Jeffrey and Andrew begin it. We've just finished eating, Grandma and Grandma have gone home, and Daddy is watching a basketball game while Mommy sits next to him.
"Tag!" Jeffrey screams. Andrew giggles loudly. Andrew always giggles loudly, and sincerely. Jeffrey giggles as he runs away from Andrew, who catches him a few seconds later. On the game goes, with yells of "No tagbacks!" and giggles trailing up and down the stairs. I use the word giggle a lot as I write this. But giggles are what I hear. Up and down the stairs they go, chasing, tagging, giggling more, chasing. Round and round the downstairs they go.
This sounds normal. But soon, the script comes out. It's usually accompanied by a British acccent. Lines repeated over and over again, as one gets tagged and the other one runs away.
"What is that from, boys?" I ask.
Andrew answers that it is from a Veggie Tales movie. The game is sincere, but their verbal interaction is scripted. I always ask where their lines come from. They can tell me now. For me, it makes me feel like I'm getting into their heads a little bit. What scene in what movie made you think these lines were appropriate for this situation? And now they can tell me. For years, they would just repeat lines, and I didn't know why they said what they did, when they did.
Then Luke joins in. "Jeffrey, if you come here I'll give you 'Just Dance'!"
Jeffrey falls for it. Luke tags him and Jeffrey runs away. Jeffrey keeps waiting for Luke to deliver "Just Dance". But Luke is neurotypical, so Luke lies. Jeffrey takes Luke's promise literally, even though he is four 1/2 years older than his brother. Jeffrey will always take you literally, although he's starting to show some understanding in joking, as he questions following a ridiculous statement, "You're just teasing me!" Yep, we are, Jeffrey. Jeffrey is easily upset by statements like "If you keep watching that TV, your brain is going to turn to mush." He grabs his head, cries and says, "No! I need my brain!"
Andrew delivers a line that displays his autism. "Jeffrey and Lukie, I need you to stand still so I can tag you!" It's honest, although unlikely. Most 11 year-olds would not make such a request during a game of tag.
"Let's play Duck, Duck, Goose!" Luke says. "I'll be the Duck Duck guy!"
Luke often dominates the play between the brothers, even though he's the youngest by far. His 11 year old brother often does what he asks. His 9 year old brother forgets that he can just say no if Luke asks him to do something he doesn't want to do and instead just cries or screams. We're working on it.
"Come on, Jeff!" Luke yells. Jeffrey has refused to be called anything but Jeffrey for years. One day, several months ago, Luke started calling him Jeff. And Jeffrey responded to him. I don't know why I love this, but I do.
I remember teaching Andrew turn-taking starting when he was 18 months old. He had already qualified for speech.
I would hold a ball. "Andrew's turn!" "Your turn" meant nothing to Andrew. Who's "your"?
I roll the ball to Andrew. He giggles as he grabs it. "Mommy's turn!" I say. He rolls it back to me....after the first 3 sessions. We rejoice. He is turn-taking.
Every communication and social skill has been taught, sentence by sentence, modeled, practiced. Disney, Pixar, Veggie Tales, Peppa Pig, and an inordinate amount of other movies and shows have been the source of most of my children's learned language. They have a picture and can see characters interacting while they speak. Then they take what they see and hear, and try to use it in real life.
Back to tonight...
Jeffrey is the first to finish the game. He loves the game, but grows tired of the human interaction. It's exhausting for him. He prefers "Just Dance" because he "interacts" with digital characters that always do the same dance moves with the same music. No changes, no spontaneity, no confusing questions or requests.
Andrew lasts much longer. He has empathy, loves companionship, and is naturally more patient. Plus he loves to have fun. And tag is fun.
Luke doesn't realize his brothers are different yet. His communication and social skills at his current age of 5 are significantly better than both of his brothers already. I wonder what he will say when he realizes that they are different.
The beauty of tag and Duck, Duck, Goose is that Andrew or Jeffrey initiated the play, and the other agreed to participate. That is HUGE. Would not have happened even a year ago. And they stuck with it for about 15 minutes. That wouldn't have happened either.
Some parents wouldn't allow tag in the house. With my boys, I have to see the forest instead of the trees. Yes, they might run into something playing tag...but they're using skills that are incredibly difficult for them to master. And they just started that skill at nine and eleven.
I'm a pretty inflexible person, or at least I have been during much of my life. I remember with Kadee Joy feeling like her behavior or "performance" defined me as a parent. Then I had my sweet Andrew, who couldn't talk until after age two, and who wasn't potty trained until age 7. Having children who have a disorder that changes the speed of the learning process broke my inflexibility when it came to them.
The games are over. Jeffrey is playing "Just Dance." Andrew is making battle sounds while playing with all his Star Wars figurines. And Luke is sitting next to me, asking if he can "help me work." They are back where they are comfortable.
