Monday, September 9, 2013

Invisible Illness Week - 30 Things about My Child's Invisible Illness

30 Things About My Child’s Invisible Illness You May Not Know

1. The illnesses we live with are ...  anxiety, learning disabilities, severe anaphylaxis tree nut allergy, asthma 

2. We got a diagnosis at the age of … eight.  It feels like it was a very, very long time to get to that diagnosis.  I remember when I told Missy about her learning disability.  In an instant, she looked like the weight of the world had just been lifted off her little shoulders.  The Disney Channel had been airing a public service announcement about Shake It Up’s Bella Thorne and how she dealt with dyslexia growing up.  Knowing that there was something Missy could do about it, knowing that this was a beginning instead of the end, took so much stress away from her.  

3. But we have observed/experienced symptoms since ...  she was a toddler.  I have always described Missy as going from 0 to 60 in point-two seconds.  For so long I would say, she lives constantly “on edge”, a raw nerve.  And because of that, she was libel to melt down or freak out, at the drop of a hat.  I had no idea at the time that it was the anxiety causing the raw nerves.

4. The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make as a parent is…  learning to advocate for my child.  We noticed when Missy was in the first grade that she would mix up her letters.  She mixed up b’s and d’s, m’s and w’s.  It got increasingly harder for her to study and remember her spelling words.  It was difficult for her to even copy words that someone else had written.  She was transposing numbers.  Instead of writing 302, she’d write 320.  We spoke to Missy’s teacher who assured us that Missy was a VERY bright girl and that transposing letters and numbers and writing letters backwards was normal up into the third grade.  So we waited.  I spoke to the second grade teacher because spelling tests were becoming increasingly difficult.  And as the learning disability presented itself more fully, the anxiety also began to make itself more evident.    I wrote the second grade teacher a note asking about testing Missy for dyslexia.  Her response was that we should continue to wait because, as the first grade teacher said, some of these “symptoms” are normal into the third grade.  What I didn’t realize was that by me writing that note, she was required by law to get the process of testing underway.  There was SO much I didn’t know at the time.

It took a lot of reading and research and talking with people who knew way more than I did for me to understand what my rights were as a parent.  We had Missy tested on our own and through the school.  I learned to ask for the services and accommodations Missy needed in school.  I learned to follow my own heart (and her doctor’s orders) to determine what those services and accommodations should be.  I had to learn that while the school personnel are there to make sure my child succeeds (after all, the better she does, the better scores she gives them on standardized tests, and the better they look), *I* am the person who knows Missy best.  Therefore, I am in the unique position of knowing better than anyone else how she will do in different situations and what she needs to thrive.  And I have equal say in what happens with my child when she is in school.

5. Most people assume …  She’s simply misbehaving.  Missy likes rules.  Rules help keep her calm.  Rules help her to know what is expected.  Of course, this means that when people break the rules, she feels chaotic.  She gets so stressed out and anxious that she can’t handle it.  Additionally, she spends all her energy trying to keep it together during the day that by the time she gets out of school, things tend to go haywire and she fights, argues, or has a meltdown.  She’s not trying to fight.  And she’s actually much better this year than in previous years.  Plus, I’ve learned that if she can run around after school and blow off a little steam, the rest of her afternoon goes much more smoothly.  But she’s worked so hard to keep it all together during the day that she’s like an over-inflated balloon.  One more breath and she bursts.  
The other moms at parent pickup look at me sometimes like I’m a horrible mother.  Like I’m indulging her and like she’s spoiled and misbehaving.  Yes, I know what those facial expressions look like.  I’ve been guilty of giving them myself.  But she’s none of those things.  She’s just a ten year old with anxiety who has a mom doing the best she can.

6. The hardest part about mornings is… sticking to a routine.  The routine makes the morning go smoothly (the same way it does in any other household).  But not being a morning person by nature, Missy would much rather camp out in front of the tv in the morning and wake up slowly rather than getting ready right away and taking any free time that’s left over when all the necessary stuff is done.  This push-back from her occasionally renders up late for school (not so late that she’s “tardy”, but late in that the first bell has already rung to let the kids get to their lockers.  This is in complete opposition to Missy’s desire to be on time and follow the rules.

