that Noodle be tested by the district psychologist, which was their requirement before allowing a student into the program, to see if their results would come out differently enough to get him over the magic number. Unfortunately, it was late enough in the spring that the school year was going to end before the 60-day window mandated by state law for the district to do the testing was going to end. If they didn't find the time to test him before mid-June, it would have to wait until September. That meant we had to come up with a Plan B--identifying a different educational environment that would challenge Noodle's intellect while supporting his LD.

Our child psychologist suggested that we scout out some of the local private schools to see if what they offered could strike a better balance regarding Noodle's needs. She recommended one in particular, and I visited that one and a few others, all of varying types--parochial, Montessori, Quaker Friends, independent. All of them had fantastic things to offer, but most of them did not offer learning support, which was going to be a must for Noodle if he were going to succeed. I had to take those schools off the list.

Fortunately, one of the parochial schools--the one recommended by the psychologist--has a learning support team and even has at least one other student with the same profile as Noodle but who is in a higher grade. He is succeeding there, and that gave me and Mr. Engineer great hope. It was a relief to discuss Noodle's 2e status with the administrators at the private school and get knowing nods, instead of hemming and hawing.

Now push came to shove: It became clear in early June that our public school was indeed not going to find the time to test Noodle before first grade ended. We knew that if we returned Noodle to that school for second grade, there was a high risk that he was going to struggle again, both because his success is greatly based on the expertise of his individual teacher with 2e students and because it was going to take many months to get the district to finish their testing and decide what, if any, learning support, OT, etc., they would offer him, along with deciding whether to allow him into the gifted program.

Mr. Engineer and I decided to take the leap instead and apply to the private school. Noodle was accepted, and we've started making monthly tuition payments already in preparation for his September start. They don't have a gifted program, but they are able to differentiate instruction to such a great extent that in some cases it is individualized. They should be able to challenge Noodle and stretch his skills that fall within the advanced and gifted parts of his profile, while offering learning support and accommodations for his processing delay. They also have smaller class sizes, which will keep Noodle from getting left behind and frustrated with assignments for which he requires assistance from the teacher or needs some extra time. There is more movement during the school day, such as two recesses on many days and allowing the kids to sprawl out on the floor of the classroom to get work done, and movement is a critical part of keeping Noodle engaged. We're hopeful that the coming year will provide him with a fresh start and the realization that he is able to succeed and that school can be a happy place.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Running on Decaf Returns! Our Exhausting School Year, Part I

Apparently operating on decaf means not finding energy to keep up with your new blog. But I am back---at least for now---and have plenty of stories to share of our family's exploits from the past school year and this summer so far.

Where to begin? So Legoman and Noodle were in the third and first grades, respectively, this year. It was a big year for both of them since Legoman had his first run at the state standardized tests, and Noodle ended up needing some educational testing that revealed some interesting things about him.

On the first point, let me say that I have no idea how Legoman fared on the tests, but I plan to ask for an appointment early in the new school year to find out. It's all very secretive, and you cannot have copies of your child's test scores, but you can peer at them under the watchful eye of a member of the school's front office staff.

Legoman is very good at math but only likes those elements of the language arts that deal with nonfiction, and I'm curious to see whether he ramped up his efforts for the test. He was not at all stressed about it---in fact, the "practicing" went on for so many months that he desired months too early to be allowed to take the damn test just to get it over with---so I am not up in arms in general about his having to take a standardized test, although I don't think what they show is as hugely worthy as the state would like one to believe.

As for Noodle, his first-grade year was everything his kindergarten year was not. This is a happy-go-lucky boy who gets along with everyone and loves to learn. Except that first grade turned him into the exact opposite. He was frustrated and angry much of the time when he came home, and he cried in the mornings, begging not to have to go to school. What on earth had happened to elicit such a 180-degree change from our younger son? we asked ourselves. Parent-teacher conferences brought explanations from the teacher of how he lashed out at classmates, tattled on them for the slightest things, and even spoke disrespectfully to her. None of this computed. We saw none of that type of behavior at home, barring occasional spats with his older sibling. Noodle had by then participated in multiple extracurricular activities and had been in a school-like childcare center since he was three months old, also without any such behaviors.

He was put on a behavior modification program by the school psychologist in which he had a chart with 12 segments of the day down the left-hand side, each with a smiley and frowny face next to it. His teacher circled a face for each task every day, depending on how she perceived his behavior had been, and gave him the paper to take home at night so he and we could see how he'd fared. He was devastated by every frowny face, even though many days he got none and the worst days he got 3 or 4.

Back to the school we went, and we rescinded our permission for the behavior modification program. 

By this point we'd started hearing from other parents with students in the same classroom that their kids were stressed and unhappy. Putting multiple pieces together over time, we felt the classroom management style of the teacher was not ever going to jibe with our son's behaviors and needs, and we approached the principal about the possibility of moving him to another classroom for the third trimester of the school year. Absolutely not was the answer, both that time and a month or so later when we asked again.

By this time it was spring, and we were at our wits' end. Any given day could bring an email from the teacher about another outburst from Noodle or how he refused to do his in-class work. We felt this had to end. There had to be some reason he was acting so differently at school than anywhere else, and we elected to have him do educational testing with a child psychologist we paid for out of pocket (more on why we made that decision, rather than having the school do the testing for free will come later). Noodle was identified as being what today's educators call "twice exceptional," that is, gifted but also learning disabled. In the area in which he is gifted, his score could not have been higher, and in all the other measures but one he scored as advanced. But in one measure, that of processing/retrieval, his score was much, much lower than the other measures. The psychologist had rarely seen such a large point spread, in fact. She told us that part of the result of his processing delay is that Noodle is dysgraphic, meaning handwriting is a problem for him because he can't remember how to make the letters and he has motor issues that confound his writing even further.

Well, we had our answers for why first-grade was such a struggle. Now we had to figure out how to change defeat into success. (To be continued....)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Early Morning Rat Race

So much for working at home on Monday and Friday. Today is Tuesday, and that meant doing the early morning scramble that we've been doing for over eight years. It looks something like this:

5:10am: The alarm clock goes off for the first time, and I punch the snooze button after I figure out what that weird noise is.

5:15am: The alarm clock goes off for the second time, and I try to remember whether it's a day I have to get up early or just get to poke Mr. Engineer and tell him he has to get up while I roll over and get more sleep. 

5:20am: OK, that's the third time with the alarm, and the sleep I'm getting now is crappy anyway. I get up and stagger to the bathroom.

5:20-5:30am: Shower. Possibly fall asleep while rinsing my hair. 

5:30am: Wake up Mr. Engineer because it's true that misery loves company. 

5:35am: Let the dogs out and make my cup of decaf. No, it doesn't wake me up like regular coffee does for you folks whose bodies can tolerate it, but I yearn for it every morning anyway.

5:35-5:45am: Check email and FB on my phone while sipping coffee that is too hot. 

5:45am: Let the dogs back in, feed them, and give them water. Sip some more coffee while making myself a lunch. 

6:00am: Give Legoman and Noodle the bad news that morning came again. 

6:05am: Go back into the boys' room and make sure their eyes are actually open. Lay their clothes out and tell them they need to put them on. Give them their breakfast choices and hear two cranky versions of, "I don't know."

6:10am: Insist the boys make a breakfast selection. Make Mr. Engineer's high-test coffee. 

6:15am: Tell the boys it's time to use the bathroom and come to the kitchen table. 

6:20am: Serve the boys breakfast. 

6:20-6:25am: Load all our junk into the trunk of my car.

6:30am: Tell the boys to brush their teeth and put their shoes on. Mr. Engineer, who's been spending this whole time showering and getting dressed, finally appears downstairs to grab his coffee. 

6:35: Leave for day care (school year) or the babysitter's house (summer). 

6:45am: Drop off the boys. Feel like I've done enough work for one day. 

What's your morning routine like? 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Working From Home

I'm blessed with a family-friendly employer who allows staff to telecommute a day or two per week if they can work out a reasonable arrangement with their department manager. I've been working from home nearly every Monday and Friday since Legoman was born in early 2005. When he was an only child, I had him home with me on those days, and when Noodle came along in 2007, I had Legoman go to day care full-time while I kept Noodle home with me. I could (and will) write many blog posts about my experiences with this arrangement at different points in their young lives, but let's fast forward to today.

Both boys woke up by 6:30am when hubby was getting ready to leave for work. No rest for the weary. I let them watch cartoons while I tried to pry my eyes open and got a shower and that not-so-helpful but oh-so-necessary cup of decaf coffee. By 7:30 they were eating breakfast, and I was starting to answer emails.

By 8am I was breaking up the first fight.

By 8:30 I was dragging out the art kits I'd picked up over the weekend to keep them busy while I worked, instead of always relying on the TV and Wii.

By 9am they were finished with their art projects and back to fighting.

We hit a smoother groove for a couple hours in the late morning, but when I tried to get them ready to run some errands over my lunch break, we hit another snag. I had thrown away Noodle's old toothbrush on Friday right in front of him because its bristles were completely bent backwards and were useless to clean his teeth. Honestly, I should've noticed much sooner and gotten rid of the thing long before Friday. I checked in on him as he was using the bathroom to get ready to leave, and he was using the old toothbrush he had reclaimed from the bathroom trashcan. (Try not to throw up reading that. Just try. Deep breaths and swallow hard. You'll be OK.) A half-hour of crying ensued when I took the toothbrush back from him and told him that taking something out of the trash was never allowed and that he now had to brush his teeth with his new toothbrush to clean out his mouth. (He's lucky I know it's unsafe to brush with straight bleach!) I'm just counting on that strong immune system built up from five years in a day-care center and a year in kindergarten to get him through whatever he just exposed himself to from that trash can. Shudder.

Thankfully, our errands went just fine, and we regrouped yet again. Legoman even tried to console his sodden brother while he blew his nose and lamented the loss of that apparently special toothbrush.

Some days are easier than others, no doubt. They're still adjusting to spending so much time together after having a full school year of being in separate places most of the time--separate classrooms at both day care and school, separate Little League teams, etc. Now they are together seven days a week, either at our house while I work or with my friend who is watching them this summer when I'm at the office. Mondays are always the hardest because they've been together nonstop since Thursday evening.

Next week I'll be on a business trip, and I'll miss them fiercely, fights and all. Funny how that happens, the whole "grass is greener" phenomenon.

If you work full-time, does your employer have any flexibility with hours or offer telecommuting? Do you take advantage of it? I find that even though it is a struggle sometimes, it has really helped us keep our lives a bit more on track to have me home Mon/Fri than if I work five days a week in the office (an experiment I tried for part of this past school year and that I'll tell you about later). At my workplace, such perks are not limited to moms or even to parents. Any staffer who'd like to work from home occasionally and has a job that is portable can do so. I think it's no surprise that we celebrate lots of 10- and 20-year anniversaries every year. Employees tend to be happier when their employer recognizes them as human beings with a family and life outside the office. I feel blessed I'm in one of those workplaces, even with the bumpy ride that telecommuting  with two active boys around can be.

Why I Left My Boys at School After a Lockdown Lifted

The 2012-2013 school year has been a difficult one for so many parents, not the least of whom are the parents in Newtown, CT, who lost their children in a senseless act of violence. If that event didn't shake you to the core, I don't know what would. It was extremely difficult letting Legoman and Noodle go back to school that following Monday after I had dwelled all weekend on the fear and horror that event brought to the victims, the survivors, the first responders, and all who were involved in any way. But we struggled on, one day at a time, because my husband and I knew that in the rare event that a gunman targeted our sons' school, every adult working there would throw themselves in harm's way before allowing a child to be hurt, and if they couldn't prevent tragedy themselves, it was impossible to prevent. The rest was in God's hands. It was not an entirely comfortable mental place to be, but we soldiered on and gradually began to feel like the ground under our feet was stable again.

We were blessed that no actual violence occurred in our elementary school over six months, but we did have a scary incident on the very last day of the school year: a lockdown precipitated by a 911 call reporting a shooting at one of the other elementary schools in the district. Thankfully, I had no idea this event was occurring until I received the automated call from our superintendent, reporting that there had been such a 911 call but that the police had identified the incident as nothing more than a prank phone call.

Unfortunately the majority of the teachers, staff, and students at the six schools in our district, all of which had immediately gone on lockdown after the 911 call, didn't know there was no real danger. They spent varied amounts of time (2.5hrs at our elementary school, one of the last to be searched and have the all-clear declared) hiding in classrooms or bathrooms, wondering what was going on outside their doors and scared that something sinister would burst through those doors and harm them.

Legoman, his teacher, and his entire second-grade class stayed in their classroom's one-person bathroom for over an hour, and no one could actually use the bathroom while they were all in there, of course. Noodle's class sat huddled in front of their cubbies, being perfectly quiet, which seems impossible for two dozen kindergartners, but I trust his teacher made it happen and probably even kept a smile on her face to keep them from being worried.

After I received the report that a lockdown was in progress, I hurried home from work nearly an hour's drive away so I could be local in the event the schools closed and the boys needed to be picked up. The initial automated message had declared sternly that all parents would need to show proper ID to pick up their child(ren), and I didn't want to risk our boys being stuck at school because our more local friends would be turned away when trying to take them home for us.

As the lockdown was lifted at some of the schools that had been searched first by police, a new message reported that the schools were, in fact, not closing but were finishing the day. However, parents were certainly welcome to pick up their children and take them home. With that ID, of course.

At this point I was already at home, five minutes from our school, which was still on lockdown but had gotten the word that no one was in any actual danger. What a relief that news must've been to them all, even as they had to wait out the remaining time it took for heavily armed police officers to give the official word that the school was safe.

My motherly instinct was to scoop up my babies and take them home, but I paused. I tried to think it through logically:
(a) There was and never had been any actual danger to my children.
(b) If I rushed into the school to pick them up midday, with them knowing how far I work from home, how would that color their view of the event?
(c) If I took them home early on their last day of school, would they think they had something to fear there that would make going back in September traumatic?

This wasn't a decision I was going to make by myself. I called my husband and talked it through with him, and we decided I would not go immediately to the school. Instead, I emailed both boys' classroom teachers and asked how they were doing emotionally. Noodle's teacher wrote back within minutes, reporting that he was all smiles as usual. No ill effects from the lockdown. Legoman's teacher wrote back about a half-hour later, during which I stalked my email like crazy, that he was a bit worried that another lockdown would happen but that she had reassured him everything was fine. She felt he could make it through the remainder of the day.

And so, I didn't pick up our boys that chaotic day. I let them finish their last day of the school year with the reduced number of classmates remaining in their classrooms, and I let them take the bus home, a rare treat for kids who usually go to day care after school. They came off the bus with smiles on their faces, excited to start summer break.

Yes, we talked about the lockdown that evening and in the days that followed, but we didn't dwell on the fear. We focused on how everyone did just what they were taught to do to keep them safe and why they practice for these sorts of incidents. I figure the lockdown discussion may come up as the new school year approaches, but I feel like we made the right decision for our boys in letting them finish out the day in as normal a fashion as possible. Other kids needed to go home, or their parents needed the reassurance of having them home, and I understand that. Our family made a different choice, and I hope we never are in the position to make such a choice again.

Monday, June 17, 2013


Welcome to Running on Decaf, a blog by a full-time working mom of two. Why the name? My body decided in my early 20s that it isn't friendly with caffeine, which means I've been operating caffeine free since about 1999. My boys were born in 2005 and 2007, and, yes, I managed the nighttime feedings and diaper changes and all the other exhausting times being a full-time working parent brings without the benefit of a real cup of coffee. If you just shuddered in horror, I don't blame you. At least no one needs to conduct a scientific experiment and waste their time and money, though, because I am proof positive that parenting can be done without caffeine. It's not always pretty, but it is possible. 

Our boys are Legoman and Noodle, and they just finished second grade and kindergarten, respectively. It's wild to think that so many years have passed, and I do get a little nostalgic for their infanthoods sometimes, but then I get a full night's sleep and get over not having little babies anymore. My theory is that you're either moving forward through time or you're dead, and I vastly prefer the former. As they hit their milestones, I cheer, and as they pass each birthday, hubby and I high-five each other for having survived another year. 

Hubby is Mr. Engineer, and he is a full-time working dad just as I am a full-time working mom. Dual incomes have a lot of pluses, but having to get the whole family out of the house first thing in the morning would not be one of them. 

To round out the family, we have two dogs, whom I will call Princess and Dopey for the purposes of this blog. 

I've started this blog without knowing if I can keep it up but because I want to add another working mom's voice to the blogosphere. I may not have anything interesting to say, or you may find you hate what I have to say, but if you comment, please be respectful. I have lots of mom friends of all types, and we manage to respect each other's choices. I hope even though you and I are strangers you can afford me similar respect. 

I may rail against the working-parent life from time to time (or quite a bit), but be forewarned that that doesn't mean I don't want to work. It just means that my life gets messy sometimes and I need to vent. I think it's natural that we all end up in that spot sometimes, regardless of our life details.

Again, welcome. I hope you stick around, find something here that clicks with your own experience, and settle in to feel right at home. Well, minus my feeding you or doing your laundry. I'm hard pressed to get those things done for my own crew.