Tag Archives: summer school

“What I did this summer” or in other words, a brief summary of the month of July

As usual, summer has been very busy. Brian survived the Youth Conference pioneer trek (they did a one week recreation of the handcart pioneers that helped to settle Utah). Getting last details like their trek booklets and video slideshow kind of ate up all of my attention before and after. And Brian was swamped with getting everything ready both to prepare and clean up from trek, as well as getting work responsibilities squared away. Of course, this coincided with my amazing respite provider being sick for two weeks in a row and I barely held it together, honestly.

As a nice treat, though, my sister came and helped Patrick to bed one night so that I could drive up and visit my husband on the trail. That was a little bit of payoff, despite all of the craziness. Brian was called on to speak to the youth that night. He talked about the women’s pull, when the boys and men leave the carts and the women pull them up the steepest part of the trail in memory of the many pioneer women who crossed the plains without husband because they were divided by circumstance or death. As he talked, I saw a little bit of how it must be for him to watch me struggle right now with my current demands. How helpless he must feel watching me. I’ve been so focused on my own battle that I haven’t really seen things through his eyes that way before.

While Brian was away for youth conference, we celebrated Patrick’s “miracle day.” The 6 year anniversary of when Patrick, basically, died in my arms.. but didn’t leave us. I am still in awe of where we are now considering what happened then. I decided that I’d just scrap all responsibility that day and just focus on Patrick that day. It was swimming day at school, which means I got to go play in the pool. We left there and went out to Arby’s for lunch. (Arby’s has generously donated summer lunches to kids this year and so Patrick and I have been regulars this year.) While there, I asked Patrick what he’d like to do to celebrate and he chose the zoo. And, as we finished at the zoo, I decided to go follow a lead from the morning. The lifeguard at the school pool overheard me saying how hard it is for a transplant patient to find a pool clean enough to swim in. He gave me suggestions of a therapy pool that might be willing to sneak us in during a water aerobics class for a private swim session. In the end, that’s exactly what happened and Patrick and I enjoyed a full hour of having the shallow end all to ourselves. We came home exhausted, ate a quick dinner, and then went to bed early. A perfect way to spend the day.

Patrick’s last day of summer school was a week later and that’s why you haven’t heard much from me. I can’t quite put into words what it is to spend all day every day trying to supervise, teach, potty train, clean up after, and keep nurturing a little boy with this many needs day in and day out.

I’m trying to make the best of summer and shake the guilt of the mom who formerly had amazing mommy school themes planned for every day but now just makes it through the day. Patrick gets up at 6:34 every day. We go immediately to the bath. Patrick’s discovered laying down in the tub and so he has decided to learn to wash his own hair. This means that I can’t just put him in the tub and do things until I’m ready to get him out. He takes care of himself and gets out. Most often. Sometimes I catch him with dry hair and have to send him back to wash it.

We sometimes take lazy mornings where the only goal is making sure he makes it to the potty every time he needs to and that he eats a good breakfast. (He’s discovered cereal now with soy milk and that’s leading to better breakfasts.) Some days, we take some time for playing and learning. I let mommy school slide for a bit and it certainly isn’t organized and awesome, but Patrick started to miss his schoolwork about a week into this stretch of summer break and started to get out his writing books and practicing his letters every day, or grabbing his sight word readers and practicing with me.

Potty training is going well. Patrick has had several all underwear days, even using the bathroom away from home. But sometimes he forgets and sometimes he gets stage fright.

We accomplished Patrick's first away from home potty success when I offered to buy him this car ONLY if he used the potty in Walmart. We went back 3 times until he finally did it.

We accomplished Patrick’s first away from home potty success when I offered to buy him this car ONLY if he used the potty in Walmart. We went back 3 times until he finally did it.