We got the kids a basketball hoop for Christmas. The boys ask to play with it everyday. All 3 of them. It's a wonderful thing. I've been teaching them skills, like what to do if the basketball goes into the street (come get Mommy so she can check the road after telling you to check the road so that you don't get run over...then we cheer when the ball is brought back safely). It's a beautiful thing. I remember the days of locking all the doors because Andrew was such an escape risk, and he didn't even have the ability to tell people his name. Both boys have had multiple close calls of getting run over because they run away in the parking lot, or just head towards the car from a store or church without even looking to see if any vehicles or people are coming towards them. This is still somewhat of a problem, but nothing compared to their earlier years. Back...
When it's time to go to bed, Luke is often already in bed. He doesn't wait for me to tell him...he tells me. "Mom, I'm tired. I'm going to bed now." Jeffrey freaks out a little bit, but goes to bed after a promise from me that he'll be able to do something tomorrow. "I'll go to sleep, and then I can play basketball tomorrow?" "Yes, Jeffrey." Sometimes he has to ask it a few times, just to make sure..
Andrew can't turn his mind off. I remember Chris and I taking turns laying next to him from the time he was two until he was four because he was so unsettled and couldn't go to sleep, These were the same days that he would often try to go out the front door. Nowadays, there's no risk of escape...just that he won't be able to fall asleep until 11 or 12, and then won't have enough sleep to face the next day. Tonight isn't as big of a deal. It's Saturday tomorrow. He could sleep in, but Andrew doesn't sleep in on weekends or days off. He and his brothers are up and at 'em right at 6 a.m., even though they would be dead to the world until forced to wake up at 6:45 on school mornings.
The fire is going, it's cold outside, and Jeffrey heard that snow could be coming. He plans on building a snowman and making snow angels. At least, that's what he tells me.
Jeffrey made plans. This is a skill he's had for a couple of years. I love when Jeffrey makes plans, although sometimes I dread the times when I have to tell him that his plans will not happen.
Jeffrey is reading this blog. "I love playing basketball. But snow is coming, so I can't play basketball!"
I'll end it there. We'll see what tomorrow brings.
I write when I am inspired and I write when I get a break. Apparently those two things did not happen simultaneously until today.
These past four months have been hard. Moving is always hard, a new job is always hard, transitioning into new schools is hard, starting up in a new church is always hard...But these past four months have been really, really hard.
First of all, let me say that we have been welcomed pretty much wherever we've gone. Overwhelmingly welcomed at church, welcomed by our new teams, our children welcomed by their new teachers (both at church and at school), we have nothing to complain about as far as being welcomed. So perhaps I should say that it could have been even harder than it was...but it was still hard.
My new school is hard. It just is. It's a completely different population than my last school is and we're in school improvement.School improvement is when the state tells you that students in certain sub groups (race, economic level, etc) didn't make enough gains or meet enough goals in the standardized tests, and that you therefore have to not only raise those scores but spend hours in writing goals, training, doing research, documenting, documenting, documenting (seriously, it's ridiculous), and of course, teaching.
If you've never taught in a school that is in school improvement, than you have never experienced watching the state make the already impossibly challenging job of teaching even more impossibly challenging. It's kind of nightmarish. It doesn't affect me directly, but it certainly affects me. I'm not in the "war room" going over kids individual strengths and weaknesses (as far as their test scores go), being constantly challenged on how or why I approached that particular lesson with that particular kid in that particular way, and missing hours of actually being in the classroom going over ways to teach in ways that will bring up our test scores. But I see the teachers, administrators, and specialists who are doing that, and they're completely maxed out...all the time...And have very little margin for additional stress. So I am affected when I bring in an additional request that sends them (unintentionally) over their already taxed limit. School improvement pretty much bites the big one, and I think it is a horrible, horrible way to try and improve test scores (which I also think are pretty horrible in and of themselves), and leads to even more teacher burn out in our current climate in education in which we are ALWAYS short on teachers. And goodness knows that this burnout is evident to our students.
But the silver lining in this madness is that I love, love, love, LOVE the students I am teaching. I always do, but these students are very, very different from many of the other populations I've taught. The vast majority of these kids are at risk for a variety of reasons, and I have to have my game face on pretty much as soon as I get out of my car. But they are so FUN. I don't have to convince these kids to get into the activities, games, songs, etc. They are just ready, willing, and want to do everything well. I'll admit that sometimes their behavior makes me crazy, and I have encountered difficulties in management that I haven't seen in a very long time (if ever), which has caused me to make a very close look at how I craft each lesson with each class. But with these kids, I know that I'm making a difference in their lives...and they are making a huge difference in mine. I didn't know how to whip or nae nae when I showed up in Humble, but you'd better believe I know how to now. :) God has been gracious in showing me how beautiful, precious, and unique ALL of His children are, and in doing so has shown me how worthwhile what I do is.
I didn't touch on the other stuff that is hard, probably because I realized that much of it is hard from a perspective other than my own, and also because I know that while it has been hard, it has also been getting better as time goes on. Pray for me, for my family, and especially for Chris as he is juggling two jobs that are (in and of themselves) hard.
I'm sitting on my couch in my living room downstairs typing while my boys watch their current favorite movie, Madagascar. A typical Saturday morning.
