Sassy Pants First Day of Middle School

Well – Sassy Pants went off to middle school today and my mind has been on overdrive. I am glad school is back in session. My sanity has really been tested this summer. Lots of drama and no vacation equals insomnia, anxiety, twitching, snapping, and under eye baggage. “School” on the surface is a good thing. I’ve sent my daughter off to her first day of middle school to get educated and socialized. But when you dig deeper, school is not so great. It is filled with young people making bad choices and being mean to one another. Cliques. Mean girls. Bad teachers. Stress. Vending machines. What have I done?

I should add that Sari has only ever had exceptional teachers. But I know bad ones are out there and I was letting my hysteria run its course.

My Sari is an individual. Which I like. But she also has low self esteem which makes her a follower sometimes and vulnerable to the backlash she will get for not liking the same clothes and music as the other girls. She gets lonely and wishes to be more accepted but she doesn’t want to pretend to be something she is not in order for that to happen. I get it. I really really do. I love her sassiness and uniqueness, but I want people to be nice to her. Even the ones who suck and would judge her for being different than them. I don’t want her to feel lonely.

Sassy Pants is very against labels. I once attempted to start a discussion about a guy we saw downtown. He had white contacts in and some crazy monster movie hair. I wasn’t judging at all – I sincerely wondered if he was in character for something or if this was his every day look. Pantsy threw a fit and told me she was disappointed to see me being judgmental.

With the same curiosity, though, I asked her, “What would you call your look?” I got the usual – you can’t put me in a box response. I told her I wanted to understand it better so that I could confidently pick up clothes and accessories if I’m out and see a good deal on something she’d like. She said “fine then. I am skate punk rock emo goth artist.” Okay then. Shopping just… got… easier?

Although it was true that I wanted to understand what she liked so that I could help her perfect her look,  I also wanted to try and understand how SHE saw herself so that I could keep a look out for any red flags. All the black clothes and her appreciation of creepy music and scary movies, even though her demeanor is for the most part cheerful and sunny, has me on alert for potential trouble down the road.

No I absolutely do not think that all emo kids are cutters or that all goths want to commit suicide. I had similar tastes when I was a kid. And I think some of her looks are really cute. I actually got her to pair a plaid skirt with a graphic tee shirt – to add a little femininity to what she’s got going on – and she surprised herself by loving it. But I also know that, alternative scene of the moment aside, adopted kids and kids who have suffered trauma are prone to depression and dark periods. As a parent I want to be as aware as I can of what’s going on with her and how she’s feeling. I don’t intend to ever try to “change” her as she comes of age and tries to figure out who she is, where she fits in, and why other families didn’t want her. But I’ll be there to guide her, listen, and be a safety net as she blossoms. I’m not expecting the worst by any means, but my eyes are wide open.

Unfortunately society isn’t as kind. I know that I have sent her off to school today where many of her girly girlfriends from last year will snub her today. They started calling her “goth” at the end of last year as her pink and purples changed to dark colors and skateboard styles.

I read an article today about kids and goths and such. A commentor said that he would rather see a “knocked up teenager” in school than any kind of alternative kid. His explanation was that the pregnant teenager represented the beginning of a new life, while the goth/emo/etc. kid was ruining hers. It occurred to me then… Is it more socially acceptable to be pregnant in school, or even a mean girl, than it is to be artistic and different?

And I know Sari. She will get in the car smiling and say, “Great!” when I ask her how school was, because she wants me to be happy. Then she will cry it out in the night and start fresh and hopeful the next day.

I suppose I do sound kind of negative as I read this back. But she has been subject to some pretty intense bullying the last couple of years, and that was just based on her unique views of the world when she was still a little pink and girly. Middle school, for better or worse, is a bigger place, and she’ll have access to more diversity. Right? This is a good thing I think. It’s almost time to pick her. up. I’m excited!

If you could look back and label yourself by today’s buzz words, what would you be? Prep? Skate punk? Emo? Goth? Scene? Nerdy? How did you fit in?

My ADHD School Struggles: One Year Later

At the beginning of the 2008  school year I got more aggressive on behalf of my Son who struggles with severe ADHD and was having a tough time in school.  At the time he was entering 7th grade and I knew we were running out of time to find successful strategies for him before he heads to the high school.  6th grade was terrible. 7th was stressful but a huge improvement.  So far 8th grade is even better.

What is responsible for the improvements? Finally finding the right ADHD treatment for us, and the change from a 504 to an IEP at school.

With regards to treatment we have been experimenting with medications and dosages for years. We finally found the one that allows him to best focus at school but still allows him to have an appetite and sleep at night.

Despite our struggles in school, all the school would do for my son is qualify him for a 504.  Basically a 504 mandates the removal of potential barriers in the student’s education but, unlike the IEP,  does not provide any special tools or assistance.  In addition to even light amounts of homework taking hours to do after school, Andrew struggled inside the classroom.  After staying up all night doing his homework, he would get nervous and distracted and either forget to pull it out of his backpack for each class, or stuff it in his desk while the other kids were passing forward or dropping on the teacher’s desk.  During timed tests he would drift off.  Classroom distractions prevented him from hearing much of the teacher’s instruction. 6th grade resulted in many D’s, E’s, tears, confrontation, and eventually a mama meltdown at school.

In 7th grade I started off much more firm and prepared, and demanded a meeting and walked in with my list of demands.  I could tell the new team of teachers and support had already drawn their conclusions about me, based on communications with the previous team. Regardless, I was able to convince them that the 504 wasn’t working and the IEP is what we needed.  There was still a lot of struggle at home at homework time and on behalf of the teachers to help him remember to turn things in and stay focused during class, but his grades soared. And the teachers slowly came around and understood that Andrew was facing challenges, not being a slacker.

