September is a nightmare for me. Literally.

It is the end of September and the transition back to school and the million activities has gone with unprecedented smoothness.  Obviously me being at home this month rather than working full time has been the game changer.  Berrik’s transition back to school from being homeschooled has also been incredibly easy.  For the first time ever, managing school with Berrik has been completely simple and almost without any stress at all….for him or for me.

Yet, I am not sleeping well.  I am having almost nightly vivid nightmares that have me waking with a start, heart beating, covered in sweat and unable to get back to sleep for sometimes hours.  The theme of the nightmare is the same each night.  I am doing something wrong – although it’s not always clear what I am doing that is wrong, the anxious feeling of doing something you’re not supposed to is intense in these dreams. And each night, whatever I’m doing wrong results in a massive disaster about to happen, and that’s when I wake up.   Everything from police chasing me as I am driving, and then about to crash, to hiking up a mountain and slipping and falling off a cliff, to having a blow out with my best friend and her ending our friendship.  The story in my dream is almost always different but the impending sense of doom and the panic feel the same.

I’m no psychologist (perhaps I need to talk to one!), but my gut sense is this has something to do with having a child with special needs.  I think when anyone has a child whose path in life is not ‘typical’, whether it be learning disabilities, illness, accidental injury or any other situation that puts a child and family on an unexpected trajectory, there is a special kind of stress and thought process.  I don’t know this for sure.  I’m just speaking from my own experience.  I worry about all my kids.  I am heartbroken for them when life hands them a lemon or two (but usually glad for the teachable moment), and overjoyed when they find success.  But with Berrik, it’s a bit different.  He gets more than his share of lemons.  And that is truly heartbreaking.  But he’s resilient and works hard as a result, so I can see the lemonade for those lemons.  Where I really struggle is wondering deep down if his struggles are somehow my fault.  Did I do something during pregnancy that caused this?  Did I not intervene early enough?  Am I doing everything I can to help him?  Each year I learn more and more about how to help him achieve his greatness, but at the same time I question whether I am doing enough, and whether I am doing it soon enough.  It’s a ridiculous and unproductive thought process since we cannot turn back time, and intellectually I know we do many things to help him and that many of them are working really well.  Yet the thoughts are there.  Always lurking.

How does this relate to the nightmares?  I think that now that Berrik is in school and the majority of the daily responsibility for his learning has been handed over to his incredible and very capable teachers, I’m feeling some anxiety.  The school is really good with communication, so I’m up to date on how Berrik is doing in a general sense.  But the day to day, hour to hour progress is no longer available to me the way it was when I was teaching him at home.  I think that this is resulting in me feeling anxious about whether putting him in school will prove to be the best answer down the road; maybe trouble letting go of the control? My fear of realizing 2 years from now that I should have kept him home is my guess at what is causing these crazy nightmares.  I have looked back many times and wished I had made a decision earlier or made a different decision, or learned more about something sooner. Even though my gut tells me this school is going to be great for Berrik, I think my brain isn’t ready to accept a movement towards worrying about Berrik in the ‘typical’ parent worrying about a typical child way.  I think the nightmares are part of that processing.  I think they are related to my fear of impending doom if things don’t continue to go well in school.  And my panic about making the wrong decision but realizing it too late.  For years I have been in fight or flight mode, and perhaps now that some pressure is off and the cortisol levels are dropping, things are trying to sort themselves out in my head.

The whole situation has really got me thinking about the sequelae of raising a child with special needs.  I never like to diminish the joy that Berrik brings us by talking about the negative feelings, because the negative feelings have nothing to do with Berrik in the sense that he does not cause me to feel this way.  But the guilt, anger, and fear are feelings I have struggled with since we realized that his trajectory was going to look different than many of his peers, and different than that of his sisters.  Some hours, days, or months are worse than others, and almost always, our day to day life overrides these tough emotions, but those feelings are there, waiting in the background.  I know that in the big picture, his journey is considerably simpler and easier than so many others.  I also know that I am exceptionally lucky because I have a husband who is ‘all in’ when it comes to the kids, and a support system of family and friends that always have Berrik’s back and always have mine.  A friend recently reminded me to enjoy the ‘moments’ because every moment is a blessing.  She is one of those people who really understands what is important, and can look to the positive no matter how rotten the lemons are that are handed to her.  So instead of worrying about what I should have done differently, or about what challenges next week or next year might bring, I’m going to start trying to enjoy the moments of this week.   And here’s hoping this deliberate effort to adjust my mindset will chase away those nightmares.  I could use a nap.  🙂

 

Berrik is sick. This is the best day EVER!

This morning Berrik woke up with a headache and sore throat.  I made him breakfast and gave him a big glass of water to drink to see if it would help.  I really wanted him to go to school today.  Not because I want him out of the house, but because today is a big day at school.  His class has been studying Beakerhead this week and have been planning to build a big fort in class.  We went through the whole morning routine and just as we were about to get into the car, Berrik said he just couldn’t go as his head and throat were hurting too much.  He is not normally a complainer so I knew he must really not be feeling well.

I took Berrik downstairs and snuggled him onto the couch with a blanket and some Netflix.  And he cried.  Total devastation.  Big gulping sobs.  “Berrik, why are you crying so hard?  Do you feel really awful?” I asked.  “I just wanted to go to school so bad Mom,” he sobbed.  “I don’t want to miss it.”

I’m not heartless.  Or a crazy mean mom.  But while I cuddled my sad little boy, I felt an overwhelming sense of joy.  Berrik is sad about missing school!  He is engaged and wants to attend.  He’s excited about what he has been learning. This has literally never happened before.  Never.  Not one time has he ever said, I’m excited to go to school, or I’m sad to miss it.  Not even when there were cool fieldtrips planned, and not while I was homeschooling him.

So.  I hope he feels better very soon.  But as he feels unwell and rests, I am feeling excited and relieved and a multitude of other positive emotions.  We have had so many ups and downs in Berrik’s short school career, and I truly wondered if we’d ever find a school that would be a good fit for him.  Many hours of sleep have been lost.  Many grey hairs have sprouted (although I believe the girls can take credit for some of those too!).  Our hearts have broken numerous times.  But today, I can look back on the journey and sigh with relief because at least for today, I know it was worth it.