7. The hardest part about nights is ...  When Missy gets so anxious that she can’t sleep.  The knowledge that she needs to get to sleep only makes her more anxious….which makes her unable to sleep.  It’s a horrid cycle for her.  And as she gets more and more tired, she gets closer and closer to a melt down.  And when she does melt, there are hysterics and hyperventilating and self-loathing and statements like “Why can’t I just sleep at night like everyone else?”

8. Gadgets we couldn't live without are ...  The iPod & my phone.  Without the iPod we wouldn’t have the audiobooks she clings to.  Patience is not a Missy virtue.  But playing a game on my phone helps her to have something completely innocuous to concentrate on.

9. A daily routine we can’t live without is ... I wouldn’t say that we *can’t* live without it because we can.  But, during the school year, on school nights, my husband or I go upstairs with Missy and read to her.  Then she reads to us.  Then, when she gets into bed, she’s allowed to read by herself with her flashlight on and the room lights off.  She gets instrumental music, a fan, and a number of night lights (she hates the dark).  Without the music, noise, & lights, she wouldn’t be able to sleep.  And the reading helps her settle and clear her mind before going to bed.  We start this process at 8:30, which is early for a 10 year old, but she doesn’t end up with lights off until 9:30 and flashlight off at 10.  Thankfully she is able to sleep until 7 a.m. which allows her a full night’s sleep.

10. A children’s book or TV show that helps my child cope is ... Harry Potter.   I think it helps her feel safe that she knows the stories so well.  It’s something she has read, listened to, and watched over and over so she feels comfortable letting herself just dissolve into that world.  Plus, good wins.

11. Regarding alternative treatments … We are open to alternative treatments.  My husband and I have agreed that we do not want to give Missy traditional pharmaceuticals unless absolutely necessary.  So right now, she sees a counselor once a month.  That’s her safe place to be able to unload everything that makes her anxious.  Plus, her counselor teaches her deep breathing, meditation, and yoga techniques to use when she’s feeling anxious.  Aside from that, we use homeopathic stress relief pills that are all natural, made from flower essence.  They make Missy feel proactive about keeping on top of her illness.  She also uses gum to relax in school; it helps her focus, and she stashes stress balls in her desk, locker, and bag.  And when those things aren’t enough, there’s a punching bag in our living room ready to be any stressor that needs a beating.  Regular exercise at taekwondo helps to regulate stress and provide a healthy outlet for her restlessness.

12. My child’s illness affects their friendships/social lives in this way ... She’s great at making friends and being a good friend, however, Missy often gets overwhelmed in social situations.  When she goes to a Scout meeting, the chaos of the situation overwhelms her to the point where she sometimes has to remove herself from the group and find some solitude and quiet.  Unfortunately, that makes her feel left out (even though it was her choice to leave the group, she doesn’t feel it’s a choice because it’s something she needs to do for her sanity.)  She also comes across as a goody two shoes and tattle tale because of her need for rules.  I can’t imagine that goes over well with her peers.

13. Regarding school and learning ...  It took a lot to get Missy the services she needed at school.  But once we did, she truly blossomed.  That doesn’t mean that things are perfect, she still has a ways to go.  She still writes her b’s and d’s backwards and she still spells like a second/third grader.  And she still needs help getting the thoughts from her head onto the paper.  But we did discover that she is incredibly bright.  If she weren’t, we might not have noticed the learning disability as early as we did.  But the progress she made over the course of one school year was astounding.  Her teacher thinks that she may not need any additional serves by the seventh grade!

14. People would be surprised to know ... how incredibly sensitive she is.  One mistake sends her on a self-esteem downward spiral.  Comments that other kids brush off, she takes quite literally and often jumps to the worst case scenario.  Once, a teacher told her that she needed to learn her times tables or else she’d fall behind.  Missy came home crying about how she was going to have to stay back and repeat 4th grade.  This was September.  4th grade had JUST started!  And already she was concerned that she was going to have to repeat the grade.  She didn’t, by the way.  And when she does something she knows is wrong, her guilt eats at her.  There is nothing like hearing your own child wailing about how horrible a person she is.

