Monday, November 7, 2011

Combining Business with Pleasure

Sometimes there’s an offer that is just too good to pass up.  Or in our case, it was a combination that was too affordable to pass up.

Because of a lack of funds, we never took a family vacation this past summer.  Dylan got to attend the usual round of interesting summer camps, but RockStar and I just slogged away at our respective jobs.  And because of a lot of internal changes at my office, it was a summer of a lot of really intense work for me. 

At least I had our annual convention to look forward to.  One of my job responsibilities is coordinating our exhibit booth, so every year I attend the convention to set-up, help staff, and tear-down the booth in whatever city it’s in.  This year, it was in Washington, D.C.

The wheels began to churn.

My trip would include airfare, a hotel room close to the convention center, and a per diem.  After all that, adding a couple of additional airfares and meals seemed like a vacation deal even Living Social couldn’t match.

I’ve never taken the family to a previous convention destination, but D.C. seemed to offer the ideal mix of kid-friendly history and interesting attractions.  Besides that, it’s a walkable city, so they wouldn’t be stuck somewhere while I was working. As an added bonus, we have friends who live in the District. 

There was that pesky little detail known as school to deal with, but I figured a trip to Washington was like an extended field trip that would back up what Dylan learned in social studies, maybe even science, considering some of the Smithsonian museums.

We were all excited, but I was nervous, too.  Would we be able to get Dylan to work on his required homework when we were not actually at home?  Would Dylan cooperate with RockStar while I was working the show? 

Realizing our worst fears, we did start off badly.  On our first morning in Washington, we tried to go to the International Spy Museum.  A budding secret operative himself, Dylan had been talking about it for months.   It seemed like an easy place to start the trip; an easy win.

Keep in mind that here we were traveling just before Halloween.  The entrance to the museum was draped in cobwebs.  We approached the ticket desk and I requested our tickets, but also asked about Operation Spy, a separate experience where you are the spy, pursued by double agents. 

Big mistake. 

The first words out of the ticket agent’s mouth were:  “It’s too scary for kids under 12.”
Never mind that he was talking about something other than what we were purchasing.  Dylan heard scary and now he was putting on the breaks.  I had just spent $56.00 on tickets and he didn’t want to use them.

Thankfully, the museum was understanding and said we could come back the next day to use them.  But the damage to our collective psyche was done. Over the next few hours, Dylan spiraled completely out of control, and I wasn’t too far behind him in reaction to it.  Admittedly, he hadn’t had medication that morning (okay, that was the first mistake).  And he was out of his normal routines, sleeping in a new place, having new experiences.  All of that combined to form a veritable hurricane of a meltdown.  An epic meltdown (and epic is not a word I throw out lightly.) With me having the extra pressure of work responsibilities…well, let’s just say I didn’t have the most cool and calm reaction to his meltdown.

I honestly feared that our entire week would be a nightmare and that I had made a horrible, horrible mistake combining a business trip with a family vacation.

Thankfully, that first day was a bump in the road.  The rest of the journey progressed more-or-less unscathed. 

I think we did learn a few things about traveling during that week.  Prior to this, our only similar vacation was a trip to Disney World when Dylan was 7, before he was diagnosed.  Our other vacations were mainly beach vacations, which are, by definition, a whole lot more relaxed and not dependent on visiting places.  These are tips I’ll remember for future vacations.
  1.   Establish a routine.  Yes, sticking to your regular at-home routine is ideal, but if you can’t do that, establish a new, short-term routine.  For us, the 8:00pm bedtime went out the window, but we kept the order of the bedtime routine similar to what we have at home.  We even kept my schedule routine – most days I worked at the booth until mid-day, giving me the afternoon to spend with family.  Dylan knew what to expect, when.  There’s comfort in routine.
  2. Continue any medications.  We were really successful with taking the summer off from ADHD meds.  When we forgot to give Dylan medication on our first day, we figured we would see how it went and hoped we would have a similar experience. Well, we found out it didn’t go well, and we didn’t make that mistake again.  For summertime, the pressure was off.  But with an action-packed vacation in a hotel, the pressure was just different and the meds helped him handle it.
  3. Allow for downtime.  I will admit that on this type of vacation I like to see everything and make the very most of my time.  But Dylan doesn’t need to see everything.  And he does need time to decompress, even watch TV, which is (unfortunately) a familiar activity. We allowed for at least some downtime every day, including a relaxing visit to the hotel swimming pool.
  4. Bring familiar items.  Even though it was tough to travel on planes with them, we made sure we took Dylan’s favorite stuffed animals.  They helped him feel secure on the plane and made the hotel seem more like home.  We also brought familiar small toys and games to entertain him throughout trip, another comfort factor.
  5. Keep active.  D.C. really is a walking city.  I think we walked a minimum of three miles a day, usually much more than that.  Although Dylan is not used to such intense walking, it kept him busy and the activity helped keep symptoms at bay.  I was always afraid that he was going to start complaining about the walking, but he never did.
  6. If at all possible, stay in a suite!  This was such a bonus!  I chose the hotel based on location, but it ended up being an all-suites hotel.  We had a spacious 2-room suite, with a large bathroom, and a separate kitchenette, complete with sink, fridge, and microwave.  If Dylan did feel a bit ornery, he could go in the other room and calm himself down.  We could also put him to bed, and still stay up ourselves in the next room.  We were able to keep food cold, and reheat that lunch that went uneaten during the height of the medication’s effect.  It really did make the hotel a home away from home.   
It ended up being a great vacation, even with the business thrown in. We saw the monuments and some of the Smithsonian museums, and visited with friends.  We didn’t let our initial bump throw us off completely, and as a result we all enjoyed a fun, educational trip that we all look forward to repeating. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Let me help your child become a global citzen (because I'm just not busy enough)

I may be officially crazy now. 

I mean, you've read the bio.  I've already got two full-time jobs (mom and communications).  Den leadership, church activities, and Jazzercise class manager.

But what is it that they say?  When you want something done, give it to a busy person.  Well, if you're looking for a busy person, I am the busiest.

Sooooo.....I am now officially launching my own home-based business, too. 

Welcome to (drum roll, please)

Little Passports!

I am now officially an agent for Little Passports, the global adventure for kids.  Here's some more info:

You want to give your child the world. Now you can with Little Passports! This award-winning subscription service for kids is your child’s ticket to global adventure.

