learning to live and love from a new perspective

Archive for January, 2015

Not Your Average Snow Day

For several days, the TV news carried nothing but non-stop storm warnings. An enormous winter storm was on its way towards us… and we were due to receive upwards of two feet of snow. When I heard that Logan Airport was planning to shut down, it seemed pretty certain that we were definitely in for one snow day, and possibly two.

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By 3pm on Monday, our superintendent announced that school would be closed Tuesday. I went to sleep that night feeling the usual pre-snow day dread. How would I keep everyone busy all day?

The morning started off okay. Both S and G have discovered Harry Potter. S is deep into Book Five (which she’s reading completely on her own!) and G (in true little brother fashion) is making his way through Book One. The two of them were curled up in their respective chairs, reading their books. I was curled up in the middle with my own book. It was very peaceful and cozy.

Then G got to a point in the book where Fred and George Weazly were singing a crazy, made-up song about studying for the O.W.L. exams. G thought it was really funny, and started making up his own tune and singing the song aloud. G was so pleased with himself, especially because the song had phrases like “we’re going to learn until our brains all rot!” I whipped out my phone and took a video.

I thought about posting the video on Facebook. G looked really cute. I wondered, if I did post it, if anyone would be able to guess the source of the song. It was pretty obscure. And that’s when my grand idea began to form.

A few minutes later, I posted the video, along with this message:

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Worried you were going to be bored stuck at home this snowy day? Or, do you live somewhere warm… And you’re feeling jealous that you’re missing the storm of the century? Fear not. The Lobron family is dedicated to keeping you entertained and in the loop today. Our plan is to post a trivia question or challenge every hour. The first challenge is “name that song” with G. First person to correctly identify what he’s singing wins a prize. See you back here at 10 am. Stay warm everyone!!!!!

After about ten minutes, we had our first response! G, S, and I didn’t even realize someone had responded, because we were working on creating our “prize” and thinking up the 10am challenge.

And the winner of the 9am challenge is….. Jacob Allen!! Jacob, your prize is on its way! Our 10 am challenge is this: silly costume challenge!! Whoever sends us the silliest costume photo by 11am wins a prize. Go!!

We got one entry into the silliest costume contest… but it was enough to keep us going.

We spent the entire day doing the Lobron Family Challenge. Every hour, we congratulated a winner, and posted the next challenge. G, S, and I were having a blast. We did dominos, self-portraits, and even roasted marshmallows! It’s the most fun I’ve had with my kids in a long time.

IMG_0818 And all the while the challenge was taking place, the messages were flooding in on Facebook. My best friend from grad school, a former co-counselor from sleep-away camp, a friend from when I lived in DC just after graduating college. All the people who knew me when. All the people who knew me before kids. All reaching out because my posts reminded them of the fun times we used to have together.

I’ve always been described as a creative person. I love games, crafts, and general silliness. In my basement, I have a whole box filled with Murder Mystery games that I wrote myself. After writing, I would host elaborate parties– costumes were mandatory. I created several board games. I wrote lots of stories, including a full-length young adult novel, as well as two plays (full-length musical productions that were performed at camp). I went on lots of trips with my post-college friends. At the end of each trip, I would serenade my friends with songs I wrote about our adventures.

Life is different now. The carefree days of young adulthood are long gone.   Weekends are full of Hebrew school, play dates, household tasks and errands. I don’t want to over-romanticize the past…. But sometimes, in my current life, I feel disconnected from that playful, whimsical aspect of my personality that used to reside so close to the surface.
IMG_0827IMG_0832For seven hours yesterday, regular life got put on hold. With a city shut down by a snow storm, and nothing on my “have to do” list… I got a chance to reconnect with that fun person I used to be. And the best part was, I got to be that person with my kids. With no homework to supervise, no carpools to drive, no outside distractions… I became that person again. That creative, silly, energetic person I used to be.

It was a great day.

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Day Off

His teachers and therapists call it self-advocating.

They call it great progress in being able to voice what he likes and what he wants.

They are so pleased with his ability to articulate his preferences.

To them I say, want to trade places for the weekend?

Mom, you are ruining my plan!!

But I wanted to take THE WHOLE DAY OFF!!

You are a mean, mean mommy!

You are making me SO MAD!!!

Why are you making me do this?

 

I know, I know… it is big, monumental progress for G to be able to use words to say what he wants. It is a giant step forward from the wordless tantrums we experienced in preschool. It is awesome to have a kid who is able to express his feelings. But why do those feelings so often encompass anger towards me?

Given his way, G would choose to stay at home in his PJs from dismissal on Friday afternoon straight through until start of school on Monday. The things that he enjoys the most (Minecraft, electric circuits, his Harry Potter book) are right here at home. The people he enjoys socializing with the most (mom, dad, and S) are right here at home, too.

