Category Archives: Education

Testing, Testing, 1-2-She Survived

Just a little follow-up to Testing, Testing, 1-2-3:

After days of angst

Hours of horror

A sleepless night and

Billions of butterflies in both our stomachs

I found her on the bleachers, sitting next to a new friend.

She shrugged.

“It wasn’t as bad as I expected. I think I did okay.”

I think I did okay, too.

Tommorow, she tests for…


Here we go again…

Testing, Testing, 1-2-3

This week, the girl participates in her first annual testing session since we’ve been homeschooling.

It is less a test of her abilities and more a measure of my prowess as a teacher.

I’m a bit nervous. Possibly more than she is.

I actually had trouble sleeping, which is not unusual, but I don’t usually worry myself awake. Most nights, my brain spins stories or posts destined to never see an audience because I fell asleep halfway through.

Before we adopted, I didn’t understand when my friends bemoaned their children’s test anxiety. You’ve heard the phrase “pulling out my hair” in frustration…I’d never seen it in action until one of our little friends showed up with no eyebrows. He was anxious about testing and pulled them out, bit by bit. (There’s a disorder called trichotillomania, but they ruled that out and said it was just anxiety.)

I’ve always loved school and am a geek-tacular stay-up-all-night-crammer. My test grades were rarely less than stellar. (Not bragging—just explaining why I didn’t understand how tests might be scary. I just saw them as a challenge.)

Might not remember any of the material a week later, but as long as my grades were high, everyone seemed happy.

None of my peers ever talked about test-taking anxiety. On occasion, someone admitted being nervous about passing a certain test or achieving a certain grade, but no one was pulling out their eyelashes.

When my friends discussed their children’s test-taking anxiety , I thought it was hyperbole.

And then we adopted our kids.

The boy has no such thing as test-taking anxiety, mostly because he doesn’t care.

He likes good grades, mostly due to sibling competition. He doesn’t like it if his sister’s grades are higher than his, but he has an innate ability to both put in minimum effort and get fairly decent grades. In general, he displays an incredible lack of concern about school (the exception: history studies…the one time he has the legitimate ability to learn about war in a setting in which discussing weapons is taboo).

Our girl, on the other hand, wants to “get everything right the first time” and doesn’t understand why memorizing information requires so much effort on her part.

She should be able to assimilate it by osmosis, of course.

I’ve tried to help her understand that very few people can view text once and remember everything they need to know, but I am—thus far—unsuccessful.

Her expectation of perfection frustrates her. It often trips her up during testing, because the moment she sees a question she doesn’t know, she starts freaking out. She doesn’t necessarily have any external physical reaction, but she begins making mistakes and overlooking obvious answers.

Any information she might have known flies away like pigeons from a coop.

To prepare her for the upcoming annual test, I gave her a practice test 3 grade levels below her own. I thought it would bolster her confidence.

Instead, she stumbled over one question and spiraled from there. She ended up answering one-third of the answers incorrectly.

She KNEW all of the information.

I asked her the questions verbally and she answered all answers with 100% success.

But put that paper in front of her, and she freezes up.

Hoping to alleviate her fear, I explained the test doesn’t matter. The results are less about what she knows and more about highlighting anything I still need to teach to keep her on par with her peers. (Or, if I have my way, to get her ahead of her peers…but I don’t say this. No pressure. We’re still catching up. But I tell you, this kid is brilliant.)

I keep telling her I don’t know of anyone who takes standardized tests for a living.

None of it seems to sink in.

I am a bit concerned that the test results won’t be accurate because she may miss answers she truly knows after confronting a difficult question.

I’m fighting my own version of test anxiety,.

I want her to do well for her own sake. I want to show her that she can do well on a test. I’m hoping to help her overcome the stress induced by the public school system yearly testing.

I’m not on a witch hunt and don’t have anything against public schools but they put so much pressure on the kids with constant drilling, remedial groups before and after school, prizes for doing well and promises of ice cream for those who participated well in prep exercises.

One mother opted for her child not to take the test, which is allowed, and the school tried to fight her. Her daughter is extremely smart and would have done very well on the test, reflecting positively on the school and raising their scores.

I didn’t even know skipping the exam was an option until it was too late.

Because they drilled the importance of testing into my daughter, her already perfectionist personality can’t handle an error. Once she knows question is incorrect, it’s over.

I’m praying she does well, but to be honest, I have personally seen her growth this year and found that she is much smarter then they gave her credit for.

She just needed to hear things in a different way. Sometimes I have to explain things more than once, but once she gets it, she gets it.

I’d like to instill in her that the point of school is not to get good grades but to learn the information we need to be able to do well in life and to interact with others in a positive way.

Math is important. Most of us will never use trigonometry, but basic math, algebra, and geometry are all important for most careers.

Language is one of the most important subjects. You might be an amazing genius, but if you can’t communicate your ideas, no one will care.

History is her favorite subject and I’m so thankful for this. Learning about history and taking it to heart gives us compassion for others, helps us recognize dictators before they take over, and allows us to see the mistakes we as people have made in order to avoid repeating them.

Hubby and I also want to give our kids a love of science. Curiosity and willingness to problem-solve are key to lifelong learning and success.

We were fortunate to find a fabulous art class this year, in which she studies some of the masters and has an opportunity to try to paint in his or her style. She likes to sketch and color but has never shown much interest in painting until now. She’s very talented.

I was in grad school by the time I realized the point of school was not to cram one’s way to the highest grade possible, but to ingest and comprehend the greatest amount of information to then translate into real-life application.

Creativity, curiosity, problem-solving ability, and the knowledge that you can find the answer to pretty much any question if you look hard enough: this is what I want my daughter to learn.

