BOY TRAPPED

Where the inside of my mind leaks onto the screen.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Paper is the Enemy

Image result for how does paper beat rock meme

Supposedly it beats rock.  

I know it beats me.  I spend innumerable moments in a loop of looking for and losing papers, interrupted only by my own effort NOT to lose them.

And Jessica, my favorite ADHD YouTuber, has at least three videos managing it.


At times, I've successfully implemented Jessica's suggestions.  Most of the time, however, I hold myself to two basic rules.

  1. Anything that can be recycled should be recycled.  Immediately.  This includes anything I have digital copies of which could be printed later should I find out that I recycled something I needed.  
  2. Anything that seems vaguely important gets labeled as MONUMENTALLY IMPORTANT and goes into the "AS LONG AS YOU CAN FIND THE STACK, YOU CAN PROBABLY FIND THE PAPER" stack.  There it remains until one of the three random days a year on which I get the urge to file all the papers.  



My rules work for a few reasons. 

  1. As an adult, I have earned the right to keep my papers wherever I want to.  I am accountable only to me and occasionally the DMV. (By the way, as of today I am officially a legally licensed driver who resides at the address known by both the DMV and the voter registration folks.  This is big news.)
  2. As an adult, I have earned the right to determine my own schedule and am often able to let the current state of my brain dictate the type of work I'd be best suited for at the moment.  (Reference: 10:51 pm, blogging in the bathtub.)
  3. And mostly, because they're MY rules.  If they didn't work for me, I'd change them.
But this week I've been thinking about Alex.  And about my homeroom class, which is energetically populated by students whose ratio of ADHD brains to neurotypical brains is 1:3.  One of the biggest struggles for these kids is... you guessed it... paper.

If you're still reading this, I'm guessing you know and love an ADHD student.  And I bet you've heard these statements more times than I've lost a memo from my boss:

  • "I didn't do it because I can't find the paper."
  • "I did it, but I forgot to turn it in."
Sixth grade has been rough for Alex.  He is working as hard as he can (and so are Kirk and I) to implement strategies that will work for him.  We've figured out the accommodations that make it possible for him to accomplish the work.  And yet the kid still has six missing assignments at the end of first quarter.  I asked his SPED coordinator to do me a personal solid and stop in to check Alex's desk.  "Can you just maybe take a minute to help him get organized?" I asked.  Later that day, the coordinator showed me two stacks of paper, each two inches thick.  One was graded work that should have come home.  The other was various assignments, notes, worksheets, and organizers in various states of completion.  All of these papers had come from inside Alex's desk.  No WONDER he couldn't find the required steps of his completed writing cycle to turn in for a final grade.

As a teacher, this sort of thing is all sorts of frustrating for me.  I have solid, explicit procedures in my class which I break down into one step directions to try to help my students manage their papers. "Make sure this paper goes behind your grammar tab," I say to the class.  But if I don't watch with an eagle eye, there is always someone who raises a hand the next day.

"Ms. Fife, I can't find my grammar packet."  I sigh.  Breath deeply.  Admonish.  

"If you'd have followed the instruction to put it behind your grammar tab, then you would know exactly where it is," I say, with even tone as I help the student find it, crumpled and floating within the open expanse of desk.

PAUSE.  RECAP.  TLDR:
  • ADHD adult brain says, "I can't be expected to put away papers where they go when I get them."
  • Mom says, "Why can't you turn in your papers?  I know you did them!!"
  • Teacher says, "I told you EXACTLY what to do with that paper.  How is it possibly lost?" 

And a little new info.  My significantly more dull second-favorite ADHD expert Dr. Barkley stresses the idea that strategies to manage ADHD can only be effective when practiced in the environment where the problem occurs.  In other words, nothing I teach Alex at home will have an impact on how he organizes his desk.

Huge sigh.

Followed by an epiphany.  

Clothes are also the enemy.  They beg to be sorted and folded and hung and... AAAH!! That is too many steps.  I bought new slacks for work, and I know I should hang them nicely to make them last.  But I can't.  Neurotypical brains see one step: hang up pants.  But ADHD brains see: open closet, find hanger, fold pants in that really nice way that works well on hangers, put pants through hanger, put hanger on rod, close closet.  So. Many. Steps.  So the responsible ADHD brain executes what it can: drape pants nicely over nearest edge.  Goal of preserving the pants is reached in the smallest amount of steps.  

But I don't want the room covered in pants.  So I found a solution.  I put an empty box in the closet.  I now drape my pants over the edges of the box.  Open closet, loosely fold pants, drape pants.  Close closet is optional.  Three steps I can do.  

