Saturday, February 26, 2011

Another of life's little lessons...

Little man N played guitar in a school concert for the first time today – and I missed it.  In the world of twice exceptional, ADHD, co-morbid alphabet soup of diagnoses, missing the fun moments makes me really sad because the not-so-fun moments tend to take center stage.  But as is often the case, N taught me yet another of life’s little lessons.

As some of you know, he re-joined public school at the end of January after 5 disastrous months of what was supposed to be private school nirvana.  HA! (But that’s a different story!)  One of the musical offerings for 4th grade is the chance to take guitar.  N, much to my dismay, actually wanted to play strings (all I could think was, my poor ears) and I have to admit I was much happier than he to learn that class was full leaving guitar as a welcome alternative.  After snow days and a delay in purchasing a new, full-sized acoustic folk guitar, he really only had a few days of class and a couple of days for home practice before today’s big concert.

To N’s credit, he practiced with a vengeance, learning the chords and memorizing the pieces in about an hour and then working to perfect the performance without hesitation.  And to be honest, he sounded pretty good.  He was supposed to show the teacher on Monday that he had learned the pieces well enough to take part in the concert.  But he forgot (thank you very much executive function deficit!)  I decided to check with the teacher so that I could help set expectations, literally expecting a meltdown of tsunami proportions if he arrived this morning, guitar in hand, only to be told that he could not play.  The teacher’s email back to me was very nice, and very clear, stating that since he had not had a chance to assess readiness, N would not be playing in the concert.  Great…

I am certain that if you have any imagination at all, you can picture the scenario as I explained this reality to N last night.  Let’s just say it was not pretty.  There was much gnashing of teeth, expletives, declarations of hate for the teacher, the guitar, the class, me, etc.  Really, it was not pretty.  But by god, I practiced my calm parenting skills and I ignored the fall out until he was quiet.  And then I sat down next to him and told him how very sorry I was because he felt so sad.  At which point he crawled into my lap and just sobbed at the unfairness of it all.  I suspect his sense of unfairness applied to the previous five months and all the turmoil leading up to this moment and I felt the same way.  So we cried together.  And here’s where the lesson really begins.

As he readied himself for bed, he asked if he could still wear the black pants and white shirt.  And could he practice a little more before going to bed.  Hmmm…  “Are you concerned that the other kids will know you are not in the concert?”  “No, I just want to wear the outfit (short pause) because I am going to make the teacher let me play.”  I agreed to the outfit and to allowing him to practice, but I told him we needed to respect the teacher’s decision. “Nope, I AM going to play.”

He looked so cute this morning in those dress clothes, his hair still wet from ‘styling’ it himself.  He packed the music folder in his backpack, picked up his guitar and headed for the door.  I’m still picturing the tsunami that’s about to be unleashed on an unsuspecting school so I sit down at the bench by the door and say, “Let’s chat for just a minute.”  “OK, but if this is about the concert, I am not listening.”  OMG, I just love this boy.  He has more determination and is more persistent than literally anyone I know.  On the drive to school, I tried again (I can be a little persistent too.)  He let me know in no uncertain terms that he planned to convince the teacher that he should play.  So I changed tactics asking “What’s the plan if he still says no?”  With tears in his eyes, he said “Will you email Mrs. F and tell her I will need her help if he says no?”  Holy smokes!!

I did just that.  After dropping him off, I pulled to the side of the road and sent a message to his classroom teacher letting her know that he would need her help dealing with the disappointment.  He did not want his friends to see him upset.  While I supported the music teacher’s decision, I also supported N’s desire to plead his case because he felt so strongly that he should be allowed to play.  He practiced, he memorized, and he earned the right to state his case.  And then I drove to work because I knew the answer would still be no.

As I walked into my office, my cell phone rang and seeing the school number, I felt the tsunami heading my way.  “Mrs. Gumm, I just did not want you to worry.  N talked to the music teacher and convinced him that he should be allowed to play.  So he is sitting on the stage with everyone else right now and he is very happy.  He really handled the situation beautifully and the music teacher actually reconsidered for several others who also started late in the year.”  That’s MY boy!!

So what is the life lesson?  That sometimes I need to have more faith and stop looking for the tsunami.  Sometimes, despite how often I explain to the school that N has difficulty self-advocating, the opposite is actually (sometimes) true and he knows exactly what he needs to do to stand up for himself.  Sometimes, I need to let go, and give him the room to show me the new skills he is developing and recognize that I might be the one stuck based on past experiences.  And if I don’t pay attention to these lessons, then there will be times that I miss the fun moments.  I am so very humbled and so very proud.  Yep, that’s my boy!

Experiment of the Day

 This is a re-post from Sunday, July 5, 2009.  It still makes me laugh...