Take your child on a tour of Italy’s famous food, use your new “dig kit” to discover Egypt’s rich archeology, and dive into the warm, sparkling waters of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, all without leaving your home!

Inspire a love and understanding of the world as your child learns about a country's geography, history, culture, and language in a fun and memorable way. Personal mail, souvenirs from all over the world, family activities, and online games: imagination is limitless with Little Passports!

How It Works
Every month, our characters Sam and Sofia travel to a new country and send your child a package! During your first month with Little Passports, your child’s adventure begins with an Explorer Kit that includes:

  • A fun travel suitcase
  • An introductory letter from Sofia and Sam
  •  A world wall map
  • Your child’s very own travel passport
  • Colorful stickers
  • An activity sheet
  • A boarding pass

The Adventure Continues
In each following month, your child receives another package from Sam and Sofia with new goodies to collect in the travel suitcase. Each monthly adventure package includes:
  • A letter from Sam and Sofia
  • A fun souvenir
  • An activity sheet
  • A country photo
  • A passport stamp 
  • A map marker
  • A suitcase sticker
  • A collectible boarding pass to access more online games and activities
I didn't just find this out there in the sea of possible home-based businesses.  I'm an actual customer.  Dylan, my very own little explorer, has been receiving Little Passports packages for more than a year now. So, yes, I'm busy, but this is something I believe in.

Kits start as low as $10.95 per month, with several packages available.  Want to learn more?  Contact me at and like me at  I look forward to sharing the world with you and your kids!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Preparing for tomorrow

Dylan regularly brings home a flyer from school put out by The Parent Institute.  It has advice on strategies to start the year off right, building a strong bond with your child's teacher, and setting routines to start the day off right.  I'm sure it's mildly helpful for parents of normal/neuro-typical kids.

For me, it's almost laughable. 

Take the article on routines to start the day.  Here's the advice:

Avoid "morning madness" by establishing evening routines.  Your child should:

  1. Choose clothes for the next day.
  2. Have his lunch and backpack ready to go.
  3. Set an alarm clock.  Make sure your child will have plenty of time in the morning.
  4. Stick to a regular bedtime.
At least #1 is easy.  Dylan wears a uniform so there's not too much to that.

But moving on to #2, things become more complicated.  Have lunch and backpack ready to go.  How can the backpack be ready to go if homework's not done?  Do I have him stay up late to pack his lunch?  Who, exactly, does that benefit since he's at his most distractable by bedtime?  Or do I push off homework so he can pack his lunch, which makes him even more distracted for homework.

"Make sure your child will have plenty of time in the morning."  Define plenty of time. Dylan has nearly 90 minutes yet I am still often nagging him to get out the darn door.

Stick to a regular bedtime.  Okay, we more or less do this, even if homework is not done.  Even if bath has not happened.  

What gets me is that the information on these brightly colored fliers make it all sound so easy.  If only.  Every day feels like a battle, even when things are going well.  Yes, we try to stick to routines.  Yes, we try to prepare.  But everyday seems to have its own very unique challenge, different from the day before, different from last week.  We get through, but it's not so easyIt's an abstract dance played out on a skating rink.  

Monday, September 19, 2011

Daily Frustration

I'm a fallen blogger.

I know I'm like many bloggers who start out just wanting to share with other like-minded souls.  It feels important and makes you feel less alone in whatever your journey is.

But then...

Yeah, but then.  All the things that make you want to blog get in the way from actually doing the blog.  

When I last wrote, I was preparing for a teacher meeting.  It went fine, perhaps not great.  School for Dylan is fine, but not great.  His test grades range from A through F.  I've had issues with things at school and so has he.

And then there's been homework.  Lots of it.  Lots and LOTS of it.  

I never had homework like that, even without ADHD.  

Then there are unexpected things.  Like expecting RockStar to be at work and coming home to find he's not.  Startling enough considering he has not had a spotless work record, but worse in that I had already told Dylan he had to come to a meeting with me.  So really he didn't, but now he was primed.  

Primed for a fight, apparently.

And I was tired, worn out, angry that I didn't know RockStar was home.  And I really didn't need Dylan at the meeting.  Really really didn't need it.  But he insisted.  So I threatened - no TV through Sunday if he came.  Then it became no TV through the end of September.

And there we are.  He came.  Now I have to enforce an unplanned TV-free Ten Days.  


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Preparing for teacher meeting

I've spent the last hour or two preparing to meet with Dylan's teacher in the morning.  I'm not really nervous yet.  Actually, I feel pretty good about it.  For one thing, it will be short.  The meeting is at 7:20pm, and school starts at 7:45am.  For another, I don't have a problem with the teachers, although they need to know about Dylan and we need to communicate often.

My problem is becoming the school.  He needs more than what he gets in class.  He's not understanding his schoolwork and there's no help for that.  Instead, he gets recess detention for not completing his homework...yet it takes all evening.  That has to stop.  I get that other kids complete their homework and the unfairness of someone being permitted to not be punished for not doing it.  But it's not that he's just not doing it.  He's doing it and doing it and doing it, and he isn't getting it.  That's not the same thing at all.

So on Wednesday, I'll meet with the 504 coordinator.  Not looking forward to that for various reasons.  For one, her answer is just take him out of French immersion.  But it's just not a French vs English issue.  If so, my efforts would to teach would work at least half the time and we'd be set.  But there's something not getting through.  And he's having issues in English-based subjects, too.

I'm ready.  I think.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Pay Attention

It's such a simple request. 

A mom to her son:  "Pay attention! Get your homework done."

A teacher to her class:  "Pay attention! What I'm teaching will be on the test."

A wife to a husband:  "Pay attention!  There's lots of traffic today."

It sounds so simple.  But it can be the same as telling someone with a zero bank balance:  "Pay your bills!"  When there's nothing, or almost nothing, there, it's virtually impossible.  How do you pay (and why, for that matter, does the expression involve payment) attention when you just don't have any attention left?

I've been thinking a lot about this as I've mentally prepared for this school year.  Dylan's teacher last year was so good.  He didn't "get" ADHD at first, but he learned.  But the education process has begun again, and I don't know how it will go. 

Will I keep my cool?

Will I explain it in the way it needs to be heard? 

Will I be surprised by a veteran teacher who maybe does get it because she has seen it all too often. 

