I Think My Spirit Guide is a Wrestling Quaker

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With the exception of a stint in a private school owned by the Turkish mafia (What? Mafia bosses care about education too.) and a year in public school, I’ve spent my entire teaching career in Quaker schools. If you’re not familiar with Quaker schools let me nutshell it for you. Quaker schools were created by the Religious Society of Friends (Codename: Quakers) to educate their young’uns, although now most students are not Quakers. These are groovy, progressive schools where equality is the norm, community service is part of the curriculum and you can’t help but get sucked into their hippie thinking. (Quakers are pretty badass for pacifists.)

After many years in various Quaker schools, the Quaker way is deeply rooted in my thinking and parts of it occasional spring forth from my cluttered brain in times of need. This week, one Quaker idea has really been poppin’ thanks to my one-eared, bum kidneyed, hard of hearing, apraxic, high-strung, Nugget’s latest journey and that’s the idea that “a way opens.” It started in the dairy section of Aldi. (Yes, I’m a value shopper. No shame in that.) I heard, “Relax, a way opens,” over and over in the voice of my former coworker Mr. Ross, a wrestling coach/hippie Quaker. (I’m guessing this means he’s my spirit guide. I’m not sure how that works but admitting I hear voices sounds like a cry for help so I’m going with spirit guide.)

Most likely, Mr. Ross became my spirit guide because he was the one who best explained the theory to me many years ago. “If there’s a rock in the stream, the water doesn’t try to break the rock. The water makes a new way around the rock. Thus, a way opens.” It was pretty Zen for a dude who spent most of his time in headlocks and half nelsons. Ultimately, it might not be the road you were planning to travel, but a road will open, in time.

Right now, I really need a way to open in the, choosing-a-school-for-the-One-Eared-Wonder arena. As of August he phases out of Early Intervention and moves on to big boy school, but due to summer break decisions must be made now. We have 3 choices: the ASL based deaf school, the speech based deaf school with no ASL or the all encompassing developmental preschool which I lovingly liken to the Island of Misfit Toys- everybody who needs a little extra help can find it there.

We tried the ASL deaf school earlier this year and even though signing is his first language, it was a di- freakin’-saster. (Here, in case you missed it.) Since his main issue now is developing speech I had grand plans for him to attend the speech-based deaf school but after demonstrating a flagrant disregard for his mother’s plans by throwing his placement evaluation like Pete Rose in a title game, I began to worry. After discussions with his developmental pediatrician, speech therapist and audiologist last week my grand plans began to crack. All three suggested that due to Nugget’s increasing anxiety issues, he might not be ready for a speech intensive school. Why ya gotta do me like this Nug? Mama had a plan.

With every professional suggesting a holding pattern, I knew what they were really saying…look how well he’s done with you this year… you should give him one more year…stay home with him, just one more year. Sure I nodded and claimed I’d give proper consideration, while my insides screamed “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Now I certainly love my Nug and I will agree this has been a great year for him developmentally, but regular viewers may recall my fear of financial ruin forcing me to take up pole dancing on cellulite night as a means of survival. That fear hasn’t diminished and I’m staying flexible just in case. Here in the real world Mama needs to bring in some dough and while I’d love to stay home (Ok, not really, 24/7 Nugget duty is hard and I’m old.) I really must get back to the workforce.

Going back to work not only means freedom from the threat of pole dancing, it also means wearing pants not intended for yoga. (While I enjoy my yoga pants, my pants have not been exposed to yoga in the past year and Mama desperately needs the stand-up-and-suck-it-in goodness that occurs with a waistband.) I long for commutes where my sports radio is not disturbed by constant demands for It’s Signing Time Music Time. (Yes, I’m butch like that but only during football season.) I want lunch without that little bastard Daniel Tiger and coffee that doesn’t have remnants of a toddler’s masticated bagel. All of that is at my fingertips if I just get this school thing right. See, I’ve already taken a teaching position for next school year. (Now you see my plan? Mommy goes to school, Number 1 is in school, Nugget starts school. Easy peasy…or not.) So the need for accurate Nugget placement is high.

