Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Underachievers of the World Unite: A New Leader is Found

I imagine that if the underachievers of the world could motivate to get themselves organized and were to set out on a search for their leader as the Buddhists do for the Dalai Lama then I would come home from a run one day and find them all lined up outside my house; ready to administer a series of uncomplicated and incomplete tests on Beau to see if he is indeed the chosen one.

And undoubtedly he would be deemed the chosen one.

After all, I have to think, as the youngest child of parents, both classic underachievers themselves one with ADD (me) and one with Dyslexia (Ryan) it is his destiny. It is Carmella who is the surprise and if she didn't look so much like us I would think there was some kind of mix up at the hospital.

Two months ago I mentioned that I was going to make a "chore chart" and they would have to follow it. Beau's only comment was that the idea was "lame" but Carmella perked right up wanting to know how I was planning on organizing it and could she help? Would it be a big chart or a small chart? And she had lots of ideas of what could go on the chore chart and expressed how much fun it was going to be to have one. And at least once a week she asks me about the chart; when am I going to make it.

And just in case there are any other underachiever parents out there I found this website and the kids can earn points by doing chores and buy clothes for virtual kitties--or something like that. (Sort of like Webkinz world but you don't actually have to buy and populate your house with bazillions of stuffed animals.) I figure, hey, whatever can get Beau to brush his teeth, make his bed and pick up his toys. And yes I think this website is more of a motivator for the already motivated child but I couldn't find a "purchase arms and take over the world" reward chore chart. Weird how they wouldn't make something like that because that would totally motivate Beau.

I know I am being one of those parents who compare their children but really they are so vastly different it completely boggles me. I just don't even understand how I ended up with Carmella. She is an absolute mystery to me (and clearly an example of recessive genes.) I spent my life being threatened with "someday I hope you grow up and have a child just like you!" And then I get Carmella. The joke there isn't on me; it is on Lala. But then I had Beau and the universe evened stuff out and Lala got her karma.

Parenting Beau is like getting to watch a movie of my childhood but to protect my identity the role has been changed to a blond boy instead of a scragally haired spaztic little girl. And as frustrating as it is to deal with Beau at times I will admit there is bit of a comfort zone there for me; I wholly understand the grain from which he is cut.

By far the most frustrating aspect of parenting Beau has involved school. Unless you have a learning disability or you have a child that has a learning disability you can't begin to understand what it is like to have to deal with academic institutions. And, I have to admit that I feel like I am getting the short end of the stick here. I mean, I spent most of my life fighting an uphill battle in the school system because I am not one of those "traditional learners" and now I have to do it all over again with my kid. Big huge sigh.

I have known since Beau was 2 and we first discovered his speech problem (phonological processing disorder) that school was probably not going to be easy for him (or me). Add to that being one of the youngest in the class and you compound the problem. Red shirting him-- as many parents of boys with summer birthdays choose to do-- just wasn't an option since speech therapy was a priority--and academically he was "ready". Even socially, I was told, he was head of the curve.

Just to be clear, I absolutely do not regret sending Beau to kindergarten a few weeks after he turned 5 because we are now able to understand 100% of what he says. He made massive progress last year. More progress than he made in speech the previous 3 years combined. Beau going to kindergarten when he was 5 was the absolute right choice and so far not one single person at that school has told me otherwise.

So, to be clear, Beau's problem is not one of immaturity or not being smart enough and while there may very well be the ADD diagnosis looming in our quickly approaching future his immediate issue is one of compliance. And whether that is an aspect of ADD or just personality the fact of the matter (that I know all too well) is that in the school setting it does not matter. It won't matter if I hold him back a year or send him to a pricey private school or pump him full of Ritalin. He will have to learn to follow the rules.

I know and his teacher knows that he knows what to do; what is expected of him but often flat out chooses not to do it. Absolutely he is a high energy kid but I have seen him sit still; I have seen him listen and follow directions. But for who knows what reason, sometimes he really just doesn't want to do as told and often will expend more energy trying to convince some one else to do it for him or even better; argue why he shouldn't have to do anything at all.

