Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hugs and Kisses

Back to School. I wish I could say I was the mom that wished summer could go on forever and ever but I am always just a little bit excited about being able to get back into some sort of routine and structure. I do miss having the big kids around and have realized this past week that life hasn't seemed any easier with 2/3 of the kids in school all day. There is a lot of adjustments with returning to school-- waking up early, headaches from still feeling tired, grouchy, hoping for a nap, trying to be more responsible with getting things ready to take to school first thing in the morning, figuring out clothes to wear the next day, etc. and then the kids have their own adjustments too!

I sent each child off to school with a baggie full of hugs and kisses and a little note saying that I hoped they have a great first day at school and since I couldn't spend the first day with them I was sending lots of hugs and kisses to help them through their first day.

Jack is my big 7th grader this year. He is loving being in junior high and having his own locker. He couldn't get it to open the first day (7th graders worst nightmare) but he didn't act like it bothered him. Apparently they had given him the wrong locker combo and got it all taken care of by the 2nd day of school. His favorite thing so far has been his 3-ring binder. He has had this binder for several years and always wanted to use it in elementary school but didn't need it. Now he finally needs a 3-ring binder and apparently his is PERFECT!!

Ryan is in 5th grade and loves his class and teacher, Mrs. S. There is a big group of boys from the neighborhood that are all friends and work really well together and they are all in the class together.

Hadley is in 3rd grade. Our school lets parents request teachers for the upcoming year. I requested a certain teacher for Hadley because Ryan had such a great experience in her class when he was in 3rd grade. They post the teacher's lists on the school doors the day before school starts. Ryan and Hadley were so excited to go over there and see who their teachers were and what friends were in their classrooms. Hadley was so disappointed when she saw she had a different teacher and only knew 2 kids in the class. All (and I mean ALL) her girlfriends were in the teacher's class that I had requested, but for some reason she didn't get. I debated over just leaving her in the other classroom and talked to Hadley about how this could be a chance for her to spread her wings this year and get to know a lot of new kids at her school. But I know how mean girls can be and wanted to avoid having her feel left out at recess and other things because she wasn't in the same classroom as all her friends. I spoke with the office that morning and they were able to move her into Mrs. J's class and she is loving school so far! She came home from school the first day with a Hershey's kiss in her hand and as she gave it to me she said, "I saved the last kiss for you because the last kiss is always the best!" What a sweetie! Y'know I think she's right. The last kiss is always the best!

We have a new school district this year which I think is one of the main reasons Morgan's classroom experience on the first day was such a disaster. We used to be part of the largest school district in Utah but voted to break away from that district and create a new school district. My biggest concern/worry was how the new district would work with special education. Since the district is so new they still have not created all the job positions that they need to run the special education department, one of them being the transitional team. That explains why no one has been around to help us with getting everything in place for Morgan. Apparently we couldn't have picked a worse time to be transitioning her from the cluster classroom to our neighborhood school. I am hoping it will just get better and better from here on out.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Rare Opportunity

Since I had the opportunity of taking Morgan to school this morning, Heather asked that I update the blog tonight. Morgan was excited to get back to school and I was excited to take her. Unfortunately, it didn't take long for my happy feelings to disappear. Morgan's class lines up on the playground and waits for the teacher to lead them into class. Morgan and I had just entered the playground when I noticed two boys staring, then making fun of Morgan's eyes. They were squinting their eyes and making them distorted with their fingers. I don't know what they were trying to do, but I knew it wasn't nice. I really wanted to go let the kids know my thoughts, perhaps show them the way I was feeling by using the end of my foot. I stared at the boys for a few seconds and with Morgan pulling my hand towards her teacher, I let them go. Heather and I had talked about this before; anticipating this exact event. I know that kids can be mean - I'm sure Heather was mean growing up too. (That was supposed to be funny) Anyway, I know that this is somewhat natural and will continue to happen. Morgan didn't notice a thing and kept pulling me towards the school.

Her teacher approached us and told me that today would be better because she had a 'plan'. Not sure of the 'plan', we marched forward with the other kids to the classroom. I knew the teacher was worried that she was not able to set a firm tone in her classroom yesterday, so I was planning on helping Morgan as long as she needed. The last thing I wanted was for the teacher to be left alone again. We don't need the teacher to be burned out on the second day! The teacher told me an aide would be arriving in 30 minutes, and that she would be staying the whole day to assist with Morgan. I guess this was the 'plan'.

