Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Where Max Is At

People always say that you shouldn't compare your children to each other or to someone else's. Weird advice. I mean, I get it, but how is that possible? Think about it. Look at my boys above and you'll notice a difference in their hair color. Trivial difference, I know, but nonetheless the moment I notice it I'm comparing them (contrasting, technically, for you English teachers out there). If the picture were clearer you'd notice they both have blue eyes. Also comparing, but here I'm highlighting something they have in common so it doesn't seem like such a big deal.

Where am I going with this? Well, Max will be turning three in two and a half months at which time his Early Intervention services will cease and future services will become the responsibility of the local school district. In order to receive them he will attend preschool. Before that happens Early Intervention is required to perform a final evaluation. Max's took place a couple of weeks ago.

They call the evaluation "The Michigan." It was apparently written there. Max has done it three or four times. To the observer it looks just like a series of activities that Max sees as play. He has to put pegs into a board, stack small blocks, find objects hidden under cloths, use a pincer grasp to pick up Cheerios--a boat load of tasks like that.

The first time he did it the results really upset me. See, "The Michigan" attempts to determine the developmental age of a child in relation to typical children. Even though I knew Max was delayed, seeing that, for example, his gross motor skills were those of a child half his age was devastating. I cried as his speech pathologist explained it to me.

This most recent evaluation didn't have the same effect on me. Instead I find it interesting and informative. Since Max is my first child I don't really know when typical children reach their milestones. I actually like knowing where Max is in relation to his typical peers. In fact, some of the results make a really proud mommy.  Not to mention, after two and a half years I'm very familiar with Max's strengths and weaknesses, and so I wasn't really surprised. And as I read through the report it occurred to me that you might be interested in what an evaluation says Max can do and what he needs to work on.

In order to understand the info below you'll need to know that Max is 33 months old.

Fine Motor--This is mostly Max's ability to use his fingers to complete tasks. It's one of his strengths. His skills in this area are established at 22 months with a scatter up to 24 or 25 months.

Cognition--This includes problem-solving (i.e. figuring out how to get something out of a bottle), imaginative play, imitation, etc. Max struggles here a little. He performs at a level between 19 and 23 months.

Language--Language is Max's biggest struggle at the moment. This area is differentiated into receptive language (understanding language around him) and expressive language (any language he produces). His receptive language skills are at a 14 month level and his expressive skills are at 12 months with a scatter up to 15 months.

Social / Emotional--Max rocks this one. He's well established at a 27 month level.

Self-care--This includes feeding and dressing himself as well as toilet-training. 22 month level.

Gross Motor--Walking, running, jumping, etc. Once Max's biggest struggle, he now performs at a 23 month level. Woo! And thank goodness. Carrying a 30-pound toddler is really tiring.

Now, this proud mommy wants to brag a little. Check out this proof that my big boy knows how to swim.

Woo hoo!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Back to School

They say God never gives you anything you can't handle. Well, before I dive into my intended post, let me share with you this delightful anecdote.

Yesterday I took BOTH Max and Chance to church for the first time. We parked around the block (the church has no lot), I put Chance in the chest carrier, grabbed Max's hand and hefted the large diaper bag containing all the supplies necessary for a successful adventure--Goldfish, lift-the-flap books, sippie full of water, change of clothes for both, and a few diapers. When we got to the VERY long staircase leading to the front door I decided it best to carry Max up or else we'd miss the entire mass.

Finally inside we found an empty pew near the back and I set Max up with a snack. We'd missed the first reading, but that was probably for the best because it meant less time hoping for good behavior. After fifteen minutes or so Max got antsy so I brought out the books which occupied him until the arm hair of the man next to us won him over.

Then it was time for communion. "Alright, Max. Let's go." I grabbed his hand and he obediently trotted with me along the side aisle to the front of the church. Once there I briefly let go of Max's hand to receive the host and that's when it happened. Max bolted for the alter. I grabbed his arm. He went boneless, fell to the ground and screamed. I bumped into someone as I bent over to pick him up. As I righted myself, Max almost on my hip and Chance still in the chest carrier, I lost my balance and fell backward to the floor. Please note that I was wearing an above-the-knee dress. Nobody was hurt (physically), and two parishioners stepped forward to help me up. Thankfully Max recognized the need to keep still so I was able to scoop him up, my arm across his chest, his feet dangling at my side, and make my way back to our seats as people silently stared. I felt stupid. But what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, right? I think it'll be a few more weeks before we make a second attempt.

Anyhow.... On to today's post.

Driving around town I notice that some of the trees have orange and red leaves signaling the end of summer and the start of the new school year. Every year I feel the same weight and anxiety as I think, "Oh man. What have I gotten myself into?" This year included as I won't have the luxury of staying home with Chance as long as I did with Max. In fact, next Monday is the big day.

This year is chock full of worries. Will I be able to pump enough milk to feed my baby? My lactation consultant assures me that I will. Do we have enough money to pay for childcare for both children? We did the math and the answer is a big fat "NO," at least not with current arrangement. Will the four new teachers in my department enhance or hurt our work environment? We'll have to see. And most importantly for this blog, will Max's transition to preschool go smoothly? Oh man. I hope so.

