Alpha Mom » Mir Kamin parenting and pregnancy opinions and information Wed, 24 Jun 2015 18:32:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Summer House Rules For The Teens Wed, 24 Jun 2015 13:39:11 +0000

I don’t consider myself a terribly sentimental person. I’m constantly joking with my husband that he’s the wife in our relationship, because he’s the one who remembers important dates and is romantic and sentimental. I am… not. (And yes, this is not a male/female thing, but I really like to cement my role as curmudgeon by teasing him about it.) I see people fretting over their kids being “so big” or the time going “so fast” and I’ll be honest, it sometimes makes me roll my eyes. Kids grow. Time passes. Maybe it’s because my kids have had more than the usual helping of challenges, but I don’t long for their younger days. I am amazed and gratified by the young adults they’re becoming, and while it sometimes catches me off guard—like: hello, kid who is taller than me and also desperately needs a shave!—for the most part I am good at making peace with the current moment.

This leaves me suspecting that my approach to summer is perhaps a bit eclectic. I am neither strumming “Sunrise, Sunset” in the corner nor leaving my teens to their own devices. I try to lay down some basic rules, and to my surprise, some of them have changed over the years, others haven’t, and now that my kids are 15 and 17, I have a weird little niggling in the back of my brain. Our days together really are numbered. For both of them, but especially my eldest, childhood is drawing to a close. That’s weird. Have I really taken the time to ponder the right summer structure to foster and nurture everything I hope the kids will get out of this time? Yeah… no. (Who has time for that?) I do what feels like it makes sense, and adjust when necessary. And I cross my fingers and hope they look back and feel like it was okay. And so I present to you our Summer House Rules….

Summer House Rules

No sleeping all day
All teens will be upright and functional by 9:00am on weekdays. You may sleep later on the weekends, but 9:00 is still plenty late. Get up.

On bedtimes and alone time
Unless you are out of the house somewhere or we’re engaging in a whole-family activity, you are to be upstairs and in the general vicinity of your bedroom by 9:30pm on weeknights. Hey, you don’t have to go to sleep. Knock yourself out—stay up as late as you like!—but the adults would like a little teen-free time in the evenings. Thanks. (And if you’re failing to be up by 9am, we’ll have another conversation about what time you’re actually going to bed, but so far so good.)

Sloth days
You may have one stay-in-your-pajamas-and-do-nothing-all-day day per week, provided you have nothing else on your schedule. You don’t even have to brush your hair. Maybe brush your teeth, though. After you’ve enjoyed your pajama day, please shower and rejoin polite society the next morning.

Working for actual money
You are now old enough to get a job, if you so desire. You don’t have to, but if you want to, let’s discuss.

[Side note: My daughter applied for, and ultimately didn’t get, admission into a rigorous 6-week program wherein she would’ve been working 30 hours in a university lab each week. That’s about the maximum I would’ve felt comfortable allowing her to do, but I’m not sorry she didn’t get it. The job she ended up taking is just a few hours a week in an office and about 10 additional hours of working from home, plus she babysits, which has been perfect. She’s making money and gaining experience, but she has the rest of her life to work full-time.]

If you assist me with above-and-beyond household projects out of the goodness of your heart, chances are excellent I will pay you for your service.

Yes, you may have friends over. You’re now old enough to have them over even if I’m not here! Sure, it’s a courtesy to check with us before you invite, but feel free. Hang out. Be kids. Have sleepovers! Go swim! Just give me a heads up so I can make sure we have snacks.

Sure, summer is a great time to glue yourself to the television or computer for hours on end. Unlike when you were little, I’m not going to limit your screen time for fear of you ending up stunted. That said, do your binging on your sloth days and don’t expect to spend multiple consecutive days in front of the set. If I notice you haven’t moved for a while, chances are good I’m going to ask you to get up and do something productive.

Library trips
We’ll go to the library every week. Bring a bag. A large bag. Part of the magic of summer is time to read whatever you want for as long as you like. If you promise to fill the bag I promise not to comment on your book selections, save for sometimes asking if I can borrow a book when you’re done.

Snacks and meals
During the school year, dinner is provided for you at least 6 nights/week and we eat together at the table. During the summer, there’s no such schedule. I’ll cook sometimes; we’ll eat together sometimes, but not always. We can eat in the family room while watching TV, sometimes. You are expected to consume three reasonable meals per day. (Note: A cheese stick is not a meal.) If I am not placing food in front of you, you still need to eat. You’re smart—figure it out. You want to bake a cake? Go for it. Just clean up when you’re done. (Note: Cake isn’t a meal, either.)

Ice cream
There will be a variety of frozen dairy confections in the freezer at all times, all summer long. On any day where the thermometer crests 100 degrees, you may invoke the “Ice Cream Rule” and we all go out for ice cream. (True, this rule was developed back in New England, years ago, when 1 or 2 days per summer, max, were that hot. While living in the south has made this more expensive, I still believe a creamy frozen treat on a day that hot is an inalienable family right.)

Trips and special requests
This is the time to ask for things out of the ordinary. We can’t always say yes, but we’ll say yes as much as we can. Yes, let’s go to the movies. Yes, let’s go visit colleges. Yes, let’s rearrange your room if you want. Yes, we can check out that tourist attraction we never had time for during the year. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Go ahead and ask. Now’s the time!

Enjoy it!
If you’re not enjoying your summer, you’re doing it wrong. Talk to me and let’s fix it. We’ll all be back to the grind soon enough—take this time to relax and do something different. But you can still do your chores and be a pleasant human while enjoying your summer, I promise.

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Mom & Teen Daughter Bonding… Over Thrifting? Yes! Tue, 16 Jun 2015 19:46:10 +0000

Bad news—one of our favorite thrift stores is closing. I have raised my kids in the fine tradition of tightwadism, emphasizing time and again that it’s fine to have expensive taste as long as you can actually afford it. While my son happily wears whatever I toss in his room after a shopping trip (so that he doesn’t have to endure the endless boringness of shopping for clothes), my daughter has definite opinions and needs when it comes to her wardrobe, thankyouverymuch. While she occasionally complains that we can’t just go to the mall like everyone else, for the most part she’s on board with the whole digging-for-buried-treasure thing at the thrift stores.

But here’s the good news: The thrift store closing means they’re having a huge clearance sale, which means I got to be Cool Mom yesterday. The entire store—already dirt cheap—was 75% off. I took my girl along to run errands and made sure we had a big gap of time between a couple of appointments, and we headed into the store with steely resolve. We are Serious Shoppers.

