March 30, 2014: Mad Science!

Well, we did it—we survived Theo’s sixth birthday party! Actually, we did more than survive—we had fun!

We had originally planned it to be an indoor/outdoor event, with some experiments set up in our backyard, but the rain, which has been holding off ALL winter, finally decided to arrive in time for the party. 🙂 So, indoors it was! And I was really wondering how we’d fit 15 kids and 20 adults in our house, which is spacious but not that huge…but as it turned out several people got sick and had to cancel, so we ended up with a very manageable 20-ish people instead. And although we missed our sick friends, it did keep the party at a more manageable level.

So, I can’t remember how much I said about the plans for the party in previous weeks’ blogs, but we went with a “Mad Science” party. One of Theo’s favorite parts of school is when they do science enrichment once a month, and I came across an outfit that will come to your house (or a park or whatever) and do “mad science” with the kids. They were reasonably priced, and I even managed to get hold of a free $75 off coupon, making it even more reasonable, so…sold! And it was a big hit! They did a 45-minute show, which the kids seemed to really enjoy, and then let all the kids make slime to take home. The show was pretty interactive—Theo was the “lab assistant” because he’s the birthday boy, but the mad scientist was great about letting all of the kids touch and try stuff. She did experiments with dry ice, with acids and bases, with solid to liquid to gas, etc. I think the highlight of the show was when she turned dry ice into steam and filled up balloons with it, and then sent them flying around the room. The kids were so excited!! They also loved these bubbles that she created and put on their heads!

Because our original group was going to be much larger and would include some kids who might be too young for the show, I also set up a station of our own “mad science” experiments. I picked three simple experiments from a neat website I found, set everything up, and called upon Grandma Kathy to man the table (figured her teacher skills would be put to very good use!!). The kids could create their own “lava lamps,” make a neat swirly milk experiment, and/or make an exploding sandwich bag. I think Theo tried all three experiments, and later, after his guests had gone home, he went back to the science table and spent over an hour making up his own experiments—pouring mixtures of baking soda, water, vinegar, milk, food coloring, dish soap, etc. carefully into dishes and seeing what it would do. He even cleaned up his own messes without us so much as saying a word, which was awesome! And he said, “We need to leave this science table up all the time, Mom! I love it!” Gee, I wish we could—it was really wonderful to watch him enjoy himself so much. Methinks I’m going to have to incorporate a lot more science activities into our days when I get the time!

I’ve got a thing about making cakes—when we were growing up, my mom wasn’t much for holidays. Not that she’s anti-holiday—I think it’s more just she’s a person who is comfortable with her routines and doesn’t particularly love chaos, and holidays inevitably come with chaos. (Mom, if I’m wrong on this, I promise to print a retraction in next week’s blog—ha!!) But the one thing she always did was make our birthdays really special. We never had official parties, but she would make whatever we wanted for dinner (this is huge, because she hates to cook!), and she would always, always put time into making us a special, beautifully decorated cake. And I will never forget that, so it’s a tradition I wanted to keep for my family. So…cakes. When Theo is a teenager and hates me, hopefully he will at least say, “Well, but my mom did always make me cool birthday cakes…”

So this year’s cake was a chemistry flask! I found a picture on Pinterest and decided to try to re-create it. And I think it turned out pretty well! Though I have to say, when I was first assembling it and hadn’t yet iced it, it looked suspiciously like a large-scale culinary representation of some drug paraphernalia. And after I put on the first layer of white icing, Chris announced that it looked like a head of garlic—and he was right! But once I got all the detail work done, I think it looked more like a chemistry flask.

As usual, we had waaaaaay too much food! But I blame that on the fact that the sick folks who had to cancel didn’t know they were sick until the morning of the party, and we had bought all the food the night before! Oh well, we’ll find a way to use it up, I’m sure.