Except I'm living in Humble (pronounced "UM-bull"), just outside of Houston, TX. Not in San Antonio.
I've just finished my first week of teaching. But it's not in Alamo Heights, the district I thought I would retire in.
It's at a school in the Humble Independent School District. My students could not look more different than my last students, and the expectations for me in my job are very different. It's me, 700 kids, and no teaching partner. So you know...what normal districts do.
In June, I had agreed to start teaching Junior High Sunday School at our church in San Antonio. In July, I had called my teaching partner to discuss when we were having a going away party for one member of our team, and an engagement party for another. I had my kids' teachers all lined up, Kadee Joy was all set for the Junior School, and I was looking forward to a busy summer and then returning to my dream job.
And then, Chris went to NYC. Not New York City. Nazarene Youth Conference in Louisville, Kentucky. He and the youth pastor at our church were taking 5 teens from our church to it with the South Texas district of the Nazarene Church. He would be gone for nine days. Then he would come back for a couple of weeks, we would go to Hawaii with my side of our family, and then it would be back into work mode. He would continue to be a volunteer Associate Pastor at our church and a 4th Grade teacher in the North Side school district, and I would go back to Cambridge.
Except of course, that's not what happened. A couple of days into NYC, he called me.
"I think I may have just gotten a job offer," he said.
"Okay," I said. He's gotten job offers before. "What church?"
"Lake Houston Church of the Nazarene."
Just that morning, I had been trying to have some quiet time and thought to myself, "I really we lived close to a lake." No joke. Never had that thought before.
"Where is that at?," I asked.
"Just outside of Houston."
For as long as I've known him, Chris has wanted to live in Houston. He's an avid sports fan of all Houston teams, having been born there. When I first told him God had told us to move to Texas, he kept asking (non-seriously)if I was sure it was to San Antonio and not to Houston.
But that had nothing to do with my thoughts. As he said it, a sense of excitement and direction hit me. Just as I'd known that all the other job offers were not God's will for us, I knew that this one was.
We continued the conversation, and he told me how he had talked with one of the senior pastors at the church for a long time (there's a lot of down time when you're driving to Kentucky from Texas), how they had shared their life stories with each other, and how eventually it had gotten to where somehow that message that the senior pastor was interested in Chris as the youth pastor the church had been looking for for three and a half years was addressed.
Over the next several days, Chris made strong connections with some of the kids in the South Texas district. He found out later that those kids were from the Lake Houston Church. While he was doing that, I was investigating everything I could about Humble, TX, the town where the church is. I was looking up housing, I was looking up jobs, I was looking up just about everything I could gather from the internet. And the more I read, the more nervous I got. Not because I ever doubted that we should pursue it, but because the full impact of what it would mean to uproot from the life we lived in San Antonio was hitting me hard. I also was struggling with the logistics of moving. We still had a year left on our lease. It was July, and we would be leaving for Hawaii soon. I would be leaving so many ends untied at my school with my teaching partner who I could not imagine leaving. And our church! We were so involved in our church. It felt unfair to leave so suddenly.
Chris got back from NYC, and then a day or two later, the senior pastor and his wife (who had already been in contact with me) drove over to San Antonio to have a more in depth conversation. We talked for about three hours. The position would only be part time to start out because that was what the church could afford. At one point, the detail/reality side of me took over, and I brought up the logistical issues. I brought up the lease. If we broke our lease, there was no way we could find housing. If Chris was only part time, I would have to have a music teaching job, and those are typically not easy to find, particularly in July, and definitely not in August if we waited to make a decision until we got back from Hawaii. And I could not imagine how we could get our kids prepared in so short a time to make such a big change, particularly Kadee Joy. She was so excited about Junior School, had friends, and I knew would be in an outstanding school. I asked if waiting until next June would be an option. They both said that it would be less than ideal, but that if Chris was the guy, then they would wait for him.
Once we got back to the house, I told Chris that I really thought it would make more sense to wait until June. The terms of our short sale from Idaho were such that after November we would be able to purchase a house. It would make much more sense for us to finish out our lease, save up for a down payment, and then just buy a house in Humble rather than rent. I also felt it would give us time to really prepare for a move, and for our kids to prepare especially.
And I kept this fight up. With Chris. With myself. And for sure with God. I wrestled with him for 3 days. Arguing, pleading, negotiating. On the second day, I called our realtor and had her check to see if there was any way we could get out of our lease. She called back saying that we could get out of it, but at a significant financial price. I hung up feeling like that was our answer. And then Chris called the senior pastor, who assured us that the church would cover the cost of any loss. More wrestling, more struggling.
And then, late in the night of the 3rd day, God gave me a vision. One of the things my investigating had brought up was a school in the Humble school district where there was a music teacher opening. I had found a Facebook page featuring the Honor Choir and Percussion Ensemble, and knew that it was way out of my league. I knew that I could not get the job. It freaked me out to even think of it.
But the vision...I saw it as clear as day. It was me, with a group of students behind me getting ready to do a performance...and I knew it was the kids from Humble.