15. The hardest thing to accept about our reality has been ... that not everyone will understand, no matter how many times you explain it to them.  Some people just don’t get it.  Or they don’t want to get it.  And that’s just the reality of life. 

16. Something I never thought she could do with this illness that she DID do was ...  Well, I never thought I’d see my daughter come home with top marks for a writing assignment.  It takes her three times as long to do any writing assignment and it takes all of her energy to be able to focus her writing and spelling.  And her learning disability makes it such that she has all of these really amazing ideas in her head, but they get lost between her brain and her fingers whenever she tries to put them down on paper.  And I never thought she’d read books with hundreds of pages in them.  Tell that to the dog-eared copies of the Percy Jackson series that she devours.

17. Public awareness about this illness is ... Crucial.  No one thinks about a child having anxiety.  Who thinks that an 8, 9, or 10 year old might have anxiety?  I certainly didn’t before we got my child’s diagnosis.  They are quick to jump to conclusion about behavior and don’t look to see what’s behind the behavior.

18. Something my child wants to do but is unable to do is ... have a slumber party without tears.  Whether at our house or someone else’s house, she usually ends up in tears at some point.  She gets overtired and over-stimulated and anxious because she’s not sleeping in her own bed with the sounds and sensations that she’s used to.

19. It was really overwhelming to see my child ... earn her first degree black belt in taekwondo.  She was terrified for her test.  So terrified, in fact, that she pushed her test off for two months because she couldn’t take the pressure.  But she worked hard in class and outside of class and after three years of working her tail off, learning, competing…..she passed her test with flying colors.  During her belt ceremony, I was actually in tears.  She had worked so hard and that belt was a physical representation of that work.  It was something she could be so proud of.  Now, I wouldn’t care if she was a lousy martial artist.  But the fact is that she’s actually a damn good one.  Her success gives her a boost in confidence and self-esteem.  And that, by itself makes it all worthwhile.  

20. An activity my child loves and succeeds at is ...  taekwondo.  Watching her perform and compete actually gives me chills.  And she’s always so proud of herself when she does well.  Although being the perfectionist she is, she’s also just as hard on herself when she messes up.  But there are far more successes than mess ups.  So in the end, it’s all good.

21. If I could wish for one thing for my child to experience ...  Complete and utter joy.  She’s such a serious child and I wish she could experience one day without worry, without a self-esteem that sinks thanks to one mistake.  Or maybe it would be to be able to walk into a bakery and order whatever her stomach and taste buds desire without fear of what nut it contains or what cross contamination might have occurred.  

22. My child’s illness has taught me ... to slow down and explain.
23. Want to know a secret? One thing people say that gets under my skin is ...  (This goes with #22.)  So often, Missy gets anxious because she doesn’t have enough information to make a decision.  The more information she has, the less likely she is to panic and get stressed out.  For most parents, they tell their kid ‘no’ and that’s all there is to it.  One word answers (even if they’re yes) don’t work for Missy.  She needs more information.  So when people turn around and say, “just tell her no”, it’s so irritating because that doesn’t work for us.

24. But I love it when people ... consider my daughter’s nut allergy when they’re planning an event, snack, etc.  People who know where they bought something, who provide me with ingredient labels from packages, they are life savers.  They are the people who try to make my life and Missy’s life easier.

25. A phrase/story that my family uses to feel strong and close is... Water off a duck’s back.  My daughter loves ducks (some might call it an obsession) so when Missy is feeling particularly sensitive and prickles at everything, I try to remind her to let things roll off like water off a duck’s back.

26. When someone is wondering if their child has an invisible illness I’d like to tell them ... Find out.  It’s the first step and learning how to make life better.  The more information you have, the easier it is to learn to cope.

27. Something that has surprised me about parenting a child with an invisible illness is ...  how horrible a mother I feel like some times.  When I lose my temper because my own nerves are shot or because I’ve had such a horrid day/week/month, it’s not just me who suffers.  Chances are she, Missy already feels badly about doing whatever it is that drove me nuts.  Losing my temper with her only makes her feel worse, which, in turn, makes me feel worse.

