My journey to shoot for the moon.

Archive for the ‘Kids’ Category

Futurama and Cancer

Best Friends

The boys have become obsessed with Futurama and have watched a large number of old episodes.  Generally, Futurama is harmless.  However, recently there was an episode that I could have done without.

David and Michael were watching.  Chris had gone to bed and I was, I think, reading my book.  I was in the same room as the TV, but I wasn’t paying any attention.  When the episode was nearly over, I looked up at the TV and saw Fry’s (the main character) dog sitting outside the pizza place where Fry worked.  And Fry’s dog was shown aging and then eventually as a skeleton. (more…)

Adventures in Substitute Teaching – Preschool

Days 3 & 4

Day 2 I Subbed in Middle School and Days 3 and 4 I was as far from Middle School as I could possibly be:  preschool.  I was lucky enough to get a 2 day job at a preschool as a SPED teacher.

Preschool in Douglas County is integrated.  There are regular education kids mixed with SPED kids and they have 2 teachers (one regular education and one SPED) teaching together in one classroom.  There is also a SPED Paraprofessional.  Preschool is half-day and teachers get to teach 2 classes a day.  There is no preschool on Friday.

The two classes that I got to work in had about 12 students in each.  Yes, that is 12 kids with 3 adults.  Except that the first afternoon there was another service provider (I can’t remember what they did) came to work with kids as well (so 4 adults to 12 kids).  On the second day a regular education Paraprofessional was there all day and in the afternoon the Occupational Therapist was there as well (5 adults to 12 kids).

The kids were fairly “normal” preschool kids.  The SPED Paraprofessional took charge of the “tough” kids, since they didn’t know me and I didn’t know them.  On the second day I was able to give her a break from her “tough” am kid.  The “tough” pm kid would have had a meltdown with the change, so I couldn’t help out there.

Most of the two days were spent supervising kids, monitoring one am kid with toileting issues and playing.  I got to sit on the floor and read books with kids, play at the messy table with the beans, sing Row, Row, Row Your Boat a zillion times (while rocking the wooden boat), and build with LEGOS.  I got to talk with kids about what they were doing.  I help reinforce that you can’t learn when you are “red” (meaning super excited or angry) and that you need to be “blue” to learn.

In Illinois, I loved teaching preschool.  Leaving AAUW Nursery School was one of the saddest things for me about leaving Illinois.  I loved teaching there.  I loved the kids, the parents, my co-workers and what I got to do every day.  I loved painting and playing with blocks and the messy table.  I loved the water table, the sand table, the housekeeping corner (except for clean-up time), playdough and silly putty.  I loved singing songs and reading stories.  Most of all, I loved working with the kids.  It was challenging and there were many nights, especially my first year, when I went home and got a glass of wine and cried.  But I was happy to go back the next day.  I looked forward to going to work.  I was doing something I was good at and I loved.

When I came to Colorado, I looked for a preschool environment that was similar to the one I left.  And I couldn’t find it.  It didn’t really exist.  No one here did play-based learning.  And every place I interviewed with was a daycare not a preschool.  I decided that teaching preschool in Colorado wasn’t for me.  Douglas County School District Preschool is academic and not play-based.  But, the kids spend a lot of time playing.  I still believe that I made the right decision in not pursuing preschool in Colorado (the school district sends the day-to-day lesson plans to the teacher and you have to follow them), but substituting in preschool was an amazing amount of fun.  I laughed, really laughed with the kids.  I got to play.  I didn’t have to do lesson plans, and I didn’t have to manage the kids long-term.  It was a great two days and I would love to go back – short-term.  But it was also sad because I realized how much I missed teaching preschool and AAUW.  Ann, Shelia, Tia, Ruth Ann, and Denise – I really miss you all!  AAUW is an amazing place and one-of-a-kind, don’t forget it!

CLIMB and Kids Alive: Support Groups for Kids who have a Parent with Cancer – Part 1

When Chris was diagnosed, I started searching for a support group for the boys.  Not many kids their age have experience with losing a parent to cancer, and I wanted them to have a relationship with a group of kids (and adults) in case they needed it.  Relationships take time to build and I wanted to make sure that we had supports in place for when they were needed.

