Finding A Natural Talent

I was reminded this week, that Brother has a natural talent in the area of photography. I had decided to use our summer to go exploring in our area. There are many historic homes and battlefields near us. The AoA kids and I visited a home called “Rippavilla”. I didn’t even notice that Brother was quietly taking pictures during the tour. It was after the tour that I noticed him crossing a field and squatting to get shots at different angles. Nobody taught him this. Here are some of the pictures he took.

Our next trip is planned already, and I can’t wait to see what he captures!

Interestingly, his therapist is now helping us treat what is being called “selective mutism”. He struggles trying to communicate in many more situations than the average teen. I hope that through photography and music, he will find his voice…

~AoA

Everyday is Something

Yesterday was my first official day of summer! Reflecting back over the last several summers….last summer, my dad had a massive heart attack and actually coded! We spent last summer in and out of hospitals as he was rehabilitated. The summer before that, I had family court drama- back and forth with attorneys in an effort to avoid going to trial. The summer before that, I had knee replacement at the beginning of summer, and spent that summer rehabilitating myself.

The morning of this year’s first day of summer was fine…the kids and I went on a little shopping trip and got some ice cream. On our way home, I called grandma AoA. She had fallen and bumped her head! She spent the rest of the day sleeping and resting with an ice pack on her head. She did not want to go to the doctor or hospital. The AoA kids, Grandpa, and I were on “head bump watch” all night.

My mom hasn’t embraced old age very well. She still tries to do things that her body can’t do. Falls are more serious than when she was young. When I’m home, she acts her age…the minute I leave, she is trying to move furniture and lift heavy boxes. She doesn’t like asking for help. I’m sure I am much the same.

This is me and Little AoA right after I left work for the final time for summer. Year 18 is in the books! Time to do some summer self-care and family-care. Time to replenish my soul and spirit.

Disney’s new Aladdin movie came out yesterday, and I am taking the AoA kids to see it today! It is really neat to share these timeless tales with the next generation. I might enjoy the Disney remakes more than the kids!

Here’s to the start of a beautiful summer!

~AoA

To Say I’m Frazzled….

Our school year is at a close, and as usual, the last week feels like 10 weeks! It is bittersweet for me, as I part ways with some students I have been seeing regularly over the last four years. I am happy to see them grow and spread their wings, but sad that our chapter of life as teacher and students has come to an end.

I serve students at six different schools, split into seven classes. This last week, each class planned a party. I love how my students have learned to do this, and the different ways they like to celebrate the end of the school year. My favorite party activity had to be the “cupcake design challenge”. Each student chose a secret paper, which indicated the theme of the cupcake design. Students decorated their cupcakes, and had to tell a story about it. We had aliens, unicorns, beach balls, Cookie Monster, and watermelon designs.

Another fun activity I like to do at the end of the year is to make “ooblek”, which is a non-Newtonian substance (acts as both a solid and a liquid), made from 3 parts cornstarch to two parts water.

My middle school group celebrated by playing table games that we have bonded over for the past year. Favorites include “Anomia”, “Munchkin”, and “Coup”, along with “Apples to Apples”. I hope that through this type of interaction, they have learned that face to face game play can be as rewarding, if not more rewarding than computer gaming.

I am looking forward to planning for a new school year. I have been generating some ideas for activities that just need logistics and student interest to make them happen. Chess team, Rubik’s cube team, Destination Imagination team, Knowledge Bowl, STEM Fair, blogging challenges, and our area student run town. One other activity I have envisioned participating in, is a Model United Nations. I have fond memories of doing the Model U.N. As a young teenager.

In addition to my public work, I am transitioning into pre-retirement phase. I have to serve in public schools for two more years. I am gathering ideas for supplemental work after I retire. I will still be homeschooling the AoA kids, so it seems that a transition into that world would be appropriate.

So much to do…..

~AoA

Where is the music coming from?

The last two weeks of the school year are full of frenzy! I absolutely LOVE my job as a county wide special education teacher of gifted, but at times there is certainly more work to do than will logically fit in a week! The last few weeks of school always seems to be one of those times.

My biggest challenges are locating files to retrieve after they have left my hands, trying to fit all the final meetings into a small window of time and during the prescribed times while still delivering services to students, and making sure that all of the “end of year” tasks get completed. There are definitely too many tabs open! Not to worry though, it all comes together in the end, and I am always in running mode when summer officially begins. This means that I get a lot of work and projects done at home for about a week or two. After that, I collapse!