28. The nicest thing someone did for me or my child when we were under stress ...  One night, Missy had a sleepover at her bff’s house – a horrible anxiety-producing activity that she keeps trying because she desperately wants to have those normal girly experiences.  Bff’s mom sat with her, until the wee hours of the morning, with Missy in tears and going back and forth about whether or not she wanted to go home.  Together, Bff’s mom and I decided that Missy needed to stay to prove to herself that she could.  Bff’s mom (and dad) reassured her over and over that she was safe and that her dad and I were safe and that she was okay to stay.  She did make it through the night.  Bff’s mom then spent about an hour texting with me to reassure me that Missy was okay and that they love Missy and want to do all they can possibly do to help her feel safe and comfortable at their house because they consider her a part of their family.  To have another family care that much about my child and her emotional stability was the most amazing show of friendship.  I can never thank her/them enough for that.

29. I’m involved with Invisible Illness Week because ... like with Missy, people can only make good decisions based on the information they have.  I want people to understand what it’s like for kids like Missy.  They don’t choose to feel the way they do, but it’s often more difficult for a child to handle because they aren’t always able to adequately explain how they feel or why they react the way they do.

30. The fact that you read this list makes me feel .... hopeful.  .

Friday, August 30, 2013

Food Allergy Focus

This link is making its way around Facebook today:

Girl Dies from Peanut Allergy, Last Words are "I'm sorry."

In fact, I had a friend text me the link the other night.  At that point, I posted a status update along the lines of, "Trust me when I say that no parent of a child with a nut allergy needs to be sent links about children who die from a nut allergy."  We know what can happen.  We live with the knowledge every day of our lives.  We know it when our children are with us and especially when they aren't.  We know it whenever they put something we haven't cooked into their mouths.  

I can't tell you what a relief it is to go to a party or a cookout hosted by another family that has a nut-allergic child.  It's like a weight is taken off my shoulders because I know that they aren't going to serve anything that has nuts in it.  It's not that I expect the entire world to go nut-free.  I like pistachios and walnuts and pecans.  I get it.  But at the same time, I feel like people don't take food allergies seriously.  

I was watching a rerun of The Big Bang Theory last night.  Howard was trying to keep Leonard occupied so he wouldn't see them setting up the big surprise birthday party they were throwing for him.  In order to delay Leonard, Howard intentionally ate a granola bar with peanuts in it so he'd have an allergic reaction and have to get seen at the ER.  Now, I realize that TBBT is a sitcom and they play for laughs and it's not real.  But it wasn't funny.  No one with a life threatening allergy would intentionally eat that allergen!!  And it makes people think that if a nut-allergic person eats a nut then they just get a little itchy or a little swollen and then later they're fine.  It doesn't work that way.  Sometimes that person isn't fine.  And sometimes, they die!  And sometimes, that person is a child.

More easily read food labels are great.  They're very helpful.  But I've come to realize that the most difficult obstacle to overcome with food allergies are actually people.  I know that if people don't have a kid with food allergies in their lives, then they don't think about it.  I certainly didn't until we found out about Missy's allergy.  But I hope that some day people, even those who don't have food allergies in their lives will learn and think about them and about the consequences.  

I hope they'll think about whether or not a lunchtime PB&J or Nutella sandwich is worth another child's life.  I hope they think about what can happen when they give their child peanut butter crackers or a granola bar at the playground.  That peanut butter protein gets on a child's hand.  Then it can get transferred (far more easily than you'd think) to the surface or a slide, swing, or climbing structure.  That protein can then easily be transferred to the hands of a child who has an allergy.  And the next time that child puts his or her fingers in his or her mouth (and it will happen eventually) or eats something, that protein can end up being ingested by the one person who specifically should not have it.  As careful as I can be with my own child, as cautious as I can be with what my child eats, it can all be undone by another parent giving their child a granola bar.

Missy understands that sometimes when she goes to a party, she can't have the cake.  She understands that the trail mix everyone else sees as a healthy snack is deadly to her.  Right now, there's nothing I can do about that.  And I'm not saying that we should rid the world of all allergies.  That would be impossible.  And I once knew of a boy who was allergic to apples.  Are we really going to tell people they can't eat apples?  Hardly.  I'm only asking that people think before sending their child to school with a major allergen.  