When I say, "Put your grammar packet behind the grammar tab," 75% of my students have one task to do.  But 25% of them have to pull the binder out of the desk, put the binder on the desk, flip to the appropriate tab, open the binder rings, align the hole punches with the rings, close the rings, close the binder, and put the binder in the desk.  That is two more steps than it would take to hang up my pants.  Which I won't do.

And now the conundrum.  

My rules and strategies work for me.  Scroll back up for a reminder of the reasons why.  Mostly, it had to do with being an adult and being able to make my own choices.  

Reasons my sorts of rules don't work for students:
  1. They are students in a classroom with procedures for materials outlined by the teacher.  Specific papers have specific places, and teachers expect for them to always be in those places.
  2. They are students in a classroom with specific expectations placed on their schedule.  Whether 8:25 is a great time of day for their brains or not, that is when we put away the grammar packets.
  3. They are kids.  So they don't make the rules.
So here's my two-part challenge for teachers:
  1. Please don't change your expectations!  Our ADHD brains really do need a chance to develop coping strategies.  Someday our boss is going to want us to keep track of important reports, the airport is going to expect us to be able to present a passport to travel internationally, and... yeah, I already mentioned the DMV.  We absolutely have to figure it out.
  2. Please consider your methods.  How many steps are you asking an ADHD brain to take all at once?  Is there any way to build a PAUSE into the procedure?
Here's what I'm going to try out on 25% of my students next week.  I'm going to add a tray under their chairs.  (Our chairs have a little ledge there where one can rest.)  ALL papers will go in the tray.  The "AS LONG AS I CAN FIND THE TRAY, I CAN EVENTUALLY FIND THE PAPER" tray.  Then, at the end of the day when their focus isn't divided among other important goals, I will ask them to sort the tray.  Grammar papers will go behind the grammar tab.  Take home papers will go... well, home.  Recycle papers will get recycled.  

I'm going to stop expecting 10 year old ADHD brains to do something my 37 year old one can't do.  And then I'm going to teach them how to succeed anyway.

As for Alex, I'm glad I figured out what conversation to have with him.  "How can we reduce the number of steps that it takes to be able to find the papers you need."  He'll figure out his own rules.  Those are the best kinds of rules to follow, anyway.

(Just for fun: I also have a rule about how to handle the important papers that are put in my box at work.  I leave them there.  They are SO much safer there than if I touch them.  Want proof that my methods aren't needed by the masses?  Notice that all the other boxes are empty.)



Monday, August 20, 2018

Marshal

"I will not stand, sit, or lay down."  The Player's Code flashed through my mind as red laser beams connected with my chest.  I looked up, a feat pretty easily accomplished from the unique vantage point of being sprawled out on the floor on my back. 

"Are you guys okay?" Adam questioned, pausing his trigger finger just long enough for me to mumble affirmatively, then continuing to alternate between shooting me and shooting David.  In this style of play aptly named "Frantic," our packs rebooted from a tag after only one second, and staring down at two stationary targets was the laser tag equivalent of hitting the jackpot.  Alex seemed less concerned with our well-being, putting his sniper skills to use to tag whichever vest lit up first.

I had been more than a little frustrated with David for slamming his laser gun into my forehead and bolting.  My forehead throbbing, I lay on the ground with my eyes closed carefully assessing vitals before standing up.  Determining everything was technically fine, despite the concentrated bump under my bangs, I rose to sitting and took in my surroundings. 

In a white button-up shirt, David's torso glowed under the blacklights.  From it stuck arms and legs at angles best represented by that chalk figure drawn on the sidewalk at a crime scene.  He wasn't moving.  Immediately, I regretted my selfishness as I'd waited for him to come to my rescue.  "Honey, are you okay?" I asked, then waited for a response that didn't come.  "Honey?" I asked again, and then a third time. 

He stirred.  "I hit my head," he started.  "I think I must have tripped, and then I hit my head really hard.  What happened to you?"

"You hit my head really hard, too," I laughed.  Neither of us had moved substantially from where we'd landed, and neither seemed particularly inclined to do so.  Shaking my head at the incredulous nature of our predicament, I asked, "Do you think I should call for the marshal?"  I recalled the training we'd been provided before each laser tag game this month, and knew I'd been prepared for this silly moment.  If I simply shouted, "Marshal, Marshal, Marshal," we'd be rescued.  Albeit, also humiliated.

Instead, we opted to pull our 30-something-year-old bodies off the laser tag arena floor and take on the young opponents who'd been so eager to take advantage of our situation.  David has a headache, and I have a sizable bruise forming, and we have a ridiculous story of the time we injured ourselves playing laser tag.

End of Summer

My custody agreement is a strange one, I'll admit.  Kids with me in the summer; kids with Kirk during the school year.  It was designed to minimize the impact to the kids' way of life, and having lived it for a full year now, I think we chose wisely.

