Tag Archives: school

The Most Important Meal of the Day

No telling what time G got up so that he could preheat the oven and cook a pan of biscuits for the kids. Vivi had asked for them at dinner last night, but I ordered Chinese food instead and promised her biscuits in the morning. G delivered them. Each of our kids got a “You Are Special!” plate loaded with two hot biscuits, butter and jelly, a few strawberries and a small pyramid of blueberries.

Vivi gobbled hers right up, but Carlos spent 20 minutes eating half a strawberry, then pitched a fit when I said it was time to go. G put one of the biscuits in a to-go bowl and set it by Carlos’ seat in my car. I tucked a pack of applesauce into Vivi’s backpack for snack, but when I went to put one in Carlos’ backpack, he said, “Don’t want that!” I put it in anyway because I haven’t had time to go to the store and it’s the only snack we had handy.

In the car, I reminded him that we only had a few minutes and he needed to eat his biscuit before we got to school. He nibbled along the edge and complained that there was butter on it when he prefers only jelly. Oh well.

We got to school and had to park in the last available space–it’s parent breakfast day for 3rd and 4th grade today. Carlos wandered down the sidewalk with his fully intact biscuit in his hand. He might have given it a lick or two but none of it was getting in his belly. We missed the cutoff for Tardy by one minute, so as I signed us in on the computer and got the appropriate stickers and waited for the door to be unlocked, he stepped over to Miss Valerie’s desk and dropped that biscuit straight into the trash. Grinning the whole time.

All that work. For nothing.

Fine. Be hungry. Your choice, your consequence.

We walked into the kindergarten hallway. A girl sat at a table outside the classroom next to Carlos’ class. She was sobbing–that hiccuping and shaking kind of crying that wracked her whole body. Two of her classmates stood behind her and looked concerned.

I got Carlos to his room and all squared away in a few minutes. When I came back into the hallway, the girl was still sobbing at the table, all alone.

“Are you OK, honey?” I rubbed her back in a circle as she hiccuped. She wiped her nose on the too long sleeve of her green sweater. “Nooooooooooo…” she cried.

“I can see you’re upset. Is there anything I can help you with?” Pat pat pat.

A boy from her class came out to get a folder from his backpack. He looked a little worried about her too. He said, “She missed breakfast.”

“Is that what’s got you upset?” She raised her chin and met my eye for the first time and nodded. “I got here too late for breakfast.”

“Are you hungry?” She nodded again. “Do you like applesauce? My son has some applesauce in his bag–would you like that?” She nodded harder.

I got the “don’t want that” pack of applesauce from Carlos’ backpack, twisted off the cap, and handed it to her. She squirted a little too much out and it dripped onto her green sweater. I hopped up to get a tissue to clean it up.

The girl’s teacher stuck her head out of the classroom door and saw what was going on. As I was saying, “Can I grab a tissue?” and feeling glad that I had been able to help this poor hungry child, the girl, who had stopped crying, sipped applesauce timidly from the squeeze-pack.

The teacher asked, “Did you give her that?” I told her I had. She looked uncomfortable and said, “Um, I know you were trying to be nice but we can’t do that.”

I looked at her blankly, thinking it was some rule about eating in the hall or something. So I laughed and said, “Oops! I didn’t know!” in this conspiratorial way like “let’s just let this one slide because the kid is hungry, right?”

The teacher went on–“I mean, if she had allergies or something…”

Ugh. Right. Of course. That was stupid of me.

“Oh gosh, you’re right. I’m sorry.” The teacher handed me a tissue then ducked back into her classroom.

I went back to the little girl, who was now sitting up calmly in her chair. I wiped the drops of applesauce off her sweater and gave her a smile. She handed me the still mostly full applesauce pack and said, “I’m finished.” Then she headed back to class.

Back at Miss Valerie’s desk, I dropped the uneaten applesauce in the trash, right on top of my son’s abandoned biscuit. Thanks to my problem solving, Carlos wouldn’t have a snack OR breakfast. And the little girl who missed breakfast had applesauce on her sweater and an empty belly.

