Sam goes to the doctor

Hi friends, for the last few days Boo Bear has not been so perky. He has cold symptoms, no energy, and no appetite. He has not been to school since Monday. Today we went to see the doctor. Of course, Sam, his AAC, was with us. In the past, even the most well intentioned of doctors have been unable to really connect with Boo, they always defer to me. They don’t ask him how he is feeling or what hurts. It reminds me a bit of a veterinary exam. Today was different. We had an older, very patient, doctor who gave off an aura of kindness. Boo is good at picking up vibes off people and noticeably relaxed around her. Using his device, he told her that his tummy hurt, and he did not feel well. Instead of asking me all the questions, the doctor began talking to him. She explained everything that she was going to do and was very careful. Nothing really turned up. Ears, nose, throat, temperature were all normal. His weight was startling low for someone of his height, but no lower than it had been last summer. She decided to draw some blood. Boo was a very good sport during the blood draw but did tell the nurse that he was sad. He did not, however, pull his arm away. After that, we sat for a while, waiting on lab results. While we did, Boo entertained himself by naming all his favorite foods. Eventually, the doctor came back in. Boo immediately told her that he wanted to leave. She told him that his blood work was perfect, to drink lots of Gatorade, and he was free to leave. She told him to come back if he still felt sick in a few days.

Boo Bear and I took our leave. We picked up a coffee for me from Caribou (extra expresso) and a freezie and a burrito from Taco Bell for him. To my delight, he immediately dove into the freezie. It probably felt good on his throat. By this time, I was developing a sore throat and figured that he had much the same. At home, he nibbled away at most of his burrito before curling up on the couch to watch PBS kids. There are few things is Boo’s world that cannot be fixed by watching a few episodes of Curious George.

This outing made me happy for two reasons. One, whatever Boo has is a virus and will pass. We just need to keep him hydrated and fed. Two, he was able to communicate with the doctor and the doctor responded to him as the young adult that he is. I have heard many parents of non-speaking young adults say that they do not see any reason for their adult child to have an AAC. They claim they can usually figure out what s/he wants with just some guess work. But guess work is frustrating for all concerned. The parent may not know what their child wants, and the child many not get what they want or need. For those outside the family, it is almost impossible to figure out what the non-speaker wants or needs. An AAC gives the user agency. With Sam, Ravi was able to tell the doctor what was wrong, and that he did not appreciate a blood draw. She was able to communicate with him, instead of me, which is appropriate since Boo is nearly twenty. An AAC matters in other ways, as well. The other day I was going to take Boo to Taco Bell. The plan was to get a strawberry freezie and a burrito. Boo had other ideas. Using his AAC he was able to tell me that he did want to go to Taco Bell, but only for the freezie. After that, he wanted to go to Culvers for chicken strips. I complied and he was happy. For a non-speaker without an AAC this could have been a trip of utter frustration. The young adult might be happy with the freezie, but turn his nose up at the burrito, even though he had very happily eaten one the day before! All persons have their likes and dislikes, autistics included. All persons deserve to be able to make their choices known and understood. This is a hill I will gladly die on. If a child or adult is non-speaking, find a different method of communication. This can be PECS, an AAC, a spelling board, sign, the possibilities are endless. Just guessing at what your budding communicator wants is not enough, they have to have a voice and they have to have agency.

So, now we are home and recuperating from the morning’s adventure. Boo looks a little more perky and will probably go to school tomorrow. He is now watching Sid the Science Kid. Sam is sitting next to him, silent for the moment, but ready to spring into action at any time. The dogs all have bones. Life is peaceful. Be good humans, we will talk again soon.

Words, Wheels, Freedom

This has been a good week for Mr. Boo Bear. Sam, his communication device, was back at the factory for two weeks. He had a loaner device, but it did not work as well, had fewer options, and the battery life was terrible. By the time he got home from school, the battery would be dead and take the evening to recharge. This left Boo largely mute. He relied on a few signs, and basically leading me to whatever it was that he wanted. It felt like we had taken a huge step back. Happily, Sam arrived by Fed Ex while Boo was in school. I had it charged and ready to go when Boo got off the bus. He greeted it with happy squeals and spent half an hour talking about everything under the sun. He told me he wanted Gatorade and popcorn. He wanted a trip to Target. He wanted to watch PBS Kids. In short, we were thrilled

For Christmas, Boo got an adaptive bike. It has been sitting in our living room for three months because all the sidewalks were covered in a thick blanket of ice and snow. We finally had a good melt and the weather got tolerable. On Sunday, Peter and I took him out for a ride. The great thing about the bike is that it has a steering wheel and brake on the back, in case Boo gets too enthusiastic, or decides to head into traffic. As it was, he needed very little help, maybe a little push on the uphill, but he was able to pedal and navigate all by himself. It was a beautiful day for a ride, and he had an ear-to-ear grin.