September is the new New Year

I often feel like September is more of a ‘new year’ than January, and this year I feel it more acutely than ever.  It’s the usual ‘new’ beginnings that come with the school year starting – it’s my oldest’s last first day of Junior High, my middle child’s first first day of Junior High, the beginning of dance season (that never really ended) and the beginning of choir season, karate, basketball, piano, which with the exception of piano, means the beginning of chauffeur season for me.   Its also back to seeing my dance mom friends a bit more regularly, and getting back to curling in one short month so I can see my curling friends weekly all winter – I saw them two times from end of curling season in March until now, so believe me when I say I am looking forward to curling season!

This year feels different than most because we are starting (yet another) new chapter with Berrik.  He is headed back to school.  Unexpectedly a spot opened up in a small private school, and luckily Berrik was chosen to fill that spot.  If you have a child with learning disabilities in a classroom of 27 kids (or maybe even if you have a neurotypical child in a classroom with 27 kids) you’ll appreciate my optimism and excitement when I tell you his class this year will have 10 children with one teacher and one teacher assistant.

We had the opportunity to meet with Berrik’s teachers and tour his classroom this past week.  Apparently this is something that all kids at the school have the opportunity to do. We had a scheduled time and it was just Berrik and I in the classroom.  We had the chance to really talk about Berrik and how he learns best.  Berrik got to hear about what a typical school day will look like, he got to sit in his desk, and check out some of the classroom ‘fun stuff’.   The school OT dropped by to meet Berrik and say hi.  She spent a bit of time chatting with him.  While I was talking with her, the school principal came by the classroom.  She was wearing a dress, but she sat right down on the floor anyways to look at the machine Berrik was building with K’nex.  I had met her previously, so she didn’t even speak to me.  She was clearly there for Berrik.  Any doubts or fears I may have had disappeared.

These people really seem to get it.  They get how important it is to have parents’ input.  They get how developing a strong relationship with the child is critical to the child’s success as a student.  They definitely seem to get how important all members of the learning team are to each student and family.  They get how overwhelming this can all be for families new to the school, and mitigate that through one on one attention and time to talk. This is the first time I have prepared to send my boy off to school and am doing so with excitement and basically no apprehension.

I always feel the need to defend teachers here.  I believe almost ALL teachers and school administrators ‘get it’ in terms of all the things I mentioned above.  The difference is that the public system doesn’t allow for this to happen on the scale  that it can happen in a small private school.

As a small aside, I recently watched this Ted Talk about Dyslexia & Privilege which really resonates with me, and I have often talked about how grateful I am that we are able to access resources for Berrik that many many others would not have the means to.  I have wondered many times how I could do something about this…  But that is another blog post entirely.

So today, on the official last day of summer for the kids, I sit here feeling grateful, excited, content, and hopeful.  I look forward to this year of more firsts, more adventures and more challenges too.    Given the natural disasters around the world in this moment, the craziness of the global political climate, and the stresses that many people in my life are facing every day right now, I choose to enjoy this moment and hope for a tomorrow filled with good news.

 

Early Literacy, Invented Spelling and Confidence – what’s the connection?

Over the weekend I was sent an article about a recent study that suggests a direct correlation between invented spelling and literacy.  You can read more about the study here.

invented spellingTo back it up a step or two, invented spelling is the process by which kids will ‘invent’ spellings for words based on what they know about letters and phonetics.  Over time and with more exposure to phonetic rules, practice, and scaffolded spelling instruction, these invented spellings will become closer and closer to the conventional spelling.

The study suggests that kids who are allowed and encouraged to ‘invent’ spelling will more easily and more successfully develop an ability to retrieve these words for future reading and writing.

“Children who used invented spelling developed stronger reading skills over time, regardless of their existing vocabulary, alphabetic knowledge, or word reading skills.”

The rationale for this (which makes COMPLETE sense to me, based on my experiences with Berrik and what I have learned about neuroplasticity) is as follows:

“When inventing a spelling, the child is engaged in mental reflection and practice with words, not just memorizing. This strategy strengthens neuronal pathways so as the reader/writer becomes more sophisticated with invented spelling, she or he is developing a repertoire of more and more correctly spelled words at the same time. These words are stored in the word form area of the brain where the child can retrieve them automatically as sight words for reading and eventually as correctly spelled words for writing.”

school photoAlso interesting to note is an 18 month study published in 2010 by the Harvard School of Education comparing child development to Gesell’s “Developmental Schedules” from 1925, 1949, 1964, and 1979, which suggests that kids today are not meeting cognitive milestones any earlier than they were in the 1920s.  Yet in kindergarten the expectations have grown considerably from play-based, to high expectations with regard to reading, writing and math.  We are pushing many kids to do things for which they are not developmentally ready.   There are numerous studies that suggest that pushing kids to do too much too soon might actually cause more harm than good over the longer term, from academic, social and emotional development perspectives.  Here is a review of several of those studies.

So, you might ask….  why did I jump from a discussion of invented spelling and literacy to studies about pushing kids academically before they are ready?  Because for us (and I suspect many, many others) they are directly related.  Berrik was not ready for school when I put him in school.  This was my error.  I made the wrong call.  Hindsight is 20/20. Whatever.  Live and learn.  I put Berrik in a second year of kindergarten.  That was a better call as opposed to pushing him on to Grade 1 when he wasn’t ready.  But really, it was pretty much too late by then.  I didn’t know it at the time.  Hindsight -so hopelessly unhelpful, except when we can share our experiences in hopes that others will learn from them…and because I have learned from it and am doing everything I can to reverse the damage I caused through well-intentioned, but still incorrect decision making.