As I write this, the cats are taking turns sipping milk from Carlos’ cup that he left on the table. Huck ate the last two biscuits while we were gone because I forgot to put them off the stove while I was out saving the world.

Some days I try to fix everything and none of it works out right. None of it.

But I can’t imagine a day when I will walk past a hungry, crying child and not try to do something.



Superhero Day


Today was Superhero/Disney dress up day at Carlos’ school. There he sat in his “big boy car seat” in a Batman shirt…but we had a problem. The buckle was stuck. Stuckity stuck stuck stuck. I had pushed and prodded and cussed under my breath but it wouldn’t budge. I started to panic–thinking I would have to drive him to the fire house and have them cut him out of the dang thing.

Then, over my shoulder, I hear a friendly voice say, “Hey!” There stood Troy, father of one of Carlos’ classmates from last year and all-around cool guy. Who happens to work out many hours a day and has giant arms. I asked him to take a shot at getting the buckle unstuck and a couple of tries later, Carlos was free. Troy had swooped in and saved the day.

Troy’s superpower?  Strong thumbs and persistence. And kindness.

The classroom was boiling with excited kids–three Batmen, two Spidermen, a Super Mario whose sixth birthday was today, two sparkly princesses. And my sweet friend, Jayla, by herself in the back of the room with her thumb in her mouth and a heartbroken expression on her face. When I waved to her, she shuffled over to me, still sucking on her thumb. I’d never seen her do that before.

“What’s up, buttercup?” She mumbled something that I couldn’t hear. “Here, let’s go over here where it’s quiet so I can hear you….” I sat down at a table in the back of the room and she climbed onto my lap.

“I didn’t dress up.” I was about to tell her how pretty she looked in her flowered shirt and jeans, but it didn’t feel right. Instead, I wrapped my arms around her and she melted into me. Her face tucked under my chin. My body started that mom-rocking thing that bodies just do when a little one needs comfort. We sat there together, her getting all my attention in the middle of the crowd of excited superheros and princesses. We rocked and rocked and rocked. She snuffled and I clucked to her and patted her hair. I did my best to save the day.

My superpower? An expansive lap and a body that can bend itself into a mama shape when that’s the only thing that will do. And kindness.

Miss Carri saw us sitting there and came over to check on Jayla. She patted and clucked too then her face blossomed with an idea. She went over to the dress up center and pulled a Rapunzel dress out of the cabinet. Et voila…Jayla had a princess costume to wear.

Miss Carri’s superpower? A quick mind and giving heart. And kindness.

Once again, I found myself sitting in the parking lot for a few minutes to process the morning before I started on the day. I sat with the kindness that I had given and the kindness I had received. I let myself feel sad for the kids who don’t have a costume to wear on dress up day. I felt gratitude for the teachers who work so hard to make things even out as much as they can. But it can’t ever be 100% wonderful for every kid, all the time. I sat with that for a little while.

Just before I cranked the car, my phone dinged with a text. April, my friend and coworker, said, “Hey! I read your blog about the school parking lot. Do you think Carlos’ school could use those superhero capes we had for the NICU reunion?”


Seriously? A bag of capes so that no one is left out on superhero day?

April’s superpower? Reading minds. And kindness.

Most of us are never going to have laser vision or freeze breath or Spidey Sense. Shoot, we aren’t even going to have a Batmobile or an invisible plane.

But every one of us has a superpower–kindness. Seeing each other when we are in need and stepping up to say, “Well….I can fix THAT.”

Never Mind

This post has been sitting in my Drafts folder since October 26 of last year. The note said, “I keep thinking I will open the teacher’s report and it will say, ‘Never Mind! He’s fine!'” For the last two years, I’ve been waiting for someone to study my son and his behavior and pronounce: “You have just been imagining this! Never mind!” or “Wellll…we thought we saw something, but turns out…Never mind!”