Spring break is coming up and he has a week away from his beloved school. I have plans for biking, swimming, and trips to the park. I just hope that the weather cooperates. So, if you are out and about and see a happy fellow on an adaptive bike with a green squeaky frog on the handlebars, give us a wave! Biking is fun! Work and pray for peace. Be good humans, and we will chat soon.

Strike Averted!

Friends, it has been a crazy ten days. A week and a half ago St. Paul Teachers called for a strike. Their requests were simple: a cap on class sizes, twenty minute recesses, mental health care for students and a living wage for para professionals. Should be easy, right? Not really. I spent ten days calling and emailing the superintendent of St Paul Schools, the school board, and various legislators. I texted and emailed teachers to let them know that whatever happened I had their backs. Last night we were down to the final hours. Teachers, the union, and mediators had been meeting all weekend, for over 50 hours. Still, the discussions continued. The marvelous Alissa came over the shooed Robert and me out for some dinner. We found ourselves a lovely Mexican restaurant and spent several hours there without phones, devices, social media, etc. We just focused on each other and the lovely food and ambience. For the first time in two years things felt vaguely normal. It was nice just to be off the clock.

On our return home my phone blew up. The strike had been averted and school would be held the next day. I was stunned, grateful, and amazed. All the stress of the last 10 days oozed out of me. It felt good.

Life is a funny mix of the good, the bad, and the absurd. In the last 10 days, I have been able to get the medication I needed at an affordable price. The strike has been averted. When Boo uses Sam to ask me if there is school tomorrow I can tell him yes and he will smile. My heart is with the Ukrainian people as they fight for what is right, for the freedom that is theirs. My dad, at the age of 81, is finally retiring as a neurologist. I cannot attend his retirement party, but I gave $400 in his name to Doctors Without Borders. Every day, I will pray and set an intention for peace. Love can overcome evil, if we all work together. This starts at home. Support your local teachers and front line workers. Do not gripe about the cost of gas, but be glad you have secure housing. Smile at people. Hold open doors. Give people grace. Be good humans. We will talk soon. Peace. Harriet.

Strike?

Hello, friends. My muse has been fickle lately and writing has been difficult. My musical muse is still around, and practicing lots of Bach, but my writing muse seems to have gone AWOL.

Boo Bear is well and so is Mouse. He has had only one seizure in the last sixteen months. Mouse is loving her classes at the community college and waiting to hear back from the 4 year institutions to which she has applied.

All is not so rosy in the the St Paul School District or in Minneapolis Public Schools. Teachers have called a strike date of March 8. Their requests are simple and reasonable: A cap on class sizes, living wages for para professionals, mental health care for our traumatized students. Superintendent Joe Gothard claims that there is no money for such things and this is not the time to strike. Our state has a surplus right now. I think that money is attainable. There are four meetings between unions and school boards scheduled between now and the 8th. The first one is tonight. I hope and pray that the two parties can negotiate something to give our hard working teachers and our beloved students some much needed help. A strike would break Boo Bear’s heart. The last strike ran into the 2019 Pandemic and he did not set foot in a classroom for nearly a year. Like many students, he went into a deep depression. But, I also 100 % support our teachers. They have worked tirelessly through the pandemic, both online and in the classroom. They are overworked, under paid, and stressed out. We, as a community, need to give them some grace. Please join me in prayer, or sending good vibes, white light, whatever you can muster, between now and the March 8.

My heart is also very heavy today for Ukraine. They are innocent people, trying to live their best lives, who have suddenly been thrown into war. The pictures and social media coming out of that country are devastating. Last night, a children’s hospital had to move all their tiniest patients from the NICU into a bomb shelter. Boo Bear was a NICU baby. It was a terrifying experience. I cannot imagine trying to parent a medically fragile infant in a war zone. No mother deserves to go through this, and neither does her child. At least Mary had a cave and a manger. These children, the most vulnerable, only have a bomb shelter.

I think my muse is absent because she is very sad and overwhelmed. There are bombs in Kiev, a carjacking on my block, teachers worked to exhaustion and beyond, and the vulnerable to care for. Please, please, please, light a candle, say a pray, write your representative in congress, tell a teacher you appreciate her, say thank you to a bus driver. You never know how a simple smile might brighten someone’s day. Be good humans, and we will talk soon.