Speaking of food, Sam spent much of the party eating—he was content in his high chair, eating and watching the happenings. But guess what? His Early Intervention must be working, because he willingly ate a piece of cheese! And cake!! You’ll remember that he screamed when I so much as put cake on his tray at his birthday, just seven weeks ago. But today, he not only looked at cake and touched cake, he ate cake! Hallelujah! Raise a flag!! He also drank some punch, which was pretty amazing. I’ve spent well over a year working on drinking, and what motivates him? A mix of Sprite, ginger ale, and lime sherbet. Oh, Sam…a healthy eater you are not!

Anyway, it was a great day, and Theo had so much fun playing with his friends!

So what else did we do this week… Oh, Friday was a cranky day! For me, that is. I mentioned last week that we had our appointment with the naturopath, and she wanted to run some tests to determine exactly what Sam’s thyroid is doing. She also wanted to run a celiac test, which I think I mentioned. Well, we have to pay for the thyroid stuff out of pocket…and it’s expensive. However, our medical group does offer the celiac panel, so I had to write a rather uncomfortable email to Sam’s primary doctor, basically saying, “I’ve sought a second opinion, and the doctor would like to run more tests, but I can’t afford them. Can you order them?” Of course, I worded it nicely and said that I value Kaiser’s assessment of Sam’s health etc. etc. etc…but that I just felt it important to get a second opinion since thyroid treatment is quite controversial. Anyway, Sam’s primary doctor was awesome and sent me back the nicest note saying, “Of course I’ll order the celiac panel, and I think you’re an outstanding mother for leaving no stone unturned as it regards your son’s health and well-being.” Whew! I really didn’t want to offend her, because I do think she’s a great doctor. Kaiser just has their set ideas, and I understand that as their employee, she generally has to follow them.

Anyway, all this means that Sam had to get blood drawn twice—once at the Kaiser lab and once at an independent lab. And I felt bad about that, but we’re talking hundreds of dollars…and Chris and I aren’t made of money. So, the Kaiser blood draw was relatively uneventful on Thursday afternoon—and even amusing, actually. Theo spent the time in the waiting room interrogating three different elderly women about everything, and they got a huge kick out of him. (“Hi! How are you? What’s your name? What are you here for? Are you getting your blood taken? Where do you live? What neighborhood? I don’t have your phone number yet… Do you have kids? How old are they? What are their names?” And on and on….)

However, when I went to the independent lab on Friday to get Sam’s second blood draw, it was horrible. We went after Theo’s dentist appointment (to get teeth sealants—another round of laughing gas! He did awesome!), and poor Sam was tired from a long day at his EI program and an interrupted nap. When I picked an independent lab, I specifically chose one that said they did pediatric blood draws. But I got there with the boys, and the woman (who seemed completely inept, to be honest—she did not inspire confidence) said, “Oh, we only have one person in this office, so we don’t usually do pediatric draws. You need two people for those.” I asked her the obvious question: Then why did the LabCorp website send me to this location? She had no answer…and then said she’d try if I could hold Sam. Well, that’s fine—I always hold Sam at Kaiser, and they always have a single person draw his blood. It’s no big deal there, so I thought it’d be fine here. Um…no. She couldn’t find a vein, told me he must be dehydrated (which is actually one concern we have, given his low fluid intake), and kept torturing the poor kid by repeatedly putting on the tourniquet and trying to find a vein. She finally gave up and sent me to another lab down the street that she promised would have more than one person working.

Sigh…fine. I didn’t want to traumatize Sam any more, but these labs are 40 minutes from our house, and I didn’t really want to have to come back another day. So we went to the second lab…where the woman announced, “Oh, I’m on my own today, and we need two people for a pediatric draw.” I nearly cried as I said, “Then why did the other woman send me here?!” Keep in mind this is late afternoon, I have two tired and cranky boys with me, and I had to drive 40 minutes to the damn lab. And I was supposed to be home prepping for the party! Argh!

So the nurse said, “Well, I can try…if you can hold him.” She seemed more competent than the other woman, so I agreed to hold Sam while she tried. But she couldn’t get a vein—she rooted around in his tiny arm with the needle and never found it. Meanwhile, he was screaming, Theo was screaming (because the loud screams upset him), and my phone kept ringing because Chris was trying to get hold of me to come meet me, and he couldn’t figure out why I wouldn’t be picking up my phone. ARGH!

