No “Back To School” For Us

As America returns to school this week, I’m sitting here feeling conflicted. Anxious. Sad, even. Maybe it’s because I’m still new at this – my oldest is six starting first grade and the younger is about to turn five and starting Kinder.

Homeschool is awesome for so many reasons, right? But a few times a year, it gets me feeling unsure. There are no first day photos or class pictures, no need for new clothes or backpacks, no hundred days activities or “crazy hair” days, no anxiety to start something new without mom and no “first day jitters” that transform into “excited to go back tomorrow” butterflies.

The doubt sets in on important days like this. The doubt that maybe I’m doing the wrong thing. I feel guilty for taking away the experience of school from them – when they tell me they wish they had a bus to ride and a teacher who isn’t me, a desk and recess at the “yellow park inside the school fence”, I wonder if I’m just being selfish.

This week, while all their friends are excitedly awaiting a new life in a new place with new friends and teachers, most of them walking into their new rooms for the first time right this second as I type, we just keep doing the same things we’ve been doing and hope our friends don’t forget us while they are off on their new adventures.

Sure, we might go out in the front yard and take a picture when we start “officially” working on the new school year, but it’s not quite the same, right? Yes, it’s awesome that we have personalized curriculum based on things they actually really love so that learning can happen organically instead of being forced on them by means that will make them hate the process. It’s also incredible that they can attend functions throughout the day and take breaks when they need them, not when they are scheduled. It’s amazing that we can do our reading by doing chalk rubbings at the 100+ year old cemetery or take walks in the park to learn about nature or do word and letter scavenger hunts at Disneyland. It’s great to incorporate their favorite stories into their actual book-work so it’s more fun for them. It’s totally fun to build a curriculum based on what we are already doing that month so they don’t get bored.

All of this and so much more is wonderful, but when my daughter asks where her best friend is today and why can’t she come over and I have to tell her it’s because she’s at school, I’m met with tears – like, giant, sobbing tears – asking why she can’t go with her to her new school and when the only reason I have that isn’t a lie is “because I don’t want you to”, I begin to doubt myself.

I mean, yes. There is more than “because I don’t want you to” and I don’t actually say that to her – what I DO say is, “because honey, we do school at home.” There’s also the part about how I don’t agree with behavior charts and forcing a young child to “sit and attend” by age 5. I don’t agree with the “no hugs” policy instead of teaching children that compassion and affection is a GOOD thing. There’s also the bit about frustrated teachers who withhold recess from children with ADHD, making the situation even worse and the part about how doing your best is so that you can be better than others, not about being the best you can be and the part about how, when you boil it all down, school is more about competition and grades than learning and teamwork. There are plenty of other reasons, too, and I try my hardest to remember them in times like this. The reasons why, even though it is stressful, challenging in ways I never even realized, it’s worth it. But, when they both look at me with those giant, tear-filled eyes begging me to be with their friends, and angrily saying things like, “you just don’t want us to have fun and go to school” it’s so hard not to question everything.

I remind them; friends and recess are not the reason to want to go to school. That’s a bonus, sure, but school is for work, and learning, and sitting and writing and doing math and science. It’s NOT for playing. You can sometimes play there, too, but that’s not what it is for and if you want to play when you should be doing work, you get in trouble. We can do all the fun learning things they do- AND more, here at home – and then ALSO go play with friends! When I say that, I sound excited, but inside… I worry, I feel bad for them and I feel guilty for wanting to take them away from something that I know they’d enjoy, even though I truly believe the reasons I am doing this.

We won’t “officially” start our new year until the first week of September and I plan to do “not first day of school” photos, they’ll still fill out the first day of school questionnaires and draw pictures of themselves and talk about what they did this summer. I’m in the process of buying curriculum tools, going through what I have to decide what I still need, and I’m getting everything ready. I’m saving money to join the HSLDA, I’m on the “teacherspayteachers.com” page and Pintrest almost every day looking for printouts, class decoration ideas, everything I can find to help make their experience a positive one, one that they can be proud of and look back on with joy.

Will it be enough? Will they look back on this time in their lives with anger that I kept them from something they wanted? Will they see the benefits and appreciate the sacrifices we have had to make as a family to pull it off? I can only hope and do my best. In the mean time, I’ll be planning some “not back to school” day activities to make everyone feel a little better.

Do all homeschool moms feel this way? What are some ways you fight that feeling? What “not back to school” activities do you do to help your children transition without conflict?