H

Do Not Challenge Boo to a Drinking Contest

Okay, okay, before you get your panties in a bind and call CPS on me, let me explain. Boo has only a few things he will actually drink. At home he drinks Gatorade. He does not like juice and cannot drink milk. Don’t worry, the rest of his diet is quite healthy. When he is at a restaurant he will order a Coke or Sprite. His very favorite drink is the Strawberry Freeze from Taco Bell. This is a big time major treat. As soon as we pull into the drive through, Boo is on high alert. He knows he has a burrito and a Strawberry Freeze on the way. The Freeze must be consumed in the car, immediately, even if it is below zero outside. He will slurp down that sugary goodness as fast as he can, even though his lips are turning purple, his teeth are chattering and his is convulsively shivering. There is no stopping the man. Today I got curious if the freezes were really that good, so when we stopped by Taco Bell I ordered one, too. I challenged Boo to a drinking competition. Long story short, I lost abysmally. One large gulp of that thing gave me such bad brain freeze I still have permafrost in my cerebral cortex. I delicately sipped it as we drove home. When we pulled into the garage, I had about 95% of mine left. Boo had a few spare sugar molecules left, and a huge grin on his face. Okay, Boo, you win,

In conclusion, Strawberry Freezes are good, but I think I will stick to coffee. Boo is in the other room chortling to himself after having demolished a Burrito Supreme and bested his mother. Anyone else want to challenge him? I am done. Be well folks, get vaccinated, wear a mask, and be a good human.

Dinner and Drinks With Friends

Despite the frigid temperatures, Boo is living his best life. He is happily chattering away with Sam, enjoying school, snuggling with his dogs. Last night he got home from school, ravenous. He devoured two pieces of pizza and a bowl of mac and cheese. For dinner, we had spaghetti. Half way through his bowl, Alissa called me. She and two friends were having drinks and dinner at a nearby restaurant and wondered if Boo would like to join them? She could be there in 5 minutes. Boo promptly abandoned his pasta dish and let me bundle him up. Alissa came and whisked him away. He returned two hours later in the best mood. He had enjoyed meeting a new friend, having unlimited cokes and tons of French fries. He used his best table manners and fit right in. Using Sam, he was able to take part in the conversations that swirled around him. It was a banner night.

It seems entirely appropriate that Boo would go out for drinks and dinner with a few friends. He is rapidly leaving his teen years. In June he will be twenty. I am training myself to stop calling him a boy. He has left boyhood behind him. He is a young man now. Too often, parents of children with disabilities tend to see their offspring as children, well into their adulthood. I do not want to do this with Boo. He is a young man with a mind of his own and things to say to the world. Thanks to Sam, and his speech therapist, Deanna, he has a way to express himself.

So readers, go live your best life. Even if it dark and cold outside, accept that invitation for dinner and drinks. Wear your mask. Get your shots. Smile at people. Your mask may hide your lips, but eyes smile, too. Pet all the dogs, stay warm, and be good humans.

The Mouse that Roared

Happy day after Solstice, y’all! The days will now start to slowly get longer. Bring on the sun! Usually I write about Boo, but today I am doing a shout out to his marvelous sister, Mouse. This fall she decided high school was no longer for her and began taking classes full time at the local community college. She loved it. Unlike high school, students were there to learn. Classroom management was not an issue. People acted like the adults they were. Though she was the youngest in her classes she soon took on many leadership roles. Last week was finals week. She vanished into her attic bedroom and studied for hours, emerging now and again for sustenance and encouragement.

Finals came and went and she felt that she did well. She had one final class of American Government where students could come in to discuss their final grade. She had a 91 % and was happy with that but went in to tell the professor how much she enjoyed his class. While she was there, she told him that the bulk of the grade came from participation. She noted that she had attended every class, joined in all the discussions, and had led many of them. Did this deserve more than a 91%? The professor immediately apologized, said the issue was on his end and he raised her grade to a 94%. I am so proud of her, not just for the grade, but for advocating for herself.

Yesterday, the rest of her grades were published. She earned an A in every class, rocking her first college semester with a 4.0 GPA. She is now taking a well deserved break. Classes start again on January 10. She will be taking College Algebra, Chemistry, Economics, and Drawing. This should keep her busy. We are not yet sure where she will be attending college in the fall. She has been accepted at OSU and received a generous scholarship, so this is a definite possibility. The other colleges to which she applied should answer in the next month. I will keep people posted. In the meantime, enjoy the return of the sun. Be kind to your fellow human. Drink all the coffee and pet all the dogs. Life is good.

Underestimate him….this will be fun

Hopefully, Boo is done being poked and prodded for a while. He had a dentist appointment on Tuesday and a fasting blood draw for labs today. Both visits went well. We both adore his dentist, Dr. Rick. He is a very patient man who meets every kid where they are at. He is perfectly happy to give Boo all the time he needs and Boo will cooperate with him. Boo willingly sat in the chair, but when the doctor asked if he could look at his teeth, Boo responded via his AAC “No, I want to go to school.” Dr. Rick said school was great and he loved that Boo loved school, but could he please check out his teeth? After a little negotiating, Boo opened his mouth, the dentist poked around and then said we were good to go for the next six months. Whew! I will be so sad when Boo ages out of his practice, and I left him a stellar review.