After standing and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, which Morgan did with a smile -and her left hand across her chest, she took her seat. I thought we were off to a great start in the classroom. The school psychologist entered and told me of her plan to reward Morgan for her positive behavior by placing stickers on a placard they had made for her to wear around her neck. They had some chocolate ready to give her when she had earned three stickers. I wasn't sure about it, but she quickly started awarding the stickers. Morgan loved it. She looked back at me and said, "Look dad - two stickers!" The psychologist was so impressed that Morgan was using her number logic. One more sticker and her reward was coming! I was excited for her. I told the psychologist of my fear that we were overloading the teacher without having an aide in the room. I had voiced this concern earlier in the summer when we met with the school leadership team. My fear was that Morgan would become such a burden that nobody would want to work with her. Everyone assured me that this would not happen (yesterday, it did). The psychologist then told me something that gave me great hope. She said that Mrs. D, the teacher, will need to be reminded that she is part of something very special. She said that when Morgan is walking the halls as a sixth grader, she, Mrs. D, will have played a major role in what Morgan will have accomplished. What a vision! I know Morgan can add value to the school. It will take patience and a team effort, but I know she can play an important role in all the students lives. Some will tease and mock, but I don't think Morgan will understand. Others will will truly see her value and love her. They may not understand what Morgan can teach them at this early age, but it will be manifest in their actions towards others. We have seen it take affect with our family and friends. I am excited for the affect to silently spread to others as well.

Morgan had a great day. She had an aide with her and the teacher said she was able to teach! She actually seemed excited for next week! I am proud of my Morgan. I know this is a huge adjustment for all the little kids, but even bigger for Morgan. She seems to enjoy it - so far.

I want to say to all of you that follow Heather's blog - THANK YOU! I know Heather draws strength and comfort from your comments and thoughts. Turns out this blogging thing can bring value to lives. And to think I just thought it was a waste of time. Silly me - my bad. Who knows, depending on the comments, I may be invited back.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Not good news

How can this cute little face be so much trouble?

Notice all the goodies on the teacher's desk right behind her
First of all, thank you for all the positive comments, emails and phone calls today. It means more to me than you'll ever know. And your comments helped remind me of something I've known all along but somehow forgot along the way. . . I need to follow my heart and do what makes Morgan the happiest. That said, she seemed pretty dang happy when I went to pick her up from school today but her teacher was another story.

The school psychologist, resource teacher and 1st grade teacher wanted to talk to me after school about the things that worked and the things that didn't. Her teacher (Mrs. D) started crying and said she felt like she had failed. Failed Morgan and failed all of her other students too. She is an amazing teacher and everyone at the school requests her for their child's teacher. She is everything you could ever dream for a teacher. But she wasn't able to shine today. I think it was her first time in her career that she wasn't productive and it was her students first impression of her. She was left alone with Morgan. No help from the resource teacher, her two aides or the psychologist. They did come down to help her with bathroom needs but that was all. Mrs. D kept saying she just felt so overwhelmed and was having such a hard time because she is usually a good teacher but didn't feel that today. She was a mess. She didn't get to eat lunch because she was with Morgan. She didn't get to do the 'get to know me bags' with the kids because of Morgan. She felt like she wasn't able to accomplish anything with her students today. "I don't think the kids even got to do one fun thing today."

She then started to describe Morgan. Things that her other teachers knew to expect because they are special ed teachers. . . she has a hard time with personal space, she kept touching the other kids and their papers, she hit someone on the back as she walked by him, she kicked a few kids, she likes to wash her hands and would have done it for 30 minutes if I would have let her, she turned off the lights (for some reason that one makes me laugh because I can totally see her doing it), she wouldn't come in from recess and I had to leave the other kids to go get her, etc.

The resource teacher just sat there and didn't say a word. Didn't offer any options to help. I finally said, "What about your 2 aides? You don't have any students until after Labor Day. Could one of them come in here and help out? This current situation is not an option. If there is no assistance then this is never going to work." It was an awful situation. I know exactly what the teacher is feeling. It is how I feel almost every day . . . overwhelmed with not knowing how best to help Morgan. She is not supposed to feel that way.

The psychologist was optimistic that with some positive reinforcement with stickers and candy rewards that Morgan should be independent on the playground and coming back into class on her own in one week. Seriously? Because I am sure that cute paper necklace you made to put stickers on will be ripped apart before morning recess. We are still talking about a first grader with Down syndrome, right? Independence is a wonderful goal but she is going to need an aide to help her on the playground and in the lunchroom all year, not one week.

