Saturday, January 30, 2021

Homework

According to my Fitbit, over the last few weeks I've gone from sleeping an average of 7 1/2 hours a night to sleeping about 6. A couple of nights, I got just over four hours of sleep. When I was in college, 4 hours was no big deal. When I had newborn babies, sleeping that little was par for the course. But now that I am pushing 50, 4 or 5 hours a night is excruciating.

I stopped sleeping because Sky stopped sleeping, and Sky stopped sleeping because the pandemic finally got to him. For months he has been saying that he can't understand why so much of life is going on as usual despite the fact there is a pandemic. What he means is that while his life hasn't been normal at all, his school work hasn't changed. Many of his outlets--hanging out with friends, going places as a family, playing tennis--have been cut off or greatly curtailed. Every time he goes to school, the kids are spaced so far apart that there is little opportunity for him to interact with the other people in his class or in the hallways. For the purposes of keeping the kids safe, this strategy has worked remarkably well. In a school of about 2000 students, they have had less than 100 cases of COVID, and none of those have been tied to in-school transmission. But, the teachers can't teach how they would normally teach, and the students can't interact in class the ways they would normally interact. 

So, after a long, weird day of school, he comes home with a ton of homework. Then the next day, when he is home for the day doing remote learning (so the other half of the students can be in the building), he usually gets MORE homework. And, for awhile, he managed to handle it. Two months in, though, he took a day off from doing his homework because it was his birthday. The break made him realize just how bad school was making him feel.  

Suddenly, he knew that he couldn't sustain the same level of discomfort on a regular basis, so it got harder and harder for him to get work done. During the next two months, we dealt with more and more perseveration about school and the pandemic. It was exhausting, but it turns out it wasn't nearly as exhausting as what came next, because finally one day, he came home from school and told us he just couldn't do it anymore.

As a parent and a hopeless overachiever, I had no idea what that meant or how to respond. I tried to be encouraging. I offered to sit with him in order to help stop his thinking spirals every time they started. I was hoping that eventually he would get back on track and be able to stop the perseverating thoughts himself. For several days, we spent hours and hours together in his room trying to get through even the easiest of assignments. But, it didn't get better. The perseveration got worse, and he started missing assignments. A couple of nights ago, he perseverated for over an hour about the amount of work he was being asked to do. The thought of even starting the work sent him into a tail spin, but so did the thought of not doing anything. Eventually, the spinning wore him out, and he fell asleep.

Even the fun stuff (ie robotics) isn't much fun anymore!

We are working with all the specialists and trying to get him through this. But, you know, I don't think he's wrong here. This IS a pandemic. We need to be treating it like one. We need to acknowledge that it is impacting many of our kids in ways we can't possibly understand right now.

The difference between parenting a neurotypical kid who is struggling and an autistic kid who is struggling is that you pretty much completely have to immerse yourself into the autistic kids’ world and way of thinking in order to get a handle on what’s happening. With Falcon, the problems and solutions are a lot easier to identify and work through. With Sky or Stow, it can feel like a total slog; it’s like being pulled into a quagmire and not really being sure you can find your way out. That said, Stow and Sky are barometers for the complexities and challenges of human experience in a way that never fails to surprise me. And, they are almost always right about what is wrong.

So, it strikes me that I need to start listening better. I've stopped trying to help Sky stay awake to work on his homework and have instead started encouraging him to do what feels right for him right now. On Monday, I will meet with his teachers, and I will talk to them about universal design and ways to assess learning that maybe aren't homework and test based. Most importantly, though, I am going to remind Sky every day that his grades don't matter nearly as much as his well-being. 


PS:

If you haven't seen this amazing video by a high schooler who was asked to express what the pandemic feels like, please take a look (LINK).

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Puzzles

I keep seeing posts by people about how their pandemic accomplishments have fallen well short of their expectations. First of all, I have a hard time imagining HAVING pandemic expectations beyond keeping the children fed and from killing one another. Anything more is icing.

That said, I HAVE spent some money over the course of the pandemic trying to keep them busy. We’ve replaced broken gaming devices (probably broken due to overuse), but we’ve also bought A LOT of puzzles, several board games, and so many sticks of butter and flour for baking I don’t even want to think about it.

Y’all know working on a good puzzle has been one of my coping strategies for awhile now, but it turns out that puzzles are helpful for the kids, too. Turns out we can all be hanging out in a room together working on a puzzle, and we don’t have to talk. And, not talking goes a long way in helping reduce the number of arguments. There has been at least one puzzle, and sometimes more than one puzzle, in progress for much of the last ten months. 