In December, 2009 the boys and I attended CLIMB (Children Living In Moments of Bravery) at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora.  CLIMB is funded by The Children’s Treehouse Foundation One night each week, for four weeks, I drove us to the hospital for dinner and support.  It was a good group, although only a few families came to more than one session.  The food was great (the boys looked forward to dinner) and the kids met with psychologists, social workers and nurses.  They made things that represented how they felt about having a parent with cancer, they talked, and they got to visit the oncology department when no one was there.  Visiting the oncology department meant that they got to see where the nurses administered chemo and they got a demonstration of what getting chemo entailed.  It was all kid friendly and answered a number of questions the boys had about treatment.

My boys weren’t into the “artsy” part of CLIMB.  But that seemed to be ok.  They went happily (I think dinner was a big part of the going happily – they got to have soda) and they were able to start managing their feelings about Chris’ cancer.

While the kids were talking and creating, the adults joined two social workers to discuss issues related to the cancer diagnosis.  Chris didn’t want to attend (and was exhausted from chemo), so I went alone with the boys.  I was the only “caregiver” that was there without their spouse.

We had some very honest conversations during this time.  We talked about our fears for ourselves, our spouses and our kids.  We talked about guilt and burnout.  We discussed medical bills and life insurance.  And we talked about end-of-life issues.  We laughed and, quite often, we cried.  The best part of this group was that I felt supported.  It didn’t matter what I said, these were people who understood and were traveling similar paths.

When the group ended, several of us continued to get together.  And then we stopped.  It was tough because my boys were the oldest and the only boys (besides babies).  They didn’t really want to go.  It was also sometimes strange because I had more in common with the men (the “caregivers”) than the women who were battling cancer.  While the women understood each other, and they could relate to what I was feeling and going through, I couldn’t totally get what they were battling.  However, I have no doubt that it was time well-spent and that it was needed by me and the boys at the time.

One of the things that I worried about (and still do to a certain extent) is self-sufficiency.  I can fix a number of things.  I can read and follow directions.  I can put together kids toys and furniture.  All of these things I can do and feel pretty confident.  However, when it comes to my van, I’m lost.  We found a good mechanic, and I trust them, so that helps.  But I’ve never changed a headlight.  And at the time, I could not, no matter how I tried, change the rear wiper blade on the van.  I read the directions.  I read the directions out loud.  The boys tried to help, and they couldn’t figure it out either.

It was cold and Chris was feeling icky.  Chemo was taking a lot out of him and I knew that he didn’t have the patience to teach me to do it myself.  I’m sure that he would have done it for me, had I asked.  But I didn’t want him to do it for me, I wanted to be able to do it myself.

Thankfully, we were getting together with the families we met from CLIMB.  Before we left, I asked one of the husbands (thanks Z.Z.) if he could help me and teach me how to change the wiper blade.  I told him I didn’t want him to do it for me.  I wanted to know how to do it myself.  It only took him a few minutes.  There was a key part that I was not understanding from the directions and therefore, was not getting it in the right place.  Once he showed me, it made sense.  And it wasn’t difficult.  But to me it was huge.  I was able to do it without help the next time I needed to change the wiper blade.

It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but at the time it helped me cope.  I think that is what CLIMB did for the boys.  And when CLIMB was over, we went searching for another support group.  

We found Kids Alive at Porter Adventist Hospital in Denver.  I’ll talk about Kids Alive in Part 2.

Adventures in Substitute Teaching – Introduction and Day 1


As I’ve written, I’ve started to substitute teach.  I am really enjoying it and enjoying the kids that I am getting to meet.  I ordered business cards and they arrived (and are SO cute) and I’m trying to get my name out there because honestly, I’d love to Substitute at a few schools, rather than all over the place.  But, to get exposure, I need to take the jobs that I can and hope that teachers will want me to come back (and share my name with others!).

In an effort to protect the confidentiality of the kids that I’ve worked with, I won’t be using any school names, or kids names in my posts about my substitute teaching.

Day 1:

This was a Magnet School (K-6) and I had never been to a Magnet School before.  When I did my student teaching, it was at an IB School (International Baccalaureate) and the Magnet School had much of the same feel.  Anyway, I was substituting for the Mild/Moderate SPED Teacher.  One of the things about SPED in Douglas County School District is that the Educational Assistants are the ones who tend to direct the substitute when the teacher isn’t there.  They are the ones that know the kids and usually they will take the difficult ones because change is one of the things that SPED kiddos have great difficulties with.  Generally, this means that, as a substitute, I get to work with sweet, compliant kiddos.   And I’m not complaining.