Not Just A Haircut

The Padawan has been asking for the last 5-6 months about cutting his hair. I told him in February, “let’s wait till March”.
In March, he didn’t ask. I asked him, but said he liked his hair and didn’t want to cut it. In April, he said once again, “I want to cut it all off” – I said, “let’s wait till after Ren-Faire, so you can be a pirate. We’ll cut it in the summer”. Time rolled forward, we got distracted by spring and summer activities. It didn’t come up, so I didn’t ask. He started asking again a few weeks ago. He said the other boys at the park all had short hair and said they thought he was a girl.
IMG_7617
I have always tried to reenforce that others’ opinions don’t matter nearly as much as how he feels inside. If he likes it, he can keep it long. If he doesn’t, he can cut it. It has always been up to him. I ask – “do you like your long hair?” The answer has, up to this point, always a “yes”. Always.
But, the more time passes and the more others’ opinions and loaded questions like, “don’t you think he’d enjoy having short hair?” are placed in front of him, the whole situation has made him super self-conscious about it. To the point where he now can’t stand the hair he loved and defended just a few weeks ago. Less than six week ago in fact, he was telling me, “I love my hair, it’s special to me and no one else has it. It protects me and don’t cut it.”
The decision to cut it has always been in his hands, once I was certain he really wanted it.
I asked him on Sunday if he wanted to cut it. He said yes. There was a different quality in his answer. A solid sure-ness I’d not heard before. I asked again, “you want it gone?”
“Yes” he said.
“For sure?” I asked.
A clear, confident, no question or second thought “Yes.”is how he replied. The kind of “yes” that is a full sentence wrapped up in one word.
It was time and I couldn’t say no.
So, we did and now it’s done.
Two feet of hair. Gone. He was absolutely ecstatic and has been every day since. He wakes up every morning and runs to the mirror to check, making sure it’s still short. He giggles and squeals with joy like he’s opening a new gift every morning.
He says “the boys will like me now and not think I’m a girl”.
This hurts my heart. I mean, I’m okay with him cutting his hair because he wants short hair, but cutting hit because he cares about what others think makes me sad. I know, at least in part, it’s because every time a boy thinks he’s a girl, it’s reenforced with comments like, “well, if you had boy hair no one would think you were a girl”. So, if I’m honest, I have to admit that even though I am happy to have honored his wishes and I am happy that he is happy, I am still mourning this situation as a whole. It’s like if someone stopped wearing their favorite shirt because someone at school kept telling them it was stupid. It’s someone who changes their interests and ideals simply to fit in, denying their true selves.
It’s peer pressure, not a real choice. I feel sad that he is only 6 and has already done something to conform to make others happy. And again, YAY that he is happy… I just wish I’d felt it really was his choice and not others’ expectations manipulating his perception.
As I was feeling down about all this, a friend of mine said something to me that I hadn’t even considered. She walked up and congratulated me on this incredibly momentous occasion.
“Um… thanks? I’m just glad he likes it” I said, and smiled.
I didn’t understand.
She continued to remind me, as a child with autism, my son recognized a social norm.
She stopped for a second to let that sink in.
It didn’t and I was feeling like I was missing something…
She continued by pointing out that he understood he was outside of that norm and wanted to take steps to be part of it.
Then, she stood back a moment with an expression that seemed to say, “OMG don’t you get how amazing this is!?”
I let that new perspective wash over me. I had never thought of it that way… I railed against the entire situation because I didn’t want him to feel like he was bowing to a social norm when I hadn’t even recognized the miracle of him recognizing a social norm!!
I had to fight my urge to just start bawling. She was right-that is huge. So, so huge!
As much as it is a sign of him growing up and gaining his own opinions, (which is hard, I think, for any mama to some extent) it’s also a sign that he is developing in ways we weren’t sure if he was going to.
It is rare for a child with autism to recognize that social norms even exist and here mine is, not only seeing that norm, but recognizing where he was in relation to it, and asking to take specific measures to bring himself closer to it.
She congratulated me. She hugged me as tried not to cry, and as she apologized for making me want to cry, she said just needed me to see how beautiful this moment really was. As much as it might make my heart ache for so many reasons… it truly is a beautiful moment, showing how far he has moved forward in this last year. She wanted to make sure I saw that, through the challenge of letting go of my own wants to give him what he needed. What he needed in this moment, was a haircut.
This moment is so much more than just “a haircut”. It’s a door opening into a whole new phase of life and I’ll admit, I’m not doing super great with it from a mama perspective.
It’s proof that we have shifted. Gone is the infant and toddler phase, the pre-school phase… our family is officially stepping into an entirely new season of our lives.
It’s terrible. It’s beautiful. It’s scary as hell and incredibly exciting all at once. I love everything about right now as much as I hate it. I want to be selfish and withhold the world from him in the exact same moment I want to show him ALL THE THINGS.
I cannot wait to see what happens next for this beautiful, young spirit who has so blessed me by being my son. I have learned, and will continue to learn from him, maybe even more than I could ever hope to teach. I am in awe of him every day and so grateful for each moment. Onward and upward, as they say… into the wild, into the crazy, open blue sky.

Can I Carry You?
Brad Anderson

I guess that I can hold you
one more time before you grow
and tell you that I love you
so that you will always know.
Please let me tie your shoe again.
One day you’ll tie your own.
And when you think back to this time
I hope it’s love I’ve shown.
Can I help you put your coat on?
Can I please cut up your meat?
Can I pull you in the wagon?
Can I pick you out a treat?
One day you might just care for me,
so let me care for you.
I want to be a part
of every little thing you do.
Tonight could I please wash your hair?
Can I put toys in the bath?
Can I help you count your small ten toes
before I teach you math?
Before you join a baseball team
can I pitch you one more ball?
And one more time can I stand near
to make sure you don’t fall?
Let’s take another space-ship ride
Up to the Planet Zoor.
Before our Cardboard Rocket
doesn’t fit us anymore.
Please let me help you up the hill.
while you’re still too small to climb.
And let me read you stories
while you’re young and have the time.
I know the day will come
when you will do these things alone.
Will you recall the shoulder rides
and all the balls we’ve thrown?
I want you to grow stronger
than your Dad could ever be.
And when you find success
there will be no soul more proud than me.
So will you let me carry you?
One day you’ll walk alone.
I cannot bear to miss one day
from now until you’ve grown.

Source: https://www.familyfriendpoems.com/poem/one-last-time

Cars 3 – The Track Is For Everyone!

We saw Cars 3 on Father’s Day.

(**warning** Hints of plot spoilers) Now, this isn’t a movie review post and I’m not going to get into the details outside this recommendation: For those who are skeptical because they didn’t much care for #2, give this one a shot. It takes us back to the original magic. The heart, the passion and the roots laid down in the first movie have all come to flower in this gorgeous story. It had me tearing up through a great deal of it and it was absolutely worth seeing.

That’s all I’m going to say about it becuase today, I want to share something even more beautiful than the story itself.