Testing this week won’t even affect her by next week. The true test will be life.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to find out what she has learned and what she still needs to know to keep up with her age group…or surpass them.

But I know that this test will not measure her ability to live a happy, successful life.

For that, we will have to rely on the test of time.


Give Up


Photo credit: imelda

This has been the year from heck, educationally speaking.

Thank God for our Assistant Principal. Not only is he adopted himself, he also has an incredible ability to empathize with trauma kids and understand kids with special needs.

If only the IEP team members were all so gifted.

Several times this year, I requested meetings to discuss our boy’s classroom behavior (which is unconventional but explainable when one takes the time to see through his eyes). His Autism Spectrum Disorder has begun to shine through with amazing beauty—or a vengeance, depending upon your perspective.

I requested a one-to-one behavioral aide, which he’s had in the past but never with this particular school. The aide gave him an extra layer of self-control by monitoring the situation for triggers, then reminding him to focus.

We’re lining up for lunch. Other children will be close to you and may touch you. This is okay. You’re perfectly safe.


Sitting quietly during testing is important. You’ll need to focus. No chirping, squeaking or other noises. I’ll give you a check mark for every minute you are silent.

This didn’t always work and we went through several aides before finding the right fit, but by the end of first grade we were able to phase out the aide. In fifth, he regressed. We weren’t at physical-aggression-because-I’m-angry level anymore, but his self-management went out the window by the end of September.

There is much to be said for personality match when pairing a teacher with a special needs child. We had stellar matches for him in third and fourth grade; I credit his teachers for the incredible leaps he made both in social and educational arenas.

The fifth grade teacher is a GREAT teacher. Neurotypical kids probably adore her.

But she’s not a personality match for my son, and he’s not a match for her. No one is at fault; it’s just the way things are.

Part of the struggle, I believe, is a simple lack of exposure. Maybe she’s never had a Spectrum kid in her classroom.

Thanks to trial and error, the fourth grade teacher found that putting him in a desk by himself—in the corner with fewest articles on the walls—helped him focus. He began participating more fully in spite of the separation she perceived as potentially problematic.

I suggested (and the school psychologist agreed) that the fifth grade teacher should do the same. Until then, she’d kept her classroom desks in groups of four or five. One of the daily points of contention happened when another child touched his things (inevitable at close range, because his desk tended to overflow). The teacher disagreed with the tactic but said she would comply with the group consensus.

Arriving in the classroom to drop off supplies about a week later, I found that she had placed his desk alone, as asked, but IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROOM, allowing for three-hundred-sixty degrees of incoming stimulation. Anyone with experience would never consider the middle of the room a viable spot for a kid with ASD.

Our boy is focused on the end result. Consequential forethought is rare; he almost never thinks about how his choices may affect others.

For instance: a friend told him that when he stamps his foot, his shoes light up. He neglected to provide a demonstration. Our guy thought about those lights all day. His impulse control held fast until about thirty minutes prior to pickup. He couldn’t take it anymore. The light-up-shoes called his name.

He ran up and stamped the kid’s foot.

The teacher wrote me a note, stating he had “viciously kicked” another child. Write-up, suspension.

He came home with a packet of papers to complete. He sat in a chair all day and worked (and got almost everything correct).

For this kid, suspension = joy.

He can learn and do his work with no distractions.

About two weeks later, our girl was home sick. Boy wanted to stay home as well. No fever, so off he went.

I sent a note to the teacher and left a message for the assistant principal, letting them know he may be out of sorts or pretend to be ill because he really wanted to be at home.

Thirty minutes into the school day, he pulled a chair out from under another child. He truly didn’t think about whether the child would be hurt (thankfully not); he just figured that if stamping a kid’s foot sent him home, this should also do the trick.

After a phone conference with the Assistant Principal, we agreed on after-school suspension for several days, to prevent a rash of must-find-a-way-to-get-suspended behaviors.

Again, I called a meeting, explaining (for the millionth-ish time) my request for a one-to-one behavioral aide. An aide could help him process the situation. Could see—as I often must—the potential issues and prevent a problem.

For instance, the behavioral aide would have noted he left his desk and immediately required him to sit back down. He would have never made it halfway across the room in the first place, much less had the opportunity to pull out the kid’s chair.

The aide could walk him to-and-from class, preventing the spark of hallway chaos from lighting his trigger fuse. Might recognize hyper-stimulation and ameliorate his angst before it ballooned into behaviors.

The IEP team, in spite of my pleas, turned down my request because

he’s not failing.

In fact, he’s doing quite well.

He’s “unable to focus,” he “refuses to participate” and “doesn’t follow along with the class,” yet his grades are above average.

And because we must keep him in the “least restrictive environment” for his needs, this precludes the need for a behavioral aide.

When they announced the reason, I stared in shock.

You’re telling me that he constantly distracts the class, he’s not able to focus or self-manage, he doesn’t know the material, he can’t get along with others and he’s a problem that must be solved, but you won’t allow me to procure a one-to-one aide because his grades are too good.

Yes, that’s exactly what they were saying.

And so,

I Give Up.

Not on my kid, and not on his education.

And I’m sure as heck not telling him this:

I give up stressing about his classroom behavior.


Sometimes, the only thing left to do is give it up.


you have to let go of what’s in your hands before you can pick up anything else.

And because sometimes,

moving on to the next thing is more important. 

Learning Not to Punch the Teacher

When your mom borned you, she took one look and threw you in the trash.

The classmate who delivered this charming nugget to my son probably had no idea how close he was to the truth. No concept of how deep his words would wound.

Afterward, we had a long talk about how it’s okay to want to punch someone but it’s not okay to actually put hands on someone. I am proud that even in the face of such soul-searing spite, our boy did not retaliate.