Sometimes, I feel the same way. I enjoy a good day of hibernation every once in a while. But for me, the enjoyment of a quiet day at home wears off by late afternoon, and I’m ready to do something or see people. Too many hours at home makes me feel sad and isolated. Life is out there happening, and I’m trapped in here, on the whim of my perspective-taking-challenged warden.

It’s been like this for a while… but I’ve been feeling it more acutely lately. Scheduling activities has never been my favorite activity, but lately it’s felt like an oppressive task. For every invitation I receive, or consider extending, I feel the tension creeping up my neck. Wouldn’t it be fun to go to X’s house for dinner with a group of other families? The weather is supposed to be great on Sunday. Ice skating with friends sounds lovely. One of G’s friends is having a birthday party on Saturday afternoon. Sounds like a fun time, plus a great chance to socialize with some parents from his class. And yet, as I consider each possible plan, I feel my chest constrict. Yes, it sounds like fun. Yes, I can get G to agree in the abstract. But I can envision the struggle that’s going to take place when it’s time to hustle out the door.

Mom, you are ruining my plan!!

But I wanted to take THE WHOLE DAY OFF!!

You are a mean, mean mommy!

You are making me SO MAD!!!

Why are you making me do this?

And I have to decide… will I have the fortitude, once the battle is over, and I’ve forced him into the car? Will I be able to wipe away my tears and bury my frustration? Will I be able to force a smile and join in the socializing? Or, do I skip the fight entirely, decline the invite, and stay at home?

Is anyone else dealing with this?

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This is G at home, doing science experiments in hi sPJs.

What I’ve Been Working On… and Why I’m Excited About It

For the last few years, I’ve been teaching a Social Pragmatics curriculum at the small, family-run preschool in our neighborhood. For the first couple of years, it was a great job. S was a student there, and our expectation was that G would soon follow. I was teaching about social development, emotional regulation and solving problems with friends… all while using great children’s books to support the lessons. Life was good.

IMG_3264Eventually, S graduated preschool and moved on to elementary. Because of G’s special needs, he only attended the neighborhood school for 2 months. As soon as he turned three (and graduated out of Early Intervention), he transitioned to our town’s Integrated Preschool. There he continued to receive the speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and play therapy that he had previously been receiving through Early Intervention. The only one left at the neighborhood preschool was me.

I still enjoyed the content of what I was teaching… but in the past year or so, I began feeling ready to take a new step in my career.   I didn’t have anything specific in mind, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to figure it out until I left my current job. So, I packed my bags and said good-bye to my dear friends Impulsive Puppy and Slow-Down Snail. (Don’t worry, I said good-bye to my human friends as well!)

I started putting more time into my creative pursuits, including working on my blog. I had a few pieces published on blogs that have a larger audience. After one such article was published (http://www.thejewishweek.com/blogs/new-normal/sitting-alone-hallway-challenge-raising-child-special-needs-jewish-community), I received an email from Allison Berry.  Allison identified herself as one of the rabbis at Temple Shalom of Newton, a large Reform congregation located around the corner from where I live.  She also identified herself as a fellow autism parent, and asked if I’d like to meet some time.

We set a time, and met for coffee. We talked for a long time. We talked about autism, parenting, Jewish education, and long term goals. Then, Allison turned to me and asked, “Alison, what’s your dream?”

Ever eloquent under pressure, I replied, “Huh?”

She repeated, “What’s your dream? What’s your dream for Jewish education, the Jewish community, and our kids?”

I told her some things I’d been thinking about regarding inclusion, social-emotional learning embedded in Religious School curriculum, Religious School staff training around behavior management….  that kind of stuff.  Then, I asked her, “What’s your dream?”

She replied with a highly articulated vision of a social skills group, targeted at young children with autism and similar special needs, that would blend social skills and Jewish content and would take place in a synagogue.

I wasn’t expecting that.

I wasn’t expecting that at all… but it was awesome.

We went on to talk about an experience that we had both shared, one that we knew was common among our autism parent peers.

Where we live, choosing a preschool is a really big deal. I remember when S was a toddler, the question of “which preschool” was the predominant topic of conversation of almost any mommy-gathering. I even had a friend who made a spreadsheet listing the twelve schools she was considering, along with the pros and cons of each one!

When you discover your child has special needs, you also discover that he will need to go to the town’s Integrated Preschool, in order to get the services he will need. Not the school you lovingly selected after hours and hours of research and conversation. Not the school where his siblings go or went. Not the school where you work (in my case). Not the school that is part of your Jewish community (in Allison’s case).

It is VERY important to note that once G started at the Integrated Preschool, I absolutely fell in love with it. The quality of the program, the dedication of the staff, the knowledge of the teachers… unbelievable in every way. Life changing for G and for our whole family. But, I’m talking about the sense of loss, when as a parent, you are confronted with the reality of the new path you must follow in order to meet the needs of your very young, newly diagnosed-child.