My daughter, for the first time in her almost five years of being alive, connected in a way I’d never seen her do with the Cars franchise. Before Cars 3, sure- she liked the movies, but she rarely asked to watch them and didn’t have much interest in playing with the toys. Occasionally, she’d steal the Sally, ‘Mater and Lightening from her brother’s toy boxes and have them go down her princess pony slide or drive around with her animals, but that was about it.

This time, before the movie was even over I could tell it was different. To test a theory, we went to Toys-R-Us after and I told them both they could have one toy under $20. She went through that entire store, through all the isles of her favorite, sparkly, pretty, pony, fairy, magic character friends and do you know what she picked? She put about 20 things into the cart and when it came time to make a final decision and put all but one back, guess which one she chose to keep? Out of everything that glittered, sang and literally “mewed” at her?

She picked a car. A plain looking, yellow car. No glitter, no sparkles, no magic… except for her story.

Her name is Cruz Ramirez and she is a hometown girl with a story not unlike many of ours – she had big dreams till too many people told her they would never come true, so she settled… Until she got a little push to believe in herself.

CARS 3
Cruz Ramirez (voice of Cristela Alonzo)
Cruz Ramirez is a sunny-but-fierce unconventional trainer at the Rust-eze Racing Center. She expertly arms the team’s talented rookies with cutting-edge tools to tear up the track—but she nearly stalls when her longtime idol Lightning McQueen shows up. While she’d love to help him find his way back to the top, she knows the competition is faster than ever, and victory is all about speed—or is it?
©2016 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

My daughter chose this car because (her words); “she’s a girl” she’s “as awesome as Lightening” and “she wins!”. With that, I realized something that I’d only ever believed in theory – Gender representation matters. It matters so much more than even I thought… until that day. I get it now, how important it really is, in a way I never did before. It’s weird, right? I mean, sure we know it matters, but how many times have we actually seen the moment of it making a difference in a young girl’s life that girls are represented in a positive, powerful way? Well, this was my moment.

It matters when girls win. It matters when girls are just as awesome as the boys, doing the same things the boys are doing. Sure, we also like it when girls kick butt doing things girls do best and we cheer them on and they inspire us, but when girls can do awesome things in the venues where boys typically shine, or in venues where very few girls ever even go, it’s even MORE exciting.

This is a real-life moment, not a meme or a story from some hardcore, point to prove, left-wing journalist about female representation. This is me, I’m just a mom, pretty average, and we’re talking about my own daughter and how I saw with my own eyes just how valuable that representation can be.

Some people may say, “well – maybe she just likes it more becuase she’s older now and she gets it” and I’ve had someone respond to this situation with, “she’d probably have the same reaction if it were a boy car, it was a good movie!”.

Eeeehhh …maybe.

When you ask her what her favorite part of that movie is, it directly correlates to the fact that Cruz is a girl car, doing things only boy cars have ever done before. The story is exciting and rich and fun, but once you realize what is going to happen, it goes from “just a cute, sweet movie” to a genuinely inspiring, girl-power story and I, for one, am certain my preschool daughter picked up on that.

If a four year old child understands the value of girls winning at boy sports, why is it such a challenge for grown ups? I began to think about this in depth this week and I have some thoughts.

The sociopolitical air is ripe with opinions about gender equality, gender roles and how much of these standards we should be instilling in our children. The conversations can get vicious. The beliefs that “boys and girls should learn and play with things specific to their genders” and “boys and girls should be free to explore, learn and play with whatever they feel like” sit on opposing sides of a deep divide and without getting too far into the political debate, I want to simply present this anecdotal story as evidence that just maybe equal representation actually IS important.

Don’t we celebrate fathers when they “step up” and do the same work mothers do? Don’t we honor men when they clean the house? Don’t we praise young men and teen boys when they opt to take classes like sewing, poetry and art? Similarly, don’t we revere women who have done the work men do? Isn’t “Rosy the Riveter” one of thee most iconic and inspiring images of “girl power” in the modern, male-driven workforce, for both genders? Don’t we idolize characters like Lara Croft and Ripley and Sarah Connor because they are not “meek women” afraid to pick up a “man’s weapon” and fight?

Yes, we do. Because it’s wonderful when we see people -both men and women- unafraid to get the work done, to live their dreams, to champion forward in ways that inspire others to be awesome no matter what.

If a preschool child who has yet to understand the politics behind a concept like feminism can feel a new connection to a story she never cared about simply because of a difference in gender in a main character, can we still ignore the value of this movement to remind the world that women can do anything they want to do?

Whatever your answer is, it’s going to be based on your personal beliefs, core values and your experience. All I can say is, from now on, my answer is a resounding “no!” and with that “no”, comes a promise that I will not ignore that value again.

New Discoveries in Sensory Processing

So, back maybe 6 months ago, it was determined that the Padawan, having been diagnosed with autism and ADHD, also had something called a peripheral motor disfunction.

All I was told at the time was that this meant his brain wasn’t “speaking” to various parts of his body. Specifically, I had been told that his brain couldn’t feel his abdomen/pelvic region or his hands.