Here’s why I think entering school before a kid is ready is problematic.  Regardless of age, Berrik was not ready developmentally.  This resulted in an extreme lack of confidence. As he got older he became more and more aware of how others perceived him.  He began to think he was stupid.  He was treated differently by the adults, and therefore the kids treated him differently too.  What does this have to do with invented spelling? school photo1 Let me tell you.  If you feel as though everything you do is wrong, it’s pretty tough to have enough confidence to take a risk and attempt to write a word.  If you have weekly spelling tests that you are not developmentally ready for and understand that you are only getting 3/10 which means you are a failure and you must be stupid because your classmates are getting 9/10, even though you actually know how to spell the words, but you just don’t have enough time to write them down, then you are not going to take risks on ‘inventing’ spelling.  This time last year, my sweet boy was beaten down.  He had zero confidence.  He wouldn’t even attempt to write.  We didn’t even try to make him write for several months.  But let me tell you, his confidence has been growing and growing.  He invents spelling and we don’t correct it as long as he has all the phonetic sounds.  We do sightwords and we learn the rules of phonetics and he has the confidence to attempt to apply those rules when he’s writing.  Over time his invented spelling has become closer and closer to conventional spelling most of the time.  His reading has improved tremendously as a result.  His speech has exploded – words he used to pronounce incorrectly have resolved because he knows the spelling of them, so he knows its a ‘th’ sound not an ‘f’ sound (for example).

I recently overheard someone talking about people who ‘hold their kids back’ for kindergarten (with reference to kids with fall birthdays) and he thought it was possibly to give those kids an advantage in future school sports.  I was a bit floored by that rationale.  I think it’s much more likely that those parents know their own children and felt they just weren’t ready for the academic rigors of kindergarten in these times. Perhaps there are parents who would be thinking about their child’s future advantage in school sports, but I’m guessing the majority are making these decisions from a developmental perspective and wanting to give their children more time to play and develop before they begin their structured academic career.

My point is that age is just a number.  Kids develop at different paces.  I know kids who are 13 months younger than my daughters in the same class, or kids the same age a full grade ahead.  They are doing fine.  Some are excelling.  I also have a friend who decided her son with a fall birthday wasn’t ready for kindergarten when he was 4 years and 10 months, so she let him have one more year at home.  He is in grade 4 and just published his first book.  Seriously.  She knew her kid.  She made a good call.  Let your kids’ development guide your decision making.  It can make such a difference.

Homeschooling has allowed us to back up the train, as it were, and allow Berrik’s literacy to develop naturally.  Sound Connections continues to give us the tools to do this and it’s working.  His confidence is high and that is translating to all school subjects.  He’s willing to take risks and that is exactly what a strong learner does.  But oh, if I could turn back the clock and remake some decisions – I surely would.  We have had much heartbreak and struggles, and I often wonder if those experiences will impact Berrik for life.  This parenting gig is a tough one.  Trust your gut people.  And if it doesn’t work out the way you expect it to, then do what you need to do to get the train back on the track.  None of it is easy, but it’s all worth it.

 

Summer Camp Decisions…

summer campI think regardless of whether your kid is neurotypical or not, the decision to send him or her to summer camp can be a big one.  Particularly when it comes to an overnight camp. Ironically, both my girls, neurotypical and well skilled in self-advocacy, making friends, and taking care of themselves were older than 8 when they first went to overnight summer camp.  Yet this winter when camp registrations were opening, I found myself wondering if Berrik could go, should go, or even would go.

I lost a bit of sleep over it while I weighed all the benefits and risks.  So many more things to consider for a kid his age, and especially because he isn’t wired the same as neurotypical 8 year old boys.  Let me tell you a little about my thought process:

  1. It will have to be a camp that meets specific requirements (as determined by me!).  One of them was that the camp counsellors would need to be adults – teenagers dealing with a bunch of 8 year old boys makes me nervous.  Not that a 17 year old and a 20 year old are likely all the much different, but that was one of my requirements.  The ratios of adults to kids had to be what I would consider reasonable for kids this young (no more than 5 kids per adult).  They would have to be willing and able to keep Berrik on his diet for the most part, even if I have to send all his ‘treats’.  And perhaps most importantly for me, I wanted to know that the Camp Director and staff knew what ADHD was, and had some experience with kids who have it.  (Not surprisingly, most camps I called were very familiar… it’s a pretty pervasive diagnosis amoung young boys these days, so I think every camp would have to know how to manage).
  2. So.  Assuming I could find a camp that would meet my specific requirements, I next moved on to what I felt the benefits would be.  Berrik has now been homeschooled for one year.  He has friends with whom we have regular playdates, he attends Cub Scouts, and karate weekly, is attending a spring sports camp each week, and also is playing soccer.  So he has social opportunities.  I actually don’t worry much about his ‘socialization’ per se.  He’s social.  He makes friends easily.  Not a big concern. What I like about camp is the requirements to work together with cabin mates, compete together, do chores together, win challenges together and lose together too.  The ability to cooperate with a group of people all day long for a week is a great introduction to an important life skill.
  3. This year, because we have been home together, Berrik has grown considerably in his ability to care for himself (despite how counterintuitive that sounds).  I have had time to teach him how to make his bed properly, hang up his clothes, empty the dishwasher, set the table, make simple food for himself, take care of the dog, take care of personal hygiene.  When I looked into both my daughters’ rooms this morning, it’s very clear that I DID NOT spend enough time with them on these skills (I really need to get Berrik to teach them).  While he is very self sufficient, it is not the same as being away from home and having to do chores in a different environment, take care of his belongings, keep his stuff tidy, respect others’ stuff etc. etc.  I think this next step towards independence is an important one, and I also think he’s totally ready.
  4. Berrik has been refined sugar and wheat free for 1.5 years.  He is very good at advocating for himself with family and friends with regard to what he can and cannot eat.  Taking it a step further and advocating for himself in a new environment will be great for him.  I’ll make sure the camp knows what he can and cannot have.  There are plenty of gluten free options already for the kids with celiac, so that makes it easy.  The dessert and other treats can be fruit and baking sent from home.  Not a big deal for him, and hopefully nfireot too much of a PIA for the camp.
  5. This time last year, Berrik had no confidence.  He thought he was stupid.  He thought kids didn’t like him because he wasn’t smart enough.  He was teased.  He felt like he didn’t belong.  Fast forward to now, and the difference is mind blowing.  I see it in everything he does now.  As he told me this morning, “You just need to believe in yourself Mom.  If you believe in yourself and work hard, you’ll be able to do it.”  Granted, he was encouraging me as I was complaining about folding laundry, but at least he knows the right messages!  Because he is confident, and he does believe in himself, I am excited for him to attend camp and prove to himself how self-sufficient and independent he is.
  6. Berrik loves video games.  We try to keep his screen time to a minimum.  He also loves to be outdoors.  Camp will be a wonderful opportunity to be screen-free for a whole week, along with nearly unlimited time outdoors exploring and running and playing.  This is a huge sell for me.  Thanks to homeschooling, we go outside a lot. No need to wait for a 15 minute recess!  But it’s not the same as doing camp activities with a bunch of peers, all day, every day, with zero screen time.  Both Berrik and I will love this.
  7. I asked Berrik if he wanted to go to sleepaway camp for 6 whole nights without Mom and he said “YES!!!  That would be so fun!!”  At the end of the day, that was the decision maker.  I also texted my mom and asked if she thought Berrik was ready for sleepover camp.  She said, “Oh yes, for sure!  He’d love it.”  And then a few weeks later I mentioned that it was 6 nights and she said, “Six nights!?!?  OMG.”  She thought I meant ONE NIGHT.  LOL.  Oops.  By then I had already registered him and paid.
  8. Now lets talk risks.  There are many potentials.  But I think they are all mitigateable (I know, I know, not a word.)  He could get hurt.  He could eat a bunch of crap that will make his brain feel crazy.  He could feel homesick or lonely.  But these are all the same risks that all kids are exposed to at summer camp.  I’m doing everything I can to mitigate any risks that I can think of, and have come to the personal conclusion that I can only do so much to protect him, and that overprotecting him will be more harmful than helpful.  Kids don’t die of homesickness.  They learn to be resilient.  Berrik is no stranger to bumps, bruises and scrapes.  And our family is no stranger to broken bones (thank you Avi) so while I hope he doesn’t get broken, if he does, the world won’t end.  If he gets hopped up on sugar and acts a bit crazy, then the counselor will understand why I’m so weird about sugar (and likely won’t give him any the next day! hahaha).  The benefits for this specific kid outweigh the risks.  Perhaps not so for other kids, but for Berrik, it is the case.  So off to camp he will go.