Save the PB&J for the weekends.  Teach children to wash their hands thoroughly after eating ANYTHING.  And hand sanitizer just doesn't cut it.  The proteins are still there after sanitizer.  And for the love of Pete, don't bring nuts to a playground.  It's just not worth it.  Bring an orange or a plum or cheese its.  But whatever it is, just THINK.  Consider if your snack or lunch is worth a life. I can tell you for a fact that it's not.  My child is worth way more than a granola bar or a rice krispy treat.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Finding Support in all the Right Places

There are lots of people in the world who will judge based on their own perceptions before learning the situation.  As a mom, often, the most difficult of critics are the other moms.  However, occasionally you find that one person who understands and loves your child just as much as you do and vows to support your child in the way you would, yourself.  I discovered one of those people recently.

Missy invited her bff to spend the night on a Friday night.  She did, and the girls had a blast together.  It was 4th of July weekend so we were able to take the girls to see some fireworks and have a grand old time before they settled down for a movie and popcorn and lights out.  When bff's mom (I'm going to call her Alice) came to pick bff up on Saturday afternoon, they invited Missy to sleep over at their house that night.  Now, we've done double sleepovers before and it generally doesn't go well but since Missy didn't make it through their last sleepover and needed to come home, she really wanted to give it a try.  ("Mom, Bff was so disappointed when I went home last time and I really want to sleep over there tonight.")  It was sweet.

So try she did.  But 10:30 came and my phone rang.  Missy was in tears, freaking out, wanting to come home.  For a split second I considered going to pick her up.  But then I said no.  I reminded her that she was perfectly safe, that she had slept at bff's house plenty of times and she should try her deep breathing and try again.  After the phone call, I was texting with Alice.  Alice was my saving grace that night.

She and her husband talked with Missy at length, calming all her fears, reassuring her and doing everything they could to make her feel comfortable. Alice reminded me over and over how much they loved Missy and wanted to make sure they did everything they could do for her to help her face her fears and overcome them. They were so incredible, I was actually in tears during this texting conversation.  

There will be a lot of people in Missy's life (outside of Castle Scarlett) who won't understand her anxiety.  There will be people who shy away from her because they don't know how to accept her.  But for now, she has Alice and her family who love and accept her and encourage and support her.  How much more does a person really need?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Invisible Baggage

A while back,  had been trying to explain to Missy the behavior or one of her friends.  This friend was being mean, not really bullying, just being mean.  But Missy couldn't understand why this friend would act this way.  So after a few attempts that Missy wasn't comprehending, I came up with a phrase that seemed to make sense: "Invisible Baggage".

So here's my Invisible Baggage theory: We all, kids especially, carry an invisible bag at all times.  That bag holds all the stuff a person has dealt with or is dealing with.  Others won't see it, but it's always there.  I explained to Missy that she carries in her invisible baggage her anxiety, a learning disability, a quick temper -- but she also carries love, friendship, kindness, dreams, and generosity.

We got back to talking about her friend being mean, I explained that just because she didn't know what her friend's invisible baggage held, didn't mean it wasn't there.  Maybe her friend carried depression in her baggage.  Maybe she carried a difficult family life.  Maybe she carried a parent who was mean to her.  We talked about the fact that invisible baggage doesn't make it okay to be mean, but it means that maybe we should take just a few minutes to see the reasons behind the behavior.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not excusing severe behavior, bullying, or abuse.  But when life, and friendships don't go smoothly, perhaps it's time to check the baggage.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Just trying to help.....or not.

Recently I had a friend post an article on Facebook on her own wall about childhood anxiety.  It was pretty typical so I told her to go back and re-read the article with Missy in mind.  She said that was what she had done and that it reminded her of Missy completely.  Made sense since Missy is displaying pretty typical anxiety these days.  (It used to be that her anxiety came out in bad behavior.  These days, however, she displays pretty classic anxiety symptoms instead of misbehaving.)

So okay, I thought, well, that's nice, since this friend leads one of Missy's extra-curricular activities, that she was looking into the whole anxiety thing so she could better relate to Missy.  But no, she went on to tell me that I should really consider telling the other girls in the activity that LM has anxiety so that THEY could understand her better.  Wait, WHAT?!  No!