I suggested that he find a constructive way to deal with the painful feelings. Punch a pillow. Draw a picture. Write your feelings.

Tonight, I take my own advice.

Our son’s teacher vacillates between understanding and intolerant.

She is personally offended by his need to draw while she talks and doesn’t understand his Aspie idiosyncrasies.

But after Dad died, she gave our boy a lot of grace as he worked through the grief in the way all the articles predicted: a nosedive in school behavior and performance.

My emotions conflict often when dealing with her.

Today, I received a text.

I saw your son violently kick a student from another class. Please encourage him to behave appropriately in school.

The text bothered me.

If he “violently” kicked another child, I should have been picking him up from the principal’s office, not finding out after the fact.

This was followed by,

He didn’t eat his lunch today.


During the test today, he took a red pen and drew on his arms.

This last one, I’d already noticed, a fabulous red dragon tattoo. Although I’ve asked him not to draw on himself, I’m not that concerned about impermanent ink decorations. If he sneaks off to get a real tattoo, well, that’s a problem. No tattoos until you’re 25, when your brain has matured fully. That’s the rule. 

I responded, “Yes, I saw. Did he do anything right?”

She didn’t answer.

I added, “He mentioned that his friend showed him new shoes that change color and invited him to hit them with his foot. Was this the kicking incident?”

No response, then,

He asked permission to bring a cannonball and a bullet to school. He said you will help him bring the cannonball to school. Cannonballs and bullets are not allowed in school. Please discourage him from bringing these items to school.

Good grief. A family friend gave our little history buff several artifacts collected over the years. Our guy’s first response:

“We’re learning about this in history! I bet my teacher would love to see these!”

I told him that he couldn’t take them to school but that possibly I could get special permission to bring them in so the kids could see the display. Evidently he was too excited and brought it up to her.

This is the kid who smoked me in the “Jeopardy” category World Wars and corrected his teacher (accurately) when she taught about Pearl Harbor.

He’s really thrilled about history. Instead of encouraging that passion, she’s just annoyed.

My true difficulty with the situation is this:

I get it.

I understand fully that he requires ten times more direction than any other kid in class. He needs someone to help him see the connection between his actions and consequences (good or bad). He is frequently distracted by a buzzing light, a whispered word, a tapping foot or a bug doodling around the room. He doesn’t think through actions or words before he does or speaks.

I want to be on her side. I want to be a team.

Maybe the last two years (with fabulous teachers who recognized the diamond shine under the inches of behavioral coal dust) have spoiled me. We worked together to find solutions and they’ve offered advice for his current teacher. Those two years weren’t perfect and there’s no way to dream they were, no matter how flexible your imagination. But we worked together and tried each others’ ideas.

She discards ideas faster than I can suggest them.

Seriously, I just want us to work together to point this kid to success; the success I KNOW he can have. In a recent IEP meeting, his caseworker shook her head and said, “even with all his focusing struggles, he’s still keeping his grades up. I can’t believe it.”

I CAN believe it.

He’s brilliant. When he barely studies, he still passes (sometimes with 100s). With the right guidance and focus, he’ll be unstoppable.

Right now, though, she’s just telling him (and me) what he’s doing wrong. And that really gets me steamed. I have NO problem with consequences and the Assistant Principal can vouch that I lend full support to every intervention.


He responds to consistent recognition of what he’s doing right. If he knows he’ll be consistently rewarded for doing the right thing, he generally does the right thing. I say generally, because he’s far from perfect (aren’t we all) and it doesn’t always work, but 8 out of 10 times, it does.

She says, “it’s too hard” to catch him doing well. She thinks it’s ridiculous to give him a “good” point for eating lunch (which the psychologist suggested as at least one guaranteed good point for the day). She argued against most of the interventions that everyone else (school counselor, head psychologist, principal, case worker, mother) agreed upon. She has 20+ other kids and doesn’t have time to devote to my kid. Just “thank God” when he’s quiet and ignore him.

I get it.

But this constant “tattling” (because that’s what the texts above felt like) is just wearing me out. Tomorrow I’m taking the conversation to show the principal, then asking what can be done.

The last time I asked, every other class was maxed out and there’s no possibility of moving him to another class.

Maybe there’s no solution other than,

“Hang in there.”

We’re in school for about four and a half more months. Almost an eternity, yet I know the time will dissipate like clouds puffing past a skydiver.

Fifth grade is not the end of the world. No one wants to know, “How were your marks in elementary school?” No one asks, “Were you ever sent to the principal’s office before middle school?” Maybe we just need to make it through.

In the meantime, though, Hubby takes me for walks and I write.

Tonight, as we trudged down the moon-drenched driveway, I said,

“I want to punch her in the face.”

This is not entirely accurate; I don’t actually want to punch her because then I’d have to deal with legal action (this is the forethought I hope to instill in our boy). However, I want to write about it, and thereby feel better. And so, with a tip of my hat to the best rhymer ever, I write.


For Teacher

I must not punch her in the face

Though maybe just a spray of mace

Just a smidge, only a sample

No, I must be an example

Must not, must not kick her knee

Shall not, will not put a bee

In her coffee piping hot

Flick her? No.—NO! I cannot.


When I am so mad…I’ll write!

Get some extra sleep tonight.

Go for long walks down the drive.

In her car hide a beehive.

Oh, wait, that last one is wrong;

Instead I’ll sing out a song

Whisper a soft little prayer

That she will lose all her hair.


Oh, no, there I go again.

Paying vengeance is a sin

I must let it go, be done

Show forgiveness for my son

That boy’s always watching me

And I so want him to see:


Great achievement’s possible

Mercy is unstoppable

Even on the hardest day

Grace and faith will make a way.


There.  I feel better.

And bonus, I’m not going to jail for punching a teacher. So, there’s that.