We are preparing and have been for weeks.  We talk about things he might do there, what the expectations will be, how he will make lots of friends, and what the most polite way to decline food might be.  He has identified what treats he wants me to send that he says will be better than marshmallows. He knows which stuffy will come.  We will decide on clothing choices for the week when we pack.  I think he’s going to love it.  I think I’m going to cry all the way home from dropping him off.  I may not sleep.  But in my gut I know he’s ready and I know he’ll have the time of his life.  For us, this is the right decision.

“My brain is kinda different..”

When I saw this video, it brought tears to my eyes.  Berrik could be in this video.  What is most sad to me, is how our school system and our society is just not set up for kids like these kids.  Regardless of whether anyone says to these kids that they are ‘bad’ or not smart enough, they ‘sense’ that they are different, and from that they assume they are ‘bad’.  At least that was our experience.  Berrik took months to get over feeling like he was somehow not smart enough, or not well behaved.  The truth is he is very smart – well, ‘average’ anyways if those ridiculous IQ tests can be believed.  And he is incredibly well-behaved.  And like all kids, he just wants to succeed.

Unfortunately society and our school system tells us what ‘success’ looks like.  We are all guilty.  I have 2 kids who are in competitive activities where winning is a goal, and winning is celebrated.  They have good marks at school and we celebrate that too. I don’t think there is anything wrong with this, as long as winning isn’t EVERYTHING, and there are lessons in the losing, and lessons about commitment and hard work.  But for a kid like Berrik, ‘winning’ in this conventional sense, isn’t in the cards for him.  He works harder and is more committed than anyone I know.  Yet he won’t have gold medals in sports, and he won’t likely be valedictorian (although, you never know…the kid is pretty smart).  In our family we have tried to redefine success, and homeschooling allows us to celebrate success without comparing to other kids.  Berrik is a great skiier, and does well on his bike.  He has fun doing these activities, and that is all that matters.  But I come from a family where success in school and sports has always been celebrated, and has always been a big deal.  My brother was/is a star athlete with good grades.  I was a star student with moderate athletic success.  My girls do well in their respective activities. My niece and nephew win at pretty much everything they do, athletics and scholastically. Berrik sees this and knows he doesn’t ‘win’ like everyone else.  It’s heartbreaking.  And inescapable.  Thinking that he will grow up always sensing that he doesn’t measure up makes me feel sick to my stomach.  Because he does measure up.  In every important way.  He’s kind and generous, loving, hard working, funny, and just about the sweetest kid that ever existed.  This morning he woke me up by saying, “Good morning my most favorite mom!”  There should be gold medals for kids like Berrik.

I know a lot of kids feel they don’t measure up to society’s expectations of success.  I know adults who feel they don’t measure up.  Berrik isn’t unique in this.  I can only hope that showing Berrik every single day that he is winning in the biggest ways will be enough. ​ In the race for best human being, he is in the lead.  I hope he grows up knowing this and realizing how much of a winner that makes him.

 

Hippie Bowls, Buddha Bowls, Freshii Bowls….Call it what you want. I call it DELICIOUS

In Red Deer at McKenna’s dance competition last week, our hotel was across a parking lot from Freshii.  I ended up grabbing food there a couple of times.  They have ‘bowls’, wraps, yogurt and other yummy items, all fresh, customizeable and delicious.  I have been thinking about the Mediterranean bowl since I had it early last week.  Today I made my own version.  Pretty simple.  And completely adaptable to tastes and calorie or macro goals if that is important to you.

