psilopoulosboys

This blog is my attempt to look on the bright side

The Worst Part of Being a Parent

Okay, I love being a mom. I am extremely lucky to have three little boys who love me. For example tonight Spencer decided I needed to have a hug so he had all of his brothers help him give me a “pile hug”.

But I absolutely hate potty training. Now my boys are way past the typical potty training age and I should be way past this stage, but I am just finishing with Spencer. We just succeeded in getting him in underwear right before Thanksgiving. Spencer on the autism spectrum and he has a sensory processing disorder, so delays in potty training tend to go with the territory, but 10 years of diapers (starting when Marcus was born) is not what I signed up for.

Marcus had trouble with the toilet too. And was potty-trained right before kindergarten. Mostly he would forget to go to the bathroom so he needed to be reminded a lot.

Xander potty-trained himself deciding it was “cooler” to use the big potty than wear diapers. He was 4. Needless to say I am not good at helping kids use the potty.

But Spencer just turned 7 and it was getting ridiculous. I just couldn’t keep spending money on diapers, so something had to give. So here is the whole long story of our adventure getting Spencer into underwear and out of diapers.

At the end of the last school year, I asked the people at school for help. We had been using the same “potty chart” at home as the one they used at school and Spencer had all the steps down. But the chart was missing one very large step in the process of using the toilet, put “something” in the potty. Spencer really seemed to think that he did not need to put anything (other than toilet paper) in the potty. So we asked for a new chart with that step on it. We also decided to work some of Spencer’s obsessions into the chart. So it needed to be a circle with 8 pieces so he could remove them (he loves fractions particularly 8ths). We had the steps cover a picture of Samus Aran from the game metriod on Nintendo. After a few trials with this chart I but the “put pee-pee, poo-poo in the toilet” step over Samus’s face. Spencer really wanted to see the whole picture especially Samus’s face and we finally started to see some results.

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Now we had a really tough job getting Spencer to put on underwear. Like most kids Spencer does not like change, and convincing him to put underwear on was so hard. He went back to school using the toilet but he was still in diapers. Luckily my husband Jason is brilliant and talented. He thought if we could get some Samus underwear Spencer would probably put it on. All other underwear was not working and it was worth a try. However, Samus is a girl and when you search for “samus underwear” you get pictures of Samus in her underwear. So, we were again at a roadblock. But my husband decided he could draw samus onto plain white underwear and that might work.
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Spencer was excited about the new underwear, but it still took awhile for him to put it on. First it was just wear it over the diaper. We did that for about a month. Then I convinced him to wear just the underwear, and we would set a timer until he could put a diaper back on. The timer was set for 1 hour and 7 minutes. We did that for two weeks. Then it happened, we ran out of Spencer’s preferred diaper (Cars pull-ups) and his only choices were Jake the pirate or these green striped things. He hated both of those choices and we were not going to buy more diapers. So he went to school in just his underwear. That was the week before Thanksgiving break. He has not had any accidents at school, he still has several at home. We still have to remind him to go but he is not wearing diapers anymore. And I will be forever grateful to whoever created Samus Aran, and that my husband knows how to draw on underwear.

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Spencer at Halloween. He was Samus.

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123456

I love to count things.  Big things, small things, completely unimportant trivial things.  I count everything.  For example, when I eat skittles I have to separate the skittles into little piles of 5 colors each.  So that I eat them evenly.  So all the excess skittles are usually given to my husband.  Who does not care how many he gets, or if they are evenly distributed.  It is nice to have someone who can handle my weirdness.

So the other day my car’s odometer rolled over to 123456.  I had been waiting for this moment for months.  Ever since the car passed 100000 miles.  I remember saying to my husband, “Won’t it be the coolest thing when the odometer says 123456!”  He humors me, because he does not really care, he just sort of nodded and said, “Sure.”  I snapped this picture for the occasion.  2014-05-05 06.58.05

Awesome, right!  Well sure but it lasted about long enough for me to get this picture.  By the time i reached the next stop light it had already turned over to the next number.  Months of waiting, for what exactly?  To take a picture at an unsafe speed?  (I was very careful, really mom).

Sometimes, I am so busy counting things that I miss what is important.  The school year is drawing to a close and this marks the end of my 13th year teaching.  I have spent all of those years at one amazing middle school.  I have loved nearly every minute.  The challenges and the joys.  But as this year is ending I have decided that it time to move on.  I am going to go to High School.  This is a decision that I have tried not to take lightly.  Leaving my school is very bittersweet.  I absolutely love it here, but math is changing (I hope for the better) and the math at middle school will be less challenging to teach.  So I am moving on, and I am excited/scared/hopeful about the challenges high school will bring.

