“All Boy” is offensive. Stop it.

Muddy Knees
I really don’t believe that boys and girls are all that different. On some things, sure. Bear does the heavy lifting in the house, for example. And I am perpetually suffering through the effects of having a woman’s biology that is constantly trying to torture me, if not outright kill me. But most differences, I think, come down to how we’re raised. Men are usually taught not to deal with their emotions, so most women will seem more nurturing in comparison. Girls aren’t encouraged to play in the dirt, or wrestle, or play with trucks, so by the time they’re grown all that stuff is a world away from them.

We talk about this all the time in activist circles. LGBT rights and feminism are deeply concerned with our ideas about gender. We say that while differences certainly exist, there is far more difference amongst genders than between genders. You take someone like me, a crafter in heels and lipstick who is unathletic and doesn’t like getting dirty, and put me up next to a female forest ranger or firefighter. We’re both women, and neither of us should feel like we’re the “right” kind of woman, but who has more in common? Me and her? Or her and her male firefighter colleagues? The human experience is too vast for boxes about how men are and how women are. It’s just how people are.

And yet, there are definite trends. When I’m with my woman friends, I feel a power there in our shared womanhood. Is it just shared experiences? Or something more? My mom friends all tell stories of boys turning barbies into guns and girls turning trucks into baby dolls. Tiny little girls insisting on pink dresses and princess stuff. Boys making car noises before their first words. It’s an argument that sociologists, anthropologists, and hosts of other ists have been having forever – nature or nurture? Chicken or the egg? Are they taught this because they love it? Or do they love it because they’re taught this?

I was watching some dumb sitcom the other day and one plot line was the dad telling his son that whenever he wanted to get out of trouble with a woman he shouldn’t put up a fight, he should just immediately give in and say, “You’re right. I’m sorry.” He taught that with this one bit of wisdom the son could get away with anything, just use these magic words afterwards and he could always have his way. The kid then went on to pull all kinds of shenanigans and get out of trouble every time as he would just say, “You’re right. I’m sorry.” to his sister and aunt when he got caught. Because women just want to be right. They don’t care what you do, as long as they win the argument in the end.

It was just a dumb sitcom, but by the end I was fuming. That’s not how women react, that’s how PEOPLE react! Because you APOLOGIZED! Only a jerk would reject the apology and keep yelling just to satisfy their own rage. When someone says I’m sorry, people who haven’t been raised by wolves stop being angry and accept that the lesson has been learned. But in the world of this sitcom, women are nags always trying to keep men from doing what they want to do.

I could write a book about how and why this happens (short version: too many men in the writer’s room), but it happens hundreds of times a day. Every day. And eventually we stop noticing it. The world we live in teaches us that men are one way and women are the other and we rarely stop to consider if that’s how it really is. Underneath the razor commercials and anti-aging ads.

This is another one of my silver linings in being a mom of a special needs kid. The rule book was stripped from our hands and it was terrifying and overwhelming, but it means that the only rules we have to play by are the ones we make for ourselves. I think many moms get there one way or the other. We were kicked into that lesson.

The first time I was at a scrapbooking night and realized how many cute papers and embellishments I’d never get to use – first steps, baseball games, soccer teams – it was heartbreaking. And then right behind that realization came the thought that if I was rethinking what and why and how I scrapbook, that meant I didn’t have to use any embellishments just because it was what they were selling, and I started thinking through everything I was seeing on the shelves. Out went the “All Boy” stickers, the “Little Man” die cuts. Those things are gross, and offensive. People use them because they love their children and they’re proud of them, but think about what the opposite might mean. What exactly is someone who’s not ‘all boy?’ A girl? A gay person? A trans person? And if you’re bragging that your child is All Boy, does that make it bad to be something less than that?

The “All Boy” stuff is almost always covered in tire trucks and mud, camouflage, sports balls. What if you have a kid like mine who loves hugs and kisses, music and books. Where are the All Boy papers covered in letters and numbers, or kissy marks? They don’t exist. Because when people say “all boy” they mean something very specific. And anything different is not All Boy and therefore not worth bragging about.

When I saw these muddy knees, my heart lept. Not because he’s “All boy” but because of how hard won that playtime was. These muddy knees represent Atti dragging himself through the house, out the door, and into the grass. It shows that he got up on his hands and knees after years and years of therapy to accomplish that. It’s that work ethic that I am proud of. His love of nature. Who he is. Not because he’s officially checked off the “Boy must play in dirt” box.