I don't know yet.  But I can tell you one thing - I'll be paying attention.  Even if Dylan can't.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I'm a nervous wreck

Tomorrow is the first day of fourth grade and I'm a nervous wreck. 

It's a big year.  Major testing.  More tests.  More homework, that now will be graded.  More expectations.  And I don't feel Dylan is ready for all of that. 

It's not that I don't have faith in him.  I do.  He's the most creative, imaginative kid I know.  But it takes him half an hour to write one short sentence that you can barely read.  After 15 minutes hunting and pecking on the keyboard he's tired and wants to give up. 

Medication will help, I know that.'s all so trial and error, and far, far from perfect.  His social worker said yesterday how much he has enjoyed talking to Dylan this summer when he's been off of meds.  He feels the meds deaden his personality.  Who wants that?  But having tried to help Dylan do his summer homework, I know he can't survive school without them.  It's an awful predicament; an awful Catch-22.

To make matters worse, I did something stupid.  I ordered school supplies for the wrong grade!  How it the world I could have done that, I don't know.  If I had done it and then realized it later, okay, I could've understood that.  But I kept going back to the third grade list.  At least 4 or 5 times! 

Also throwing me for a loop - he does not have the teacher we were planning on.  I don't know yet if this is a good or bad thing.  In a way it's good because Dylan was anxious about the teacher he thought he had.  This at least transfer that anxiety away for now. 

I remember fourth grade as one of my very best grades.  Mrs. LaCau was an awesome teacher who recognized my gifts and fought for me to get into "major works" in 5th grade.  She encouraged my love of reading and helped me to love learning.  I want that so much for Dylan.  But it's all so different now!  This crazy testing culture and the speed ball pace of everything! 

I know that there will be good and there will be bad.  But for now, I'm a nervous wreck.  I even had a bad dream last night. 

Fingers crossed.  Here we go.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Summer Recap

I've been neglecting the Argonne Chronicles.

It's certainly not because there's been nothing to chronicle.  In fact,there's probably been too much.  Every day has seemed just a bit too full, so that at the end of the day, I've only had time to tumble into bed.  Even the weekends have been full.  However, I think I'll steal a page from one of my very favorite blogs of all, The Dao of Doing, and do a bit of an update based on what's been good and what's been not so good.

What's been good
  • Dylan and I have done some fun things like attending the City Park Friend's Night at the Carousel Garden and seeing the new Winnie the Pooh movie, which unfortunately didn't live up to the very first one, IMO. 
  • In fact, he's done some fun things that I helped get him to, like a party at Bounce Spectrum, a visit to the zoo's new Cool Zoo splash park, and I took him and his friend to laser tag
  • RockStar and I got to see Part 2 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  Okay, that was sort of a sad thing - I cried to think that this was the last one.  Harry and his classmates have become like friends. 
  • I had my book club at my house for a lively discussion of The Help.  If you haven't read it, I recommend it!  Definitely thought-provoking.
  • I finally got a new assistant at work.  I had four wonderful candidates - I just hope I made the right decision.
  • RockStar will be getting a weekly paid gig playing in a church band.
What's been questionable
  • I finally got Dylan started on his summer schoolwork.  Although there have been some good times reading, there have been even more times with me struggling to get him going.  It makes me dread the start of school. 
What's been not-so-good
  • My mom's been diagnosed with bone cancer.  The plus is that she has been pretty upbeat, which is unusual for her.  What I'm not sure is whether I can make a trip up there, especially if I can arrange it to bring Dylan.
  • The pastor nominating process at our church is at a crossroads and we are having a hard time getting past it, when we really need to get on with it and hire a new pastor.
  • Although I'm happy with Dylan's medication vacation, we have had some major melt downs.  Sometimes it really affects my day and makes me feel like a bad mom.
  • I'm definitely feeling over-committed.  Church, work, Dylan, the house, meals, etc.  I am struggling to keep up and haven't had any good quality me time.  
The latter piece may make it hard to keep up with the blog, which is sort of a shame since I really would like to keep it up.  I've ad some ideas about things that would be good to write about.  I hope to try for shorter, perhaps serialized pieces that won't take as much of a commitment.  

    Sunday, July 17, 2011

    And We Go Out With a Whimper

    Overall, TV Turn-Off Week was successful, but we didn't go the whole week. 

    I didn't cave, exactly.  Dylan got sick.  Wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night and throw-up-all-over-the-floor sick.  Stay-home-from-camp sick.  I just couldn't say "no TV" on a sick day, which was Friday. 

    I had originally said two hours only, then went off to work.  He conveniently neglected to mention the time limit to his dad. 

    It's okay - it meant we got to watch the last episode of Friday Night Lights.  Well, RockStar did.  I ducked out to get Dylan down and missed the last 10 minutes.  We didn't realize it was a 90-minute episode.  (Who does that?)

    I have to say that it went well, although a large part of the reason is that we had a lot going on - Kung Fu, Youth Group, and other activities that took up the evening. 

    The arguments over TV have already started back up.  In fact, there's one going on in the background as I type this very sentence!

    So, did TV Turn-Off Week have an impact?  I honestly don't know.  It was pretty pleasant for me.  And until the TV actually got turned back on, it was pretty well understood that it wasn't coming on.  But we seem to be right back to where we started.  Dylan would be perfectly happy if the TV were on all the time, if we let him always choose what to watch.  It's really almost an addictive situation, and I really don't know what to do about it.

    Do we kill the TV?  Although I'm not a big TV watcher there are a few things I enjoy and RockStar definitely enjoys it.  Would that be spiting the rest of the family?  And with videos on the computer, would Dylan just find a way to watch that way? 

    The latter half of this week has been bad, unrelated to TV Turn-Off Week (I think!?).  I'm feeling as bleak as the weather we're having (gray and rainy). 

    Monday, July 11, 2011

    TV Turn-Off Week, Days 1 and 2

    The week did not have an auspicious beginning.  At first I thought everything was okay.  Sunday morning I heard Dylan get up and the TV did not go on immediately (as usual) as I had feared.  

    He did seem to be at loose ends, not quite sure what to do with himself.  He finally settled on playing with his yo-yo, although that involved him coming in and getting the loop retied and there were a few other reasons he had to come in while we were still (trying to still be) asleep.