“Never mind” wipes out the whole problem. It never existed. But I couldn’t bring myself to write about my dream of hearing “never mind” because I kept hearing “Can you come get Carlos from daycare? He’s throwing chairs and hitting the teacher.” For months, I flinched every time my phone rang at work. I saw how he kept to himself in his classroom, while clusters of kids playing nicely together swirled around him. I cringed every time he had a full-on screaming meltdown because the toilet flushed automatically at McDonald’s or the brakes on the school bus hissed and squealed.


His pediatrician, the one who first said we should get him evaluated for autism, told me “I don’t thing he has it…but get him evaluated.” The first psychologist said, “Well, if he has it, it’s not too bad?” And another one said, “Can’t rule it out but can’t quite put my finger on it.” When I took Carlos back to the pediatrician and confessed that I was feeling overwhelmed with it, he said, “We don’t run from this.” I knew what he meant, but all I could think was, “What exactly am I running towards?”

I gave up on hearing “Never mind” and started assuming we would hear a “Yep, that’s what we’re looking at.” I wanted to know exactly his coordinates on the spectrum and what we could do based on those coordinates.

He started Pre-K and those behaviors disappeared or diminished. He sits quietly on the rug and listens to story time. He wears headphones around loud noises and they don’t bother him. He even has a friend at school. His special ed teacher stopped me a few weeks after school had begun and said, “I’m not seeing the behaviors that are mentioned in his IEP.” I braced myself to finally hear it, for her to wave her hands and say, “Never mind! He’s fine!” Then she said, “Welllll…actually, yeah, let’s keep these goals. I’ve been seeing a little more now that he’s settling in.”

ARGH. We had gotten THIS CLOSE to “Never mind!” and it slipped away.

A label shouldn’t matter–he’s still my kid. I know him better than any other person in the world knows him. Still, I wanted something to Google, something to put a check box next to all these worries so that I could tell myself, “This is The Answer. Now you can rest a little.”

So almost 2 years after this journey started, we finally got The Big Evaluation at the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta. We submitted pages and pages of answers to every question about every distant cousin who had so much as a snaggle tooth. We sent in school forms, audiologist reports, IEP evaluations.

For two hours, the chipper autism expert talked to us about Carlos and watched him as he played. Then she spent time interacting with him–blowing bubbles, taking turns, quizzing him about letters, asking him to draw, telling jokes, giving him bottles to open, tapping his knee with a hammer, looking in his ears, giving him a rubber snake to play with, cajoling him into sitting back in the little red chair for  few more minutes–and all the while scoring his responses on her sheets of paper. After a while, he got so used to the routine that when she asked him a question and he answered it, he pointed to her sheet and said, “Put a check mark!”

We all laughed at that. He got a lot of check marks.

Finally, she tallied up a few columns and typed a little into the computer. She turned to us and said, “We’re not looking at anything on the autism spectrum here.”


“Any difference that he has is really not that significant. He’s 56 months old and on these verbal inventories, he’s scoring at about 51 months, so he’s making great progress since his last evaluation.”

G and I just sat there staring at her. Carlos pressed the button on the yellow school bus toy over and over.

She talked more about pragmatic speech (the meaning of what’s being said) and he seemed to be absolutely fine in that aspect. Fluency, the ease with which we produce speech, appeared to be the root of Carlos’ speech delay. And he’s catching up on fluency.

G asked if we should get more speech therapy than what he’s already getting and school and she shook her head. “If he regresses in any way, come back to see us, but short of that…I don’t think you need to worry about it.”

You mean, “Never mind?”



The Apple and The Tree

There was zero chance that this week would go smoothly for Carlos. Too much change happening at once. He’s moving up and moving on from the school he has attended since he was 3 months old. He started off cranky today and it went downhill from there.

And if I’m being honest, I’m having some trouble with my feelings, too. Neither of us handles change very easily. Each time he has moved rooms–from babies to crawlers to walkers to twos to big kids–my heart has clenched up in fear that he’s going to hit a bad spot and fail to thrive.

He’s reached the end of the hallway–his time at this school is ending. It really hit me yesterday. The teachers are switching out the door decorations and the displays in the hall. Time for a “back to school” theme with a tree and a basket of apples under the tree, with each kid’s name done in glitter on the construction paper apple. Carlos’ apple was tucked in his cubby, brand new and never to be hung on the wall.


