Tropical Nut Island

Three-year-old RR gave us the saying Tropical Nut Island. Long time readers will remember that it’s how she referred to herself over a short period of time, usually shouting at the top of her lungs, “I’m a TROPICAL NUT ISLAND!” The non-nut island folks near and dear to her have never figured out where this came from but we can dissect its meaning well enough. When she was three, it meant running around, hair flying, arms waving, laughing. Craziness, we called it. Now, at nine, it feels more like Enough Already.

The other day she brought her Tropical Nut Island self to the observatory where we were having an intimate gathering of co-workers and their families to sky gaze through the giant telescope. There were other children there – a 4 and 5 year old – and a few adults, all of whom were ushering the little ones calmly from place to place. Our child eventually laid on the floor and spun herself in a circle. I don’t think she was bored, rather the opposite. She just had nowhere for the enthusiasm to go. Now we call it ADHD but not I’m going to take you home right now. I truly think she was doing the best she could to find an outlet for the bouncing inside her head.

I’m probably the stricter of the two of us, with a (probably needless) focus on manners and seemliness. But even my wife’s body language was WTF even though she, mostly calmly, snapped at RR to get up. RR was a bit dismayed as being sharply spoken to but I’m 100% with my wife on this one. There’s no floor spinning outside of your own house. At home, with just your family, spin all you want. Not that she ever has. This was…new.

Mostly her ADHD manifests as distraction and wandering. She either has a laser-like focus on what she’s doing or she has no focus. There’s no middle of the road. The resurgence of Tropical Nut Island made me question whether we’re doing her a disservice by not looking into medication. I have really complicated feelings about that and it wasn’t recommended, not yet, so I have a spit of time to wonder about why my feelings are so complicated and what we’re going to do about that. In the meantime, welcome to Tropical Nut Island.

Observation

My childhood self would have very much liked to be in a Montessori school, I think. Ours in particular. We had the chance to observe RR’s classroom and it was a revelation. All of the children were focused and working on different tasks, a lesson on finding areas was going on in one corner and another on geography in the quiet ecology space. Even my child, the one full of vim and vigor, was settled on her knees, deep into square roots.

I’m sure there are days when the volume is louder and the kids more antsy. Just as there are days where a stillness falls over the room. But I imagine the sheer number of places to work – carpet, tables, comfy corners for reading, a laptop area, even outside – mean that the kids have just enough room to spread out. And by kids I mean all 30 or so of them. It’s not a small class. At one point, the sun came out from behind the clouds casting warm light over the entire classroom, leaving the kids with little halos of sunbeams.

Every month when a bagillion dollars comes out of my account, I think of this classroom and these teachers. The kids with their work ethics. And, of the gorgeous grounds over which they have the independence to roam. It hurts, the money, but we are so very lucky that we can do it at all. Very, very lucky.

ADHD part 2

You should know that I really appreciate your comments and offers to chat about RR’s ADHD diagnosis. We were altogether hesitant to tell anyone, including RR, and it has made it easier to know that there’s a semi-silent (not everyone, I know, but lots!) army out there who are meeting things like ADHD and all of its cousins head on.

One of my biggest concerns in telling RR was that she would start to use it as an excuse or a crutch. That may sound harsh – it is, after all, nothing she’s doing on purpose. I’ve had some up close and personal adult ADHD professional interactions over the last couple of years that have left me in despair, yes, actually. From what I understand though, these folks are perhaps not managing their diagnosis or need help finding new methods of management that would help their professional lives stay…professional. And that’s enough said about that.

This diagnosis is having wider repercussions on the family and we’re seeing a family therapist to find coping mechanisms that work well for all of us. No medication was recommended at this point but as school gets more demanding I can see us getting there. I worry that, outside of her Montessori environment, she might be less successful. That’s several years away though and while I’m a worrier, no need to borrow trouble.

Speaking of, I was also reticent to tell the school and concerned that they would…I don’t know. Kick her out? They aren’t obligated to provide services for her. It’s not like an IEP situation that she might have in public school. But they were, as I should have known, wonderful, and I’ve felt like her teachers and the learning specialists have all been on top of it, low key, and supportive. We’re winning all around.

As for RR, she seems satisfied to know there’s a reason she struggles to be attentive and hasn’t once used it as an excuse. So far, it’s the best possible situation. Thank you again for telling your stories and lending your support. It’s appreciated more than you know.

ADHD Strikes

Since June, we’ve officially known that RR has ADHD and a remarkably slow processing speed. We suspected before (or we wouldn’t have had her tested) since she is both vibrating with life and blissfully inattentive on the regular. We wondered if it was interfering with her ability to learn (it was) and with her ability to make friends (it might be). So now we’re fully in the throes of making life as consistent and as motivating as possible.

At least, I see it that way. All the efforts to make sure she knows when to brush her teeth hinge on early preparation, reminders, and motivators. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has an almost 10 year old who wouldn’t dress in the mornings if her clothes weren’t already laid out and waiting for her. But maybe I am. So now her parents have a fleet of routines to follow and reminders to set in place and I’m pretty much exhausted by that already. On the plus side, it’s actually working and, if we remember to remind her to pick out clothes, we can start a chain reaction that includes getting dressed, eating, brushing teeth and hair, and putting shoes on all by a reasonable time in the morning. This is a triumph.

This is also exhausting (for me). I don’t like feeling as though everything has to be done the same way every time or keeping a list of all the trigger actions we have to take to get the chain reactions we’re looking for. But I dislike reminders more than I dislike routine so, here we are. We’re also motivating her with gold coins (Brazilian 25 cent pieces) in a jar which I’m halfway against (come on child, just get the bedtime routine done, please) but more in favor of than sticker stars or U.S. money.

Speaking of money, RR has a very blasé attitude about it all: Why do we even need money, mama, why can’t we just trade for things? Money is not a motivator.

So now we have some extra services at school. This is better than what we heard from the specialist at the end of last year which was that RR was looking at others’ papers rather than doing her own work. When reframed, it looks entirely like ADHD and not malicious intent. I still don’t love the specialist but her demeanor has changed entirely now that there’s a diagnosis at hand.

I hope this doesn’t make things needlessly hard for RR. While I feel like we can get a handle on the inattentive part of it all, the slow processing speed could hurt her ability to form close friendships as she gets older. That’s heartbreaking to think about, so I don’t.

Finding Friends

Ever since RR was little, we’ve had parents approach us with “oh {my child} talks so much about RR!” and we’re always a bit taken aback because RR doesn’t really talk about anyone else’s child. Until recently, we’ve accepted that other children are friends with our child even if the feeling is lukewarm on RR’s side. But then the playdates never came. Oh, we still get my child talks about your child but the follow-through isn’t there.

On the practical side, I suppose our best answer would be, “Great! let’s have [your child] over to play!” But we’re homebodies and that takes time and energy we often want to use on other things on the weekend. We’ll have to change our tune though because RR desperately wants to have or go to a sleepover and that’s definitely not happening without the playdate stage.

This weekend she was invited to an apple orchard and we had a different friend over the following day. It’s the most social interaction she’s had outside of school with her friends other than a birthday party here and there. We were exhausted by it but RR didn’t seem either tired OR energized so it’s hard to tell whether she was digging the social butterfly vibe or if she was merely tolerating it for our sakes. Questioning gets us nowhere with her so we’ll have to see what happens with the approach of this weekend. More playdate requests from her or fewer? I guess we’ll find out.

Tales of a Fourth Grade…

You might have filled in the rest of that title but I can assure you that our fourth grader’s life is nothing like that of Peter’s in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. For starters, we actually know what Peter’s life was like. With RR, it’s vast and unknowable. That’s right, it’s the return of the Iron Curtain.

Isn’t it cute how we mused over this phenomenon three years ago and yet here we are? The Curtain opens to reveal tidbits of information and then drops with a decided thud. For example, with one week of fourth grade down, we know that she has done Tables A, B, and C. Unfortunately, that is as opaque to us as the mating habits of swallowtails which, to be fair, RR probably knows all about and just hasn’t mentioned. We also had this conversation yesterday before the close of The Curtain:

RR: Don’t judge Britt, Mama
Me: Why would I judge your teacher?
RR: For language she told me to look up the word “dic”
Me: Why would I judge her for that?
RR: You know, mama.
Me: Because dick with a k means penis?
RR: I think it means saying something.

And that was it. The end of RR’s part of the conversation anyway. And by the way, I’m not sure why I would be the judgey one here. If anyone is going to use profanity in this household, it’s me. Anyway, what I learned from this conversation is that she obviously needs a spelling lesson.

Apparently when The Curtain opens there’s a backlog there. We learned that in third grade Ecology lessons the children sat under the trees and observed the plants in the breeze. Now though, they have to take notes instead and you can imagine how popular that is. I mean, I have to imagine it because that was the end of the conversation.

To use her words here, I’m not judging her. It’s an eternal exercise in patience for her mothers. And we could probably use it since it looks like it’s us and The Curtain, BFF4LYFE.

Literary Circles

You guys, I prefer to write in coffee shops or other public places where the bustle and noise help me zoom in and get less distracted that I would at my desk on a lunch break or in my house with dinner cooking. Coffee shop times have been few and far between this summer and I’m finding myself with lots to say but no reasonable place to get started.

We got the school supply list last week and along with the usual Montessori things (don’t forget your slippers and mug), we also have some fun and random things like, Three Colors of Acrylic Paint, Your Child’s Choice of Colors and Library Card. Which are great and lost. Also, asking my child to choose three colors will be a herculean effort as her mother and I try to corral her while she extols the virtues of Cadmium versus Pyrrole Orange.

Speaking of herculean efforts, we will also be trying to explain to RR the value of a Literary Circle and of books themselves as more than just vehicles for visual art. These small book discussion groups feature books that look good to me but are, at a glance, possibly torture. I imagine that, for RR, torture in the Montessori tradition involves book clubs. So, because she is no help at all in choosing her torture devices, I put them here in case one of you has read one and thinks a rising 4th graders with a large vocabulary but slow reading speed might find it at all interesting:

Brown Girl Dreaming
Hello, Universe
Inside Out and Back Again
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut
Joesephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine (also in Brazen!)
Babe Didrickson Zaharias: The Making of a Champion
Merci Suarez Changes Gears
Hurricane ForceL In the Path of America’s Deadliest Storms (this one is out)
Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life
The Five Ancestors: Snake
Savvy
The Night Diary
When You Reach Me
Turtle in Paradise
The Seven Tales of Trinket
The Heart of Everything That Is

Any recommendations welcome!

The Artist at School

Back to school involves choosing a historical character to represent, doing some research, and getting ready to write a report to present to the lower grades. Since RR is wholly uninterested in the task, I suggested we look at Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World, a very excellent graphic novel, which joins the recent canon of Books About Women Who Changed Things. I love it for its inclusion of little known women and international figures. And of course, the story of Annette Kellerman, the first mermaid. So there I was, Brazen in hand, suggesting Nellie Bly (because she’s awesome) and I was informed with a substantial eye-roll that Georgia O’Keefe was not in that book.

Oh, I see. I was supposed to have read her mind and understood that she could not consider any other historical figure because Georgia. O’Keefe. Duh.

Is this what 12 will be like? Because I need my own eye-roll for that.

The Artist at Work

RR submitted a painting to competition last weekend and won. No burying the lede there! It was the local county fair so competition in the junior oils set wasn’t terribly steep but I’m pretty sure she’d have won regardless. She amazes me with her talent for oil painting.

She was a little nervous, I think, but certain she would win something. I’m not surprised. When she dropped it off, adults came from across the room to tell her they admired it. This is how RR’s life goes. If it’s not the paintings, it’s the freckles, if it’s not the freckles, it’s her manners, if it isn’t that, well, it’s always something.

I don’t remember getting a lot of compliments as a kid and so I let her eat them up. Is that a good thing? I don’t know. Of course, I question whether we’re doing it right but with this one, she’ll have other challenges (hi there, multiplication!), so let’s let her have this.

And it’s a good thing to have!

Hoo Boy

Want to be shocked that we’ve known each other so long? RR turned nine on Tuesday. NINE. I’m grappling with complicated feelings about it, more than any other birthday, because she’s right on the edge of Big Girl and is about to tumble headlong into Pre-Teen.

It doesn’t seem right, how can nine be almost pre-teen? How can my baby be almost a pre-teen? How can it be she wants both a phone and a doll? Both a floaty for the pool and a face mask with cucumbers for her eyes? She got all of those things (yes, I’m that mom who gave her nine-year-old a phone and I’m ruining it for all the other moms, I know, but at least it’s wifi only) but she hasn’t put the doll down for more than a minute and is ducking into her new play tent (also designed for the younger set, I think) every chance she gets.

My mom is in town for THREE weeks and I don’t think she realizes that she’s unlikely to see RR when they are at home alone together because the privacy that tent offers is way more enticing than a grandma. Today she came out of her room bearing the slinky we got and bounced it while checking her texts. I don’t know what to do with this person who is so much of the cusp of a new stage. I don’t know what to do with my own complicated emotions. I guess we’ll just keep on living here in this moment of transition and appreciate the in-betweenness of it all before it gets whisked away.