He’ll get restless midday and so we take lunches at the park. We gave up on the location by our house because there were never kids his age there. We now bounce around between different parks, going most often to the one near our home with a shaded play structure. It’s nice to give him the chance to move and interact with other kids. And we’re pretty used to eating the lunches I pack now. Of course, Patrick’s gotten a bit fixated on corn dogs in vegan ranch dressing and picks that most often. But build your own pizza kits, hot dogs, pasta salad, chicken nuggets, and hummus are regular favorites.

A lot of our time is also spent practicing time outs, too. Patrick’s been angry again lately. I talked to his psychologist about it and she pointed out that he’s got a lot of new skills (language, potty, eating) and a lot of new independence now that he doesn’t need feeding tubes. And she thinks that he’s trying to figure out his boundaries again. So we worked out a behavior plan with 3 very careful worded warnings and then consequences when he’s out of control in time out.

I tried starting this behavior plan on the Pioneer Day weekend and it made for a very LONG weekend as Patrick fought back against the new rules and consequences. I don’t think we’ve got things quite right yet.

Just when we were making ground, he caught a cold. Amazingly, it only lasted a few days and went away without many problems. But we had to start all over again once he was better.

We’ve also been continuing to go to social skills group at the autism clinic and Patrick’s attention seems to be getting better the more we go. Plus, I get a pretty fun little show watching a bunch of autistic 4-7 year olds practice circle time and social skills through a two-sided mirror. I’m the old-pro parent there with a bunch of brand new, doe-eyed new parents who are terrified of the diagnosis. I just sit there knowingly, quietly watching. They see behaviors that are confusing and scary to them. I just see autism and know that with a little practice and help, that won’t be a big deal. I know there is a lot more parents can survive and learn to do than they realize, and much more potential in children, too. I also see how Patrick doesn’t act exactly like the other kids in the group and remember why I don’t often use that label to try to explain his needs. But the group helps, regardless, and provides some entertainment for me, too. Especially when the kids come play with their reflections.

With a little bit more time back, we’ve snagged some family time this July. We got our bikes in good riding condition and went to the Jordan River Parkway. I went once. Brian has been taking Patrick back. Brian and I even squeezed in a couple of dates. We went to a movie last night and realized that we aren’t ready for that much leisure time yet. It just felt wasteful to sit in a theater doing nothing and we couldn’t quite comprehend people having time to be regular movie goers. (Not that it’s wrong. Feeling like leisure activities are frivolous is a pretty common side effect of the kind of extreme trials we’ve faces this year.) We also took a morning and went out to breakfast and to the driving range. That didn’t feel quite as frivolous and it was fun to see all those skills we learned in golf lessons coming back. I’ve lost less than I expected. We went to the zoo a few times. Brian had a company party at Boondocks so we went drove go carts, played bumper boats and arcade games, and introduced Patrick to bowling. With a ramp and bumpers, he actually did pretty good at it. Especially in a total overstimulating environment and with a cold.

That’s the long and short version of most of July in a nutshell. I think I’m gonna wrap up this sort of travel log sort of blog post right now. There are some other big things that happened in the past couple of weeks, but I think they deserve a post of their own.

Mini summer

So extended school year isn’t really a very full-time summer school option. It’s 2 weeks on and 2 weeks off. So for the past week, Patrick’s been having a mini summer vacation.

We started off it grand fashion. He has really done well in his new summer school classroom. The kids are much more on his level and I feel like he’s making good progress there. The education is focused on maintaining and, at least in the realms of social skills and keeping a routine, it’s going a long way.

The last day before the break, Patrick had his first turn in the school swimming pool. They invited me to come help, just because he has so little experience in the pool. I’m so glad they did! When I got there, he was already dressed for the pool and waiting for me. I’m used to a little boy who is very cautious in the water. I guess he was watching out for his line, because Patrick was NOT afraid. At all. He was extremely brave. I helped him float and worked on teaching him to hold his breath or blow out if his face got in the water. We got him a floating vest and at one point, I turned my back, and he decided to go on his own. I’ll never erase the memory of him laughing as he rolled over and over again in the water.. trying not to inhale.

