Monday, October 25, 2010

Check it Out, Check it Out, Check it Out, Check it Out...

Today I saw a 3 legged golden retriever going for a walk at a nearby park.  He was walking with his owners who also had 2 other dogs.  You could tell it really enjoyed the walk.  Its tail and head were held high in the air as it trotted merrily along.  You could also tell it was a bigger challenge to walk for that dog in comparison to the other dogs.  It lagged behind a bit and due to the lack of a leg, it had an uneven gait that required more work out of the other legs and probably caused fatigue a little faster.  Still it was amazing to see how well the dog had adapted to its situation.

Adaptations are everywhere in life.  We all have strengths and weaknesses and it is up to us to find out the best way to capitalize on those strengths while minimizing the areas that are harder.  Recently Bella discovered one of her adaptations.  She prefers music that has very repetitive, simple choruses so that she can understand the words and sing along.  She told me this the other day in the car, yet not in those exact words.  It was more like, "Mom, I really like this song (current will.i. am. song "Check it Out", hence the reason for the blog title) because it just keeps saying the same thing over and over in the middle."  Lucky for her, most songs on the radio today follow this pattern. She really does love singing along in the car to popular songs on the radio.  I thought is was fun to hear her start to discover things she likes because they suit her the best.

One funny side note to this.  Harry says one way to tell that a song has been overplayed on the radio and is no longer at the peak of its popularity is by how many of the words Bella can sing along with.  Kind of sad, but it is true.  When "California Gurls" by Katy Perry first came out Bella would sing "California Girls are so maniacal" (real words are "California Girls we're undeniable") and lots of other things that weren't right.  Now, she knows almost all of the words, which is a shame because a lot of them are less than appropriate for an 8 year old.  Such is life with older siblings...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Here an IEP, There an IEP, Everywhere an IEP...

There are 4 days a year that I dread.  Not dislike, but really hate.  You know where the night before, your stomach starts to gurgle in anticipation of the following day.  In the morning you are grouchy, tense, and have difficulty getting along with others.  Others steer clear to avoid your wrath.  For me, those four days are my visits to the doctor, dentist, and Bella's annual IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting.

Yesterday was Bella's annual IEP meeting.  Not only was it the IEP meeting, but it was her 3 year review where lots of tests are given over a months period to evaluate her progress and requalify her for the next 3 years of services.  Even more fun.  I don't care which child it is, I really dislike seeing all of their needs/problems written down in black and white.  It is something that does not get easier over time.  So every year I have the same goal for myself before the meeting.  Don't be too emotional!  In simple terms, that means don't have a breakdown and cry like a baby.  Well, I can't say I was totally successful with the goal, but I almost made it all the way through and the tears were short lived.  I guess I'm just a highly emotional person and the meetings are just too emotionally charged.

In the meeting we went over all of the tests given to Bella over the past month.  Most were given to her by her Deaf/Hard of Hearing teacher, some by her speech teacher, and the other was the standardized MAP test which everyone in grades 3-12 take 2x a year.  The good news was that the leader of the IEP meeting gave me the full report to read through on Monday, so I wouldn't be caught off guard by any of the results.  That was so helpful (Thanks Deana!) and allowed me to think through questions and comments before the meeting.  The last time Bella had this big battery of tests for her IEP was in Kindergarten and you can imagine how much has changed since then.

Here's a quick overview of the test results for anyone who's interested:
  • CELF test (Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals)- Her scores in Receptive Language were above average and for Expressive language they were average
  • CASL test (Comprehensive Assessment of Spoken Language)-This test measures knowledge/use of words, grammar, and awareness of the appropriateness of language in specific situations.  Bella was in the average range when compared to same-aged peers.
  • Academic testing reflected needs in the areas of math and reading comprehension.  No big surprises there.
Overall, I was pleased to see improvements in the areas of following directions, story recall, and figurative language (i.e. idioms, inferences).  She still struggles with story recall after time has elapsed due to her short term memory issues.  Also, the next IEP is going to have a strong focus on strengthening her reading comprehension as that is a significant need at this point.  I am confident that it will get better if we all attack it together (meaning at home and school) because repetition is what works best for Bella.

Erick wasn't able to make it to the meeting, but he had his own stressful day.  He spilled coffee on his work computer (and thought he had to buy a new one because it stopped working) and he left his car lights on at Target while taking a work call and burned out the battery.

What made the day better for both of us?  Harry got his 1st touchdown ever in his football game.  And it was the game winning touchdown at that.  He was playing running back and took the ball 40 yards for the touchdown.  Yeah Harry!!!!

Here's to a new day...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I See the World from Both Sides Now...

This morning I was taking a shower.  As I looked around for soap, I reached for a favorite body wash that Erick always brings back from his many hotel travels.  It's by Bliss and up until today I was under the impression it was called "Soapy Soap."  Whenever I used it, it made me happy because I found the name funny and upbeat.  Today when I grabbed it, I noticed that it was actually called "Soapy Sap".  I was a little taken a back after seeing this.  Now understand that it was the same exact product; same smell, same color, everything that made it "it", but the fun name that I thought it had, was gone.  "Soapy Sap" reminds me more of a tree and as I looked closer, its green color and outdoor scent started to make more sense.  Having had this experience, I began to think about how perceptions shape our lives on a daily basis.