A specialist was recommended, and she wasn’t covered by insurance. It took a long time to afford it, but we finally got to take him to the first appointment/evaluation two weeks ago.
After spending an hour with him and taking him through various exercises, everything from writing his name, to copying pictures to throwing balls and standing on one foot, she had a clear idea of what was going on.
She told me he is highly intelligent but suffering with overactive muscles (constant tension, even when in a state of rest) and compensating for the lack of control through his behaviors. This constant state of tension creates such a major distraction in the brain, to the point where his mind is using more of it’s available resource and energy helping him function through the basic, mundane tasks of his day than most people.
She explained how he switches off certain parts of awareness to focus on something, so that his energy can be siphoned to the topic of interest. This is why he can’t do many things that come naturally to others. For example – he cannot yet hold a writing utensil with the “pinching” method for more than a few moments. This is why, she said, occupational therapy was unsuccessful. His problem isn’t in the motor function itself, the problem is in how the brain speaks to the muscle groups due to the tension and lack of awareness of that specific part of the body.
He has become highly creative and has an accelerated level of creativity and imagination for his age. She said this is, in part at least, because his brain has learned to compensate for his lack of awareness by switching from right to left brain dominance when needed. This is also why he has no left/right awareness or dominance. Meaning, he switches from his left to his right hand indiscriminately and often confuses left from right. This is also why he has a hard time throwing balls or frisbees or catching ANYthing, no matter how close he is to it. This is why he has difficulty reading, writing or processing any written concepts of any kind.
Everything that he is learning, he’s having to learn through what she called a “splintered pathway” of understanding. She explained it this way because it’s not a direct path – not a straight line from stimulus to understanding. She said it’s more like a lightening bolt, with many, sharp points along the way and at each point, there is an opportunity for the information to be lost, changed, or forgotten. Every time the information reaches a point on the lightening bolt, it has to be redirected back on track, so there are literally hundreds of opportunities for the data to be lost along the way!
It’s like having to race through your busiest day full of commitments to a bunch of different people, after having not slept in 3 days, and feeling like if you don’t do everything perfectly, the world will literally end. She said… that’s how he is living every day of his life. 
She believes this is why he has no short-term memory, why he is literally the poster-child for ADHD in almost every way, and why he still has pee/poop accidents when he is overwhelmed or hyper-focused on something like playing with friends, watching a movie he’s super into, or playing a video game. She believes most of his behaviors, his lack of control, his impulsive and compulsiveness, his anger and violent outbursts and emotional meltdowns… it’s all stemming from this inability to keep it all together, all the time, and still do things like walk, breathe, eat, listen to people, and basically, just… live.
Now, he may have no short-term memory, but he has tremendous long-term memory! He can remember places he hasn’t been since he was two and three years of age. He can remember soundtracks for movies he saw 1 time. He can remember exactly what you said last week when you got mad and used that word you shouldn’t have used in front of him. I still don’t entirely understand that…
Anyway, to be able to focus on and process what he’s doing when given a task like riding a bike, writing his name or even playing with a friend, he is simultaneously filtering out all the white noise, tension and conflict of stimulus. Information has to be routed in a different way to make it all the way into his brain and since it may be lost along the way, the creative side of his brain often fills in the gaps…. which is why it’s considered “forgetfulness” or it’s assumed he just isn’t paying attention. He IS paying attention and if you say, “hey, did you hear me when I just told you to do this thing I asked you to do?” he will say, “well, yeah…” so it gets super frustrating because yes, he heard you. No, he didn’t forget. No, he didn’t do what you asked. And yes, he’s upset, too, becuase he doesn’t know why he didn’t just do what you wanted.
As a parent, this typically means the kid is being defiant and not listening, not following directions or not complying.
This may not actually be true in his case, so that makes life as a parent… frustrating. (Is there a word that means frustrating at levels like the intensity of the white, hot sun burning your eyes out of their sockets? That’s the level of frustrating this is.)
He often gets angry at “his brain” for being stupid or making the wrong choice when he really did want to do the right thing. It’s heartbreaking when he has a meltdown after being repremaded after the 10th time for not listening and he just breaks, screaming at his “dumb brain” for being evil and making bad decisions.
Yes, this is something he has actually said… many times. He has said, “mom, I am a good guy, but my brain is evil and it makes me do the thing you didn’t want me to do”.
Now, after this, I think I understand what he means by this.
As she was explaining all of this to me, it suddenly reminded me of Jurassic Park. Remember when they had dino DNA that had gaps in it and they filled it in with frog DNA? Well, this is like that, except the DNA strand is the message being sent to the brain that says “mom just asked me to stop yelling for no reason”. That message is rolling along on its way to the brain and at every turn, it’s losing some pieces, creating gaps in the message. That’s when his creative brain kicks in to fill in those empty spaces! Instead of frog DNA, the gaps are filled in with things like Minecraft TNT, Star Wars battle scenes, the soundtrack from Moana or just an image of Rocket the Raccoon with a giant gun screaming at the top of his lungs. All of which roll around in there with the original request to stop yelling and results in, “mom said I should harness my inner Rocket and go find the biggest gun in my room and run around the house screaming with it!”
It also made me think of what happens when we walk through a door and forget what we’re doing once we step into the other room. That’s him – all the time, with every single thing he’s doing in his day, but instead of wondering what he was supposed to do, his creative brain fills in the gaps with some random thing he likes and the original purpose is completely lost. “I was looking for green socks” turns into “I was looking for something that is green and goes on my foot… Things that go on my foot… Oh! I bet I could put this shoe on my head and walk around without it falling off- let me try that 5 times in a row for no reason whatsoever!”
*Sigh*
So, obviously, this is making normal life 10 times harder, (for everyone) making mundane tasks less intuitive and taking twice the energy and effort for him than it would for anyone else… JUST to understand what is going on around him.
As you can imagine, school has been a challenge. We are nearing the end of our first year of homeschool and while I feel he has gained a great deal of skills, he’s not at the level he should be by the end of kindergarten. That really IS okay though, I mean, that is why we chose to do independent homeschool in the first place. His Educational Behavior Therapist told me, almost a year ago, to go slowly, only 3-4 days a week at most, 3 hours max a day, or I’d likely lose him completely and he wouldn’t remember any of it anyway.
Well, the therapist we saw the other day gave me some insight as to why this may be the case:
We already know from his evaluation last year that his primary method of communication is NOT verbal, even though he literally talks nonstop. Talking is not the same as communicating. He communicates with his whole body, through metaphor, through songs, though his hands and feet, through eye rolls and head turns, in addition to the words he says. His is a total-body communicator and you really have to pay attention to get the entire story.
So, with learning, She told me with anything that has to do with language; writing, reading or even math… if it’s on paper and has to be processed visually or a writing utensil is required, it’s not that it’s entirely worthless to teach him, but he may not retain the full concept at all until his brain has a clear pathway to get from A-to-Z.
(I have learned this already and much of our work is done on the computer because of it.)
She said that he will be able to memorize things through repetition so he can commit them to long-term memory, but he’s not really going to have a true understanding until his body and his brain learn to work together.
The effort being exerted through a constant state of tension is taking up like 80% of his brain power with only 20% left to learn with.
She said the fact that he can sound out small words, knows letter names, sounds, can count to 40, knows both 2D and 3D shapes and some basic math shows how intelligent he really is because he has learned all of this over all the noise he has to try and filter through his brain to get it locked in there.
It’s not all hard, though – He is great at creative thinking things! He likes history, science, he’s amazing at the physics puzzles in the game Portal 2, he can understand mathematic concepts and makes up stories, creating recipes in the kitchen, builds entire worlds, empires and battles with his blocks and small toys. He can make anything fun, any interaction a game and every minute of his life, if he is given the freedom to do so, can be turned into an epic journey.
So, the “treatment” to help increase his brain/body awareness is daily exercises. She gave me a bunch of them to do, and we have to do them two times daily; once before he gets out of bed in the morning and before he goes to bed at night. It’s changed our daily process and we are adjusting to this, but so far, it’s been going pretty well.
She even said it’s likely that after a year of this work, if we are super diligent about it and don’t slack off on getting it done, his test results may be entirely different.
She said not to get our hopes up becuase every child is different, but after focusing on this for at least a year, not only should he make significant progress in all areas of his life, but even his diagnosis may change.
Interestingly, she said over 80% of her patients are c-section babies (he was breech and taken via C-Section at 36 1/2 weeks after my water broke). She explained that the experience of the contractions manipulating and pressing against the body as it moves out of the birth canal brings a type of brain and body awareness that cannot be accomplished by any other means. Without it, sometimes children are left without that connection to having ever been triggered the “on” switch.
Clearly, this isn’t the ONLY cause of a deficiency like this, as she does have patients who were born naturally. She said birth trauma, illnesses and other factors can come into play, as well. It’s all still a fairly new science, so the “why” is still out there.
So, yeah – lots of stuff going on. There is a lot to process and many things to work through. I’m hoping this puts us one step closer to helping him feel that he truly has control over his life, his body and his future. I’ll update you on our situation as new situations arise.