So I thought that I would count somethings as I head out the door.

13 years, 175 students each year, 2275 students total.  (2275 is an incredible number, to think that I have had the opportunity to touch that many people’s lives in even a small way is amazing).

13 years, 180 instructional days, 7.5 hours each day, 17550 hours total.  That is how many hours that parents have trusted me to teach their children math.  That is how many hours middle school students have spent helping to bring out the best in me.

4 – places that I have lived, 3 apartments and one awesome house.

3 boys.  Since I came to live in California, i met and married my husband and we have three wonderful and challenging boys.

Since I count everything sometimes I have to remind myself of a quote that was on the wall in Albert Einstein’s office, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

The time that I have spent at my school is beyond words.  But I think I will steal some words from a thank you note a student wrote me this year, ” Even though you get really mean sometimes, you are still one of my favorite teachers.”  Now that is a lasting tribute.

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More Autism Aware

Last night we decided to have a family trip to the movies. The outcome was horrific. If you want to read all about it you can read my husband’s post on the outing over at Psilopoulos.com.

I am still feeling hurt and bewildered by this experience, and I want to rant and rave about it. I decided instead to focus on some more positive experiences we have had when one (or both) of my autistic children have had a meltdown in a public place, which I am sure interrupted others and I am sorry if we spoiled their evening(s).

Once we went out to BJ’s (a pizza place). Spencer was upset that the hostess took us to the wrong side of the restaurant (we usually go to the left, but this time we went right). For most children this would not be a problem, but Spencer absolutely lost it. He began kicking and screaming incoherently (this was before he could articulate the main problem that we turned the wrong way). I tried to calm him down, concerned about all of the people he was interrupting. Knowing that many of them were thinking that I was dealing with a spoiled child, especially when he started hitting me in the face. I took him aside and calmed him a little, he was okay until I lead him back to the forbidden side of the restaurant. More kicking screaming and hitting. We were approached by the manager, who kindly asked us what she could do to help our boy be comfortable. I suggested a seat change and then Marcus started to flop around (when Marcus has a meltdown he tries to turn his body into jello). So I knew immediately that my suggestion would cause another problem. My wise husband suggested “red juice” to help Spencer see that he would get the same service on either side of the restaurant. We had the cup on our table in about 30 seconds and it worked immediately. However, the manager kept checking in with us throughout our meal, make sure that we were okay and everyone was calm. Our evening was not ruined, and I hope the other diners were not inconvenienced since the manager helped end Spencer’s meltdown quickly.

Another time we were at church, we are LDS and church is 3 hours long, which has caused all of our boys many problems. During the second hour children under age 12 attend primary and in January the children change classes. Marcus had a horrific time, I came in the middle of the problem so I am not sure how he got set off, but he was laying on the floor unable/unwilling to move. He was surrounded by 3 or 4 women who were trying to help him get to class and be happy about the change. I approached him to see if I could help and these were his words, “There are too many humans here. The humans need to leave me alone.” All of the other “humans”, except me, faded quickly away. I asked him if I needed to go too since I am after all human. He said that I could stay. So I sat down on the floor near him. About 10 minutes later he sat up next to me, and explained the problem, together with the help of some of the humans he sent away we were able to make it right. I talked with these wonderful sisters after this incident and not one of them was upset about Marcus’s actions/words. They thought he was funny and just rolled with it. Good women who understand that sometime kids just need a break.

I can think of dozens of experiences where my boys were misbehaving and carrying on or having a serious meltdown but the people around us were kind and compassionate. Mostly we get some stares, and some averted eyes, many people move away or ignore. A lot of people try to help and try to understand the confusing world that my autistic boys live in. To them I would like to say, “Thank you, for helping my boys feel included, like they are not so different after all.”

It is autism awareness month and I think we need to take a moment and try to look through the eyes of the people who see the world through a very different lens. People learn differently, people feel differently, people process the things around them differently, because if everyone was the same the world would have less color and be a much less pleasant place. So the next time you hear an upset child having a difficult time in a public place please take a minute, don’t let them spoil your evening and please don’t make their evening any worse than it already is.

