Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Life as we know it

I have started - and then scrapped - at least a half dozen blog posts in the past week and a half. I want to say its because I've been so busy and wrapped up in my circus of a life but sadly, that is not the case. In fact, its just the opposite; life is so slow and calm at the moment, I'm just not sure I have anything to say worth reading.

I suppose that isn't completely accurate - there is of course the ongoing saga of Owen's school troubles. Despite his very hard work and all the progress he has made, his teacher still feels he should be put on an IEP. Basically, she feels that he will have so much trouble catching up that he will never get ahead and placing him on an education plan will help him do "less work with more time" and avoid further frustrations. I disagree. I feel like "dumming it down" for him this early on only teaches him that he's not as smart as the other kids and that he needs to be treated differently. An IEP (or IPP, as they call it in NS) is a last resort, a last ditch effort to help a child finish the year at his appropriate grade level while doing certain subjects at a level more suited to him. It is something best visited later in the year, after many long months of hard work and dedication - not something offered to a new child two weeks into the school year. Clearly, I have a fight on my hands.

On top of that there have been a few "incidents" at school involving my son and other kids' fists in this stomach, among other things. He has made a few comments regarding his size ("What vegetables do I need to eat to grow tall FAST?") so I immediately assumed he was being picked on due to his rather small stature. It seems I may have jumped the gun - or perhaps he just doesn't really want to admit it. He assures me all size-related issues have so far been only verbal, with the majority simply pointing it out or asking why he is so small. It is clearly enough to bother him though, or I'm sure I would never have heard about it. Statements like "I am going to dream of being taller..." and "How much do you think I've grown since last week?" speak for themselves.

The truth is, aside from the problems we are having with our son at school, life is pretty perfect right now. I would gladly give anything to trade issues with his education or social status for less important ones like house paint and long commutes, but that isn't how life works. And as much a I try, there aren't very many negative things to say about this town or our life here. The kids love their school (even Owen continues to say it is much better than his old one), we all have many new friends (and even some old ones!), the town is easy to navigate and has everything we need at arms-length...and then there's the house. Don't get me started on the house. As much as I knew I detested our house in Greenwood, I really don't think I appreciated just how much until I moved into a house I loved. And love it I do. Its amazing how comfortable a house is when your family actually fits in it, and I've never before had such a desire to keep a house clean before now!

We miss our friends and family, of course, that was to be expected. We are finding though, through the wonderful technology of things like Skype, Facebook and MSN, our friends are never far away. Morgan regularly video chats with her friends from Greenwood after school and then again before bed, which I think has made her adjustment so smooth. I even got great advice and support from a beloved friend all the way from Afghanistan today - which I really needed - through one of these modern new communication tools. Followed up by a lovely chat with a close friend from "home" over the old fashioned telephone this evening, we are still feeling quite close to all our friends, wherever they may be.

So this post really served no purpose other than to keep the blog going, keep you all updated and to say this: please don't abandon me during my "dry" weeks; as my life picks up and our struggles in the school system continue, I am sure I will have plenty to say and will need all your lovely comments and support once again!!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Monkey in the Middle

Being married to the middle son of three boys, I am a firm believer in a little thing called "Middle Child Syndrome." I have enjoyed teasing my husband about it over the years ("Oh you're such a middle child!") but in all reality, he is and it does exist.

A middle child is never the first and never the last. They aren't the first in the family to learn to tie their shoes, to ride a bike, to go to big-kid school. They also aren't the baby, the family's last chance to experience the baby stage, the last one learn to walk, to get on that school bus, to reap the benefits of the older siblings paving the way for them. They are forever in-between. They get the hand-me-down bikes and then pass that along to another sibling when the time comes; they don't get the same praise as the oldest child for countless milestones, as by now those things are merely expected, and they forever live in the shadow of their often more successful older sibling. The most important thing to remember about any middle child is this: you can never give them enough attention. At least, not in their mind.

So knowing all this, we were hesitant to bring another child into our family, thus making Owen - our already very needy, clingy and sensitive little boy - the middle man. In fact, this is a large reason why there are four years between he and Rhian. After many years of debate, we ultimately decided that as long as we were aware of the possible affects a younger sibling would have on him, we could deal with it. Basically, we felt the pros of having another sibling far out-weighed the cons of him being the middle child. I want to report that it has never been as issue, but that would be a lie. I do believe that him being the only boy among the three helps immensely; it is so much easier to single him out and to think of "Owen-only" activities to do with him. We have tried our best to give him the attention we know he craves, without taking anything away from his sisters, and to fulfill the lonely, 'left behind' feeling common to middle children. At the end of the day however, I must admit that it is impossible not to over look the middle child at least some of the time. I clearly remember Morgan at age 5, climbing the steps to that bus on her first day of Primary, me crying and her never looking back. I also very clearly remember my tiny 4 year old Rhian, my baby, running to the bus on her first day and me being lost and deeply saddened by my empty house. But with Owen....well God love him but I don't remember that day as clearly. He was ready, he was happy, and he wasn't the first. Or the last. See how that works?

So fast forward a few years and we find ourselves moving to a brand new province. Owen, like many middle children, is fairly even tempered and laid back. He wasn't as concerned to leave his friends as his older sister, nor was he as excited as his younger one. He just took it all as it came at him. Everything was going better than expected until the day they started school. It became immediately apparent that the school system here in Ontario is far more advanced than that of Nova Scotia (which is another rant for another day) and that poor Owen was going to be in the most trouble. As far as school work goes, Owen is not a good student. That is not to say he isn't smart, in fact the kid reads far above grade level and can do more with electronics and wires than most adults, but he just doesn't care enough. He doesn't try, he doesn't apply himself and he has always gotten away with just scraping by. Until now.

I have been thinking about this a lot and have come to the conclusion that what we at first perceived as a problem in the education of our eastern schools, is probably more a problem that started right here at home. Morgan is our brilliant student. That reeks of favoritism, spelled out in bold print like that, but it has always been a known fact in our house. She, like most first children, is a self-starter, an independent worker and has always found every grade she's been in far below her capability. She does not struggle with any area of school and has made this major move - at least in the education department - seamlessly. We knew early on that Owen had to be pushed, that he just couldn't seem to focus and didn't take his assignments seriously. So we accepted that. Over the years we allowed him (not without a struggle) to do the minimum and to get away with as little output as possible, always explaining it away as him not caring and his teacher not being firm enough with him. The day he came home from grade 4 here and we realized he was WAY behind in almost every subject, I seriously regretted moving at all. They were "reviewing" their multiplication tables, while Owen had no idea what they were. They had a "reminder quiz" on the capitals of all the provinces of Canada, poor Owen didn't even know a quarter of the provinces themselves. To top it off, the kids here have had core french every day since Pre K, while Owen didn't even know how to say hello in that language.

So we did the only thing we knew how to do: we printed out a chart of the times tables and had him spend an hour each day studying them. Steven created a dice game with him to make the quizzing fun and I showed him the tricks I always used to remember the names and locations of the provinces and their capitals. We both began speaking french to him and printing off lists of vocabulary words to ask him each day. And then a crazy thing happened: he learned. In a move no one expected, Owen rose to the occasion and began memorizing and understanding faster than we ever imagined he could. There were some bumps in the road, yes of course, and some tears, but the progress is remarkable. I realized the root issue when I asked him one day during his homework why he was crying. The answer wasn't "its too hard" or "I don't understand this", but instead, "this isn't fair." He truly believed that it was not fair that we expected him to work and I instantly knew how we had failed him: we had over looked the needs of our middle child. Again. We said we wouldn't, we knew he needed that extra push to get motivated, but it happened anyway.

So what started out two weeks ago as a potentially stressful catch-up year for our son with hours and hours of homework every night, has quickly become a blessing in disguise. I feel like only now are we really seeing Owen's potential and appreciating just how intelligent he is. I feel like we have been trying so hard to not overlook Owen physically all these years, that we have over looked the details and have missed so much. I am very grateful that we are seeing this whole new side of our precious son, he has perked up so much in the past few weeks and I must say I will never tire of that look of pride he gets on his beautiful face when he realizes he has understood and remembered something new.

As for Owen, he is loving this. Not only is this opening up a whole new world for him, but this is the answer to his personal prayers. You guessed it: he has Mommy and Daddy all to himself for an hour of homework every night.

And let me tell you, it has quickly become my favorite hour of the day.