They finally came to a decision that one of the resource aides will spend the first week in the classroom to help out. Apparently we have to try everything we can before we can go to the district and request more help. Basically it's a great system -- let everyone feel overwhelmed and fail before we do something to make it a positive experience. I understand her teacher's concerns. All the kids are young and adjusting to full day school and the new routines. If they don't get it these first few days, weeks even, then she is looking at a year of chaos and trouble. How does she explain to the kids that it is ok for Morgan to not be following all the rules but not ok for them? I even suggested I keep Morgan home for the first few weeks and try it again when all the other kids have adjusted to the new routine. Apparently it's against the law for me to not bring her to school when it is in session. Who knew? :)

I feel good about the cluster classroom choice, too. I have a friend with a daughter in that class and there are only 7 kids in the class with a teacher, aides, and speech therapist. It doesn't sound so bad now. I know Morgan would gain more academically at the cluster but that her social skills would not progress as quickly. She would be in a room of kids with delayed speech and behavioral issues. I don't feel like we've (Morgan, Mrs. D, and I) failed if this is where Morgan ends up. Mrs. D. said she would feel like she failed Morgan if I left the school. I told her it doesn't mean we failed if this is not the best option for Morgan. There is not only one right way. And the cluster room may be the best option for Morgan and her needs.

One more thing . . . on the way home, Morgan was speaking in longer sentences and more than she has in a long time, if ever. And that was just after one day.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Second Thoughts

Morgan starts 1st grade tomorrow and I am questioning if we made the right decision for her school placement. I guess I will know after the first few days but all I can do right now is worry and wonder. We decided at the end of the school year last year to mainstream Morgan this year. It was after a lot of careful consideration weighing all the pros and cons and I felt like it was the right decision for her. She did a 'cluster classroom' last year for Kindergarten and had an amazing teacher but was held back socially. All of the children in the classroom had an intellectual disability (ranging from blindness, severe CP, autism, Down syndrome, etc.) and behavioral problems. Morgan didn't have anyone to look to as a positive peer model of appropriate social behavior and seemed to be further ahead of all the kids academically too.

We were told last year that she would spend the first half of the day in resource and the second half of the day in the regular classroom without any aide assistance. I have been reading Lisa's blog posts on inclusion and disabilities these last few days and found myself agreeing with many of the topics of inclusion. Why does her school just assume Morgan cannot function in the regular classroom? Why not let her try being with her classmates and let her show them what is best for her? Well I guess I need to be careful what I wish for . . . we (Gavin, Morgan and I) met with her 1st grade teacher today. Her teacher is extremely positive about having Morgan in her classroom and is open to any ideas or suggestions we have. She hasn't ever had a child with special needs in her classroom so this new for both of us. She let us know that Morgan will be in the regular classroom all day for at least the first few weeks. She and the resource teacher feel like this will help her adjust easier to the new routine and structure. I love the idea of this but reality is something completely different. Realistically, she cannot sit in a classroom for 6 hours with 20 other students, one teacher and no aide support. I wish that was my child but it isn't. The teacher put Morgan's desk right next to her desk and of course the first thing I noticed were the sharpie markers, tape dispensers, staplers, cups of pencils all sitting right on the edge of the teacher's desk. I can only imagine Morgan's delight as she sits at her desk and is able to reach over and knock all of that stuff off the teacher's desk. She also had scissors in her desk. The teacher asked me if she knew how to use scissors and I told her she was great at cutting her hair all off with them and that it was probably best that Morgan didn't have independent access to them. I wish that was all I was worried about but there is so much more. She needs someone to take her to the bathroom every few hours and help her with getting her pants off and on. Of course the teacher can't leave her classroom so she is going to see if one of the resource aides could help with that. Then there is the worry of lunch. Carrying her lunch tray, opening her milk, helping her with her food, wiping off her dirty face when she is done eating. And she likes to wander. Will anyone be with her at recess and help her come back in when the bell rings? She is not going to willingly leave a good slide for sitting at a desk in a classroom. And I worry about her being a distraction. Who am I kidding? She is definitely going to be a distraction and that isn't fair to the other students.

I wish our district offered some sort of middle ground. Instead it is all or nothing. Either the student needs to be able to function independently, without any assist to mainstream, or be bussed to a school far away and attend a cluster classroom with lots of support (a teacher with 3-4 aides) but no typical peer models in the classroom. It just doesn't seem like a real win-win situation. I am trying to be positive but it is hard when I feel like we are setting her up to fail.

My two little fishies . . .

. . . Morgan and Griffin

Morgan has always been cautious (and even that word might be an understatement), but her biggest fears seem to be with depth perception and heights. This is most apparent at parks and playgrounds. Most people probably haven't paid much attention to how playgrounds are designed, but most play sets have really small holes on the stairs and walkways that make it possible to see the ground down below. Morgan is getting better with this but has struggled with being able to walk and not crawl around on these playgrounds out of her fear.