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Blue and Gold and Lasagna

My husband and I received a call to be in charge of the cub scouts at church awhile ago. Jason says it was the end of May, and I cannot remember except that it was before last summer. Anyway, a week ago Tuesday was the blue and gold dinner. This is the Cub Scout (boys who are 8-10 years old) event when you welcome all of the new cub scouts who will turn 8 during the coming year. It was a hectic and awesome night. I am not usually in charge of things. I am a great supporter of someone else’s plans. I enjoy attending and helping, but planning and running everything is not me. Especially because I wanted the boys to do the planning, decorating and cooking so it could be their night.

The cub scouts were in charge of the decorations, entertainment and the food.  I had them decide months ago what we wanted to have for dinner and what kind of decorations would be good and all of that stuff.  We decided to have Lasagna.  We have 9 cub scouts currently and will get 3 more this year.  So this was a meal for 12 families give or take.  This is actually a very small group when compared to other cub scout troops in my church, but it was overwhelming for me.

Throughout February the boys colored and designed posters for the walls and tables.  The pictures were so great.  It is fun to have children’s work on the walls.

The Webelos scouts (10 year old boys) came over to help me layer the lasagna the Saturday before the event.  and that was fun, but of course it took twice as long because I was teaching them how to do it.  But now they know and hopefully they will not forget.

We ended up having over 60 people at the dinner which is a crazy number, but it was so fun and the boys had a blast.  I got a lot of requests for the lasagna recipe so here it is. (Lasagna)

The boys skit was super funny.  They did “two line vocabulary” from Whose Line is it Anyway.  This way they don’t have to prepare beforehand so our new recruits could be in the skit too.  They are the boys who are not wearing a blue uniform.  (You can see my Marcus on the stage behind the flag.  He would not be in the group.)  This skit is so funny since the boys are only allowed to say the words on their papers.  Things like: “I want my mommy!”; ” I see dead people.”;  “Where is the bathroom?”; “I wasn’t listening.”; etc.  You get the idea.  The skit was my favorite part of the night.  It was the only time I got to relax a little all evening.

Cub Scout Skit

It was an awesome night and I am glad it went well.  The boys had fun, the food was good, and everyone like the boys artwork.

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Pedicures are Awesome

18 months ago, right before school started, my husband encouraged me to go get a pedicure. I thought this was a strange suggestion since I had only one pedicure in my life before this, and it was probably more than seven years ago. My mother-in-law, Liz, had given me a gift certificate for a mani-pedi for my birthday. It was wonderful, but not really in our budget to do regularly. So returning to 18 months ago, I was incredibly stressed out. I was working on finishing my master’s degree, and my children, who I adore, were making life crazy and hard as usual.

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So I went, and now I am addicted. My husband created a monster, I go once a month and escape into a world of relaxation and forgetfulness. It is like snatching a moment out of someone else’s life. Not only am I addicted but my husband encourages me to go, I guess it makes me easier to live with.

Right now we are trying to help my middle son, Alexander, who is having trouble at school. His grades have slipped this year and he is not completing his work. So we are going to see his doctor so we can talk about ADD. With his two brothers getting services for Autism, my brain is having trouble processing having all three of my boys having special needs. So it is time for a trip to the nail place.

Everyone needs a place that they can go to escape the reality of their day and for me it is going and getting a pedi. Just sitting in the massage chair with my feet soaking makes everything a little better. I come back home ready to handle my children with just a little more patience and love.

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2013 in Review

So, it has been awhile since I posted anything but as my Christmas Break is finishing up, I thought I would take a minute to reflect on all the great things that happened this last year.

CIMG1042In January 2013, Spencer was student of the month.  He was so excited.  School has been awesome for Spencer.  Since he started school he has come so far.  His communication has improved.  We can actually have a conversation.  He talked to my mom on the phone for Christmas and she didn’t recognize him because he was so easy to understand.  He actually answers questions and asks questions and listens to answers.  His Teacher chose him for student of the month in January because his communication had improved, one year later his communication is so much better and I am so pleased.  He will keep improving and we will keep celebrating.

In February we got Spencer this Enterprise toy.  It became both the greatest and worst thing he had all year.  The picture on the left is from when it was first opened.  The picture on the right is how it looks now.  You cannot quite tell, but it has been through some serious repair.  At one point Spencer took off both of the nacelles and the dish was loosened.

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Santa brought him a new one for Christmas, but I was glad to realize it had actually made it through most of the year.

