Our Animal Shelter

Today I took teen son and adult son to the local animal shelter to inquire about volunteering to help with the cats. We signed up to go to a volunteer orientation next week. Since we were there, we went to the cat area to play with some feline friends. Teen son froze up and wouldn’t go in the room. At first I thought it might be because there were some other people in the room, but once they left, he still remained frozen. He sat on a bench outside the room and listened to his music while adult son and I played with the cats for a while.

This one was full of energy and ready to pounce and play!

This one seemed to want to be near the action, but didn’t want to participate. I held this one for a minute, and I could tell it was not super cuddly.

There were about 8 cats in the open play room. It was really interesting to observe the different personalities of the cats. While we were there, the volunteer animal photographer came in. He said something that just broke my heart. He said that the cats were all in different stages of recovery from trauma. I understand that. It wouldn’t take much for me to turn into a “cat lady”. My houseful of people is about all I can handle right now, but I am looking forward to returning to the animal shelter to interact with my feline friends!

~AoA

Homeschooling…How’s It Going?

The AoA kids have been homeschooling for a full year now. I have probably learned just as much as they have. The journey has been challenging, and for reasons I didn’t anticipate. To start, the AoA kids had become walking bundles of nerves, and really benefitted from some time to breath and discover their interests. They both had gaps in their skill banks. I knew that Little AoA had difficulty with math, but I didn’t know exactly how far behind she was in grammar, vocabulary, and spelling. When I started her homeschooling, I went with grade level curriculum. It became clear that she needed something different. She now works in books at four different grade levels. Her learning plan is completely individualized to meet her where she is and grow from there. She has time to pursue her interests, which at this time, includes memorizing Dolly Parton’s older songs and practicing her banjo.

The life skills she now has time to learn and practice, has moved her from being very immature and dependent, to very strong and independent!

Teenage son has been more challenging to work with. He is intellectually gifted, but has such intense anxiety that he was diagnosed with selective mutism. We started with me giving him some independence in doing his work. He was stuck…frozen, as if he just couldn’t piece anything together. I spent many months working side by side with him. We watched instructional videos, read together, and answered questions together. It felt like it took forever before he took the initiative to try to work independently. He had many gaps in math, which I never knew because he was always in advanced classes making good grades. We had to back up in math and rebuild his confidence.

Teenage son now works independently. He truly likes and prefers to do his own research on topics, rather than from a nice organized curriculum. This is the opposite of Little AoA. He and I set completion goals for the year, and mapped out the total number of lessons or standards that needed to be covered in order to meet state guidelines. He knows how many he needs to do each week in order to meet his goal. I send him the specific topics to research each week, so he is not overwhelmed by the big picture. He typically binges when he works, doing a ton of work at one time. He is much calmer now, and seems to be finding his way…

I admit, I actually felt like a failure when the AoA kids weren’t fitting our public school mold. I fought and fought to make them fit. I have always worked in the special education field, and exhausted every resource available. I was told repeatedly that what my child needed could not be provided because of lack of personnel. Teenage son spent a lot of time in isolation rooms, not for violent actions, but for anxiety and freezing when it was time to do activities that he was not emotionally equipped to do.

It has taken time for me to accept the kids for who they are and who they are becoming, rather than to worry about who they are not. This has completely changed my paradigm. I work with kids who don’t fit the school mold completely, and their families. I have become even more passionate about sharing this message with families.

~AoA

Relatable Funnies

Today was a day in need of humor! I woke up very dizzy, hoping that the dizziness would go away as it usually does. I went about my morning off work routine, and got ready to go out with Little AoA. We got in the car, and the dizziness just got worse. I had to stop in our driveway and return to the house. I Googled my symptoms of course, and came up with maybe low blood sugar. I rested and ate a bit, then the dizziness turned into a severe headache. I ended up laying down and sleeping the day away. Now that the day has ended, I am finally feeling back to normal. That was a weird day. I needed a laugh to finish off this day, and found a few that I could totally relate too! Maybe you can relate to some of them too.

~AoA

Killing Creativity- What Are We Doing?

When I saw this cartoon, it really stirred up some sadness in my soul. In my job in public schools, I am privileged to be able to really get to know my students. Some of them are truly gifted artists, and I mean TRULY gifted. When I collaborate with other teachers, I hear them complaining about students spending time drawing during class. True, they need to complete their work, but drawing is such a good outlet once they are finished!

One thing I strive to do with kids I serve, is to tap into their talents and interests. I notice that when I say,”Let’s learn to draw something new!”, some kids just can’t believe that they are being “allowed” to draw! Learning to draw something new teaches us not only about drawing, but also about dealing with mistakes, perseverance, and practicing to improve. I start these activities by folding a piece of blank paper into 8 sections, and talk about why I do that- it is because I expect to have to practice a new drawing at least 8 times before I like it. Kids tend to start with one piece of paper, and may be unhappy with it very quickly. It takes getting through this productive struggle alongside another, to learn about perseverance.

At the beginning of the school year, when I am getting to know students, most of them have two interests: video games and sleeping. This is our starting point. Throughout the school year, we try new things based on interest and choice. We work on social skills needed in all areas of life, and self-awareness.