    After I got up, things went downhill.  He was grouchy, I guess since the morning was so unusual.  We have always been very easy going about weekend morning TV.  He did try to make his own breakfast out of a kids' cookbook he has, but that didn't go well and he didn't eat most of it.  Somehow, we made it to church without ending up in a screaming match.

    The afternoon turned out well...because he went to a friend's house.  He admitted later that he did watch TV over there, but I guess you have to just go with the flow at someone else's house.  When he came home, we played a few different games, but I had to put a halt to it at one point because he was being a terrible sport, insisting that he had to win and that I had to let him win.  I was beginning to wonder how he has been at camp all summer, although I know from experience he saves this kind of behavior for us.  

    We had a bit of melt-down at bedtime, but that was completely unrelated to there not being any TV.  In general, I felt as though the first day had gone relatively well, maybe even better than expected.

    I was concerned how this morning would turn out.  TV time is often a morning reward for good behavior in getting dressed, and is even more lax and accepted in the summertime.  Like Sunday, he started off at loose ends but when I suggested he look at the Pokemon cards he had bought at a rummage sale, he got completely absorbed in them.  

    I was happy - this was how it was supposed to be.  TV Turn-Off Week was showing that there is more to life than Scooby Doo and Sponge Bob.  

    I thought we were in big trouble when, on the way to Kung Fu, he talked about watching TV when we got home.  A few weeks ago, following an onslaught of whining, I told him he could watch TV on Mondays after camp if he didn't ask about it at all Tuesday through Thursday. He had it in his mind that this "deal" trumped TV Turn-Off.  

    With trepidation, I calmly told him it didn't...and he accepted it!

    Kung Fu took up some of the evening and I promised him something really special and unique if he was a good boy up to and through dinner.  And he was, entertaining himself by practicing Kung Fu moves and playing with Pokemon cards.  (Does it count if the cards themselves are from a TV show?)

    So after dinner, he did something he had never done before - he walked down the street by himself to by a snowball (aka a slush, a water ice, or a shaved ice, depending on where you are from).  RockStar nearly had a heart attack when I told him the plan, but we have tried to raise him as free range as we can, considering we work during the day and he doesn't have friends who live close by.  

    I had tried to get him to get a snowball on his own before but he had balked.  But today, boy, was he ready!  He decided to take his scooter, which is not the best idea if you have to carry something back - but it was up to him.  And despite all the Nancy Grace's in the world, all was well.  He made it to the snowball stand, about 2-1/2 blocks away, crossing a fairly busy cross street, without a hitch.  And he bought and paid for the snowball (my money, of course), and returned home in the time allowed (20 minutes).  He did drop the cup and crack it, but that didn't rub a bit of the shine off of his proud face!
    At one point this evening, he did say that it was weird to be in the living room without the TV on.  Never mind that we do not leave it on all the time and watching it in the evenings is a Friday night and weekend thing.  But I think it's more the idea of it...even the idea that begging for it was off limits.  I'm proud that he respected it and didn't ask me.

    As for's just plain quiet in the evening after Dylan goes to bed!  We had the radio on last night, but tonight it's just silent.  Very strange, but pleasant.  RockStar turned in early, rather than zoning out on TV and I bet he does again tonight.  

    Fingers crossed...I hope this is a positive beginning. 

    Tell me, have you ever had a TV Turn-Off Week? 

    Friday, July 8, 2011

    The End of an Era

     Unless you were hiding under a rock, you know that the last space shuttle lifted off into space today. 

    Photo courtesy NASA/Bill Ingalls

    I still can't believe that's it.  That there will be no more shuttle lift offs and that there's no next-generation plan to replace the shuttle.  That we have been reduced to being taxi passengers on the spacecraft of other countries.  That we, as a country, seemingly are not as interested as innovation and exploration as we once were.

    I grew up in the era of SkyLab, the first space station.  It was practically science fiction at the time, but I was captivated.  It might have helped that my mom was a rabid sci fi fan from way back.  One of the original Trekkies.  She brought me up to have a healthy respect for the possibilities of space and the importance of dreams. 

    Whether by osmosis or just natural selection, Dylan has been enamored with space since before he could talk.  I found an old paperback Little Golden book about space and astronauts at a used book sale when he was about 3 or 4 and he would have me read it over and over.  When his preschool class was invited to bring in their favorite book, that's the book he brought in. 

    At the time, his teacher told me that preschoolers were too young to understand space and recommended that we find another book.  While we switched it out for a book about trains (a lesser obsession), I knew his teacher was wrong about kids not understanding about space, at least as far as Dylan was concerned.  Somehow Dylan always knew and understood.

    In second grade, his class published a book called Dream Big.  Each child in his class wrote about what they wanted to be when they grew up.  There were rock stars, football and soccer players, and teachers,  But Dylan chose scientist as his future career...a scientist who studies space. 

    So I can't help but feel saddened by the last shuttle launch.

    I'm even sadder that the space program has been left adrift. 

    And heartbroken, wondering if my little scientist will even get the chance to one day live out his dream if space innovation and exploration are no longer valued in America.  

    Dreams are important.  Innovation is integral.  We need both to feed the imaginations and creativity of our youth, the same youth for whom we are cutting educational programs.  We need dreams and innovation to feed our very future. 

    Wednesday, July 6, 2011

    The Boob Tube

    Next week will be TV Turn-off Week in our house.  

    Yes, I know that the actual Screen-free Week was some time back in April, but it just wasn't a good time for us.  I realize that sounds like a cop out; like we waited to turn off the TV in the summertime when a lot of the first-run network shows aren't even on.  But the reality is that it's needed much more now than it was in April.

    Since...oh...forever, I've maintained pretty consistent TV rules with Dylan.  TV is allowed in the morning once he's dressed and ready for school.  But no TV in the evening on a school night.  Yes, no TV.  I find we are in a definite minority on that one.  Most parents tell me that want to cut back on their kids' evening viewing.  For us, however, I find TV is nothing but a negative distraction during the school year.

    You'll see that school figures heavily in the rules above.  The supposed reality is that the rules are year-round.  But the real reality is that we do cave in a lot more easily in the summertime.  It's a lot harder to insist on no TV when there's no homework, I'm trying to get something done like cooking dinner, and Dylan is at loose ends but hot and tired from summer day camp.  I'd say TV ends up on in the evenings before bedtime at least once or twice during the week, not counting Fridays, when it is allowed.

