Friday, August 31, 2012

Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road

When I was a wee tot, there was a preschool in my hometown called Yellow Brick Road.  I didn't go to it.  I went to Mrs. Ray's preschool, which had some boring name that I've forgotten.  I loved it, don't get me wrong, but I always envied the kids who got to go to Yellow Brick Road because the name had so much more panache.

Today was Ben's last day ever of preschool.  He started at this facility two years ago, when he was two going on three.  Most people think of it as a daycare center, and it certainly provides excellent basic care.  But it's so much more than that.  Every classroom has two teachers, plus plenty of floaters and aids.  Every teacher either has or is currently working on a masters in early childhood education.  They have a coherent and amazingly rich curriculum, regular teacher-parent conferences, and impressive record-keeping on each child's development.  I could go on and on about the staff, the building, the gymnasium, the outdoor play spaces, etc., but suffice it to say that I really can't imagine anything better.  This past year he was enrolled in district-funded UPK (universal pre-kindergarten) there.  He received push-in and pull-out speech therapy, as well as PT right there in the gym.  His teachers, Brenda and Jenn, were fantastic.

So this post is basically a little homage to this home-away-from-home that was such an important part of our family life over the last two years.  When I picked Ben up this afternoon, for the last time, all of his things were already packed in a big paper bag labeled "Ben's Last Day Bag".  I wasn't going to cry.  I swore I wasn't going to cry.  I cried.  Jenn gave us each a hug.  And we left.

He's not a baby anymore.  He's not a toddler or a preschooler anymore.  Kindergarten starts Tuesday.  It's go time.

The Bisy Backson

Ben has always been a shy kid.  Shy, clingy, anxious.  And I'm probably largely to blame for this -- by all accounts I was much the same at that age, and for a long time after.  He's more comfortable with adults and older kids, but his view of peers ranges from disinterest to antipathy.  He's not antisocial in the sense of being aggressive or violent; he'd just be far happier if all the other kids weren't there and he had the entire classroom and all the teachers to himself.  The kids are usually out in the play yard when I go to pick him up, and sometimes I'll watch for a few minutes through the large windows before I go out to claim him.  I always feel a little sad when I see the other kids ranging around in herds, running after each other, calling out to each other.  And there's Ben, wrapped up in his own complex little world, creating masterful cuisine in the kitchen area or conducting Beethoven from the top of a hill or explaining to one of the aids that ABBA will be visiting later and they're currently boarding a plane in Sweden.  You gotta marvel at his sophisticated imagination, and he seems entirely content, and yet I feel a twinge of sadness and anxiety.

We made some progress via play dates.  We especially enjoyed hanging out with a boy who was in Ben's previous classroom the year before, and whom we also saw weekly in music class last winter.  We managed to meet up with him maybe four or five times this summer, and would have met more except for all the trips we were taking.  The boys played well near/with each other, and C. made charming attempts to engage Ben.  There was a lot of potential there, but still some work to be done.  Summer play dates are often complicated by the temptation of water play, and until Ben got his Neptune this meant that he was unable to hear for much of the time.  We tried to make this as normal and nonthreatening as possible, but it inevitably throws up a pretty big social barrier and kinda defeats the purpose.

Then, another former classmate moved in down the street!  Furthermore, he has a cousin who is yet another former classmate and who comes over just about every day, so we got two for the price of one.  The family is only here short term, renting the house while they build another.  But for now, nothing beats the convenience and spontaneity of having friends right on the block.  Our doorbell is now ringing most of the afternoon, followed by the sweet supplication, "Can Ben come out and play?"  Now, Neil and I are Older Parents, rather set in our ways, and perhaps a touch overprotective, so sometimes it's not exactly to our taste to have three boys rampaging through the house and yard, and heaven knows what they're getting into.  We were quite surprised at the degree of freedom that cousins B. and R. are granted to roam the neighborhood unsupervised.  But we're doing our best to roll with it.  And, miracle of miracles, Ben loves hanging out with the boys.

Last night, B. rang the doorbell and invited Ben over to play with a configuration of cardboard boxes in his front yard.  Ben couldn't go out just yet, but promised to join him in a few minutes.  So, after we finished the task at hand (slicing yam with the mandolin to make yam chips -- tasty, but disappointingly soggy), Ben grabbed his sunglasses and dashed out the door yelling, "Bye!  I won't be long!"

I feel like if I blink, he'll be asking for the car keys and rolling his eyes when I ask him where he's going.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A big pile of shhhh-aving cream

Ben, eying some white antibacterial cream that had been rubbed onto his skinned knee:  "I wonder why they call it shaving cream, when it really isn't shavable at all."

If you have any idea what he means by this, please enlighten me.

It's been an intense week for Ben.  Last academic year he was enrolled in PreK at his daycare facility, and he continued over the summer, but his program ended last week.  Kindergarten, however, doesn't start until next Tuesday.  Meanwhile, our classes started this past Monday, leaving us with a week where we're working full time on campus without any childcare.  The director of the daycare managed to find a spot for him in the same classroom where he'd spent the last year, which was fantastic.  However, he's one of only two veterans in a room full of newbies (the other veteran is from a family in the same situation as ours).  He had to give up his cubby and mailbox, and settle for another cubby at the far end of the row.  In various other ways, it's clear that he's not really supposed to be there.  His teachers (the same ones he's had for a year) are wonderful as always, but he's a sensitive kid and I can tell he's picking up on the vibe.  Anxiety level is a little higher.  Plus, he's a little sniffly, maybe fighting a mild bug.  And his excitement about kindergarten is definitely tempered by a healthy dose of trepidation.  Put it all together, and the kid is under stress.  He's not really acting out or anything, but he's not quite himself.

We're also, perhaps not coincidentally, going through a phase of Catastrophic Nuclear Meltdown over any tiny booboo.  When he was a baby, we actually worried from time to time because he seemed to have an unusually high tolerance for pain.  But over the last year or so, he's definitely migrated over into Wuss Territory.  A little stumble on the sidewalk the other night produced a skinned knee and elbow, and it was all I could do to dab at them a little with nothing more potent than water and slap some band-aids on while he proceeded to communicate his distress to all of western New York.

This afternoon was Kindergarten Visitation Day.  Neil took him over.  Intense, clingy; it's all becoming just a little too real.  And then right after that we had an appointment to test out all of his FM system equipment.  I raced over after my class and joined in the fun.  Basically, it consisted of four to five adults standing around talking about things that he didn't understand, and occasionally jamming a piece of plastic into his equipment somewhere and saying things like, "Ben, can you hear me?  How does that sound?"  If he wasn't exactly cooperative by that point, you can hardly blame him.  It's a complicated system, because he has to have different kinds of receivers attached to his hearing aid and CI.  The teacher speaks into a mic, and her voice is broadcast by FM directly to his devices.  There's also a soundfield system in the classroom, which has its own microphone -- the teacher's voice is sent to a set of speakers around the classroom for the benefit of all kids.  We spent too much of the last few weeks agonizing over exactly how these two systems were going to interact.  It turns out that the FM system came supplied with the cable necessary to link the two together, but it was still going to be an extra layer of complexity -- but fortunately the teacher has decided that she doesn't need to use the soundfield system for the foreseeable future.  Long story short, everything seems to be functional at this point, and hopefully the whole thing will quickly become mere routine.

Throughout, I could almost hear Kermit singing in my ear:  "It's not easy, being deaf."

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Of fruit and pizza

Ben:  "Mom, next time you get -arines, make sure you get tangerines, not nectarines."

Here's a video that my cousin Madeline made at the Wilson family reunion back in late July.  It features many of my cousins, and you can see sundry other relatives milling around in the background.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Ben throws a bowl!

So, earlier in the month I promised myself I would blog five times during August.  Looks like I'm leaving it a bit late, so I'll have to scurry to get it in under the wire.  Expect some fast and furious blogging action this week.

Sooooo much has happened this summer.  In fact, that's part of the problem.  Trying to get caught up and fill in all the gaps in the story is overwhelming.  So y'know what?  Ain't gonna happen.  You, dear reader, will have to fill in the gaps yourself with your fertile imagination.  The short story is that we went on some more trips, Ben's Neptune processor is great, we're getting ramped up for the start of kindergarten a week from Tuesday (and the start of our own classes tomorrow -- eek!), Ben is doing amazing things all the time, we're seeing some progress on the social integration front ... whew, had to pause to catch my breath.

From tonight's dinner conversation:  Ben asked how long ago dinosaurs lived.  We asked him what he thought.  (He actually knows the answer, roughly, but this is his way of exploring a topic and attaching more meaning to it.)  He said it was probably about ten billion years ago.  After a little back and forth, he zeroed in on a more realistic figure.  "That was before you were born, right?"  Yes, considerably.  "That was before Grammy and Grampy and Grandma and Grandpa were born, right?"  Yes, believe it or not.  "That was before your great-great-great-great-great-grandparents were born, right?"  Yes, in fact it was before any people were born; dinosaurs disappeared long before there were people.  Ben, smirking slightly, "Even before Mozart and Beethoven?!?"

We visited Neil's parents at the beginning of August, and while there we visited a friend of theirs who is an excellent potter.  She was having an Open Studio day and demonstrating the use of the pottery wheel.  She let Ben help her throw a pot, and here is the video.  Enjoy!