As the first marking period of 8th grade comes to an end, our biggest struggle seems to be getting him to sit still long enough to do his homework after school, since his medication is wearing off. During school, however, thanks to just a few strategies put in place in the classroom and Andrew’s new found confidence in his abilities and relationships with teachers, he has made improvements beyond my expectations.

Age and maturity has a lot to do with this I am sure. “He will grow out of some of it” is something I have heard a lot over the last five years but had a hard time believing and counting on because we had no control over when or if that would happen.  What we did have control over is working with his doctor to make sure he was taking the right medication and working with the school until we found the strategies that worked for him.

Lunch Time Challenges

  hot-lunch.jpg         

How can you be sure your kids are getting the proper nutrition throughout the day when you send them off to school?  As they get older no one checks to make sure they’re eating anymore.  They could be flushing their sandwiches down the toilet for fun and giving their pudding to a girl they want to impress.  Nobody cares.  I am so glad for school to start back up and for all the relief that this time of year brings.  But now it’s time to worry about a whole new set of issues.  Eating lunch is a big concern for me.  Why do I get so upset and what am I going to do about it?  I am glad you asked!

My Son is 12 and he weighs 62 lbs.  He’s down from 64 lbs at his last physical. My Daughter is 8 and in the 90th percentile at 78lbs.  There is only an inch difference in height between them, despite the 4 years.

My Daughter loves lunch time.  She has been crazy about it ever since the first day of kindergarten when she kept interrupting the teacher asking if it was lunch time because she was real excited about busting out her new Scooby Doo lunch box.  She buys the lunch and, until I put restrictions on her account, bought many of the “quarter extras” available to her such as cookies, cake, ice cream, Sunny Delight, etc.  At the elementary level there are no long lines to wait and plenty of time to enjoy all her food. 

Middle School, however, is different.  The lines are long and the time is short.  My Son complains that if he waits in line for a hot lunch he barely has time to eat it, much less socialize afterward.  Sometimes he grabs something small like a pretzel out of the snack line but the problem is his ADHD medicine is in full effect around the lunch hour not only keeping him focused but killing his appetite.  He is not hungry so there is just no motivation to eat.  He is too anxious to find an open chess table and a willing opponent.

The answer is simple, right?  Make cold lunches.  I got to a point last year, though, where I thought “if he isn’t eating anyway, it is wasteful to make him lunch”.  Plus I was more rattled last year in general and probably looking for an excuse remove “pack lunches” from my daily routine.  So I filled up his account with money assuming he would eat when he was hungry.  Like that old attitude, “it ain’t gonna kill him to miss a meal.  If he’s hungry he’ll wait it line.” 

Bad Mom.

Obviously it is hurting him because he is losing weight rather than gaining.  So cold lunch it is.  It is also time to customize their lunches.  Maybe I wrong to ever be feeding them matching lunches, considering their difference in age.  But the similarity in their size through me off, I guess.

So how do I ensure that he eats his lunch at school? Realize that I can’t and come up with a plan  for getting in the daily necessities.

Our doctor’s appointment was a great lead into a dialogue about eating in general.  She told him that he is almost 13 years old and he looks like he is 8.  (Yikes! Harsh! We usually AVOID those comments!)  She went on to make it clear to him that he is as small as he is not because he is meant to be but because he chooses to be. 

The Langston Food Summit of 2008 was eye opening and productive.

We identified that he is most hungry first thing in the morning and ravenous at night.  Duh!  He skimps on lunch and his meds are worn off by late afternoon.  He is up all night snacking on the wrong things and tearing up the kitchen.  We came up with a simple and encouraging plan.

  • Have a bigger breakfast but don’t simply overindulge on multiple bowls of sugary cereal.  Add a piece of fruit, boiled egg, and raisin toast. (these are from his suggested foods)
  • Pack a small, simple lunch of things that are fast and easy to eat so that he is more likely to eat while socializing, even though he isn’t hungry.  He said he would love celery sticks and peanut butter, a granola bar, and a Slim Jim or something similar.  Sounds more like a snack than a meal right?  That’s okay.  It is more than he was eating before and it really is just a snack.  Read on.
  • Enjoy a big family dinner.  He is a great eater at dinner time, devouring a big salad and pasta or the like.  We eat early because Hubby gets home at 3 or 4pm which is great because having not had much lunch, my Son is usually famished by this time as meds have worn off a bit.
  • Here’s our secret weapon.  A fourth meal around 7pm.  This is usually the time everyone gets a scoop of ice cream or mini ice cream sandwich if homework is done and attitudes are good.  He will still get that reward of course, but first he will have a can of Chef Boyardee and a cucumber or something similar.   

I love Chef Boyardee and mac & cheese and all those convenient dinner helpers now that I serve them as the side dish to big salads and crunchy veggie main courses.  For better or worse, this combination is satisfying to him so he can stop snacking and I can close the kitchen at 8:30 and be confident it will not be covered in peanut butter, jelly, toast crumbs, with feet marks on the counters, when I get up in the morning.

I came to see that I was worrying too  much about this one meal of the day that I couldn’t control and decided to turn it into a somewhat balanced snack.  I have plenty of time after school to make sure he gets his proper nutritional allowances for the day.

As for my Daughter, I received a call that first day of kindergarten being notified that after a morning filled of interrupting the class asking, “is it time yet?” she suddenly disappeared.  She was found underneath her desk with her lunch spread out like a picnic, enjoying.  Things have never really changed. :-)

I hope I was able to get you thinking about ways to solve your eating challenges at home and lunch time.  I would love to hear more tips from all of you, too.  So if you have any favorite strategies, please share!

Thanks to a la corey  at Flickr for the hot lunch photo!