He’s switching all the way to pre-K. We both are. I’m going to miss these kids so much. There’s Addy, who has been my friend since the day I saw her through her tears. There’s Sid, the Christmas Kid. Maggie who gives me hugs every day. Patrick and William and Magnus and Jonathan and Crawford–a pack of little blond boys who are hard to tell apart. Bailey and Emmie and Arly and Alya, who all want to be Elsa. Charlie, who reports to me every day whether Carlos has behaved himself.

Carlos and I were both out of sorts today when we arrived. I think it showed, because when Addy turned to wave at me, she said, “Hi! Your hair looks pretty today! Hi! You look pretty! Hi!”

The kids were coloring starfish and shells, ready to make a sandy scene on some ocean blue paper. Except for Carlos. He yelled and curled into a ball. The noise startled him and I think he was mad that it wasn’t outside time. I tried to cajole him, convince him, persuade him to sit in his seat at the lady bug table and participate. He wasn’t having it. I rubbed his back while he flopped on the circle rug. I followed him to the trucks center and told him to join the group. Nope. Not happening. No way.

So I detached from the struggle and sat my own butt down in his tiny blue chair at the lady bug table. I handed out crayons and marveled over the lovely coloring that each child had done. Tiny, dark-eyed Alya showed me her careful purple starfish. I told her that purple is one of my favorite colors. Carlos came over to see what we were doing, but yelled when I spoke to him. I sighed and shook my head.

Alya caught my eye and said, “Carlos is being…very Carlosy today.”

Yes, yes he is. This class of kids is used to seeing my kid pitch a fit, throw a tantrum, melt it down. I’m sure some of them will be relieved that his noise will be somewhere else.

But he’s doing his best. He’s just…Carlosy. Thank you, tiny girl, for reminding me to see my son for himself. He’s being Carlosy and I was being too Ashleyish to remember that. Poor kid has A LOT going on. End of summer, linguistic leaps, new school, friends leaving. He’s still learning how to navigate the world of groups and sometimes coloring is just too much to ask.

We’ll get used to a new classroom and a new routine. I’ll make some friends among the new kids in pre-K and Carlos will too. We’ll both probably kick and fuss a bit and express our anxiety in different ways, but we’ll figure it out. After all, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.


Raising Carmen Miranda

Carmen MirandaMy first conversation upon returning home Monday afternoon:

“Hey, Vivi.  How was your day?”

She looked up from the couch where she was engrossed in a Hardy Boys mystery.  Her pink sneakers lay on the floor beside a pile of dirty socks.

“Um…it was pretty good…but I got a red.”  That’s the system in her class–everyone starts the day on green then moves to orange or blue for good choices or yellow then red for bad choices.

I’ve given up on making a big deal about the color of the day, because most days she’s on green.  Last Friday was an orange day.  Today, red–tomorrow, who knows?  We focus instead on the chain of events that led to the result and recognizing the moments when she has the chance to determine which way it will go.

“So how did that happen?”  I asked her, while rubbing her back.  G came in the room and listened in.

“Well………” she popped her finger out of her mouth–she still sucks on her finger when she’s tired or lost in a book.  “I was on yellow then I went red.”

“I understand that, but usually red happens after several bad choices.  Can you remember what happened before you went to red?”

“Um….I got too rambunctious doing the conga.”


G’s shoulders were shaking at this point.  I tried to keep a straight face but I turned to him in all seriousness and said, “This is ALL on you.  That’s your half of the genes, Senor.  No one in my family has ever been chastised for excessively exuberant conga dancing.”

Now, if she ever gets sent home on red for unbridled square dancing…that will be my half of the genes.   

There are some days when parenting makes me want to throw my hands in the air and shake my body like I just don’t care.  



P.S.:  I know that Carmen Miranda was more famous for her samba, the Brasilian dance.  The conga originates from Cuba.  But first graders don’t samba.  It’s not on the CRCT until third grade.