School has been back in full swing for several weeks now, as has our spring semester schedule. Here’s a peek:
- Monday evenings: Ken is at Upward, I have the kids
- Tuesday evenings: Ken is at Upward with the kids
- Wednesday evenings: Dinner with the college students, and the kids
- Thursday evenings: everyone at home
- Friday evenings: Family fun night out or church activities.
- Saturday evenings: Ken and I go out for “sanity preservation”
- Sunday evenings: Family at church
Yes, church activities are at least 4 nights a week. We’ve discovered that the kids function best with lots of sleep. After all, their brains are working HARD. Bedtime is 7:00 p.m., which is broken several nights a week because of church activities.
The kids are participating in Upward, not as much because we care about sports, but so they can see their dad. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t see Ken on Saturdays really at all, and would miss him on Monday, Tuesday, and still have to share him on Wednesday.
Palmer continues to do well at school, but it’s just a lot to learn a language and skip a grade. Imagine sending your kids to boarding school in Germany and asking them to skip a grade at the same time. Tough stuff. We’ve been afraid that we are setting him up for failure. Thursday is our only night at home, but he usually has 2 hours of homework on Thursday night. This week, after his book reading, his reading comprehension worksheet, his math worksheet, Ken said, “Okay, now it’s time to study for your spelling test,” Palmer burst into tears.
I wrote a note to Palmer’s teacher and she sent back a lovely email, and talked about adjusting his expectations. She confirmed what we know: that he is “super smart.” He WILL catch up, but perhaps we need to try to do it at a little slower pace. Since he skipped the second half of Kindergarten, he’s expected to be working with concepts that he was never introduced to. For instance, he is supposed to do double digit subtraction, but he never made it to subtraction in the first place. This is why homework takes forever, and requires our 100% participation.
So we are reworking Palmer’s academic expectations to cause less frustration. He does LOVE school, and it’s hard for him not to be the smartest in the class because he works way harder than other kids. He really is in an unfair situation, through no fault of his own, but he is trying SO hard!
Addie has reacted to the pressure differently. We had an S-team meeting this week with her teacher, the school psychologist, the speech pathologist, the guidance counselor, and the principal. Addie has started refusing to do work, taking her clothes off at school and pretending she doesn’t know how to put them on (even though she dresses herself every morning), doing very poor work, and not living up to behavioral expectations. The teacher let us know this week that the honeymoon period is over, and she is acting out in many ways. And true to form, she has started wetting her pants intentionally again. Not at school, just while she is with Ken and me. Lucky us.
Addie has been a mystery all of us because her behavior is contradictory and unpredictable. She behaves perfectly well for strangers, but once you are no longer a stranger, it changes. She does struggle with fine motor skills, so we know she has some physical deficiencies, but her intelligence has been difficult to assess. At home, she has no problem counting objects. At school, she not only doesn’t count, she doesn’t know her numbers. This makes the math that she is expected to do at school impossible.
All of this is common for kids from traumatic backgrounds, and comes as no huge surprise, but is nonetheless frustrating to everyone involved. Adding to the pressure is the policy of Metro Nashville Public Schools that she HAS to go to first grade next year, so the gap her in her performance will continue to grow.
She needs help. We need help. She works on homework for the same time period that Palmer does. Every evening, she is expected to correct assignments that she didn’t do correctly at school, review letters, numbers, and sounds, practice cutting and coloring, review sight words, read two books with a parent, and on and on. Again 100% participation from parents for up to 2 hours a day.
The school has been hesitant to have Addie undergo testing because she is a Kindergartener, she doesn’t speak English other than single words and a very occasional sentence, and she has a traumatic past. But they cannot give her any extra help without testing her. And if they are going to diagnose her as being delayed, it has to occur before she turns age 7, which is this spring. Still they don’t want to “label” her.
Finally, I blurted out, “Label her! At least that will give us some help. Labels can be undone.” The S-team agreed.
So testing of Addie is going to begin shortly. She is going to receive some unfortunate diagnoses, but it will give her increased access to services that will help her instead of leaving her floundering in a class, but forced to move forward. And her teacher will no longer have to handle Addie, plus 18 others.
Addie has been through unfathomable trauma, and she is still figuring out how to handle that grief. If she can be busy enough, naughty enough, or giggle enough, she doesn’t have to face it. For the first time ever, she is with a family who is in this with her for the long haul, and rather than this being comforting, it is frightening. When will we abandon her? When will we send her away? Will we still love her if she does nothing we tell her to do? These are all questions she has to answer in her own mind. To be expected to learn to read, do math, color in the lines, and sit still is difficult with all of that going on inside. To not have the language to process it with us makes it even harder, which is why we are insistent that she learn English so we can help her heal.
For me, this semester has added additional responsibility related to my former boss’s sudden retirement in the fall. I’ve always worked 40-50 hours per week in the spring and fall, and 60-80 in the summer. This semester, I have been given additional responsibilities in the University Clinic on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, seeing faculty, staff, students and their families. I’ve tried to compensate for this by going in an hour early and working through lunch. Still, I’m already falling behind, and still trying to figure out how to get home in time to manage dinner, homework, and bedtime routine by 7:00 p.m. especially given our already packed evening schedule and the profound emotional and academic needs of our children. Ken does the lion’s share of just about everything between the time he picks up the kids from school at 3:00 and when he has to leave most evenings at 5:00 p.m.
This weekend, Palmer has had the flu, and I’m afraid Addie probably isn’t far behind, so we have quarantined the kids. I have been sick since October with a nasty productive cough. Still. We have laid on the couch for two days, and as miserable as we all feel, it has been glorious. No pressure, no learning, just relaxing together. Indeed, we need more time just like this. Minus the flu, of course.