Category Archives: Growing Up

Sleep-away camp

Ready for Horseback Riding at Camp

It was a very big deal for us (as parents) to make the decision to send Isabella to sleep-away camp. Last summer, she went for two weeks with a girlfriend from school (read: built-in safety net — that’s good for the child, but mostly the parents).When we went to pick her up to come home to attend a family function, she asked to go back for another two weeks. We obliged. This summer we wanted a camp with more academics. We found one, but the only option was 7 weeks. Yikes! Isabella’s response: “Seven weeks is a long time.” Yes, it is.

It felt like diving into water that you know will be frigid, but it’s a hot, humid day. If you want to cool off, you have to do it. If we wanted Isabella to get a more academic experience (preventing regression), while encouraging independence, we had to go for the 9-week sleep-away camp. It has been three weeks and today is Isabella’s 15th birthday. It’s certainly not were I expected her to be at 15 when she was born or even when she was 5. Here she is nevertheless — loving it, learning, and getting those wings that she (just like every child) needs.

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Graduation — a milestone

Isabella’s first request for her graduation from the Banyan School was Aunt Joan and Uncle Donald’s attendance. Since her grandparents are no longer with us, Isabella (and the rest of the family) has looked to my father’s brother and his wife as our wise elders. It’s a reminder of the importance of the generational connection. I was lucky enough to have four grandparents until I was 16. My paternal grandfather passed away only seven years before his son, my father. He was a vital force in the lives of all 12 of his grandchildren.

The graduation went off without a hitch. Each graduate was seranaded with words from the director or the principal of the school. What stuck out for me was that Isabella was the only student referred to as queen, as in Queen Isabella. Yay, that’s my girl! She and her sister Victoria both have names that once belonged to queens. So, why not think of yourself as one. I had no idea that Isabella’s school thought of her the way that we, her family, do.

Learning through fear (the parents)

Today marks the fourth time that Isabella has gone off on her own unexpectedly. The first was probably the most serious. She was just four years old and had just learned to use the bathroom. She was with my sister at a street fair. Yes, a street fair — every parent’s nightmare locus for a missing child, perhaps only second to a mall. (Isabella became lost there once several years back while on my watch.) At the street fair, she was looking for a bathrrom. After jumping up onto vendors’ tables and screaming her name, I found Isabella crying in a one of those stinky portable bathrooms. She was wet and very frightened. That was the only time she had any fear when she separated from the adults that accompanied her.

The mall incident was typical. Isabella saw something that she liked in a store, so she went in to check it out. After my panic subsided, I figured which store she would like and found her immediately. She wasn’t gone long enough for me to involve mall cops. The time before today happened while she was scootering. My husband took her out scootering for exercise. They both scootered. Isabella, who once was not able to master the coordination required, has become quite proficient and fast. At some point, she scootered ahead of her father. The police got involved. She was missing for over an hour. She had scootered to the location that was planned. It required no street crossing, but was far from the start point.

Today, was a very different. After occupational therapy each Thursday, Isabella takes the elevator down four floors and meets me in the car. We drive home. This time, her father was picking her up. He wasn’t there after she got outside. She wasn’t there when he arrived. My husband called me. I was out with my older daughter. I called the police and ran home to get my car keys.

Isabella’s school backpack wsa on the kitchen sofa. For a moment, I couldn’t understand how it got there if she was dropped off at occupational theraoy immediately after school. I called her name, she answered and came downstairs. What happened? No one was there to pick her up, so she walked home. Other than walking to the mailbox and grocer around the corner from our home, Isabella has walked no where in our town. This place is really far from our house. I only drive there, espically on very hot days like today.

This means that she had to pass the home of her speech therapist, which is close to our home, requiring her to cross three streets. Today, she crossed many more streets (I do not want to count). We had been considering allowing her to walk home alone from speech. I guess she’s ready.

Following the path

Because we have teenagers and because we live in metropolitan NY, our children have friends of all races, religions, and ethnicities. As a family, we have attended several bar and bat mitzvahs over the past years. The functions following the ceremonies have ranged from somewhat basic (none were at home parties, however) to affairs to remember (more like weddings).

What had the most impact for me was not the high-end table service and wonderful food at one event in particular. It was the bat mitzvahs of two girls from Isabella’s class that really got me. Okay, have you ever been to a bar or bat mitzvah? Learning those prayers…and in Yiddish, oy! This is no easy task for any 13-year-old. Throw in a language-based learning disability and you’ve got , well, a possible insurmountable task.