I’ve been in a better summer mood this week. I finally made Patrick’s 6th birthday video, 6 months late, as a father’s day gift for Brian. You can view it here. I’ve put it off because it was too hard to look at the life we’d left behind when Patrick went for transplant while he was still recovering. I thought I was in a better place. I was. It was therapeutic. It was also still hard. It made me miss last year’s summer school adventures. It made me miss him having friends. And it made me miss the days before steroids where disappointments didn’t lead to big temper tantrums, leaving me fearful of doing some things. I actually had nightmares all the time I was working on the video.

But, with it done, I was ready to dive in and make this a good summer, too. I’m still not as organized and awesome as Mommy school. But we’ve done some good things. We had a picnic at Red Butte Garden. We took a cousin and visited the children’s museum. (Called and asked for suggestions of a less-crowded time to visit and enjoyed being there without fighting a crowd.) We’ve toured a few different libraries.  We finally started collecting brag badges. We mixed up our lunch routine and went to Liberty Park where we started out just eating hot dogs, but stumbled across their wading fountains and ended up staying 3 hours just because.

It was triple-digit heat all last week so I decided that, with the success in the school pool, it would be a good time to get out the backyard swimming pool. This went better than I expected. First, the neighbor’s 10-year-old who often comes to play and help me with Patrick, helped me fill up the pool and taught Patrick how to play in it. I tried putting sunscreen on my own back with spray sunscreen. I haven’t been that burned in years.

The next day, we invited the boy across the street to come play. This was much more on Patrick’s level of play and they had a great time together. This little boy only just barely became a big brother, so there was lots of coaching for both of them about how to play together. But they had successful pool noodle sword-fighting, basketball, water fighting, and general splashing. In the end, I had to call it done because it was well past lunchtime, but neither boy wanted to be done.

Patrick actually spent the rest of that day in the pool, too. He is loving being uninhibited in the water. I love being able to share something I love so much with him.

Alas, though, nothing is perfect. I accidentally pulled Patrick’s g-tube out the day before his first time swimming and it bled a little. We have had off and on g-tube infections since and I’m sure that it’s from spending so much time in the water. Thank goodness it’s supposed to be a cooler, rainy week so I can get away with taking a few days off to let it heal.

The other big event of a summer break is that I decided it was time to work on potty training. I took Patrick to K-mart and let him pick out a pair of big boy underwear the last day of summer school. The next day, I woke up with a migraine, but he was excited to wear them. So we plunged ahead.

He made it through all 5 pairs of underwear in 2 hours, trying his best to “hold it” in between small accidents. I gave him lots of goldfish crackers and praise and did my best to keep things fun and happy. But he was still discouraged. The session ended puddles and a frustrated little boy. I’m pleased to report his mommy stayed calm and positive.

The next day, when I pulled out his underwear, he cried and threw a tantrum that he didn’t want them. But I reminded him it was only for the morning and that there were prizes waiting. After several tries, he finally went in the potty and earned the water gun I’ve been dangling as a carrot for months. The light went on and the next day, he made it several times, staying dry for half the day.

We took the weekend off, and then started again on Monday. I think he’s actually getting the hang of this. We still aren’t accident free and today is the first day I’m trying underwear all day. I don’t know how it will go to have them trying to potty train when he goes back to school next week. I still haven’t tried using a potty away from home. We might need the next long break to solidify what he’s learned. But so far, things are going better than I expected. Now if only I can convince him that this is the better option for him.

(Note: I know this is a long gap without pictures. But I am trying to not post pictures my son will find embarrassing someday when his girlfriend finds this old blog.)

We had a simple 4th of July. The evening was spent at a barbecue with my family. We’d decided to not push Patrick’s limits this year by participating in my family’s huge fireworks. Turns out, that was a convenient choice as it started to rain right after we ate. We left in a downpour but made it home with just a little sprinkling, so we decided to go ahead with our smaller fireworks. (We bought a small pack of fireworks, plus a couple of fountains specifically labeled “silent” so he wouldn’t be scared by the noise.) Who’d have expected, after years of miserable 4th’s and Patrick terrified of fireworks that, on this smaller scale, Patrick would be in love with fireworks. We had to stop and go inside for half an hour because of rain, but when it let up we went out and lit more. He was very upset when he found out we only bought enough for one night.