It is still astonishing to me to be standing at a clothing rack with my child and realize, all over again, that she is adult-sized. We’re about the same height. I am curvier than her in some places (a nice way of saying I have middle-aged hips/thighs) and she is curvier than me in some places (a nice way of saying she has a much larger bust than I do). She weighs less than me, of course (I am still working on losing some weight but she is at a slender-but-healthy weight, finally), and she looks young and perky because she is, and I… don’t… because I’m not. Ha. Our tastes in clothing vary, but in some basic pieces, they don’t. And for items sized S-M-L, we might wear the same size, sometimes. At the very least, one of us may grab an item, try it on, and then if it’s too big for her she’ll give it to me and if it’s too small for me I’ll give it to her.

This is weird, sometimes.

When you’re at a thrift store, though, it’s not as though you’ve walked into a store with a certain type of clothing in it. It’s not like when we go to Aeropostale and she loves everything and I sprain my eyeballs from rolling them so hard while she shops. When thrifting, you may pull out a designer pencil skirt that’s hanging next to a pair of bedazzled jeans next to a ripped t-shirt next to a silk tank top. Sure, my daughter favors those high-low shirts and skirts which I love to refer to as “mullet clothing,” and she will go with bright Aztec patterns or shirts with fringe or skinny jeans that make me ask her if she can actually breathe. I may tell her a neon top hurts my eyes and she’ll point out that those cargo pants I like “hurt her soul.” And I will wear florals when she doesn’t “do flowers,” or opt for a casual shirt with a collar when she doesn’t understand why I’d want my neck “being strangled.” We might find all of that stuff on the same rack, and lots of times our taste doesn’t intersect, is my point.

But sometimes we dive into a rack simultaneously and grab the same top, both of us declaring that we saw it first. It’s all good fun—she’ll check the tag, crow, “It’s an extra-small, it’s mine!”—but I always wonder if I’m veering into “not dressing my age” territory when we like the same thing. Not that I need to worry as long as we’re together, because it’s not like she’ll hold back in commenting, “It’s fine, but it would look much better on me,” or simply, “Oh, Mom. No.” She’s a teenager, and I’m just her embarrassing mother, so I expect this. More often than not, the item we’re squabbling over doesn’t look good on either of us.

What I did not expect are the times when I put something on and peer into the mirror with a frown and she declares, “I like it. You can totally pull that off.” Or, “That’s super cute. I wish they had that in my size.” If I slip up and comment negatively on myself, she’s exasperated with me. “Mom. You look fine! You look good. Stop.”

We spent two hours combing the racks and trying clothes on. In the end, we walked out with a giant bag of designer clothing (most of it for her) for a grand total of… $22. Given that I would’ve happily paid twice that just for the silk sweater I found, we were doing the happy-bargain-dance on our way out. “That was awesome!” my daughter declared as we put our haul in the car. I agreed.

For me, though, the best bargain of the trip had nothing to do with the clothes. It’s weird and wonderful to see your children turn into thoughtful humans. (Even if they do still wear mullet clothes.)

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Taking The Power Struggle Out Of Homework Struggles Thu, 11 Jun 2015 21:01:43 +0000

Got tweens/teens? We’re trying a new advice column here at Alpha Mom to address your questions for the older-kid crowd. We hope you enjoy! And if you have a question to submit, hit me up at alphamomteens[at]gmail[dot]com.


Our daughter is 15 (turning 16 in three months) and finishing her freshman year of high school. She has inattentive type ADHD and PDD-NOS. She does not take medication anymore, she doesn’t like it, and I can’t force her to.

I feel like her father and I have provided a stable and loving home. She is involved in sports and gets decent grades in school, but it is a struggle for her. When she started in middle school she wound up getting into the habit of sitting at the table doing homework for 2-3 hours every night that would take the average person 30 minutes. This is usually work that others have done in class, but she didn’t finish. She is extremely easily distracted. This habit has continued into high school, but now we are battling with “needing to listen to music” and texting while doing homework. We have tried taking these things away, but it is a constant battle every single day!!! If she can’t listen to music on her iTouch (which she is constantly getting grounded from), then she wants to listen to it on my iPad. She won’t just listen to Pandora either, she has to get on youtube and play her favorite songs, over and over. (BTW she has an iTouch and a texting phone.)

I would probably be considered one of those “no backbone” parents because I just don’t like conflict, but I am also somewhat of a control freak and like to be in charge and have everything run smoothly. But I get into with my daughter constantly, always threatening to take away her devices (which has happened on more than one occasion this year). We’ve told her before that her phone needs to be put away during homework, but then I have to argue with her for 30 minutes on why it needs to be put away, which usually ends in comments like “this is so stupid” and “no one else’s parents do this” and sometimes resorts to stomping off to her room and then homework is left on the table undone.

I know I probably have end-of-the-school-year burnout, but I am dreading the next three years that it’s going to be like this forever! Am I being overbearing? Should I stop worrying, let her figure it out for herself, let her grades slip?


Ohhhh, I feel you on this one. I do. Sounds very familiar to me (and probably a lot of other parents), and you are most definitely not alone. Nor do I think you’re overbearing (or if you are, fist bump! me too!), and while others might disagree, I think “figuring it out themselves” should remain a guided process in these fraught high school years.

So, I feel like there are two separate issues here. They’re intertwined, for sure, but just to be clear, I’d like to call them out separately.

The first issue I see here is that your daughter is not receiving adequate support for her diagnosed learning challenges. Now—take a deep breath, this is not a criticism or blaming—that’s very common with kids who are challenged but high-functioning, because they don’t want it. They can handle it! Why are you always on them? They’re fine! I am a big believer in letting kids advocate for themselves and start making their own choices as early as is reasonable, but I also believe it’s up to us parents to sometimes step in and say, “Hold up. This isn’t working. We have to try something else.” (Or, as I like to say to my own children: “This isn’t a democracy, it’s a benevolent dictatorship. I’m benevolent until you need a dictator.”)

So without knowing the specifics of how you arrived where you are, I’d like to make a few very general suggestions in this area, to utilize as you see fit.

1) Not all ADHD medications are created equal. It’s possible you’ve already been down this road with a qualified specialist and there’s nothing more to do on this path, but if not, consider finding a psychiatrist who specializes in ADHD, or better still, specializes in adolescent girls (because they really are wholly unique creatures biochemically). If you choose to pursue this, I suggest presenting it to your daughter along the lines of, “We feel like maybe your aversion to medication is because we haven’t found the right one. I would like to find a better doctor to help us with this and I would like you to commit to [some mutually agreed-upon time period] to play along. If we try some other things and you still decide you don’t want to take meds, I will respect your decision at that time.” You could go all dictator, but that will just create another huge power struggle. A set period of time to try again (with a clear “out” at the end) in the name of making sure no stone was left unturned is more likely to get her buy-in.