One perception a lot of people have is that Minnesota is part of the arctic tundra. While this is definitely the case some parts of the year,  lately we've actually been enjoying a beautiful fall.  The leaves have changed color and most of them have fallen off, yet the temperatures remain mild.  Last weekend the kids and I went to an apple orchard with my sister and her family.  The temps were in the 80's and we were HOT!  There are some things that are better with cooler weather and visiting the apple orchard is one of them.  I'm not going to complain.  I'd be happy if this weather was year round.

Another perception that has changed this week, is that Becca's transition to High School would be easy and stress free.  You might have read a few weeks ago, that we all went out to dinner to celebrate the school year going well.  Welcome to week 5.  It appears that the Montessori background that Becca has been raised with for the past 8 years is producing some stumbling blocks in the "traditional school" environment.  There is a bit of a "laissez faire" approach in a Montessori education in which teachers use a hands off approach and let the children develop on their own.  For the most part it produces great results where kids become free thinkers and come up with their own ideas.  What Becca is struggling with right now is balancing her own ideas with what her teachers are asking her to do.  Put simply, when the teacher tells you that these 50 items will be checked in your science notebook the following day, they are serious.  Pulling out side notes that are not in your notebook will produce a loss of points.  Not checking your math homework because you are certain you did it correctly will result in low scores on tests.  What Montessori taught Becca is invaluable; how to think outside the box.  Now we need to help Becca learn the opposite; thinking inside the box and following teacher's instructions to the letter will produce good grades.  It's tough to change the way someone views as the right way to tackle assignments (especially when that someone is very strong willed), but if we don't help Becca alter her perceptions of how to do homework, the next 4 years will be a nightmare. 

It's hard to change your perceptions.  Don't believe me?  Just ask all the Minnesota Vikings fans that are trying to come to terms that the current Vikings football team is a shell of its 2009 self.  And the return of Randy Moss is not the answer...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

I Got No Expectations...

Well the title of this blog post is a dream, not a reality.  This week has been full of expectations; some exceeded, some met, and others left for another day.  

First off, Becca had her first debate tournament.  It was a very hectic morning since it was also the day for Minnetonka's homecoming dance.  Things have changed since I was in school.  There was no bus to take her to Roseville High School, only me.  Long drive to make by 8am in the morning.  Since this was her first experience with debate, she wasn't sure what to expect.  Later she told me, kids were using laptops during their debates to both deliver their arguments as well as get evidence.  My, how times have changed.  Unfortunately, she lost all 4 of her rounds that day, but only by 1 point.  Next week, she can reevaluate her delivery and hopefully be more prepared for the other teams' arguments.  What is that phrase that Oprah always uses?  "When you know better, you do better."  I will be judging other schools at this week's tournament so it should be interesting.

Following the tournament, Becca had her first formal dance for Homecoming.  How exciting, right?  Well, if I am being truthful, the whole event was pretty overwhelming to me.  You see, I have no experience with this particular part of high school.  I'm not going to go into lots of gory details, but suffice it to say, I had a pretty dysfunctional childhood where high school dances were not part of the landscape.  A few weeks ago, we shopped for a dress which was fun (anyone who knows me, knows that having an excuse to go shopping puts me in my "happy place"), but as the date grew closer, my anxiety about the whole thing started to grow.  There was the dinner before hand, the friends I had never met, the accessories for the dress, her hair...  All the details began to take on a life of their own.  My sister was great, giving Becca shoes that looked great with the dress and getting her all excited about the event; a role I was having trouble playing.  Thank goodness for Erick!  He understood my anxiety (well, understood might be a strong word...more like accepted) and said he would drive her and meet the parents of the other kids.  Of course everything went fine.  Becca had lots of fun with her friends, but found the dance itself to be boring and a bit of a let down.  She sure looked pretty in her dress! Having been through this whole dance thing once, will help me manage my expectations in the future.  One can only hope..

Harry continues to exceed my expectations in school.  He hasn't had any big tests yet, but he remains focused and diligent about doing his homework, even with the added stress of football practices 4x a week.  This week, he has talked about how much he likes Latin and how he hopes to be tri-lingual some day (that Tri includes English, Latin, and Spanish).  I think he enjoys Eagle Ridge and he accepts the high academic expectations it sets for its students.  There have been a few times now that Harry has had late assignments.  It's not that he didn't do the work, it's more of an organizational issue.  One day he forgot it in his locker and showed it to the teacher later in the day.  One day he left the finished work at home.  Either way, the result is the same: half credit.  Tough lessons to learn, but they will be valuable to him later in life.

Bella has had a tough week.  I think the rigours of getting up early and having swimming 5x a week was taking a big toll.  This week, I decided to drop her swimming to 4 days instead of 5, a schedule that I think will fit her better.  It was the plan all along to adjust to 4 days at the end of October when Harry was done with football so we could go to church activities on Wednesdays.  We just decided to make the switch earlier.  Watching her in swimming is both rewarding and heartbreaking at the same time.  When I am realistic about my expectations for her, I am much happier.  She has made so much progress.  She is able to get across the pool with much more ease now and her endurance seems to be building.  Still, sometimes it is common to have unrealistic expectations for her.  When there is a day (or two) where she struggles, I focus on the problems, rather than how far she has come.  Then I shake the sanity back into my head and realize that I am lucky that she loves swimming so much because it helps her muscles so much and also remind myself that when she is out there with the other kids, she is working 3x harder than they are due to her inability to hear the directions/cues and also her physical issues.  That's the funny thing about expectations.  I think it is easy to have some met then continue to raise your expectations without a lot of thought about whether you should keep expecting more and more. 

This week I am focusing on keeping my expectations in check.  I am using this quote as a guide, "The best things in life are unexpected-because there were no expectations." Eli Khamarov