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If you have any questions or can share a similar story, please don’t hesitate to respond in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

Disney Junior Dance Party!!

I’ve had to keep this under wraps for TEN DAYS and I am SO relieved my vow of silence is FINALLY over!

We had the extreme pleasure and privilege of getting a sneak peek at the new Disney Junior show in Disney’s California Adventure Park last week. It opens to the public… well, right now, actually… as I type this, the first set of public guests are headed in to see the show for the first time!

Goodbye, Disney Junior Live on Stage!

Since I know many of you were upset by the change, I thought I’d do my best to reassure you… this new show is going to knock those little ruffle socks right off your mini-me’s and have them begging to go back again and again! How do I know? Because that’s exactly what happened!

I have no doubts about it at this point – this show is a winner and I want to share with you all my reasons why!

As many parents were up in arms when it was announced that our Disney Junior show would be leaving, I have to say, I was secretly okay with it. I mean, yeah – it was cute and the puppets were neat, but… meh. The constant same-ness wasn’t magical after a while. It also had a quiet tone, one that didn’t allow preschoolers to actually act like preschoolers. It was only mildly engaging and the show never really connected with the kids after the first few times we saw it. It was like watching a tv show and eventually, they’d get bored half way through. They wanted to get up, move around, and it was a fight to get them to want to pay attention, so we stopped going. I mean, honestly – you know it’s bad when the five year old asks for my phone to WATCH Disney Junior instead of the live stage show while they are right in front of it!

So, when they announced that the old show wasn’t just “leaving” but being replaced, I got super excited. Even more telling – when I told THEM there was a new show… they about flipped out with excitement.

The Padawan and the Princess, dying to see the new show.

So what is it all about?

It’s the “Disney Junior Dance Party!” and from the Disneyland website, we learn:

“You’ll sing, dance, catch bubbles and laugh yourself silly—plus you’ll get to see Sofia the First, Doc McStuffins and Timon in person!”

Sounds fun, right? Here’s some things that make it awesome:

Familiar but New

First off – it is not even a tiny bit the same as the original. I mean, it’s the same stage and building, some familiar characters, but otherwise, it’s completely new. It’s loud, it’s active, it’s exciting, it’s energizing. It’s not the place to go and watch a quiet show while you nurse the baby and get a break from the heat. It’s called a DANCE PARTY and, boy, do they mean it! Your littles can go in there and actually let loose – get wild and crazy and just have a good time with their favorite, familiar characters.

Directly Engaging

It’s totally immersive and interactive in a “zero fourth wall” level, 3-dimensional-experience kind of way. There is snow, bubbles, confetti strings, falling leaves, and not just at the end, either. The DJ is awesome. She WANTS kids to touch her equipment and get involved. She asks them to dance, to get up and move, she is encouraging and engaging. She has a silly friend who makes things even more fun, as she gets the kids in the audience involved in the process of her performance. There are masks, there is video camera action, and encouragement to just let go and do whatever they want.

 Characters

Don’t worry, just becuase they aren’t puppets, doesn’t mean the favorites are not there gracing both the screen and stage, along with some of the newer faces from the Disney Junior line up. They’re presented to the audience in a whole new, magical way and it totally works!