Ingredients:

  • Greens (I used Organic Power Greens mix)
  • Quinoa – make as much as you want.  I wanted to keep the quinoa amount relatively low.  I used 1/2 cup dry quinoa cooked with 1 cup of water.  This provided three servings for me.  If you’re looking for something a bit heartier, this amount is probably more like 2 servings
  • Feta cheese – however much you want – for Vegans, maybe use chickpeas instead?
  • Cucumber – I cut up one mini cucumber per bowl
  • Red Onion – Again, to taste.  I used one thin slice through middle of onion and then chopped fine.
  • Olives – however much you want
  • Cilantro

NOTE: keep in mind that the olives and feta are both salty, so the more you use, the saltier your bowl will taste.  A little goes a long way for flavor.

Roasted Red Pepper sauce

THIS IS THE KEY INGREDIENT.  When you taste this you will wonder why you haven’t made it before.  And you will make it again. And you will put it on EVERYTHING.  This recipe makes more than 3 servings, but conveniently you will have enough left over to dip crusty bread, or to pile up with thick sliced tomatoes, thin sliced cucumbers, spinach leaves, and buffalo mozzarella on sourdough for a sandwich that dreams are made of. (Guess what I’m eating tomorrow….Sourdough is proofing as I type)

  • 2 red peppers cut, brushed with avocado oil (better than olive oil at high heat) and roasted until skin just starting to peel and turn dark around edges.
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 cup of fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup avocado oil
  • ½ cup unsalted raw (roasted is fine too) cashews (I soak mine overnight as I like to get rid of the phytic acid, but this isn’t necessary)

Put all ingredients into a high speed blender or food processor and process until mostly smooth.  I like it a tiny bit chunky so I didn’t overprocess it.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I adapted this red pepper sauce recipe from about 3 different ones I found online, based mainly on what I had in my kitchen as I was way too lazy to go back to the store.

Assemble your bowl starting with lots of greens, and then adding the other ingredients.  I used black pepper and squeezed 1/4 of a lemon over everything as well.

You could definitely add protein such as chicken, tofu, fish etc. if you so desire.  I found this bowl filling as is.

 

Potential – What’s your maximum?

She has so much potential.  He’s not living up to his potential.  With work they can reach their maximum potential.  All common in the vernacular of our current world.  I heard it (and said it) in my work life as a manager.  And I hear it in the context of my children all the time.  Adjudicators at dance say it.  Avi’s choir director says it.  It’s something people say frequently to either indicate that someone is not doing as well as expected but could improve with work (this is usually meant to be encouraging), or to indicate that they are doing as well as could possibly be expected, (usually with a negative connotation in that the expectations are kind of low).

Potential is defined by Cambridge as:

1. possible when the necessary conditions exist

2. someone’s or something’s ability to develop, achieve, or succeed.

When I think about potential of a human (or lack thereof), I like to combine these two.  Someone’s or something’s ability to develop, achieve, or succeed is possible when the necessary conditions exist.  Take Berrik for example.  (I know, I always take Berrik for example). The more I learn about Berrik and put the necessary conditions in place, his ability to develop, achieve AND succeed increases.  This can be applied to any human, neurotypical, learning disabled, physically disabled, cognitively disabled or otherwise. Incredibly gifted athletes make the Olympics because they and their parents sacrifice many other things to create the ‘necessary conditions’ in the form of diet, training, etc. For some the ‘necessary conditions’ may be more complex than others, but generally speaking, this is how it works.  For all of us.  Even bacteria or viruses develop and succeed when the necessary conditions are in place.  Remove those ‘conditions’ either through medication, diet, or other means, and the bacteria or viruses fail to thrive.  Mold…another good example.  My sourdough bread develops and succeeds if I put the necessary conditions in place.  I could go on.  (and I usually do.)

If you google “quotes about potential” you will find a large number of quotes referring to ‘maximum potential’.  I don’t care for these quotes.  I would argue that there is no such thing as maximum potential, because that suggests there is a limit, and that somehow we can predict it.  Having a child with learning disabilities magnifies this idea of ‘maximum potential’ and the risks associated with putting a limit on potential.  More than once in Berrik’s short school career, someone has put a limit on his potential, either verbally or in writing.  I believe that labels contribute to this tendency toward predicting and limiting potential.  It’s not the only factor, but it can provide a catalyst in a system that is not well resourced for kids who don’t have an easy time in a classroom environment.

Nothing makes me more frustrated than someone assuming a child (particularly MY child) has limited potential.  And if I worried about Berrik’s potential in the past, I worry much less now.  The gains he has made this past 10 months have been mind blowing. I wouldn’t have expected so much growth in such a short amount of time.  And despite a major shift in my own expectations, he continues to surprise me.  And I continue to shift my expectations upward.  Most importantly, I believe his potential has no limits.

Sir Winston Churchill once said:

Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.

I love this quote.  I love that it doesn’t talk about maximums.  I love that it reminds us that success (however that looks for each individual) takes continuous effort.

As I type this, Berrik is writing a story and is on his third page.  In January he started ‘journal writing’ with one simple sentence.  Today he is using a planning template to plan a story using topic sentences, details, transitional language and powerful endings, and is writing; willingly, albeit slowly at times.  I believed we would get to this point eventually.  In January I would not have believed we’d be here already in April.

img_8508So often, particularly with kids with differently wired brains, learning disabilities, or any other disability, we are quick to focus on what they cannot do.  Often teachers/therapists will talk about strengths, but the system (and sometimes the imposed limitations on perceived potential) result in lack of ability or desire to truly build on those strengths.  I have said this so frequently I feel like a broken record, but despite the fact that we have had many positive (and negative) experiences with teachers, speech therapists etc., the people at Sound Connections are the first to truly believe that there is no limit to Berrik’s potential.  There is no discussion of labels.  It’s not relevant.  Each week we look at where Berrik is at and then we move forward based on that.  I am frequently consulted on what I think Berrik needs.  And Annette uses her considerable experience and expertise to determine what to do next, how fast to go, when to circle back.  Having had years and years of experience working with 100s and 100s, possibly 1000s of kids, she knows that ALL children have potential.  She believes it and you can see it in her program, in her approach.  As a mom who believes this of her child, I can’t tell you how critical it has been to know that someone else believes it too.  Sound Connections, homeschooling, diet, exercise….these are some of the ‘necessary conditions’ that I am putting in place so Berrik can continue to develop, achieve and succeed.  And that has been potentially (see what I did there?) life changing.