I start every year with the intention of staying well organized, but circumstances end up blocking my vision. After my most recent “hunt for a file”, I made a conscious effort to go through all of my filing, and get it to where it needs to be. You see, traveling to six different schools during the week, I have meetings squished in between times that I work with kids. After a meeting, there is usually not time to stick around and finish up the filing part of the process…so the files go into a traveling file backpack that I keep with me. Other times, I have actually found time to file and go through things, and there is a problem getting to my filing cabinet….there may be a meeting taking place in the filing room, or testing going on in the room holding the key to the filing cabinet. When that happens, it is back into the filing backpack!

I could just cancel service times when I have meetings, and a lot myself the appropriate amount of time to get the filing completed, even if it means waiting for a room to become free. I have thought about that, but then I imagine my students looking forward to our meeting time and being disappointed while learning to distrust. It is more important to me that I meet with students as planned, than attend to filing. The result? Happy, engaged, and growing kids….and unfiled papers.

This is usually my choice, until someone asks for a specific paper that has not been properly dealt with. It is at that moment, I see visions of retirement. Being a traveling teacher, I am not in a position to control the organization at various schools…I am a visitor. I must adapt to what they have set up to work for them. I share spaces at all of the schools where I work, which means that I may organize or leave things one way, and return to everything in disarray. At least I am sharing actual rooms, and not being put in storage closets this year! At one school, I am in the teacher’s lounge working with a student, which is a bit awkward, as the teacher restroom is in that space. Our schools are full….extra services for students are plentiful.

The music?

I love the metaphor. On my phone, music starts playing randomly sometimes, from an app that I thought was closed. I don’t question much about where music is coming from, as it seems that between two music loving kids and my guitar playing dad, there is always music somewhere! When I am at work, there are many extra things happening that have me questioning what is going on. Sometimes it is a fire alarm going off because a student thought it would be funny (we have to evacuate and wait outside 30-60 minutes for firefighters to clear the building for re-entry, and a lot of trouble follows the student who is ALWAYS caught). Sometimes it is testing that MUST take place at the exact time that I am there to deliver services…sometimes it is a field trip or an assembly. Then there is the “music” that distracts me, but I love…a teacher with an idea or a student who may need extra support.

I always remember this quote…it is one of the reasons I teach. But I am only one small piece….every child needs an army of angels…and especially those children who are gathering adverse childhood experiences (ACES), on their journeys.

~AoA

Multi Generational Living Challenges

We live in a multi-generational home by choice. When I found myself divorced at the age of 46, with my youngest two children the ages of 4 and 6, it threw me for a loop. To top matters off, the kids would go on, receiving no financial support from their father. One of my fears had come to be… I would be raising two children without support from the other parent. I had already raised my two older children, whose father was a steady source of support throughout their growing years….that had been harder than I had ever imagined it could be.

Thankfully, my parents had relocated to be near me and the kids, so we had them close by. Once the divorce was final, my parents and I made the decision to build one household as a multi-generational family. We all got along pretty well, and our various strengths went together nicely (except for cooking….none of us really enjoy that).

As the AoA kids have grown, their financial needs have changed right along with them. Both kids have regular therapy, weekly and bi-weekly. Little AoA has a tutor five hours each week to help with homeschooling. Both kids take music lessons; Brother plays drums and guitar, Little AoA plays the violin and banjo.

I have been able to let go of most of my hopes and dreams of the kids having a healthy relationship with their dad. There has been one little speck of hope remaining. The psychologist who did our parenting evaluation outlined very clearly, steps that the dad would need to take in order to move toward healthy relationships with the kids. One of those things was to take financial responsibility and support the kids. That has not happened.

I have to resolve this in my heart and mind. Never speak ill of the other parent in front of the kids….now that they are older, they realize for themselves that the dad doesn’t support them. The dad stopped acknowledging my texts containing information I am required to share with him. He hasn’t asked about Little AoA in about a full year now. He didn’t acknowledge when she needed glasses, or when she started homeschooling. He has started communicating with Brother’s therapist about Brother’s needs. He made a weird statement that indicated that he would only try to have a relationship with Little AoA if his relationship with Brother didn’t progress as planned….like I said…. just weird.

I am so thankful that my parents stepped in! They have been a huge blessing and support to me and the kids! I do wish that the kids had the support of their father, as they will always carry that rejection with them.

When faced with life’s challenges, find your army…your army of angels!

~AoA

Actions Speak Louder….