So we left. And now we have to drive 40 minutes (or more—I’m not sure I really want to go back to those ones!) back to a lab on Monday, when the boys are off school, to have Sam poked again! And I just have to hope that they actually get it right this time.

Long story short (okay, not really short), I have newfound respect for the lab techs at Kaiser, who are competent and always find my little boy’s veins without making him wail like crazy! Oy vey… I told Chris he is not allowed to change insurance plans, as I do NOT want to deal with LabCorp again! Kaiser is so nice and efficient….

The other big news from this week is that I spent Wednesday down in the South Bay, delivering more medical-outreach materials for families who’ve just had a baby with Down syndrome, and for the medical professionals who work with them. Once again, I got a really positive response from the hospitals I visited, which made me really happy. Two of them are very interested in having the Down Syndrome Connection make a presentation to their doctors, which would be wonderful—a huge step to building awareness in the medical community! I’m really so happy that I’ve been able to help with this project, which I feel so strongly about. I have one more hospital to visit, and then it’s just a matter of keeping up with them to make sure they always have the materials they need on hand. At least, until we launch the next phase of the program, which may be to reach out to people who receive a prenatal diagnosis.

So, on an unrelated note, Theo is officially still five (for another week), but wow…the approaching age of six should really be called the “Snotty Sixes.” Kid has an attitude lately, which is not going over so well with me. It’s a normal phase that I know kids go through, but argh—he’s lucky I haven’t sold him to a band of roving gypsies for all the snotty backtalk! I’ll give you one example: Friday I called him downstairs for breakfast and said, “We need to get ready for school!” His response, in a snotty tone, was, “I don’t want to go to school! You just need to leave me alone and mind your own business!” Um…really? I think not, child.

I blame school for the attitude. Chris and I don’t talk to each other or the kids like that, so I figure he’s got to be hearing it at school. They share recess with the older kids, so maybe that’s where he’s hearing it. Anyway, it’s normal…but not my favorite stage. At the same point in time, when he’s not busy sassing me, I actually love the age he’s at for the interaction I can have with him. He talks about a lot of interesting things and is really fun to be around when he’s not being a sassy-pants. And boy, does that kid have personality to spare!

I have a love/hate with school, really. I could’ve done without him picking up the sass, and he’s also learning some hard life lessons that I would’ve loved to shelter him from for at least a few more years. I’m going to change the names here to protect the innocent, because it’s really just silly kid drama, and I don’t want to call anyone out by name. Anyway, he came home earlier this week and announced, “I played ball with my friends today. I played with John and Bob and Jane…oh, no, not Jane. She isn’t allowed to play with me at school.”

“She’s not?” I asked, surprised because I know Jane’s mother well, and I can’t imagine her not allowing Jane to play with Theo.

“Yeah,” Theo said. “She can’t because Jill won’t be friends with her if she does. She has to protect her friendship with Jill, so she can’t be my friend at school. Only when we’re not at school. That’s okay, right, Mom?”

“Um,” I said. “Not so much, really…”

“Why?” Theo asked. “Jane is just protecting her friendship, and Jill won’t be her friend if she plays with me! That’s okay, isn’t it?”

I was stuck. It’s not really my place to dictate how Theo chooses his friendships, but I do not think this is okay. Probably normal, yes…but not cool. And not what I want my son to learn is okay in the world of friendships. So I carefully said, “Well, if it was me, I wouldn’t want to play with anyone who was telling other people they couldn’t be friends with me. Because that’s not really very nice. You can play with anyone you want, and anyone else should be allowed to play with you. If Jill is making rules like that about who Jane can play with, she’s not being a very good friend to anyone. You can play with whoever you want, Theo, but if it were me, I would spend my time playing with friends who play nicer than that.”

Theo mulled that over a bit and didn’t say much more. He doesn’t seem bothered by it, and I don’t want to make him bothered by it…but it’s really, really not cool. How can cliques start so young?? I thought we had a few more years before we’d get there!