I remember that transition so clearly. I felt sad. I wished G could come to the school where I was teaching, and where S was still a student. I felt isolated. Why did I have to start again in a new place where I didn’t know any parents or any teachers? I already had a community at S’s preschool. I felt angry. Why wasn’t life following my carefully charted plan?IMG_0898

In my conversation with Allison, she described to me another loss that many parents feel at that particular juncture–   and that is a loss of Jewish community. For me, while I mourned the loss of enrolling G in our neighborhood preschool, he was still able to attend the preschool program in our synagogue. Why? Because I was the teacher.  When I reached the point that I felt I could meet his needs in my classroom, the education director and rabbi supported my decision.

However, for parents who have jobs other than Jewish preschool teacher, there might not be an easy way to access the Jewish community. Allison shared with me that over the last few years, she could name six or seven families who had enrolled their child at her synagogue’s preschool, only to leave for the Integrated Preschool. Those families never came back. Not to the synagogue’s preschool, not to the synagogue, and as far as she knew, not to the Jewish community.

What a loss. What a loss to the community. Who were these families? Were they potential synagogue presidents, committee members, social action coordinators, prayer leaders? We’ll never know.

But even more concerning to me than the loss of these families to us…. is the failure to support these families at this important juncture in their lives.

I remember the sadness, frustration, and loneliness when G left our neighborhood preschool to go to the specialized preschool. A major source of support at that time was (and still is) our synagogue. Caring friends, concerned clergy and teachers, fellow autism parents whose kids were older and who seemed to have all the answers.

I fell immediately in love with Allison’s idea. Creating a synagogue-based program for preschoolers with special needs. Creating a place for these kids and their families at this critical moment. I loved it.

And not only did she have a dream… she had a plan.

Within photo 1a week, we had a meeting with the directors of Gateways:  Access to Jewish Education (Boston’s central agency for Jewish special education). Within a month, the directors of Gateways were wholeheartedly on board with the idea.  They were ready to commit the organization’s resources, time and their enormous expertise to make the dream a reality.  Within six weeks, they had assembled an amazing team of educators and specialists to work on the project.  When Temple Shalom Nursery School graciously volunteered to house the pilot program, the final piece fell into place.

It’s been an exciting few months. I’ve been attending weekly meetings at Gateways to help design the curriculum.  It’s been an enormous learning opportunity for me, as I’ve been able to see first-hand what it takes to turn an idea like this into reality.  We will be teaching about Jewish holidays.  The first holiday we teach will be Passover.  It’s very exciting as we’re drawing extensively on the resources in the brand-new Gateways Haggadah, which has just been published by Behrman House (http://www.behrmanhouse.com/news/available-now-the-gateways-haggadah-a-seder-for-the-whole-family).  We’ll also be infusing social skills from “The Incredible Flexible You” curriculum developed by Michelle Garcia Winner.  We’ve recruited five students for our pilot.  Our pilot program (Holiday Detectives: Social Skills for the Seder Table) begins next week.

photo 2So there it is. That’s what I’ve been up to it, and that’s why I’m so excited about it. Next week, I’ll take that next step I was hoping for in my career. I’ll be helping to welcome five students to the newly-created Holiday Detectives program. We’ll be in a synagogue. I’ll be reading great children’s books to them, and teaching the social thinking and problem-solving skills that I love to teach. Life is good.

Thank you, Allison, for including me in your dream.

Thank you, Gateways staff, for your enthusiastic responsiveness, and your amazing compassion, skills, and expertise.

Thank you, Temple Shalom Nursery School, for embracing this idea, and for welcoming this new program with open arms.

Thank you, pilot parents, for trusting us with your kids.

And thank you, friends, for reading this very long blog entry!!

Welcome Back

I was getting ready for bed on Sunday, January 4. It was the last night of what I thought was going to be a very stressful vacation.   Ten days of unstructured time is often challenging for G. As I reflected on our winter break, I realized… it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. Yes, there were moments when I could see the lack of structure provoked some of G’s more challenging behavior. But, there were also times when the lack of structure was great. Days that we (as a family) stayed in our PJ’s til noon. In fact, I realized when I did G’s laundry yesterday, there were a lot more PJ’s to be washed then regular clothes. I guess I let him stay in his PJ’s all day more times than I remember!

In some ways, having that break was calming for me. For ten days, I didn’t have to worry about what was happening at school. Worrying about how the absence of G’s teacher was impacting his behavior. Worrying if he was going to regress even more. For ten days, there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

As I got ready for bed the last night of vacation, I felt a strange calm. A strong resolve to face whatever was coming head on. The phrase, “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst” entered my thoughts.

The six weeks between New Year’s and President’s Day is typically not a fun time, if you live in New England. There is cold and snow and everything that comes with it. Sidewalks to be shoveled, ice to be salted, boots and hats and gloves to be dragged to school every day and dried out every night. Lather, rinse, repeat. Activities get canceled and plans get changed due to weather and winter colds. Add to that a kid whose behavior has regressed and is having a hard time dealing with bumps in the road, both major and minor. I was dreading it.

But then, I realized, the only thing that can change is me. Yes, there are things about the next six weeks that I can’t change. I can’t change the weather, or the spread of winter colds, or who is teaching in my son’s class. But I can change the amount of love and care I give to myself, the weight of my own expectations, and my own ability to be calm and flexible.

I went to sleep resolved. Whatever happens when we return to school, I can handle it. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. I can take good care of myself either way, so that I can be the wife and mom my family needs.

We walked in to school on Monday morning and discovered G’s teacher present, greeting her first graders with a warm smile. I think everyone in the building heard me cheering, “Ms. L is back! Ms. L is back!!”

I picked G up at the end of the day, and Ms. L. gave me a thumbs up. “He had an awesome first day back at school. Cooperative, flexible, ready to learn!”

The afternoon flew by like a dream. Backpacks unpacked, snack consumed, homework completed. No muss, no fuss. Cooperative, flexible, cheerful. All the things I’d been missing for six weeks.

That’s when it hit me. It had been six weeks since G had last been cooperative. Six weeks since he’d been flexible. Six weeks since he’d been bursting with the joy and cheer that are characteristic of my little guy.

I’d been so focused on dealing with the tantrums and managing the regression. I’d been so focused on how much I disliked the behavior of the new G, that I hadn’t realized how much I was missing the real G. The G I knew was in there, but wasn’t seeing.

Welcome back, my dear, sweet G. I missed you so much, and I’m so happy to have you back.

And welcome back to wonderful Ms. L. Thank you for bringing so much joy to our children’s lives. Wishing you all the love and care I can possibly send to you.

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My Weekend in Pictures

The weekend began when David offered to take the kids to Plaster Fun Time.  Plaster Fun Time is super fun (for the kids!).  Last time we went, both S and G had a blast, and begged to go back soon.  This picture shows David saying, “Let’s go to PFT!”  Mom, Dad and S are happy.  G is yelling, “No!  No!  No!” I want to take the day off!”  G is sad.

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In the next picture, Mom, Dad, S and G are ALL sad.  They are sad, because G is yelling.

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In G’s first choice, everyone is sad.  Then, he makes a different choice.  He decides to go to Plaster Fun Time with Dad and S.  S makes a Hello Kitty statue and G makes Green Eggs and Ham.  When they come home, they say, “We had fun at PFT!” They show their projects to Mom.  Mom says, “Wow!  Good job!  I love Hello Kitty and Green Eggs and Ham!”

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The next set of pictures is about lunch.  Mom is in the kitchen making lunch.  She is happy and sad.  She’s happy because she likes giving her family healthy food to eat.  She’s sad because it’s hard work to make a meal for the whole family.

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In the next picture, Mom, Dad and S are saying, “Yum!  I love this food!  Thank you for baking it!”  G is saying, “No!   I don’t want this food!!!”

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In the next pictures, Mom and S sit at the table.  They are sad because of the yelling.  Dad brings G up to his room.  They are sad, too.

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After G says, “I’m sorry I was yelling,” Dad and G come back to the table.  Mom gets G something different to eat.  G says, “Yay!  I like this food!”  He is happy.  Mom, Dad, and S say, “This food is cold.  It’s not yummy anymore.” They are sad.  Maybe next time, G will make a different choice.  It’s more fun when everyone is happy.

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And in the third episode, Mom says, “Let’s deliver the cookies we made to your teacher who lives on our street.”  G says, “I want to stay home and play on the iPad.”  Here’s what will happen if we follow G’s plan.  Mom is sad because she wanted to deliver the cookies.  G is happy because he gets to play on his iPad.

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Here’s what will happen if we follow Mom’s plan.  First, everyone will be happy.  Mom and G will be happy to see the teacher’s big smile.  G’s teacher will be happy to receive delicious cookies.

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After that, G will be happy again, because he will get to play on his iPad.  Mom will be happy thinking about delivering the cookies.

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Guess what?  G made a great choice!  He chose to deliver the cookies!!  Now G’s teacher is happy with her delicious cookies.  And G is happy playing on his iPad.  And mom is happy because G made a good choice.

Sometimes we use social stories to work through emotions and the decision-making process.  Pictures help make things concrete.  It also helps to talk about choice in terms of “thinking about me” versus “thinking about others”.  I offer apologies for the less-than-professional-quality photos.  No apologies offered for the drawings.  That’s as good as it gets!

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