The beginning of every school year is the worst. I view it as Beau's "breaking in period." He is trying to figure out right away what and how much he can get away with. You'd think he would just know that every year the rules are basically the same; i.e: sitting still, following directions, picking up after yourself, doing your work etc. But he just can't help himself and has to try to see how little he can get by with. He even told me the first week of school that "the teachers go easy on the kids the first few weeks. I don't have to try so hard yet."

Every year I warn his teachers about his lack of compliance (along with the potential ADD possibility) and to please be extra strict with him. Boundaries and structure are Beau's best friend (and worst enemy). I warn them that he will try to charm them with kisses and hugs and by being funny. Don't fall for it, I tell them. But mostly importantly I explain: do not laugh or smile if you are cross with him. He reads body language before he hears words so you must not contradict what you say with your face. He will not take you seriously if you are fighting a smile.

I assure them that I will "fight the battles" at home but tell them that they will have to fight the battle at school with him. He isn't a bad kid but he is manipulative and likes to feel he is in control. Some how he figured out early on that just because you have to follow the rules with one person doesn't mean you can't try to do it your way with another.

Nevertheless here we are a month into the new school year and Beau is back to his usual ways. He learned in preschool (and kindergarten) that you can get away with one naughty day a week so long as you are gold the other 5 days. The idea of being golden all 5 days just has never occurred to him. If you can still get rewards on 4 days of good behavior why would you bother to be compliant all 5 days? That's just dumb.

I had to explain this to his teacher when she called me on Tuesday because Beau was on a "4". In his class they have a banana. It moves up and down the tree branches (numbered 1-5)based on their behavior that day. They start out each day at a "2" and if they stay there that means they had a "great" day. If they do something extra special they get to move up to a "1". The teacher explained that "1" is a rarity. Beau has been on "1" once so far. A 3 means they are not making the best choices and is a warning. You can redeem yourself and move back to a 2 by correcting your poor choices. I think most days Beau has to spend some time correcting his choices. A 4 means the choices were not corrected and you miss some of minutes from recess and you will get a note or a phone call home. 5 is just really bad and means a trip to the principals and possible being sent home.

Beau got on 4 the other day because all day he flat out refused to do his work. By the end of the day he knew that he was going to be in trouble when he got home and knew would have extra homework. Being on anything but a 2 means no Nintendo Ds and extra homework. My thinking is that if you are getting in trouble at school then you are not doing work and therefore need to make up for that at home. How much extra homework you have to do depends on how much trouble you got in at school. Beau knew he was looking at a long time of homework. For the record I do not take away playing outside. I think it is important for high energy people to get to run around. Instead I take away the privilege of being able to play with his friends on the days he gets in trouble. Playing alone is punishment for Beau. He loves his little friends.

Anyway, on Tuesday his teacher called me because Beau was very upset by the end of the day because he was still on 4 and knew he was in deep do-do. She explained what happened and even told me that he tried to bribe the student teacher with money to move his banana back up the tree. My first concern was that maybe the work was too hard for him but she assured me it wasn't--that he has been doing fine. I then addressed the ADD angle and that having to sit still can be incredibly difficult for him. She told me that she recognized that and allows him to move around the classroom provided that he is listening and not distracting other children.

So I sighed and apologized for him "taking more than his share of the teacher's attention" and assured her that he and I would be having a conversation. I also told her about his 4 "on" days and one "off" day each week. I told her I didn't support it but that has so far been his credo. And she said she could concede to one bad day a week with Beau. I think that is pretty terrible that Beau has manipulated not only me but also his teacher into accepting that he gets an off day. Do they have military school for six year olds? Cause I think that is what we need.

Well at any rate Beau made it through the rest of last week all on "2" so he was true to form with his one bad day. At dinner on Friday he further supported his "aim low" credo with this conversation:

Ryan, noticing a hand out on the refrigerator about the upcoming CogAT test. "Looks like you are going to have test next week Beau. You better try your best."

Beau, immediately stressed and surprised "What?! I got no test. First graders don't take tests!" hmm maybe he isn't paying attention . . .