Hopefully my Spirit Guide is right and soon, a way will open. In the past, through all our trials, (And there have been an inordinate amount, damn it) a way has always opened. It wasn’t always what I’d hoped for but it’s always worked out, eventually. (Though I may now have a compromised liver and nervous tick, everything has to resolve, eventually.) On an up note, somehow in this stress, I developed not an ulcer, but rather a wrestling Quaker spirit guide so it seems my body has learned to handle stress differently this year. Perhaps a way is opening…

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RETREAT! RETREAT! (FYI- It doesn’t mean run away to the devout)

 

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The end is near in the great Let’s Catholicize My Kid adventure. First Communion is only a couple weeks away and in honor of the life-changing event, we had to spend the first beautiful Saturday of the year stuck in a First Communion Retreat last weekend. When I hear the word retreat my mind immediately conjures black and white images of men climbing out of trenches as John Wayne screams “RETREAT! RETREAT!” But as I learned, that’s not how the pious view the word. (I also learned running away from the church with arms flailing shouting “RETREAT!”  is frowned upon.)

Back in the 80s, Catholics didn’t do retreats. That was something best left to the Methodists but it seems in my absence, Catholics have decided to go full-boar into Retreating. In 2nd grade alone we’ve had two: one for Confession (Which we skipped due to my moral opposition to the practice. Like my dad used to say, why make a conference call when you’ve got a direct line at home.) and one for Communion. Due to the afore mentioned skippage and the falsities I may or may not have propagated justifying our absence, we needed to attend the Communion Retreat or risk being outted as the heathens we are. So at 8:00 on Saturday morning, mere hours before 13 children were to descend upon my home for a free-range birthday party, Number 1 and I slid into the back pew and prepared to Retreat.

Last week , I mentioned to my mom that I worried Number 1 Son wasn’t doing any actual First Communion preparation during the Catechism class I’d been hauling him to every Monday for the past year. How did I know this? Because in the past month alone he’d brought home approximately 4,782 Jesus-themed, shoddily-constructed arts and crafts projects and had no idea why there was wine involved with communion. (How is he even my child? Even at 8 I knew all about the wine, then again, I’d just read The Thornbirds so maybe I was advanced.)

In 1980, when I did First Communion, we spent a year preparing with Sister Nora standing over us, ruler in hand, making certain we had things down. We practiced with saltines and grape juice, rehearsed the procession like a drill team and knew every prayer Father was going to utter during the course of mass even before he got to them. Sister Nora had no time for Jesus-themed arts and crafts, souls were on the line damn it! In the weeks leading up to the big dance, the pressure was on as were weekly rehearsals.

“Do not drop it! If you drop it, you are dropping Jesus.”

“Sip the wine, don’t gulp. You are Communicants not drunkards.”

“Genuflect! We genuflect, we do not squat!”

“Kneel up! No butts on the pews children. Butts up for Jesus.”

By the time that organ blared on a crisp April Sunday, we were a well-oiled religious machine. That does not seem to be the case for Number 1’s class and so we Retreated.

The first hour was an intensive, Priest-led cram session, going over everything from the whats and whens to the hows and whys. I quelled the urge to point out that perhaps if the Jesus-themed crafts were taken down a notch, this curriculum could’ve been covered in Catechism. According to the mutterings of the other 90 parents in my general vicinity, I was not alone in that thought.

As Father wrapped up with what I now realize must be standard First Communion wine instruction, “Sip, don’t chug” we were sent off into groups for an entire hour of rotating through…you guessed it…Jesus-themed arts and crafts!!!!! (For the love of God people, what is this madness? Is there a Jesus-craft discount center nearby?) Our first task, glazing a ceramic communion chalice, wasn’t too bad with the exception of the mother on my right reminding her 8 year-old daughter, “Make sure you do a good job on this, we’ll be using this at your wedding.” WHAT?!?! No pressure kid, no pressure. I just wanted my kid to get paint on the chalice in addition to his shirt. I guess if I’m going to Retreat, I need to up my expectations.

Unfortunately as we moved to the next rotation, Number 1 Son was done. Why? Because even with the power of Jesus in your arts and crafts, no 8-year-old boy is down with playing Martha Stewart for an hour. As I observed a room of 45 parents crafting and 45 kids wandering aimlessly, it seemed the feeling was mutual.

While Retreating didn’t give me a full change of heart on this Catholic madness, I did feel a twitter of joy in the cultural significance of it all. It’s a good feeling to pass something down to your kids that was an important part of your own childhood; even if you’re not so sure you buy into it anymore. Maybe that’s what Retreating is all about.

Pulling out of church, I relished the fact that I wouldn’t have to Retreat again for 5 years when it’s Nugget’s turn. Right now, Nugget doesn’t need organized religion, his soul is in a holding pattern. But then, Nugget, the child who has been raised in a heathen household, has about 3 words in his spoken vocabulary and has attended church exactly once -at his baptism- changed that opinion. He was sorting through various Catholic paraphernalia we’d amassed that morning, stopped on a postage-stamp sized painting and said “Hi Esus.” The Turk and I shared a wide-eyed Scooby to Shaggy look while mouthing, “Did he just say Hi Jesus? How does he even know who that is?”