The teacher didn’t leave any sub plans for me, as it was a day that was going to be spent introducing their new unit (theme, whatever they called it):  Making a Difference in their Community.  This meant that the kids would not be having a regular day and schedules would be all mixed up.  The Educational Assistants (both were teachers who decided after years of teaching they wanted to work with the kids but didn’t want to be “in charge”) decided that I would work with a little guy with autism.  They were having a meeting to figure out how they were going to manage this kiddo and he was the only kid who really needed constant support.

Magnet and Charter Schools are not equipped to deal with kiddos with significant learning/behavioral needs.  They don’t have the facilities and the staff.  These schools are able to manage kiddos who need additional support and have Learning Disabilities, but they really weren’t designed for kids who need 1:1 support to make it through the day.  This is why they were meeting with the district specialists to figure out how they were going to try to help this kid.

The problem was that the staff wasn’t sure how to manage this kid and they had worked with him since August.  So, even though I am a SPED teacher and I have extensive experience with kiddos with Severe and Profound Needs, as a sub, there is only so much that I can do.  Kids with autism, generally, rely on routines.  They need predictability.  Change is difficult.  So, having a day that didn’t follow the routine and having an unfamiliar staff member working with him was a recipe for disaster.  All in all, things went fairly well.  But he did have one major meltdown and I did the best I could.  Which is pretty good.  However, there was no safe place to remove this kid to and there were no strategies in place to manage him when he melted down.  So, I was flying blind.

The meltdown came towards the end of the morning, after the assembly.  Soon after, he went to lunch.  And then he went home.  So it wasn’t horrible.  In the afternoon I did AIMS-WEB testing (Maze and Fluency) with about 6 kids.  That was all they had for me.  I guess it made up for the crazy morning.

The best part of the day was that the Magnet School had David Bacon as a Speaker for their assembly.  He is associated with the O’Brien School for the Maasai (   I’m a little unclear on how David Bacon is associated with Playing for Change, but he played the music video at the end of his presentation.  He was a great speaker, although much of what he spoke about went over the heads of the primary kids, and I really enjoyed his energy and his presentation.

The worst part of the day was having nothing to do.  One of the things that I love about working with kids is that they keep you busy, when there is nothing to do, well, the day takes forever.  Now I know why substitute teachers bring a book with them.  I’ve added one to my bag-of-stuff that I will bring to each job from now on.

Road Trip Today!

Today is a Professional Development Day for the teachers in our district.  That means that there is NO SCHOOL.  So, the boys and I are taking a short road trip to Colorado Springs.

Michael’s class is doing projects on the Native Americans of Colorado.  So, we going to the Manitou Cliff Dwellings to get pictures and information for the project.  Two of Michael’s classmates are coming with us.  Then we are going to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.  Besides Michael’s project, David will get “field trip credit” for going, since the Cliff Dwellings are mentioned in his Social Studies book (and since we are homeschooling Social Studies, I can have him do whatever I think is appropriate for American History).

David, Michael and I went to both of these places last summer with my friend Kathy, who was visiting from Illinois.  Since the Cliff Dwellings won’t take all day, I asked my boys if there was anything else they would like to do while we were in Colorado Springs.  Both of them wanted to go to the Zoo.  David said that the Zoo was “awesome.”  So, that is what we will do.

So, while I may be a bit crazy, we are heading out today, hopefully, by 8:30.  That should put us in Colorado Springs by 9:30.  I expect that we will either get lunch at the Zoo or on the way to the Zoo.

One of the moms asked if I was sure that I could handle this with the kids.  Four boys between the ages of 10-13.  3 Fifth Graders and 1 Eight Grader.  No problem.  I’m expecting it to be a lot of fun!  I figure that we need to leave Colorado Springs by 3:00 at the latest to arrive back home in time to get one of Michael’s friends to the High School for his sister’s softball game and then to get Michael to soccer practice.  His other friend is going to be picked up at the soccer field, since they live nearby.