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Disneyland with Disabilities

Disneyland with Disabilities
Atti and I spent last week down in LA on a business trip. I got to go to what is quickly becoming one of my favorite places in the world – Maker Studios – to film some segments for the Youtube channel I’m a part of, The Mom’s View. And then as part of a press day we got to go to what is quickly becoming one of Atti’s favorite places in the world – Disneyland.

Atti on the Teacups
How Disneyland deals with guests who have disabilities has changed since the last time I went there with Atticus. Before I just had to show up and claim a disability and they gave me a little pass that said how many people were in our party and let us through the back door of every ride. This was super convenient before Atti had a wheelchair but was still too big to just carry everywhere, and it allowed us to stay with our cousins all day and not split up to wait in two separate lines.

But like most good things in life, people had to go and ruin it. [I initially had a sentence here that commented on other special needs parents who used this pass. I had a specific encounter in my head, but wrote it vague to not call the person out. But then my vagueness left lots of room for causing offense. I’m sorry to anyone I offended, and for the record, sensory issues at Disneyland absolutely qualify in my book for getting whatever help available.] But the people that really caused the trouble were rich elitist jerks who actually *hired* people with disabilities to act as their guides and get them bumped to the front of the line. There are so many ways that is gross I don’t even know where to start.

So without those precious guest access cards, I didn’t know what to expect.

Atti and Grandma on the rocketships
Since I was making a video I asked the gal at Guest Services to go on camera and discuss the new policy, but she politely declined. She said that the foundation of their new policy is to customize the experience based on the needs of each particular person. She asked us to just communicate our needs to any staff member who would be happy to help, and gave us a brochure with all the information we would need – which forms of transportation were accessible, where there were bathrooms with disability access, and how to line up for each different ride.

I had my suspicions. A day begging for help amongst the throngs of Disneyland did not sound like fun. But happily, I never once had to beg for help, or even ask. People anticipated my needs everywhere we went and made it even easier than when we went with that magic guest access pass.

Atti on Buzz Lightyear
My favorite moment of the day was taking Atti on the Buzz Lightyear ride. They have a special carriage you can roll a wheelchair right onto. They stopped the conveyor belt to give us all the time we needed, and even let us go around twice so we wouldn’t have to get out and go through all the trouble of getting back on again.

I really can’t express what that meant to me. Atti’s still little enough that transferring him in and out of his chair isn’t the worst, but I won’t be able to say that for long. And even now, after a full day of lifting him up and over, carrying him into weirdly shaped carts, lifting his wheelchair over and over again, pounding the concrete pavement of that massive park, my back is done for. One ride where I don’t have to lift him made me so grateful I could cry. That that was the ride where he needed to use his hands was even better. If he had to use all his concentration and effort just to sit upright, he never could have used the laser gun to defeat Emperor Zerg. But since he was in his chair with all his safety straps, he grabbed that gun and went to town.

Dory gives a kiss
I can only imagine that in changing the policy Disneyland gave extensive training to its employees because we were treated like kings. When we went to see a stage show the ushers weren’t content with Atti just stopping wherever there was room, they found him the best seat they could find even though it meant they had to move some things around. Then after we were seated and some other Disney staff members realized the people in front of us were big dudes, they offered to ask them to move so Atti could see.

At the parade they made sure Atti had a front row seat and Dory came in close for a little make out session.

Buzz Lightyear mania
That front row seat meant he was *thisclose* to Buzz Lightyear. It’s like he saw the Beatles.

Pound knucks
Even the tram ride back to the parking lot was amazing. They used three point tie-downs to secure his wheelchair, just like they do on a schoolbus. And the tram driver made faces and mickey ears for Atti to entertain him while he was being strapped in, and finished by offering him his knuckles to pound. Literally not a single staff member we met this time was anything but eager to help, including the sweet gal who offered to help us get on the teacups as we had literally just exited the teacups. They are so on top of things that all we had to do was pause near an exit door and we found ourselves on the ride.

Wonder
The first time I ever took Atti he was using a stroller as a wheelchair and even though I had that magic guest pass, I still got a fair amount of stinkeye from staff members. And after reading the articles about how people abused the system, I get that. It must get really wearying to have to make all these special allowances for people you’re pretty sure don’t need them, so annoying that a little of that annoyance pops through even to the people who do need the help. But by customizing the program to the individual, it brings out the best in everyone. They don’t have to police anything, they just get to be generous.

As tempting as it is to say, “There’s so much my kid can’t do, doesn’t he deserve this break?” I’m learning that special isn’t better to these kids. Same is better. Normal is better. Being able to wait in the same line as their cousins and not split up over and over again is so much better. I will happily wait in lines all day, if it means that my kid gets to experience Disneyland just like any other kid.

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The power of a look

I didn't do it
My journey into motherhood has been so complicated, I’ve never really felt like there was one moment where I wasn’t a mother and the next I was. The whole thing has been a gradual growing into process, first while we waited for Atti to be healthy enough to come home, and then over and over again as we negotiate each milestone at such a different pace as the kids around us. When I sit with other moms and talk motherhood, there are so many times that mine doesn’t feel official somehow. Like we’re the Jamaican bobsled team making things up as we go and watching the precision and success of the Swiss team whooshing down the course. Our little family huddles together, reminds ourselves to keep our eyes on our own work, and adapt parenting to work for Atti, even if that means we never swap stories with other parents like comrades in arms.

There was a brief time there where I could always rely on a poop story to fit in, but now that Atti’s nearing six other parents don’t laugh at those stories as much. Their eyes just widen in terror at the thought of a life without potty training.

Put it away
Lately Atti has developed a love of playing under my sink. I have a basket filled with lotions and things and he loves to pull out all the different bottles, give them a squish, and play with them like building blocks. Which I wouldn’t really mind, except there’s also nail polish remover and hair dye under there, and, I know I’m a bit of a worry wart, but I don’t love the idea of my child playing with poison. I’m very consistent with discipline, and Atti’s old enough to understand consequences, so I haven’t baby proofed anything, I just expect him to make good choices.

But those dang lotion bottles have proven irresistible. He asks to watch Super Why as he lays on my bed, and as soon as the show ends he climbs off the bed, opens the cabinet, and I come in to find him with a lotion bottle in his mouth.

The other day, after a week filled with time outs and lotion bottles and more time outs and more lotion bottles, Atti got into that dang cabinet again. At the end of my patience I just put my hands on my hips and looked at him silently, biting my tongue so I didn’t yell. Atti just looked up at me, saw my face, and started putting the lotion bottles away without me saying a word.

With one look I was able to stop and correct a behavior. That is pretty dang official mom material to me.

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Super Why Halloween Costumes

Super Readers
I had so many big plans for our Halloween costumes this year. Atti has never shown the slightest bit of interest in the holiday, so it didn’t occur to me that he might actually have his own plans for the day, but this is the year things clicked for him. He’s been talking about Halloween all month, begging to watch the Halloween episode of Super Why every day when he comes home from school, singing his Halloween songs, and reciting his Halloween stories. I asked him if he wanted us to all dress up like Super Why characters and his smile nearly split his face.

Alpha Pig
The Super Readers all travel around in little vehicles called Why Flyers, so I knew I could make my little guy even happier by turning his wheelchair into a jet that travels through story books. I basically sewed a big inner tube with wings, and this is so his favorite part of the costume. I think he might actually keep playing with it after today. It made me wish I’d made it a little sturdier.

The Super Why Family
When we went shopping for fabric he stroked each bolt and announced, “That’s for Super Why! That’s for Princess Presto!” He sat on my lap as I sewed and sang songs about teamwork. But he won’t wear the pig nose, or the goggles, or the hard hat. He loved the idea of dressing up, but he’s still not a fan of it in actual fact.

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Atti makes our dreams come true

Atti says his line

Twice a year at church, the children’s organization performs a program they’ve spent the last six months preparing. They offer readings, they sing songs, and all the proud parents giggle at the children’s antics and cry at the sweet little voices singing about God’s love. Somebody’s kid always does something unintentionally hilarious, it’s a welcome break from the usual speeches, and for most people it is the highlight of the year.

For infertile people, it is a gauntlet from hell. It is having every cherished wish held up just beyond arm’s reach. It is sitting in a crowd of people reveling in their happiness and good fortune while you feel like the force of your emptiness will turn you inside out. It is feeling the mask ripped from your face and knowing that everyone in the room knows you are different, wrong, unworthy. It is feeling like the black hole of need threatening the happiness of everyone around you, the bitter note that ruins a perfect meal, like your sorrow is glowing so brightly it is obscuring the vision of those around you and everyone would be better off if you weren’t there.

In our early infertility years, Bear and I would try to cheer each other up with inappropriate jokes. We’d pick out which kid would be most like ours – the booger eater, the scream singer, the ad libber – and tease each other about which of our less than desirable characteristics our future offspring would be sure to put on display. But as the years went on, those jokes got less and less funny.

Eventually I just added Primary Program Sunday to the list of weeks I took off for my mental health. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and two primary programs a year found me staying in my bed, pretending to have a cold, wishing that a little nyquil was all it took to make me feel better.

Primary Program
Even once we got our little hero, we never knew if this was a rite of passage that he’d participate in. During the primary program in our last ward he was down away from the performance and only told his teacher he wanted to join the other kids at the last minute. He joined them for a song, and then while his teacher held him he said loud enough for the microphone to pick up, “I love kisses!” and gave his teacher a kiss on the cheek. It was heaven. My kid was the ad-libber.

Now that Atti’s a little older, the kids his age actually have parts. He had a line he had to memorize, they practiced speaking into the microphone, they learned sign language to perform along with one of the songs. It was official. And with Atti being so verbally limited, and even more pathologically shy, I had no idea what he would go along with. He’s known to break into huge watery sobs when one of his favorite songs is over, or get mad and throw things because he’s embarrassed by being the center of attention. But he didn’t do any of those things. He was a total pro.

We sat in the front row to make it as easy as we could to get him up and down from the stand, and that meant that he had a prime view of his favorite audience. He kept saying, “You got your mama and your daddy.” He blew us kisses, he picked his nose, he had a giggle fit, he scream sang, he danced so much he nearly tossed himself down the stairs. When his class came forward to say their lines, the teacher whispered in each child’s ear and they repeated it into the microphone. Atti put the microphone into his mouth, gave it a couple of chomps, and then said, “I AM MADE IMAGE!” Which was close enough.

Taking pictures in church is considered the height of irreverence, but I couldn’t help myself. Bear tried to wrestle the phone away from me but I just grabbed him by the tie, stared him right in the eye and said, “I have been waiting my whole life for this. You let me take my picture.”

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Year of Pleasures: Nostalgia

Rockin
A scary computer glitch made it appear that all my photos had disappeared somewhere. Luckily I tracked them down before I had to do anything drastic, but once I found them I had myself a little slideshow in celebration. Gosh my kid is cute.

This photo is from a couple of years ago already, Atti was three and we were playing some music. Loud. I was inspired by his t-shirt and so I put on the playlist I made for him of Beatles music. And he rocked out. And I died of happiness. And today I’m dying all over again from the memory.

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Tutorial: Kid’s Bow Tie

DIY Kid Bow Tie

DIY Kid Bow Tie

This Kid’s Bow Tie tutorial is so easy you barely need to know how to sew to make this bow tie, I promise. You can sew this it by hand if you felt like it.  And isn’t it worth it for such a cute look?

Atti in a bow tie
Little boys all dressed up are just the very very cutest thing. They are so adorable that I don’t know why it’s so hard to find little bow ties, it seems like they should be as plentiful as socks, just as an obligation to make the world a cuter place. And yet the only time I find them is at craft fairs. I figured it was time to make some myself, so after a little experimentation, I found the easiest possible way. A bow tie with three little seams and no special hardware.

Bow tie tutorial step 1
First cut out all of your pieces. Get your iron hot because you’ll do a lot of pressing, but that’s what does all the work here.

Cutting Measurements:
2 Bow tie pieces: 9″ x 5″
1 Strap piece: 15″ x 1 1/2″
Center loop piece: 3″ x 1 1/2″
2 pieces of velcro cut skinny enough to fit on a 1/2″ wide strap

Each piece then needs to be pressed to the finished size.

Finished sizes:
2 Bow tie pieces: 4″ x 2 1/2″
Fold the edges into the center until they just overlap. Adjust as necessary to get the finished size you want. Press. Then fold the sides into the center until they overlap. Adjust again for the finished size. Press.

1 Center loop piece: 3″ x 3/4″
Fold the edges into the center until they overlap. Press.

1 Strap piece: 15″ x 1/2″
Fold the raw edges into the inside, then fold the whole piece in half. Press.

Bow tie tutorial step 2
Layer your two bow tie piece on top of each other, all the fold lines facing in. Sew them together with a line of sewing right down the middle.

Bow tie tutorial step 3
Fold the center loop so that the ends are meeting, fold lines out. Sew as close to the edge as you can, and reinforce that seam several times. This is the point that will take the most stress, so you want that seam strong. Turn right side out.

Bow tie tutorial step 4
To make the strap start by sewing it shut. Fold the end edges inside and then sew a line of stitching as close to the edge as you can while enclosing everything. Sew on the velcro by sewing a line all the way around the edge of it. Just make sure that each edge of your velcro will line up the way you want it to when the tie will being worn. One piece of the velcro will need to be on the front of the strap, and the other on the back.

Bow tie tutorial step 5
Fold your bow tie pieces over until they’re small enough to fit through the center loop and shove them through.

Bow tie tutorial step 6
Thread the tie piece through the center loop too. If you want to make sure that it doesn’t slide around, you can use a few hand stitches to secure the center loop to the bow tie and the strap, but I didn’t bother taking the trouble.

Handsome Atti
I mean, seriously. How can I dress him in anything else now?

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The decision

My little guy

Have I mentioned lately how much I love special ed teachers? Because I really do. With all my heart.

His IEP went great and I feel really confident about the plan we have in place, which was different from the idea I had going in. But one thing I’ve learned on my parenting journey is when to shout and when to listen.

As soon as we sat down, the first thing the teacher brought up was a letter I sent with Atti on his first day of school. I wrote, “Don’t let him fool you. He’s brilliant.”

But of course, what mother doesn’t think her child is brilliant? So she read my letter and filed it away with a grain of salt. Until she started working with him. She told the whole roomful of specialists assembled to make a plan for Atti that she had been tempted to dismiss my advice, and then she learned how right I was. Her willingness to admit her mistake made me love her.

Then she started explaining Atti to the other specialists. His ridiculous stubborn streak, his love of music and letters, how he will fight and fight and fight to not do something he doesn’t want to do, and that he is brilliant. She tested him the morning of our meeting and he knew 100 sight words before they stopped counting. (And they don’t even know about outliers like dinosaur and helicopter.) She tested his number recognition and he got all the way up to 100. He has basically just blown past all the Kindergarten academic requirements. Her description of my child, knowing that she saw him just like I saw him, made me listen to her.

Before Atti was born I had firm plans to be a homeschooling mom. And then I met this kid and realized that I needed the backup that comes with dedicated people who have put time and work into a specialized education. It’s not like teachers as a group are in it for the money, but special ed teachers are an even more rarified group of people with a sincere passion and a tender heart. Sometimes I think that having a child with special needs is a privilege just because it lets me know so many special ed teachers.

Today was Atti’s first day in his new classroom, the Orthopedically Impaired class. There they will customize an academic program for him where he will be challenged beyond the Kindergarten level, and they will work to mainstream him into the Kindergarten class as much as he can tolerate. The ultimate goal is to get him into a typical classroom, and I think we’ve got a plan in place to do it.

It can be hard to admit that I might not know best. I know HIM best, and my job as his mom is to make sure other people see that dazzling little mind and spirit in there. Once I know they do, I can back off, take a breath, and accept the help being offered.

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Year of Pleasures: The kindness of strangers

St Jude

My friend Regina and I were enjoying a beautiful summer day by eating at a local sandwich shop and sitting outside at a little cafe table. Regina is a more protective mom than I have learned to be, so we tease each other all the time about that. She has a heart attack when Atti pushes up to balance on the two back wheels of his chair, I shrug my shoulders and say, “He’ll learn what happens when he doesn’t listen to his mama.” This day Atti was wheeling all around the patio, slaloming between the other tables, threatening to roll out into traffic, and giggling at Regina’s distress. I showed him exactly how far he was allowed to go and called him back when he crossed that line, and he listened. It was awesome. It was just how any little precocious 5 year old would act while he’s stuck at a grown up lunch.

