Thursday, October 24, 2013

Sing it with me: "Ryan has a giiiirlfriend..."

A few weeks ago, Ryan came home from school and announced, "It's almost Hediyeh's birthday!" Hediyeh is one of the two girls in his class. I thought it was neat that he knew that; I certainly didn't know that.

Yesterday Ryan told me, "Tomorrow is Hediyeh's birthday!" I asked if they would be having a party in school, but Ryan provided no further information.

This morning, the first thing Ryan said after Good Morning was "Today is Hediyeh's birthday!"

Clearly this is a major event. It's also the first time Ryan has told me any information about another child without being prompted. SoI asked Ryan if he wanted to make Hediyeh a card. He said yes.

I offered him a choice of pink or blue paper; Ryan said "She would like pink paper." Not I want to use pink paper, but I think this is the one my friend would prefer.

I asked if he would rather use a pencil or markers; he announced "We can use both together."

I wrote a model for the words "Happy Birthday Hediyeh" on some notebook paper, and without hesitation or distraction, he copied the words perfectly onto the pink paper. Writing is not a task Ryan generally enjoys. Doing his homework generally devolves into him pretending his pencil is an airplane.

Then he picked up a blue marker and drew a spiral. With a yellow marker he drew a flower. I was in shock - Ryan doesn't like to draw very much, and when he does he typically uses just one color and scribbles.

I forget if this next part was my idea or his, but when he was done with his drawing, Ryan asked if he could decorate the card with stickers. I opened the sticker drawer and asked what sort of stickers he thought Hediyeh would like - Dora? Monkeys? But he was already hard at work with stickers he had selected himself. He shot me a look as if to say, "Cool it, Mom, I've got this under control."

When the card was finished, Ryan said "And now we must take it to school so Hediyeh can see." I had him show the card to Stu and then I helped him put it in his backpack. He looked very proud.

After school I asked if there had been a party at school, and if Hediyeh liked the card, and what I should wear to the wedding.

No answers.

I don't even know if today was actually Hediyeh's birthday, and I don't much care. Today was a day when Ryan thought about a friend and did something nice for her. And that's a pretty good day.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The big scary question

There's a significant chance that Ryan may not be able to take care of himself when he's an adult. It's not a certainty, but that possibility is always hanging over my shoulder, daring me to turn my head and answer the question that plagues all parents of children with special needs:

What will happen to my baby when I'm gone?

I'm an only child, so Ryan doesn't have any aunts or uncles on my side who could help him. Stu has a brother, but he and his wife have been very busy building their careers and haven't really gotten to know Ryan well; in any case, if Stu and I are old and senile, they probably will be, too. I have a small gaggle of second cousins who adore Ryan, but they're all around my age, and the ones who live nearby don't have children yet.

That leaves Ryan's somehow-related cousin Dylan and my one-year-old nephew Jude as the closest family members who are likely to be around who could look out for Ryan. I my head, therefore, it's critical that Ryan and his cousins grow up together and have a good enough relationship that Dylan and Jude care enough to look out for him. We see Dylan several times a year and the boys get along famously. Jude is still a baby, so we have some time to build that bond.

I should probably also be worrying about who will take care of Stu and me when we're old and senile, because if Ryan were unable to care for himself, he certainly wouldn't be able to help us. But I don't think much about that.

Fortunately Ryan is cute and sweet and little girls like to take care of him, so hopefully down the line he'll marry someone who can keep him on track and pick out a nice retirement home for me.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Poor Broken Camel

Gio's dad is coaching his peewee basketball league this winter. Dee asked me if Ryan wanted to join and play.

A team sport? With typical boys? I really don't see that working out too well.

Dee said "But John will be coaching, he'll keep an eye on Ryan."

"No," I explained, "you don't understand. Ryan would need a one-on-one to keep him on task. He'd have to follow the rules..."

"Oh just do it," Dee encouraged, "they're just little kids, it's not even like it's real basketball." Dee speaks with the authority that comes with having raised five kids.

One of the moms I've been chatting with on the sidelines at Nutcracker rehearsal has raised 13 foster children. As we watch #13 stomp around in her ballet slippers and shriek her objections to perceived slights, "Jean," the perpetual mother, declares she's done.

"Once you have a handicapped one," she confides, "you just can't do it anymore."

First of all, God bless this woman for taking on the raising of a dozen children who needed a loving home. That's just beautiful.

But secondly, I've been thinking about Jean's breadth of parenting experience. Kids 1-12 must have presented her with the full spectrum of challenges neurotypical children can provide, from the mundane to the terrifying baggage related to whatever threw them into the foster care system. Jean had seen it all.

And then she adopted "Cathy," the first in her brood who needed an IEP. Jean doesn't even know what Cathy's current diagnosis should be: at age three she was diagnosed with autism and exhibited unusual behavior that was attributed to being abused by her birth mother, but now at age 12 there are clearly other things going on, so she is being reevaluated. Not knowing what's wrong, of course, makes it harder for Jean to figure out the best way to help Cathy, which leads to frustration on both sides.

Raising Cathy has taken such a toll on Jean, she decided she will never again have the stamina to open her home and her heart to another child. Her experiences have reinforced what I have come to believe:

It can be really hard to raise an atypical child.

All the typical parenting experience in the world will not prepare you. There is no Dr. Spock or Parents Magazine for you. Your own mother probably doesn't have any tips from her experience raising you that would be helpful. Peewee basketball is less about playing basketball than about learning to respond to your name, following directions, learning that there are rules and that it's important to follow those rules, and not stripping naked at inappropriate times.

There's no shame in admitting that this stuff is hard.

Even if you can handle raising 12 foster children.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Nutcracker Dance, part 2

Miss Debbie has decided that from now on Ryan will rehearse with the older kids so he can be in the Russian dance. And lo, the heavens opened, and it was good.

But he's still not 100% content, because he's still expected to participate in activities other than the Russian dance.

Today they practiced the scene he was in last year, in which the toy soldiers fight the mouse king. The first time through today the kids all had foam swords. Miss Debbie gave them a stern lecture to the effect that they were never to hit anyone else with the swords, but really, if you give a bunch of boys toy swords, everyone's getting stabbed.

So they walked through the number with the swords, and then later a bunch of other kids came in and there weren't enough swords for everyone, so Miss Debbie had everyone put their swords away and just pretend to have swords. Well, Ryan found this unacceptable. He started whimpering, the wailing, "I can not find my sword anywhere!" I tried to reassure him that everyone was using imaginary swords, but he wasn't buying it.

Then he went back to whining that he wanted to do the Russian dance.

After class I explained to Miss Debbie that Ryan does best with a numbered order of events. If I could write a list and say, "Step 1 is the soldier scene, Step 2 is the Russian dance, Step 3 is funny third thing" he'd be perfectly fine. However, Miss Debbie doesn't work that predictably. She goes with the flow to accommodate the unique and ever-changing needs of all the kids. Given the wide variety of challenges or handicaps of the participants in the class, I understand the need for her to operate this way, but it makes it a bit more difficult for Ryan.

At least he gets to be in the Russian dance.

The Role He Was Born To Play

Remember last winter when Ryan was a soldier in an adaptive production of The Nutcracker? Well, tis the season, and we're doing that again and kicking it up a notch: he will perform in both the soldier scene and one or two other dances. Ryan has been rehearsing with the youngest group of kids - adorable little girls who are beyond proud of their leotards and tutus. The older kids we got to know last year are in a more advanced class, practicing different dances.

While watching the older kids dance last time, Ryan fell in love with the Russian dance. You know, this number:
The dance involves lots of jumping and running and galloping.

"Can we dance The Nutcracker now?" he asks the air. By "Nutcracker dance" he means specifically the Russian dance. That the older kids will be performing. That he doesn't know he might not be performing.

The younger kids' group is supposed to perform the Chinese dance (but with much much less energetic choreography than this video):
Ryan has zero interest in the Chinese dance. When all the kids are supposed to be walking slowly on tiptoe, Ryan is running circles past them, taking half a dozen extra passes under the arch. The rest of the class - the warm-ups, practicing the Chinese dance, clapping to music - is just the tedium he endures for the reward of exploding into a joyous Russian dance. The sweet high school-age ballerinas encourage him to do demi- pliƩs and tendus at the barre, and he does his best approximations, but he's just filling the time.

I explained all this to the director, Miss Debbie. She said there's no time to change costumes between the Russian and Chinese dances, so doing both was not an option. Well, Ryan has made his preference clear, I noted. Can we switch things up?

Miss Debbie thought a moment. Then she cued up the Russian music and had Ryan and the one-on-one helpers line up in the front of the room. "Ryan, this is your audition," she announced; I'm sure Ryan had no idea what that meant.

The music started, and Ryan came to life. He danced with contagious exuberance. What he lacked in technique he more than made up for in enthusiasm. When the music ended he took a small bow and said "Thank you!" The other moms on the sidelines grinned.

Miss Debbie cocked an eyebrow at me. "Really?" she asked. "We'll have to think about this."

The other parents murmured, "She HAS to let him do it! He's so HAPPY!"

But the director is not yet convinced he can keep himself under control. Her concern, it seems, is that during this scene there are other people leaping and spinning all over the place, and that Ryan's energy might be challenging to contain. "He'll need someone on him," she told the mentors, meaning one of them would have to stay near him on stage, like they did last year. I said I didn't see that as a deal-breaker.

To be continued...