She carried this fear of depth into swimming. She was fine in a kiddie-pool where she felt in control but terrified in a regular 3-4 ft. shallow end of a pool. We started her in swimming lessons at the beginning of summer and she hated it! Every morning when she woke up she would ask if she had swimming with Uncle Blake. And was never happy to find out she did. I wish I would have gotten some videos of her from the beginning of summer . . . she would wrap her arms and legs around my brother (her teacher) and practically strangle him. It was pretty much impossible to get her arms and legs unwrapped to be able to start working on swimming (isn't she supposed to have low muscle tone? Ha!)

It may have taken a summer full of swim lessons, BUT . . . I now have a swimming girl that LOVES to swim, has her face in the water more than out, and now begs to go swimming with Uncle Blake! The first videos shows Morgan swimming from the rope to the steps.

The other two videos are of Griffin. I guess we forgot to tell him he just turned 3 and isn't supposed to be able to swim all over the pool all by himself.

We are going to miss swimming in grandma's pool every day now that summer is coming to a close and I KNOW my kids are going to miss having Uncle Blake as their teacher. He really is the best-- so patient, loving, and positive with them. We love you Blake!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bear Lake: Three-peat

Our family takes up an entire swing set! Love it!!

We made it to Bear Lake 3 times this summer and only had a few warm, sunny days in all the trips combined. We went for a 4 day weekend and stayed at the Ideal Beach condos. The kids were excited to stay at this resort because of the mini-golf, pools, and park area. And we got the added bonus of getting an updated condo. Last time we stayed there we were in one that was falling apart and didn't look like one thing had been updated in the past 30 years.

Luckily we got in some boating on our first day there since we had no idea it would be cloudy and rainy the rest of our trip. I even waterskiied this trip. My first time in 10 years. My kids were so proud of me, especially Morgan!

Hadley, Jack and Ryan on our lunch break

Morgan and Mia

The hot captain of our boat

Mia tried out the tube for the first time-- not sure if she liked it or not.
It was just our luck that Rich County was having their annual Demolition Derby that night. We forgot to get enough cash to get all of our family in (what? No credit cards??!!) but the cute high school kids took pity on us and let half of us in for free. It made me feel a little bit like white trash, but then I realized we fit right in once we got inside. There was no seating left so we just sat down on a big dirt hill and Morgan, Griffin and Mia thought they were at the beach and decided to rub the dirt all over their legs and then throw dirt all over themselves and us.

Jack, Ryan and Hadley thought it was the best part of the trip and loved every minute of it!

Hadley, Gavin, me and Mia

all of us in our premium seats

Lunch in the condo

We did lots of swimming

And the big kids played some mini-golf

Having fun at the park

Gavin was giving all the kids 'under-dogs' and Morgan didn't want to feel left out and started chanting, "under-dog, under-dog". She LOVED it!!

And of course we had lots of yummy raspberry (with varying combos) shakes! My favorite was raspberry/banana/heath. Yum!! and yes . . . there is NO LINE!! Everything officially closed down today and will re-open next summer. The town was crazy with crowds on Saturday and by Monday we were all on our own!
It was a fun family get-away and now it is time for some serious back to school shopping (school starts in 2 days and I haven't bought my kids any new school clothes or supplies. I am sure I am just in denial and not just a really bad procrastinator!) and some hair cuts for Jack and Ryan.

Gavin's 'life changing' Sky Coaster update

I know you have all been anxiously awaiting the video footage of Gavin's 150 ft. free fall plunge at Lagoon with his two brothers-in-law. The wait is over. My sister has it on her blog. Just scroll down to the bottom of this post and you can see it. I was in the car with Morgan and Griffin and had to watch it from the parking lot so I had no idea this is how he 'prepared' himself for the big plunge (but must add that I am not surprised)!!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Education Week at BYU

What an amazing day! I spent the entire day at BYU (my alma mater) going to classes to learn how to live an inspired, enriched and fuller life. It was so much fun just to be up on campus again and in some of the same classrooms where I spent my undergrad studies. I really do love Provo and my BYU experiences. I can't believe it has been 12 years since I was a student there.

