Nine

December 16, 2013

Deep deep sigh.

My son, my big boy, is nine years old.  His birthday was November 28th – Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and his birthday all in one this year.  I started doing these birthday posts when he was six – the age his younger brother is now, although it is only two more months before Spencer turns seven. I like to go back and reread these birthday posts more than any others here on my blog. I have a good memory but being able to capture little moments that slip through my mind’s cracks gives me a better sense of my family. The journey from eight years old to nine was a challenging one so truthfully, I’m not sad to leave eight behind. Even though Graham has become this huge person, not a little tiny boy anymore and that makes me sad, I’m just glad we are able to move on to the next year.

If you have been reading here long enough, you know that Graham has some challenges that do not have a name.  (You can read more posts about him here.)  He is not on the spectrum (Autism or Asperger’s), he is not dyslexic, he doesn’t have behavioral issues, and he is healthy as an ox. He probably has some kind of auditory processing disorder meaning that he doesn’t process language in the way that you and I do. He hears the words fine but doesn’t make sense of them in a timely manner, or sometimes at all. Language, as I have learned first hand, affects everything you do in your life. If you are not fluent in speaking and understanding, you are probably also not fluent in social language. He struggles to follow along in his classroom and he also struggles on the playground. Ever the cheerful and friendly child, he wants to join in games at recess but can’t follow the complex rules that sometimes go along with those games and frustration ensues.   Fortunately, in his case, frustration means walking away, not hauling off and hitting someone.  He also just doesn’t read people in quite the right way so kids sometimes find him annoying or inappropriate. It is heartbreaking to watch. All he wants is to connect, to be friends, and he just doesn’t go about it quite the right way. I watch Spencer, his junior by two years, navigate friendships effortlessly. But for Graham it is just so much harder. I will say that the older kids, especially the girls, adore him and he gets high fives whenever he sees them.

All along, Randy and I have held tight to the idea that public school is the best choice for Graham. Because he has been tested and has an IEP (Individualized Education Plan), he has legal rights to services within the school. If we opt out and go to private school, we lose our rights to services during the school day. The burden would fall to us to get him extra help. Over the years, the schools he has attended have offered him quite a bit in the way of services, but it has never been quite enough, especially as he has gotten older and school has gotten more sophisticated. This past year it seemed they are always just falling short of what he really needs. This has been a frustrating process, to say the least. Both Randy and I believe that their hearts are in the right place, that they care deeply about Graham and want him to succeed, but for many complicated reasons, including funding, they are not able to give him quite enough help. Last year, at the end of our rope, we hired a lawyer to help us navigate the meetings and to help us speak the correct language to get what we want for him.

Through the process of many meetings and innumerable emails, not to mention an honest threat to sue the Oakland school district, Graham is now being helped more than before. He attends a special reading clinic every morning where he and one other student get intensive reaching coaching by a specialist. He still gets help with reading and writing during the school day, and he has an aide shadowing him at recess, to help him navigate the complex rules of the playground. He also goes to speech therapy twice a week. This kid works so hard. I have to wake him up most mornings, then he gets breakfast, then I pile the two boys in the car and drive to downtown Oakland where the reading clinic is. He spends an hour and forty minutes with no break practicing reading and pronunciation. He scores a ten out of ten almost every single day for his effort.  Then he gets on a bus and goes back to his regular school where he has just missed recess, and has to jump in with two feet to whatever is on the schedule that day. His teacher is kind and accommodating, telling him to get his wiggles out on the playground if he needs to, and offering him time to eat a snack, but it is still a big transition. One that he does every single day and will do through the end of the school year. Graham has homework every night that can take him up to an hour, with a lot of assistance, and it is so difficult for him. All through these long days with challenging expectations, he is cheerful and compliant. “How was school today?” is met, unfailingly, with “Great!”