When life just isn’t fair, how do you deal with it?






Privileged White Girl


Photo Credit: Buck82


I have always been the proverbial privileged white girl. Poverty never touched my life. Challenges never threatened reaching my goals. An entitled upbringing stripped my ability to understand stigma, to empathize with the oppressed. I grasp no understanding of prejudice. I am not qualified to have an opinion about racism. Nor do I have full consciousness of what it means to be a person of color in American society.

Okay, none of that is true except the the last sentence.

Yes, I’m living the American Dream now.

House, vehicles, three dogs, two kids, one amazing Hubby. (Also, six and a half rescued cats. And a small lizard. He is not a bonafide tenant, but somehow he got into the Girl’s room and we haven’t managed to capture him. Big game hunters we’re not.)

My life has not always been so stable.

Please don’t misunderstand: I don’t pretend to understand the African American child who qualifies to receive free lunch at school just because I carried a free lunch card. I absolutely believe that many of my good friends who grew up “not white” endured an altogether tougher existence than I.

Humans get stupid when everyone’s skin color doesn’t match. Or their religion. Or their politics. Or their pinky toe shapes. We find all kinds of reasons to discriminate.

Americans aren’t the only jerks. Friends of ours returned from a mission trip to Romania with stories of gypsy children eating grass. Grass. Parents can’t afford food for their children because Romanians won’t hire people with a gypsy background. In some towns, a gypsy bloodline ensures you’ll be treated worse than Romanian dogs.

And get this:

They’re all the same color.

But I digress, because this isn’t really about color.

I promise, it’s not.

The people of our country feed hate in so many ways, creating factions and divisions. Sometimes, I understand. People on both “sides” find a soapbox or cause and stand together, which is not fundamentally wrong. If Martin Luther King backed down, he wouldn’t be one of my son’s heroes. We should all stand up to bullies.

But here’s one schism I just don’t get:


The problem’s pervasiveness flabbergasts me.

How does speech divide us?

We’ve all heard the stories of kids like Akeela. You know, the girl in the Bee. (If you haven’t seen Akeela and the Bee, I recommend watching.) A child of color decides to take her education to the next level. She begins to speak English correctly; her friends are derisive and her family is not supportive.

In Zootopia (which addresses stereotypes and stigma), sly fox Nick has a flashback about experiencing abuse and prejudice simply because he’s a predator. He decides to follow the less-than-legal path to adulthood, since no one believes in him anyway. He’s now grown; another character calls him “articulate,” expressing condescension.

This isn’t just in the movies. One of my friends conveyed his frustration with people who have “low expectations of African American boys and are impressed when one comes to them with the King’s English and home training.” A counselor—with apparent surprise—called his (African American) son “eloquent.”

A friend of one of my family members is a highly educated, well-respected individual in the community. Many people seek her counsel. And yet, when she visits her family, they ignore her and refuse to respond to her unless she speaks broken English.

Several weeks ago, I met with a speech therapist. In the course of discussing my son’s difficulties with certain letter combinations, I mentioned his habit of pronouncing “the” as “duh.” She gave me a few ideas, then noted, “it’s a dialect issue. Not your dialect, though, so we could work on that.” I asked what she meant. “We’re not allowed to correct dialect. But like I said, it’s not an issue for your son.”

Beginning to cotton on, I asked, “whose dialect would keep that sound?” She finally admitted that her team guidelines would not allow her to correct an African American child who pronounces the “th” as a “d” sound.

I can’t tell you how this made my blood boil. Not a literal 212 degrees, of course, because I wouldn’t be here to write…but I was MAD.

“So, you’re telling me that if I’d adopted an African American child, you would leave that mistaken pronunciation well enough alone?” She nodded.

How did speaking unbroken English become “white” and uneducated speech “black”…does no one else see the problem?

Education is the key to success. Hubby and I correct our children’s speech; learning to speak up, enunciate and articulate with clarity is a constant and consistent lesson. They happen to be white but we’d do the same for ANY child.

Have we forgotten history? In every case, oppressors limit education of the oppressed.

Illiteracy and inaccessible (or below-standard) education ensure tyrranized parties remain in “their” places.

This feels like a reasonable statement: literacy is liberty; education is emancipation; clear speech leads to success.

Am I wrong?

How about this.

Imagine two presidential candidates of the same skin color (any color you like).

Candidate A studied and researched our country, our laws, our beginnings, our trends, our popular votes (and I don’t mean people’s choice music awards), the reasons behind our legislation and the current state of the union. This candidate makes eye contact, speaks with clarity and authority, exudes confidence in his or her own ability to communicate.

Candidate B speaks broken English with a strong accent (country bumpkin or ghetto; your choice). Displaying a spectacular lack of understanding about the country, this candidate stumbles and mumbles through the campaign, mispronouncing words with rampant incoherence.

Please tell me: would you vote for articulate candidate A or unintelligible candidate B?

Being educated in general, not just in speech—and allowing that education to show—just makes good business sense for those who would like to succeed. (And yes, I know there ARE people who excel without clear speech, just as there are individuals who dropped out of school, skipped “standard” education and made piles of money.) As a rule, education and clear presentation are the best foundation for success.

And yet, as a country, we are telling young African Americans they should stay uneducated. By “we,” I mean the intellectual fops who decided incorrect speech is a “dialect,” the individuals who expect less of a child due to skin color, the people who don’t support a child’s furthered education and the jerks who make fun of an African American child—or adult—who is “ARTICULATE.” Since when is speaking well a detriment? It’s ridiculous.

Here’s my (arguably simplistic) view of what’s happening:

White people: “Stay dumb, kid, and make sure you don’t communicate well, so you’ll never be able to fight for your rights. Or at least, you won’t win.” 