That said, it is the last day of summer, and I'm packing up the kids to send them back to Dad's.  

We took advantage of an evening when Adam had plans to treat Alex and Dylan to their Sugarhouse favorite: Dough Co.  A nice long walk up to the cookie dough store, a warm evening on a sidewalk bench, and chatty walk back home helped me tie up a great summer with the two little kids who seem to have thoroughly enjoyed their summer.

It's been harder on Adam, though, to be away from his friends.  His neighborhood.  His dad.  I've spend a lot of the summer as chauffeur, driving him to the many places he'd rather (or just plain had to) be.  Lagoon.  Bryce's.  Work.  I haven't regretted a single mile, because the secret to getting to know Adam is simple.  Spend time with him and let him talk.  The cumulative hours in the car have made up for all the time he wasn't around.

Still, I wanted to do something special for him to end the summer, too.  His unrivaled love of Top Ramen inspired us to take him to try the real deal.  And when Jinya Ramen Bar opened a new location just around the corner, David and I wanted to show Adam a corner of Sugarhouse that he just might miss.

The evening plays out like an old film real in my mind.  He's in black joggers and a white t-shirt - a huge break from his standard BYU sweats and a dark grey t-shirt.  He's skateboarding in front of us, and somehow through the back of his ball cap, I can see his smile.  He's loud, and he's laughing, and he looks back at us to make sure he's the center of attention.  He is.

He looks so grown up sitting at the table next to me and across from David.  He's 5'9" now, so I have to look up to look him in the eye.  He doesn't stop talking the whole meal.  About the food.  About a possible trip someday to Japan.  About anything that pops into his mind, because that is Adam.

The waiter comes and offers him more noodles.  "Wait, that's a thing?" he says, wide eyed and not quite willing to accept his good fortune.  He decides that ramen really is the best food ever and starts chatting about next summer when Bryce stays over, he'll have him bring some money, and they'll walk over and get ramen and...

...he's skated too far ahead of us for me to hear his words anymore.  We keep a leisurely pace, walking hand-in-hand and discussing the man-child whose larger-than-life presence has filled our home all summer.  We reach the front porch and hear a Smash Mouth melody being plunked out one note at a time at the piano.  We pause on the porch, knowing that if he is aware of an audience, he will stop.  With no warning, the teenage tornado abandons the piano and continues its path to the basement.  

Being Responsible

I've been "on my own" now since November 2016, and I've learned a lot about being responsible.  Health insurance, car insurance, oil changes, car registration.  It's not that I couldn't do that stuff before.  It is just that I hadn't really ever done it.  And definitely not without another responsible human looking over my shoulder and making sure I got it done.

I'm more responsible now than ever.  I check my credit score frequently.  My bank account daily.  I am mindful of due dates, and when things don't go quite the way I planned, I handle it.  (See debit card fraud of June 2018 and the great Car Registration Adventure.)

As a responsible adult, it really bugs me when I get notification that I have a debt that has been sent to collections.  From 2015. 

I get that in a past life I may have been less responsible.  I get that in my present state, I still let things slip.  I get that I might need reminders, and I am totally willing to pay the late charges and whatnot associated with my occasional screw ups.  But I am not certain why it needs to escalate to collections before someone sends me a letter.

I asked the collections agency and was told that the hospital to whom I apparently owed $31.87 transferred that debt to a different agency who then sent the amount to their firm for collections.  It seems like it would have been a lot less work for them to just send me a letter and let me know I owed them money.

I would have paid it.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Secondhand

What started out as being budget conscious has morphed into environmentally friendly, and I now shop pretty much exclusively secondhand. Decades for formalwear. Uptown Cheapskate for inspiration, blouses, and dresses. Poshmark for slacks. DI and Savers for shoes and jackets. And boutique stores for the slightly pricier but killer pieces.

Back to school never cost so little!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Lyft

Definitely just called Lyft to bring Adam's baseball bag to the school. 

What is the opposite of #firstworldproblems?

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Chapter 1

Summer is almost over, and with it closes the first chapter of a new book I guess I could call Boytrapped Volume II.  In my custody agreement with Kirk, I get the kids (and optionally the dog) for the whole summer.  Exercising the dog option has brought a little added chaos to the last three weeks of summer.  And the kids have kept us on our toes as we all adapt to our new lives together and in Sugarhouse.

Adam opted to spend the night at Kirk's, so we took the other two to their favorite place, Dough Co, and ended up piled on the bed watching YouTube videos David had referenced during the walk back.

I am hoping we'll find time for a last-of-summer hurrah with Adam at the new ramen place around the corner before my house becomes 3 boys and a dog quieter next week.