This gesture is nice….but please don’t display blue pinwheels and claim to be against child abuse for the public eye, while treating victims with hate in private!

I recently saw a school from our past, bragging about how much they care about this issue. Sadly, the AoA kids attended there during the worst of the abuse they endured from the dad. Brother had mental breakdowns at school as a result, and Little AoA was experiencing severe anxiety. How the school supported them was to say that they would be refused to attend there if they didn’t get “fixed”! It was shortly after that comment, that I moved them to a different school. I was working at the school too, and quickly looked elsewhere in my county for another teaching position. I truly hope that there are now advocates in the school who truly care about this!

The abuse was real… A judge finally saw through it all, and ordered any future visits be in a therapeutic supervised setting. It took tons of therapy and lots of time to recover and settle into a new reality of safety. The kids are still not completely recovered, but they have come a very long way.

If you suspect that a child is being abused, threatening them is not appropriate!

Several schools in our county now have a trauma focus. This is a step in the direction of truly supporting victims of abuse. The movement is in the early stages, informing and educating school staff about ACES and childhood trauma. It has a long way to go, but in the more educated schools, there is more understanding and empathy shown when kids are truly distressed.

Far too many children live with abuse. Become trauma informed…learn about ACES, and how to help a child.

~AoA

Having a Blast!

March has been an incredibly busy month in our lives! It seems that every weekend, I have been involved in something; STEM Expo, Destination Imagination Tournament, a wedding for my nephew, and now we are approaching Kelly Clarkson concert weekend! In between some of that, both AoA kids battled the flu.

I am truly finding joy in the journey. My work is mostly fun and enjoyable. I have taken a group of 8th grade students on a college tour, and saw their eyes light up with possibilities! I have watched kids who would rather work alone, come together as a solid group.

Our AoA homeschooling journey is going fairly well. Little AoA is thriving with being able to go at her own pace. Brother is cooperative, but isn’t really enthused about the nuts and bolts of education. Brother has been taking drum lessons and guitar lessons, with my big reason being that he needs to experience learning new things that are of interest to him (besides computer games).

Oh, yes, and it was cookie sale time this month too! We were outside a store on a very cold morning!

I never would have imagined all the good that was to come into our lives back when I started blogging in 2013! I really credit the blogging world for showing me that everyone has a voice…and that every voice matters! I use what I have learned through blogging, as I connect with people everyday.

Thank you for being part of the Army of Angels!

~AoA

Do What You Love

When I was learning how to be myself again, after living in a toxic and abusive relationship for many years, I was given some fantastic advice. I had to try to remember things that I enjoyed…really enjoyed. Three things provided a base to build upon; crochet/crafts, writing, and performing arts.

I had worried so much about pleasing others, that I had lost touch with myself.

I have enjoyed these three activities over the last several years, and remembered how to accept and love myself. I try to encourage the AoA kids to find their interests and passions, and it has become an ongoing theme in my work life as well.

Last week, I had the pleasure of going to a concert with the AoA 12 year olds. We saw Panic!At the Disco! I didn’t know too much about them when the 12 year olds asked to go- several months earlier. As the concert date neared, Brother found the setlist, and began playing all the songs on it, whenever we were in the car together. He wanted me to be familiar with all the songs so I wouldn’t feel out of place.

The concert did not disappoint!

I am so thankful that I can share these experiences with the kids. I am also thankful that they like the same genres of music as me. They do dabble in some rap, which is ok, but just not my cup of tea.

What do you enjoy doing or learning about?

~AoA

The Panic Attack

This is a true story of one of 12 year old Brother’s recent panic attacks. He has several diagnostic “labels” that have been formally used to explain the behaviors and guide treatment: Schizotypal Personality Disorder, Autism with PTSD, and , Generalized Anxiety.

We joined a local fitness club recently. Both AoA kids are old enough to use equipment in the workout area (with adult supervision). They had to take a short orientation class with a trainer in order to be allowed to do this. I signed up and put it on the family calendar. Both kids were fine about doing this.

The time came to go to the center. Both kids were fine. When we arrived, we all walked in together with no problem. We were directed to wait with a few others, until the trainer arrived. Brother took one look at the few people sitting in the waiting area, and began to panic. I asked if he knew the other kids who were there…he didn’t. There were eight people waiting, plus us.

Brother began to repeat over and over,”I can’t do this. I need to go to the car.” He paced back and forth. I tried to reassure him, but it didn’t work. He said he would go to the gym and wait. He walked to the gym…then quickly back to the lobby. “Too many people”, he said. I let him go to the car. I texted him as we waited, offering monetary incentives if he would just come in and try. His anxiety was bigger than his desire for a money treat.