2) Not all kids with ADHD will want to take or benefit from medication, for various reasons. Nor is even the right medication a panacea. So at the same time as you investigate that path, it’s time to get the school involved. Does she have a 504 Plan? If she already does, great—it’s time to talk about modifying her homework load. If she doesn’t already have one, it’s time to find the guidance counselor or Special Ed coordinator who will take you seriously when you say, “My child is spending hours every night not finishing her homework and it’s destroying our family. We need help.” She is entitled to accommodations (whether they be reduced homework, an extra study hall at school, whatever; this is why you work with the school to find a solution) and you’ll need to connect with the right person at school to get them in place. Your timing is actually ideal, because you may be able to get some supports implemented before school resumes in the fall.

3) It is very—and I do mean very, very, very—common for mood disorders to manifest as avoidance or opposition. Both ADHD and PDD-NOS are conditions notorious for bringing anxiety and depression along for the ride, particularly in the high school years when expectations ramp up. I’m a big believer in therapy, and I know not everyone is, but even just knowing that some of what you’re seeing might be her desperately trying to keep it together is a different vantage point when you dive into the rest of it, you know?

The second issue you’ll need to address is the ever-present power struggle over electronics and house rules. Is she allowed to listen to music while she studies or not? Does she lose her iPod for a given infraction all the time or not? Stuff like that. Remember, I’m a big proponent of the benevolent dictatorship; at the end of the day, what you decide is what goes, whether she likes it or not. That said, you’re much more likely to get compliance if she feels like she’s been allowed reasonable input into the process.

It sounds to me like it’s time for a family meeting. You, dad, her, and a notepad or computer, together at the kitchen table when there’s nothing else pressing going on. “We don’t like how much time we spent arguing over homework this year, and we want to brainstorm some ways to do better next year.” Let her tell you what she thinks she needs. Resist the urge to snort or snicker when she insists she must have music on to do her homework. Use it as a hook—okay, you can listen to music if… and then set the conditions under which she can earn her music. (Maybe she can listen to music if she agrees to put her phone away while working.) Also be very clear about the conditions under which the music will be removed. One thing I’ve learned with my teens is that they truly lack the ability to generalize (which is just fabulous when combined with their penchant for feeling unfairly persecuted…), so I have to spell out all conditions surrounding rules or they will sound the “unfair!” battle cry later on.

Talk it out. Consider family therapy, if such a conversation ends with stomping and screaming before it begins. Write it all down while you talk. Here’s what she needs to do, and here’s what she’ll earn when she does. Here are the infractions and the consequences. Bear in mind that positive reinforcement whenever possible is the way to go—so it’s not just losing the iPod for this misbehavior, but argument-free homework completion is good for staying up an extra 30 minutes or whatever she would find rewarding. Once you’ve mapped it all out, write up a contract and have everyone sign it. Hokey? Absolutely. But also symbolic and a good way to lend some gravitas to the process. (Psssst… if you want to pursue other medication options and she’s still resistant, find a way to make that contractual as well, with some sort of appropriate reward for her compliance with the process.) Once this is done, there’s no 30-minute argument about putting up her phone, there’s simply, “You know the rule and consequence if you choose not to follow it.”

The bottom line is that you love her and you want to help her succeed. No matter how you move forward from here, if you tell her that and ask for her input along the way, you’re already breaking the pattern of frustration/reaction everyone’s currently locked into. Good luck!!

Don’t forget that you can submit your own question to alphamomteens[at]gmail[dot]com.

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Toddlers vs. Teens Tue, 09 Jun 2015 20:55:31 +0000

I’ve read several pieces recently about the parenting load required when your kids are older; one was about opting to pull back on work to be around for the kids more in their teen years instead of when they were smaller. I’m sure parents of small children read these things and wonder if teens cause your brain to rot. Surely small children require more parent time than older ones, they must be thinking.

I know that when my kids were little, I comforted myself through the long days of constant neediness by looking forward to a mythical time when they would be self-sufficient. “Moooooom, I’m huuuuungry!” would be a thing of the past! “I can’t tie my shoooooooes!” as a tortured wail would be a distant memory! Yes, my future teenagers would only stop to hug me and tell me how grateful they were for all I’ve done for them, in-between all of their self-sufficiency and whatnot. I would work, unfettered, and in the evening they’d ask about my day while we cooked dinner together.

Hilarious, right? For those of you firmly in the “misery loves company” camp, or just to warn those of you who aren’t there yet, allow me to elucidate the greatness of the teenage years—or, as I like to refer to them, “second toddlerhood.”

When they’re little: “Mom! Mom! Mom! Look at me! Watch me, Mom! Mooooom, you’re not looking!”
When they’re teens: “Leave me alone! Not everything is your business! I don’t want to talk about it! You don’t have to be there for everything, geez. Wait. What do you mean you’re not going to be there?? Oh, no, it’s fine. I SAID IT’S FINE.”

When they’re little: “I’m booooooooored.”
When they’re teens: “There’s nothing to do. I mean, besides homework and chores and practicing my instrument. Which I’m not going to do right now because of reasons.”

When they’re little: “So-and-so was mean to me and I will never be happy again.”
When they’re teens: “So-and-so is such a jerk! And I don’t even care! I don’t want to talk about it. I mean it. I’m fine. I SAID I’M FINE.”

When they’re little: “Can my friend come over? And can we make pizzas? And can we have a sleepover?”
When they’re teens: “Can all my friends come over? Can we make pizzas? And can you drive us to the movies? And then can you drive us for ice cream? And can you please be invisible and pretend we’re not staying up all night and then can you make waffles in the morning and drive all my friends home and not get mad when I’m a total butthead about it?”

When they’re little: “Here’s everything I ever did at school including this scribble on the corner of a napkin which is the most wondrous creation in the world, please admire it.”
When they’re teens: “Why are you always all up in my business?? You don’t have to check the online grading portal all the time, you know. But… ummm… can you talk to this teacher for me…?”

When they’re little: “Play with me, Mama!”
When they’re teens: “Don’t comment on my Facebook or Instagram. Don’t wave at me at school. Don’t say anything. Don’t try to sit with me. Just… give me some space, okay?” *sends a dozen texts and Snapchats over the next two hours*

When they’re little: *screaming meltdown because they’re hungry* “I AM NOT HUNGRY!”
When they’re teens: *screaming meltdown because they’re hungry* “I AM NOT HUNGRY!”

(You get the idea, yes?)

