This morning on the way to school, Samuel told me he has been working on a…machine?…contraption?…device? Whatever. Samuel has been designing a thing in Minecraft that will convert numbers into binary.
(I kid you not. He’s 13, and this is what he did for fun all weekend.)
So, he is explaining this to me, and I’m trying – really trying – to grasp this thing he’s describing. But he just keeps talking about how binary is so simple because you know how our number system is 10-based? Well, binary is just 2-based and once he got that, it all made sense and so all he had to do is use multiples of 2 (and here he stopped to count into THE THOUSANDS – not by 2’s but 2 to the 2nd power, 3rd power, 4th power, etc.).
And at this point, he just lost me. I mean, I did the mom thing and said things like, “Wow! Did you figure this out all by yourself? How did you learn all this?” and “You’re amazing! I can’t believe you did that!”.
But then I made a slight…miscalculation (HA! See what I did there?). In an attempt to relate to what he was saying, I told him that binary just didn’t make any sense to me. Then I proceeded to tell him the story of how just yesterday, I was trying to get my computer to recognize my mouse, but for some reason, it just wasn’t connecting. I kept turning the mouse off and back on, but it still wouldn’t work. And then I looked at the on/off switch and realized that the “0” meant “off” and the “1” meant on. I had reversed it in my mind, so I was flipping it on then back off. (Because, let’s just be honest here – who thought putting a “1” and a “0” on a switch was a good idea? Would it have been so much more work to add a few extra letters??? But I digress.)
When I finished my story, he said nothing for a few beats, then finally said, “I…I…really just don’t know what to say to you right now.”
It reminded me of that scene in Joe Versus the Volcano where Meg Ryan looks at Tom Hanks and says, “I have no response to that”.
Yeah, I always knew this day was coming. My kids are taller than me, better looking than me, and now it’s official – they are all smarter than me.
Oh well, I still have the dog.
(P.S. After school today, I told Samuel I wrote this article about him, which prompted another discussion of “0” and “1”. I learned that the symbol that represents “power” on most devices is actually a “0” and “1” overlapped:
When I was growing up, we used to wait with bated breath for the Sunday paper and the part we called the “Funnies”, aka the comic strips. I haven’t seen a printed paper in so long, I have no idea if they still include those or not. Do they even still print and distribute papers? I assume so, since I still see paper stands around town. Anyway, I loved the Funnies and have recently read in an article that comic books are now called “Graphic Novels”. They are publishing textbooks in this format, even, for kids who aren’t strong readers but who enjoy comic books (mostly boys, I would think).
I don’t know how any of this relates to my topic, except that these days, we don’t need comic books to make us laugh – we live on a proverbial funny farm. And yes, I am aware that a funny farm is a colloquial term for an insane asylum. Most of the time, I feel like that’s exactly what I’m running here. But then there are times when the inmates (aka, “the children”) are also just plain funny. Here’s one example.
Peter gets out of school roughly half an hour after the other two, so I will often pick him up alone, after I drop the other two off at home. I have found this to be one of my favorite times of the day, since it’s practically the only time my almost 13-year-old talks to me about school stuff. And generally, we start off with me asking “How was school today?”. He typically answers “Good” then launches into whatever he wants to talk about – a class or a friend or homework. Today, when I asked my question, he answered “Weird”. So I started probing further, until he finally admitted that they are studying the endocrine system in Science. I started laughing and his face started to redden. I asked if they learned anything about girls and how hormones affect them. I thought for sure he was going to tell me something that embarrassed him greatly – which was, of course, why I was asking in the first place. Instead he said “Let’s just say there was a lot of ‘Huh??? What’s that???’ followed by Ms. Miller (a first year teacher who was just married over Spring Break) saying ‘Ask your parents when you get home’.”
So I've started watching the TV show Parenthood. I was told by several people that I should watch it when it first started because there is a kid named Max in the show who has Aspergers. I tried an episode or two back then, but it was too painful and hit too close to home. But now that we have some of our worst years behind us (I hope), I feel ready to watch it and am enjoying it thoroughly. However, it has caused a lot of stuff to surface that I thought I had forgotten. These are just a few of the thoughts that watching Parenthood has brought to mind.
Matthew was named for my two grandfathers: Charles Augustus Beever and Barney Mathiews. Although he was pensive, he was a pretty easy baby. He was sweet and seemed to adore his older brother. He loved to snuggle, and very early on, became attached to his blanky, which he held while sucking his thumb. Things first started to change about the time he turned two, but got really bad when he turned three. He became extremely difficult to handle. No amount of consequences would phase him. We tried time-outs but he enjoyed being alone and just made up stories in his head. We tried spanking him, but he seemed to just firm up his resolve. We tried taking toys away – he was obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine and owned more trains, tracks, and train videos than I care to admit. But when he was deprived of his trains, he became violent, even kicking me in the shins and hitting me. It was shocking to me that someone so small could become so angry so quickly.
