Aug 31, 2014: And So It Begins…

What a full week it’s been! We have a fully minted first-grader in the house now, and he started back to school with an entire week. Usually they start the school year midweek, but this year they started it on a Monday, so the kids were in class all week long. It’s been quite a transition from the relaxed atmosphere of summer to five full days of school!

So far, things are…decent. Theo says his teacher is “nice” and school is “good,” but I certainly wouldn’t say he’s overly enthusiastic. When I picked him up the first several days, he was completely locked in his own world and not at all responsive to me, which naturally made me very sad. I know Theo, and I know he tends to either (a) act out or (b) shut down when things are difficult, but I still hate to see it. But each afternoon he would eventually start to open up…and then become a real handful, to be honest. It’s like Stim-Fest 2014 around here—makes for a some rather long afternoons.

Wondering what stimming is? Here’s the brief but fairly accurate Wikipedia definition: Self-stimulatory behavior, also known as stimming and self-stimulation, is the repetition of physical movements, sounds, or repetitive movement of objects common in individuals with developmental disabilities, but most prevalent in people with autistic spectrum disorders.

With Theo, stimming usually takes the form of making noises—usually loud, sometimes rather piercing or jarring noises, sometimes accompanied by him clapping his hands repeatedly over his ears. Given that I tend to avoid loud noises…well, you can imagine that his stimming isn’t my favorite thing. But I know it’s a comfort thing for him—albeit an unconscious one. After watching him in school settings for three years, I know him well enough to know that he tries desperately to hold things together in school…and then comes home and does whatever he can to calm himself down. For him, that’s verbal stimming, apparently. So after I pick him up at school, it’s three hours of strange whooping noises, yells, and repeated chants (“butt, butt, butt, butt, butt…is a recent chant). Frankly, I’m wondering how we’ll do homework once that starts (in another week or so), because the Stim-Fest typically lasts until bedtime. But hopefully things will settle down, and he’ll settle into things and mellow out. All we can really do is wait and see, at this point.

And in case you’re wondering, yes—this was an issue at his old school, too. As much as I miss his old school, I suspect the stimming outbursts have more to do with the very long day that is first grade, more so than the switch of schools. I know he misses his old school—and so do I, though I try to hide that from him!—but I think it’s mostly just a very long day for him.

One thing he does seem to be enjoying is after-school care. He’s in there for about 90 minutes a day, while Sam naps, and he seems to be having fun with that. I actually discovered that I could pick him up from school on Wednesdays, as he gets out a bit early and before Sam’s naptime, and he said no—he’d prefer to go to after-school care on Wednesdays, too. It’s a small group of first-graders, and they do crafts and play games and play outside. I think he likes that part of it. He was very excited on Friday, because Friday is movie day, and they can bring a pillow and blanket to after-school care and cozy up for a movie to celebrate the end of a successful week. So hey—at least there’s something about school he likes. And I’m hoping he’ll warm to the rest of it. He was very excited by the giant size of his math book, so that’s something. 😉

Another thing Theo seems to be enjoying is the walk to school. His old school took us 35–40 minutes to drive to every morning, and it was tedious at best. His new school is a 20-minute walk through a wooded path and up a hill, and it really is lovely. Instead of sitting in traffic, we get to walk along and listen to the birds and the creek. Theo seems eager to walk in the mornings, saying, “I like to get a beautiful view and see all the trees when they’re shiny.” 🙂 Three days this week it was just him and me, because my niece (who is staying with us for a bit while she looks for a place to live) watched Sam one morning, and Chris watched Sam a couple of other mornings. It was really cool to get that one-on-one time with Theo in the morning, before he was all frazzled and stimmy at the end of the day. He talks up a storm in the morning—it’s quite entertaining. 🙂

It was actually kind of an abrupt transition back into school, because Theo’s paperwork hadn’t caught up with him. So I walked him into his classroom the first day, and his teacher had no idea who he was. She recovered quickly and set up a desk for him, but I felt bad for my poor, displaced kiddo! He didn’t seem fazed, though.

So we’ll see how it goes. If this doesn’t work, we have two options: a Waldorf school or homeschool. And to be honest, if I didn’t have to work, I’d homeschool him in a heartbeat. I truly think he’d learn best in a one-on-one environment, and I am actually certified to teach in the state of California, so it’s not a big leap. But, I have to work, and if I homeschooled him, I wouldn’t be able to. So…well, let’s just hope this school works out.

Sam started back to school this week, too. He has a new teacher, but she’s been at Early Intervention for a long time, and he’s well-acquainted with her. She seems to be the lucky charm for him so far—he’s actually trying bites of new foods at school! The teachers are stunned—they’re afraid to even acknowledge it, in case he abruptly stops! This week he took a bite of applesauce, a few bites of very thinly sliced apples, and a few bites of a quesadilla. Major progress! Alas, that hasn’t yet transferred to home—he’ll still only eat crackers, chips, yogurt, and the occasional squeeze-pack for us. But hey, it’s progress. We like progress around here.

Speaking of progress, it’s time for Sam’s bloodwork recheck for his thyroid medicine, and it’s a doozy this time—tons of values to check. I emailed our Kaiser pediatrician to plead for her to run any of the tests she could. (As you may know, we have Sam’s thyroid treated by a naturopath, since Kaiser wouldn’t prescribe the treatment. This is all fine and good, and Sam’s pediatrician openly agreed with our decision to do so, but it does mean that we have to pay for that particular bloodwork out of pocket—and it doesn’t come cheap. Plus, the lab that will do it is terrible. Truly awful.) I was hoping she’d be able to do at least some of the tests, but what do you know? She was able to order every single one for us! Not only does that mean insurance covers them, it means that Sam gets his blood drawn by good, experienced techs instead of the people at the other lab who stabbed him over and over in numerous vain (ha ha, like the pun?!) attempts to get a good blood-draw from him. Woohoo! Score one for Kaiser!