 

Socialization and Homeschooling

This is one of those things that non-homeschoolers (myself included at one point) feel that is a critical piece missing for the homeschooled kids vs. kids attending school.   I have heard and read comments about homeschooled kids growing up to be anti-social or just plain weird because they don’t know how to socialize with ‘normal’ kids.  I can only speak to my own experience on this one.

When Berrik was in grade one, he was struggling.  In every sense of the word.  He came home crying or sad many, many days.  He told me he had no friends because the other kids thought he was stupid.  He told me about kids throwing leaves and twigs at him on the playground.  And he hated being singled out in class to do ‘special’ work because it meant he was singled out as ‘different’.  In his mind, this equated to ‘unworthy’.  Now… I spoke to his teacher and she felt Berrik was over reacting to what was happening.  And at the time, I agreed that his reaction probably didn’t match the situation from the outside looking in.  But what I knew was that Berrik’s perception was that he was unworthy of friends, and he was not smart enough.  So, does the reality even matter, when that is his perception?  Not to me.  My formerly happy, social boy was beaten down.  He lacked confidence.  His self esteem was about zero.  He didn’t want to try anything.  He was negative.  ‘I can’t do it’ was a consistent phrase.

Fast forward 10 months.  Ten months of encouragement, cajoling, celebrating successes, learning from failures, and my confident, happy kid is back.  It took months for this confidence to come back.  Months.  Imagine a kid who felt like Berrik did for years!?  They might never recover.  And you know what came with the confidence?  Friends.  The more sure of himself and his own intellectual abilities (and otherwise), the easier he has made and maintained friendships.  He’s back to assuming that kids actually WANT to play with him, and he easily marches up to kids he doesn’t know and chats them up.

img_8404My point in this is that the socialization that Berrik was getting at school, was not beneficial to him.  Because of his learning disabilities, he was identified (possibly only self-identified, but likely more than that) as being the weird one.  So, I would rather my kid be the ‘weird’ homeschooled kid who is confident and friendly and secure in himself, than the kid ‘socialized properly’ at school feeling like a weirdo and feeling like he isn’t worthy, lacking in confidence, and feeling miserable.  Is it harder to find friends to play with when you aren’t in school?  Yes.  But Berrik has friends that he met on the toboggan hill, at Cub Scouts, in the neighborhood.  I have to work a bit harder to arrange play opportunities, but it’s not that difficult.
And let’s not forget that socialization happens within families as well.  Berrik has to navigate the scary, time-bomb laden world of having teenaged sisters!  Talk about reading social cues and adapting to actions and reactions often well out of proportion for the situation!

Homeschooling isn’t for everyone.  Neither is a bricks and mortar school.  Kids can socialize regardless of how they receive their education. Nothing is black and white (read more about my feelings about ‘black and white’ here).  My homeschooled kid is very social and very happy.  He’s not a weirdo. (Or at least not any more than his gene pool would indicate!).

Family Vacation: How We Made it Work for Us

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These matching shirts were how we surprised the kids at Christmas with the upcoming trip!

As I was preparing to write a post about our vacation to Disney World, I came across this article Benefits of Family Vacations that extols the virtues of family vacations.  It essentially says that taking a vacation is good for child development related to exploring new places and the resulting growth in frontal lobes (I’m really paraphrasing here). It also says that happy childhood memories related to family vacations can serve as ‘happiness anchors’ in future times of distress.  Additionally, taking photos (except when it interferes with your activities) helps foster feelings of engagement and enjoyment of whatever you are doing.  The obvious need to de-stress for all family members, is also mentioned.  All this to say that I guess the kids will grow up to be happy and issue-free, all because we went on a family holiday! 😉  Such an oversimplification, however, I cannot argue with the notion that family time is valuable, whether you’re on vacation or not.

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This guy was pretty happy to watch a little Batman vs. Superman on WestJet Connect.

The point of this post was to talk about our big family trip to Disney World, and how we made it work with a kid on a pretty strict diet and also in a time of major economic slow down in Alberta, made more impactful in my family due to my leave from work.

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Travelling with teens. Enough said.

 

  1. We rented a condo through VRBO.com with a kitchen.  This was critical on so many levels I don’t even know where to start.  When you have a family member with some significant dietary restrictions, a kitchen and ability to buy and cook your own food makes life considerably easier.  It also allowed all 7 of us (my parents joined us on this trip) to have less insane mornings.  We were up early to get to the Disney Parks most days, so it was nice to be able to make breakfast and eat at the condo rather than finding a restaurant to sit down in.  Way more cost effective also.  And when someone needs more time for hair and makeup (not mentioning any names, but suffice it to say it was a teenager), or someone else is done eating and wants to play rather than sit at a table waiting for everyone else to finish, no problem.  After a long day at the park we were all hot and tired.  The kids wanted to hit the pool and the adults wanted to have a cold one and relax.
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    One of the 7 pools at the resort.  It was a mini paradise and the perfect location for a family vacation at Disney World.

    By heading back to our condo, grabbing some beverages and heading down to the pool, everyone was satisfied.  We cooked dinner in our condo each night (except for one) as well.  Kids kept swimming.  Dad and Kevin barbequed on the resort BBQs, and Mom and I put together the rest of the meal.  No worrying about Berrik’s food.  No trying to

    Grandma and Avi #selfie

    round up everyone from the pool, getting everyone dressed up and ready for dinner and then sitting in a restaurant waiting for food with tired kids, tired parents, and tired grandparents.  Our meals were simple, so it wasn’t a ton of work.  Then everything into the dishwasher, youngest kids to bed and everyone else head to the couch to relax on the couch with a movie.  (My parents were brilliant in bringing their Apple TV with them!). From a cost perspective for the accommodations, it was a very good deal.  All 7 of us stayed together (we would have required 2 hotel rooms which would have been similar in cost to what we paid for the condo) and we had the added bonus of having space for all of us to be together in the evenings.  Hotels make that nearly impossible, and certainly not comfortable.