CIMG1417You can see how much difference there is in the two ships.  Also this ship has taught Spencer some responsibility.  He is being much more careful with the new ship.

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Xander, Marcus and I had fun making Valentines in February this year.  Marcus and Xander enjoying each other’s company more this year.  My three boys are friends but this year they have become better friends.  Marcus and Xander play together constantly.  I am so glad that they are close in more than just their ages. 

On April 4, 2013 Jason and I celebrated our 10th anniversary. It has been a great 10 years. I cannot wait for more.

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This year I finished my master’s degree.  Which was the fulfillment of a new-years resolution  from 2011.

Right after I finished we went on a trip to visit my family in Utah.  I love to go back to my childhood home.  Even though I haven’t lived there for nearly 20 years it still feels like home.

One of the benefits of going back to Utah is having family pictures taken by my sister-in-law Amy.  She does such a great job.

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I am not going to talk about what happened between the trip to Utah and Christmas because that is when I started this blog so, that stuff is already on here.

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Christmas was awesome.  The boys are so much fun at Christmas time.  They have a simple belief in Christmas.  Spencer’s favorite Christmas show is “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” one of the movie scenes he can quote perfectly is when Linus tells Charlie Brown what Christmas is all about.  Which means he is quoting from Luke 2.  It is beautiful to see and hear.  We don’t take a lot of pictures on Christmas morning (we do long videos of the whole morning, so Jason and I can just watch the boys enjoy everything).

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You can dance…

Somewhere near Halloween my mom sent me a text and told me to do “…do a happy dance with my boys.” I have taken this as a personal challenge to savor the moments we have and make them memorable.

When I was young we used to gather around the piano and sing. My mother would play for us and we would sing and sing and sing. This is my favorite childhood memory. Sometimes we would grab records and put them on and listen and sing the songs on the records. We would listen to the Mary Poppins record and try to do the “chim chimney, chim chimney, chim chim charoo” dance. We failed miserably but it was fun. I loved the singing, but I was never a great dancer. But I remember how much fun we had.

My second favorite memory would occur after we went to bed and then my mom would play for my dad and he would sing show tunes. One of his favorite tunes was “I’m gonna wash that man right outta my hair!” from South Pacific. Imagine a 6′ 3″ man singing that song! It was so funny, but I think he was sending the girls a message about what we should do with men when we were older.

Anyway back to the dancing. I took the next opportunity to dance with my Spencer. The song that was on was “Save the last dance for me.” We had a ball and he keeps requesting to dance. Then I put some music on and all of my boys and I danced along lie crazy fools. My favorite station on Pandora is “Bobby Darren Radio” we get great dance numbers on that station. You should try it sometime. Dancing is awesome, even though I am still no good at it.

I recently added the responsibility of a home hospital student at work. This is a program for students who are too sick to go to school. I spend 5 hours a week with this young man. 2.5 on Monday and Friday. Basically I give him his assignments from all of his teachers and keep him on track. He is a very gifted young man and he is motivated to do well in school. It is an easy assignment, but it keeps me from home twice a week. So I am trying to make my at home time more valuable.

Xander and I are reading the Harry Potter books together. Spencer and I are spending time figuring out how to use my iPad to play Charlie Brown games. Marcus is harder because he likes to play alone, but we are grabbing time talking about video games and yoshi.

So we make the time we have count and that is what matters. Because no matter how busy I am, my boys will always be the most important thing in my life and they need to know that. And there is always time to dance.

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October

So October is over. I am so glad. October is one of the toughest teaching months. There are no breaks. We start school right before Labor Day and then our district goes straight through until Veterans Day on November 11th. No breaks. After October is over there are breaks galore, thanksgiving, Christmas, MLK Jr, Presidents’ Day, Lincoln’s birthday, you get the idea. But October drags on and on. It is also difficult because you really need to work with students on classroom management. They test your resolve and your routines. In other words October is long and I am glad that it is over.

In other news, my “flipped” geometry class is going really well. Their first test was a success, out scoring the two previous years test averages. The students enjoy it and seem to be learning the material. I like it, I have more time to touch base with my students and learn how they are learning. It is awesome.