Speaking of Sam, check out this video of him working with his speech therapist. For many months, he was very reticent about imitating sounds. But now, you can see that he tries to imitate every single word she prompts him on! They’re not really intelligible in most cases, but he’s trying, and that’s what counts. As I said, we like progress around here!!

Having both boys in school means I have a predictable work schedule for the first time in years, and that’s been really nice. I’m teaching two classes this session, plus editing about 10 books. So it’s nice to have specific, dedicated time to balance all that. Quite a relief, in fact.

Oh! I can’t believe I forgot to mention some big excitement this week: EARTHQUAKE! You may have heard about the Napa earthquake that hit last Saturday night. Yes, we felt it. Quite strongly, in fact. We live about 25 miles from the epicenter, and it was a “shallow” and long (45 seconds) quake. For whatever reason, our dogs didn’t react at all, which is strange because dogs are known to sense seismic disturbances very keenly and often alert you ahead of them (not that we realize why they’re acting weird at the time—but when an earthquake hits, in retrospect you can often look back and say “yeah, my dogs were acting strangely”). And neither of the boys woke up. In fact, I might not have woken up if Chris hadn’t woken me! I was dreaming about being shaken, but I’m not sure it would’ve woken me up. It did, however, wake Chris up, and he woke me up because he thought we might have to run to the boys’ rooms and grab them. Because it really was a pretty decent-sized quake. Our house got a good shaking, though nothing fell off the walls or broke. And as I said, it was long—Chris and I had a whole conversation about the quake while it was happening!

The funniest thing about this is that both of us also went through the Loma Prieta quake in 1989, so big quakes aren’t new to us. I don’t know how Chris reacted (I didn’t know him back then), but I know that I had a really hard time getting over Loma Prieta. I had nightmares about it for years, and I was really shaken up (pun intended!). That was a bigger quake (7.1), but the epicenter was similarly near our house, and it was much shorter (15 seconds instead of 45). However, the shaking felt much stronger despite the shorter length, and our house had pretty significant damage. Not structurally—as I recall, a window cracked but that was it. But my parents had a lot of big, tall furniture, and pretty much all of it fell over and got broken to varying degrees. My mom had a lot of knickknacks and such, and they broke everywhere. Dishes broke. Toilets emptied all over the floor. And perhaps most notably, our backyard pool created a tidal wave that went over the top of our one-story house and got the front yard all wet. So yeah…BIG quake. And it really, really bothered me for a very long time.

So when Chris and I moved back to the Bay Area almost three years ago, the one downside to me was earthquakes. I wasn’t thrilled about moving to an area riddled by faults, but all of the other plusses outweighed that one big minus, so we went for it. But nearly every night for the past three years, while I sit in my chair, I can almost feel the ground trembling (even though it isn’t trembling noticeably), and I’ve been slightly uneasy for the past three years. I just didn’t feel like I was on solid ground, if that makes sense. Because the thing about an earthquake is that there’s no warning—one minute everything is stable, and the next minute you don’t know if it’s a short, small quake or whether you’re going to get buried in a giant pile of rubble. It’s disconcerting, to say the least.

But this time, for whatever reason, I was completely calm. The floor was shaking pretty strongly and I was woken up out of a sound sleep (by Chris, as I said), which normally would really shake me up (ha ha, pun again!). But I was very calm and mellow about it. Just stood there, waited for the shaking to end, and said, “Well, that wasn’t small. I’d guess about 4.5.” (I was wrong—it was a 6.0.) And after that, I promptly forgot all about it. I have gone about my days for the past week and not even given it a second thought. And there have been plenty of aftershocks, so I know our ground is still trembling. But yet, I’m completely unbothered by it. Weird, given how very upsetting the quake in 1989 was for me.

I attribute this sense of peace to something that occurred after I had Sam—me giving up a large portion of my control-freak self. (I actually blogged about that earlier in the week. Click here to read that post.) Twenty-five years ago, the earthquake freaked me out because I had no control. There was glass and rubble all over my house, the ground kept shaking under my feet, and I had no control. One week ago, the ground shook under my feet again, and I stood there wondering, “Is stuff going to start flying around the room? Are we going to be picking our way through carpets full of glass?” And yet I was unworried. I was, of course, aware of the boys and the fact that we might need to get to them—and the fact that we’d need to smell for gas to make sure the gas lines hadn’t ruptured. But I was able to stay calm and logical, thinking, “The heavy furniture in the boys’ rooms is bolted to the walls and not near their beds. There are no heavy pictures hanging over their beds. Nothing should fall on them. They should be fine.” Quite a game-change for the freaked-out girl I was some 25 years ago!

In case you missed it, I had a few other posts this week. One is a full explanation of why we switched schools—click here for that one. Another is a blog-hop post on how my connection with disability has changed how I see the world—click here for that one (if you didn’t already click through to it when I mentioned it a few paragraphs ago—it’s the one about me not being such a control freak anymore). A third is a writeup of some of my thoughts on ADHD and re-assessing Theo—click here for that one. And finally, a fourth is another blog-hop post, presenting my thoughts in a new way—click here for that one.

And, as always, pictures! We went to the Bay Area Discovery Museum on Saturday, and many of the pictures are from there. I was on Sam duty, so you get to see a lot of Sam pictures. But I did switch off with Chris and go on Theo duty later in our visit, so you’ll see some of him, too.

Happy beginning of September!

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