I think I was thinking about this recently because school’s out for the summer and I’m not working a ton right now, so I’ve been around/available more often for the kids. But… while I’m needed more often for purely logistical reasons—my oldest is trying to cram in all her driving hours so she can test for her license next month, plus she has a job and music rehearsals requiring my chauffeuring or at least co-pilot time; my youngest and his pals are not driving yet but need to see each other constantly, please and thank you—they claim not to need me for the day-to-day “existing” sorts of things. (That’s a lie, of course, but we’ll all pretend it’s not.) There was this moment when I realized that yes, things are different now in the summer, albeit maybe not quite the way I pictured.

When they were little… I scheduled camps, programs, and other things to take them out of the house and keep them busy. If they had playdates, I had to supervise. One hour of television a day. Absolutely no one was allowed in the pool without an adult present! Meals were prepared and presented at designated times. I rarely even attempted to work during daylight hours if the kids were home. Bedtimes were strictly enforced.

Now that they’re teens… I let them schedule their own stuff, or not (but if you need a ride, put it on the calendar or figure it out on your own). I’ve caught them binge-watching Netflix for an entire day and half-heartedly suggested they go do something else, then shrug and wander off when they decline. You want to swim? Great, go swim. Don’t drown. Hey, it’s 2:30, has anyone had lunch? Hey, I’m about to go to bed, maybe you should, too? I’m working right now, so unless you’re bleeding or on fire, please leave my office and figure it out without me.

I don’t have to watch them every moment, the way I used to. But I find myself watching them a lot, anyway. Sometimes it’s from far away, sometimes it’s when they appear out of nowhere and curl up in my lap. My goal right now is to just… be around as much as possible, just in case someone admits to needing me. When in doubt, I bite my tongue and offer a snack. That seems to work no matter what their age.

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Loosening The Reins Before College Tue, 02 Jun 2015 14:12:35 +0000

It will never cease being fascinating to me, how two people can share genetics and be so completely different. My children do have some similarities, of course, but they are outnumbered by the differences.

My daughter—despite struggling with anxiety over matters both real and imagined—is fearless when it comes to heights, speed, and other sorts of physical danger. She loves roller coasters, went zip-lining on vacation with her aunt and uncle when the rest of us demurred, has tackled every rock-climbing wall in her way, and says she wants to go bungee jumping.

My son—who will happily explain to you with Spock-like logic why thrill-seeking is illogical—would be more than happy to hold her purse and maybe get some ice cream while she does all of those things.

My daughter is a night owl. Left unchecked, she will putter around into the wee hours, and if she didn’t have to get out of bed before noon, that would be fine by her. Don’t try having a conversation with her once she gets up, either, until she’s had her meds, some coffee, and at least 45 minutes to stop being angry that she’s awake.

My son has always been a morning person. As a toddler he would grab his blankie and toddle off to his crib whenever he was sleepy, and as a teen his body clock continues to remind him when he’s tired, and off to bed he goes at a reasonable hour. When his alarm goes off in the morning I can hear him spring out of bed; he’s in the shower before his sister would’ve even heard the alarm.

My daughter is always up for something new. Yes, she’ll join your club. Yes, she’ll check out that new store or terrible movie. Yes, she’ll learn a new craft or pick up a new instrument or try that thing she saw on Pinterest.

My son is a creature of habit, and is suspicious of what he doesn’t already know. We’ve reached an age where at least he knows this about himself, and as he protests our dragging him into a new activity or situation, I can gently remind him that he never wants to do something he hasn’t done before, but then usually after he’s tried it, he likes it.

My daughter thinks rules exist to make her life miserable. (Maybe an exaggeration, but only a slight one.) My son finds rules comforting.

At this point in our lives, with my daughter about to be a high school senior and my son about to be a high school junior, both kids have laptops and iPhones. Both laptops have parental controls in place—both for accessible content and time limits—and both phones have Smart Limits which control the hours they’re functional and the amount of data the kids can use. Our household router kicks their devices offline at bedtime and doesn’t allow access again until morning. Both phones must be docked in their designated downstairs location before bed (or the phone will be taken away the following day), and it’s only recently that we’ve even allowed them to take their computers upstairs at all (the controls shut them down at bedtime, so they’re unusable after hours, anyway).

Are we monsters? Too controlling? It depends on who you ask. The reality is that almost none of this has ever been necessary for my son (maybe the time limits have, but only because he’ll lose track of time), and most of it has been implemented because my daughter would happily stay up all night surfing Tumblr and chatting with friends if she had the opportunity to do so. I’m perfectly at peace with the choices we’ve made regarding electronics up to this point.

The evening of the last day of school, my daughter was sitting in the family room with her computer, and suddenly she looked up at me in a panic. “Are you going to leave the parental controls on my computer when I go to college?” she asked. “Am I going to, like, have to call you and be all ‘I need you to come down here and let me change this setting?'”

I choked back a laugh. “No, honey. When you go to college it’s all up to you.” She smiled, and went back to what she was doing. “In fact,” I continued. “The whole idea here is that we set up what we think are reasonable limits, and then we pull back on those gradually and you take over regulating yourself, you know?” She looked confused. “If we kept managing all of this for you until the day you move out, you won’t know how to do it on your own and then you’ll be away with no safety net of me nagging you. Over the next year we’ll start giving you more freedom to figure this out yourself, bit by bit, assuming you’re handling yourself and meeting your responsibilities.” She considered this.

“I want a later bedtime,” she said, a hint of challenge in her tone. “This summer for sure, but also next year.”

“Fair enough,” I said. “Right now you just have a ‘be upstairs’ time and we haven’t been enforcing lights out, right?” She nodded. “That was the first step. We can shift that time some, that’s fine. It’s already up to you what time you get into bed. And you know I don’t care how late you stay up as long as you can get up in the morning. You have to figure that out.” She nodded. “You’re going to be taking a heavy course load next year, so probably the next thing is that we’ll take the time limits off your computer. But that means you still have to figure out getting your work done, not that you can spend six extra hours surfing the ‘net.” She laughed, and as happens more and more often, I saw a flash of her toddler-self in her nearly-adult face. “By the time you leave for college, you’ll have already been managing this stuff for quite a while. I’m not going to pop into your dorm room to tell you to stop gaming or turn off the lights and get some sleep. It’ll be all you.”

She nodded, deep in thought. If I had to guess, it was about two parts triumph and one part terror. And that seems about right, because that’s how it feels to me, too.

You hold on so tight for so long, you’d think letting go would be a relief. It is, but it’s also scary. Maybe I can take a tip from my fearless firstborn and spend this next year figuring out how to find it a little exhilarating, too.

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Transitioning To Middle School With ADHD Thu, 28 May 2015 13:38:58 +0000

Got tweens/teens? We’re trying a new advice column here at Alpha Mom—official name is still TBD—and today is our first reader question. We just felt like Amy does such a great job with her Advice Smackdown in handling the little-kid questions, why not try out a similar format for the older-kid crowd. We hope you enjoy! And if you have a question to submit, hit me up at alphamomteens[at]gmail[dot]com.