CIMG1355The boys are doing well. Xander has finally gotten into a rhythm at school so he is learning and enjoying his class. Marcus is doing great! They implemented the techniques we discussed at his IEP and things are going very well. Spencer is working hard and obsessing about Star Trek, which is nothing new but now he has a new Star Trek to request. So we get some relief from repeating the same movie every time he gets to choose. Spencer with his USS Kelvin.  It is a ship from the Star Trek 11, the 2nd newest star trek Movie.  Spencer and Xander like to act out scenes from the new movies.  It is fun to see them use their imaginations.  Spencer is always inserting other characters into the scenes from Star Trek.  For example the other day he was playing by himself and said, “The Enterprise will rise out of the ocean and give presents to all of the good boys and girls.”  Combining “Star Trek, Into Darkness” (12) with “Its the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”

We had a super fun Halloween.

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Xander is Harry Potter, Marcus is Captain America and Spencer is Spock.

We had a great time at our Church “Trunk-or-Treat” and then we had a lot of fun “Trick-or-Treating” around our neighborhood.  The boys have so much fun pretending together.  They do not like getting scared, there were a couple of houses with that purpose, the boys freaked out pretty good but other than that they had good time.  We have way to much candy but that is what Halloween is about when you are a kid.

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Middle School

pi graphicThe other day at church a family friend asked Jason why someone like me who has a real passion for mathematics was content to teach middle school mathematics.  There have been times over the course of my career that I have asked myself the same question.  Mathematics is a passion with me I like to spend time challenging myself with difficult math problems it is fun for me.  I teach Algebra 1 and Geometry, which is the highest levels of mathematics I can teach at my school.  But the content is not very challenging for me.  So why middle school?

Because they need me.  The most important years in mathematics are the foundation years.  I still vividly remember my 7th grade math teacher, Mrs. Pinezza.  She was excited and engaging.  She challenged us and I can remember the stories she told to help us remember basic mathematics facts.  She is also the only teacher that ever called my house.  I was not doing my homework and it was bringing down my grade.  She, in short, was the kind of math teacher that I try to be.  I also remember my 8th grade algebra teacher.  He was good at his job and I learned stuff, but it was easy to fall asleep in his class.  I just think that if he was more like Mrs. Pinezza that I would have learned more because I would have been awake.

My students have given me a hard time in the past because I get so excited and animated about silly things like slope, but if it helps more students learn then it is worth it.  Algebra 1 concepts are the foundation of all higher level mathematics.  So I help students build a solid, firm foundation.

In geometry I recently decided to try an experiment with “flipping the classroom”.  Which means I have been making videos of the instruction that typically happens in class for the students to view at home where they take notes for homework.  Then in class we practice.  Basically the work they typically do at home is done in class and the work that they do in class is done at home.

It has been fun and the students like it, we haven’t had a test yet so I don’t know if is really successful yet but I will soon and I think it will be good.  We shall see.

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Breakthroughs

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So we had the best breakthrough with Spencer this weekend. Spencer just had his sixth birthday and we have been having a lot of trouble with his diapers. I know what you are thinking, and yes he still wears diapers and no we are not planning on him stopping anytime soon. His sensory processing disorder makes potty training extremely difficult. Right now we are working on the routines, and soon we will move forward.

Anyway back to the point, at the start of the summer pull-ups changed their designs. They have featured Lightening McQueen from the movie Cars 2 for a long time. So in anticipation of Monsters U, they made a change, from red to blue and half Lightening half Sully. This resulted in absolute meltdowns in my home. Spencer flat out refused to wear Sully diapers. Nothing we could say or do would change his mind. So we were stuck with 72 diapers that Spencer would not wear, plus the difficulty of trying not to waste money buying more diapers that he wouldn’t use.

We have been looking everywhere for the old designs and buying them whenever we found them, but at end of August we could not find the red ones anymore. I was frustrated and concerned, we cannot afford to buy diapers and only have Spencer use half of them. But on Saturday Jason had a breakthrough and convinced Spencer to wear the Sully diapers. In exchange for time on my i-Pad. It has worked out surprisingly well. I am so glad. No more wasted money, and no more worry about what to do with all the extra diapers.

Marcus had a terrific week at school and was the student of the week in his class at school. His teacher began to use the strategies that we planned at the IEP and while they were not all successful, most of them have worked well. I am pleased that the plans are being smoothly implemented, and tried quickly.

Xander’s behavior plan is working well and he is slowly learning that the world does not revolve around him. We made him a deal that if he could get a whole week of good reports then we would buy him a toy from Star Trek into darkness. Which is a movie he loved, it actually made him cry. He only had one poor report all week, so I am sure that he will work hard to get his toy.

A good week all things considered.

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