This is not information to be disseminated to her peers!  Really, Missy's life is hard enough with the stuff she has to deal with, she doesn't need to add the pressure of her classmates judging her and knowing her "secrets".  Now, I'm not saying that it should be an actual secret never to be revealed.  But really, it's clearly difficult for some adults to understand a 10 year old with anxiety issues.  How does she or anyone else expect other 10 year olds to understand it?!

It's beyond me what this woman is thinking.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

No kissing, please!!!

There are a lot of things I'm worried about when it comes to my Little Miss growing up.  First, she's not so little anymore.  So I'm going to have to start calling her Missy.  <pout>  She has now hit double digits which means full-on tween-dom.  Currently, she's not very interested in boys.  She seems to have a crush on one of her karate instructors but that's really it.  No one her age, so that's comforting in a way.  We're not worried about Missy being distracted in class because she's doodling some boy's name on her math quiz.  She's not spending endless hours picking up the phone and hanging it up while she tries to get up the courage to actually dial the boy's phone number just so she can say hi and then hang up.  I'm sure she'll get there eventually but I'm really hoping it's later rather than sooner.

The main reason I'm not looking forward to Missy having serious crushes: nuts.

Missy has a pretty major tree nut allergy.  She has had one anaphylactic reaction and her throat started to close within minutes.  During her allergy stick testing, her reactions were huge and immediate.  So all I can think of is my darling allergic child kissing some boy who ate oatmeal and walnut cookies at lunch.  What's going to happen?  Will that nut oil/protein transfer to Missy?  Will she recognize the signs if the reaction starts? Will she have her epi-pen or will she forget it at home before she went to the movies/the mall/mini golfing?  Will her friends recognize the signs?  Will Missy or her friends know what to do?

I keep hammering into her head that she needs to make sure she has her epi-pens.  I bought her a cute little wristlet bag that she can carry the pens in.  But I just can't keep myself from worrying about what *might* happen.

I had my first *real* kiss when I was 12 1/2.  Hopefully I have at least a few years before my worries become reality.  Fingers crossed that she ends up falling in crush with another nut-allergic kid!!!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Monday Miseries

I never know what I'm going to get from Little Miss on a Monday morning.  Some Mondays she's rip roaring ready to go attack the day and hang out with her friends.  Other times, she's super- clingy and begs to stay home with me.  Now, I can't exactly let her stay home every time she begs.  But then I feel like such an meanie that she's practically in tears begging to stay home and I'm forcing her to go into school.

Now, we've been (knowingly) dealing with Missy's anxiety for just over a year.  It used to be that her anxiety came out in behavioral issues and anger.  Now, we don't see as much of those issues.  But we are seeing much more frustration and classic anxiety symptoms.  We've been seeing her fixate on things that aren't necessarily about her and internalize them.  She worries about everything...all the time.  It's exhausting for us as parents.  I can't even imagine how exhausting it is for her.  Wish me luck as I try to adapt and make Mondays not so bad.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Pic Fix

I was flipping through one of the Kiddo's magazines the other day because I like to see what the magazine is all about.  She doesn't usually care for the Teen Beat type magazines (though she has bought one of those recently).  She's more about the American Girl magazines and things like that.  She's read Cricket and Appleseeds and all of those, but she still prefers American Girl.  However, we recently (I say *we* because she asked for it and I bought it) discovered Discovery Girls magazine.  I'd never seen this before and really had been previously unaware that the tween magazine market had exploded to such a degree.  

Now, like the Kiddo, I've always loved American Girl magazine for its crafts and its adorable animal posters.  But I started flipping through Discovery Girls and found the coolest article.  It was about how they created a fictional magazine cover.  They took a tween girl who was "a bit of a tomboy" with short hair who preferred athletic clothes and they turned her into a cover girl.  Dresses, makeup, hair, the whole deal.  

The article went on to talk about how many people it took to get the girl dressed and made up and do her hair.  It talked about the number of people it took to get "the perfect shot" and then talked about all the computer editing they did to give her different hair and different clothes until they got "the perfect cover".  

What was great about this was that as the article went on, it talked about how one person could never achieve this look.  One tween girl would never be able to do the extensions and the makeup and the clothes and all this garbage all by herself.  It also mentioned how horrible it must make the model feel to have to endure all of these people doing all of this stuff to her to *make* her pretty.