Black people: “Don’t talk like a white person. You’re not white. Be true to who you are.” 

Professionals: “We don’t want to tip the balance of anthropology and sociology, so we can’t ‘fix’ incorrect speech.” 

Kids: “I worked hard for my education. I am well-spoken and confident. But I still have to deal with snobbery and surprise at ‘how well’ I’ve done for myself; plus I am stigmatized by my friends and family who assume I think I’m ‘bettter’ than they are. Is it worth it?” 

And here’s my (also simplistic) solution:

Can we just call it Standard English Education?

Because honestly, I know white people in Alabama who don’t meet the definition of “ARTICULATE” (no offense if you’re reading this). I mean, really. And I’ve got white friends in other parts of the country I can barely understand. Is this “white” speech?

I mean, they’re white, and they’re speaking, so…

And then there are the blue-eyed, blonde, Casper-white people who speak as though they just stepped out of the ghettos of New York and can give any rapper a run for his money.

Is that “white” speech? Because you, know…they’re definitely white.

What if we all just close our eyes to color and listen only to the words?*

What if, instead of “white” speech, we say “standard” speech?**

What if we provide equal education and protect all children from both derision and snobbery?

What if we allow, indeed elevate, children to truly attain the potential they possess inherent, rather than lowering our expectations based on melanin-to-epidermis ratio?

What if we remove the boundaries?

Maybe this is a tall order, but we can fill one ticket at a time.

And you’d better believe this: if we ever adopt again, that child will receive every possible service needed, including speech therapy…and if the therapist won’t help my child enunciate, I’ll find a way to do it myself.

Education is emancipation. Literacy is liberty. Clear speech brings success. 

Am I crazy? What’s your opinion?




*”Closing our eyes” won’t remove racism. My point remains: can we put politics aside to focus on education and what’s best for ALL our children?

**Edit: As you can see below, one of my favorite blog buddies made a very good point. Instead of calling it “educated” English, “Standard” English is probably a better term.

If you live outside the US, do you see this issue as well? If a man from Ethiopia learns to speak German without an accent, is he speaking “white” German? If a girl in Cameroon fluently communicates in French, is she speaking “white” French? Or are these individuals simply well-educated in the standard language? 

Do you agree with me? If not, feel free to rant about my idiocy below. I know that sometimes my view of the world is much too simple.





How To Kowtow to Your Kid

A friend stared at Hubby, stunned, as our son walked away. “That was unbelievable!”

How did you get your kid to be so polite?

Hubby, calm as ever, said, “I don’t give him a choice.”


We used to refer to our children as “the hyenas.” Little Wild Things having no grasp of manners, respect or, for that matter, reality. Neglect, abuse and terror combined to create the perfect hurricane of hatred and anger, expressed in the only communication device they knew: horrific behavior.


Now, though, in any group of children, ours are almost always the most polite-toward-parents with invariable reliability.

Acquaintances often ask our secret.

These people tend to be friends we’ve made in the last couple of years. They weren’t around for HellonEarth.

Our boy still deals with PTSD and ADHD issues, so I’m not claiming perfection. He tends to have an issue or two with impulse, most times when we’re not visible.

Our girl has RAD, which pretty much ensures she’s an angel outside our house these days (this was not always the case…just ask the caregiver who peeled her, screaming, off my leg so I could have an hour of respite). Unless she knows you very, very well, she’ll perform with a flawless sweet facade.

RAD doesn’t make her polite, though.

Annnnnnd, this Politeness didn’t “just happen.”

I read an article in the Miami Herald about Leonard Sax’s book, The Collapse of Parenting. (Am shocked to find there’s a parenting author I somehow missed…)

Dr. Sax advocates putting the parent back in control.

  • To encourage communication, don’t let your kid wear earbuds in the car (I can vouch for car riding as the best-ever conversation starter)
  • Enjoy dinner together EVERY night (this may be more difficult as they become more involved with school activities)
  • Communicate to your kids that disrespect is not okay
  • Stop over-scheduling
  • Do NOT allow children or teens to have a phone in their bedroom at night

The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t stop at cell phones—the recommendation in the November 2013 issue of Pediatrics calls for removal of all electronic devices from the bedroom; our kids aren’t sleeping.

Removal of electronics (mostly his Leapster learning pad) became key for our boy; we found him playing learning games into the early hours. His math skills improved but the lack of sleep compounded behavior problems.

I haven’t read the book—or anything he’s written—yet, so I can’t provide an informed opinion on Dr. Sax’s overall stance. Based on the article, I agree with his ideas.

Grooming a child into a polite, respectful individual is time-consuming. We don’t take breaks, a lesson we learned on vacation. Our kids need consistency at all times. Sometimes the depth of our conversation is exhausting, taking the time to explain why one must apply _____ manner in ____ situation.

“You must look others in the eye when you speak to them.”

“Expression matters. Smile when you say ‘Thank you.'”

“Speak up. Mumbling is rude.”

“Enunciate, please!” (Yes, our kids know this word.)

And every time we hear “uh-huh,” or “nah,” we repeat, “excuse me?” until they say, “yes, ma’am,” or “no, sir.”

Again, I’m not saying they’re always the best-behaved kids in the group. But they’re definitely the most polite. Because we’re not their friends. 

But you really want to be your child’s friend.