It will be a Little Caesar’s Pizza night, our normal Friday night after soccer practice dinner.  I am certain that I will be too tired to cook.  I am also fairly certain that I will be headed to bed soon after dinner.

Look for a post on Saturday or Sunday with pictures and stories about our adventure!

Apartment Living

One of the things that I like about living in an apartment is that I get to meet people who I wouldn’t have met otherwise.  The boys and I get to meet people who are here for a short time and then move on.  But they are interesting people and sometimes we are lucky enough to have them stay in our lives.  And sometimes not.  The apartment complex is more diverse than a neighborhood would be (here in Parker, Colorado) and there are people of all ages here.

For example, there are some grandparents here in our complex.  We met them soon after we moved in.  They had their son, daughter-in-law and two grandsons living with them for a while after they moved in.  The boys were all around the same ages and the oldest was in the same program David was at school.  When the son and his family moved out of his parents’ apartment, we kept in touch.  In fact, he watched the boys for 1/2 a year in the morning before school.  He is now divorced.  But his parents still live in the complex and the boys still visit on a regular basis.  David has somewhat moved on (he is the oldest and has less in common as the boys have grown-up), but Michael LOVES spending time with the boys.  In fact, this summer the boys were visiting their grandparents a lot and Michael was usually with them.  I would feel worse about this, but I had pneumonia for most of the summer and I knew that Michael was safe and supervised.  The grandparents, who my kids call “Grandma and Grandpa H” (they use their full last name, but I won’t post that here), are amazing people.  Grandma H was a teacher and is from Puerto Rico.  Grandpa H is from NY or NJ (I can’t remember – I know that their family lived in both places – but they moved to Colorado from Ohio).  They’ve been married forever and their son is, I think, in his late 40’s.  He was an only child.  They love to cook for the kids and when David did a project on Puerto Rico, Grandma and Grandpa H made some traditional dishes for him to take to school to share with his class.  They buy the boys Christmas presents every year and the boys have gone (in pjs) to their apartment Christmas morning for a little bit.  Sometimes the boys go over there and just hang out and talk with them.  I love that the kids have a great relationship with Grandma and Grandpa H.  We wouldn’t have met them, or stayed in as close contact, if we didn’t live here.

We’ve also met a number of young families.  One family lives across the hall from us.  The mom, Tina (I’ve changed their names to protect their privacy), is 27 years old.  She has 3 children (and one who died at 15 months from brain cancer, she was 20 years old at the time).  Her youngest son is special needs.  Looking at him, you wouldn’t know that anything was wrong with him.  But try to talk with him, he’s 5, and you are left perplexed.  She’s been working on getting him a diagnosis and into special programs since they moved in.  She’s had him at Children’s and has had a ton of testing done on him.  She started several years ago (before they moved to Colorado) and has had difficulties getting the specialists to give him a diagnosis.  He was a premie and he has a whole slew of problems.  She finally got a diagnosis and I think that it fits (mostly).  As a special ed teacher (even though I’m not working at the moment, I do have a Master’s in SPED), she has asked a lot of questions.  And I’m happy to help her out.  Some of the things she’s been told have been confusing and I understand why she is so frustrated.

But, let me tell you, she is an amazing mom.  Her daughter and her youngest son are 12 months apart (her daughter is the youngest).  Recently,I went to check on her because as I was taking the garbage out, I noticed that her keys were still in the door.  As it turns out, she had both her daughter, Anna and her youngest son, Charlie crying and she was trying to get them in from the car.  Her oldest, Lance, who I think is in 2nd grade, had to use the bathroom and had gone running to their apartment.  I helped her carry stuff inside and she told me about Charlie’s diagnosis and that she would be meeting with ChildFind the next day.

As we were chatting, we discovered that we both love to scrapbook.  She doesn’t have much time (her husband travels and is not home much of the time) because she is busy with her kids, but she wanted to show me her scrapbook of her son, Allen, who had died.  While I was sitting looking at it, Charlie and Anna were both crying.  She said that they both missed their naps and were tired and cranky.  (Personally, I was surprised as my kids were done napping at 3, but she said that her’s still napped – apparently, Charlie could nap for 3-4 hours a day.)  Lance had gone out to play with the kids running around the complex (Michael was one of them).  Charlie was bothering Anna as siblings do when they are tired and cranky.  I listened to her talk to him.  She spoke softly (not her normal volume) and slower.  She simplified.  “Stop.  Anna was there first.”  And she told him consequences, “If you don’t stop, you will go to your room.”  She was amazing.