I am so proud of him. I also continue to be frustrated by him. And that is where this post will sound like all the other birthday posts that I have written about Graham. I have this beautiful amazingly sweet tempered child, who tries his best every single day (how many of us can say that?), and much of the time, in addition to loving him, I am impatient with him. Homework is the time of day where I am tested. I sit with him as he struggles to recognize his spelling words (must they be written in cursive??) and watch as his math skills, which are very good, flee his brain as he contemplates word problems. Third grade is a big transition, the work is less linear, more complex. This does not work well for our child. Again, I am grateful to his teacher who is compassionate and understanding. She suggests that he does 20 minutes of homework only, set a timer, and whatever he finishes is great.  So far, that has made things a bit easier for all of us.

At his last IEP meeting, an emotional one where the school therapist shared her findings, and her deep affection for Graham, in a stirring way, Randy raised the difficult question. The one that has been in the back of our minds since he started school. “At what point do we hold him back?” It was one of those things that had been with me so long that it was startling to hear it voiced aloud. And even more startling was how they unequivocally told us that studies show that “retaining” students does them no good. They progress for a while and then continue to get stuck about where they did the previous year. Much better to keep assessing his needs and making accommodations for him along the way. I felt so much better after that was cleared up.  And I also worry.  Of course I worry.  How will this look in the future?  How will he continue to be in the classroom with typically developing kids without his very strong self esteem being impacted?

And then I remember what his pediatrician said long ago.  Before we knew what this was (and we still don’t), before he had started in school, just about when we realized that he wasn’t talking and all the babies his age were.  She told me that as long as he was making progress, we shouldn’t worry.  His peers will make progress too, most of the time faster than he will, so it won’t be a race.  He won’t necessarily catch up.  But as long as he is moving forward, that is what we need to hold on to.  And he is moving forward.  When he was starting developmental preschool and he was still wearing diapers, I could not imagine a day when he would sit at a real desk and do real math problems and read real books.  And here he is doing all of those things and thriving in his own way.

There are lessons here.  Be easier on him.  Be easier on myself.  Celebrate what you have without wishing for what you don’t.  Why is it all so hard?  I imagine other people’s houses at homework time and how effortlessly it must flow.  I imagine other people’s weekends and how much less frustration they must experience just trying to get out the door in addition to everything else.  And then I remember a valuable lesson I learned when I went through my divorce from my first husband.  When we announced to friends and family that we were splitting up, people were absolutely shocked.  From the outside, we seemed like the perfect couple – how could we divorce?  I realized that no one knows what is going on in your house and the challenges you face.  So as I imagine these other people with their other children, I need to remember that everyone has something.  What I have is a gloriously happy (and handsome) child with an amazing attitude who thinks he is awesome and that his life is great.  And I have a temper I wish was less volatile when it comes to this child.  We’ve done the work for him and we will continue to do it.  I think I need to do some work on me.



33 Comments »

  1. Oh, Dana. I have been a faithful reader for years now and I always love your birthday posts. I am not a mother myself but I imagine that whatever struggles you are facing, and whenever you feel you are short tempered with your sweet Graham, they are far less obvious to him. We are always our own worse critics. I hope that this year you are able to move forward in your own way, in Grahams own way, and that you practice some yoga breathing (and real life yoga, haha) and treat yourself with love. Happy birthday, Graham! Steph

    Comment by Steph — December 16, 2013 @ 7:05 pm

  2. Dear Dana,

    I love reading this blog, and the birthday posts are always so moving. What a sweet child you have. Though I don’t (yet) have children, what you say about Graham really resonates with me as I know someone who I can imagine was a little like Graham as a child. And he is a wonderful, kind, brilliant, creative, happy, and healthy man. I wish the same for your boy.

    I also love reading because occasionally there are pictures (like above) of the boys at Ici, where I worked a bit during college. I’ve since moved to the Peninsula, but miss Berkeley immensely and go back every chance I get. I’m glad your family is getting to explore the part of the East Bay I love so much.

    Comment by Magpie — December 16, 2013 @ 8:07 pm

  3. Love this boy. My favorite part: “What I have is a gloriously happy (and handsome) child with an amazing attitude who thinks he is awesome and that his life is great.” Yes. Yes, you do.