Hi there!

You’re very pretty. :)

I have two beautiful, smart daughters. My elder one, 11, has ADHD-PI. She is so smart but scattered like whoa. I get it, I have some of those traits myself, but I feel like there is a large debris field in her wake. I’m sure it’s multiplied because of tween X inattentiveness.

She’s starting middle school in 3 months, and I am TERRIFIED. How is she going to stay afloat? Her 504 with the middle school is not as robust, because they want to see if she matures more and can handle it better than elementary school.

Any tips? Techniques? Favorite flavored adult beverages?

Rueful in Roswell

Dear Rueful,

Fist bump of solidarity, Mama. My daughter has ADHD-PI and wasn’t diagnosed until well into high school, which means I still have several years of therapy ahead of me to finish conquering the guilt of all those years of “but why can’t you” and “didn’t you pay attention” and “just do it already!” People (and especially girls) with inattentive type ADHD sometimes fly under the radar until well into adulthood (or, you know, forever), and spend their lives thinking they’re lazy and/or dumb. So let’s start with the good news: You already know, at 11, that this is her challenge. That’s huge. And I’m not just saying that because I feel bitter and guilty that my ADHD kid floundered through middle school because we hadn’t figured this out.

You say “her 504 with the middle school is not as robust,” which has me a little confused. Am I understanding correctly that you’ve already met with the middle school to discuss, and they took out some supports she was provided in elementary school? If so, my level of concern would vary depending on what those supports were, exactly, although I would also be making the argument that transitioning to a new school is not the time to be helping her less. That said, in the interest of not alienating any of the staff you’ll be needing to work with for the next three years, I would be very tempted to request another meeting (either now, over the summer, if they’re available, or, say, the week before school starts), and I would probably do that by contacting the person who coordinates 504s and saying something like, “We’ve been looking over her plan and still have a few concerns. While we’re willing to try backing off on [whatever they originally cut] a little bit, we want to be certain that contingencies and some sort of rescue strategy are in place just in case this doesn’t go as smoothly as we all hope it will.” If anyone tries to tell you to just “try it out” and have a meeting a few months into the school year, reiterate that upon review (and if you feel like you need more clout, you can throw in “and upon the advice of her doctor” or something similar) you feel the plan is not ready for action. It’s your right to ask for a meeting at any time if you have concerns, so be persistent if you need to be.

Backing up here a little bit, when my kids transitioned from one school to another, part of that process involved having someone from their team at the previous school come be part of the meeting at the new school. It’s a great way to debrief on current issues in the language school officials understand. If you didn’t have that experience, and if someone at her old school might be a good advocate for her needs and is willing to come to a meeting, ask for that person to come with you once you have a meeting set. Parents can ask for anything, but in my experience, school officials are more willing to listen to other school officials, especially when they can say, “We tried X, but found that she really responds best to Y.”

Lots and lots of kids will experience a period of academic “drowning” when they start middle school. A good school will both see this as typical but also work really hard to prevent it—for everyone. The problem when you’re advocating for your easily-overwhelmed kid (and perhaps we could change ADD to OMG, if your kid is anything like mine) is that some of the things which are no-big-deal, we-can-handle-this for neurotypical kids turn into “I give up” for kids like ours. Unfortunately, some school officials might not see the difference during planning time. To wit: Someone might say, “Well let’s just [whatever wait-and-see strategy they’re advocating] and then if [your kid is down at the bottom of the pit] we’ll revisit.” That is why you want another meeting, because you need to clearly convey that what is an acceptable and recoverable level of disorganization/falling behind for a neurotypical kid is not going to be workable for your child.

If they are completely unwilling to provide what you feel are reasonable supports in the name of “seeing if she’s matured” or whatever, focus on building a safety net. Clearly define what happens if/when she misses deadlines and get front-loaded with a parental notification system. (Notification is crucial so that you don’t end up with a stressed-out kid buried under weeks worth of work.) If she doesn’t have an accommodation for extended time to make up assignments without grade penalty, get that added. If she doesn’t have an accommodation stating written instructions for every assignment (perhaps emailed to you, as well, if you’re comfortable asking for that), get that added. And do disaster planning now—map out the level of trouble you would consider her maximum load (5 missing assignments, say, or whatever you think makes sense) and what the strategy is to get her back on track at that point (including, perhaps, reinstating old supports because she’s not functioning well without them).

While the whole point of IEPs/504s is that they’re customized, here are some of the supports we have in place for my own ADHD-PI kiddo: The aforementioned extended time to make up assignments without grade penalty (and if for some reason an assignment cannot be made up—it happens, sometimes—either an alternate assignment or the grade is dropped). Extended testing time. Written instructions for everything. Larger assignments must be broken down into smaller steps with teacher checkpoints. Back in middle school and even early high school, we had a system where she had to record assignments and the teachers signed off on whether she’d done that or not, every day (we no longer need to do this, but it’s a pretty standard shaping exercise for a kid with organizational challenges). Even now my rising senior has it written into her plan that missing work requires a written notification both to her and to us. No, I’m not going to college with her, but as long as she’s a minor, I get to know when she’s slipping so that I can help urge her along.

Get another meeting. Bake something yummy (or pick up a yummy snack, if you’re not a baker) and present it with a smile and tell the team how grateful you are for their time and their partnership in supporting your child. Have a list of points and don’t let them shoo you out the door until you’ve gone through it all. Stress that everyone knows management is an easier and kinder road than recovery, so obviously everyone wants to set your kid up for success.

And then take some deep breaths and remind yourself—and her—that the first few months may be rough and you’ll get through it, together. Keep all lines of communication open and as the saying goes, hope for the best and prepare for the worst. My bet is that with you in her corner, she’s going to be fine.

Don’t forget that you can submit your own question to alphamomteens[at]gmail[dot]com.

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The Family That Clays Together… Tue, 26 May 2015 20:15:29 +0000

Because my husband married into a package deal—take on the wife, get two kids for free!—we have always referred to our wedding anniversary as our familyversary. Each year he looks up the “traditional” gift for whatever year we’re on, and then appropriate gifts are doled out to all three of us. Last year, on our seventh anniversary, because the traditional gift is copper, we each got a framed set of pennies, one from each year we’ve been together as a family unit. (Super sweet and creative, right? I got the very best husband. Don’t even bother arguing.)

This year we celebrated eight years of legal entanglement (guess who’s the romantic in this pair…?), and the traditional gift is pottery. On the day in question, my husband handed me a beautiful hand-made dish from a local shop, and then announced that he’d signed all of us up for a 2-hour pottery wheel class a few weeks later. I was thrilled. Also: worried.