    That said, TV has become a major issue.  I get the request to watch TV nearly every day.  I say that as though it's a polite inquiry followed by obedient acceptance of my decision.  In actuality, it involves lots of whining, complaining, and the occasional foot stomp.  I've been told I've ruined his day, even his life.  There's really more drama in our living room than there is on TV.

    It's funny, really, that TV has gotten such a bad name around our house.  When I was Dylan's age, I think I already had a TV in my bedroom (a 12-inch black and white set).  I watched as much TV as I wanted.  I knew what time it was by what was on TV, and I considered the characters on my favorite TV shows (shows like Hogan's Heroes, Happy Days, Starsky and Hutch, and Barnaby Jones) almost like friends.  It was not uncommon for me to have TV put me to sleep.

    It almost makes me feel as mean as Dylan thinks I am.

    My reversal is fueled by several things.  For one, I know more than my mom did then.  Heck, we all know more than my mom did then, including my mom.  Study after study screams the ill effects of TV watching to us.  I guess it's ironic that the more we hear about how bad TV is, the more channels they offer us.  

    I want to say that TV is a lot worse now than it was then, but really, it's not like I learned much about World War II from watching Hogan's Heroes.  Starsky and Hutch was more about the red Grand Torino with the snazzy lighting stripe careening around corners than anything else. It's not like I was watching Masterpiece Theater or Nova.  

    That said, there weren't a lot of shows really targeted at kids and only kids.  Sure, Little House on the Prairie (another favorite) was family TV, but Hannah Montana was never meant for kids and adults to both enjoy.  

    I've also seen a dramatic shift in kids' television just in the nine years Dylan has been alive.  The majority of his TV viewing has been on Disney Channel, and I've seen them go from having pre-teen "sit-coms" in the evening to having them all day.  And the shows have gone from the The Suite Life of Zack and Cody with the kids living with mom to The Suite Life on Deck with mom living somewhere else while the kids float around the world and cause trouble on a cruise ship.  At least Billy Ray Cyrus was a pretty common factor and relatively stable voice in Hannah Montana.  Disney's newer Shake It Up rarely features adults (the host of the dance show definitely doesn't count).  When they do have an adult character make a token appearance, the kids are completely disrespectful, with the adults just foils for the laughter.  Only, I'm not laughing.  

    Even on a cartoon, Disney's Fish Hooks, there are no parents in the fish tank world of the pet store.  It's a sad state of affairs when Disney is competing for Nickelodeon's audience by mimicking all of their shows.  Sponge Bob meet Fish Hooks.  iCarly meet Shake It Up.  

    Of course, the biggest argument against TV is all the things it replaces.  When I was Dylan's age, I was already engrossed in books.  While I kept track of my TV shows, I also spent a lot of time reading, doing crafts, and playing in the woods in back of my house. 

    So we are going to spend the week - all of us - not watching TV.  Since I really don't get to watch much as it is (what with meetings, running after Dylan, and RockStar manning the remote), I don't expect it will be too difficult for me. And since it is summer, RockStar will probably survive.  

    I know it will be difficult for Dylan at first.  But I'm hoping it ends up being one of his favorite weeks of the summer.

    Tune in next week to learn more...

    Sunday, June 26, 2011

    Crime and Punishment

    Sometimes, you have to pay the consequences. 

    I'm lucky because Dylan does not a bad kid and genuinely likes to do the right thing.  But even for the best kid, it's not possible to grow up doing all the right things, all the time.  There's the desire to rebel, mistakes made, or just bad decisions.

    Sometimes, one or all of those involves lying.

    Lying is big to me. I'm not talking about "Gee, your hair looks nice!" or "I'm sorry, we have plans." kind of lies.  To me, that kind of lying really is acceptable.  Hurting someone can be the bigger crime.

    But straight on answering a question with an untruth is completely unacceptable in my book.

    Again, I'm lucky.  Dylan is an honest kid.  So honest, he'd be the kind to ask "What did you do to your hair?" with a horrified expression on his face. 

    But every kid lies sooner or later about something.

    He has had two previous occasions where he did not tell the truth to a direct question.  I honestly cannot remember the exact situations.  For the first, he was let off with a strong warning and it was a long time before we faced it again.  The next time, there was a punishment.  I think it was missing TV.

    Not long ago, we had Lying Crime #3.

    Dylan had been "cooking" that afternoon.  That is, he had pulled out all kinds of pots and pans from the kitchen, and was mixing "ingredients" together.  The ingredients consisted of some blueberries we had picked at a farm and a couple of bananas we had just gotten at the store.  I warned him that I didn't want food wasted and that whatever he made, he had to consume. 

    I don't think he used many berries (he's not a big blueberry fan) but he cut up two bananas into thick slices.  I warned him again that he had to eat whatever he had used and he assured me he would.

    Later, the cut bananas and the various kitchen implements were strewn all over the kitchen, and I told him he had to clean everything up and eat the bananas.  He whined at first that he needed help to clean up, but I reminded him that he was able to get everything out without any help.

    A little later, the kitchen was more or less back to normal and the bananas were nowhere in sight.  I asked if he had eaten them. "Yes," he said loudly.

    Fatal error.

    When I went to throw something away, there in the garbage can were the banana slices.  I was furious.

    I asked him to step away from the TV and come talk to me.  I don't think he even remembered the lie and came along willingly.  But once I started talking, he remembered all too well and knew he was in trouble.  He tried to make it no big deal, and tried to say he "didn't know," but I had reminded him too well and too often and, worse, had had loudly answered me in the affirmative when I had asked him directly.  There was no escaping.

    I made the mistake of saying we were going to discuss punishments.  He took that to mean that he could decide what his punishment would be.  But as the judge and jury, I declared he would lose two days of TV.  I think if I said I was going to cut off his arm in punishment, he would not have yelled as loudly.

    He was devastated, especially because the punishment was starting immediately.  Keep in mind, he was 15 minutes from bedtime, so that was not a big loss.  He cried and fussed and generally made the evening difficult for a while.  Then calmed down.  I thought we were past it.

    Nope.  Next morning he was at it again, only with more energy from a good night's sleep.  He wanted to decide the punishment.  He wanted it to be no Cartoon Network.  Keep in mind, he only has limited approval to watch a couple of carefully selected Cartoon Network shows since most of their programming is aimed at teenagers and the ads are ridiculous and non-stop.  I held firm - No TV.