Of course, since I work in a public school system, the bottom line is that students perform well on state testing. While not a huge fan of state testing, I have watched the ups and downs of this testing over the last 20 years, with our most vulnerable population. The test confirms for the population I have served, that they don’t fit into the “norm”.

The biggest thing I want to impart to the kids I serve, is that a test does not define them! That is why it is so important to me, to develop talents and interests alongside the state prescribed standards.

~AoA

No School = Movie Time

Hooray, it is Thanksgiving vacation time! I started my week off by moving my 30 year old son into our tiny house. It needed a little love and attention to feel like home. We still have a few logistics to work out, but he is making it his room now.

After focusing on adult son, Little AoA needed some mommy time. We went to see a movie about one of her hero’s, Mister Rogers!

I grew up with Mister Rogers, and I am sure that his show helped shape who I am today. I love that the next generation is carrying his legacy.

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The day before Thanksgiving, we went to another movie, Frozen 2! Little AoA was really into the first Frozen movie, but she thinks she has moved on now. Anyway, I LOVED it! Well done, Disney…well done!

The characters were given a little more depth, and were swept into a new challenge. I was skeptical about this sequel, as I loved the first Frozen, and just didn’t think anything could match it. It far exceeded my expectations.

Next, it was on to Thanksgiving!

No fancy place settings or centerpiece…just a delicious meal with immediate family this year. Everyone was in the same room. Teen son was in the room, but did not eat with us. I consider his presence a positive step. My heart is sad for the anxiety that he lives with, but the whole family has learned to accept him for who he is, and support him where he is.

I hope everyone has had a peaceful week❤️

~AoA

4 Wheelers Don’t Have Feelings

The AoA kids have been working hard to reconnect with their dad. Currently, only Teen Son goes to visits with him, and they are at a supervision center. Little AoA has a gradual goal involving steps from letter writing, to short phone calls, to visits- to happen over the course of months. Progress was being made as quickly as it could be, based on the dad’s cooperation and participation. The dad went an entire year not checking on Little AoA, but only on Teen Son. He went text silent when I would send information about doctor appointments and out of state trips (as I am required to do). When visits resumed with Teen Son, the dad assumed that Little AoA was just part of the package, but in reality, she wasn’t ready.

The dad had an attorney already in place to fight me, six months before visits needed to resume under an agreed deadline. Visits were to resume by July with Teen Son. When we made the agreement, we all just assumed that the dad would be living up to his part of the agreement- getting the help he needed, checking in with child therapists every other month, and supporting the kids financially. We also assumed that if all went according to the agreement, that Little AoA would be ready. The first day of August, he had his attorney file a suit against me, because only one child was ready to resume visits.

Three months have gone by since that was filed. It has cost me $2000 to retain an attorney to respond and represent me through this complaint. Some legal formalities have been done, like responding to the complaint and counter filing for contempt for lack of child support. It is just sitting in limbo right now. I just wait for the other shoe to drop. It is a constant state of uncertainty that at any moment, our lives may be disrupted by impending court dates.

In the meantime, the dad has started doing damage to the relationships that were developing after much therapy and counseling. He sent a letter to Teen Son’s therapist, basically insulting Teen Son’s interests and educational needs. Teen Son was given the letter, and by the next visit, had realized that the dad was not connecting with him or supportive of him.

At the next visit, the dad went all out, and violated the visit center boundaries by sneaking a letter to Little AoA into a bag of candy he was sending home with Teen Son. The letter was heavy on the guilt trip for Little AoA…staying that “the 4 wheeler misses you”, and repeatedly saying how much he loves her, misses her, and prays for her. Well, it was all too much for Little AoA, and she ended up breaking down that night in a fit of crying and sobbing. A developmentally delayed child can not withstand the amount of guilt heaped upon her for things that are out of her control!

After a visit with her therapist and much consoling, Little AoA has taken steps backward in her readiness to resume visits.

When we first saw the note to Little AoA, Teen Son was very surprised. The visit supervisor checks everything that is given to Teen Son at the visits, including any notes, letters, or cards. I reached out to the visit supervisor the next day, to see if she was aware of this letter. I have gained a little trust for her over the last several months of visits- she has always let me know that things sent home have been seen by her. The night this letter came home, it was dark and rainy. We were late getting to the visit, and I thought maybe she checked everything before Teen Son arrived. Well…..she was as surprised about it as Teen Son. She asked me to send her a copy of it, and she would decide how to proceed.

It wouldn’t have taken much to comply with the visit center’s boundaries. What did he think he would gain by crossing this boundary? He has violated the kids’ trust that needed to be rebuilt, and put the visits at risk of being canceled by the center, which would halt visits until a new center was found.

It was difficult when we first divorced, for me to stand back and not try to fix things for the dad. However, after being lied about and threatened over the last six years, I have lost any desire to help him. The kids are getting old enough now to understand that it is not ok to violate boundaries. This is not the way to build trust and rebuild relationships.

I appreciate this space to process my experiences and thoughts.

