Thursday, April 3, 2014


“Mom, I had such a good time in Yosemite!  It was amazing, so AMAZING,” Oscar shouted as he stepped off the huge white tour bus last Friday afternoon. I wrapped my arms around him even as he was still talking, eager to share every detail.

I’d already spoken to one of his teachers, who had arrived five minutes early. “He did so great!” she said before I could even ask.

There was just one sticky time, on Thursday morning. “My mom said she’d come get me today if I needed to go home,” he’d told her with tears already threatening. But she knew the deal. “Nope, I don’t think so Oscar,” she’d said kindly.

He started to cry then, and argue. He may have flopped to the ground. “He was tired,” she told me, “but I knew you hadn’t said that.” She told me she stepped away with her phone, pretending to call me, and returned using the vocabulary she has learned is most helpful for Oscar. “I checked with your mom, Oscar, and ‘the plan’ is that you’re going to stay.” He turned it around right then, she said, and went on happily with his day -- hiking, chatting with friends, and painting with watercolors down by the river. By removing the possibility of going home she had freed him up to engage the rest of the day.

As Oscar was gathering his luggage from the bus another chaperone approached me. “I had the best time with Oscar. I just love talking to him,” she said. I just smiled and smiled, so thrilled that Oscar manages to find these people that appreciate him. I worried though, did Oscar spend the entire trip glued to an adult? Did he engage with the other kids at all?

I stopped doubting and let the trip’s success sink in during the half-hour car ride home. Oscar and his friend M (an 8th grader) shared their favorite moments while Ruby and I listened in. Oscar added on eagerly to M’s stories about the hike to Lower Yosemite Falls, and recounted his own, about the nature center, the gift shop, and the kids he hung out with. (The kids he hung out with!) He made appropriate comments, showing enthusiasm for the details that M added. “Oh yeah! That was so fun!” he would say. He was confident, quick, and socially engaged in a way I rarely see with peers. 

I sighed, letting out that little bubble of anxiety I’d stored up while he was away.   The trip really had gone well.  (And Oscar is already talking about next year.)

Friday, March 21, 2014


Oscar left on a 5-day field trip to Yosemite on Monday.  (He’s a 7th grader now at a small school for kids with learning disabilities about 20 miles from home.)  Way back in October when the teachers asked me whether he’d be going I felt like the question was theirs to answer.  Did they feel like they could support him there?  The food part is easy – three meals a day and a strict  “no extra food allowed” policy.  No gum, no candy, no granola bars in the backpacks.  Two teachers who accompanied Oscar's class last year are going again, and they are comfortable (and trained) at dishing up Oscar’s food. But Oscar is slow. Slow to get his clothes on, slow to walk up a hill, slow to get his words out.  His stamina is reduced, he sleeps a lot, and, of course, there are the behavioral challenges that are exacerbated by changes in routine and interrupted sleep.  Were they up for all this?  Oscar’s 7th grade teacher was surprised that my hesitation was about burdening him.  “I think it’ll be great!” he replied. “I have no concerns,” he added, smiling.

But last week Oscar realized that Paul or I wouldn’t be going along.  He melted down at school, and then again when he got home.  “But Mom, what if I get homesick?”  he managed to ask between sobs.   

Oscar will get homesick - he got homesick the last time he went to camp and he ended up coming home early.  This time I had to figure out how to get him through it.  So I did what I always do in these sticky situations. I created a story that Oscar could buy into.  “You probably will get homesick Oscar,” I started.  “But part of the reason the school does these field trips is so kids can get used to being away from home. That way, when it’s time to go off to college, or move out, you’re ready.”  Sometimes it doesn’t take much to flip the switch in Oscar’s brain, and this was one of those times.   “Really!?” he replied, excited that this trip would help him achieve his bigger goals.  “Yep, and that’s what your (beloved) 5th grade teacher always said too. It’s good practice.” 

Oscar didn’t mention his anxiety about heading off to Yosemite without us after that.  He helped me gather together the clothes he would need for day-long hikes.  Rain pants, waterproof boots, wool socks, two fleeces, mittens. He chose down-time activities – Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince, his dot-to-dot book, his Oakland A’s magazines. He even helped me show his teacher how to inject his growth hormone.  By the time he left he was super excited.  "I can't wait, Mom! I can't WAIT!"  Fingers crossed that he’s exuding the same enthusiasm when I pick him up tomorrow!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Colorado - Biking!

We're up in the mountains of Colorado this week with family and everyone is excited for the hiking, biking and swimming.  The house we're staying in backs up to Gore Creek and with the windows open we can hear the swift rush of the water over rocks.  The living room looks out onto the mountains, tall pines and colonies of quaking aspens shimmering in the light breezes.  I'm relaxing into this gorgeous setting, allowing myself the break, as next week marks the beginning of school for Oscar, sports practices for Ruby and Abe, and, of course, assessments for an upcoming IEP. 

Abe and Ruby and their cousin A raced down to the creek as we were still unloading cars but Oscar was more hesitant.  I urged him to go find his crocs, to put in just 5 minutes of "explorer time" but he balked and dawdled.  Before long the other kids had found their way back to the house and the moment was gone.  This happens often -- the convincing and readying of Oscar just takes too long and he misses out on the opportunities.

