Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My son, my hopes, my fears, my dreams

I just read the coolest post ever by Mr. Lady, in a blog I recently started following. I aspire to be a mom like that.

I identified with it so much, as my oldest son is in third grade, and started off struggling.
He has struggled on-and-off since the beginning of school. Like any parent, I had high hopes for my son, and found it difficult to believe at first that he could be having any difficulty.

I don't know how much my own background helps or harms my child, either. I excelled at school. I was valedictorian of my graduating class, was always in the top 5 even in grade school (and I flatter myself that I was almost always at THE TOP of even those few). I think it may even extend back to kindergarten, but I do vividly recall shocking my 1st grade teacher with my ability to multiply - she set me at the blackboard and had me do harder and harder calculations to keep me busy, because I finished all of the classroom assignments in minutes - and the only reason I couldn't do division problems for her was that I couldn't remember what the division sign was supposed to look like.
But I was also an extreme social misfit during my school years. I was an extreme outsider, mercilessly tormented, and had very, very few friends, or even friendly acquaintances.

So I don't know if I hoped for a child like me or not. I think I hoped that he would have some of my intelligence, but also hoped that he would have way more social skills than I did. I don't know how much of either of my wishes came true.

It quickly became apparent that he did not inherit all of my academic prowess. He was not a lightning calculator in grade one. He still struggled with basic addition even through grade two. And although he did not appear to be the social outcast that I was, even at that age, my heart broke every time I heard "Nobody likes me!" or "So-and-so is picking on me!" (And I struggled to filter it through my own skewed vision, and check for normal childhood hyperbole). He struggled to stay on task in class, and I got frequent notes about problem behavior and failure to complete assignments. We did homework (what seems like an extreme amount of homework! I don't remember bringing any homework home until grade three, and even then it wasn't daily assignments, just a report or a long-term assignment that we had weeks to work on before it was due!). I even tried adding a bit of extra homework, to help him keep up when he seemed to be falling behind.
We worried about ADHD, and the possibility of him being labelled. And about the dangers of NOT getting him treatment if he really needed it, vs. the dangers of being FORCED to treat him if he didn't really need it.
Luckily, the teacher he has this year is AWESOME. She is so patient with him, and I love that she is always positive and happy about teaching him, and dealing with his problems. Last year, we had a teacher who was willing to work on his problems, but I got the sense that she would do it grimly, out of a sense of obligation. This year, his teacher seems ready to deal with him happily, out of a love of teaching. I tell you, she is a GEM.
When we began to discuss problems with his behavior and attention span, my complaint was that I was dealing with it when it was brought to my attention. When I got notes, it was because it was a particularly bad day, behavior wise, and we definitely let our son know that this was not what we wanted, and made sure not to reward him for it. But unless I got a note, I had to take my son's word for how the day had gone, and we were usually assuming the behavior was acceptable unless we were told otherwise. I asked for a simple smiley face (or frowny face) in his daily agenda so I could reward good behavior and work to correct the bad. When I suggested this in first grade, I was told that it was too much work, and there was no way the teacher could provide daily feedback. When I suggested it to his second grade teacher, she agreed to try it. I could see that it was a lot of work, because we never did quite get daily feedback. We got some indication about 80% of the time, but I worked with what I got.
Part of the reason I love his third-grade teacher is because she took the idea and ran with it. I get not only daily feedback, she gives me a class-by-class breakdown, 8 smileys a day, either happy, sad, or could-be-better faces. And it actually seems to be working - or at least something is. I am so proud of the improvement I have seen. The past few weeks have been almost completely smiley faces, and the improvement in his classwork and the grades we are seeing is wonderful.
With daily feedback, I could set up a reward system, and gradually increase the rewards, along with increased expectations. He just recently earned a game for his DS by getting a total of 56 smiley faces with no frowns, and it really did mean a lot to him that he earned it. It took him over a month, because could-be-better faces did not count at all, and frowny faces meant he lost any progress he had made and had to start over.
I'm still nervous that the bad days might return, but I feel very blessed that he got a teacher this great, and I've got my fingers crossed that he is really starting to discover the motivation and responsibility in himself to continue to grow into the man I always dreamed he will become.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Okay so the fish died.

I think it was probably only days after the last post that all of them croaked at the same time, but it's been a few weeks (I never promised to blog faithfully!) and I don't remember that well.

But all of them died, and we emptied out the fishbowl and left it for a couple of weeks, because we were going away for Easter weekend anyways. And no one would be there to feed them if we got new fish.

So after Easter, we did what any good parents would do (okay, I'm being sarcastic there) - we bought a giant new aquarium (10 gallons) ran it for a day, then went to buy tropical fish. (I think I said that I believe tropical fish are more delicate than the generic goldfish variety. So of course it makes sense to buy that kind, because we've had such good luck with the more durable variety.)

The guy at the pet store didn't want to sell us the fish. He said you should run the tank for a month before you put fish in it. Seriously, who does that? Buy a fishtank, set it up, and leave it empty for a month? He wouldn't even give us any advice on different fish to start with or anything.

So we refused to take no for an answer and bought the fish anyway. The good news is, it's been over a week now, and they still seem to be swimming. I'm not going to get my hopes up until they've been alive for at least a month.

Turns out, if you Google it, that there really is some truth in Petstore-guy's advice. What he didn't mention was the fact that there is a little more to it than just having the aquarium set up for a month. I mean, it doesn't logically make any sense that water that has been sitting for 30 days is any safer for fish than water that has been sitting for over 24 hours. But according to Google, there is this solution you can buy that can help get the bacteria cycle established if you are adding some periodically and monitoring the water conditions - which pet guy never mentioned. Turns out this process ususally takes about a month - odd coincidence!

You need to get the bacteria cycle established and stabilized to deal effectively with the waste the fish create and what happens to any food they don't eat. Otherwise, the wastes and leftover food break down into ammonia, which is bad for fish. But if you don't have the special solution, the other way to 'cycle' the aquarium is to add fish slowly and start with the less delicate kinds - which is also something pet guy didn't help us with. I'm hoping we kind of did it by accident, because we only got 4 fish for an aquarium that will hold 8-12. And I'm checking the ammonia levels often. And the other night I did a crapload of water changes because the ammonia levels seemed to be rising. And the fish are still alive, so that's good - maybe we accidentally got strong and sturdy ones.

Fingers crossed that these fish survive. We went in with good intentions, and at the very least we will learn something from the experience. But I'm hoping the fish survive too.