And that was all I needed. I woke up a few hours later, told Chris that I was calling my administrator, called her in tears, and then resigned my job. Then I called my teaching partner...and told her...and that was even harder. And being a good friend, she tried to talk me out of it. :) But I assured her that I knew that this was God wanted us to do. In between calls, I told Chris what I was doing. After panicking a little, he called the senior pastor and told him our decision to come. I started applying for jobs in three different districts, one in Humble, and then two outside of Humble.
I should mention that Chris had not been officially offered the job yet. The board and the other senior pastor were aware of the conversations that had been going on, but had not yet met Chris. After Chris called, it was determined that we should come to Humble immediately to meet with the staff of the church. Some of them knew Chris from NYC, but most did not. Our family went over. We toured the church, and then went to lunch. At some point during lunch, the other senior pastor asked what I was thinking about everything. I told him I had already resigned my job. He was rather shocked by this, and I asked if he thought we were crazy. He SAID he thought it was awesome (although he may have been thinking something else). I told him that it was cool if they decided that we weren't the ones...we were going to come anyway. :)
We drove back home. There were four very silent, nerve-wracking days where Chris had no official job offer, and I had no job prospects. Then on Thursday, July 24, I got an email from the New Caney District asking me to come in and interview. We ended up meeting with a large group from the church on Sunday night, and then we woke up early the next morning so that I could go interview. I thought the interview went fairly well, but felt a little discouraged by what the job would be. And in the back of my head, the vision of the kids from the other school was still there.
We drove back to San Antonio. I was told that I would hear about the job by the end of the week. It was Monday, and we were flying out to Hawaii that night. When we got home, Chris came to the realization that he would need to be bi-vocational, and so he began to apply for teaching jobs.
About two hours before we were supposed to leave for the airport, I got a call that I thought was from the principal from New Caney. Instead, it was the principal from the school in Humble. She had just gotten the email that I had sent to her and wanted to know if I could come in for an interview. I told her that we were actually leaving for Hawaii, and wouldn't be back for almost two weeks. She asked if I would be willing to do a phone interview, which of course I said I would. She said she would need to pull a few staff members for the interview and then would call me back. Surrounded by luggage, I did the phone interview. I cannot tell you how much better I felt about that job interview than I did about the other. About 20 minutes after the interview, she called me back, telling me that my references were so strong that she wanted to offer me the job immediately. With the vision at the front of my mind, and said yes. About 20 minutes later, I got another job offer from New Caney. I had to tell her no, and she groaned, saying that "her rival" had stolen another teacher from her. Turns out she is the wife of the Superintendent of my school district. Apparently he slept on the couch that night.
About 10 minutes after that, I got another email and phone call asking for an interview in the third school district I had applied yet. I told them I had just been hired, but thanked them for thinking of me. I finished packing, and with a huge sense of peace and relief in my heart, we got on the plane.
But God wasn't done yet. While in Hawaii, Chris got called for an interview in the same district I had just been hired at. While I was interviewing, I had asked my administrator which school she would recommend for our boys. She named a school that was close to mine. The school Chris was called by was the same school she had recommended. He interview over Skype the next day, and was offered the job.
Meanwhile, the church was moving forward with officially calling Chris as the youth pastor. After an amazing trip to Hawaii, we began packing up our house and drove back to Humble to look for housing. We found one, put in application, and then had several impatient days of waiting to hear if we had gotten the house. We knew we would be moving on Saturday, and didn't find out that we had actually gotten the house until the Thursday before.
After saying many tearful goodbyes, we moved. Our new church family came and moved us from San Antonio and into our new home. We went to church the next day, and then Chris and I started our new teaching jobs the day after that.
God has been so faithful in accomplishing all that needed to be accomplished. We know, we know, we know, we know that none of this would have been possible without his hand in it. While the adjustment has not been easy, he has put so many people in our paths to encourage, support, and come alongside us. From childcare, to meals, to cleaning, to coffee (SO IMPORTANT), and in helping us understand the ways of our new jobs, he has sent us people who absolutely have been His hands and feet.
And now we're here. I miss San Antonio, our dear friends and coworkers, and many aspects of our old schools and church. But I also have a great sense of excitement and challenge in facing the new opportunities we have been given. Thank you for your prayers, your support, and your love. Our kids are adjusting really well to their new schools, loving our new church, and Chris and I are grateful to be exactly where God has called us to be. In that, we know there is no better place to be.
In order to help build an informational foundation for Andrew as he moves forward in public education, his educational team has (with my approval) been putting him through a battery of tests. He's been tested for speech (needs help), OT (needs help), and most recently, intelligence.
I don't know why this one's results caught me off guard, but it did, and not only did the results catch me off guard, but they kind of brought back the early days of his diagnosis of autism...and not in a good way.
Andrew was classified as Intellectually Disabled. He scored quite poorly on almost everything. And not just poorly...he scored in the <1 percentile in many of them.
Reading what this meant for Andrew was not the problem. The accommodations suggested were things we've been doing with Andrew his whole life...simplified vocabulary, one-two step directions, visual cues, modeling.
But the "intellectually disabled" label...that threw me. No, actually, it pushed me down on to my knees and then sat on me.