Yesterday we decided to rent bikes -- there's a paved path that winds through the valley for miles in either direction.  It's perfect for family bike rides, short jaunts to the village for lunch, to the hotel for swimming.  But Oscar was resistant.  While the other kids hopped on bikes perched against the metal racks and wound precariously through crowds of pedestrians, Oscar crouched on his heels inside the rental office rubbing his head and crying, "Why do I have to rent a bike, I don't want to!"

"Just try on this helmet Oskie," I pleaded, but none of them felt right. The padding was all wrong.  "It's digging into my head!" he insisted.

My patience waning I stepped outside to referree the other three kids while my sister in law negotiated rates.  Paul took over then, and somehow we got Oscar to at least try the bike Ruby was renting, to see if it was the right fit.  He hated it, of course.

I didn't want to give in.  Oscar can ride a bike, and the paths through these villages are nicely paved and only moderately hilly.  He's negotiated harder terrain at home.  It would be so easy to slip into letting him opt out.  We'd all ride faster and go farther without him.  But that's not inclusion.

So we did what we sometimes do.  We took a break.  We walked the rest of the way to the village for lunch and returned to the bike store a few hours later.  By then Oscar had wrapped his brain around the biking idea. The first helmet he tried (the same one he'd tried three hours earlier) was perfect and so was the first bike.  He happily rode the rest of the way back to the house, with Paul ahead and me trailing behind. 

It'd be easy to say it was lunch that made the difference.  He had been tired from the walk to the bike store, the jet lag, the lack of sleep earlier in the week, but honestly the key to overcoming his resistance was just simply time.  I'm learning that part of including him means allowing him the time to adjust to new ideas, to summon his resources, to process.  Once he does he's often on board, and away we go....!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Ah, Summer

Doesn't he look relaxed?

Oscar's school let out on June 28th, finally, a full three weeks later than he's accustomed to.  He managed the longer school year well, only bordering on tears when certain siblings taunted him with their beginning and mid-June releases.  He bought into the story that the school year was longer so they could fit in all the amazing field trips, including an all-school "olympics" in a beautiful redwood park, a class trip to a local beach and pool, and a mini golf excursion.  (Yep, it's a fun school!) 

Oscar thrived this first year of middle school.   His teachers were energetic and creative and he came home pumped up about everything from Chinese dynasties to salmon spawning.  He was placed in slower-paced math and language arts classes since his processing speed rivals that of a snail.  But he was a champ and worked hard, cheering on his classmates too through tricky problems in math and occasionally taking a lead in History discussions. 

And this was O's first year without an aide. With great food security, a small environment, plenty of structure, many layers of academic and social scaffolding, not to mention a whole emotional wellness team, he managed beautifully. 

Now we're relaxing into summer.   Oscar begged to see his learning specialist over the summer, so he is there twice a week working on writing and math, his favorite.   He's taking swimming lessons again and boy do I hope this is the year he nails side breathing so he can swim in the deep end and get across the pool without touching down.  And he's reading, a ton.  The kid who couldn't "walk and talk" is now walking and reading.

(Yes he's carrying two Harry Potter books.  Didn't want to be without book 3 when he finished book 2.)

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Oscar and Alyssa (part 2)

(I'm finally posting the second part of this story...)
"So, Oscar," I asked at dinner that night, "how did you know you had a crush?  Do you feel different when you're around Alyssa?"

I was curious if Oscar felt some deep level of connection based on shared interests, or whether it was purely physical attraction -- did his heart start beating faster or did his face turn hot?  Would he even be able to articulate any of this?

Oscar skirted the questions, embarrassed. But I persisted while Abe and Ruby exchanged giggly glances.

"But Oscar, how did you know?"

He looked up shyly, and kept his voice low, hoping his siblings wouldn't hear him.

"Mom," he whispered, "Mom, she told me."  

Ruby and Abe cracked up then, and I too tried to suppress my urge to laugh.  Oscar got all embarrassed and yelled "STOP!" which only made Ruby and Abe laugh harder.  I knew he was smitten with Alyssa - he just misunderstood the subtleties of the word "crush".

But listening to the two of them chatter on for a half an hour last night, a good nine months and several breakups and make-ups later, I was struck with how great Alyssa has been for him.  They really do have a sweet connection and lots of shared interests.  And he can now sustain phone conversations with far fewer awkward silences --  he says "yes" and "uh huh" instead of just nodding into the phone, and he's getting better at asking Alyssa questions. 

Paul and I used to pass him post-its with prompts like "ask what she did this weekend" or "what kind of music does she like?" but he's even needing those less.  Last night I watched him settle comfortably into our squishy brown chair and chatter on about his dog walking business and then they giggled while Alyssa told him about the moth she was chasing around her house. The line got silent when Alyssa went to feed her fish, but Oscar waited and the chatter started up again.  

I know he's thrilled he has a girlfriend, but I'm just plain happy he has such a close friend.