Both girls got through the prayers fine, though I have no ability to critique them. They both sounded sufficiently Jewish and holy to me. What was really truly amazing was what they said in plain English. One girl, aptly named Rebecca, was feted by her mother who told Rebecca they she learned more from her than anything else in life. Yes, I understand that. If you follow the path that your children lay, you will learn about the deeper meaning of life.

The other girl named Nina was incredible. Though neither of her parents had a mitzvah (her father is an Irish Catholic), Nina insisted on taking Hebrew classes. This child has serious fortitude and ambition. Of course, her parents obliged. The speech. I wish I could tell you more about it, but I can’t. I was crying too much. She got up to that podium and said how she knows that things are more difficult for her. Simply recognizing this is huge. Most of our kids do not moan about their challenges. (Recall, Isabella never asks why she and her twin attend different schools.)

On top of this, Nina talked about her mother’s breast cancer…and that she was happy that it was gone. Oh my God, just shoot me! To round out the afternoon, a boy with special needs with whom Nina is acquainted seranded her on the French horn playing a Beatles song. Yes, we had fun at Phoebe’s bat mitzvah, but her talk didn’t particularly move me. Rebecca and Nina’s celebrations left me feeling that our children — the one with special needs — had much to offer the world. I experienced watching their parents follow the paths that each of the girls set. It doesn’t get better than that.

Maybe we did a good job

When you have a child who is not developing at the same rate as her peers, you worry about the future. Really, you worry about all of your children. I see many of my friends’ grown children living at home. Some have graduated from college and have gainful employment, even careers. Others are, well, lost. We really can’t predict who will get out of the house and who won’t — for our neurotypical kids. For our “different” kids, we definitely know. And as they age, we know for sure. So we worry. We consult with attorneys. We look into state programs (and become horrified). We come up with a plan…or at least think about a plan.

While out for brunch on a Sunday with our two girls, Isabella asked Victoria about college and moving away. I commented that Isabella would miss her. This happens now when Victoria sleeps at friends homes or goes away for weekends. Isabella is not quite right. Victoria dismissed my comment by pointing out that college was only for 4 years. And after college (or I was thinking, when we’re dead)? Victoria replied, “Isabella will live with me.” I was at a loss. We had never, ever discussed Isabella’s future with our other children. Victoria cooly replied, “I decided that when I was 9,” and took another bite of her eggs Benedict.

The fashion show

Every year Isabella’s school hosts a feel good fundraiser. It’s the fashion show. Isabella talks about it incessantly. Most of the kids in the school walk down a runway wearing clothing that has been lent to the school for this very purpose. This year, I think, was the first year that Isabella walked, or rather ran, with a classmate, rather than a teacher. She was really excited. I didn’t give it much thought until she jumped on the runway nearly dragging her partner. Clearly in a hurry, Isabella didn’t stop to get her picture taken. And I was worried about the physical condition of her friend, who is not quite as fast. Thanksfully, everything is okay and she has stopped obssessing about the fashion show. Well, at least until next month when she’ll ask,”When is the fashion show.”

Who am I?

Isabella recently stated that her school was different. I was surprised that she verbalized this fact. I thought, wow, this is great. Isabella knows who she is. She pointed out that her school had a large, grassy area. Yes, that’s different from your brother and sister’s urban schools. But that wasn’t exactly what I was expecting to hear. So, I told her that her school was for children with learning disabilities. Quite indignantly, she replied, “I don’t have a learning disability.” My first thought upon hearing this was: she has no idea who she is. When I told the story to a parent of a child in Isabella’s school, she had a very different reaction. Her’s was: she has self-confidence.

Okay. Those are two quite varied thoughts about self-awareness of a special needs child. Right? Well, maybe not. Maybe, the views are alike. Does she have self-confidence because she does not know who she is? Or, does learning in an environment with children who have similar abilities keep you level. The playing field is level. Children who go to school with varying abilities always know who the kids are who get the best grades, as well as those who get the worst. There are a lot of comparisons. And the comparisons don’t end there. Kids rate looks, clothes, humor, popularity, athletics, weight, body type, and so much more. Isn’t it okay for all girls to believe they are pretty even though they all look different? What’s wrong with a kid who didn’t make the varsity basketball team, but thinks of himself as a great basketball player? Nothing.

Kids need to value themselves for who they are. Period. Not as compared to someone else. Self-confidence derives from valuing yourself, not from valuing someone else. Child psychologists, teachers, parents all say the same thing. More than anything else, self-confidence is the most important value to confer on your child.

I’m feeling good today as a parent of Isabella!