He went on to say it again and again and again. Perhaps the Catholic force is strong in that one and maybe 30 years from now, 90 parents will be reluctantly Retreating with a half-deaf, half Turkish, Father Nugget. Even a terribly lapsed Catholic mother would be proud of that.

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Grab Your Cape One Eared Wonder, It Is Time.

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When Nugget was a few weeks old and his failure of the newborn hearing screening was confirmed (Like that was hard, I mean, the guy has one ear. Duh.) we were told “The Center will be in touch to register him. They can keep track of him from here out.” Now I assumed, as one does, that “The Center” was something akin to the Hall of Justice. Logically, I also assumed that since the One Eared Wonder was born with a genetic glitch, as is true of most members of the Justice League, X-Men, Avengers, etc., it would only be a matter of time before The Center sent his cape and tights and called him in for duty. We got that call this week but we’re still waiting on the cape and tights.

Early Monday morning Nugs and I were instructed to report to The Center for his “evaluation.” While they tried to convince me this “evaluation” was for school placement, I knew better. I’ve got forty plus years of Wonder Woman fandom under my belt. I know how these things work. I also know it’s imperative to keep things on the down low, so I played along with the school rouse.

I tried to explain the process to Nugget, but to him it all sounded a bit too much like school. Unfortunately for him, The Center also shares a campus with his old school and if you’re following along, you’ll recall that that whole deaf preschool thing did not set well with the little dude and at present, he’s a preschool drop-out. As soon as we neared the sprawling, gated campus, (Huh. See that, sprawling, gated campus, synonymous with superhero training grounds –ie the Xavier Institute from the X-Men. They can’t fool me. I know what’s really going on.) Nugget knew exactly where we were and the meltdown commenced.

From the backseat he was screaming, sobbing, and signing no, no, no, I go home over and over and over. (While this is not behavior befitting one quested with world salvation, I’m sure AquaMan behaved the same when his AquaMom took him that first time too.) I assured him that I was staying and it would be fun but he’s heard enough of my crap over this situation and was not buying it. So, as I’ve now grown accustomed to doing, I entered The Center with a screaming fat kid clinging to my torso like a hostile chimp.

I was a bit concerned when I was able to just open the door and walk in. I’d expected there to be a handprint recognition security system or a membership swipe card at the very least. Upon entry we were met with a team led by a small older woman (their version of Dr. Charles Xavier-obviously) and her team of attractive young people, likely hiding their own superpowers beneath career wear. We were ushered back to the ‘testing suite’ where the One Eared Wonder was wired up to headphones and the process began. (While I’d hoped for a segment where they strapped him to an upright table for endurance, strength and mind control testing while I looked on from a glass-enclosed balcony above, that didn’t happen. I’m assuming they wait until he’s successfully completed kindergarten for that phase.)

As the testing continued so did his hostility, even after he was introduced into a room of fellow-trainees. (AKA two other almost-three year olds.) The other trainees were a bit more independent and did not demand to remain on their mommy’s laps. Because of this bravery, I assumed they were undercover members of The Center being used as a control group. That assumption was dashed when the interpreters entered the room.

Three kids, not quite three-years old, all of whom only communicate in ASL, received a team of two older women who interpreted their every sign for the hearing evaluators (whose hidden talents must not include the ability to read chubby fingered toddler ASL) and the result was hilarious.

The quiet room was now filled with dramatic, rapid-fire, voice-overs of every single thought the toddlers expressed:

Can I get some water?

                        I spilled my water.

            I want more water.

                        Did somebody poop?

            I pooped.

                        She pooped.

                                    I go home now! (Nugget, of course)

            Where is my snack? Can I eat his? He’s not eating it. I want.

                                    I’m done with this! We go in car now! (Nugget, of course)

            I’m ready for nap.

                        I don’t like this snack. Got something else?

            Are we done?

                        Where is my dad? My dad has snacks.

                                    I don’t want snack. GO HOME NOW! (At least he was consistent)

Upon our departure, I was given another form to complete regarding home behaviors and skills. While there was a question asking – does you child easily lift extremely heavy objects (Why yes, last week Nugget held my car up during an oil change.) I was taken aback when there were no questions like, does your child spontaneously take flight, walk through walls and/or appear out of nowhere. After completing the form I added a note suggesting those be added for the next printing.

Now we wait. Our next meeting is scheduled for May and I’m hoping that’s when he gets his cape and tights but if it’s based on Monday’s performance, we might be stuck with a bath towel and pajama bottoms for a while longer.