Let’s back up for a minute. We’re still dealing with the emotional fallout of the decision to sell our camper. Although quite stoic about it, initially, as we readied the camper for sale, my husband was clearly going through a mourning process. I recognized what he was going through, because I’ve done it myself (though I did it a lot earlier than he did); it’s much less about the current event (in this case, selling the camper) and more about the “what if”s and “if only”s of having a different family than the one you pictured. I adore both of my children. My husband does, too. But this is not the family life purported to be the norm. We are raising two special needs teenagers on the autism spectrum who have good days and bad days and days in-between. Sometimes they’re like everyone else; much more often, they’re just not. Life turns out to take a lot more planning and patience and flexibility than we’d anticipated. My armchair psychologist assessment is that my husband is not sad about selling the camper, he’s sad about the fact that camping is a lot harder for the kids than it was for him, and also that lots of things are harder for our family than it seems like they should be. In the grand scheme of things, we are very lucky and have a good life, but still… sometimes those differences just feel really unfair.

Back to the pottery class: I was elated (how thoughtful! how fun!), but then I was nervous. We’d be taking my son somewhere new with lots of people and probably noise, which could be problematic. We’d be taking my daughter to do a very messy activity (not her favorite…), which could be problematic. Neither kid tends to do well with something they can’t master, and I knew that as novices we’d likely not be walking out of there with gorgeous creations.

It would be a blast, or it would be a disaster. That much was clear. I put it out of my mind until it was time to go.

We all donned old clothing and arrived early. We were so early, in fact, that we were the first ones there. Perfect! We got to pick our wheel locations, which meant I could sandwich my son between me and the wall and my daughter between me and my husband. We sat at the far end of the studio, away from the sinks and the clay, so there was no one walking behind us to retrieve things. It was the best distraction- and stress-free zone I could manage. One teacher showed us the steps of preparing a lump of clay and working it on the wheel, and another stood by ready to assist, if necessary. Ideally, each member of this class would have the opportunity to make two items in the first hour, then paint them and ready them for firing for the second hour.

The first thing you need to know about this adventure is that we were all just terrible. I mean that between the four of us there wasn’t a single speck of aptitude for pottery. But the other thing you need to know is that my worrying was really for naught—we had so much fun that night, it absolutely didn’t matter. We got filthy. My daughter and my husband both ended up with the teacher quickly throwing a small bowl for each of them because their clay kept flying off the wheel or collapsing in a heap or otherwise refusing to cooperate. And we laughed for hours and totally got into it.

[In the interest of full disclosure, I feel it only fair to mention that I made a really lovely bowl—much to my surprise—and I was feeling smug right up until it collapsed onto itself while waiting to be painted due to an uneven/too-thin area I hadn’t noticed. It shall be my Dali bowl, I guess.]

When it came time to paint, my son coated his creations in record time, then got up and went and sat by the door rather than staying at the crowded table with the rest of us. One of the teachers asked me if he was okay. “He’s fine,” I said. “He’s just done.” I realized this wasn’t as explanatory as I’d hoped. “He’s autistic,” I continued. “Two hours is a long time for him to spend in a giant group of people doing something new. He’s just decompressing over there.” I realized that just a few years ago, instead of removing himself from the fray and remaining cheerful, my son might’ve fretted and complained and eventually melted down right in the middle of the class. I noted to myself that it was interesting that other people were concerned he was unhappy, when I was internally doing a little happy dance because he was doing such a great job of self-regulation. As we drove home, I asked him if he had a good time.

“It was really fun!” he said, a note of surprise in his voice. Fair enough.

My daughter was the last one finished, time slowing to a crawl as she meticulously decorated everything to her satisfaction, chatting the whole time. All the other students were gone by the time she was done. Did she have fun? “That was GREAT! But wow, I’m covered in clay. I’m fabulous.” Another victory.

Best familyversary yet? I’d say yes. Thanks to my husband once again pushing us all outside of our comfort zone, we had a fun new experience and everyone lived and even had a great time.

Maybe our triumphs as a family don’t look the same as in other families, but that’s okay with me. Our family is my favorite one.

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Blind Spots Tue, 19 May 2015 16:40:51 +0000

My teenage daughter has been driving now for about six months, and as the saying goes, we’ve come a long way (baby!) since she first began driving regularly.

The process has moved along in fits and starts; there were periods of time where we took a break from driving practice for reasons wholly unrelated to driving. While I never required all of the planets to be in alignment to obtain the keys to the kingdom, er, Corolla, I did deny her the seat behind the wheel when responsibilities at school or home were not met, or when it felt like her head was just not in a place where operating a motor vehicle was a good idea. These breaks were not contentious; she agreed whenever I demurred. But it meant that as her 17th birthday arrived and the end-of-the-school year appeared on the horizon, she got serious about getting her life in order and getting more time behind the wheel.

[Did I drop a few less-than-subtle incentives her way? Perhaps. We’re just a couple of months out from resuming marching band season and my oh my wouldn’t it be so convenient if she had her license so that I could just let her take my car on band days and she and her brother can get where they need to be and back home later without anyone needing to fetch them? That would be great, I bet. Hmmmm. If only she has her license by then.]

In the last month or so, we’ve buckled down. She drives everywhere. I sit in the passenger seat and marvel that I produced a whole ‘nother human long enough ago that she is now driving me around, and sometimes it’s a struggle not to break out into a raucous verse or two of “Sunrise, Sunset.” It’s weird. I mean, it’s really weird. Meanwhile, her brother has come up with just about every excuse short of “I have to stay home and shampoo my cat” (we do not own a cat) to avoid getting his permit. He’s been eligible for nearly six months and still has zero interest in learning to drive, which is fine, I guess. Once school ends, we’ll hit the DMV and at least get the permit in hand to start that one-year clock, even if he still doesn’t want to start driving.

If I had to describe my daughter to you, after all of the complimentary adjectives like “loving” and “passionate” and “funny” would come “impulsive.” Part of that is ADD, part of that is just her personality. My biggest fear, as we embarked on her learning to drive, was her impulsive nature and the possibility of recklessness behind the wheel. As it turns out, though, she is an anxious driver, hyper-vigilant while on the road, and my most common correction issued from the passenger seat is “speed up a little, honey.” There is nothing impulsive about how she operates a car. She takes it seriously, to the point where a thirty minute drive on the highway leaves her exhausted. (She’s getting the hang of it, slowly, and more practice will make it less taxing, I’m sure.)

It wasn’t at all what I expected with her, and thus we have incident number something-thousand where I realize that parenting continues to be full of surprises.