We have gone to the same pediatric clinic since Boo was born. Though his personal doctor is great and loves working with differently abled clients, I have always done a slow burn at the nurses, who tend to treat Boo as if he is either deaf, or piece of furniture. We had to wait a while in the lobby, surrounded by batches of rug rats. Boo kept giving me the side eye, as if to say, “Why are we sitting here with all these little gremlins?”. Eventually we were called back. As usual, the nurse spoke only to me. Via Sam, Boo said, “Hello, how are you?” Literally, the nurse jumped and then stared at him. Then she grinned and said, “That is such a cool device!” I agreed with her and told her it was a total game changer for how Boo can communicate. She asked him if she could draw some blood. Boo gave her an emphatic “No!” I told him it would be just a quick poke and then we would go get a juice box. I held his arm and we practiced deep breathing while she drew the blood. The whole time Boo was saying , “No.” When she said she was all done, Boo said “Juice Box.” I agreed that a juice box was definitely in order and we high tailed it out of there. We went to Starbucks and I got him a juice box and me a latte. Then we just hung out for a bit to debrief. When he seemed ready, we hopped back in the car and headed for Focus Beyond. At school, he never looked back for me. He grabbed Sam and his bag and headed for the door in a gaggle of teens, perfectly happy.

I am in awe every day at the voice an AAC has given my son. He is able to clearly state what he likes, what he doe not like, and what he wants to do. He and I are definitely getting a lot of pleasure at the double takes people give when then realize they have grossly underestimated him. So, Boo is now at school. I am mass producing Christmas cards, fueled by some very dark coffee. The dogs are asleep in their patch of sun. Life is good. Look for miracles. They might just appear in the form of a gangly teen with an AAC.

Burnout is Real

I absolutely adore Boo Bear’s school, Focus Beyond Transition Services. They serve students with varying disabilities from the ages of 18 to 21. This is Boo’s second year attending Focus. He has a wonderful teacher, Rosalind, and a phenomenal SLP, Deanna. Deanna was the one who helped Boo find his voice at at 18, via an AAC. I will forever be in her debt.

As I said, these are amazing teachers, but I worry deeply about them. They are beyond tired. They are beyond over worked and under paid. In normal times, Focus Beyond and her sister school, Bridge View, never had more than 8 students in a class. The students would have one lead teacher and at at least 3 para professionals. Other instructors floated in and out during the day. The Pandemic ended all of this.

Paras do not get paid nearly enough, but they are the reasons that schools function. They are the unsung heroes of the special ed world. At present, Focus has up to 10 students in each class and the bare minimum of paras. Students are disregulated from having been out of school for nearly a year. They are relearning the most basic of things; how to sit in a desk, act appropriately with peers, not to mention the academics. So, teachers and paras are exhausted.

Last night the school board voted to extend the winter vacation. I was really hoping that they would extend the break by 2 or 3 weeks. This would give (hopefully) Covid numbers time to die down, and teacher staff and students time to decompress. Sadly, they did not get 2 or 3 weeks, they got 2 extra days off. I hope it helps a tiny bit. Teachers and paras deserve so much more. They do not work just a 9 month year. During the summer they are either teaching summer school or taking classes themselves. There are three months of the year that they are not drawing a paycheck. Many work side jobs just to stay financially afloat.

If you do one thing today, please thank a teacher or a para. Write a little note to your kid’s teacher saying thank you. It will take you all of 2 minutes of your time, and it will make her day. I have been out of the teaching world for 6 years, but still hang onto the little notes and cards that my students and their parents gave me.

Mr. Boo loves his teachers and paras with a fierce, simple love. He loves them simply because who they are and what they do. Please thank a teacher or a para. Peace, y’all.

Grateful

I am continually amazed as I watch Boo Bear communicate with his AAC. The other night I was sitting on the couch reading. He brought his device over and sat down next to me. He said, “Mom”. I said “Yes?” He said, “Hi.” I said, “Hi”. This is one of the first time he has interacted with me just to check in and say hi. He did not want anything to eat or drink. He did not want to go anywhere. He just wanted to say hi and sit next to me. He continued to mess around on his device while putting a hand on my leg. I continued reading. It was a very quiet moment. One that would be missed by the casual observer. But it is a moment that I felt deep within my core. I hold no stock with “theory of mind”. Boo Bear knows who he is as a person. He knows who I am as a person. He knows how to reach out and show love. He will never go for the big demonstrative moments, but he lets me know in the little ways that he is right there, connecting with me. As I keep telling teachers, therapists, and other parents, always presume competence. I stand back and watch in awe as my son continually surprises me with his insights and comments. May you have a blessed Thanksgiving weekend. Be good people. Peace, y’all.

%d bloggers like this: