At long last, here is Chapter 3 of my book “Happily Ticked Off” for you to read if you’re interested. I hope to share more with you on this book’s progress, my writing progress and my kid’s crazy life in 2015.
As always, I’d love to hear from you, too!
Chapter 3 — ScholasTIC
Your TS Child (And you, freaked out mama)
Will Surive Grammar School
Five Years Later
Fourth grade started out like third grade. It had only been three weeks and I’d been stopped by the teacher three times. The first incident was innocuous enough.
“Mrs. Frazer!” Nicky’s teacher, Chris, called to me with a smile.
I internally kicked myself. “All this could have been avoided if I’d picked him up in the carpool line. This thought was quickly replaced with, “Just because you avoid an issue doesn’t make the issue go away. It just prolongs it.”
I had one more thought that went something like, “Stop talking to yourself and pay attention to the teacher- ooooooh, a hummingbird!” at which point I directed my concentration where it belonged. Turns out, if only Nicky had done the same thing, I wouldn’t be standing in the blue door frame of an elementary school room on a Friday afternoon.
“Nicky had a hard time focusing today,” he informed me.
Last year, upon hearing similar words from his third grade teacher, my face dropped like a bad L.A. facelift. I was crushed. Four years into his TS diagnosis, his tics were still pretty minimal. With his penchant for pink umbrellas and impromptu standup routines, I knew he’d never be an academic soldier, dotting his i’s and crossing his t’s with laser like precision. But I was still holding on to the hope that Nicky’s eccentricities wouldn’t mark him as different.
Like water resting in two cupped hands, I held tight to my dream that Nicky would skate through grammar school “off the radar.” Due to a nurturing environment and healthy diet, I’d hoped Nicky would remain the epitome of concentration. He’d be humorous, witty and outgoing with his peers and teachers, but he’d know when to pay attention to really exciting things.
Like long division.
And bar graphs.
That is where the water, like my dreams for Nicky’s academic life, slipped through my fingers. While it was true that he had many friends and was an active and engaged learner, this only applied to people and subjects he was interested in. If he found something tedious, his ability to concentrate, like my bank account, was sadly depleted.
Unlike the year before, I now felt more balanced emotionally. Four years and counting makes a makes a mama pretty strong. At 6-foot-1, even if I wasn’t having a particularly confident day, I knew how to smile and stand tall. Today’s tie dyed sweats scored from a thrift store for $4.99 were extra bonus reinforcement, and it was time to go in with the big guns.
“You know Nicky has Tourette Syndrome, right?”
There, I threw the bomb.
Instead of exploding words, silence fills the five feet between mother and teacher. I might be a veteran at throwing out the “T.S. Word”, but Nicky’s teacher is a professional at poker face. He shows neither fear, shock nor smugness.
After waiting a beat, he replies, “I didn’t know about the Tourettes. But now that you say it, I’m not surprised.”
Neither am I. Despite hoping against hope that others wouldn’t notice Nicky’s vocal and physical quirks, they had indeed increased over the summer. Call it the chlorine from the pool triggering his throat clears. Call it the two hours/day of Nintendo amping up his excitement, bringing with it a light “ah ah ah” warble that my husband and I lovingly referred to as “The Tarzan.” Call it the diet cheats, the staying up later, the camping, the vacationing, the constant stream of friends and family in and out of our home that made quiet time nearly impossible. Whatever I wanted to attribute it to, one thing was certain: My son had Tourettes and there was no hiding it any longer.
“Perhaps I can send you a letter explaining a bit about Nicky’s condition,” I offer.
“That would be wonderful,” he echoes back. His voice is soft and his smile is genuine. I know Nicky is in good hands. Better stated, I know I am in good hands.
“Let’s set up an SST also,” he adds.
Aaaah, the SST. I know the drill from last year. Standing for “Student Success Team,” the SST is a meeting that takes place between the parents, the teacher and the Vice Principal. Our administrators set these in motion to be sure the needs of each individual student are being met.
After a quick reassurance that “all technicalities are being covered so that we can focus on the success of your child,” the Vice Principal combs through a checklist that covers, but by no mean is limited to:
- Your child’s medical diagnosis
- His home life
- The relational status of the parents
- His after school activities
- His nutritional habits
- His moods at home
- His moods at Grandma’s
- His moods at social events
- And enough additional training to qualify for an interrogation certificate.
In all sincerity, most parents agree that it means the world to have their children in such competent hands. After all, to enroll our babies into the school in the first place, every single one of us had to put our child’s name in a lottery.
Many parents, myself included, showed up on the actual day the names were being pulled randomly out of a bucket, a la public school bingo. With hopes soaring and faces sweating with anticipation and nerves, we all prayed, cross fingers and hoped against hope that our children would be one of 5% lucky enough to land a spot in the coveted kindergarten session. Tears of disappointment flow year after year, along with war whoops and high fives for the victors.
And really, what’s not to celebrate? With a rigorous balance of academics and arts, plus gardening and physical activity, it’s hard for a parent to complain… even about an SST. The SST is not there to shame a child or parent. It is put in place like every other event at the school: To support the child to the best of his ability.
It’s simply impossible to walk away from a one hour conversation that is completely focused on your child – emphasis on the positives first, followed by a game plan to help them succeed – without feeling that their offspring has indeed landed in a unique and magical oasis known as the Los Angeles charter school.
That all said, the mere suggestion of an SST has most parents dashing their heads against the sticky dashboard of their SUVs bemoaning this glitch in their child’s once flawless academic career.
I was no exception to this dejection dance, and despite feeling gratitude for Nicky’s incredible educators, I was drowning in visions of my attention deficit class clown ticcing like a bobble head on the short bus.
“An SST sounds like a great plan,” I smile back at Chris. With his striped Vans and faux hawk hair gelled up towards the center of his head like a hip boy band member, I feel more like I am speaking to Nicky’s big brother than a teacher. Youth aside, his reputation with other parents is stellar.
Given that Chris has a decade of experience teaching fourth grade, and I have zero, I yield to his proposal. “I’ll send you my availability along with a little info on Nicky’s personality to help you see how he ticks. No pun intended!” I wink at my little quip.
He laughs out loud. His guard is down now, which is the best I can hope for in having some honest dialogue this year.
We say our goodbyes and I head toward the lunch tables, where I will no doubt find Nicky hunched over some kid’s shoulder – likely a kid he doesn’t know – to catch a glimpse of his Mario game. Being a nine-year-old extrovert, some might call Nicky a bit clueless. But most just call him friendly. It’s hard not to like a kid who is comfortable enough with himself to not give a rat’s ass if you want him sticking his nose in your game or not. His actions imply, “Look, I’m here. I’m not going away. You’re the one with the issue if you don’t like meeting new people.” It’s lovely living in Nicky’s world.
True to form, Nicky is at the lunch tables. Only this time, instead of hanging over some twelve-year-old’s shoulder watching him play, he is seated amiably next to him on the painted green bench. He isn’t watching the game, but instead is holding it in his own grimy palms.
In addition to being more social than Facebook, my kid is a con artist.
“Five minutes!” I tell Nicky, who responds in a practiced, “Yeessss, Mommy.” One point for me! My son might not concentrate in class, but he has surely gotten down the routine that you respond to Mom in the affirmative or your distraction is taken away.
On the way to get my daughter, Evie, from her third grade classroom, I mull over my conversation with Nicky’s teacher – how I had made him laugh, and hopefully feel comfortable communicating with me, throughout the fourth grade year. It wasn’t so much that I wanted him to like me as a person. I wanted him, as I wanted every teacher every year, to know that I’m a mom who is approachable and willing to take suggestions. I am a mom who doesn’t use my son’s “condition” as an excuse for bad behavior. I’m a mom who, of course, thinks my child is more gifted than Santa at Christmas, but I’m also the type to nip over the top precociousness in the bud. Yes, call me the patron saint of accountability, consistency and communication.
Because, as much as I hate to admit it, I sometimes go a bit overboard with the whole “He has Tourettes” proclamation. It’s as if, in protecting my son, I am telling the world, “I know about Nicky’s tics and his ADHD symptoms. You don’t have to blast me with your oh-so-clever newsflash on my son’s inadequacies. I will shower you with them first, along with a witty joke, because I’m just so OK with this crazy disorder.”
Luckily for me, most people were convinced of my security.
Convincing myself was a whole other matter.
- Don’t be afraid to listen to your child’s educators before making snap decisions that they are all idiots and simply don’t understand your wonder kid. (I’m not talking from experience here. )
- Get real about your child’s challenges
- Get real about your own challenges
- Honor your child’s gifts
- Honor your own gifts
- Stop taking everything so seriously. It makes tics more bearable.
- View grammar school as a blip on the radar of your child’s life so everything doesn’t feel so crushing. In ten years, when they are at Harvard, are you really going to care that some teacher thought your kid was a punk? Stay open and grow!
- Tourette’s and education is a marathon, not a sprint. Stretch, be hydrated, and be ready to take this one step at a time. It makes all the difference in the outcome of the race we call parenthood.