Graduation daze

Watch out, Mr. Ramsay! This week the culinary world receives a new chef:  K.

Graduation, as always, is a bittersweet time. I know she’s worried and excited at the same time about starting her new life in the culinary world.  She’ll be doing her hard-won externship at the Biltmore in Asheville, which is very cool indeed. We can’t wait to visit this summer. I know she’ll do well, and perhaps stay on after her externship is done, or take any one of many other opportunities out there.

We are invited to a buffet at the IUP culinary academy in Punxsutawney (yes, the groundhog place), and then the graduation ceremony for the 30 or so graduates. It will be a nice, small gathering, the kind where each student seems to have meaning.

We’ve been to the other kind. My sister graduated from school with a class of about 2,500. The ceremony took forever! We were certainly proud of her and glad to see her success. But somehow it’s not the same. I know I skipped my college graduation for the same reason. My other daughter was valedictorian of her college class–but when graduation came, she’d already moved from Guam to the States. So she missed it too.

The one family graduation that really stuck with me was the one memorialized in my story Under the Big Top in the Cup of Comfort book. Two daughters, two ex husbands, a wild cast of unrelated characters, and of course, the traditional family watermelon-flinging fight after. Some families just function better with food in hand.

I did attend my law school graduation from the University of Miami.  The ceremony was held at the Dade County Auditorium, (now Miami-Dade County Auditorium), right downtown on Flagler Street. We all dressed up in serious black gowns and sat on stage in rows, while the deans and professors, with their bright stoles, sat in the front of the stage and made what I’m sure were inspirational speeches.

My attention, however, was not on my family in the crowd, or my dreams of career and other grandeur. No, my attention was on some of my brethren who had discovered the unlocked side door to the backstage area and the fact that a convenience store selling beer was directly across the street.  I will never tell who they were (and frankly might not remember 20-some years later), but I know their names came after “S” in the lineup. While the speeches were droning on, they made not one but three trips across to stock up on six packs to make things move along a little more pleasantly. Now that’s legal action with some real momentum for change!

I’m sure the events of this week will be less dramatic, but no less pride-inducing. I hate letting go of one more little girl, now a grown woman with mad skilz. But the world needs her more than I do. And she’ll be fabulous. You go, girl….because I know how you roll.  🙂

IEPs for U and ME

Is it spring again already?! Man.  Either someone’s speeding up the clock or I’m getting old WAY too fast…

We got the call for Little Miss’s Individual Education Program (IEP) meeting, and had that meeting this past week. No big surprises academically, as we have slowly seen that her fourth-grade work is falling farther and farther behind because of the wiring of her brain.

Actually the school psychologist we’ve been working with for six years (who knows Little Miss very well) came up with a very apt description of how that brain works:  when Little Miss is asked a question, the results are like a Google search. She comes up with everything she knows about that subject, all facts of equal weight, and she has to tell you all of them, and may actually get to the one that answers your question–with the level of language that she has, which is at a very practical, concrete second grade level. Not much there for analysis or conceptualizing yet. (Working on that.)

But the team brainstormed nicely, and we set up some possibilities for pre-teaching information, since her long term memory seems better than the short-term. We talked about doing extra work on the computer, especially in science, looking up images and reinforcing information visually.

The most ironic part–and we had to laugh, or else we would have had to hurt someone– was that the teacher sent as a representative of the fifth grade staff had also taught the Captain. We tried to point out that Little Miss and the Captain are very different in just about every way.

Two years ago, we wanted the Captain to do sixth grade in his home school instead of at the school with the autistic support program, hoping it would urge him to curb some of his odd behaviors before transitioning to junior high.  We had a meeting with the home school (which had originally asked the Captain to be removed TO the autistic support school mid-first grade), explaining that we thought it would be a good idea to let him experience the “general population,” if you would, in a smaller environment.

This particular fifth-grade teacher had come to that meeting with a written agenda and scared HELL out of the home school, talking about how hard the boy was to control and his outbursts and his meltdowns and on and on and on…. we were denied.

But at Little Miss’s IEP meeting, she smiled and reminisced about how much she’d liked the Captain, asked how he was doing, and said, “Oh, I’ll never forget him.”

After she left, I turned to the psychologist and said “Did we all go to the same  meeting?”  She kind of made a face and shook her head and we both laughed. In that poking a stick in your eye way.  Maybe the kids aren’t the only ones with issues.