I should be good at this by now. I should know that a series of tests with scripted questions given by a stranger
cannot possibly sum up who my Andrew is. I know that labels are meant to help explain the why's.
And yet, for a brief time, it did sum up who he was, and I hurt. I hurt for Andrew. I hurt for what his future became with those two words.
It was explained to me that this is a good thing...it will open him up for so many more community services when he finishes with school. It will provide a good record so that he can qualify for assistance throughout his life.
But, selfishly, I don't want him to have to qualify for those things in order to be more independent. I want him to reach a point where he can do anything he wants without needing assistance. And not because I mind providing that assistance, or trying to find it. I kind of feel like that's my job as a mom anyway, and just becomes a little more intense having children with autism. I just want him to be able to achieve anything any other person could
Shortly after (actually, about five minutes later), I ran into another mom of a beautiful boy with autism. I said everything I was feeling, and she reminded me of what I already knew, and what I've told so many other moms with special needs children...This paper changes nothing. It does not make Andrew any different than he was before the testing results were shared with me. And it cannot POSSIBLY say who Andrew is. No testing can do that. And certainly, no testing can predict what he will do in his life, and how much he will grow.
It is the season for giving thanks. It is not the season for despair.
Andrew is different. But Andrew is not less.
Andrew is silly. Andrew is loving. Andrew is affectionate. Andrew will work hard for praise. Andrew wants to do the right thing. Andrew wants others to do the right thing. Andrew hurts for others. Andrew loves his family. Andrew is a wonderful big brother. Andrew is a wonderful little brother. Andrew is sensitive. Andrew says inappropriate things from movies sometimes. Andrew says perfectly appropriate things from movies sometimes.
Andrew is a good speller. Andrew has terrible handwriting. Andrew is a great runner. Andrew loves to play. Andrew cannot sit still. Andrew claims people poke him when they don't. Andrew laughs at things other people can't see. Andrew can now explain what he's laughing at, and 10 times out of 10 it is a scene from a movie he is seeing in his head.
Andrew still eats a very limited number of things. Andrew eats more variety than he used to. Andrew has friends. Andrew's friends still are trying to figure him out. Andrew loves the computer. Andrew doesn't love to write because it is painful to his hands. Andrew is getting therapy for his handwriting. Andrew has a hard time in Art. Andrew can have a hard time in music. Andrew loves to sing. Andrew does not love for others to watch him sing.
Andrew has to work much, much harder than most kids at following very basic social and academic rules.
Andrew gets tired of trying. Andrew keeps trying anyway.
Andrew is beautiful. Andrew has my big teeth. Andrew has his daddy's big lips.
Andrew is a gift from God. Andrew inspires me daily.
My world is better for having Andrew as a son.
Thank you, dear Lord, for Andrew.
I don't know his future, but I know that You have it in Your hands.
You made him as he is.
"For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be."
Fall. Kind of. You know, in a South Texas, still 95 degrees kind of way.
School has started back up again and all three of my school-aged children are at Cambridge with me. I have every single one of them in music class with me. And I LOVE it.
Kadee Joy is such a beautiful girl, inside and out. She wants to make everyone feel comfortable, included, and important, and she does what she can to make that happen in each new school situation. She is still very much a kid, which I also love. She's under a lot of pressure to become boy crazy, fashion forward, and cool...and she lets everyone know that she just wants to be her. Not sure where she got that confidence, but I am grateful for it.
Andrew is in a public school setting for the first time since kindergarten and is transitioning remarkably well. I was full of fear right before school started. I didn't know how he would handle the many new situations he would encounter, and I didn't know what the students I love would make of the son I love. He has handled each new situation beautifully, which I attribute to the great hearts and helping hands of the many teachers who surround him daily. They have made him feel comfortable and built up his confidence. One of his biggest areas of strength has been in PE. Oddly enough, he has excellent hand eye coordination, and has been surprising his classmates on a daily basis with his speed and ability to dominate games. :) His classmates have really stepped up in encouraging him and helping him, and I am so glad that they have contributed to his smooth transition.
Jeffrey has had a great start, and is surrounded (again) by teachers and classmates who love him. He caused a big stir yesterday when he stood on one of the ramps leading out from the building and screeeeeeeaaaaaaammmmed! Teachers surrounded him and found...that he had lost his first tooth. He had been perseverating on it's looseness for many days, so it was a relief when it came out. He now wants "a new tooth" to replace his "empty tooth." Losing teeth only to gain new ones really is an odd concept when you think about it.
And then there's Luke. He's a typical two year old...He can be sweet, affectionate, and compliant one second and then turn devious, physical, and obstinate the next. It's a good thing he's cute. He still seems to be developing normally (both physically and mentally) and goes to the same daycare he's been going to for the last year and a half. Chris takes him there now, so I don't know too much of how he does, but we've had no biting reports so I'm satisfied.