Actually, he won't start preschool until his third birthday in November. That's when the state hands over the responsibility for Max's services to the town. Our first meeting with his future school is set for next Tuesday--I'll be missing part of my second day back at work. I expect a lot to happen beyond introductions and a general description of program options. Apparently Max will be having a series of evaluations in the weeks ahead to determine his placement.

I feel wedged between a rock and the school district here because I want to be present for all of the evaluations, but I don't have any sick days. Missed days of work will result in loss of pay until sometime in January when the new days are allocated. I think being present for each evaluation will give me the information that I need to advocate for Max to the fullest extent. If I were to miss evaluations and he were placed into a program that I felt did not provide him with the best opportunities I know I'd blame myself. I've heard good things about our local schools, and I do believe that the educators and specialist involved in his assignment will have Max's best interest at heart, but while they are experts on the educational side, I'm the expert on Max. No one knows him better than his daddy and I do. That counts for a whole lot.

My other big worry is a bit less practical, more emotional. What if Max doesn't make any friends? I don't expect the children in his class to bully him for his Down syndrome. It's more a concern that his differences will mean that the other kids won't think to invite him into their lives outside of school. More a passive exclusion than an active one. What I want for Max is a life that is as typical as it can possibly be with playdates and birthday parties and impromptu trips to the park (but not just with Mom). I want the kids to WANT to have him on their team during recess. I want them to WANT to sit with him at lunch. I know that someday (who knows when) Max will realize that he is different in some ways from the other kids his age. My hope is that he comes to that realization on his own, and that it is not brought to stark relief by his classmates.

I can't make the other children be his friends. I can't protect him from every potential hurt. All I can do is help to stack the cards in his favor, and be there for him if they start to tumble. I imagine it's the same for all parents whose children are going off to school for the first time. I don't know. I'm new to this. But you can bet that I won't rest until I'm certain Max has the best path possible laid before him. After all, what else are parents for?

Finally, a few pics of our week.

Looking sharp, boys!


With friends (Caroline) at the farmer's market.

Two peas in a pod.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Pulling Weeds

I love pulling weeds. It's meditative, repeatedly yanking unwanted plants from the ground, the dirt falling through fingers and cramming itself underneath fingernails. It also offers a terrific and immediate sense of accomplishment. I guess it's an achievable way to wrangle nature, especially the morning after a rain. Sean thinks I'm nuts and wants no part of it, but apparently my brother Matt and his wife Laurel are my kindred spirits. Turns out I'm lucky, too, because between pregnancy, preparing for maternity leave, having a newborn, lots of rain and unseasonably high temperatures, my yard was looking like curly hair after a humid night of tossing and turning. They generously offered to help me and conquered the most difficult part of the job: the spaces between the pavers of the patio.

Laurel and Matt, crabgrass assassins.
American Gothic revisited.
My yard now feels neat and clean and well-loved. It's welcoming. Sean says it's "visually polite." Most importantly, it helps me to feel calm when I'm outside.

So, I've pulled literal weeds. Now, in the true spirit of amateur writing I'm going to force the metaphor. It's time to pull some figurative ones.

Headaches. I get some really bad ones. Not migraines, clusters. They are, in a word, horrible. Two weeks ago I started getting headaches with symptoms similar to my clusters and panic set in. I typically have to put my life on hold for three to four weeks until the headaches clear but right now I just don't have the time. Thankfully they are not clusters, just Godzilla-sized tension headaches.

The cause of tension headaches: stress. So if stress is the weed in this scenario, then stress is what I've got to pull out of my life. I know what stresses me: traffic, too much to do in too little time, toddler meltdowns, money, deadlines. The problem is, I've usually succumb to the stress before I realize it's even there. Luckily (tongue firmly planted in cheek) at the first sign of stress a shooting pain, like an ice pick plunging into my brain, warns me I need to chill out. It's like a giant hand clearing the field that is my body of all the stress weeds that threaten to take over (Oh brother. Too much?).

So what am I doing to reduce stress? Lots of things. Deep breathing. Exercise. Writing lots of lists. Doing fun things with Max. Sometimes my attempts at fun crash and burn, like the sprinkler in the backyard, or bouncing stuffed animals on a taut blanket. But one thing that always succeeds is a trip to the park which inevitably includes a rest and snack on the bench.

Strike a pose!

Monday, August 5, 2013


Big discoveries are awesome. Like discovering the New World, or gold in California, or how delicious peanut butter is covered in chocolate. But little discoveries are more fun. Like...

Hammocks are fun.
Aunt Laurel, Max and Cousin Nicholas
Papa, Max and Cousin Nicholas
So are bubbles.
Papa, Max and Cousin Nicholas
 Fishing is bonding.
Cousin AJ and Uncle Andy
Daddy, Max and a pike
Papa and the bass
Max likes soccer.
Max and Aunt Nicole
The men are focused.

Uncle Matt
Uncle Andy, Daddy and Cousin AJ
My family is beautiful.

Max, me and Chance
Daddy and Chance
And the best discovery is one I make every year. I love family vacations.