    I will be in SF in February. I’ll send an email and see if we can all meet up in Oakland. Love and miss you all.

    Comment by Catherine — December 16, 2013 @ 8:38 pm

  4. This was offered to me today, for which I am gratefull as I navigate my own struggles, perhaps parts of it might resonate with you : Mindfulness practice has one message at its heart: you are completely, totally all right just as you are right now, whether you practice or not.

    You are in the throes of coming to recognize this for yourself in the face of all the perceived disapproval of others. Just as you are, “faults” and “skills,” “talents” and “quirks,” “”special gifts” and “failures” and all–you are completely what you are meant to be in the eye of the universe. Let it be your eye too.

    We can put down the burden of trying to “improve.” It’s our nature to pick it up again in a panic, and then the job is to put it back down, again and again. Doesn’t mean we will become “lazy” or “worthless”–it means coming to recognize the true worth that has never been absent, before there were accomplishments.

    Comment by Deb — December 16, 2013 @ 9:29 pm

  5. I wish I had words of wisdom for you, but I never had kids, a choice I’ve made early in my life, and for many reasons I think was right for me.

    I have to agree with Steph, though: we usually ARE our own worse critics.

    I think you do an amazing job as parents, and it’s natural to lose patience every now and then. You are human. But, being able to detect those moments is part of winning that battle, and you definitely do so.

    Happy Birthday, Graham! Next year, big one, TEN!!!!

    Comment by SallyBR — December 16, 2013 @ 9:38 pm

  6. Happy birthday, Graham! I loved this thoughtful post. One part in particular should be in bold and underline and that is that everyone has something. I think people always “show” their best (Facebook-ification I call it!) and behind the scenes they have their own struggles.

    I’ve read you site for years and it’s so evident how much your family means to you. Your boys are adorable and you have a beautiful family! I have two sons of my own around the same age and have all the same worries and frustrations as you do. You are an inspiring advocate for your son and I hope Graham has a wonderful birthday!

    Comment by Eileen — December 16, 2013 @ 11:31 pm

  7. Dana,
    I just friended you and this popped up. Now I’m in tears. I don’t usually comment on blogs, but thought this might be helpful to you. First, Grahm will benifit from all that you are doing for him. I say this from experience. I have auditory and visual processing problems and yet, have come a looooong way. School was incredibly difficult. I was smart but didn’t learn the way others did. I was retained in first grade and was in “special reading” classes. When I was younger, I would get easily frustrated with not catching on as quickly in school or in social situations. With persistence and by over compensating, I managed to do well in college and eventually went to graduate school to become an educational therapist. And, as I think you are aware, I just finished a culinary program last spring. So there is definitely hope for those of us who learn differently. Over the years I have learned to be patient with myself and with others. I still have “brain hiccups” on a regular basis, but have learned to laugh at myself on the inside. You may have noticed one the other night when I said “Bradly” instead of “Brady”. Happens all the time…and somehow I have managed to accept this about myself. Having support from loved ones is the most important thing you can do for Grahm. With your encouragement he will excel…at his own pace. I’m sure there will be plenty of struggles, but with the support of his family, those struggles will make him a strong unique person. May you all have a wonderful day celebrating Graham’s Birthday!! Shawn

    Comment by Shawn Wong — December 17, 2013 @ 12:23 am

  8. Happy Birthday, Graham! Dana, you are an amazing mother and person! Graham is lucky to have you! You have a beautiful family! Happy Holidays! xo

    Comment by Maria — December 17, 2013 @ 12:41 am

  9. Wonderful blog post as always Dana. Raising kids can be such a challenge. You and Randy have incredible patience, poise and grace. We hope we can see you four again some day soon!