Yesterday she drove us across town—which included a stint on the highway—and I found myself droning on and on about why you need to turn your head and look at the road rather than just relying on your mirrors when changing lanes. I had noticed that she was reluctant to do that physical turn, and of course while I’m riding with her I’m checking her blind spots, but I was feeling frustrated at her resistance. As she prepared to shift lanes, I reminded her again to turn her head, and then my daughter nodded, took a deep breath, and turned her head all the way around to look out the rear window before moving into the adjacent lane.

The car floated a little off course while she was looking backward, but it was fine. And in those few seconds I realized exactly what I’d missed.

1) I was telling her to “turn her head and look” and not rely on her mirrors.
2) She has a processing disorder. This was not a clear instruction to her.
3) Part of this disorder is an inability/reluctance to explain when she is confused.
4) I’d used the words “blind spot” but the original explanation hadn’t made sense to her.
5) She’d been resisting turning because she didn’t want to be looking backward while driving 60 mph on the highway.

Wooooooooo. So that was fun, because she was terrified and I realized the confusion and everything was fine, but she was freaked out and needed a bit of talking down to be assured that we were fine, it was okay, nothing bad had happened, etc. I felt terrible, of course, because I should’ve figured out that her resistance meant there was a misunderstanding. But because I know what a blind spot is and had thought I’d explained it, I had a blind spot (see what I did there?) about her confusion.

We made it to our destination and she parked, and then I had her roll the windows down and stay in the car. I ran around to different spots outside and challenged her to check her mirrors and see if she could see me in various positions. I started with everywhere I knew I would be visible in at least one mirror, and after about four different locations I planted myself in her blind spot on one side. “Check the mirrors and don’t turn your head. Can you see me?”

“No. What. Whoa.” We repeated for the other side, and then she got it, with that demonstration, in a way my words hadn’t been able to convey for her, before. Now she understands blind spots, and what she has to do to check them. And I got a great reminder that her learning style and way of understanding needs more doing and less talking.

On the way home, she changed lanes with ease, checking her mirrors and then turning her head just enough to check her blind spot before moving over. She’s got it now.

The plan is that she’ll test for her license this summer. We’ll both just keep working on remembering our blind spots until then.

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The Tao Of Strawberries (and our favorite recipes) Tue, 12 May 2015 16:23:33 +0000

It’s finally May, after what felt like the longest, drag-on-forever-est winter on recent record. (I feel bad saying that, when so much of the country just had endless amounts of snow and the weather here was mild, but when I say “long winter” I mean psychologically, you understand.) There were points where it felt like this school year would just never end. And now the finish line is plainly in sight; the kids only have about a week to go. Exam stress is winding down. Summer plans are ramping up. My vegetable garden—my favorite summer hobby, mostly because the only thing I enjoy more than eating is eating yummy stuff I grow myself—is well on its way to producing a bounty. But most wonderful of all: the strawberry farm is open.

I don’t know that I can explain the depth of my love for strawberry season. I love strawberries (obviously) and as treats go, you don’t even have to feel guilty about ‘em—they’re low-calorie, loaded with vitamin C and manganese (no, I have no idea why we need manganese, but apparently we do), and studies suggest they may lower inflammation and stabilize blood sugar levels. I care about all of that a lot less than I care about that fact that strawberries are delicious, and in a “I’ll go the supermarket and not think about where this came from” world, I love that we’re supporting a local farm every time we get our yearly fix on. During peak season we’ll go over there a couple of times a week and pick a few gallon buckets’ worth, and I always mean to freeze most of them, but then we eat them. And that’s fine, because then we can just go pick some more.

Understand that picking strawberries in Georgia sounds like idyllic family fun, but in reality we’re talking about being out in a big field in 90+ degree heat and about six thousand percent humidity (perhaps a slight exaggeration, but only a slight one). It’s hot. It’s sticky. There are bugs who want to bite you and bugs that hide on the underside of perfect berries so that when you turn over a real beauty, you discover half of it gone. This is just part of the process. It’s not relaxing or glamorous. And—try to contain your shock—sometimes the kids complain. When they were little, arrival at the farm meant unbridled enthusiasm and joy for about ten minutes. That then gave way to “It’s too hot” and “Are we done yet?” and “I’m bored.” Now that the kids are teenagers, I’ve discovered something wonderful: The key is to take them one at a time.

So last week when my daughter had a morning exam, I picked her up after and we went picking. It was hot and sticky but we brought ice water and she took lots of selfies (“strawberry picking > school!!!”) and the joy of sanctioned hooky was enough to carry her through. On the ride home, after we finished oohing and aahing about how good the air conditioning felt, her guard came down a little and she talked about all sorts of things. I mostly listened. It was a great day. The last time I took my son, he filled his bucket with amazing speed considering that he stopped to show me every “interesting” berry and talked nonstop the entire time. That was also a great day.

Back at home, I often find myself alone in the kitchen when it’s time to wash, slice, and portion the berries (some for eating plain, some for baking, some for freezing, some for popsicles and sorbets and ice cream). The kids wander off to other pursuits, and I get lost in the methodical repetition of lopping off tops and making uniform slices out of irregular shapes. It’s okay, though. Once I’ve made something delicious, they’re back again. They may not be as chatty as they were before (it’s hard to talk with your mouth full of berries…), but I’ll take it. Besides, once we eat everything, we have to go picking again.

Here’s a few of our favorite recipes if you find yourself in a glut of strawberries. (And if you don’t find yourself in a glut of strawberries, I suggest rectifying that immediately.)


The most classic use of a bounty of fresh strawberries is shortcake, of course, and call me biased towards our hometown culinary hero, but I think it doesn’t get any better than Alton Brown’s shortcake recipe. It’s a basic shortcake, and what I like about it is that it’s not sweet—you don’t need it to be, because you’ve got the berries and whipped cream. It’s simple and easy and perfect.

Strawberry Shortcake recipe by Alton Brown

If you want a cake you don’t have to feel guilty about having for breakfast, try this strawberry buckle recipe. It’s basically a strawberry coffee cake, and I’ve been known to add some rolled oats, even, to punch up the nutrition a bit. (Alternatively, if you, like me, can’t eat gluten, I love this gluten-free “crustless pie” recipe and it’s simple enough to use strawberries instead of apples. Just omit the cinnamon or sub with a bit of ginger.)

Made from Scratch Strawberries Cream Cake Recipe by Kayley McCabeI just made this strawberries and cream cake for the first time this weekend and the kids loved it. It’s a little bit fussy to make your own strawberry puree and strain out the seeds, but the resultant cake is full of strawberry flavor (and is a gorgeous, moist sponge-type cake). Don’t want to futz around with perfect layers and piping the cream? Do what I did—I baked it as a 9″ x 12″ and then cut it up and made a trifle, layering cake, strawberries, and fresh whipped cream in a giant bowl. There were no complaints.