Chris says Theo has brought the incident up to him a couple of times, too, and he has said basically the same thing—that Theo should choose to play with children who are kind to others. We also commended Theo on the fact that he doesn’t exclude other kids, and I believe that is true—his progress report a few months ago specifically said that he is kind and a good friend to everyone. And Theo has a huge heart (that exceeds his hugely sassy mouth!), so I would be very surprised if I ever heard that he wasn’t being kind to someone.

Anyway, Jane’s mom actually approached me about the situation and was rather horrified by it. I was glad to see we were on the same page about it, because I really like both Jane and her mom, and I was pretty darn sure that the “you can’t play with him” bit had to be originating from Jill. Jane’s mom is such a friendly, kind person, and what I know of Jane is that she, too, is a kind little girl, so I really couldn’t imagine her being the one to come up with the silly rule.

Anyway, I’m trying not to be the hovering parent who steps into the kindergarten drama…but man, is it ever hard to sit back and watch someone be thoughtless to your child!! Ugh, good preparation, right? Both Theo and Sam will go through situations like this more than once in their lives, I’m sure. Why do kids have to be such twits to each other?!

As far as Theo’s feelings about school, that would be mostly hate, not so much love/hate. He loves a couple of things—science, cooking, and the computer lab—but he increasingly dislikes the rest of it. He’s rather unmotivated about doing his work, and he’s starting to fall behind a bit in math, partly because he struggles to write the work out, so he just doesn’t even want to try. He’s having some trouble with one-to-one number correspondence, so addition and subtraction are challenging him…and his response to the challenge is to just not try. Ugh, it’s going to be a long 12 years of school… I volunteered this week, and he just sat and didn’t do his work at all. He didn’t misbehave and he wasn’t defiant in any way—he just sat and stared off into space instead of doing his work. I tried repeatedly to get him to work on it, in a number of ways. His teacher tried, too, and didn’t have much luck either. And what do you do? You can’t physically FORCE a child to pick up his crayon and work on his assignment, and he wasn’t misbehaving—just sitting quietly and not doing his work. One of the other parents told me she had the same issue with him when she volunteered last week. (She wasn’t saying this to be rude or anything—I think she just wanted to find out if I had a good idea of how she could motivate him to do his work! Unfortunately, I do not. He just shuts down when he doesn’t want to do it.)

I feel badly about this because Theo loves to learn! He’s like a sponge, soaking up all sorts of good stuff that he’s interested in! But the classroom style of learning just isn’t really clicking with him. And I don’t think this is at all a commentary about his teacher—she is wonderful and engaging and he truly likes her very much. I think it’s just more the classroom setting and how teachers have to present the material to a room full of kids—it just doesn’t click with him. He learns great one-on-one, in an environment where he can do more exploration and less listening and drills. To be honest, I wish the Montessori method would work for him, since it’s more hands-on and exploratory, but he just doesn’t have the self-discipline for a fully child-led learning environment.

I talked to his OT, Nan, about this, and she agreed that his learning style just doesn’t really fit what’s offered in school. He does much better with her than he does at school in terms of handwriting (which is what she works with him on). He’s one-on-one with her, so he can talk to her about things that interest him, and she can tailor the work to his interests. And he focuses much better and is a lot more careful about his writing. In school, where he has to do what’s assigned, he just kinda shuts down and doesn’t try.

As Nan said, “He has so many adult ideas racing through his head, and schools just aren’t set up to handle that. Teachers have to teach to the middle, and he really doesn’t fall in the middle and is pretty far outside of it in some ways.” Very true—on all counts. When I was teaching freshmen in college, that was one of the hardest parts—having to teach to the middle and knowing I wasn’t fully addressing the needs of the struggling students or the ones who were way ahead of the curve.