    There was much angst and gnashing of teeth.  Even threats.  I was told I was the worst mother.  The meanest.  He also hated his life.  And wondered why he had to be this way.  He insisted he would not go to camp.  It was very dramatic and, worse, it was making me very late for work.  

    Much to my chagrin, I finally gave him a shorter sentence.  One day of TV loss, WITH the stipulation that he understand that parents are allowed to make punishments at their discretion in any and all future proceedings.  He agreed...but we'll see when it happens. 

    Of course, I'm hopeful that it won't, but I know that's not possible.  He's a kid.  He's especially a kid with some issues, and self control is one of them.  I don't like being the jailer, yet I'm proud because I never yelled throughout all of it.  I did give in a little, but only to clear the slate and move on. I want him to sense fairness and I don't want to stand on something if it's going to make all of our lives miserable.  And obviously, even one day of lost TV seemed to be excessive.  (Amazing in that he is not allowed a lot of TV to begin with.)

    It's not always easy being the judge, jury, and jailer.

    Sunday, June 19, 2011

    What I Need

    I have not been purposely ignoring this blog.

    Rather, I've been otherwise occupied.  With WORK.  And Spraining My Ankle.  And just everyday stuff that comes up even though it's summertime.

    So, no, I haven't been just goofing off.

    While spraining my ankle was both unplanned and something that took me away from my normal, everyday routine, work has been ALL-CONSUMING.

    For one thing, I'm to complete a 52-page publication by the end of June and I'm nowhere near where I should be.  That would be bad enough, but...I'm doing it all by myself because my assistant resigned.

    It wasn't that she didn't like me or the job. She's moving on with her life, moving to DC so her husband can go to grad school.  It's a new adventure for a young girl.

    OK, even though I love New Orleans, I'm the teensiest bit jealous, just for the change of scenery, change of routine.

    So, I'm doing my job.  And I'm doing her job.  Oh, and I'm interviewing, which is like a whole 'nother person's job.  There truly are not enough hours in the day.

    The Saturday after I sprained my ankle, there I was, laid up in bed, ankle up on a pillow, encased in ice, yet, I'm on my laptop tip tapping away.  (Actually, I got more done than I do in the office.)

    I'm managing to keep a brave face amidst all of it.  The ankle is healing well.  I'm getting stuff done, even if I'm working night and day.  Thankfully school is out and homework is not an issue.  And I'm even keeping up with the church committee I'm on to seek a new pastor, which means I'm looking at resumes for work and I'm looking at resumes for church.

    Let's just hope I don't ask a potential candidate what their beliefs on same-sex marriage are!

    But I had something like an epiphany the other day.  I spend a lot of time wanting a day to myself to write.  To further that other part of myself that dreams of being a published writer.  And that is necessary.

    But that is not what I need right now.

    No, what I need is mental rest.  Not an hour's nap, or reading before bed, or even a single day off.  I need a few days where I don't have to do anything.  Where I'm not reviewing candidates, not editing, not seriously multi-tasking.

    Instead, I need a day where I read all day.  Maybe I surf silly things on the net.  When I even just skim trashy magazines and find out not only what the stars are doing, but who the heck they are!

    I don't see it.  I don't see a day or days on the horizon where that will happen.  The publication has to be finished and edited and proofed and printed.  All the other things that have to get done during the day have to get done.  An assistant has to be selected, and then go through all the corporate gobbeldy-gook, then hired and trained.  The pastor candidates have to be interviewed and visits arranged and hired.

    There's just so much!  

    I know.  I know rest is necessary.  I know you have to take care of yourself and I am a huge proponent of self-care.  But there are times - and this is one of them - when you really don't have options.  And I don't.  I have to keep going until several of the pieces of the puzzle get fitted in to place, so that at least everyone has a good idea of what the picture is.

    Then I can take time for me.  Then, I can have mental rest.  Then I can just be.

    Saturday, June 4, 2011

    Harvest Time

    I would never make it as a farmer.

    While there is a hippy chick inside of my yearning to get out and live organically, make my own  yogurt, hang my laundry on the line, and live off grid, the reality is that I am just not much of a prairie wife.

    That said, I have tried every year for several years now to grow a spring vegetable garden. The first year we were overrun with worms that ate the plants faster than we could pick them.

    The next year, we planted too late and they baked in the sun. I think we had one tomato.

    Despite our lack of success, every year I get the urge to try again.  Quitting has never been a part of my vocabulary.  

    And I'm proud to say, we have something to harvest!  Check it out:

    And there are more ripening! I'm really proud of our progress.

    I like the idea of showing Dylan the process of food growing and thankfully tomatoes are something he really likes.  I've heard parents say that growing vegetables made their kids like the vegetables, but I've heard the same things about kids preparing meals and that certainly hasn't been the case with Dylan.

    That hippy chick in me really would like to live out an Animal, Vegetable, Miracle scenario that my favorite author Barbara Kingsolver describes in her book.  But for now, and maybe forever, this is our success at urban gardening. 

    Tomato anyone?

    Monday, May 30, 2011

    A Medication Vacation

    When you think of a vacation, you usually think of relaxation, maybe a beach or a historical landmark.  There's sun, sand, and postcards.  And someone else makes the bed.

    But that's not the kind of vacation we've been on.

    It happened, really, by chance.  A week ago Saturday, the first day after the last day of school, I had to run off early in the morning for a work event leaving RockStar to bring Dylan to a birthday party.  Who forgot to give him his medication.  By the time I found out about it, it was too late to do anything and, at least, it wasn't like sending him off to a final exam. 

    But still I worried.  A roomful of hyped up kids.  Presents that weren't for him.  Too much excitement.  All of these could be triggers for a major melt down, and neither of us were going to be there.  When my work event finished up, I drove to pick him up with more than a little trepidation.

    Where I found that all was well

    There he was, on top of the water slide, laughing.  Other kids were calling to him and he was interacting easily.  If there had been a meltdown, there was no obvious residual effect.  And when I finally got him (easily!) into the car to head home, he reported that he had had a great time with no conflicts. 

    Well whaddya' know?