The rest of the day was simple. Brian hosted a barbecue for his team at work Monday so we spent most of the weekend deep cleaning the house and prettying up the yard. It feels really good to finally have cleaned up some of those messy corners and piles that have been haunting me for being undone since we got home in February. And I caught a clearance sale at the greenhouse down the street. So I got 3 healthy cucumber plants and two basil for free, some adorable patio pumpkins, eggplants, and yellow zucchini as well as a 3 pack of bell peppers for virtually nothing.

Isn't this tiny eggplant adorable? And the flowers are so pretty!

Isn’t this tiny eggplant adorable? And the flowers are so pretty!

Then, we went back later for some miniature sunflowers to fill in the front bed where our irises grow in spring. Brian wanted to plant giant sunflowers from seed earlier this year. We planted a seed in a family home evening lesson about faith. They are as tall as me now. So tying in little sunflowers in the front yard seemed the perfect touch. I’m in love with my sunflowers this year.

I also happened to listen again to this wonderful sermon this week, which only made me more in love with them. The Lord is My Light by Elder Quentin L. Cook, apostle

One of the remarkable characteristics of young wild sunflowers, in addition to growing in soil that is not hospitable, is how the young flower bud follows the sun across the sky. In doing so, it receives life-sustaining energy before bursting forth in its glorious yellow color.

Like the young sunflower, when we follow the Savior of the world, the Son of God, we flourish and become glorious despite the many terrible circumstances that surround us. He truly is our light and life.

We’re plugging away. The stress of having Patrick will me full-time when paired with the Brian’s very busy summer planning handcart pioneer trek reenactment for the teenagers in our church has me running a little ragged. I’ll be honest, when paired with facing my feelings about what we’ve lost, I’ve had more trouble with anxiety and depression lately. So  looking to sunflowers as a symbol and reminder of life-sustaining faith and hope, even in the midst of a week where popular voices are calling it old-fashioned, hypocritical, and even bigoted to believe in Christ.. that is helping to lift me up. My sunflower plants really do turn and follow the sun all day. I see them every time I come and go from my house. And each time I do, I remember that it is worth following light, even before flowers bloom.  That little seed of faith we planted is as tall as I am and growing more, so long as it follows the light.

IMG_20150703_185812

One more week of summer awesomeness ahead. This week, we’ll resume our mommy school studies, try to earn a brag badge a day, wear underwear all day, and try to get daddy ready for Trek.

Summer school and still planning for first grade

Well, as I mentioned in my last post, Patrick has started the extended school year program. Extended school year is a funny thing in our neck of the woods. I don’t know if it works like this everywhere, but Utah has such large families and our school district is one of the most established and biggest in the state so they are very efficient in what they do.. that, well, here you don’t get extended school year in your IEP unless you have a really darn good reason for it. I’ve tried in years past and was told that it really is reserved for children whose disabilities are so severe that they wouldn’t make much progress elsewhere.

I didn’t even imagine what that meant until this last week when I dropped Patrick off in his class. Patrick was placed in the amazing medical school in our district for the summer because he is still so newly post-transplant. Unlike the school that he’s been attending which serves children with medical needs but also the local community, Hartvigsen is a dedicated medical school for the district’s most severely disabled students. What an undertaking!

There are at least a dozen buses that bring students to this school. Their teachers and aides meet them and bring them to class. There may be fewer than a dozen crazy parents like me dropping their children off at school. (I prefer to do this anyway, but really had no choice if transplant medications were going to be given exactly as ordered and on time.) I was instructed to walk Patrick into his classroom. His teacher was excitedly waiting.

It’s possible he was the only student added to that class for the summer. He was also the only student who was verbal and not in a wheelchair.

I took a deep breath, a leap of faith, and kissed him goodbye.

Meanwhile, I headed over to the office for a meeting I’d scheduled with the district representative to talk about my concerns for his placement in 1st grade. The buses were late, so my meeting was late. And I got to sit and watch the students and teachers some into the school. And I saw Patrick come meet the office staff. He was very happy.

Now, about the meeting.. I know in my heart that he’s too behind right now to be comfortable just starting in a 1st grade class. But I also have just felt unsettled about the class they proposed putting him into.

So – we talked about it. She was amazing to listen to my concerns and express solutions. I told her that I am incredibly worried about him not being challenged if he’s only taught the goals that we come up with for an IEP. That he often surprises us by mastering things beyond the skills we think he’s stuck on. Sure, he’s struggling writing his name, for example, but I discovered that he can write about 60% of the rest of the alphabet with reasonable approximation.

I’m also very worried about him socially. I know that he behaves best, learns best, participates best and is happiest when he has friends. And so I’m worried that placing him in a class where he doesn’t have typical peers to socialize with.

And as I expressed these concerns, the woman I was meeting with mentioned that she wondered if he’d do better in a different self-contained classroom. They’d suggested that he be placed in a lower functioning classroom because of low IQ test scores. However, she said, there was another class where the students were closer to normal functioning, the class followed more of a typical class schedule, etc. She tried to describe the difference to me, and then offered to take me to tour the schools and classrooms (albeit without teachers or students) in a couple of days.

Tuesday, I had a much delayed appointment with the oral surgeon who helps keep me from grinding my teeth to bits and causing crippling migraines. So Wednesday was the next day I could. Meanwhile, Tuesday I happened into a couple of conversations that proved good reconnaissance on this issue.

For one thing, Patrick’s home hospital teacher, who he has clicked so well with and learned so well from, called to check in. When I mentioned the choice of classrooms, she didn’t falter. She said that hands down, the first placement we had been offered was too low-functioning for Patrick’s abilities. She offered to call around to some of her contacts in the district and then get back to me. And she did.. giving me some names and some specific behavioral strategies that she thought I should have put into Patrick’s IEP to help him. She hinted that she thought he should get into a typical classroom as quickly as possible, too, which made me falter a bit in my thinking.

Then, that evening, I had the chance to talk to a friend of mine whose son with autism is just finishing his 6th grade year in the higher of the two programs we had talked about. She only had good things to say about his experience at the school and we had a really good conversation about transitions and self-contained classrooms. It helped a ton.

I went into Wednesday morning pretty confident about what I wanted. We toured the lower classrooms first. The school was beautiful. I loved the layout of the classrooms. It’s only 5 minutes from home. And as we stood there, I told her that I was hearing from the teacher who has had the best results with Patrick that she didn’t think he belonged there.

Then we drove out to the other school. The one that sounded like the best fit. It was a long drive and kind of hidden in the middle of a windy-road subdivision. I didn’t love the classroom. At the second school, the self-contained classrooms are in portable classrooms, a.k.a. relocatables. The room seemed run down and bare. I could imagine Patrick cowering at the sound of rain on the roof. The classroom had steep aluminum steps and the nearest bathroom is inside the school building and I could just imagine Patrick having to go up and down them in the snow to go to the bathroom every couple of hours. The custodian was very helpful, answering questions about where the kids line up, where the buses arrive, and even the morning routine. He pointed out that they have a breakfast program where all the kids eat a district-provided lunch at their desks. Most parents would be thrilled. With food allergies and oral aversion and new transplant, I’ve been worried sick about lunch. Two meals at school, and one in the classroom, really bothered me.

I’d mention concerns, and my guide would do her best to offer accommodations they could offer to make things work. And I found myself saying, well, we’ll have to do this or that and make it work.

Still as we were leaving, my district representative asked me if I wanted to just start planning for Patrick to attend the more advanced classroom in the second school.. and I told her I needed to talk to my husband and Patrick’s therapist and get back to her.