I lamented to Nan that I kind of wish I could home-school him, because I hate squashing that desire to learn by putting him in classroom where he does okay but really doesn’t much like learning, and she said she thinks when he’s more mature, he might be a good candidate for home-schooling. That was my thought, too. Right now he can’t self-regulate enough for me to do it with him—he spends too much of his time fighting us instead of cooperating with us. But when he’s older and has accepted the fact that he cannot yet rule the world or the household (ha ha, will he ever accept that?!), if he is still not really thriving in public school, I will consider home-schooling him. I’m actually certified to teach in the state of California, so it wouldn’t be a far stretch.

I used to worry about the socialization aspect of home-schooling—because Theo didn’t really know how to interact with kids. But as he has grown and matured, he’s become extremely capable of socializing with kids and making friends, so I no longer worry about that. If we ever did home-school him, I’m sure he would do great with whatever kids he met in outside activities.

Anyway, who knows what the future holds. At the moment I’m in a rock in a hard place with regard to what we’ll do about schooling when Sam starts kindergarten. I realize that’s three years away, but it has occurred to me that we have a problem. I had originally intended for him to go to Theo’s school, and I would still love that, but Theo’s school has no special ed, and if Sam follows the pattern of many kids with DS, he will at some point in elementary school probably do best in a special ed class. (From what I’ve been told, when concepts get more abstract around about second or third grade, kids with DS start to struggle and often do better in a special ed class. I don’t know if that’s true, given that we’re nowhere near that point, but it is something I’m keeping in mind, since I’ve heard it from several people.)

So then I thought, “Well, shoot. Sam would do great at Theo’s school, but I don’t want him to have to switch schools in third grade, when he needs special ed, so I’d better just start him at our neighborhood school” (which is supposed to be a good school, and I’ve talked to a parent who has a kid with DS in their special ed program, and she spoke highly of it). One problem with this plan: Because it’s in the same district as Theo’s school, the bell schedule will be the same, and there’s no way I can get both boys to school at 7:55 a.m. every morning when their schools are 30 minutes’ driving distance apart! But when Sam starts kindergarten, Theo will be in around third grade, and I don’t want to yank Theo out of his school and put him in Sam’s—that’s just cruel when he’s had four years to build up friendships.

So…yeah. I’m going to need to figure something out. I have no idea what. I guess I have a few years to think about it. I vaguely mentioned it to Theo’s teacher, and she said, “Well, what if Sam comes here, and the district provides a one-on-one aide for him when he needs it—a push-in model instead of pull-out?” (Pull-out is when Sam is pulled out of the mainstream classroom and moved into special ed for parts of each day; push-in is when an aide is “pushed into” the mainstream classroom to help him.) This is an excellent solution—it allows Sam to be fully mainstreamed for his elementary school years, which would be awesome! The tricky part will be getting the district to agree, as they are notoriously stingy about assigning one-on-one aides. But anyway, given that Theo’s teacher would be Sam’s teacher (assuming she continues to teach where she is), if she’s on board with this, which she seems to be, maybe that will give me a little leverage when the time comes. Have I mentioned how much I like Theo’s teacher? We need more like her. The kids love her (even Theo, who isn’t the biggest fan of school in the world), and she gets things done. I’m seriously going to mourn when Theo moves out of her class in second grade, though I have heard only wonderful things about the second/third teacher, so I’m sure I’ll like her, too.

Anyway! Moving along from school and on to the last big news of the week: The publisher I wrote two books for has hired me to write three more! I’m super-excited! These are Internet-related books for fifth-graders. I got to pick three topics out of the six books they have planned, and I chose to write about blogging (natural topic for me, right?!), starting an online business, and using social media. Truthfully, I have no time to write three books right now, but I’m going to do it because the opportunity is too good to pass up! For one thing, the money I earn will pay for our vacation this year—few people get rich off writing, and I’m no exception, but it’s a nice little addition that will cover our trip to Seattle! And the other thing is that I’ve been editing books about technology for 15 years, so actually getting to write them is a natural transition and one I’m excited to make! The books are only 48 pages each, but I still told Chris not to expect to see me for the next six weeks, as I work through editing six books, grading my students’ finals, and writing three books. By the end of all that, I’m going to need a vacation—too bad it’s not coming until August!

So that’s our week. I hope you’re all having a terrific end of March!

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