Some of the highlights:
  • The Sabbath Day is a gift from God, not a burden but a blessing. It is a test to see if our devotion is complete.
  • The facets of marital intimacy include: emotional, intellectual, spiritual, recreational, financial and sexual.
  • It's not the parent's primary job to provide a happy childhood. A parent's real responsibility is to prepare children for a happy adulthood.
  • Our children's belief system, "I will become what I think you think I can."
  • Treat children as they will be, not as they are.
  • Where there is a silent and withdrawn man, there is usually a critical woman.
  • Recurring themes of the past few General Conferences:
Live within our income
Visit the temple often
The promise of angels to bear us up is real
Faith and Doubt cannot exist in the same mind
Live with respect to those of other faiths

Education Week (or day, in my case) is such an amazing experience. Experts in all fields--marriage, family, cooking, traditions, scriptures, gospel knowledge, disciplining, etc. You name it they offer a class on it. Everyone is running from class to class hoping to get some new (big or little) bit of information to help them achieve an even greater happiness in the journey.

Gavin spent the morning with me and then went home to be with the kids while I enjoyed the rest of my day with my sister and bro-in-law

Gavin with my sister, Heidi and her husband Scott

I even got to go to some classes with my BFF Daisie!

All the Stewarts joined us for the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It's no secret that I cry over everything. It started after Morgan came into my life. But I cry even easier after having spent the entire day in uplifting, spiritually motivating classes. I knew I was doomed when the musical started and I noticed that two of the cast members had Down syndrome. One of them actually had a lead role and was amazing. I wish I could have talked to him after the show, but everyone was starving and we ran to the CougarEat for some ice cream before they closed. The show and seeing an extremely talented individual whom also happened to have Down syndrome was the perfect ending to this day!

Cassidy, Hadley and Karsyn

Well we are off on another 4 day adventure to Bear Lake tomorrow. I am not looking forward to all the packing and laundry again. It's our last hurrah before school starts next week.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times . . .

. . . and have FUN!

Lagoon Day is something my kids look forward to all summer -- UDSF (Utah Down Syndrome Foundation) "buy one get one free" day at lagoon. All the cousins come and usually grandma (but this year she volunteered to stay home with the babies) and enjoy going on all the rides together and getting a little treat in the pavilion with Morgan and all her friends! I have lots of pics of Griffin and Morgan since they stayed close by my side. The big kids all took off and enjoyed the big kid rides together and didn't make it in very many of my pictures.

Griffin managed to injure himself on the way into the park. He fell down and split open his eye on the asphalt. So he was the lucky one who got to wear around this tiny band-aid all day and suffer from partially obstructed vision.

Gavin with Jack, Ryan, Hadley and Griffin

Griffin was really excited about the 'pirate ship' ride (aka Tidal Wave) but Morgan had some reservations as we waited in the line and saw how high the boat went up and down. Griffin was too focused on the pirates to worry about any possible danger. (Remember the birthday party last month?) Yeah, he still loves pirates. . . At least he did. We started the ride and he was doing his best to keep his arms up and enjoy the ride. But it only took about 30 seconds for his expression to change to complete terror as he yelled out, "I don't like this pirate!!!" Unfortunately I don't have a picture of his cute, scared face, but I do have this sweet one of Morgan giving her daddy loves right before the ride started.

Jack and Ryan pretended to like "Puff the Dragon" rollercoaster (can someone please get these boys a haircut?!?!)

One of the highlights of the day for me was running into this cute girl (aka The Love Magnet) and her mom, my dear friend, Scarehaircare! She is Morgan's age and amazing! She walked right up to me and asked me what my name was. I told her that the last time I saw her was after her heart surgery last year. She showed me her scar and I told her that Morgan had the same scar. She got so excited and was talking up a storm with Morgan about how they both had the same surgery. "Show Gavin your surgery, Morgan!" Her speech and cognition is incredible! I just wish they wouldn't have moved 6 hours away from us.

Jack, Hadley, Karsyn, Will and Ryan

Gavin, Jack and Ryan apparently had a life-changing experience on their last ride of the day. They all did the 150 ft. bungee jump/ sling shot ride and can't stop talking about it. Gavin thinks I am going to do it with him next summer. Never mind I had a headache from just the rides in Kiddieland and am terrified of heights. Don't think that will happen.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bear Lake Reunion

We had a Stewart family reunion at Bear Lake last week. We stayed in my brother's company's house (amazing!) right on the beach. The kids were in heaven getting covered in muddy sand, playing in the water, boating, jet skiing, sleeping over and being together with all the cousins.

Jack was able get up on the wakeboard and stay UP!!

Hadley, Karsyn, Ryan and Rilee on the boat

More boating fun

Digging and playing in the sand

The boys spent most of the 1st day getting everything un-stuck

borrowing their kids' shovels

Morgan loves playing at the beach

Mia and Lilly

All the Stewart cousins

Morgan couldn't be happier

Mia and Kennedy

Still trying to get everything out of the mud

Work it girl!

Mia and Griffin

Mia hams it up for the camera

Grandma and Grandpa with all the grandkids (-2)

The joy of group photo shots: