Monday, February 09, 2009

progress report

(I was going to start off with some joke about how the devil went down to Georgia, and that's why it's so warm down here--highs in the 70s today--but I realized that would be a pretty lame joke, even for me.)

So yesterday, we got Cal's progress report, which is sort of like his little report card, issued in advance of the parent-teacher conferences this Thursday. By the way, even though part of me misses the comments section on this blog, this is one of those days that I am glad I turned them off, because for some reason, EVERY DAMN TIME I talk about Cal going to nursery school I would get these comments that were like, "Why can't you let your kid be a kid, why do you have to send them to school at age three, what are you hyper-achievement pressure-parents pushing, MCAT prep or something!?!?! And also: !!!!!!" Yes, people send their kids to preschool. And then the kids can eat their boogers in new and enriching environments. The End. But anyway, comments are OFF now, so I don't have to mentally gird my loins for the sarcastic repartee, of which the name of some Ivy League school and our supposed grand admission scheme always seems to be the punchline.

Anyway, though I think Cal is a pretty great kid, I am well aware of his shortcomings. I don't worry about him from an academic point of view--I know he's smart and all, and learning numbers and letters and colors and reading honestly isn't the reason that we sent him to school, because he can get that at home. The reason we thought it was important for him to start school was for the social piece--particularly, socializing with other kids his own age. Because frankly, in a room full of other kids his own age, Cal is kind of...weird.

It says repeatedly in his progress report that he's more of an "observer" than a participant in group activities, and that I have to agree with 100%. He doesn't play with other kids per se unless he's tricked into it; more often, he just watches them. When you try to get him involved in some big-group kid activity, he inevitably makes excuses and begs off. He's less this way now, but a few months ago he actually used to be kind of scared of other little kids, especially when they were very exuberant (read: loud) or energetic (read: rough), and would run back to me or Joe or whoever to cower by our sides and peek out from between our legs. Just yesterday, we took Cal to the birthday party of some kid in his class, held at one of these little kiddie gyms with a ball pit and a trampoline and soft climbing structures and what have you. He had a right fine time playing on his own, but when it came time for "circle time" and to participate in a group game (I believe it involved beaning Nerf balls at each other) he stood off to the side and refused to participate. "I'm not very good at sitting in a circle," he explained, casting a jaundiced eye on the proceedings. "And I don't think I like that game very much." Meanwhile, all the other normal kids were smashing each other with foam balls and screaming with joy. Let's just put it this way: if you're a magician at a kid's party and you need to pick a volunteer for audience participation, you don't want to call on Cal.

Contrast that with what I think is actually Cal's ideal party, which we attended a few weekends ago--the adult's cocktail party. Our neighbor had a small get together for about thirty people to celebrate her 40th birthday, and since it was early enough and we lived right next door anyway, we brought Cal and Mack along. Cal was in his element. He was talking to everybody, all of them strangers, telling stories, laughing and dancing, even sidling up to one person he'd just met to hold their hand. (This actually was fairly embarrassing for me, because the person whose hand he decided to hold had, I'm fairly sure, had a STROKE not too long ago, and it appeared he was actually PARALYZED on the hand-holding side--but the guy was a former teacher and very nice, not to mention thoroughly charmed by Cal's gregarious party persona.) To say that Cal is "adult-oriented," as one of his teacher's noted earlier this year, is perhaps one of the bigger understatements that we've heard. If you saw him at this adult party and then observed him with other kids, you might not believe he was the same child.

The other problem with Cal (well, it's not a problem in that it's so unusual for a three year-old, but it is a problem in that it makes things difficult sometimes) is that he does not deal well with new things. I'm not talking about new foods or new people necessarily, but new experiences are problematic, and no matter how much fun they look and whether or not every other kid is enjoying it (there was a zip-line at this kid's party yesterday that he just refused to even look at), he is just very slow to warm up. He's not the kind of kid who's going to cannonball into a pool, let's put it that way. I believe they call this warming-up-to-new-experiences "transitions" at school, and it's true, Cal is probably not that great at transitions. I mean, just look how long it took for him to agree to even use the toilet at school, despite being scatologically reliable at home. MONTHS. And you have to be careful how you encourage him to try the new things. One wrong word and he digs his heels in and you can just forget it--he won't be going down that slide or sitting in his cubby or watching "Toy Story" ("TOY STORY" for chrissake! It's a CARTOON! And an hour and the half of parent-endorsed TV time! Who is this kid?) ever, ever again. Or at least until he forgets all about it and just does it anyway.

I think these two things are the two core things that Cal needs to work on, but the problem is that between those two things, I imagine Cal occasionally does not come off very well, and appears more like the freaky loner kid who refuses to do anything that I'm sure teachers just LOVE. The progress report takes pains to mention what they feel are Cal's strengths--mainly, that he's very empathetic and sweet and "sensitive" (though this seems more like a euphemism for "cries easily"), but I think some of his other strengths are being eclipsed by the fact that he just refused to do some of things for which he was being evaluated. For instance, we (Joe and I) know Cal has known all his letters for almost two years, he can easily count to 20 (has, actually, counted to 120, with only occasional prompting that the number following, say, 49 is not "forty-ten"), writes his own name, talks in long, complete sentences (tellingly, his favorite word is "actually"), and knows his basic shapes, colors, and all that crap. I mean, the kid told me a few months ago, "Actually Mom, did you know that this banana kind of looks like a crescent?" COME ON NOW. But according to his progress report, he is still has not mastered those skills, which makes me wonder just what kind of act he is pulling at school, and just how stubborn he is being about coming out of his shell to show them. Because when Cal doesn't want to do something well, he just won't do it.

I mean, for example, in his progress report, it says in one part about fine motor skills that he is functioning as left-hand dominant. And Cal is very clearly right-handed. I mean, we've been spelling out the words for him and he writes thank-you notes to his grandparents--I've watched him, HE IS RIGHT HANDED. Yet for this evaluation, he was using his left hand to cut out shapes, write letters, what have you. This is classic Cal, this deliberate screwing up of tasks he can easily do well (like when he pretends he can't put on his pants so we have to help him, or pretends to fall down because he's "too tired to walk") inevitably followed up by, "Actually, I'm not very good at this, I can't do this." He can do these things at home, and my initial response was to be very defensive of Cal and his abilities, even thinking, well, maybe I should make a tape of him and show them...but then I came to realize that really, that's beside the point. The point isn't that he can do this stuff at home, the point is that he isn't doing them at school. And that's what we need to work on.

That and his reluctance to play with other children. Other kids just freak him out for some reason. The adult world, with its manners and rules, its polite conversation, its personal space boundaries and lack of rough physical engagement, that's what Cal likes. Put him in a room with a bunch of squealing, grubby kids jumping up and down and throwing things (you know, any preschool class, in other words) and you're more likely than not going to find him standing off to the side watching everyone else and occasionally making deadpan critique. Yesterday at the party, he walked out of the party room, where all the other kids were honking on their little noisemakers, and told me, "It's just too loud in there, it's hurting inside my ears," before settling on the bench next to me and finishing his slice of pizza. Part of me agreed--it was loud in there, all the other parents were wincing and making jokes about "whose idea was the noisemakers anyway?"--but another part of me wanted Cal in there, honking on his horn and smearing frosting. Like, BE A KID, for chrissake!

I also realize that I'm going to get some e-mails from people insisting HEY, YOUR KID HAS ASPERGER'S! (or whatever, pick your favorite diagnosis--mine is tuberculosis, THE GREAT IMITATOR), but I really don't think so, mostly because he is very empathic, and also his little peccadilloes are not across the board--like I said, around adults or older children, he's much, much different. Not that I'm in love with the new en vogue practice of labeling every childhood micro-neurosis with some diagnostic catch-all anyway. I think Cal is sort of a weirdly fastidious, over-analytical kid, and while we can certainly work on some of the issues of stubbornness and transitioning now, the rest of it I think is just going to take some tincture of time.

Either that, or he'll grow up to be a twenty year-old kid who spends all his leisure time hanging out with his BFF over at the old folks home.


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