~AoA

How We Do Things Here

This week we were excited to be able to watch the CMA Awards being hosted by some of our FAVORITE country music queens; Reba and Dolly! Little AoA is serious about her country music, and insisted on wearing her cowgirl hat for the show.

I was just blown away by Reba’s “Fancy”! The song tugs at my heart and reminds me of all of the kids we have in our schools who live in desperate poverty, and the struggle to escape the cycle of poverty.

On a much different note, my sweet little town made the news last week, for an incident at a fast food chicken restaurant , Popeye’s. A middle aged woman entered the restaurant, angry because her bill was wrong. An argument ensued in which the woman allegedly started using racial slurs. She was escorted outside, where she was body slammed by an employee. It was all caught on video, and in our world of social media, has made its way all over the internet. The woman had several broken bones from the encounter, and the employee was arrested.

I have only been to our Popeyes twice. Their chicken is great, but the service was very slow and confusing. Did I say slow? I meant S.L.O.W.!

The incident didn’t surprise me. I see so many kids here who are very explosive. They grow up to be explosive adults. By the time kids go through middle school, a pattern of behavior starts to emerge, and it grows into their adult personalities. We have got to support our youth, and take notice of their needs. They are the adults of tomorrow!

~AoA

Movie Time

I wasn’t sure I wanted to see this movie. I had very mixed feelings about it. I actually researched things about the movie before seeing it, just to get an idea of what to expect. I kept reading that Joaquin Phoenix gave an award worthy performance as Joker. It was that, and my obsession with origin stories, that had me leaning toward going to the movie.

After seeing Joker, I have to say that it was a very emotional movie. The backstory of Joker was filled with bullying, mental illness with delusions, childhood abuse, and betrayal. There were a few small references to various traumas of his childhood. I would have liked to have more details with the back story, but in the end, enough information was given to be able to piece Joker’s history together.

As far as gruesome violence…I was expecting much worse. There were a few violent scenes. I think my obsession with watching Criminal Minds served to prepare me.

I would score the movie with four out of five stars! The emotional element was difficult to digest, and yet very well executed.

~AoA

Give an Inch…

I learned yesterday that the dad wrote a letter to Brother’s therapist, insulting my parenting and trying to interfere with progress. I read the letter myself, and later asked for a copy. The therapist refused to give me a copy of the letter. I am at a loss as to why. In the past, with other therapists, letters have become part of the child’s file, which parents have a right to have. I am aware that my written communications with therapists become part of a file…how does this not apply to the dad?

I feel like some boundaries are being crossed. I can’t quite put my finger on it yet, but I will keep seeking. The dad has a history of interfering with the kids therapy, and is suppose to be limited to only being able to submit written requests for records. Brother’s current therapist took it upon himself to provide reunification therapy in order to get visits started up again after Brother’s breakdown. That goal has been met, and Brother is attending supervised visits.

I expect no less than to be torn apart by the ex…but the therapists office should remain a safe space for Brother, free from the dad’s negative influence. On the other hand, the therapist is getting to see first hand, some of the root of the problem.

The letter triggered me to some stored up sadness and feelings of inadequacy. Brother has always had anxiety and many characteristics of autism, but there was a time when it didn’t prevent him from trying things and participating in things that interested him outside of his computer. The dad brought up the things he did with Brother….over three years ago. The interesting thing is, it is Brother who has changed. I am still a very active parent, and when Brother is interested, he joins me. It seems that he is interested in concerts, photography, and vacations. He does go to weekly music lessons, where he is learning to play guitar and drums. He changed about the time he started into puberty, and had a psychotic break that landed him in a hospital treatment program for a short term.

The prognosis for Brother includes support well into adulthood. The progress is extremely slow. On top of everything else, he has now been diagnosed with selective mutism. As the healing has taken place, the layers of trauma have peeled back to reveal a young man who can not find the words to share his voice in public situations outside of family and very close acquaintances.

I have held a sadness for about a week now. I am hoping that something will touch my soul and ignite my passion soon.

~AoA

A Week of Halloween!

Halloween is officially tomorrow night…on a Thursday. Kids would love to be out of school the next day, but despite their best efforts, starting a petition on change.org with a nicely written persuasive argument, school will be in session.

Truthfully, it seems like our little town celebrates for at least a week! There have been haunted woods and hayrides for the entire month of October. An old local cemetery hosted haunted nights and scavenger hunts. Churches and schools started having their celebrations and fall festivals a week ago. This week has seen its share of Trunk or Treat activities already, at the local college and hospital…and Halloween is yet to come!

Little AoA and I participated in our church trunk or treat over the weekend. We decorated the trunk like The Grand Ole Opry, with Dolly Parton and Minnie Pearl. The adults recognized us!

For Little AoA, it is her first holiday season with glasses. She can see everything clearly now!

We still have Halloween night to do. We are planning on visiting two friends, and two nursing homes. Of course, we will be taking treats (donut holes were requested) to our favorite nursing home residents! We did this last year, and it was so sweet to see the inter generational interactions.

We have also made a holiday baking goal to learn to make decorated iced sugar cookies. I think we will take a local class…this was our first attempt:

They were tasty anyway!

How do you celebrate the change of season?

~AoA