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I’ve Found a New High Horse and I’m Mountin’ Up

 

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As a long-time teacher, former world traveler, previous expat and world news junkie, I am well versed in the practice of climbing atop my high horse. And at the risk of sounding vain, might I add that perched upon my mighty steed, arms clutching research and eye-witness accounts, nose cocked as I stare over my glasses with a smug, judgmental gaze, I look damn good on a high horse.

Before my days were filled with boogers and butt wiping, I rode many a high horse. I was rigid about genocide after researching in Rwanda, dogmatic about the effects of lifelong fighting on children after a month in Belfast, authoritarian about Turkish politics after living there, emphatic about immigration after marrying the Turk (and being screwed by INS like a high end call girl) and the list goes on. But in the past few years, motherhood has caused me to stable my high horse. While I feel the occasional flare up from the old palomino when an unsuspecting fool makes a comment about immigrants (While my gut says, scream “Oh no you didn’t” I’ve found that isn’t as effective as a fact-filled, first hand account smack-down.) for the most part, I’ve been on the down low. Until now.

I’m new to this whole deaf and hard of hearing world and thus it will be quite some time before I’m ready to sit firmly upon the ol’ high horse regarding any of those issues. However, there is one subject on this journey that has been causing me to feel a stirring deep within, and while I first thought it might be my high-fiber diet, I realized that feeling is the need to mount my high horse and advocate in the arena of early language acquisition through ASL.

There are various schools of thought regarding language acquisition for deaf and hard of hearing kids. Some say sign only. Some say spoken English only. (Which is kind of stupid because that’s expecting a kid who can’t hear to be able to learn to speak… but I digress.) There are those who believe signing slows oral development (which has been proven wrong again and again). There are those who think signing alienates. And then there are those who think –give those babies every option and let them make the choice. I fall into the latter and now, almost a year later I’ve got good reason to believe the ‘give them both’ concept is the answer.

Last summer we learned that though Nugget was 2, his expressive language was that of a 6 month old. Even though he had one working ear and usually that should’ve been giving him enough access to speech to get him talking, it wasn’t so it was suggested we begin using ASL. I wasn’t expecting that. How was I going to teach my child a language I didn’t even know? How was I going to learn ASL? (I’m old and thanks to age, wine, and an excessive amount of Aqua Net in the 80’s, my brain cells were not in top form and learning Turkish had pretty much taken my last good ones.) I was told I needed to wade into a world completely foreign to me, again, and honestly, I didn’t want to. But I knew something had to happen. Nugget was trapped without a way to express his needs and boy, was he pissed.

Within weeks of meeting our Fairy Deaf Godmother (who waves her wand and suddenly he signs) everything changed. Once Nugget could discern his need and specify, “I’d like a dry martini” over “I just pooped,” his demeanor changed immediately. (No, he’s never ordered a dry martini but I felt it was a good sign for me to learn…you know…just in case.) While he still has latent tyrannical tendencies, it’s nothing like before.

In less than a year he’s developed an ASL vocabulary of close to 200 signs, knows his colors, numbers and much of the alphabet. He’s beginning to sign sentences and even tells me stories. What’s more, he’s begun to speak. (Oh not well or anything and with the exception of the words “go” and “hi” it’s like playing charades with a marble-mouthed drunk but he’s trying.) ASL gave him communication, which lessened his stress and gave him the confidence to play with speech. We gave him both languages and he’s deciding. Before he mostly signed but now he tries to say the word and signs it so I understand. Maybe someday he will only speak. It’s his choice.

Add to that incidents like today and I’m confident that the “give them both” approach is right. While Nugs and I were making an emergency toilet paper run to the store, we detoured to the donut counter. As we signed our conversation about donut selection, I noticed an older man watching. The man asked if Nugget was deaf and I told him ½ but he’s learning both ASL and English so he can communicate in whichever language is easier for him. The man smiled and said, “Thank you.” He pointed to his own hearing aids and told me, “I was born deaf but in 1944 they thought if you forced deaf kids into normal schools they’d learn to speak. I didn’t even have a hearing aid until I was older. I learned to lip read but it’s never been easy. I always wished I ‘d learned to sign. You’re doing the right thing. He’s going to do great.” (Oh you know that gave me a huge case of the feels.)

Communication is hard. Being a kid is hard. Being a kid who can’t communicate? Aw hells no. So as I continue on this journey and watch Nugget develop, I feel the need to get back in the saddle, clutching my research and first-hand knowledge, stare over my glasses judgmentally and say, “For the love of God people, shut up and give them both!”

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