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    These two are almost 6 years apart and don’t get a lot of time together at home so it was nice for them to reconnect.

  2. We packed lunches for the parks every day.  Not only was this necessary for Berrik, it had many benefits for the rest of us.  It was a huge time saver.  No waiting in lines for food.  In fact, at Magic Kingdom (the only park where we actually had to wait more than 10 minutes in line) we ate in the lineups.  As a mom, I was most happy that the packed lunches meant everyone was getting healthy food.  My oldest gets sick with too much sugar.  My middle one gets grouchy with crappy food.  And Berrik just can’t have it.  I think avoiding the deep fried, highly processed food at the parks helped us all have enough energy to get through the long days!  The cost savings is another obvious perk.  A hot dog at Magic Kingdom was about $7 US.  Extra for any sides.  There were options like fruit cups and veggies etc., which was nice to see, but they were also super expensive.   With 7 people travelling, those savings add up significantly.
  3. We used FastPass and timing to our advantage.  STUDIO_JTA2_20170214_398201608439You can pre-book three FastPasses per person at each park.  We got to each park at opening and went to a popular ride that lines up later in the day, first thing.  Then depending on the timing of the FastPasses, we went on rides or attractions that fit in between.  By using the FastPasses for the most popular rides (except one…the trick is to get to one popular ride as soon as the park opens), it almost eliminated our ride wait times.
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    Grandma and Grandpa are such good sports.  Especially Grandma who essentially tortured herself with ride after scary ride! #splashmountain

    I believe we waited about 30-40 minutes for Space Mountain and less than 30 minutes for Splash Mountain, but otherwise didn’t really wait for anything.  Very little lining up and standing around meant an overall happier group of people.  Apropos considering we were at the happiest place on earth!

  4. We rented a van.  Easier than airport transfers with all our luggage (although I must brag that our family of 5 were able to pack everything into 3 suitcases!).  There were shuttles from our resort to all the parks. The resort was not a Disney resort, but it was located within the park gates, so was very close to all parks.  With 7 people, the cost of the shuttle back and forth each day almost covered the cost of the van.  And the van eliminated the need to wait for shuttles and risk not all 7 of us fitting on the shuttle.  We could go to the park when we wanted, and leave when we wanted without worrying about timing.  It costs $20/day to park at the parks.  Additionally, we went  to Legoland which is a 45 minute drive away from Disney.  There were shuttles for that too, but more expensive, less times in each direction (so if you miss one, you could be stuck with an expensive cab ride!), and of course sitting in a bus for an hour both ways wasn’t that appealing either.
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    #legoland plus #ninjago = #happyplaceforthisguy

    Grocery shopping was also simpler this way.  My parents arrived in Florida first so they did the first (and major) grocery shop.  Kevin and I went mid week to grab a few extra things.  And finally, on the weekend when the parks were slated to be the most busy, we took the van and drove a couple hours west to Clearwater Beach for the day.

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    #sisters

    White sand, warm clear water, and a lot of lazing around in the sun.  It was perfect after 4 days of parks and busyness.  Without the van this would have not been an option.  So the van was well worth its cost.

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Mickey on the beach

This family vacation was the best one we have had.  The kids are all old enough that they aren’t much work to travel with, especially compared to the days of car seats, strollers, diapers and all the other baby and toddler related items that one needs – not to mention the need for naps and inability or lack of desire to wait patiently in lines etc.  None of these were factors this time.  Having my parents there was a huge help as well.  With three kids it is incredibly helpful to have extra ‘adults’ to ensure all kids get lots of attention and get to check the ‘must dos’ off of each of their lists.  My kids are very close to my parents and we so appreciate and value the time spent with them. My parents have unending energy and a knack for making their grandkids feel extra special and loved.  I think I speak for all of us when I say we have created a whole pile of ‘happiness anchors’ to keep us grounded when more challenging times arise in the ups and downs of life.

Have a magical day!

 

 

Chocolate Chip Cookies (gluten free)


Berrik was having his two best buddies over for a sleepover and I was going to be spending the day at dance dress rehearsal where one of my dance mom friends cannot eat gluten.  So before we headed off to the rehearsal hall, I whipped up a batch of these gluten-free and refined sugar-free cookies.  I adapted a recipe from one of my favorite food bloggers, Monique at AmbitiousKitchen.com.  You can find the original recipe here.   I haven’t made it as it is written, but based on all other recipes I’ve tried from this blog, I am positive it will be delicious as is.  img_8523

The only changes I made was to use Nut and Seed Butter from Costco in place of almond butter, Nuts4Nat_NutSeedButter_1-595x595raw local honey in place of the coconut sugar, and I used stevia sweetened chocolate chips.  Monique at Ambitious Kitchen made her cookies in a food processor, but I was too lazy and rushed to even grab mine out of the cupboard, so I hand stirred and it worked just fine.

I doubled this recipe, and used a bit less than half a cup of honey. Truth be told, I didn’t measure the chocolate chips.  I just dumped some in until it seemed like enough.  If you aren’t sure if it’s sweet enough, just give the batter a taste. If the batter tastes sweet enough, then the cookie will too.  If not, add a bit more

Berrik hasn’t had sweets/refined sugar for 14 months, so even a slightly sweet cookie tastes sweet to him.  But I handed them out to the dance moms at rehearsal and they liked them….and my girls really liked them too.  They are a bit cakey in texture. Next time I might add coconut and/or crushed nuts for some more crunch and texture, not to mention flavor, but it certainly isn’t necessary.  Dried fruits would also work well.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups Nut and Seed Butter
  • 1/2 cup raw local honey
  • 4 tablespoons coconut oil, softened
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon celtic sea salt
  • 2/3 cup Stevia sweetened chocolate chips
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium sized bowl put in nut and seed butter, honey and coconut oil; hand mix until combined. Add in eggs and stir again.
  3. Next, add in coconut flour, baking soda and salt; stir again until a dough forms. Gently fold in chocolate chips.
  4. Use a cookie scoop to drop dough onto prepared cookie sheet. You can flatten dough with the palm of your hand or you can leave the dough as is and cookies will be a bit puffier.  I left them as is.
  5. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until cookies turn slightly golden brown around the edges. Allow them to cool on cookie sheet for at least 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Repeat with remaining dough. Makes around 36 cookies.

