Wednesday, October 1, 2014

31 for 21: #1

I'm taking part in the "31 for 21" blogging challenge again.  I tried this challenge 2 years ago and it was fun to try to think of something to post each day during October, which is Down syndrome awareness month.  This year I'm going to do something different though.  I'm going to typically post one photo from the day.  They won't be portrait quality or worthy most likely, but rather, they are snapshots of Owen's day and how he lives.  I'd like others to see that he's just a kid and in most cases, he's a lot like your average 5 year old, complete with whining, energy, smiles, excitement, and after school-I'm tired/hungry/annoyed that I have to do homework melt downs.  I'll likely drop in a few other posts, like a school update and how we are spending our afternoons, but I'm looking forward to a little daily slice of life!

From the Step Up for Down Syndrome Walk last weekend


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Mom Goes to School

Earlier this morning I went over to Owen's school to visit with his general education Kindergarten classroom.  Owen spends about 50% of his day in that classroom, while receiving speech services, sensory breaks, and more intensive academic support in his special education classroom.  I really like both teachers--kind, compassionate, honest, and very communicative; I feel VERY lucky and grateful this year that we got the gold standard.

At the beginning of the year, Mrs. B. (gen. ed.) sent home a monthly calendar and information about her "Friend of the Day" program.  Each student would have a day that was about them and they would get to present their poster and pictures to their classmates.  The daily Friend would also get to bring in his/her favorite book which is read during snack time in the afternoon.  I looked over the material and realized that there was no way Owen would be able to present on his own because he simply doesn't have the words to do so.

So I took the plunge and emailed Mrs. B. and asked what her thoughts were about having me to come class and present Owen's posters and talk to the kids about Owen and Down syndrome.  She didn't even hesitate; she emailed me back within the hour and was extremely enthusiastic about my visit.  I laid out what I was going to present (a little like a lesson plan......can't take the teacher out of me!), so there wouldn't be any surprises.  I wanted to send a short letter home to O's classmates as well and I got in touch with my lovely friend, Lisa, who graciously sent me a copy of the letter she sent home with her own son's classmates earlier this year.  I was able to adapt it for our needs and I sent a preview copy to Mrs. B., just to make sure she was comfortable with sending it home.

I will readily admit I was nervous this morning for a couple of reasons.  I can present in front of adults and teenagers with my eyes closed; I've been doing that for nearly 20 years.  But 5 year olds?  That's a whole new experience for me!  What if they looked at me like I was crazy?  And secondly I was worried about my own kid.  He always thinks that when I show up at school I'm there to take him away and he does NOT want to leave.  But O gave me a high five when I showed up and a hug when I left.  He also followed along with the class and he was super proud to be able to take the lunch count to the office with a friend, C.  I saw that he has a little girlfriend too, V., who is smitten with him--they were holding hands and she helped him with his Friend of the Day crown (which he actually wore for once!).

I learned to never underestimate kids.......they always seem to come through no matter what.  I helped Owen present his poster and pictures and then I read the book "My Friend Isabelle" to the class. We talked about things that they all have in common and things that are different about all of them.  The kids were fantastic; they made a lot of connections to Owen:  "Oh, I like swimming too", "I love the splash pad", "I like Curious George!", "Yay!  My favorite snack is goldfish too!".

They asked about Down syndrome "What is it?" and I told them about how it is something inside Owen that he was born with and how it is a part of who he is.   I explained that sometimes Owen needs extra help and that when he leaves the classroom, he goes to visit those helpers for awhile. We talked about how Owen doesn't say many things verbally, but they wanted to know what he does say and Owen shined right then:  "Upppp!" and "iPadddddd".  We also practiced some of Owen's signs so that they would know what he was saying to them.

It was a great experience; I am truly glad I did it and that Mrs. B. was open to it.  She's a lovely woman but I'm glad she's the teacher and not me.  I knew exactly why I went into secondary education when one little boy decided he HAD to tell me about his dog and that his dad doesn't like the dog because it peed on his dad's shoes.  That was a moment straight out of "Kindergarten Cop" and I'm positive the over-sharing nature of little kids would ensure that I could never look the parents in the eyes during parent-teacher conferences!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Road Trippin': Take 3

Our last road trip of the summer was a short distance from home.  Last summer we went to Walnut Grove, MN because of my slight obsession with Laura Ingalls Wilder and I remembered from the maps in the museum that the Ingalls family had lived in Wisconsin on Lake Pepin.  We had intended to visit last summer, but it just never worked out.

Fast forward to this summer and I realized that time was winding down and Labor Day weekend was upon us.  So off we went to check out Pepin, WI, the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  It's a small town right on Lake Pepin with a tiny museum, a wayside with a replica log cabin and a park downtown named for her.  We took some time at the lake but were unable to commence our usual rock throwing routine as the sign at the dock stated "No Rock Throwing Permitted"..........who rained on that parade?!

For the history nerd, there were some great pieces of machinery, housewares and clothing from that late 1800s through early 1920s, including 2 uniforms of American soldiers from World War I.  Obviously Owen wasn't into that, but he loved the replica steamboat and enjoyed climbing up the stairs and hiding out.  He was able to run around at both the wayside and the park, which was good for him after sitting in the car during the 1 1/2 hour drive.

We had a really nice dinner at the Harbor View Cafe, which was packed and had a wait list before it even opened at 4:45pm for dinner!  We got a good table near the front windows and Owen was able to check out the trains that passed by.  He liked that quite a bit!

In my quest for LIW places to visit, I noticed that we have still have South Dakota, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri to hit.  I wonder if I can convince the hubs to take a little bit longer of a road trip?  I mean, really, what's a few extra hours?!

Neat map in front of the museum

Going to class the old fashioned way

Singer sewing machines

Boat replica

Climbing to the top deck

WWI Dough Boy uniform

Edison Phonograph

Beautiful Lake Pepin

Wayside marker

Replica log cabin

Someone just had to test the hand pump!

Mama and boy selfie



Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The End and The Beginning

Wow!  What a summer!  We spent most of it outside, playing, exploring, swinging, sliding, hitting the baseball, and just enjoying being at home.  I confess that we hardly did any "school" type work the entire summer.  We did some cutting and writing practice a few times each week, but nothing structured.  I felt like Owen just needed time to play and just to be.  And because of that, I feel like we had a really great time together and I was honestly sad to see the summer end.

We took some great trips, both little road trips and a big on the plane one.   We visited our share of beaches and threw more rocks into the water than I could ever count.  It was a pretty relaxing time!

Yesterday Owen headed off to school.  Kindergarten.  Real elementary school.  I held it together until the bus got to the end of the street and then I broke out into sobs.  He was happy to board the bus and gave me some waves which was reassuring, but I still worried.  I hoped he had a good first day back and that he didn't feel too overwhelmed with a full building of people and kids.  I hope he makes some friends in his Kindy classes and that lunchtime isn't too much of a disaster.  We never did perfect the art of opening that darn milk container!

I didn't need to worry at all.  He tried to use the bathroom without any tears.  He ate his entire lunch except for the sandwich crusts (he is totally my kid!).  He loved gym and music and was apparently quite the dancer.  But the best thing that happened really shows his personality and character.  According to his teacher, he helped a friend from summer school (a typical peer!) who was crying at the beginning of the morning.  Owen went over to this boy, took his hand and walked with him down the hallway towards their classroom.  The boy stopped crying and gave Owen a hug when they went into the classroom.  That.......that is inclusion and I am so proud of him for noticing his friend's distress and trying to help him out.

Most of all, I hope Owen is happy at school.  I want him to enjoy his time there and for it to be a place that he wants to go and he wants to learn.  It is very hard for me to let him go.  I freely acknowledge that I hover, that I might be a bit of a helicopter parent, that I have fears about his well-being outside of my physical presence.  BUT I know that this has to happen.  I know that he needs to be able to make his own way in the world, that I can be there if he needs a safe place to fall back on, but this is his time.  He has always been determined so this will just be another checked box on his life list!

Big smiles!

My big boy ready to tackle the world

Sunday, August 24, 2014

California Dreamin'

We try to take one "big" trip out of state each summer; Solito and I have been doing that since we met.  We really love to travel and since Owen has been doing it since he was a baby, he enjoys it too.  This year we decided to go to Northern California.  Solito was attending a conference in San Francisco for a week and Owen and I joined him there after his conference was over.

Flying by myself with Owen is actually an easy experience.  He is quite good on the plane and with his iPad in hand, he watches his favorite shows and plays all of his games.  I read a book and magazine on the 4 hour direct flight as well.  We caught up with Solito outside of the terminal and it was so funny to see Owen's face light up when he saw Dad waiting for us.

Since Solito and I have been to San Francisco at least 3 times (more like 5 for him!), we decided to just spend a day in the city with Owen.  This was really O's first big city experience.  Most of our trips with him have been to family/friends' homes or more remote/National Park type areas.  We knew it would be a lot of walking for him and that would be tiring, so we didn't want him to spend the whole vacation completely exhausted.

In the city, we were able to take in Fisherman's Wharf and see the sea lions on the pier.  We took the trolley and Owen absolutely loved that.  We checked out the cable cars but didn't ride them because the lines were ridiculously long.  We hit Baker Beach at the Presidio and had a walk around the Japanese Tea Gardens.  I wanted to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge but we just ran out of time.......next visit!


Alcatraz!
Ghiradelli Square
Cable car ready to go
On the trolley!
Baker Beach at the Presidio
Yay for fountains at the Japanese tea gardens
O found the koi fish
Japanese Tea Gardens
We had decided when we planned this trip to spend several days checking out Lake Tahoe since it was about 3 hours from San Fran.  We had never been and after reading about the many hiking opportunities, we decided to give it a shot.  On our way there, we hit Sacramento and checked out the train museum.  Owen loved the running model trains and it was fun to be able to tour many of the engines in the building.




Tahoe is a beautiful place with gorgeous beaches and lots of breath-taking views.  We stayed in South Lake Tahoe, but also took one morning to just drive around the lake, which is about 2 hours to complete.  We were even able to check out Squaw Valley which was the site of the Winter Olympics in 1960.  It's much more of a ski village now, but it's a fun place to walk around and enjoy a quick lunch.

Inspiration Point--Emerald Bay
Entrance to Squaw Valley
I think our two favorite activities were taking the Heavenly Gondola all the way to the top and hiking 2 miles round trip to see Vikingsholm, which is a very cool home built on the beach in the 1920s.  Owen was a very good hiker and we made sure to take lots of breaks so he wouldn't get tired.  He loved climbing over huge rocks and looking for birds.

He loved the gondola ride so much
Checking out the gondolas headed back down

Vikingsholm

And of course at every beach, we needed to find rocks and toss them into the lake!

Taylor Creek
Tahoe City
El Dorado Beach--no rock is too big for Owen!
We also got to meet an online friend and her son (hi, Michelle and Cody!) and see some family who live in the Bay area.  Thanks again, Cheryll, Charina, Noel, J.R., Tita Baby and Tito George for visiting with us!

The Sumulong 3 + Michelle and Cody
Owen with Tito George and Tita Baby
3 handsome guys--Solito, Owen, and J.R. (Noel)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Summer School = Success!

Owen officially finished summer school today!  He really took it in stride and only had 2 mornings where he was sad to board the bus.  Of course that was because he could see Dad in the front window!  So we are going to figure out how to stash Dad away when it's time to go to school in the mornings this fall.

I, on the other hand, was a nervous, anxious wreck the entire first week.  Was he eating the provided food?  Was he listening and following directions?  Was he trying to use the potty?  Was he having fun?  Was he making new friends?  (The answers:  some of it, yes, yes, Oh yes, YES!)

Did he miss me?    Even a little bit?? (Oddly, I think he did.  I got a hug and a kiss every day when he got off the bus.  He even signed "I love you" to me one morning while I was waving to him as the bus pulled away.  Yes, I was reduced to tears that morning.)

His teacher made a communication booklet for each student and they would choose from a bunch of squares that they had to help cut out.  Those squares would show some of the activities they did that day.  She would ask what O's favorite thing of the day was and he would pick out a square.  She would ask what he didn't like, but normally she could fill that out herself through observation.  She would include a short note about something that stuck out to her each day.  If need be, she would send me an email to elaborate or fill me in on something else.  I loved the book!  It was so nice to see what he was enjoying and he and I would look over it each day together after he got off the bus.  He would sign to me about some things that he did--swinging and play outside were clearly his favorites.  I am so thankful that she is going to continue this kind of communication log for the upcoming school year too.  It's nice to know what your non-verbal kiddo is actually doing during the day!

One of the pages from his communication book
I think one of the coolest things to come out of this experience has to do with a change in Owen's general education Kindy teacher.  Like most kids, Owen was assigned to one of the Kindergarten teachers.  I hadn't met her yet, but we would have done so at Open House.  We had a met a different K teacher at our transition meeting in April but we knew at that time that she might not be assigned to Owen in the fall.  That happens a lot, so I wasn't upset about it at all.

Apparently last week the K teacher that we had met at our transition meeting was subbing for Owen's summer school class.  She and Owen "made a great connection" (her words!) and she went to the principal at the end of last week and asked that Owen be switched to her Kindergarten class for this upcoming school year.  That's right.......a teacher WANTS to have my kid in her classroom!  The principal and his special education teacher agreed to the change and I was notified yesterday.  I am so excited about that.  To me, it means that Mrs. B is going to go the extra mile to really include Owen as part of the classroom and help him engage with his classmates during the time he is in the gen. ed. classroom.   By choosing him, she has invested herself in helping him strengthen his skills so he can access even more gen. ed. time in the future.  I am beyond thrilled!

While I was nearly terrified of this summer school experience, it has really proved to be one of the best things for both of us.  In two weeks when school starts up again for the regular school year, I have no doubt that neither of us will be all that anxious and I expect him to have a fantastic school year.  I didn't think I would be writing those words, but now I do believe them.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Best Note Home Ever (So Far!)

Owen is in week 2 of his summer school program and while there have been a couple of mornings where he was reluctant to go (it didn't help that he saw Dad hanging around while he was boarding the bus those mornings!), for the most part he has been enjoying his time there.  It's definitely got more academics than preschool did, so I know there are a couple of things he is struggling with, like art and writing times. 

But we are receiving good reports on his behavior and his willingness to try different things.  Of course his favorite activities are gym and recess........typical boy right there!  But he is a very frequent visitor to the book nook and is apparently loving the science experiments with water, ice, and shaving cream.

He spends time with his typical peers in the same kindergarten program each day.   Of course I have been worried that with him being non-verbal, he wouldn't make any connections with them or that they wouldn't play with him because he isn't chatty or isn't responding verbally to their questions. 

But I shouldn't have worried because I just got the best note home ever.  In it his teacher explained how his peers rush to him during morning meeting, give high fives and waves whenever they see him and that one boy has become a special friend and likes to sit with Owen during reading time. 

That note seriously made my heart swoon.  I can't explain it but I feel relief and happiness that he is doing well in this new setting, he is learning, he is happy, and he is being accepted.   I hope there are many more notes like that waiting to be dropped in his backpack! 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Road Trippin': Take 2

Last year when we went to the U.P. in Michigan, we did a quick one night stay in Duluth.  Even with that one nighter, we knew that the area was awesome and we would want to come back.  We also wanted to check out the Two Harbors-Grand Marais area as we had read there were some great state parks, waterfalls, and short hikes.  Anything that has rocks piques Owen's interest and there were several lighthouses that were on my own list to see.

We knew that the area would be busy in the summer as it is a very popular place to visit, so we booked a hotel ahead of time for the last weekend in July and hoped that the weekend would be a nice one.  We drove up that Friday afternoon and headed to the hotel's pool (of course!).  Owen had a good time watching people go down the slide and getting wet under the children's splasher.


We hit the jackpot on Saturday with a bright blue sky and fluffy clouds.  We drove up the scenic byway--Route 61 and hit various spots along the way.  One of our first stops was in Two Harbors.  What a beautiful spot!  We even got to see a barge pull out of the dock and sail away.

Rock skipping has commenced!
Love this boy!

A momma and her babies sun bathing
Mama and boy
Old lighthouse
This barge is leaving the dock!
Our next stop was this wayside that we had read about in a local newspaper called Flood Bay.  It had a very calm beach and lots of great skipping rocks.


We headed up to Gooseberry Falls to see a series of awesome water falls.  Lots of us ventured into the water, which was cool but very refreshing.  Owen did a great job navigating the slippery rocks.


I know he's thinking "how can I get into THAT?!"
Moving onto Grand Marais for lunch, we enjoyed a good meal at the Angry Trout and happened to stop in while the city was holding its annual dragon boat races.  Owen got the giggles watching 2 labrador retrievers swimming in the water outside of the cafe. 



On our way back down to the hotel in Duluth, we stopped by the Split Rock Lighthouse and hiked our way all the way and back up 340 steps to see Lake Superior.  Impressively, Owen did all the steps on his own, holding the stair rail!



My guys!
We stopped a little pie shop called Betty's Pies and grabbed a few slices of apple caramel and banana cream before finally grabbing some dinner at a Duluth institution--the Duluth Grill. 

It was quite the fun little road trip and I suspect we will be back in the fall for the gorgeous foliage!