    Comment by Nikesh Parekh — December 17, 2013 @ 1:07 am

  10. I always love reading about Graham and seeing his big smile! No matter what Graham will always have his #1 best friend Spencer by his side! I love the Season’s Greetings picture :)

    Comment by Maris — December 17, 2013 @ 2:32 am

  11. Dana, this was such a sweet and well written post. Graham is SO lucky to have both of you. Thanks for sharing this.

    Comment by Harrison Magun — December 17, 2013 @ 3:09 am

  12. Dear Dana – your blog post today touched me deeply. My heart is sad for the trials you are experiencing. I have been down the difficult road of raising sons with learning disabilities (dyslexia, ADHD, sensory integration dysfunction, processing issues, speech problems). There are many heartaches along the way for sure but you are far ahead of the game in seeing the positive qualities that Graham possesses. Keep loving that boy of yours, revel in the unique person that he is and keep fighting for the best education possible….he is worth every bit of conflict and effort it takes. Thank you for sharing your road with all of us.
    (By the way, my eldest who is severely dyslexic will receive his doctorate in engineering in June. Great success after great struggle!).
    Much love,
    Becky

    Comment by Becky — December 17, 2013 @ 3:43 am

  13. Beautiful, Sis. . .

    Pretentious yes, but I am reminded of Proust:

    “The unknown element in the lives of other people is like that of nature, which each fresh scientific discovery merely reduces but does not abolish.”

    Comment by Michael — December 17, 2013 @ 4:21 am

  14. Dana, I can relate to this post both as a mom and a therapist. Thank you for, yet again, opening up here and letting us all have a peek at your heart.

    Wishing you those steps towards kindness and grace, deep patience and lots of laughs. I am walking that road, too. (Also wishing you a really delicious meal & drink at the end of the day.)

    Comment by Kathleen — December 17, 2013 @ 6:07 am

  15. Dana, I’m deeply touched by this post. Having a kid who has severe eczema, by severe I mean she scratches herself till bleeding everyday and not a single inch of her skin is smooth, I absolutely understand that everyone has “something”. Most of us do not bring our problems and stress outside of our home, but that doesn’t mean we don’t struggle as parents. Hang in there, Graham is very lucky to have such a loving family, he is such a sweet kid :)

    Comment by Irene — December 17, 2013 @ 5:38 pm

  16. Dana, I was wondering if your son has ever been tested for gluten sensitivity? Until I listened to the Gluten Summit, I was unaware that this kind of sensitivity can be associated with brain disfunction and is not necessarily a digestive issue. Here is a link to several noted experts from the summit:https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?tab=wm#inbox/1430155f47c41002 Doctors Vojdani and Perlmutter are a must to listen to. Happy birthday to Graham!

    Comment by Holly — December 17, 2013 @ 8:04 pm

  17. Oh Dana, such a lovely post, as always. Graham is so so so lovely and, even though I’m sure it is hard for you and Randy at times, you really have done such a great job with him and fighting for him. I might have mentioned this before, but my cousin falls somewhere along the autism spectrum (though she hasn’t ever really been properly diagnosed…there was no spectrum when we were little) and her parents didn’t fight quite hard enough, so it’s devastating to see now. But Graham is on such a good path, and he will be okay.

    Comment by Joanne — December 18, 2013 @ 12:24 am

  18. Oh Dana, my heart broke just a bit reading this. Graham looks like such a handsome, funny, lovely boy and how lucky he is to have you as his mother, to recognize all his traits, good and bad. That you both fight so hard for him and see how far he’s come. I recognize myself in much of your frustration. I get frustrated over homework too – my boy won’t spend the time he needs because it is hard for him and I get angry and he gets upset and a whole cycle begins – over and over. But I’m learning what his triggers are and what my own are. His lesson for me is that things aren’t under my control and things aren’t going to be the way I want them to be.
    Recently I’ve been given the gift of seeing that there are lots of other parents out there with similar (but different)struggles however much I may imagine that we are the only ones dealing with the issues our children face.
    Happy birthday Graham!

    Comment by Charlotte — December 18, 2013 @ 7:03 am

  19. Happy belated birthday to Graham!

    My heart ached, Dana, as I read this post. I just want you to know that I’m thinking about you. And mostly, I’m thinking that you’re such a wonderful mother.

    Hugs.

    Comment by merry jennifer — January 5, 2014 @ 5:10 pm

  20. I’m behind on everything, including reading your blog. I always cry when you post about the boys. Without fail. I miss you all so much. I want to high-five Graham soon! Xoxo

    Comment by Deb — January 14, 2014 @ 8:01 am

  21. awesome job, greetings from Ghana. just stumbled on your blog chasing your cookie recipe. Your son shares the same birthday as my daughter (28th Nov). must give yourself a pat on the back, we are trying to be the best moms possible, and must remind ourselves to enjoy their growing pains too :)

    Comment by Adjoa — January 20, 2014 @ 8:54 pm

  22. Oh friend – I love this. Such raw emotion and realness. You’re such an awesome lady and mom to these boys. The yin and the yang of it all is something we all go through in our own way but I can’t imagine how frustrating even just the simplest of things can be for you like getting shoes on in the morning because it’s amplified..if that’s even possible. :) Hugs friendly friend. I saw this woman just yesterday in a parking lot and I had to think about where I was for a second…not in California or Seattle or wherever the hell we live now.. so of course it couldn’t be you – I rudely stared for a second just to make sure. ;) She was for sure your long lost twin. It was like this wonderful happiness and sadness all at once. Think of you often. I hope the sun is shining on you today.

    Comment by Lindsey — January 22, 2014 @ 5:07 pm

  23. I miss your stories and recipes and hope you have not retired from blogging. I’m sending best wishes for health and happiness to you and your family.

    Comment by Linda — March 6, 2014 @ 1:52 pm

  24. Dana I have followed your blog for years as well as your journey with Graham. I find myself drawn more to your posts about him because we have such similar struggles with our daughter Julia (I have shared a bit in the past). When I read your posts I know without a doubt that he will be ok because I see that you adore him. I can see in his smile that he knows he is cherished. I try to remind myself as well that our love really can see them thru. It is a hard hard road, and I find myself lost on it at times. But we are on the right path. They might not graduate Harvard, or even college at all, who knows. But they will be good, stable, loved people that know how to confront hardship and make it thru. Hugs my friend, you are an incredible Mom :)

    Comment by Heather — March 17, 2014 @ 3:57 am

  25. The people we love are often the ones with whom we get the most easily aggravated. The grace you endow upon him in this birthday post- let it be what comes to the forefront next time you find yourself frustrated with him or yourself. Moms do the best job they can to love and shepherd and let their children go.

    Comment by annelies — March 25, 2014 @ 2:27 am

  26. I think of you often, and miss you, and hope things are going well for you and your family.

    Comment by rie — April 25, 2014 @ 2:24 am

  27. Dana, are you alright?

    Comment by Lynn D. — April 26, 2014 @ 3:09 am

  28. Any plans to come back to the blog?

    Comment by Michelle R — June 5, 2014 @ 5:18 am

  29. Hey Dana ~ Me checking in on you too, hope all is well.

    Comment by Alanna Kellogg — June 19, 2014 @ 4:18 pm

  30. Hi, long time reader de-lurking to say hope all is well with you. You left the blog so suddenly, hope things are ok and we get an update/ post soon. Best wishes to you and your family

    Comment by Nidhi — June 25, 2014 @ 3:16 am

  31. Hope all is well with you and your family. I must say, I miss your blogging – you have such a wealth of food knowledge & experience to share, and almost always cook the kinds of things I want to eat!

    Comment by cR — July 8, 2014 @ 4:54 pm

  32. Dana – I had the pleasure of meeting your mother this past week. She recommended your excellent blog. I’ve spent just a few minutes so far but will be back tomorrow morning for more of the inspiration I’ve already found here. Thank you for all your past posts, and I for one, will look forward to more!

    Comment by Kathleen M — August 22, 2014 @ 9:27 pm

  33. Just want you to know I miss your posts. You brought me a lot of inspiration in the kitchen over the years. Hope life is treating you well and that you’ll be back here one day soon.

    Comment by Kathleen — November 23, 2014 @ 1:32 am



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