Wednesday, December 30, 2015

New Year's Resolutions for the Whole Family

New Year's Resolutions are becoming harder for me to make. With each passing year, I watch myself make and break the typical goals of cleaner eating, more hours at the gym, and less screen time. According to a 2013 study by Scranton University, only 8% of people keep their New Year's Resolutions. Given my track record, this comes as no surprise. My gut reaction when I hear the word "resolution" is to roll my eyes and question the point; by February the only action my running shoes will see will be collecting loose french fries on the passenger seat of my car.

But this morning, while watching television and decidedly not exercising, my 5-year-old overheard the morning show news anchor discussing resolutions and, being the curious child that he is, he asked me what that meant. In explaining it to him, I not only remembered the importance of setting goals to better one's self, but it also dawned on me that the one way I might meet my goals for the new year is if my kids hold me accountable (and they might learn a valuable lesson on personal growth in the process). We discussed the concept of New Year's Resolutions and I told him that every year I try to eat healthier foods and get more exercise, but some other people choose different goals depending on how they want to improve their lives. Since I've never been very good at keeping the aforementioned resolutions, I decided to ask my son what resolutions should I make for myself. Perhaps he knew a better way to a better me. Given that change doesn't come from doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, I shouldn't have been so surprised by his answers:

1. Take me to the park more.
2. Don't clean the house so much.
3. Be silly.

And he's right. I haven't been very good at those things on the list. I found myself trying to give excuses for my behavior. The weather hasn't been very nice for the park lately. Our house is small and crowded, so it needs to stay clean. I'm tired when I get home from work. But what good are excuses in the face of 5-year-old honesty? These are the things that matter to him and, quite frankly, these are pretty easy changes to make. So my goals for 2016 will center on ways to be a better person in my children's eyes. Considering I'll have more influence on their lives than anyone else, I should take it seriously. And no one can hold me accountable better than my kids.

But the lesson doesn't end there. I told my son that he needs to think about choices and changes he can make to improve himself in 2016. The list he rattled off was far longer than the one he made for me. I find it interesting that we develop our sense of good versus bad, helpful versus harmful at such a young age. Granted, one of his resolutions was to improve his Lego Star Wars video game performance, but the rest of his goals were quite indicative of his moral development. They include but are not limited to eating more vegetables because they're healthy, practicing soccer with Dad, and earning a 100 on all his spelling tests for the rest of kindergarten (yes, there are spelling tests in kindergarten; I could hardly believe it myself). What was even more surprising was that his list didn't require a great deal of thought; he knew immediately what was important to him. Perhaps that's the key. Perhaps we need to make our goals simpler, more attainable, and relevant to our immediate needs and wants. Or perhaps he wanted to end the conversation as quickly as possible because his favorite show was about to come on TV. I'd like to believe it was the former.

This exercise was about more than setting important goals for myself; it helped me to realize what's important to my kids. It helped me remember the value of personal growth and that it's never too early to start thinking about ways to become better. But most importantly, it allowed us to create resolutions that will bring us closer together as a family. The years of raising small children is exhausting, but it's temporary. I have a feeling that when I blink and they're teenagers causing all sorts of rebellious trouble, I'll wish I spent more time cherishing these innocently messy years. And if I can instill in them the importance of self-reflection and self-growth, then maybe I won't have to drive them to court after an especially rowdy mailbox-smashing joy ride when they're 16. It's a win-win.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Happy Birthday, Quinn!

I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact that Quinn is THREE years old. Seriously, where has the time gone? Nevermind. I know the answer. It's been spent chasing this kid up and down the stairs, telling silly stories, making convincing and often-terrifying dinosaur sounds, and reminding him to use soft hands with his sister/the cat/my eyeballs. Time flies when you're having fun, I guess. But this year's birthday snuck up on me. In years past, I've found myself agonizing over the birthday milestone and remembering that Quinn was still so very far behind developmentally. This year, that hasn't even crossed my mind. Not because Quinn doesn't still have those same struggles; he's very different from a typically-developing three-year-old, but he's thriving and happy and a true joy to be around. And that's really all I want for my kids. They don't need to fit into some mold of perfection that we create when we become parents; they just need to be happy, dammit.