I mentioned his behavior problems, specifically his anger, when I visited the pediatrician each year, and he regularly suggested that Matthew's temper wasn't appropriate for a child his age. However, I believed I was the the cause of it all, and that bad parenting was to blame. I was also absolutely convinced that there was no such thing as ADHD or Aspergers or any other of the myriad of childhood problems people were discussing. I believed firmly that these were just discipline issues – again, bad parenting – and that it was a simply a cultural phenomenon that would pass away in a year or two. And yes, I am well aware of the irony as I write that here.
And so we walked down a path that grew darker and darker. I began to wonder where we had gone wrong with Matthew. He was impossible to figure out. He would grow angry over things that didn’t make sense to me and at the same time that he was being so violent, he also seemed to be reaching out to us for help. I sensed that he didn’t want to be the way he was being, but couldn’t explain himself to us. And when he wasn't angry, he was very compliant and very sweet. He loved to snuggle, he loved his mommy and daddy and big brother, and he was happy playing all by himself for long periods of time.
We added Samuel to the mix when Matthew was not quite two years old. And while Samuel was a ray of sunshine in our darkening world, he just served to show us even more clearly that Matthew was different. Matthew didn’t react the same way Peter and Samuel did. Matthew didn’t engage us the same way, and it didn’t help that he hardly spoke a word, even while other kids were chatting happily with their families. In fact, his lack of words was a cause of concern for my pediatrician – and another sign that something was wrong – but again, I assumed it was just because Peter did all the talking for both of them.
Samuel was a challenge for Matthew. As he grew bigger and demanded more of my attention, he annoyed Matthew more and more. He messed up Matthew's carefully arranged trains (yes, they had to be in a particular order and arranged just so), and from Matthew's perspective, he really added nothing good to our family. It wasn't until very recently that we began to see a softening toward Samuel and now (I'm so grateful to say), they are great friends. But in those early years, I had to be extremely vigilant to protect Samuel from his big brother, especially when Matthew grew angry.
Our first indications that we had a real problem on our hands came from the church nursery, where Matthew's anger turned toward other children. He started biting, and biting is the one thing that a church – or any childcare – cannot tolerate, because it really does put other children in harm's way. We tried to teach him not to bite, but we also started keeping him out of the nursery as much as possible for the safety of the other children. I finally tackled potty training with Matthew when he was three. After going through it with Peter, who practically trained himself, I very nearly gave up and just let Matthew wear diapers his whole life. He didn't care a bit about potty training, no matter what I tried to entice him with. One particularly memorable day occurred when Brad was out of town. Somehow, the baby gate we put across the door to Samuel's room got wedged between the door and his dresser, and I couldn't get into his room. At the exact same time, Matthew pooped on the carpet (he was on the potty, but in my desperation to get Samuel's door open, I missed him running off) and if memory serves, Peter was sick with a stomach bug. I had so many days where everything seemed to fall apart at the same time, I honestly can't remember it all. But while I was finally able to use something that I ran under the door to move the gate and no one was hurt in all of that, it was one of those moments when, as a mother of three very young children, I sat down on the floor and just cried and cried.
When Matthew was four, and finally potty trained (for the most part – he continued to have accidents for years after), we enrolled him in a Mother's Day Out program two days a week. He struggled from the very beginning and was very nearly expelled the day they did a fire drill and without anyone noticing, he ran back into the building and was found playing in the room next door to his with some toys he had been eying for a while. He put that poor teacher through a lot. Meanwhile, Samuel was in a baby class down the hall where the teacher absolutely doted on him. She even threatened to take him home with her, she loved him so much. Peter was in a First Grade and already had been identified as a Gifted & Talented student. Everyone loved our kids – at least, the other two. Matthew was a completely different story. Matthew was a hard kid to love – even if you were his parent.
When Matthew was five, I enrolled him in a different preschool – one that met three days a week – and kept Samuel home with me. His year at that preschool was a really good year for him. He had a teacher – Ms. Cindy – who could see immediately that there was something different about Matthew. She did things for him that made such a difference – like warned him when the fire alarm was going to sound for a fire drill, and even put her hands over his ears. She would sit with him on the playground when she could see him starting to lose control, and help him calm down. She told me that he needed a teacher who could understand him and his needs, and I saw living proof that year that she was right – the teacher made all the difference with Matthew.
