Nov 24, 2013: Fall Days

Happy almost Thanksgiving! Theo is now off school for nine glorious days, and I’m very excited not to have to get up and drive him! I’ll be up anyway, since Sam wakes with the dawn, but at least I won’t have to be dressed and out of the house, which is lovely, lovely, lovely.

We had our first real rain of the season this year, which made for some damp drop-offs, though thankfully the worst of the rain did not happen while I was walking Theo the quarter mile from where we park into his school. The rain did, however, clue me in to the fact that we likely needed a bit of work done on our van, which wasn’t handling overly well on the wet roads. We were really afraid they’d tell us we needed new tires, which would likely set us back close to $1,000 or so…but as it turns out, we got lucky! Not only did we not need tires, we found out another cool surprise. When we bought the van, it had a used-car warranty on it. That was almost two years ago…and 40,000 miles ago. When they did the inspection on Friday to see why the van wasn’t handling well, one of the incidentals they noticed was that the front and side motor housings were cracked and leaking. Evidently, this is normally a $700 fix…but it was covered under our warranty! Wheeeeeee! It seems so rare that you actually get good news on car repairs, so I was pretty excited! (Plus, we just put $1,000 into new brakes and struts on the van three weeks ago, so I wasn’t overly excited about the prospect of another big repair bill. But as it turns out, our total this time was under $200. Whew!)

One of our rainy days was Tuesday, and not only was it rainy, but Sam had been up with a suspicious cough (turned out to be a mild case of croup) for much of the night before and had a runny nose. So I decided I had better cancel our plans to drive into San Francisco to meet some friends. But then my friends messaged me and said, “We don’t care if he’s a little sick—come anyway!” And the rain was holding off at that point, so I decided to go. And I’m so glad I did—we had a great time! We were meeting two of Sam’s little buddies—Caj, whose birthday party we went to last weekend, and Seth, who is just about ten days older than Sam and who lives in Alaska. He and his mom, Grace, tagged along on his dad’s business trip to San Francisco, so we were really excited to get to see them. (Grace and Jisun, Caj’s mom, are both friends from my online “Rockin’ Moms” group. We met in person this past May, when Grace was again in town, and I was very excited to get to spend the day with them again. I see Jisun somewhat regularly, but obviously not Grace, since she lives in Alaska!)

So we all met at the California Academy of Sciences, which is an excellent museum, and we checked out the rainforest exhibit with the babies. Sam particularly liked the butterflies and kept pointing at them and saying, “Buh! Buh!” Then we had lunch, where Sam insisted on standing in his high chair the whole time, requiring me to hold him with one hand while feeding him (and me!) with the other—quite an interesting challenge. Evidently I don’t make children who sit calmly while eating. 😉 And after lunch, we took the kids to the play area, which they enjoyed. Jisun’s older two daughters were there and played with everything, while the babies were largely content to play in the pretend pirate ship and crawl up and down the small stairs.

Hideous traffic is a fact of life in San Francisco, and it took me two hours to drive the 37 miles home. Yes, you heard me—two hours to drive 37 miles. I averaged 18 miles an hour, apparently…and that was almost all on the freeway, where the speed limit is 65 miles an hour. Yes, traffic here stinks. That and the insane cost of housing are Chris’s and my big complaints about this area. We love where we live and are largely happy with our move, but man, that traffic is painful! At least Sam got a nice long afternoon nap in the van while I sat…and sat…and sat…in traffic.

Speaking of Sam, he is making such progress in speech development! He now regularly signs milk, cracker, food, sleep, all done, and his personal favorite, Baby Signing Time. He reminds me of Theo—when he signs for Baby Signing Time and I tell him no, he just keeps staring straight in my eyes meaningfully and signing it over and over, as if to say, “Lady, you’re not getting it. This is what I want!”

He’s also trying to make the beginning sounds of words a lot (thus “Buh! Buh!” for butterfly), but it’s definitely still a big work in progress. I’m delighted that he’s starting to really pick up signs, since I know actual spoken language is a big challenge for many kids with DS, and this gives him another way to communicate with us.

He pretty regularly takes an ounce or two of soy milk out of a bottle at night now, too, which is awesome! He should be drinking somewhere around 20 ounces of milk a day at this point, and I have no idea how much he gets from nursing, so I don’t exactly know where he’s at. But I do know that even two weeks ago, he wouldn’t have touched a drop out of a bottle, so this is big progress! And eating…well, let’s just not talk about that. It’s a constant struggle and source of frustration. 🙂

Theo wrapped up the last week of school before his vacation by having a feast with his classmates! Cooking is one of their enrichment activities (that and science are Theo’s two favorites, in fact), and so this past Friday his class joined with the grade 2/3 class to prepare and enjoy a little Thanksgiving feast. Theo has been so excited about it! I wish I could’ve volunteered to help, but alas I had no one to watch Sam, and for insurance reasons I’m not allowed to bring him when I volunteer. Ah well… Theo said they had fun, so I’m sure he did. 🙂