    The next day, we decided to go to a festival.  Since Saturday had gone so well, we figured we'd go without meds again.  It wasn't the kind of festival that you have to pay to get into, and since it was just the three of us, we figured that if it didn't go well, we'd just come home.  And while he was a little whiney and not entirely into it, overall, he was well behaved with nothing close to a meltdown. 

    Now, taking a day off from meds is not unheard of for us.  If we have nowhere special to go, we frequently forgo meds.  But when activities with kids are involved, experience has told us that 30mg of methyphenidate will help Dylan maintain self control in social situations. 

    When Dylan was first on medication - which at that time was the Daytrana patch - we routinely skipped it on the weekends, that is until we noticed more and more problems.  One weekend scout camping trip in particular made us reconsider the weekend patch break.  On that trip, Dylan was argumentative non-stop.  He had frequent issues with other kids.  He got mad at us for just about everything, from mosquitos in the tent to losing a treasured stick.  It was not a pleasant experience and we realized that social events go better when he has more self control. 

    It was over Christmas vacation, after disastrous experiences with family staying with us, that we made the decision to make medication a daily event, weekends included. 

    So we were surprised when this impromptu medication vacation started off so well. 

    On Monday, Dylan stayed home with RockStar, with no major plans on the agenda, so it was easy to extend the medication break to a long weekend.  But it was on Tuesday, when Dylan came to work with me, that we really made the leap of faith.  I mean, how pleasant would it be if Dylan lost his cool in my office, around my coworkers.  But, as I said, things were going so well, so we decided to commit to a real vacation.

    He was at work three days - Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday - and was remarkably well behaved all three days.  Polite to my coworkers, if still a tad shy.  He kept himself busy and relatively self-sufficient on our family laptop, watching movies and playing computer games.  One day he even took a break with a visiting coworker who was actually on vacation. 

    Friday, he was again home with RockStar so it was easy to keep the vacation going.  And on Saturday, I was home without much of an agenda, sending the vacation into the beginning of a second week. 

    Yesterday (Sunday) was the first day that we began to see chinks in the armor of Dylan's self control.  Here we were, at another festival (this is New Orleans, so there's a festival almost every weekend) and we were reintroduced to a boy who complains a lot.  Who sees himself at the center of the universe with the rest of us as incompetent servants to his needs. Who wants what he wants when he wants it.  

    It was unfortunately, really.  We had almost begun to forget why we were originally driven to seeking medication.

    Of course, the main reason for seeking help was not to control a self-indulgent little boy.  We wanted him to be able to manage school and all that entails - tests, homework, and social situations. But it was the meltdowns and arguments that really helped us see that this wasn't just a maturity issue, something he would grow out of.  Just before our first visit to the psychologist, we had gotten to a point where Dylan argued absolutely everything.  If you said that it was going to rain, he would argue - vehemently - that it wasn't going to rain.  If you tried to get him to go to bed, he argued, and cried, and demanded to be carried.  Birthday parties were just opportunities ripe for hurt feelings and tears.  We were walking on eggshells and no one was very happy.

    Mainstream media likes to paint the picture of ADHD meds as aspirin for self-indulgent parents who just want to keep their kids quiet.  They make it seem as though it's not only an easy decision, but one that parents go looking for.  But our experience and the experience of any other parents I know of who have kids with ADHD is far different.  Parents agonize over the decision to medicate.  They go to the doctors - psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists, and pediatricians - as a last-ditch effort and they don't want to hear that medication is the best course of action.  They want an alternate answer.  They want to hear that if only you do this, your child will stop behaving that way, and if you feed him that, he'll suddenly be able to pay attention and do well in school. 

    Oftentimes, if they have the means (time, energy, support), parents will try alternatives.  And I've heard that for some kids, alternatives do work.  But they can take all those means - the time, the energy and determination, and the support of all the caregivers and people in your life - to make them work.  Not every parent has these means, and even if they do, sometimes they are in a position where they need more immediate results. 

    Medicating is never, ever an easy decision.  But many times, it works wonders.  

    It isn't easy to find the right med right out of the box.  I've heard that one day, by using brain scans, doctors may be able to determine what the best medication for each child might be.  That would be wonderful.  But in the meantime, the decision to medicate is only made all the more heart wrenching by having to play trial and error.  You feel as though your child is a pediatric science experiment. 

    Our medication vacation will soon end.  Dylan starts his first camp of the summer tomorrow.  It's a chess camp and being able to focus, pay attention, and concentrate is mandatory.  In fact, I won't deny that I'm a little bit nervous that the medication won't be enough, at least not enough to last until 3:00pm in the afternoon. 

    Since this vacation went so well, however, we may consider other vacations.  He starts a 3-week run at another camp next week.  He's familiar with this camp and they keep them pretty active, with a new activity almost every hour.  Maybe the combination of familiarity and frequent change could make it easier for him to maintain that all-important self control  

    We've enjoyed seeing him graze food throughout the day, instead of barely eating lunch, although I can't say if he's gained any weight.  It's been wonderful to have him fall asleep in five minutes without a nightly dose of melatonin.  If these little breaks also keep his body from getting used to the medication, so much the better! 

    Happy summer vacation, y'all!  Hope any breaks you may take (whether they are by car, plane, or of the medication variety), go well for you and your kids. 

    Tuesday, May 24, 2011

    A Boy at Work

    Today was the kind of day that working parents everywhere experience eventually, at least parents who toil in understanding work places. 

    Dylan came to work with me today.

    For some reason, in New Orleans, camps don't generally begin until a week after school gets out.  To make matters worse, camps end about a week before school begins again. 

    It makes me wish I had some entrepreneurial funds that I could invest in holding a camp for just those two weeks.  I'd make a mint...or at least enough to pay for the summer's worth of camp.

    Even though bringing kids in when you're stuck without childcare is acceptable, there's a definite tension involved.  After all, when you're supposed to be focused on work, you're simultaneously trying to entertain a child.  No small task, especially when that child has a limited attention span and likes to ask questions non-stop. 

    Thank God for DVDs! 

    I really can't complain.  Although he sometimes has trouble controlling his impulses, he is usually very well behaved in my office, and that was the case today.   The hard part will be the next two days.  He will be with me again on both of those days and it gets progressively harder to keep him entertained.  What's novel on Day One can get boring by Day Three. 