Little AoA did the orientation with the group. It only took about 5 minutes, and consisted of an overview about how to adjust weight machines and operate bikes and treadmills.

I spoke to the trainer about Brother’s anxiety. He offered to do a one on one orientation if he would come back into the building. Little AoA and I went to the car to try to coax him in (did I mention it was pouring down rain?). We explained what the orientation consisted of, and within about five minutes of talking, Brother came back into the building.

The trainer greeted Brother warmly, and went through the orientation. I could see the anxiety leaving Brother, as he started to nod and smile in response to the trainer. It ended with a handshake from the trainer, and verbal praise from me.

I had not thought much about how appreciative I could be for these little victories. Some would say,”big deal, he did something that any kid could do.” Some will never understand the joys and struggles of learning to live with disabling conditions…it is real.

~AoA

Inspired With No Energy

The new year has hit me hard. My body is still a bit worn down from surgery in December, but I do as much as I can, plus a little more. I never gave much thought to how much lifting I do, until I was unable to do it!

The new year has me thinking of new goals…and old goals. I dream of an uncluttered life, a place for everything…purging the unnecessary.

I still imagine myself sharing some writing in the form of a book. I actually signed up for a Facebook group and a series of daily emails to motivate me. It is working, as I can sense a stirring in my mind thinking about a book…”fiction or non-fiction? First or third person? What about dialogue? Adult, teen, or children? Illustrations?”

I overwhelm myself and return to the safety of blogging. One of the people who helps our family was recently able to quit her side jobs because her blog started generating enough income to meet her needs! I know that took some work and dedication! Then I remember that I really should start a blog related to my profession in some way. I have been in the field of education for about 20 years. My passions are in areas of special needs- inclusion, whole child focused education, students with emerging mental illness, relationships, and motivation. I have little desire to decorate or create worksheets…I can do those things, but they don’t really light my fire.

As the AoA family enters into some new adventures, I find myself with new experiences to share, in hopes that someone else may find a glimmer of hope in knowing that he or she is not alone.

I remember a conversation I had with the ex-husband as he was trying to convince me to have children with him (after my two children from a previous marriage were grown). I shared that my biggest fear was that something would happen, and I would essentially be raising children as a single parent….again. That was hard enough with my older kids, and their dad was supportive after we divorced! The ex ASSURED me that he would ALWAYS take care of his kids…well….that didn’t happen. My biggest fear came to pass- with a little added abuse.

I learned firsthand, how early childhood trauma can shape young minds. My 12 year old, Brother, is a complex case, diagnosed on a Schizophrenia Spectrum. My 10 year old, Little AoA, has come through verbal apraxia, severe anxiety with irritable bowel syndrome, and continues to display selective mutism. Some days we have to take in small bites…one tiny step at a time. To outside people, it looks like dealing with a moody, spoiled kid. I know this, and while it shouldn’t, it still bothers me. I only wish that the “cure” was as simple as grounding for noncompliance, or rewarding for desired behaviors. Add into the mix, a sedating antipsychotic needing adjustments, and most of the parenting tools I have, become ineffective at best, triggering at worst.

I started a homeschooling journey this fall with Brother, when the public school experience failed to improve after a full year of meetings and interventions including being in a behavior program. I now prepare to add Little AOA to the homeschool life, as her anxiety is getting worse with school, and I witnessed the segregation for myself, of students with disabilities in her classroom. I couldn’t believe what I saw! Kids learn from us- if we demonstrate intolerance and exclusion of people who do not learn the same way as the majority, the children will mimic that attitude! ALL CHILDREN deserve to be accepted for who they are, and be given encouragement to build on their strengths. My eyes were opened as to why my child was regressing and becoming more anxious and depressed. I understand that bumping up against obstacles builds resilience, but this child has dealt with more obstacles than many adults. We must practice acceptance- try not to judge others by what we see in a moment’s snapshot. Take time to LISTEN FOR UNDERSTANDING…

I must add for curiosity’s sake, that I informed the dad via text, of my intention to add Little AoA to our homeschool. I expected some sort of disconnected response or condemnation. There was no response.at.all… I sent the notification to my attorney, just in case the dad tries to claim later that he was not informed. Watching back over my shoulder has become part of my life- a part that I pretend isn’t taking a toll on me.

~AoA