Just before we were getting ready to leave, an old man came up to our table and handed me this little medal. He pointed to Atticus and said, “That’s for your little guy. God bless.” And walked away. I thanked him sweetly while the color rose in Regina’s face. When he was safely out of earshot she asked, “Does that bother you? A stranger coming up and saying he’s an impossible cause?” I got where she was coming from, it was defensiveness borne out of a ferocious love for this little guy. She calls Atti “our boy” and loves him like he really is one of hers. She knows exactly what he’s capable of and how indomitable his little spirit is, and isn’t going to let anyone say anything different.

But I was really moved. I’m always moved when someone wants to share a sincere expression of their faith and love with me, and that’s what I felt from that sweet man. Atti really is up against a pretty daunting challenge. I think he can take all the prayers and hope and kindness anyone is willing to extend to him. And then I think he’s going to show that the only impossible cause is betting against him.

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Atti goes to Kindergarten

Atti's first day of school

Today marked the first day of the second week of school. It went great. Which is a wonderful change from last week. Which was a nightmare.

For one thing, I had no idea that elementary school started in the middle of August. This is what happens when your child has a disability and goes to school year round. I kept thinking that I had plenty of time to deal with registration only to discover that I had a couple of weeks. Which might sound like oodles of time if all you have to do is fill out the emergency contact form, but is no time at all if you have to have multiple meetings to decide which class he is best placed in, which class he is legally required to be placed in, what equipment they need to get ordered and who is going to pay for it, how they’re going to get him back and forth to the bathroom and diaper changed, when he’ll get therapy and how he’ll get there, if they even have a bus with an elevator and how it’s going to get to pick him up, when he’ll get speech therapy, and more and more and more.

Most of the time when people want to give me pity or praise for being a special needs mom, I don’t take it. Most of the time I insist that I’m no hero and it’s really not that different, and every good parent tries to meet their kids needs in whatever form those might take. The one time I cave and want every ego stroke anyone offers is when it comes to school.

There is literally not one thing that can just be taken for granted. Where, how, and when he arrives, where, how, and when he eats, plays, sits, learns, what utensils he can use, how long he can sit in his chair, whether or not he can leave his chair, where, how, and when he leaves class, every single detail of his day has to be negotiated and requires meetings between me, his teachers, therapists, aids, the nurse, and the program director. It’s exhausting.

I don’t want to get carried away with my complaining. Each one of these meetings represents massive victories for disability rights. Because of these meetings, I can have confidence that he’ll get the best possible education and never just be stuck in a room somewhere. Even the special ed classes of my childhood, let alone decades before, were little more than holding pens. Now I know that there is a whole team of people fighting for him and pushing him and because of that he will accomplish everything he’ll want to in this life.

But holy crap is it a lot of work.

And it’s not just a lot of work for me. The teacher who ended up with Atti only got a few days notice and in that time had to figure out how to completely reshuffle the resources of her classroom. The program director had to reassign aids and money and services and all kinds of things. There wasn’t time for any evaluations, and I warned them about how poorly Atti tested, so they had to just take my word for it when I talked about how brilliant and stubborn he is. All the time wondering if a mom bragging about her baby could ever really be trusted as accurate when a curriculum depended on it.

The first week Atti had a really rough time. His class has kids as old as 3rd grade, and he’s the only Kindergartener. It’s the first time he’s ever had to sit at a desk, or raise his hand, or obey classroom rules. It is a massive massive change for him, and he was just not having it. I got called to the school when he pinched a teacher, he had to go to time out when he threw a screaming hissy fit in the middle of the library, he refused to hold a pencil or follow any instructions, and one teacher wondered if he was ready for the amount of academic work being asked of him. And I had a massive crying jag as I questioned whether I was unwilling to see my child for who he really was – limitations and all – or if the school wasn’t meeting his needs.

Since then Atti and I have had a lot of talks about what we expect from him in his new school. I’ve talked with the teacher extensively and tried to find ways to make up for the wrong foot I got us all started on. And we’ve been doing lots of homework. Which means trying to get Atti to do a puzzle.

Today when I dropped him off his teacher told me that she was seeing proof of how much he knew. When I went to pick him up the aide told me that he had an A+ day and got every question right. She went on and on, describing how he knew every letter, every number, every sight word, named every color. My pride was bursting. I know what he’s capable of, the trick is always trying to get it out of him. I think he might be willing to set it free.

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