I think I know that Patrick needs a higher functioning classroom.  But I so wish that I could have him closer to home in a beautiful classroom in a school that used to be the medical hub so they are wonderful at medical inclusion. And I don’t know for sure what to do about these worries. Or if I can really do anything in the middle of summer.

They tell me we can move him if we pick one school and it doesn’t work. I hate the idea of him being continually bounced around.

Meanwhile, after a week in his extended school year classroom at Hartvigsen, the principal called my helpful district representative and asked me if I’d consider moving him into a higher functioning classroom. And when I picked Patrick up Wednesday, they brought me all of his school medical supplies again. He’ll be moving to a new classroom at the school immediately next door to Hartvigsen called Plymouth Elementary. They have one class there. It has 7 students of all grades. But I’ve seen them. (They were waiting for a late bus while I was waiting for my meeting Monday) and he will fit in better there. And learn better there. He keeps asking me if his new friends will have wheelchairs. And he’ll still get to swim on Wednesdays.

Getting ready for summer

It is disorienting to realize that next week is kindergarten’s last week of school. We only just started and it’s almost over again. I feel really bad to be just gearing up while teachers are working to try to take care of the mountain of things that need to be done for the end of the year, I’m here trying to squeeze every last drop out of the few weeks that we have available to us.

I am amazed at all that they ARE doing for him, though. For example, I noticed that Patrick’s class was at recess every day when we arrived. So I asked and they revised his IEP to allow him to go to recess with his friends every day. He is in HEAVEN getting that extra time with his friends. And I understand that he is doing better in class, too, as a result.

Also, I’ve been working all week with his special education teacher on getting the forms completed for him to be able to participate in Extended School Year (a.k.a. summer school). They hold 3-day weeks on 4 weeks during the summer. He’ll attend in the morning. The goal is to keep up the momentum that has just started again.

They did offer one amazing thing that I hadn’t even imagined as a possibility. There is a therapy pool at the school. And, because by the time summer school starts he won’t have a broviac line, Patrick’s doctors have given him the ok to work in the pool. It feels like this little piece of normal… my son being able to be in the pool during the summer. Even if it came about in the most abnormal possible way.

Speaking of doctors, we had a follow-up with Patrick’s GI this week. His dietitian came in, too. It’s the first time we’ve seen her since transplant. I wondered if she was amazed to watch him eat a kids meal while we talked. His growth charts look amazing. I think it’s the first time I’ve really looked at one post-transplant. He’s growing at a normal rate. He’s in the 50th percentile.

They ordered some labs to check to make sure that his vitamin levels and overall nutrition are still good as he’s learning to eat on his own, but doesn’t exactly have a traditional balanced diet yet.

Also this week, or maybe the end of last week, I talked to the team in Nebraska about Patrick’s next follow-up with them. We scheduled an appointment in June to replace his central line with a port. (This is why he’ll be allowed to swim, by the way. No more external central line.) We will be going out the first week of June and it will be an outpatient procedure.

I thought we’d have clinic, too, but it sounds like they feel we’re doing a great job communicating by phone and don’t need the extra visit.

So it sounds like we have a game plan for our summer. At least the start of it. Patrick’s last day of school is the last Friday in March. June 1, he’ll have end-of-year testing. June 3, we’ll meet with the school to make plans for next fall. That night, we’ll get on a plane and fly to Nebraska. The next morning, he gets his port and we come home that weekend.

The next week, Brian leaves on a business trip to Norway. And the week after that, Patrick will go to his first day of summer school. He’ll have two weeks on, then off for the July holidays. Then back again. Brian has a pioneer trek with the youth in July and another international business trip in August. And before we know it, it will be time to come back to school.

I’m trying to pull together some materials to keep working on mommy school in the down-days. I’ve let Patrick develop some lazy at-home habits this month but, really, we have a lot of ground to cover over the summer. Hoping that the extra respite time while he’s at school will give me a breath of energy to keep up with all the rest.