Visibility

Because much of the action takes place on a screen and on stage with full-size characters, every child in the audience can see them clearly and due to the immersion aspect, they feel genuinely part of the process in getting these characters in the room. Meaning, the little shorties won’t have a problem seeing the characters and they will be even MORE excited to see them since they had a hand in getting them there!

Open for Change

The new experience is done in such a way that I think they COULD change out characters fairly easily, if they wanted to. Either way, I suspect that no two performances are going to be exactly alike and that is where it’s at – variety, constant movement and creativity with authentic, magical moments.

Honoring the Spirit of a Child

High energy. Exciting. Moving. Dancing. Running. Laughing. Playing. Basically, everything it is to be a kid is wrapped up in this show and not only honored but recommended. So often, as parents, we find ourselves asking our children to endure experiences that WE think they will enjoy, hoping they do, knowing they’d rather be doing something else. This show is NOT one of those. It directly speaks to small children in their language – fun, bright colors, laughter, dancing, and most importantly; the allowance to play.

Now, this wouldn’t be an honest review without some minor critiques;

Missing Celebrities 

While we loved the characters they chose, there were a few we’d hoped to see who weren’t to be found. We were surprised by this and I felt others were surprised, as well. Specifically, the most popular; no Elena and no PJ Masks. I assume this is due to licensing, not necessarily anyone’s specific choice, but nevertheless, I was surprised.

Sensory Warning

It may have been a wise decision to put some kind of “sensory trigger” notice somewhere for parents with children who are sensitive to sound, lights or become overly anxious in certain social situations. (I’ll be honest – maybe it was there, I just didn’t see it) Yes, I know it says “dance party” right on the door, but that doesn’t mean that a parent will be expecting a larger than life, colorful, loud and smiling stranger to rush right up to their child with a camera. It might be a good idea to just post a general notice as a head’s up. That way, the parents of these special little ones will know to stick to the middle or back of the audience so they are less likely to be put on the spot.

Let them Dance, but Keep them Close

The fact that the characters are SO engaging and encouraging can actually be a little confusing to the small ones (and from what I saw, parents, as well). One minute they are asking kids to get up and move and join them, get closer, etc., then the next, they had ushers telling kids to go back to their parents or sit down, or go behind the lines or don’t get too close to the stage. I totally get why, this is not a criticism regarding their desire to keep people safe – I totally get it. I just think there needs to be a clearer understanding for both parents and littles to know where the barriers are and, in general, a clearer understanding of what they are and are NOT allowed to do to avoid disappointment and confusion. So, parents – let them dance, just keep them close by.

That’s it. The show was stunning and we loved every minute of it. My favorite part was the spinning. (You’ll see when you get there) My daughter is almost five and absolutely believed that her spinning made the characters appear. The look on her face was the very definition of Disney magic and I literally almost cried. (Okay, fine, not almost… I totally cried.)

Here are a few photos:

A spectacular show with fun, dancing, magic and high energy. My children (even the shy, sensory-sensitive one) left the building excited, energized, and loved it. I’m sure you will not be disappointed!

Six-Year-Old Shot After Being Left Alone In A Parking Lot

Oh, wait, no… that’s not the headline. Sorry, THIS is the headline:

“Mississippi Teens Face Murder Charge For 6-Year-Old Boy Shot In Stolen Car”

By now you might have heard about this horrifying and tragic story:

Three teenagers are facing capital murder charges in the shooting death of a 6-year-old Mississippi boy whose body was recovered following a statewide Amber Alert.

Dwan Diondro Wakefield, 17, Byron McBride, 19, and D’Allen Tyreek Washington, 17, were booked on the charges hours after Kingston Frazier’s body was found inside his mother’s stolen car on Thursday, jailhouse records show.

The child’s mother had said that she left her son asleep in her car when she ran into a Jackson Kroger supermarket around 1 a.m. that morning. When she returned, her car and son were gone, state police have said.

The Madison County coroner said the boy had been shot multiple times, conflicting with previous reports that he had been shot once in his head, Mississippi News Now reported.

Kingston Frazer, age 6
Okay this is the stuff of maternal nightmares and I deeply relate to it, especially as I have a six year old son. I’m saddened to hear this story, it rocked me to the core. My heart goes out to this grieving family as they work through such an unspeakable tragedy.
But, there’s more that must be done, don’t you think? More than just prayers and hearts going out…? I know it’s not socially acceptable, but can we please talk about this? You know, the part of the story no one seems to want to talk about? The fact that somehow, someone thought it was okay to leave a six year old in a car, alone, in a parking lot in the middle of the night??
And BEFORE anyone has time to get all crazy on me, claiming I am not offering the grace and compassion needed in a time like this -Please just wait.
I’m not talking about demonizing or blaming the poor mother for this tragic occurrence. I cannot even begin to understand the level of grief she must be coping with and my heart goes out to her. She is nothing but a victim in this and I’d never, ever place blame upon her head.
I AM however, 100% targeting our continuing culture that thinks it’s totally okay to live by a “meh, it’s fine”, lukewarm parenting process. I’m looking at you, moms who sit there at the park chatting it up with your backs to your kids for an hour, assuming, “well, if they need me they can come and get me”. I’m looking at you, moms who think, “I’m just going to the bank and back, the 8 year old will be fine for 20 minutes home alone”. I’m looking at you, moms who laugh at the moms who “force” their kids to hold hands in crowds and you, mom, who says I’m the crazy one for demanding that my child be with me at all times instead of just letting them walk a mile to the park by themselves becuase, “well, they’re 7 and they know the way, so it’s fine, they have to learn to be independent sometime, right?”
The legal age in Mississippi to leave a child home alone is 12. TWICE THE AGE OF THIS CHILD. Now, I don’t know if there is another, separate law about leaving your children unattended in vehicles in public places, but I’m going to guess that if there is such a law, age six is not the recommended age of independence. So, why would a mother decide going to the store at 1am while her sleeping kindergartener is in the backseat of her car? Well, because our culture says “meh, it’s fine”.
We need to admit that this flippant, vacant, naive parenting culture is a bad idea and remind moms that it’s okay to be maternal. It’s okay to be protective. It’s OUR JOB to be 100% aware of what they are doing at all times. Why? Because BAD THINGS HAPPEN!! This is not fairytale land where only bad things happen to “those other people”. They can happen to you. They can happen to me. They can happen to anyone at any time, in any place – and if we think for one freaking second that it’s okay to let our guard down and turn our backs, we are dead wrong. Bad things happen even when you are hand-holding and keeping your eyes on them 24/7, so what makes you think for one moment that watching them LESS intently will be the least bit helpful?
I don’t blame this poor mama… I blame the mamas before her who set the precedent of acceptance with this type of parenting. We (myself included, I’m not perfect) need to stop accepting this “my comfort comes before your needs” as normal and socially okay mothering.
It isn’t. It’s getting our children killed.
Gorillas, alligators, car thieves turned murderers… all examples of why this complacent parenting doesn’t work and yet, most of us (yes even me) sit here crying about feelings and guilt, finger-shaking those who question while scolding, “well you can’t blame the parents”.
Fine. Don’t blame them. But let’s take a long, hard look at where that blame belongs, shall we?
It belongs squarely on top of our own shoulders when we refuse to analyze the culture of absent minded, lukewarm parenting while hiding behind phrases like,”they deserve grace” and “stop judging, you’re not perfect either”. When we refuse to say NO to this; “well kids have to learn sometime” culture, we are helping to create these situations.
So, let’s just stop right now and make the commitment to stop perpetuating it by “hugging it out” with parents who make bad choices. And I don’t mean the choices like this where something tragic happens, I mean before that – before it comes to this. BEFORE the tragedy. Let’s be honest about it. Stop saying “well every family is different, you guys do you how you see fit” and speak up for these tiny souls who cannot speak for themselves. Unless we do, no one else will and the more we make it trendy and to just accept things like this as “well, terrible accidents happen, it’s no one’s fault”, the more things like this will happen.
My deepest regret, love and prayers go out to the mama of this sweet boy and her entire family. I am truly sorry for her loss. But it IS someone’s fault. And moms – that someone is us.
I promise I will not support a culture that makes mothers feel bad for watching over and protecting their babies at all times, at all ages, in every way possible. I promise I will not support a culture who accepts lukewarm parenting as good enough. This is my vow to you, sweet mama.
I know it won’t feel like enough to ease your grief, but maybe – we can start to put an end this once and for all.
What do you think? Am I being too harsh? Is this culture not the cause of situations like this? Let’s talk about it. I’d love your opinions and observations.

Demonizing ADHD

There have been a few articles circulating about ADHD lately and I feel the need to talk about it. Primarily, the overall essence floating around on social media is that “ADHD isn’t real” and that our lives and lifestyles are contributing to a lack of focus – it has nothing to do with any disorder, it’s how a child is raised.

While I do understand a bit of how this can be true having studied in depth the “nature vs. nurture” theory while in school, I also see from my own experience that raising two children less than two years apart in the same home with the same food and the same entertainment, schedules, pets and processes have given me one incredibly creative and highly intelligent child with autism and ADHD and another who is ALSO very bright, but appears to be completely normal.

One of the articles I see circulating the social media gauntlet is one discussing how a Texas school “cured” ADHD. The sharp, nearly venomous article pretty much scolds all parents for believing in something as absurd as ADHD when clearly it’s only becuase “big pharma” wants their money. It talks about how they were able to drastically reduce their student’s fidgets and enhance their focus during class with just a “few simple” changes. And THIS means they have “cured” ADHD. Hrmm…. (insert side-eye and a raised eyebrow here…)

While I agree that physical activity, a decrease in simple sugars and a greater allowance for play can decrease some of the obvious markers of ADHD, making these easy changes also decreases the obvious markers of a bored and overstimulated, over-sugared child no matter what is going on inside their brain on a daily basis. To me, reducing ADHD to a series of simple symptoms that literally EVERY SINGLE CHILD experiences (hyperactivity, lack of focus, quick to distraction, easily bored, fidgety and bouncy) is exactly what creates these gross stereotypes and misinformation that cause that demonization to begin with.

ADHD is NOT just about a child who has a hard time sitting still. It’s not just about the child who bounces his knee all afternoon or who daydreams and doodles on his paper during a lecture. It’s more than that and by reducing the complexity of the disorder to these simple, typical “child” behaviors, we are missing the point and the mark entirely.

Another article floating around that I feel is most destructive discusses the viewpoint of a world-renowned doctor. He has several qualifications and letters behind his name that make him the upmost authority on this subject, so folks are going to listen to him. In fact, there is practically no higher authority on this subject due to his tenure at Harvard and the fact he’s considered one of the best since Jung (if you don’t know your psych celebs, that’s kind of a big deal). So, when Jerome Kagan speaks, his word is law to many in the business.

The article features his thoughts on this matter which are:

“…(ADHD) is an invention. Every child who’s not doing well in school is sent to see a pediatrician, and the pediatrician says: “It’s ADHD; here’s Ritalin.” In fact, 90 percent of these 5.4 million (ADHD-diagnosed) kids don’t have an abnormal dopamine metabolism. The problem is, if a drug is available to doctors, they’ll make the corresponding diagnosis.” 

Hrm… The only thing I have a problem with here is the misrepresentation of the article and this doctor’s analysis. Once you get to the bottom, you see he’s not really saying, “there’s no such thing as ADHD”, he’s saying, ADHD is over-diagnosed and doctors are treating symptoms instead of evaluating causes.