Can’t WAIT till next year.

That headache time of year

No, I don’t mean allergy season, though that certainly would apply. I mean summer, and its attendant crisis-level situations about what to do when you have two working parents, special needs children, and services to arrange around family demands.

We’re all busy. Even without the challenges I know a lot of you parents have of getting kids back and forth to sporting practices and events, we have been run pretty ragged by the schedule of services we’ve received in years passed. (Sports are right out. For a number of reasons.)

The first year of our diagnosis we had to deal with TSS and social groups for two of the children, all provided by workers who didn’t drive. So we rushed here and there.

For several years thereafter, we had summer camp 35 miles away for the two kids with autism, and made the trip twice a day.

Ditto Boy was jealous the others had a special camp, of course, so he was signed up at the Y, so he had plenty of activities.

In addition to the weekday events, of course, we had to find time to have time away as a family, and also time to visit grandparents in South Carolina, so we had some respite. For the majority of the year, there is no respite, and with the way the Captain has been carrying on this spring, it’s hard to find anyone willing to take him, even for a short time.  So at 13, when he should theoretically be able to watch the others for an evening so we can go out, he’s the one of the three that needs a babysitter the most.

We found a relative who will keep the Captain for a month, but can’t do any transportation for the visit. So it looks like I’ll be driving to Montana and back (no way I could put that boy on an airplane alone!!) to drop him off, and hopefully a friend will be flying this direction at the end of the month and accompany him.  Two weeks out of my schedule just for 30 days of peace.

Trying to work around grandparents’ schedules is hard too. The schools are on different calendars; they start in early August, while we don’t go till September.  And with their need for continuing ed and so on, we are limited to a very small window–actually exactly the time that I had planned to drive the boy out.   Which would mean not only would the children miss out on a vacation across the US, but there would be no respite. But it at least frees up Little Miss for her ESY program.

So we regroup and regroup and regroup. And reach for the Excedrin.

Veni, vidi, wiki

I have wikied.

In broad daylight, once. But mostly under cover of night.

My new skill for the week *insert fanfare of trumpets here* is that I have become one of the thousands–nay, MILLIONS– of authors of Wikipedia.

A few posts ago, I referenced Maquis Universal, a science fiction RPG of which I’ve been a member for 10 years, and as one celebratory factor of  our group’s anniversary, our webmistress has created our very own wiki.

Now while I have several educational degrees, and I am over 50 years old, and I am married to a computer sciences instructor, the most I know about hypertext markup language (HTML) is that if you put an i in brackets and then minus it after a word it makes italic. Yay. (So all of you who can design your own webpages, I’m jealous!)

Fortunately, the wiki system is set up along the lines of WordPress blogs and MySpace: We Cater To Idiots Since Dummies Have their Own Books.  With a little template design by the Webmistress, I have now been able to enter characters of mine. I designed and entered the page for ships. I uploaded histories and treaties.  I R Teh Interwebz!

At least my particular tube works, anyway.  Thank you, Senator Stevens.

Now that I’m registered, apparently I can read any entry in Wikipedia and make corrective changes.  I have expanded my world and increased my power. Yea, verily, it is good.

Vaccine? Not routine

Over the past several weeks, Little Miss has been having little twitchy-stretchy movements of her neck, arms and legs. I first noticed it at Disney, when she was holding her ears a lot, and I thought the unusual movement might be troubling her. But her classroom teacher noticed it too, so we had her checked out, and had her physical at the same time.

The nurse came in and checked basics, then started outlining the vaccines it was time for.  I listened politely, then told her “No, thank you.” She looked at me like I was some sort of freak, and said she was due for a Hep A and chickenpox.  Apparently she thought I had a hearing loss of some sort. I politely insisted, “No, thanks.”

Then I waited for the doctor to come in and fire us.

I’ve heard about a lot of autistic kids’ parents losing their medical care because of their stance on vaccines. As a professional with standards of practice myself, I can understand the doctor’s wish to distance themselves from a patient who flaunts his recommendations.

When I was a kid, you got polio vaccine and smallpox vaccine. Now they get 20 shots before they’re three. I’ve read a lot about the vaccine situation. I’ve seen courts go both ways. I don’t know. I really don’t. I personally know some parents whose children faltered into autism after they received their shots. Not ours–they’ve got it in their genes. But my gut tells me that if something chemical/environmental in my children doesn’t work or process correctly, then adding a vaccine for a disease they may never be exposed to or might sail through just fine doesn’t make sense.