Chris is in his fourth year of teaching. The difference between his class sizes in Idaho vs. here is ridiculous. He has 19 students in his 4th grade class (compared with the 36 he had his last year in Idaho), and has so far really enjoyed each of them . There have been so many times when I wish I could just be a fly on the wall and see him teach...one day perhaps, when we don't have to use all of our sick and personal days on our family's health. He's also recently become an associate pastor at our church and is set for the last part in receiving his district ordination in January. I am grateful to be part of a church who lives out reconciliation and rebuilding, and I am so incredibly proud of my husband and his obedience to the One who set out a path for him to receive both.
Besides starting my twelfth(!) year of teaching, I am heading into Christmas Cantata season. This year, with the help of my friend Sunshine, I grabbed onto a BEAUTIFUL Celtic Cantata that I will be directing, starting this Wednesday. I'm super excited about it.
Right before the school year started, our family went on the longest vacation we've ever taken together to Idaho and Oregon. It was marvelous. It was so rejuvenating to see friends and family who have been with us through the best and worst of times. When we were in Idaho we were able to hang out with so many friends with whom hanging out was just...EASY. So easy. They knew us well, knew where we came from, knew what we'd been through, just knew US.
I love living here in Texas. I know this is where I'm supposed to be, and I know this is where my family is supposed to be. I love the weather, the culture, the welcoming people, the education...
But I do miss the ease of my old friendships. Friend-making down here has been hard. Not hard to develop acquaintances. Not hard to find people to invite over for meals. Not hard in having a team that I work with who I feel I can be myself with. Not hard in finding church people to connect with.
Friend making has been hard in the sense that I still have very few people I would feel comfortable with just calling and talking with just because. Or even calling to hang out one on one. I feel like there are some people who make friends so easily, and who can just open up and be themselves and have no problem just hanging with people they've only been friends with for short while.
For me, friendships take time...lots of time. Like, years sometimes. And I think that's why it was so easy in Idaho. So many of those friendships were developed over the course of years, sometimes even decades. I could just pick up with them where I'd left off and it was fine...
Here, building relationships take a ton of effort, and many don't even work out. There have been so many times where I have made plans with someone and they cancel last minute leaving me feeling defeated. They probably have easy friendships to go to...I just don't yet.
I see the same things with my kids. They are doing remarkably well in so many areas, but they really don't have friends with whom they have a strong, easy bond with. Not yet, anyway.
So I'll make myself vulnerable on this one...please pray for friends. For me. For my kids. Friends that are encouraging, loyal, and who GET us. And friends who are here. We have old friends whom I love and cherish, and who have stood the test of time. I have no doubt that I have connections with people for whom a friendship like this is possible. This is what's been on my mind and heart, and this is what I would ask your prayers for. And thank you to those of you who are here, and who have been extending welcoming hands to our family.
I'm awake early in our new house. Not exactly by choice but because Jeffrey just CANNOT PLAY QUIETLY. Short screams of frustration, intermittent giggles, and the endless monologue of movie quotes make it impossible for meto ignore him. The two year old can't ignore it either, which is why "Mommy!!!!!" breaks into my dreams as well. The two year old is crazy enough to have earned the nickname "Honey Badger." But Honey Badger has not yet figured out that he is perfectly capable of escaping from his crib, and at this stage in motherhood I am certainly not going to be the one to inform him.
Andrew wanders into my room. He's trying to escape the noise as well. His giggles and running monologue keep the other boys awake too, but at night, not in the morning, and has not been as extreme during summer. So he is seeking the sleep he couldn't get at the beginning of the night or in the wee hours of this morning. He's getting too big to join both of us in bed, but he'll settle for snuggling with Daddy while I try to give the rest of the house a few more moments of sleep. Jeffrey, Luke and I head downstairs for breakfast. Jeffrey requests popcorn, which he would have for every meal if I let him, but I convince him to request something else, so buttered toast(es) and applesauce is what we agree on. Luke requests the same because he always wants what his brothers have.
(Jeffrey has listened to my typing, come over to the screen, and begun reading what I'm typing. "I love popcorn!" "Jeffrey...that's ME!!!" "Mommy, can Jeffrey sit with Mommy?" This mix of first person and third person is a continuing speech problem that we're working on...sometimes we have to speak to Jeffrey in third person that he actually understands what we want him to do.)
Kadee Joy is blissfully unaware during the most severe of thunder and lightning storms, so her sleep is not at all disturbed by our breakfast making and eating. Moving to the new house has brought her within a few blocks of her BFF, so during the day she is either with her BFF, her BFF is with us, or she's making plans on how to arrange another visit with her.
(Jeffrey interjects into my typing in a whisper, "Mommy...I love you.")
Luke is enamored with transportation and the cartoons closely related to them. Thomas the Tank Engine and Cars are his particular favorites. He's playing with "Vader" (Mater) and Doc. Daddy's love of Star Wars makes names that are close to any of it's characters morph into one's that Luke is familiar with. I've tried to tell Luke that the tow truck is "Mater" not "Darth Vader", but it doesn't seem to matter.
The boys are all in one room. It seems to be working well. I'm typing in the office/playroom, which is why Luke, who normally wants to be at my side at all times, is content to play while I compose this post. Jeffrey loves the computer (and me!) too much to be parted from either when they are available. So he's still here, sitting comfortably squished in the computer chair watching everything I type.