    I already feel the push:pull between work and home, and days like this only accentuate it.  While on the one hand, I like showing him the positive side of being productive and having a career, it's hard not to long for more relaxed, unstructured time at home with him, on the other. 

    If you have to bring your child to work, here are some items that can make it easier
    1. A laptop with Internet connection;
    2. Snacks;
    3. Access to movies or television (even better if it's on the laptop);
    4. Transportable toys.  Although Dylan is still very interested in playing with toys, it's actually getting harder to find appropriate toys that will travel well;
    5. Reading material.  This is a good idea for many; but unfortunately not very useful with Dylan;
    6. Understanding and - even better - interesting and interested coworkers; 
    7. Someplace else to go.  Maybe a restaurant for lunchtime (we'll do that tomorrow), an atrium (we are out of luck), or someplace interesting like a plant (nope).
    8. Ample patience.  If your child gets bored, it's not his or her fault (after all, you get bored sometimes, too, but at least you get paid for it).
    Finally, I'll add one last necessity:  technological karma - which was not with me today.  It took me half the day to get the Internet to work on my laptop, not to mention the software issues I had on my work computer.  Here's to good karma and an abundance of patience from both of us.

    Friday, May 20, 2011

    Dealing with Evening Meltdowns

    The evening meltdown.  A rotten way to end the day for everyone involved. We’ve had, uh, some experience with these situations, so I’m sharing ideas that have worked for us

    1. Stay extremely calm.

    Harder to do than it is to say, and the worst part is that might not be a quick fix.  Even if I stay as cool as a cucumber, Dylan often gets ramped up initially, I guess because he isn’t getting the strong reaction he was looking for.  But over time, it’s difficult for him to keep up his anger and defiance in the face of unrelenting, monotonous calm.  Just react simply to the situation in front of you and don’t talk about anything that happened earlier or project about later.  Be dispassionate.  No reaction beyond what’s necessary. 

    2. Be very loving.

    Much like being calm, it’s hard to stay mad when someone is only showing love.  And also like being calm, there’s often an initial negative reaction. But most of the time, it’s what he really wants. I’ll ask him if he wants a hug or wants to sit in my lap, and usually he will.  He might still try to argue, but it’s easier to calm him down and even make him laugh.

    3. Give your child a "win."

    It does not have to be what you are arguing over. Dylan has been adamant lately about going for fast food after school and I have been equally adamant about not doing it.  On one occasion recently, by letting him sit in the car and pretend to drive, he felt like he was getting something he wanted.  It wasn’t fast food, but it was an alternative and moved him past the defiance and argument.

    4. Give a little protein.

    ADHD meds are notorious for affecting appetite.  In Dylan’s case, even before he started the meds, he often skipped lunch in order to play more (lunch and recess are combined at his school).  Whatever the cause, I think that not enough food and low blood sugar have a lot to do with his evening melt downs.  So I've started giving him cheese and crackers or something else with a shot of protein in it as soon as he gets home.  It generally helps to even out his mood pretty quickly.

    5. Set firm rules on TV and screen time.

    TV and video/computer games can kick off some meltdowns.  If screen rules are uneven or nonexistent, it’s hard to tell your child it’s time to turn it off if they could do it yesterday.  For us, the rule is no afternoon/evening TV during the week, and exceptions are rare.  You don’t need to be as strict, just set a rule and stick to it, no matter what.  Remember that there are plenty of other things that kids can do with themselves.  In fact, with summer coming up, I’m planning to work up a list of alternative activities with Dylan, then put them in jar so that when he’s “bored” he can pull one out. 

    It’s important to remember that this, too, shall pass.  As awful as the meltdowns can be, they will end eventually.  By minimizing the impact you will hopefully make them end more quickly, but more importantly, you will minimize the emotional fall out for both you and your child. 

    Wednesday, May 18, 2011

    To Award or Not To Award

    Today was 1st - 3rd Grade Awards Day.

    When I went to school, there was no such animal. If you got straight As on your report card, your family might do something special, like take you out for ice cream, but that was about it.  The school provided the report card and it was there that their recognition stopped.

    Times have changed.

    At our school, there are numerous awards given out, with exponentially greater numbers of students receiving each award.  There's the Beta Honor Roll awards that goes to students who maintain a B average.  And the Alpha Honor Roll awards for A average students.  The Principal's Awards go to straight A students who maintain an outstanding behavior record for the entire year.  That to me is an accomplishment worth recognizing, although I worry about the recipients of those awards, too.

    Then there are the citizenship awards for other students who maintain outstanding behavior throughout the year (but without the straight As).  There are awards for perfect attendance and for being on the pep squad.  Two students from each French immersion class received awards (overall French grade and most improved), while a number of non-immersion students also received French awards for their progress in learning the language.  There are art and music awards, and an overall band award.  Finally, each teacher is permitted to select one student for their "Husky Paw" award, to recognize someone who may not particularly shine academically or otherwise fit in one of the categories.

    Despite all of these awards, there are always a few students - merely a handful - who receive no awards at all.  My heart breaks for them.

    I understand that the school wants to reward effort and to motivate students who have ability but just haven't made it to the next level.  But to me, the awards process singles out these remaining students and imprints them with failure.

    That said, the awards program was kind to Dylan this year.  In first grade, at our first awards program, both of us went into it having no idea what to expect.  They gave out the awards in a little different order that year and Dylan sat there watching student after student get up to receive an award.  By the time he finally did receive one, my emotional guy was in tears. 

    This year, Dylan earned an award within the first few minutes, recognizing his B average.  He went on to get a medal for citizenship and a certificate for his participation in chorus.  But the most exciting moment came when he received a Husky Paw reward from the music teacher, recognizing his enthusiasm in music.  It was a very special moment for him...and for me!

    with all of his awards

    Should they give out all these awards?  I don't know.  I worry about the kids who receive none.  I worry about the Principal's Award winners who build up their expectations so high so young. That's a lot to maintain over the next dozen or years or so.  I worry about the kids in the middle who'll think they are doing enough because they got a medal, any medal.  And I worry that all the kids will assume that if you show up and smile you'll always get a reward.

    For Dylan, it works.  As the kid who will never be the brightest or the fastest, he needs recognition to keep him going.  And so far, he's not content, saying for the third year in a row that he wants to "win" the Principal's Award.  And therein lies the rub: teaching him that these awards are solely a reflection of the work he puts in, and not a competition or popularity contest.