I get that. Here’s how to succeed:

  1. Give the girl what she wants. Eventually, she will be so thankful for all the gifts you’ve provided that she will, in turn, give to others with selfless abandon. Maybe.
  2. Be a pal. Support your little guy in whatever he wants to do. Karate is too difficult? We’ll stop attending. That doesn’t make you a quitter, son. Back out of Boy Scouts…none of those kids were cool anyway. It’s okay; I’m your buddy. Forever and always. Or at least until you’re old enough to drive off in my car.
  3. Listen to her feelings. She hates you? Of course she doesn’t mean that; she’s just angry. Let her get it all out. ALL the time. In front of your friends.
  4. Become a short order cook. No one likes every food; if the Little Prince only wants chicken nuggets and fries, what will it hurt? They’re only young once. And the Little Princess won’t eat sandwiches? Just prepare a better lunch. Sandwiches are for losers.
  5. Smile and take it. It’s just the Terrible Twos. Terrible Threes. Fours. Fives. Seventeens. They’ll grow out of it. Eventually.

Our kids don’t need us to be friends.

Children need boundaries. They crave rules, stability and routine. Yes, once the boundaries are in place, they test them (do they ever) to determine whether we can be trusted.

Whether we can be trusted.

In spite of appearances, boundary-testers are not just being jerks. Our children need to know we are dependable. Trustworthy. Promise-keepers.

This includes the positive (“If you get a B on this test, I’ll take you for ice cream,”) and the negative (“If you hit another child at school, we will go to the police station and talk with an officer”).

If you’ve been around this blog a while, you know that our son spent two years dishing out hellish behavior because he didn’t believe we’d keep him. When he finally believed we would keep our word, he relented. (Again, he’s not perfect, but he’s light-years from hyena.)

Only one thing convinced him.

Consistency is the name of the game.

Every day. Every hour. Every minute. Every moment.

Yes, commitment is required. Before adopting, I never fathomed how painful parenting can be.

Our kids are not polite by accident. They’re not (more or less) well-behaved by accident. They have tested us at every turn and found us solid.

We’ve mourned over the consequences of consistency (not in front of them). We have learned not to make idle threats nor to neglect follow-through.

I told our daughter ad nauseam, “If you continue to ignore my request to clean your room, the clothes on the floor will go to someone who will take care of them.”

She, with clear intention, left clothes strewn across the floor. More than once. Pulled the clothes out and spread them on the floor. Finally, I stood in the room while she bagged her clothes, then took her to drop them off at a charity.

We did this several times. She didn’t stop until she realized she only had two pair of jeans left. Now, I inquire whether she’s cleaned her room—and I only have to ask once.

We informed both kids throughout the year, “Lying and bad behavior won’t be tolerated. Continuing this pattern will affect your Christmas.”

They didn’t believe us.

Side note:  In this case, “lying” and “bad behavior” do not describe normal kid stuff. Both of them have escalating chronic patterns. Yes, it’s “typical” for children of trauma to have issues, but we work with multiple counselors who agree that regardless of cause, the behavior pattern has to stop in order for them to grow into happy, healthy individuals. As in: NOT megalomaniacs or strippers.

*No offense intended if you consider yourself a benevolent megalomaniac or enjoy a bit of stripping on the side. Those just aren’t our first choice in future occupations for the kids. 

New bikes were on the agenda this Christmas; they’ve both grown too tall for the current cycles. We also found great deals on Kindles; they both enjoy reading (BIG WIN!) and I planned to load fun learning games.

Did I mention that they didn’t believe us?

Our son did great through the summer because he had what he always wants: visual proximity to Hubby or me. Our girl remained consistent and vigilant in her disobedience. As soon as school started, the boy began having difficulty. By October, things were getting out of control. Her teacher called Hubby. The Assistant Principal called me.

“Christmas is coming,” we reminded them.

They didn’t believe.

Christmas came.

Hubby and I both shed tears (again, not in front of the kids). We WANT to give them amazing holiday experiences. While gifts are not the main event, we both remember “that Christmas with The Bike.”  Ahhh, Desert Rose, how I loved her. I kind of wish they made adult bicycles with pink banana seats…

They each opened presents; we’re not unkind. But there were no bikes, no Kindles, and several cool gifts will wait for birthdays.

We explained the situation. Asked whether we’d been clear and fair (shocked and unhappy but truthful, they agreed we had given them plenty of warning).

We even told them what they’d missed.

This wasn’t in spite or meanness; we wanted them to understand the situation fully.

Since Christmas, both have become a bit Stepford. Almost too well-behaved.


Photo Credit: Becka Spence

And if you think I’m complaining, you’re crazy.

I don’t care if they’re behaving out of a misguided, narcissistic worldview. If they just want those bikes and Kindles, I’m okay with that. They’re on a path of better behavior.

My mom used to say, “Smile on the outside and eventually you’ll feel like smiling on the INSIDE!” Moms do know everything. This is a proven fact. Google it.

Maybe the same theory applies to behavior. It takes 21 days to instill a habit (also a Mom-ism), so if they behave well for 21 days—regardless of motivation—perhaps we’ll be on our way to a good year. Here’s hoping.

So you want to know our secret.

Polite kids don’t just happen.

  1. We don’t give them everything they want when they want it. If they have everything they want, why will they bother listening to us? Delayed gratification is a good experience for children. Waiting increases value of the desired object. Rewards are better than gifts.
  2. We’re not their friends, not their pals. We’re the parents. When they are 25 and living on their own, then we can be friends. Until then, they live by our rules. We tell them, “You can do what you want, but we promise you’ll experience negative consequences. Or you can obey and experience positive consequences. It’s up to you.” (Yes, we really talk to them this way. Generally, it works.)
  3. We listen to their feelings but also require considerate communication. Unkindness like “I hate you” and “you’re not my real mother” are not only disrespectful but also detrimental to the reception of signal. And, in general, they’re not elucidating the actual issue. “I’m angry with you” is absolutely acceptable but needs to be followed by discussion.
  4. We cook it, they eat it. Cooking, in our house, shows love. We pour time and effort into making good, healthy food. Everyone tries new foods and discusses their preferences, but “yuck” or other negative comments are not acceptable. In fact, when they arrived, I explained that “yuck” is another word for “I’d like seconds, please!” They’ve each said that word only once.
  5. Nastiness is not tolerated. “It’s just a phase” is no excuse here. We’ve experienced high levels of horrific behavior in this house. We found that preventing certain behavior is impossible. However, consequences—applied consistently and liberally—can create an environment in which the child no longer benefits from said behavior. We’re still working on a few behavior tweaks, but we can now eat in public, play at the park and spend an evening with friends without major incident, so I call that a win.