The following year, Matthew started Kindergarten at the same elementary school where Peter was now in 3rd grade. Peter was a doll, and never had a teacher who didn't immediately fall in love with him. Matthew's Kindergarten teacher was a really, really good teacher, but she had a large class to deal with and couldn't always attend to the needs of one child. Also, Kindergarten was real school, and they expected Matthew to fall in line with the routine, but Matthew has always marched to the beat of a different drummer. And so he started acting out. He pushed kids down on the playground during recess and hurt kids during PE – regularly. He wouldn't stay in line because he never just walked – he has always walked on his toes, and in school, he generally was pretending to be someone else, so he did ninja moves down the hallway or something like that. He got mad at his teacher frequently, and was uncooperative, so she would send him next door to sit by himself while a different teacher worked with her class. That suited him just fine, as he really didn't want to be in school anyway, and sitting alone he was free to make up stories in his mind.
From the very first day Matthew was in Kindergarten, we got regular calls from his teacher or some member of the school administration – usually the assistant principal, because when he was really bad, he got sent to work in her office. At one point in first grade, she even suspended him for a day, to see if that got his attention. But he loved being home so much, he begged me to just homeschool him. And believe me – I considered it!!! But something inside me knew that if Matthew could not learn how to be a part of a classroom, he might never be a part of mainstream society. And so we pressed on.
And then one day in first grade, after some pretty terrible weeks at school, the assistant principal said she was going to call a meeting of the student success team, to discuss Matthew with them. I had never heard of such a thing, but it consisted of the school psychologist (who I never even knew existed prior to this), some teacher and a few counselors from surrounding schools in the district, plus our school administrators. Her reason for doing this was that she told me she was convinced Matthew wasn't a typical “bad” kid, who got in trouble on purpose. She said she could see so much potential in him – but he just couldn't seem to control himself.
That was just before school let out for Christmas break. And it was during that break from school that the school psychologist called me to ask if I had ever heard of Aspergers. Yes, I had heard of it, but no, I wasn't very familiar with it. She asked if anyone had ever mentioned it in relation to Matthew, and I said that no, that had never even been suggested to us. She went on to tell me she was 99% sure Matthew had Aspergers, and that she was qualified to diagnose him herself but she wanted the district's autism team to evaluate him.
We were shocked. Nothing like this had ever entered our minds. We were so busy blaming each other, ourselves, and the school, that we missed the obvious – Matthew wasn't a typical child at all. He was a child with special needs.
I recently had an opportunity to speak with the Assistant Principal – now Principal – who took Matthew's case to that team. I told her how her choice not to write him off changed the course of his life and ours. I tried to express to her what she has meant to us all these years, but words just never seem to do justice to our level of gratitude. She might never know, this side of Heaven, what she meant to a mother who was diagnosed with clinical depression because she blamed herself for all of Matthew's shortcoming. But I tried to tell her, and I'm saying it here – she very nearly saved my life.
It is with great personal sacrifice that I sit down and write this blog post for you today. I am suffering from a malady called “The Common Cold” or perhaps even “Sinus Infection”. I appreciate your deep concern.
However, despite my extreme exhaustion and plans to stay in bed all day, this morning as the sun rose and the first day of summer vacation dawned, my body woke up and nothing I could say would convince it to go back to sleep. I did, however, get to drink my hot cup of coffee in my pajamas, reveling in the fact that I have nowhere to be today. And that is why it is 12:47pm and I am STILL in my pajamas. That, and the aforementioned illness.
Most of the kids (meaning the older two) are content doing exactly nothing today, which is perfect, because those were my plans as well, but my youngest – well, he’s a mover and shaker and so he got dressed and asked if he could take the dog on a walk.
Who am I to argue when one of my kids offers to take the dog on a walk?
So he left with many instructions issued, and few heard, and came back in about 20-30 minutes. I was starting to wonder if maybe I should change out of my pajamas in case a police officer or ambulance driver or concerned neighbor showed up at my front doorstep with Samuel in tow, but I kept my imagination in check and sure enough, he came back unscathed.
The dog was a little worse for the wear, as I learned when Samuel mentioned rather casually that he took her to the park and tried to get her to slide down the slide with him.
Yeah. He walked her to the neighborhood park, coaxed her up the stairs and onto the rather tall playground, then essentially shoved her onto the slide (he admitted she was rather reluctant to go down, having never been down a slide before because SHE’S A DOG . So he pushed, and she scrambled and jumped off and landed on her back.