Shortly after my last blog post (and by shortly, I mean within a couple of days), a realtor who had been on the lookout for a house for family (she is the parent of two of my students) came across the one we're now in. We had been told that Andrew would only be able to go to my school if we were within it's borders...not just the district's borders. This one was on the market to be sold or rented...we put in an application within 24 hours of it being placed and wonderfully got it on a two year lease. It's half a mile from my school. I've never lived so close to a school I teach at. My kids have never lived so close to a school they've attended. We love this house so far. Thank you, Lord, for putting it in our reach.
We loved Andrew's old school. He made so much progress. One of the shortcomings of it was the collection of data as to where he is academically. They know where he is, and we know where he is, but that info is not put into a format that transfers well into the public school system. This is what I will be working on this summer (among other things).
Chris has yet to really start a summer break. His church duties, moving duties, and duties as a husband and father have given him little time to relax. Yesterday we had a beautiful morning outside on our deck. The kids played freely and "helped" Daddy when it was time to grill for lunch. We've made a little haven on our deck and call it Cantina Del Tiner. It was lovely. Then Chris went and helped a friend from church move.
(Jeffrey is reminding me, "It's almost Jeffrey's turn.....")
I get this reminder about 400 times a day regarding various electronics. Uncle Aaron has a plan to teach Jeffrey and Andrew code so that they can come work for him. I think Jeffrey especially would thrive on this, but I would worry that his already limited interest in the outside world would become non-existent.
(Luke is keeping up a constant list of requests, all punctuated with "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy!" Both boys want to be in the chair with Mommy.)
So many people ask if my boys don't like to be hugged...to which I can thankfully reply that quite the opposite is true. I'm afraid we're going to have to start teaching appropriate boundaries for hugging people in general.
(Luke got his hand squished by Jeffrey sitting on them. This is because Luke is trying to drive his cars on the chair that both Jeffrey and I are sitting on. Car sounds (that are more like growls) add to the soundtrack Jeffrey had started to provide. "Mommy, I want up!" No third person for Luke. "Me!" and "I want" and "Mine" come easily to him. Now Luke is stuck under the armrest of the chair. "Mommy, help!!!" And now all three of us are sitting in the chair.)
Andrew wants to go the pool. Always. Kadee Joy got to go with her BFF yesterday to the Alamo Heights pool. Our family will have to find an alternative water source because we can't currently afford the $475 it costs for our family to be able to use the pool. We've been to one this week at another friend from church's community pool. It was just me and the four kids with my friend and her two little ones along with other community members. I was primarily on Luke duty until another dad informed me that Jeffrey was trying to get into a little floating boat that did not to belong to him, and subsequently gotten into it upside down. The mom next to him also informed me that she was worried because Jeffrey was shivering so much. I don't think she got that a little boy with two percent body fat shivers while in the pool regardless of how long he's in there. Chris arrived shortly after this and sat in the sun with Jeffrey, who stopped shivering about 10 minutes later.
(Luke turns his face toward me and gives me a kiss. It's slobbery, but I'll take it. Jeffrey is reminding me again, "It's almost Jeffrey's turn, Mom...")
I had several friends at work with children who graduated this year. One day, when I was returning from bus duty, they saw Jeffrey running towards me wanting a hug. "Oh, cherish these days!," one of them said. "Before you know it, they'll be graduating from high school!"
(Luke turns his face toward me again and plants another kiss on me. Jeffrey is giving quiet growls of frustration. He will do ANYTHING to be able to use electronics. Luke leans into me and I give him a hug. "Thanks for hugs," says, and then goes back to driving Doc on the computer desk.)
Obviously it's time to go. If anything, this post has reminded me how much my kids crave and enjoy my attention. I lead a blessed life. Thank you all for your prayers in our efforts to find a house that would allow Andrew to come to my school. God is faithful, Andrew is enrolled, and we are grateful for Him once again providing for our needs.
(Jeffrey wraps his arms around my stomach and gives me a hug.)
In March of this year, I headed to Andrew's school for a monthly meeting regarding his progress. I don't get to make it to all of these meetings because of my own school schedule, but when I do get to go they're usually helpful.
At the beginning of the meeting, I was asked a simple question. "So, is there anything that's on your mind?" I answered with what is almost always on my mind. "I just want to make sure that we're doing everything we can for Andrew."
I was NOT prepared for what came out of the wonderful woman who acts as a coordinator and advocate for Andrew. "You know, it's interesting that you would say that. Andrew's teacher and I have been discussing it. Andrew is the highest student in his classroom academically. He is doing VERY well. The main things he needs to work on are social and behavioral skills, which he needs neurotypical peers for. We think he is ready to move into public school. "
I didn't know what to say. I didn't know what to feel. After a few moments of processing, I grasped at a few stray thoughts I was having about when he should start, what kind of paperwork would need to be done and asked them aloud....but all the while I was thinking, "We moved down here for THIS SCHOOL. What are we doing down here if Andrew's not even going to be attending here?"