There you have it. The game plan.

Don’t get too excited; arriving at this point took us four and a half years. Take heart, though, especially if you’re starting with a younger child. Beginning at an earlier age tends to bring quicker results. Even if you have older children, consistency will eventually wear them down.

Please note that the above is what worked for us, and I understand that your family’s needs may differ.

I’d love to hear your parenting tips. ALL perspectives are welcome (even if you don’t consider yourself a parent). I’m especially interested in your thoughts if you’ve adopted older children, because, you know, we’re trying not to screw up here.

What worked for you? What didn’t?

Give us YOUR tips! Share, share!


Annnnnnd…we’re back. (What I learned at WordCamp, Part 2)

Here’s the #2 thing I learned at WordCamp.

Continued from this post.

Crowd at State of the Word address. Photo credit: Casey Alexander, Creative Commons License

It’s okay to “just be a blogger.”

Which is why this blog is now BACK AT WORDPRESS.COM.

I do not have to learn code.

No need to be a developer.

Although learning about SEO is fun and I like it, I don’t even have to do that.

My Thursday train arrived with an hour to spare. Ruth (see earlier post) convinced me to join the volunteer party instead of disappearing to my hotel.

Thank goodness.

I met Dennis. In addition to being an event speaker and all-around good guy, he’s also a Happiness Engineer.

And he spoke those eight little words I’d been dying to hear.

“There’s nothing wrong with ‘just’ being a blogger.” 

Ever since the last WordCamp (around 98% of attendees were technical, not writers), I really, really REALLY tried to follow their advice. “Get a domain and self-host.”

I got a domain. (This, actually, IS a good idea.)

Joined BlueHost to have a self-hosted blog. (At least for this gal…not so much.)

Although I’m truly interested in SEO, I just want to write. Gaining a clearer understanding of search and meta and how things work isn’t a bad thing, but I don’t want to do that every day.

I’m no quitter. Not usually. But today, I called to cancel my BlueHost account.

Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Get your own domain. It’s your brand. I still own for a year, but from here on out, you’ll be seeing as the new brand. If you’ve been around a while, you know why. If you’re new, I’ll explain sometime soon.
  2. Don’t self-host unless you enjoy the work. Self-hosting is only fun if you want to handle everything yourself. If, like me, you just want to write, you don’t need that.
  3. Get your domain through (no, they’re not paying me to say this). You get to keep all the cool features I lost when I went to BlueHost. There were no “reblog” or “follow” buttons. No community of readers and bloggers. I had ZERO new followers on the new blog. WordPress is where it’s at. (Yes, that’s bad grammar. Hush.)
  4. Reach out to a Happiness Engineer. Check the forums and help pages first, but if your issue isn’t resolved, check with a Happiness Engineer. Making people happy is what they do. No kidding.

So…if you’re new, welcome!  I’m Casey, occasionally called hypervigilant. I like to write. I’m a blogger.

Thank you, Dennis, for saving my love of blogging.

Also, big thanks to Dean, Praveen, Zandy, Nicola and last but CERTAINLY not least, Naoko, some of the best Happiness Engineers in the Land. In the world, for that matter. You guys rock.

Click here for #3…

Adoption = Reading

This is a reply I posted to an adoptive parent on Reddit whose child is having reading struggles. I realized it might be helpful to some of my WP readers. I apologize…I didn’t make it pretty (spare time is all going to NaNoWriMo this month). 

Our guy was reading at a pre-k level going into 2nd and at a K level at end of 2nd. Our girl was reading around 1st grade level in 2nd.

Here’s the nutshell of what worked for us: Everyone says to let your kids see you read, but I just don’t have time to sit down. Instead, I talk all the time about reading. “Books are awesome; you can find anything you want to know…” “Do you know what I read the other day?” They don’t see me reading, generally, but they know I do it. They also know that when I have my earbuds in, I’m listening to ‘one of Mama’s stories.'” Sometimes I download books (Bunnicula is a favorite, even for the adults) and we listen in the car.

Over the summer, we checked out books at the library. I let them pick whatever they wanted, five books each per week. She mostly got pink story books; he chose information (SHARKS!) books. They read out loud to me in the car anytime we went anywhere, at least one book per day–in the case of the info books, he had to read for 15 minutes, since some of those are loooooooong. They didn’t like it at first and said they were carsick, etc. (to which I said, “prove it and barf” and they said never mind…thank goodness…). After a while, they got used to it.

Our rules: When they come to a word they don’t know, they need to try it first, then they can spell it to me (since I’m driving). I then help them break up the word by 2-3-or 4-letter chunks. They still have to figure it out, but I help with weird words (“that ‘c’ says ‘ess'” or “that ‘K’ is silent”).

They gave me a LOT of pushback, crying, complaining, etc. for the first month. Finally it subsided, and now they (mostly) just do it. It took 8 months, I won’t lie…it’s not a quick process.

I was concerned that he would have trouble with the info books because the words were bigger (true) but because he picked topics HE cared about, there was motivation.

Getting them to read is all about letting them read what interests them, and reading out loud (in my opinion) is key. Otherwise, you don’t really know that a) they’re actually reading and b) they’re reading correctly. Captain Underpants is not my idea of a great role model, but our guy loves the books, so I allow them. (Of course, there’s a common sense piece, here…I probably should not have been allowed to read Flowers in the Attic when I was ten, but no one really regulated my reading.)