Frozen Confections

Again, if you want to go with the classic, the no-brainer here is Ben & Jerry’s strawberry ice cream. It’s delicious and perfect.

Strawberry Basil Frozen Yogurt Recipe, Photo by Iain BagwellIf you’re wanting something a little bit different, well, did you know that strawberry and basil is an amazing combination? And remember how I said my veggie garden is in? I always have tons of basil, and I love it with strawberries. So we mix up regular strawberry ice cream with this strawberry-basil frozen yogurt, which is really a health food you know, because yogurt. And if we need a change from dairy-based stuff, I also love this strawberry basil sorbet, although over the years I’ve discovered I prefer it with a generous shot of lime juice rather than the lemon suggested.

Finally, I don’t remember how I found this recipe or how long it took me to get over how gross it sounds, but trust me, it’s incredible and I have no idea why, because plain buttermilk is just gross. Nevertheless, I give you: Strawberry buttermilk ice. I know, it sounds weird. It’s delicious and tangy and refreshing. It also freezes really hard, so I recommend making this as popsicles.


If you haven’t eaten all your strawberries and your freezer is full, my favorite granola recipe is Michael Ruhlman’s strawberry-banana one, and that’ll use up some more berries and give you many delicious breakfasts. (This granola also freezes well.)

Banana Strawberry Granola Recipe by Michael Ruhlman

If you have a favorite strawberry recipe, please share! I’m always looking for new things to try, and we have a lot of berries.

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Helping Your Student Manage Year-End School Stress Tue, 05 May 2015 14:47:06 +0000

This morning I went looking for the post I wrote when planning to transition my autistic homeschooler back to public school, and once I found it, I read it feeling something akin to amazement. It feels like I wrote it a decade ago. I mean, I remember the thought process, the logistics of it all, the excitement, the trepidation—all of it—so clearly, and yet it feels like something that happened in the distant past. Reality check: That was only about a year and a half ago.

My son’s reentry into the public school system was not without hiccups, but that first, half-time semester served its purpose. When August rolled around and it was time for him to be a regular, full-time sophomore, he was ready. Again, there were some hiccups—we practically forced him into marching band, kicking and screaming, and it took a good month or two before he realized he loved it; there was an adjustment to having to sit in classrooms all day long after the relative freedom and faster pace of homeschooling; and although he’s come a long way, there is still a routine “airing of grievances” via text messages when he is displeased (which my husband and I jokingly refer to as his daily mini-therapy). School is hard for him in ways it probably wouldn’t be for a neurotypical kid. We know this. We’ve all adjusted. Now that it’s May, it all feels routine… sort of.

School’s out in just a few weeks. Right now the normal schedule of classes has been upended for AP exams, End of Course Tests, and various other “end of the year” things. No biggie, right? Except for him, it’s like death by a thousand paper cuts, because:

1) change in routine (stressful!)
2) frequent shunting to a doubled-up classroom for busywork (stressful and infuriating!) while the regular room is used for exams
3) exams (super stressful, particularly for a kid who is still struggling to develop good study habits).

With just a few weeks left in the semester, it feels a little like my son has hit the wall.

Now, let’s be clear: I think that’s a normal feeling for most kids at the end of the year. Heck, I’m not even in school, and I am completely over this school year, thankyouverymuch. I’m ready to bid the early alarm good-bye, I’m tired of concerts and competitions and practices and events and “do you have your homework” and “shouldn’t you be studying” and “how did you lose your textbook?” and just all of it. I sympathize with the feeling of being done. That’s par for the course.

The (potential) problem here for my son is that there is a certain level of overwhelm from which he has a lot of difficulty trying to recover, and it’s hard to know when we’re approaching it (though once we hit it, don’t worry, that’s plenty clear… usually because he collapses in a heap of anxiety and sadness while my heart shatters). His IEP is structured to give him as much support as possible, but during these last few weeks where everything is different, it’s hard to even figure out when/how to help him with the things that throw him off. Learning to deal with the fact that sometimes things change from the norm and you just have to roll with it for a while is a crucial skill set he’s going to need in life. And as I keep telling him, I know he can manage. Still, I see his anxiety level creeping up, and I worry.

Yesterday was his first AP exam, and as luck would have it, it was for the class he and his big sister share. I knew that could be wonderful or catastrophic, and though I won’t pretend to take an iota of credit for it, somehow the kids all on their own figured out that they could study together and quiz each other and, I don’t know, use each other as support instead of bickering about who took whose pencil. It was magical! (Let’s pause a moment here so I can point out that my daughter really stepped up in terms of both organizing herself and assisting her brother, which was amazing to see on about half a dozen different levels.) They headed off in good spirits yesterday, and when I picked them up after the exam, they both said they thought it went okay.

But last night, I tried to get him to study for another upcoming exam, and that’s when things started falling apart. He’d already studied (for five minutes), and he’d been working all day and just wanted to talk with his friends (who probably also should’ve been studying). I tried to give him a “the year is almost over, the finish line is in sight but you have to find that last burst of energy to get there” pep talk, but it fell on deaf ears. Eventually he declared that he was just really tired and went to bed early.

This morning he woke up convinced that he failed yesterday’s exam and everyone hates him and the sky is falling. His first class got routed to another (doubled-up, crowded) room and I fielded a litany of text messages about the unfairness of the world and the stupidity of everyone in it. I know this is him blowing off steam, and I would much rather he text me than mouth off in class, but still, I worry. There’s weeks left and many more exams to get through, and I can see he’s having a hard time keeping it together.

My plan is to sit down with him tonight and map out a schedule for the remainder of the semester. He’ll agree to a certain amount of studying every night, I think, but dislikes the generic “well, go study more” exhortation. If I ask him to do an hour a night, he’ll set a timer and do it. I can’t do anything about the chaos at school right now, but I can help him make his time at home predictable, and that should help. I’m doing a lot of baking and making sure we have plenty of ice cream in the house; sure, good snacks never solved the problem of stress, but they certainly don’t hurt. We’ll mark the days off on the family calendar, and mark off each exam with an extra flourish.

In the final balance, sure, he still needs some extra support and encouragement, but this first full year back in public school has been a huge success for my son. I keep reminding myself of that, because it’s easy to forget when he’s struggling. He’s learned a ton, gotten great grades, made new friends, found new activities, and managed to find his way in what can be a really stressful environment for him. He’s managed to find the positives most of the time, which is huge. In a few weeks, he’ll turn in his textbooks and have the whole summer to relax, unwind, and get ready to do it all again next year. And I know that even though there will be hard parts, he’ll rock it, because he’s amazing.

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