Samuel made sure to tell me several times how he was brought to tears over seeing her land on her back, as if to engender compassion towards him over his ordeal. But I just kept staring at him with bug eyes, asking him “WHY WHY WHY would you take the dog on the slide???” Of course, there is no answer to the question, except perhaps because he’s Samuel.
The good news is that the dog is fine. I have felt all over for broken bones and watched her walk to see if she limps (hey, I’m no vet okay?) and she’s not whining or anything, so I’m pronouncing her healthy.
But I’m never letting Samuel out of this house alone again.
I’m a little excited. Okay, so maybe a little doesn’t quite cover it.
For starters, I think this year I may finally surprise Brad with a birthday gift he will really love. I’m a terrible gift-giver, so this will (hopefully) be a welcome change. That’s all I’m going to say about that ’cause he might be reading.
Second, Peter had Solo & Ensemble try-outs on Saturday. This was a complete surprise to me, as we never participated in Solo & Ensemble until we were in High School. At least, that’s how I remember it. So we took him over to the school, and for his first solo, he…got nervous. I’m sure it didn’t help that a) we were in a small room with just him, the judge, and us (me and Brad) and b) the judge played the piano track for him to play along with…something he apparently had not practiced doing before. I videoed him with my iPhone with the thought that I would post it here, but then I decided to spare everyone the agony of seeing him choke feeling his pain.
We left the school with a very disappointed – although very well-dressed! – 11 year old.
Then on Monday, they posted the results. Everyone got either a “1” or a “2” (no “3”s this year), as well as comments from the judges. Here’s Peter’s score, copied directly off the page:
He got a blue ribbon, and the judges’ comments were all about what a great tone he had and how he needs to learn to keep a steady flow of air, blah blah blah…but overall they were very encouraging. He was so excited!!!
Meanwhile, tryouts for Honor Band were last week. We’ve been anxiously awaiting the results…and just got them tonight.
PETER MADE 5TH CHAIR IN THE 2013-2014 HONOR BAND AT HIS MIDDLE SCHOOL!!!!!!! The first 4 chairs are all current 7th graders, which means Peter ranked first among all the 6th graders!!! WOOHOO!!!!
Finally, we have been slowly getting in STAAR results. Peter’s scores were outstanding – he only missed TWO questions on the ENTIRE TEST! And Matthew was almost as good – he only missed THREE!!!!!
So there. I know that’s terribly braggy of me but I just had to let it out. I’m so proud of ALL my boys!!!! They are becoming such exceptional young men!!!!
Now we will return you to your regularly scheduled programming. Thank you for rejoicing with me!
Tomorrow marks the first day of June, a month which is typically full of all sorts of fun and frolic for our family.
We have Peter’s and Brad’s birthdays – both of which fall before the last day of school this year for the first time ever. Peter is ecstatic. His birthday is finally NOT a summer birthday.
Then we have all the end of school festivities. Then school ends (WOOHOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), but I’m not excited or anything.
Then we have parties. And more parties. And trips. And then comes Samuel’s birthday. And more parties.
Then we wake up and it’s August and school starts tomorrow.
Just kidding. Sort of.
Actually, today really kicked off our last week of school with the Celebration of Learning at the kids’ elementary school. They do this at the end of each semester. But this one was extra special because after 10 years, our principal is leaving to take a job as a district-level administrator. So the teachers spent the last few weeks putting together this really awesome mob dance routine, teaching it to all the kids, putting the word out to the parents – all while keeping it a big secret from our principal. Matthew has been so excited about this dance, working hard every day to learn the moves, until last night, he felt it was good enough for me to film:
Samuel practiced it too, but let’s just say that his video didn’t turn out. That’s probably the best way to overlook the disaster explain it.
So then, this afternoon’s Celebration of Learning theme was the Wizard of Oz, and the kids wore green while the teachers put on a 3 part skit. They had done all 3 parts and were just at the end when I got an inkling we were getting close to starting the dance. When the video starts, you can see Dorothy and her friends doing a dance to “Ease On Down The Road”. Mrs. Koenig played the Wizard. Then suddenly, the music stops and – well, it’s probably better to just show it to you:
I especially love the part where I zoomed in and caught Mrs. Koenig wiping tears away. After she got over the shock of it all, she said that she had been griping at her teachers all week for not working on their “Ease On Down The Road” dance. I think she thought they were going to have to wing it! (By the way, the Cowardly Lion is Matthew’s Sp.Ed. teacher.) My video isn’t the best since I took it from the back of the room but it was so well done. The kids were obviously well-coached and just did a beautiful job.
Now we’re down to just 5 more days of school!!!!!!! But who’s counting?