I would have been flustered.  I would have yelled, if it were my kids.  But, she has learned that that doesn’t work with Charlie.  He is on the Autistic Spectrum (for those of you who don’t know – that means that he has some autistic characteristics, like not understanding facial expressions or tones of voice that other kids his age would understand).  Charlie also doesn’t understand consequences most of the time, making it difficult to discipline him.  She and I have talked about strategies for parenting him.  But she lives with him 24/7.  And she tries so hard.

When I was 27 David was a newborn.  I was figuring out parenting a newborn.  I was inexperienced and unsure of myself.  Here Tina is at 27 and has gone through the loss of a child (I can’t imagine) and is trying to raise a kiddo with special needs along with her other 2 kids, mostly by herself.  If I hadn’t talked with her, I would have missed out.  I would have written off this amazing person because of stereotypes.  Because looking at her, you might see a young mom of a crazy kid (Charlie).  You might see a woman who smokes (and this is the ONE thing that I can’t truly get past – but who could blame me with Chris’ lung cancer), who doesn’t seem to have things together.  But that is not who she is at all.

She is an expert on her own kid and trying to find her way through the maze of doctor’s offices, services and insurance to get her kid what he needs.  She is a strong advocate for him, and is trying her best to work through a system that is difficult for parents who have the money to hire advocates to help them.  A system that is confusing even for professionals and often responds best to the parents whose voices are loudest and checkbooks can afford attorneys.

I am shy by nature.  Sometimes it comes off as being “stuck up” but I am usually quiet.  If someone says, “hi” I’ll respond, but often I have difficulties initiating conversations.  Living in an apartment has forced me to leave my comfort zone and interact with people.  It has expanded my horizons.  I would love to have a house and a backyard.  I would love to have a place to call mine, permanently.  But that isn’t to be right now.  And if I didn’t live in an apartment, I wouldn’t have met Grandma and Grandpa H or Tina.  I would have missed out.

Cancer Update – September 1, 2011

Yesterday, I wrote about the oncology clinic and how much I dislike it.  In addition to my anxiety and dislike of the clinic, they are now doing construction to the parking lots and building a parking garage.  This meant that I (and Chris who drove separately) had to park really far from the clinic and walk (although there were shuttles).  It just added to my dislike of the entire experience.

Chris’ scans show that the cancer is stable.  This is a good thing.  The cancer isn’t growing – although it isn’t shrinking, but we don’t really expect it to at this time.  The blood marker that they have been watching (if you’ll remember the marker was rising and after doing more detailed scans in June, they discovered that the cancer cells in the pleura were not being held in check by the clinical trial drug, so they did radiation and got things back under control.) has been going steadily down since Chris’ radiation finished in early June.  This is also a good thing.

The clinical trial drug that Chris has been taking for 14 months (my previous estimates were off), has been approved by the FDA (you can read an article about it here Pfizer Lung Cancer Drug).  Chris’ doctor believes that as long as he continues taking the drug (and doesn’t go off for a different treatment – like he did when he went off for radiation) he will continue to get the drug for free as part of the clinical trial.  However, if he does go off the drug, then we will have to pay for the drug if he goes back on it.  It is expensive – $9,600 per month without insurance (thank goodness for insurance).

The doctor said that there are new “second generation” ALK-targeting drugs in the works and if Chris goes off the Pfizer drug for a targeted treatment for an area that has mutated and isn’t reacting to the drug, it is possible that they can get him in a clinical trial for one of the new drugs.  I guess we will just have to wait and see what the cancer decides to do and go from there.

David asked me about what the doctor said when he walked in the door yesterday.  I told him.  He replied, “Well, I guess that this is as close to remission as we are going to get.”  Stable is good.  It isn’t remission.  The cancer is still living in Chris’ lung.  But the drugs are holding it in check so it can’t grow.  At some point we know that the drugs will stop working and the cancer will start growing (or appear in other places).  But David is right, this is as good as it is going to get.

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