Currently in progress.

Feelings about puzzles fall into two broad categories at our house. There are those of us (me, Stow, and Sky) who like doing them and find them therapeutic. We’re also the ones who are able to make quick work of a puzzle. Then there are those of us (Ren and Falcon) who think puzzles are fine so long as they don’t have to help. Ren claims he just can’t see where things go when he’s trying to help on a puzzle, and he’s amazed when we put the pieces in like we’re conjuring magic. Falcon says they give her a headache. In her defense, she has recently developed migraines, so she’s probably right—poor kid!

Doing so many puzzles wouldn’t be a bad thing if any of us could agree to break a puzzle up and put it back in the box when we’re finished with it. Problem is that NO one wants to do that. Instead, the puzzles get glued. And, sometimes they get framed. I have no sense of interior design, but I’m pretty sure there’s a tipping point after which it’s just plain tacky to hang puzzles. Not only that, I have a feeling that tipping point is either one or zero puzzles.

We have WAY more than zero puzzles hanging in our house at this point. And we also have glued puzzles still waiting to be hung (I can no longer afford to buy frames for them). Worse, I can’t figure out how to keep enjoying doing puzzles without also being compelled to glue those as well.  Is there a name for this condition? Do you know an effective plan for treatment?

Lest you think I’m exaggerating, these are all of the puzzles we've done during the pandemic. 

First, Sky's room:


Second, Falcon's room:

Dog

Magic cats -- had all of its pieces before it fell off the wall

Dragons -- had all of its pieces until Falcon left it on her floor for days

More dragons

Finally, Stow's room:

WWII planes

Wooden tank puzzles

Exploding kittens

And these are the puzzles yet to find a place:

This wooden puzzle is pretty amazing.

One of MANY Pokemon puzzles

More Pokemon puzzles

If we didn't already have some puzzles hanging, I'd feel better, but we already had these even BEFORE the pandemic:

Our first wall puzzle.

National Parks

You remember THIS one. (If not, look at this link).

I think the takeaway is probably that we are all getting through this crazy time the best we can. And, also, if you want a puzzle, let me know!

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

About Us

I'm mom to four kids, teaching college, and living a bilingual, bi-cultural life with my immigrant husband in the rural Midwest. We are two-cultured in a number of ways: Japanese/American, Autistic/Neuro-typical, Cosmopolitan/Rural. In other words, we are fish out of water practically everywhere we go. 

If you're looking for a super mom or a Pinterest-worthy blog, you're not in the right place. I'm about as crafty as a sock. I can cook but hate it, and the only thing I seem to DIY consistently is pack. My parenting style is more cerebral than might be healthy, but my posts are always honest, usually funny, and rarely sappy. If that's your thing, this is the place for you.


Cast of Characters

Skywalker (a.k.a Sky) gets his name from his strong identification with and affinity for Luke Skywalker. Star Wars, Lego and drawing are his passions. He's also really into music and figuring out how things work. He is a teenager and diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Believe me, this explains a lot!

Falcon, who used to be called Pink Princess (a.k.a. Pink P), is in seventh grade. These days she's into archery, horses and fantasy reading. Falcon's just feisty enough to manage life with her two brothers, and she has a knack for getting them to do things when I can't. She has asthma and severe food allergies to a variety of things, but don't worry, that doesn't seem to slow her down!

My Little Stowaway (a.k.a. Stow) is our zen yet stealth ninja baby turned fourth grader. His favorite thing in the whole wide world is pandas, followed closely by building toys like Lego and models. His collection of stuffed pandas includes so many of them named Paul that I lost count. He is also on the autism spectrum, which can make life pretty interesting around here.

Big Sissy doesn't live with us anymore because, well, she's all grown up. But she still she comes to visit from time to time. And thanks to her, I got to warm-up my momming skills without having to change any diapers! She was my first kid and I was her first mom no matter what anyone tells you.

Renaissance Man (a.k.a Ren) knows a little bit of everything about everything, can fix anything, and has a solution for most of life's conundrums. In a past life, he worked for the Japanese government. In this one, he is the stay-at-home-parent glue that holds the family together. These days, he seems to have made it a habit to have back surgeries, so I write about that a lot here, too.

Mom on the Edge (a.k.a. Moe). That's me. Things that seem like good ideas to me don't to other people. How else can I explain asking my spouse to give up his very lucrative job so we could move to the US so I could get a Ph.D.? I suppose you could say I like to face challenges head-on and live life on the edge. Funny how having kids lets me do this daily...


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