All the kids had their baby shots, before we realized what was going on with them. Little Miss got her tetanus booster last year, because she’s always digging in the dirt and playing in the woods, and I don’t know what she’s going to get into. So it’s not like they never had protection.

I’m just being extra cautious.

I’ve had this conversation with the main pediatrician at the office. He suggested vaccines. I asked if he could guarantee it wouldn’t impact their autism. He admitted he couldn’t. I said no, thanks. He understood. I hoped this was the doctor we drew.

It wasn’t. We actually got the old-fashioned doctor who hadn’t understood anything about autism any other time we had been there ever. Great.

But it was a miracle.

Somehow he had been educated. (Maybe because as we have the best school autism support program in four counties, all the parents are moving into our district. There’s a lot of us.)  He asked all the right questions. He wanted to know, even though her language was impacted, if we were exposing her  to music and art and other means of expression, because children affected with autism were often gifted. He said he thought the twitchiness was just growing pains, because our girl is in the 95% end for height.  He reluctantly agreed on the vaccines. I was pleasantly surprised. Shocked even.

So we dodged the bullet this time. Certainly it will come up again. If any of them want to go to college, they’ll likely be required to have boosters of MMR and chickenpox vaccine. If the vaccines are so effective, shouldn’t they last longer than 15 years?  You’d think so. I just don’t want to take the chance that all the progress we’ve been able to make could be impacted by negative effects that could last 15 years–or a lifetime.

Space: the mentoring frontier

I’ve mentioned before that the Cabana Boy and I met at an online sci-fi RPG. For the uninitiated, that’s a “Role Playing Game.” Although some prefer LARP or groups like the Society for Creative Anachronism (of which I was a member back in college), this online group suited me fine.

Maquis Universal is an offshoot of an earlier Star-Trek based group, the United Empire of Planets. Set in a mirror universe from the original Trek, the UEP were generally strong, but evil, and the Maquis were Robin-hood type good guys.

MU however, attracted a broad group of sci-fi aficionados, and quickly branched out from the Trek format to include Babylon 5, Stargate,Firefly, Battlestar Galactica and dozens of others. Other RPGs had firm rules and requirements–all we ask is that people choose a character from any one of the franchises they like, or make up their own consistent with those stories or others. We have Q, anime, Federation, Klingons, androids, AIs, humans, wolves, faeries, ghosts, evil scientists, Doctor Who companions: a virtual creative burst of improv adventure theatre every night.

I am one of the oldest in the group, and when I married the Cabana Boy, we became stand-in “parents” for many of the youngers, most of whom were teenagers back in the late 90s. Through instant messenging services, we got to know these young people, and they us. I think it says something for the quality of these relationships that a number of them survive to this day.

There is something about the anonymity of communication on the Internet that encourages intimacy. Perhaps it’s that one isn’t constrained by all the physical discouragements, or that it’s easier to find those of like mind outside one’s immediate vicinity. While our characters hashed out great space battles, engaged in chivalrous love stories and carried out lives that could never be in real life, we talked about things that mattered to them, like teen life. Boys. Girls. Driving. Bullying. Careers. School. Parents. We worked hard to make sure that the adults who participated in our group were like-minded and would watch out for our little brood of Internet space chicks.

It’s been ten years since this group solidified. Some players have gone and new ones have joined. The core group is the same. Young people who we saw through pimples and dating are now getting married and having babies of their own. They’re graduating from college. They’re out in the work force. They’re serving their country. They’re getting ready to become pilots. As a cyber-mother, I have the opportunity to be proud all over again.

Within the last week, two of the young men I’ve known all these years have both mentioned to me their appreciation for the care and listening ear I’ve provided. I’m gratified to know I’ve been a meaningful part of their lives. They’ve certainly been part of mine.

So for Jordan, Jon, Sebastien and Jen, Mike, Dacie, Tim, Trina and John, Jeff, Brian, Luc, Matt, Robin, Stacy, Chad and Yolanda and the many others who’ve come and gone,  we wish you a safe flight out there in the black. Remember, you always have a place to come home and people who care about you.

As we enter our 10th year, Maquis Universal is accepting new players. Those wishing to participate in an online sci-fi community where seat belts are optional and anything can happen are invited to fly by and check us out.