 

Teach for Mastery, Not Test Scores

I will admit that I am a bit of a Ted Talk junkie.  Add to that a healthy respect for and frequent use of the Khan Academy learning materials and you’ll understand why I LOVE this particular Ted Talk by Sal Khan:

I recommend watching the Ted Talk – it’s 10 minutes of simple brilliance.  But the general overview is that our current education system that teaches for test scores rather than mastery is causing a multitude of issues that could be overcome with a shift in mindset.  My favourite analogy in the talk is about Math.  Kids learn math concepts from an early age.  They are tested.  Let’s say they get 75%.  That’s a good grade.  They move on.  After a few years of 75% mastery, you can imagine that the 25% gaps in knowledge will create some critical issues.  Without mastery of earlier concepts, at some point, more complex concepts will become extremely difficult, and you will start to hear kids say, “I’m just not good at math.”  You can apply this to many subjects.  If kids were expected to achieve mastery before moving on (by using technology and any number of free and easily accessible resources – thank you, world wide web!), then nearly 100% of the population would be able to read, do calculus, organic chemistry etc.  He goes on to talk also about the benefits of kids learning to seek the information they need, the perseverance, taking agency over their own learning, as critical life skills.

As a homeschooling mom of a kid who has had significant challenges learning to read, and as a result also struggled in math, I fully subscribe to this philosophy of mastery over test scores.  My first introduction to this concept, or at least the first time it was articulated to me in a way that really hit home, was in Sound Connections.  Berrik does not move on to a more complex concept until he has mastered the concept he is currently working on.  And we constantly review earlier concepts as full mastery and ability to quickly access those concepts results in faster and more successful mastery of more complex concepts.

Imagine a kid who has trouble learning to read due to a learning disability that is diagnosed in grade 3.  In a typical classroom, that kid who may now have accommodations or therapies is just starting to learn to read.  What are the chances that anyone at school will go right back to the beginning…the early reading skills that kids are exposed to in preschool, kindergarten and grade 1?  Slim.  There just isn’t time. So unless he’s in a program like Sound Connections, there are going to be some gaps that will make things more challenging down the road.

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If only all kids were given the opportunity to master all pre-reading concepts and then early reading concepts and so on and so on!  Watching my kid go from low self confidence and feeling as though he was ‘stupid’ to successfully reading, and learning to decode words, and understanding advanced sound rules (and learning that the rules are all made to be broken in the English language), and learning to spell and write stories has been an incredible journey.  Yes, I homeschool so I have time.  But it’s not the time so much as the access to resources and guidance that have allowed us to efficiently work on mastering concepts. We are playing catch up.  But if these resources and methods were implemented in all kindergartens and grade 1 classes, the foundations would be strong for all kids.

Knowing that mastery is the key has changed the way we approach everything.  This is the true beauty of homeschooling for me.  We do NOT move on until a concept is mastered.  And there is no one telling me I have to.  And not surprisingly, ensuring mastery along the way has resulted in Berrik moving more quickly (especially in math) even as concepts get more complex.  We are still unravelling the puzzle pieces of why Berrik struggles so much with reading and writing – more on vision therapy and other things later.  However, in Math, we started in September doing Grade 1 Math.  We are now working on Grade 2 Math and I expect Berrik to be ready for Grade 3 Math in September when he enters Grade 3.

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My two older daughters both do well in school.  Even so, Khan’s example rang true for both of them with regard to Math.  Lack of mastery of some concepts (like memorizing timestables, for example) took 3-4 years before it truly came back to bite them. Suddenly more advanced math concepts that require an ability to recall single digit multiplication became onerous and challenging.  I remember McKenna at one point, maybe in grade 7, realizing that knowing multiplication tables like the back of her hand was a critical skill, so she took the time (on her own time, because that is a grade 3 concept!) to memorize them.  This year in Grade 8, Math is one of her strongest subjects.

It is so very simple, and it is now scalable in the classroom like it never has been in history.  It simply requires a shift in thinking.  An example Khan talks about is hearing from teachers who started assigning the Khan Academy math videos as homework and then doing the practice in class time, instead of the typical method of lecturing and teaching concepts in class and sending kids home to practice on their own with their busy and bewildered parents.  It’s no surprise that this resulted in significantly higher success rates.  And as a parent who has spent many an hour at the table doing math with kids (in spanish no less), I would be over the moon if our homework was to watch the video instead of do the practice.  For the record, many times I had to Google translate the instructions to english and then watch a Khan Academy video to teach myself what my daughters were supposed to be practicing, and then try to help them! PAINFUL.

I think a lot of homeschoolers choose homeschooling for this ability to allow kids to learn at their own pace, and achieve mastery before moving on.  It has been life changing for us this year.

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I am going to throw in a final plug for the Khan Academy.  This website/app is FREE, and you can learn just about anything.  We are using it for math and it’s pretty fantastic.  Sal has created videos about concepts which you can watch as many times as you need to. Then you practice.  A specific number of correct answers identifies mastery.  If you struggle, there are links back to the videos right in the questions, and there are also hints to help you. If you have an account, your data is tracked and you can access and analyze your child’s (or your own) progress.  Even better, the site has been gameified which I know from my L&D world is excellent for motivation and engagement.

My engineer husband who works in the construction industry would never consider building a skyscraper on a foundation that is 80% complete, so why are we building the minds of our children on these faulty, incomplete foundations?

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