Speaking of Theo, I thought I’d share a little update on him. Sam gets a lot of discussion on the blog lately just because he’s been developing in leaps and bounds, so there’s a lot to say about him. Theo’s been holding steady, more or less, but I thought I’d share what’s going on with him. School is going reasonably well—better than we had hoped, but of course not without it’s occasional bumps in the road. Truth is, Theo doesn’t particularly enjoy school. He doesn’t hate it, and there are no tears or drama associated with it, but he tries every trick in the book to get out of it, and he lets me know on an almost daily basis that he doesn’t particularly care for it. I think he likes it as well as he’d like any school, but there are a couple of things at play here. For one, they work a fair amount on writing, and that is really a problem area for Theo. It’s incredibly apparent when I see the kids’ work on the wall in his classroom—Theo’s handwriting is by far the worst in the class. It’s often nearly illegible—I have to work pretty hard to translate it. And I know he tries, but it’s just difficult for him. He’s working with three different occupational therapists (one who specializes in handwriting, in fact) to try to improve, but it’s hard work. So Theo hates the writing part of school. He loves the math and speaks very excitedly of the “math packets” they do every day, and he also really enjoys the enrichment activities, but he doesn’t like the writing.

The second factor is that I think he’s bored. And you know, it’s just part of life—I know some of the stuff he’s learning is old news to him, but there’s not much I can do about it. For example, they started sight words this past week. By the end of kindergarten, they need to have learned to read 30 sight words. Theo got his first list of six this week, on Monday, and he was to have learned them by Friday. On Monday afternoon, I held up the list of six and said, “Which ones of these can you read?” He promptly read them all to me without a single stumble, then looked at me like, “What else have you got? That was easy.” Somehow I have a feeling if I gave him the entire list of 30 at once, he’d be able to read most, if not all, of them already. When we’re out and about, he can read an amazing number of words with no help, and I think reading is just something that is coming very naturally to him. And that’s great—he’s very lucky! But he’s too young to realize how fortunate he is—all he knows is that he’s bored learning something he already knows. I’ve explained to him that he’s lucky that he learns easily, and that a lot of kids need to work hard to learn things that come easily to him, but you know…he’s five. He only really gets so much of that concept. Mostly what he knows is that he’s bored.

To be honest, in some ways homeschooling would be perfect for him. He wouldn’t have to devote time to the stuff he already knows, that comes naturally to him, and we could work on the things he does struggle with, like pattern recognition and visual-spatial tasks. But I think the social benefits of being in a classroom outweigh the negatives for him. He’s learning how to cooperate with other kids and with teachers and to modulate his behavior as needed in that type of environment. That is not something that would be particularly easy to teach him at home. Theo learns a lot by peer modeling, I’ve found, and seeing how other kids behave in class seems to be the key to getting him to modulate his own behavior.

So, he’s just going to have to deal with being bored…and being challenged by writing, which would be the case whether he were homeschooled or in a school setting. And he’ll deal with it fine. Even though he complains about school and doesn’t particularly love it, when I see him there I see that he’s interacting with other kids and making some friends, and he seems content, if resigned. He certainly doesn’t run off to class in excitement, but he also doesn’t cry or fuss about going. He just sort of plods along like, “Okay, let’s get this over with. Can I go home yet?” But he smiles and interacts with the other kids, and he really likes his teacher and one particular parent (well, grandparent, actually) helper, so it’s all good. A couple of the other parents have pulled me aside to tell me how much they like him because they think he’s really funny. They get a kick out of the adult-sounding things he says to them, which doesn’t surprise me—he really is quite funny!

However, evidently his teacher didn’t think him quite so funny one day this week, when she threatened to send him to the principal’s office! In the car after school, he announced to me that he wasn’t going to school the next day. “Why not?” I asked. It took some digging, but I learned that he had been put on “orange” on the behavior chart, which is one step away from “red” (a trip to the principal’s office), and his teacher had told him he would miss recess the next day as his punishment. “And I just have to deal with it,” he informed me, “because my other choice was a trip to see the principal.” I had to try not to laugh at his resigned tone, as I could just hear his teacher’s voice in my head, saying, “Well, Theo, you’re just going to have to deal with it, because your other choice is a trip to the principal’s office!” As it turns out, he had been gobbling like a turkey and didn’t cut it out when asked, so he got sent to sit quietly at his table. And presumably, he kept gobbling. Thus, he landed on orange. And yes, I had a hard time not laughing when I learned that my son’s first threatened trip to the principal’s office was over gobbling like a turkey! Good heavens….

Their behavior chart is actually based on positive reinforcement—the kids start each day on green, and they try to work their way up to purple (their school color), which earns them a “Royal Eagle” badge. If they stay on green for 15 days without moving to yellow (or worse, orange–nice job, Theo!), they get moved to purple and get to wear their Royal Eagle badge and get some privileges. Theo aspires to be a Royal Eagle, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. What can I say—he’s a good kid, but I’m a realist! The lure of gobbling like a turkey is far too enticing for him to pass up. 🙂

Anyway, that’s what’s new with the elder young Small. We wrapped up our week with a trip to a new park in Pleasanton, which turned out to be a big hit. We had to go to Pleasanton to buy a new vacuum (we had a coupon for $80 off, so it was worth the 45-minute drive!), so we hit up a new park while we were there. They had a huge metal slide that you could slide down on a piece of cardboard and gain great speed, and Theo was a big fan! I think he spent a good hour going down the slide, testing out various pieces of cardboard and foam kickboards to see which one would result in the fastest trip down the slide! Meanwhile, Sam played in the sand (and didn’t eat too much of it). 😉

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

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