Consider getting audiobooks (along with the written books) and having him listen/read. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t perk up at hearing, “let me tell you a story. Long ago and far away…” Read to the whole family at dinner. I understand that mine are younger, but they still rolled their eyes when I pulled out my ancient copy of Little House on the Prairie. Three months in (I read maybe three pages on sporadic days), they say, “can you read tonight?”

After much struggle and continued practice, our guy returned to school this fall reading AT THIRD GRADE LEVEL. I have never been prouder, truly. (I’m not sure about our girl’s level because they didn’t give her the same test, but she definitely improved also).

I hope some of this works for you. I imagine it’s even harder when they’re older. I can tell you though, the “find their interest” thing works. Good luck!!!

Adoption = Advocacy (Chapter 3: How to Open a Can of Whoop-***)

“You have to consider the source,” opined our social worker. “I mean, the parents didn’t finish school, and obviously their IQs were not…great…so, you really can’t expect much out of these kids. If they graduate high school, you should be celebrating. They will probably never make Cs, much less As and Bs. Lower your expectations and everyone will be happier.”

Our less-than-stellar social worker made this statement when I voiced my concerns about our foster kids’ lack of academic progress. Yes, REALLY.

It’s a prime example of why we should have had a liaison. Unfortunately, we didn’t know enough to ask for one.

Learn from our mistake…even if DSS says, “Sure, you can work directly with us,” find someone to fight for you and the child. You don’t have to go through the expense of an agency–there are non-profits and even court-appointed guardians willing to help. Google “liaison for foster families” and you’ll get “About 368,000 results (0.32 seconds).

If you’re hard-headed (or naive) like me and plan to be your own advocate, prepare yourself for battling burned out/soon-retiring social workers, having sleepless nights and finding steel-gray hairs multiplying on your noggin like rabbits on Cialis.

(I must note here, not all DSS workers are awful. After 1.5 years, a new social worker took over our file. I’m pretty sure she was an angel. I’m also sure that if we’d had her from the beginning, our 2-year adoption process would have taken closer to 6 months, but that’s another story.)

For MONTHS, I petitioned (read: nagged) DSS. The kids needed extra help, for the following reasons:

1. The background paperwork noted that when he was 3 years of age, our 5 year old foster son utilized only ten words; all other communication was non-verbal. Although he’d made progress in two years, his vocabulary was still very limited. He screamed a lot.

2. Our foster daughter, 7, could barely read three-letter words and could not do simple math.

3. Our foster son, 5, could not read ANYTHING and did not even know the entire alphabet. I tried the “let’s think of a word for each letter” approach and found that he did, in fact, know multiple curse words for each of the letters A, B, D, F and G.

4. Both kiddos were failing (Kindergarten and First Grade) across the board. The girl was unable to do the work or focus; the boy’s behavior and inability to focus prevented any learning.

We felt these were legitimate concerns. Our social worker was not inclined to agree.

Something had to change, and it wasn’t our opinion that every kid should have a chance to excel.

At that point, I was clueless. No idea what services were available. Who to ask. Where to look. Google became my best friend. Here’s what I learned from GTE (Google, Trial & Error).

If your adopted or foster child is having trouble in school, he or she probably needs an IEP, or Individualized Education Program, as soon as possible.

Do not pass go, do not collect stipend dollars–march your frazzle directly to the school office and ask what the IEP process is. (It usually takes at least a month to get the ball rolling. You can give that ball a bounce by having a psych/educational evaluation done by an outside professional. Ask your pediatrician to recommend a child psychologist.)

After multiple DSS absences during IEP meetings, the frustrated school principal began faxing paperwork to the social worker. I pestered the mess out of DSS until they faxed the papers back. Both children were approved for IEP and began receiving extra help in reading and math. Results were not immediate, but we began to see steady changes. 2.5 years later, we see HUGE improvement in both academic and behavioral areas.

Don’t be afraid to advocate for your child. Even if you haven’t adopted them yet (and even if that’s not in the plan), YOU are still the one adult who can make a difference. The social worker does not see the child in day-to-day activity. She’s not directly involved in homework frustrations. Not getting “the look” from a very concerned teacher. Not dealing with the irate bus driver. Not driving to school, yet again, because your foster daughter punched some kid in the face.

YOU are the one saving this kid from disaster. Put on your grownup panties (or boxers) and DO IT.

To recap:

  1. Get a liaison.
  2. Don’t let DSS bully you. Feel free to bully DSS. In some cases, it’s the only way to get what your child needs.
  3. GET AN IEP. GET AN IEP. GET AN IEP. Foster kids are under-served by the system and their school careers are interrupted, usually many times. Very few won’t need an IEP.
  4. Be proactive. Don’t wait for the teacher’s concerned note. If your child is having problems academically or behaviorally, get help. Now.
  5. Bring out Mama (or Papa) Bear. No need to be afraid. Everyone should have the child’s best interest in mind. If they don’t, REMIND THEM.

Also, never let anyone talk you into lowering your expectations (unless you expect them to make A+ on everything…in which case, you just need to stop smoking the proverbial crack).

Foster kids fully receive and believe the message that they are “LESS”…less capable, less wanted, less intelligent, less loved. Expect their best from them and show them how to attain personal success. Be careful not to inadvertently communicate that you expect perfection. Keep in mind, improvement = success.

And if your social worker suggests that low IQ is hereditary, perhaps it would be okay to ask about their parents’ intelligence quotient.

“Wow. If parental IQ determines the child’s ability and intelligence, then your parents must have been REALLY stupid.”

That’s what I should have said.

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