At the end of the meeting I got the kids and met Chris just as he was arriving from his school. I gave him the news. Then he pretty much echoed the same thoughts I'd had. "What are we DOING here?"
So I called some of the wise people in my life and posed those questions to them. The incredible thing was their response. "Wait, you're saying that in just two years, Andrew has progressed to the point of being able to be put into a mainstreamed classroom? That is AWESOME! Do you think he would have been able to do that in Idaho?" To which respond (because I know), "You're right. There's no way he would have."
Beyond that, though, I also know that God has grown US. Our whole family.
Chris, my wonderful Chris, has grown and grown and grown spiritually, relationally, and professionally. He is a different man from when we first moved to Texas, and he was already pretty amazing then.
Kadee Joy has grown leaps and bounds academically, socially, musically, (speaking of which she'll be playing Taylor in our school's production of High School Musical in a few weeks!)and spiritually.
Jeffrey is in a mainstream classroom and is doing SO WELL. He's in a school where kids adore him, and where his teachers are constantly praising him and encouraging him.
Luke is so healthy, so smart, so...two year old-ish.
And I am happy. The sun, the heat, the warm people of this great state, my church, and my school have all been so good to me. My job in particular has been very stretching, in the best possible way.
And Andrew...what's next for him?
For those Idaho friends reading, I should clarify at this point that we are NOT moving back to Idaho. Or the Pacific Northwest. We do not feel God calling us to do that. We still feel a very strong call to our church here in San Antonio, and have not felt released from that calling. So if any of you want to move down here....
As soon as I realized that public school was going to be a reality for him this next school year, I started speaking with my colleagues and administrators about it. Currently, Jeffrey and Kadee Joy attend my school on a tuition waiver because I teach at the school. However, this is only allowed if the student does not need more than a "regular" child would need in order to attend. In other words, behavior has to be solid, and they can't require additional staff to meet their needs.
Andrew does NOT fit into that pre-requisite. His academics are much better than we ever hoped for, but he will most likely need an aide with him in the general ed classroom. So, he was denied entrance into my school as a tuition waiver student, which was hard. No mom wants to be told that her child is too "needy" for the school. With that being said, I really do get the financial constraints school districts face.
So! with that being said, we still know my district well enough to know that it is absolutely where we want Andrew to attend. We're looking at moving (again!) into my district. This is a little tricky because housing in my district is RIDICULOUSLY expensive, and it's all due to my school district being as good as it is. When I mentioned tuition before, we have around 100 students who do not live in district who pay tuition in order to attend my school district because it has such a quality reputation. Would I have known this had God not brought me to my job? Of course not. We moved down here in order to give our boys the best possible chance at being able to fulfill whatever calling God places on their lives...and having found a place where they can be nurtured, encouraged, AND learn behaviors from neurotypical children fits that goal.
Andrew moving back into the public school system is scary...he's been so happy at his little school. He is doing wonderfully well, but still acts so DIFFERENTLY from neurotypical kids. I don't know what they'll make of him. I don't know what the staff will make of him. I only know that God has been faithful and grown Andrew well over the last two years, and believe that He will be with him and continue to grow him in this new stage of life. Please pray for us! Pray for our housing situation, pray for our transition (AGAIN), and please, please pray for our dear Andrew.
I'm a woman, mother, wife, and follower of Jesus who is striving (and sometimes struggling) each day to be a more Christ-like example of all of the above. I also teach music to elementary school kids, and love the opportunities that the job brings. I am a life-long searcher of peace and joy, and have found both in my Lord. I have so much to be grateful for.
A full time youth and worship pastor...Chris loves many things including his family, Mexican food, and just about anything involving Texas sports. He's a great daddy, great husband, and my love. I am a better person for having known, loved, and been loved by this man.
Twelve: This girl is passionate about her loves. She LOVES her brothers, and is fiercely protective of them. She LOVES going over to her friends houses or having them over to our house, and she LOVES to read and use her imagination. She makes friends very, very easily. She is a little too smart for her own good sometimes, but puts smiles on our faces all the time. The world will not be the same simply by Kadee Joy living in it.
Eleven years old: Andrew loves Star Wars, animals, dinosaurs, screens, movies, and school. He's a big fan of dancing and singing, and generally has a huge smile on his face. He was diagnosed with autism nine years ago on January 23rd. He is a sweet, sweet, sweet boy who loves his family.
Nine years old: Jeffrey is such a smart boy, and sees and identifies letters EVERYWHERE. He is generally very happy, unless being forced off his favorite activities. He loves learning, playing the computer, and some of his favorite things are dancing, snuggling, getting tickled, reading, and stealing my phone. Jeffrey was also diagnosed with autism seven years ago, and shows us how widely varied the difficulties of this disorder can present themselves between the people who have it.
Five years old: Our most recent family addition, Luke was born after 8 nerve-wracking weeks of bedrest, as well as a difficult delivery. We are so thankful to God for his life. He's got an evil little giggle when he's being naughty, but is overall very affectionate and silly. We love our boy.