Matching the energy level of an 8 year old is tough to do. But the real challenge is trying to keep up with an 8 year old BOY who also happens to be extremely smart – even gifted in some areas – and who struggles with ADHD, SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder) and a scattering of other special needs, alphabet soup diagnoses. Then throw in a three-day holiday weekend with neighborhood gatherings, cupcakes, sprinkling rain and pool water too cold to dip a toe in and you’ve got a boy low on options and high on sensory overload and a mom who needs a serious break!

I think it is fair to say that I spoil my little man as much as I possibly can while still trying to raise him to be a responsible, compassionate, giving bigger man. Vacation is the best because I literally say yes to almost everything. Then we get home and settle back into reality where I end up saying no far more than I say yes despite the spoiling. A week after vacation and an entire day of requests and ‘no’ answers I realize that we need a new way to approach today.

Hence the experiment…

I explain this with excruciating detail because I know that if I don’t, he will ask so many questions that I will regret having even suggested this brilliant plan of mine. The deal is that he can make only one request today – that’s it. Every ‘I want’, ‘Can I have’, ‘Will you’ counts and there can only be one. His eyes light up as he’s thinking ‘this could be a great game.’ There is no guarantee that I will say yes so the request needs to be thoroughly and thoughtfully considered. If it is something I always say no to, then it just becomes a wasted request. A little less light in the eyes but he’s still on board… ‘What if I make it the whole day without making any requests?’ I cannot help but laugh and I try not to sound too sarcastic as I explain that is not something we have to worry about.

I know this will be hard so I will even agree to reminders. As soon as I hear the start of a request, I will gently say ‘stop and think’ and then he can decide if it’s worth continuing. ‘I know what I want my one request to be’ It’s only 9am. You might want to wait since the day has just started. You never know what we might be doing or where we might go so if you use it now – it’s going to be a LONG day. After the one request, I will not entertain others. As a matter of fact, I am not even going to say no. I will just not acknowledge that another request has been made. The brow furrows as it sinks in that this might just be a tough game. ‘OK – I can do this. Are we going to do this every weekend?!’ Again, all I can do is laugh.

He wanders off downstairs and I start to blow dry my hair. 10 minutes in… ‘What can I have for breakfast? I ask because I was thinking that I want’ Is this going to be your request? Silence. Let me give you another tip. Do we eat breakfast every day? Shakes head. If it is something that you know is going to happen without a request, it would be wise to be patient and let me offer instead of using your request. ‘Ohhhh – I get it.’ Runs down the stairs and I laugh some more. If nothing else, this could be a very entertaining day!

He is very literal so I also have to add that true emergency requests do not count – I did not want the house to burn down while he was saving his request for a Popsicle. Fortunately there were no emergencies. And he became a master at looking for ways to ask for something without actually asking for something. His miming skills were honed as he pointed and play acted without ever uttering a sound. I held strong with my ‘stop and think’ at each pointed finger.

He went from questions to statements and watched my face to see if I was going to take it as a request and if so, would it be a yes or no. ‘Can I have a snack? Oh wait, I was thinking that I might want a snack. So I think I will make some popcorn. Wait, not popcorn, I was thinking about organic cheese puffs. Yea, I will just take these downstairs.’ I never had to say a word. Seriously – this plan really was brilliant.

As the day wore on, I had to institute another rule in the game. If he did something that he knew I would not let him do then it was an immediate time out. No warnings, no discussion, just time out. Let’s just say he spent a fair amount of time sitting against the dining room wall but he was not asking for something every 5 seconds and he was making decisions and accepting the consequences both good and bad.

We went to a couple of stores and he did not ask for a single thing. There were a couple of pointed fingers and quite a few pointed statements. ‘Hey, did you know they had cool balls like this one?’ Smiled while laughing on the inside. The experiment was going so well that I threw some finger paints into the cart which he later used to paint a beautiful rainbow and is now proudly hung on the fridge. He waited to see if the weather was going to cooperate but he never once mentioned the pool. He made it until 1:30 before finally making a request, the real, only one for the day, request. And it was a good one – I said yes. His friend came over and they played kickball. I am not sure anyone has ever come up with such an incredible plan and I am smiling as I pat myself on the back.

Once the request was used up, the rest of the day was a little more difficult. But we made it through as I ignored requests with only the periodic reminder that he was done for the day. Needless to say I probably gave reminders as often as I would have said no to requests. But it was worth it. As I tucked him in to bed 12 hours after the start of our little experiment we both smiled as we talked about how well it had gone.

‘If we do this again next weekend, can I have two requests? And then can we go up in the number of requests each day we do it?’ But I do not answer this new request – I only laugh.

To Blog or Not To Blog

Art by Story People
I suppose that is the question.  Welcome to life in the ADHD lane - you better strap in because it is quite a ride. I learn so much from my beautiful boy every day.  Some days the stories just fill me up and I need an outlet, somewhere to share. My hope is that our journey will help those traveling a similar path and that at the very least you will get a chuckle out of our experience.