Carmella pipes up, "It is for Target. If you do good on it you get to go to Target." Target is the talented and gifted program. A program I was never a part of and yet I am so clearly not only talented but also gifted. Extraordinarily so, I would add. Emphasis on the "extra" not the ordinary.

Beau, wide eyed and about to pee in his pants says, "You mean I get to shoot stuff?"

Carmella starts to explain that you get to go to extra projects and stuff but Ryan, stifling laughter quips "No, it means you have to do more work." Ryan was also not in Target either.

Beau, shrugs and says" Oh, well I am not going to try and do good on that test then."

I'm telling you, it has got to be genetic but I am trying to break the cycle. Granted, not with grand gestures; but baby steps--so to speak. This card carrying lifelong underachiever pushed the envelope with training and finished last week just over 73 miles. For the past six weeks I've been pushing my miles over my "50 miles per week" comfort zone and finally made into the 70's. I've tried the less is more approach to marathoning and now I am giving the more is more approach a try. Whether or not that equates success at Rocket City in December remains to be seen but hey, it is worth a shot. Maybe Beau will adopt a similar attitude. Hopefully it will be sooner for him that it has been for me.


  1. You are so funny. And I think you are decribing my son...not your's. What program did you use for his speech?

  2. Great post! I have found it so interesting how each of my daughters has such a distinct personality - and it starts at birth!

    p.s.: I thought that "You get to go to Target" meant shopping.

  3. I just love your parenting posts.

  4. Spent time at the lake with some friends this weekend and one of our friends' sons has ADD. He gives his teacher a signal and she lets him go run a lap outside and return to class. I think he is in third grade. I like when teachers are bright enough to realize that taking away outside recess doesn't help a kid who has trouble keeping still!

    Our daughter's 1st grade teacher does the same thing - except when a kid misbehaves in her class she just makes him/her run a couple laps solo at the beginning of recess instead of playing with their friends.

  5. you think is your equal? Really?? Oh no, you need at least one more Beau type if not two for that karma to even out. Lala

  6. Alkeith
    We did not use a specific "program" perse. I might not be understanding the question. At age 2 he had a private and a state evaluation. The private SLP rec'd 90 minutes a week for him of speech therapy and it was ridiculously expensive--think like 10+k a year expensive. The state's eval said he needed 60 minutes but they accepted the private eval and granted 90 minutes and the cost was $3000 for the year based on a sliding scale. Once he was 4 it was free because of public school programs and he still qualified for 90 minutes.
    We could have sent him to the Atlanta speech school but that is 20k a year and we just can't afford that.
    His progress was slow because he was an unwilling participant. This was mostly because he had to be pulled out of school and taken to speech therapy. Also the sessions were 45-60 minutes and that was just too long at that age.
    In kindergarten (and now) they pulled him out of class several times a week for shorter duration throughout the week with other children with similar issues. For some reason he does better in group (though once a week he gets one on one session). Oddly he was the "star" student in speech and I think that motivated him. And I think that was because he had been in speech so long and some of the kids it was their first introduction to it. If I hadn't sent him to kindergarten last year he would have had to be taken after school or taken out of school and driven to therapy and it would have been much more disruptive.

    Lastly they mostly do articulation/sound repitition. His is a motor planning problem and they had to sort of "rewire" or "wire" in some cases the thinking so he would make the right sounds in the right places. For example we have speech homework and he has to repeat correctly sentences or words with specific beginning and ending sounds. It is not a language problem but an articulation. Really, I don't think now people would notice. 2 years ago you could only understand him about 50% of the time.

    I would have thought the same thing if I hadn't already known.

    Heather: Thanks!

    Skigator: I do make him run laps sometimes. My aunt use to do that to my cousin so that is where I got the idea. Apparently it is a common one. I know that I have to wear my ass out to sit still so I figured it works for kids too.

    I think you are exaggerating and just being dramatic. I was not THAT bad. perhaps you were just too sensitive. I mean really, I was lots of fun. Especially when you gave me candy.

  7. No Ritalin! Ever!

    Meanwhile, this is the missing post of the last several months. Beautiful, heartfelt, and 100% Nat.