And there's been a lot of talk lately about Quinn's happiness. At the age of three, kids with special needs qualify for services through the public school system, including speech therapy services and even in some cases full-time early childhood education. We waived our right to the latter since Quinn's best placement is at The Rise School, but it puts an added emphasis on this year's birthday since we need to start thinking about what we want for his educational future. As we approach these last few years of preschool and his graduation from The Rise School looms in the distance, we have to make a choice.

Do we:

A.  Push him to be a self-advocate in the sink-or-swim world of public education? Do we fight for an inclusive setting where he'll likely be one of the few kids--maybe even the only kid--with Down syndrome, but where he'll learn autonomy and have a fighting chance to attend college, get a job, and function independently as an adult? If we go that route, will he become fodder for inspiration porn? You know, those viral videos of the kid with special needs being voted Homecoming King or victorious in wrestling match that the "typical" kid threw simply because his opponent has Down syndrome. You guys, I HATE those videos. My kid is not a mascot. He's not here to make other people feel better about themselves. But he does have an opportunity to help other students understand and respect differences, and there's a great deal he can learn from typically-developing peers.

Or do we:

B. Continue with private education where he's surrounded by kids like him? A place where he'll be safe and comfortable, where he'll receive the intensive interventions he's been receiving at The Rise School, but which also might prevent him from learning to interact with the world outside his special needs bubble? Will he even need those interventions beyond the early childhood classroom? Rise's model is based on the hope that he won't, and he is truly thriving there, but is he thriving enough to join a typical kindergarten classroom when the time comes? Will that social comfort be stunting to him as he gets older. Will being around his siblings and their friends be enough interaction with typically-developing peers?

All these questions come out of a genuine desire to do what's best for Quinn. I want him to determine his own path based on his goals for himself, not mine. But I highly doubt Quinn will know his goals at age 5, when these decisions must be made. The extent of Atticus's goals at this same age are to build the latest and greatest Star Wars Lego and to get fruit snacks when he gets home from school. So it's up to us to figure out what's best for him for now. We have time, but with every birthday, we get closer to that decision-making deadline.

While we weigh our options, we'll also soak up these years and enjoy the time we have with our fun, mischievous, hard-to-catch little boy. In that spirit, here's a fun glimpse at Quinn now:

  • Likes: dinosaurs, Lucy, anything Atticus likes, books, running to be chased, taking off his shoes and socks when we're already late and insisting that he be the one to put them back on, school, dancing, and ketchup.
  • Dislikes: when there's no ketchup.
  • Words: ketchup, mama, daddy, Elmo, sock, dino, "ucy" (for Lucy), "caca" (for Atticus. I know, it's tragically funny), book, car, truck.
  • Skills: running, jumping, kicking a ball, drinking from an open cup, using scissors to cut a straight line, drawing circles (though he has zero interest in this skill), following multi-step instructions, completing puzzles with little assistance, stringing beads, and walking up and down stairs.
  • Adjectives to describe his personality: stubborn, social, loving, and energetic.

Happy birthday, Quinn! We love to pieces! 


Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Today is #GivingTuesday, a time when we take a break from elbowing each other in the groin on Black Friday to save $50 on a new TV or spending the entire workday shopping Cyber Monday deals when you should be answering emails. It's a time when we consider the causes that are important to us and give what we can to help those in need.

As you know, Quinn attends The Rise School of Houston, a preschool for children with and without disabilities. It is, without question, the BEST place for his development and early childhood education. At Rise, Quinn receives speech, physical, and music therapy. He shares a classroom with 9 other children and 4 teachers (one of whom has a disability), and together they learn the skills needed to be independent, social, and ready for kindergarten. But, as the Rise website will tell you:

$24,000 – that’s the true cost to educate a child in Rise Houston’s intensive, highly effective program each year. A small price when the long-term payoff is so great. Yet the price is still out of reach for most families. To keep Rise affordable for families, tuition is set at a portion of the real per-student cost, about $1600 a month or $19,000 a year in 2012-13. Two-thirds of our families apply for and receive scholarships of 20%-70% off full tuition based on their needs, but every enrolled family pays something.

Without the help of donors like you, Rise would be impossible for many families, including our own. Can find it in your heart to give, even just a small amount, to make Rise a reality for deserving families? If so, you can donate here.

If you're still not convinced, just watch this video to see all the great things this school is doing for kids like Quinn, Atticus, and Lucy. We are so fortunate to have this amazing program in our area and are eternally grateful for the donations that make tuition and attendance possible for my children and all the others that make our great Rise School family.