Those are two very different statements.

He also complains that doctors are blanket-diagnosing children by using a blanket-statement that all children are evaluated when they do poorly in school. That may largely be the case, but not in all cases and not in our case at all. Liam’s evaluation appointment was made 2 months before he went into school because it was clear at a young age his brain was working on an entirely different level from most other kids his age.

I’m also noticing his assumption that prescribing medication is a prime-motivator, which may be the case for others, but was not for us, either. Liam was evaluated and diagnosed without medication coming up as an option even once. Not even by Kaiser when we had him evaluated there before we had a private behaviorist follow up with a second opinion.

The diagnosis was followed by a series of changes we could make in our home, including pulling him from public education, allowing him to learn the way his mind received information most effectively, working on diet, exercise, various therapy options… never medication.

Most of all, I don’t like the article saying he thinks ADHD a hoax. This implies that parents who KNOW their children have developmental/behavior issues that affect their ability to learn are being taken for a ride and probably idiots who wear tinfoil hats. It immediately discredits parents and therapists who use this diagnosis.

Instead of calling ADHD a hoax, let’s say what is actually going on, what he actually does explain in the article; that ADHD is more difficult to diagnose than most people believe and as a result, it can be misdiagnosed. Medication is used too often, as a way for the parents and teachers to cope with the behavior/learning challenges a child with ADHD faces. Some families strive to use that medication as a tool to be able to implement changes and processes that may actually have a greater, healthier and more powerful, positive impact upon the brain overall, but the sad reality is some do not. They use the medication and then they don’t have to worry about it anymore, they can go about their lives like “normal” with minimal intervention because, well, the meds work, so why go through all that?  

It’s not only inaccurate to use the term “hoax”, but it makes parents look stupid for acknowledging there’s something different about how their children learn and process the world around them. Sure, and yes – it was and is misdiagnosed a great deal. I don’t think anyone would deny this. It was a literal trend in the 80’s, so a whole bunch of children who were just a little more active and inconvenient than others were given the label so they could get on meds and stop bothering the teacher. Yes, that happened, but not always and rarely now that we have such detailed testing processes in place with highly trained specialists who focus their entire careers on these disorders. Sometimes it IS a legit diagnosis. There are plenty of brain scan studies to show there is clearly something different going on in the brains of those who have ADHD and that child and their parents need support. Not the world to say, “oh well that’s a made up thing, so you’re probably just a bad mom and should spank your child more often.”

Mothers of ADHD children need to know there are support systems out there with real information and real troubleshooting techniques that can help. We need to know people see what we see and understand it. We don’t need to be told we’re crazy. We don’t need to feel like we’re not doing a good enough job at home. We do that to ourselves enough, alright? What we need… is to not have a fancy Harvard doctor or some school in Texas discrediting everything we are working for to normalize, educate and help our children achieve their goals in life.

We need updated, accurate information, continuous studies that actually focus on brain patterns, food & chemical interactions and gut health. We need to know that the medication option is available as a last resort, but to have patient and fully trained therapists and physicians to walk us through the process of trying every other option first.

It’s frustrating when people say, “oh well this is the hot new thing, everyone has Autism or ADHD now” as they roll their eyes when you tell them about your children. This perception is 100% WRONG. The reality is, ADHD is NOT a new thing. Doctors as far back as the 18th century have been talking about it, studying it, developing treatments for it and helping patients who struggle with focus/attention and processing challenges.

Now, having said all that – I DO think it’s important not to just blanket the concept of ADHD as the end all be all of diagnosis and leave it at that. There is emerging evidence to support the idea that what we call “ADHD” is actually not just ONE disorder, but is comprised of several different disorders which, when teamed up, manifest as ADHD. This research can be found by looking up Richard Saul, a Chicago-based Neurologist and ADHD specialist. It’s an idea which makes a great deal of sense to many adult ADHDr’s and parents of children who have it, but his delivery of this insight. His research was published in a book called, “ADHD Does Not Exist”. When people who don’t understand and are LOOKING FOR A REASON to demonize ADHDr’s and their parents, a book written by a specialist called “ADHD Does Not Exist” is NOT HELPFUL!!!

Another factor is parents feeling like a regular physician can diagnose their children or that a regular physician can diagnose an adult who feels they may have some ADHD symptoms. They can’t. It takes hours of detailed testing and evaluation to properly diagnose ADHD. We need to stop believing it can be done in during a yearly physical.

Bottom line; We need to stop this narrative. We need to put an end to the “shock verbiage” being used only to hook a reader because sometimes, it doesn’t hook them to actually read the article. All they read is the headline and that it was written by a neurologist, so it must be true. They take the headline and run with it, spreading the lie and perpetuating the misconception that ADHD is not a real thing. This, to them, means parents who claim their children have it are just lazy and probably don’t discipline.

 Oh, one last thing on the medication situation… if therapists would do MORE to make metabolic testing mandatory for ANYone receiving ADHD medication, we could easily rule out the issues of who has the “abnormal dopamine metabolism”. We need to demand more exploration, more testing of the body and analyzation of brain activity rather than just basically eyeballing a child and saying… “hmm, yep – he has 5 out of the 6 boxes checked, so it MUST be ADHD”.

My perspectives on this can basically all be boiled down to these easy concepts:

More testing. More explanation. Less demonization. Less automatic reflex reaction to medicate.

What we want as parents is not acceptance and accommodation for our children. We want solutions so they can live in the real world in real time with their peers. Demonization and denial of their situation does not help us, or them, accomplish this. It only makes it harder.

What are your thoughts? Am I way off? Sort of right? Where do you stand on this topic? Let me know in the comments!