The article ended with a promise that they would never manipulate photos for their magazine.  Now, I'm sure that they'll still have a makeup artist and a hair stylist for their photos.  But in looking at the other photos in the magazine, the models are refreshingly natural-looking.  You see the child, not the makeup or the hair.  And they don't look ten years older than their actual age.  This is not Selena Gomez on the cover of Glamour or Cosmo.  These are little girls who look like little girls.  If we can only keep them that way for a little longer, what a childhood they could have!  So my thanks go out to magazines like Discovery Girls and American Girl, for doing their part.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

High Stakes Testing is Ruining Public Education

I truly believe that standardized tests (now called "high stakes tests") are ruining our public schools.  Here in Mass we have the MCAS test.  This is the second year Little Miss has taken the MCAS.  Her results were fine last year and my husband and I have never put any sort of pressure on her for her test results (and that goes for day-to-day classroom tests as well).  LM puts enough pressure on herself that we certainly don't need to add to it.  My job as LM's mother is to help her recognize that not everything has to be perfect, that as long as she works hard and does her best, that's all we ask of her.  I want to lessen her stress, not add to it.

When I was in school, we had standardized tests.  Every year we'd take a test to let us know where we fell in the educational spectrum.  You could be in the third grade, score a 4th grade in math and score a 2nd grade in writing and a 6th grade in reading comprehension.  That let everyone know where the child was strong and where he or she was weak.  If the majority of the kids scored low in math, for example, then clearly, some additional work in math was necessary for the entire classroom/grade.  But that's where it ended.  The only prep teachers did for this test was to show us how to fill in the bubbles about a week before the test was taken.  They showed us that if we didn't fill them in fully, we got the question wrong, even if the answer was correct.  It took a total of about 15 minutes.  Maybe 20.  And that was it.

But 25 or thirty years ago, we didn't have these high stakes tests.  The stakes weren't high.  The stakes were figuring out what the kids needed.  Today, Federal funding is based on high stakes testing.  Teachers are scared that they will lose their jobs if their students don't perform well.  School districts are in danger of losing their accreditation, perhaps having the state take over their school, losing their funding.  So, instead of teachers just teaching their classes, making learning fun and exciting, getting their students interested in learning, coming up with creative ways to teach mundane topics, we end up with a school district deciding how each subject is going to be taught.  Well those district people aren't in the classroom!  They don't know the students!  They don't know the challenges facing that particular teacher and her/his students.  But it's carbon copy teaching.  Teachers have NO freedom, at all.  Forget creativity.  It's just the same every single day.

Then on top of it all, they're expecting children to learn things far earlier than ever before.  Conversions from meters to millimeters to kilometers.....these are things I did in the sixth grade.  And I was an Advanced Math student.  LM had them in her first few months of fourth grade.  What is that?  Why so early?  Now she's doing geometry.  Granted, it's basic stuff, lines, angles, obtuse, acute, right angles, perpendicular and parallel lines.  But still.  It's a weird.

We learned how to do book reports early.  We had one due every two-three weeks.  My child has never done an actual book report with a summary, characters, main idea, etc.  She has, however, learned how to put together a power point presentation.  And forget about science and social studies.  There's none of that until 5th grade.  So, what?  Kids in 1 - 4 don't like science?  They don't like getting their hands dirty making a volcano that erupts vinegar and baking soda?  Of course they do!  That's what makes learning fun.  That's what makes them say, 'hey, I want to learn MORE about this."  But projects are a thing of the past in the High Stakes Testing Era.  Projects apparently don't show kids how to fill in bubbles on the MCAS.

In Seattle, a group of high school Teachers Refused to Administer High Stakes Test.  I applaud these teachers for standing up for their students.  The pressure we're putting on these kids to perform and what it's doing to the day-to-day teaching standards is wrong.  LM has come home in tears because she didn't think she did well on the MCAS (even though her scores were perfectly fine.  Good, even!).  One of her friends worried himself into an asthma attack because he got three problems wrong on an MCAS practice test.  And I can't imagine that these are the only two examples of kids freaking out over these tests.  Our kids deserve better than what they're getting.