Tuesday, February 28, 2006

My Cousin Jamie...

I have a cousin named Jamie. Well technically he is not my "cousin". Technically he is the first client on the spectrum that I ever worked with, but don’t ever tell him that. I worked with him form the ages of three to seven, until I moved
fifty miles West, but of course he no longer needed me anyway (sniff, the bittersweetness of early intervention). He and his mother have kept in touch and I go out to visit them about once a year.

Jamie was (and is) a clown, and a jokester and a scripter, constantly scripting lines from his favorite books and movies, initially for no apparent reason, until he began to adapt them to his own life and his “scripts” eventually became rather useful for him. His mom tells me that one of his favorite movies is Lady and the Tramp 2 and while I haven’t seen it, apparently one of the puppies is quite the little rascal always getting into trouble and when he doesn’t get his way, he says “well if that’s how it’s gonna be, I don’t know if I want to live in this house anymore!” and then proceeds to run away from home. Apparently now that Jamie is a teenager (how did that happen?) when he gets mad about not getting his way, he tells his mom, “if that’s how it’s gonna be, I don’t know if I want to live in this house anymore!” and announces that he is going to run away to aunt Nancy’s who lives down the street. Jamie’s mom tells him he better call her first to make sure there’s enough room, and when he calls aunt Nancy and she tells him that she doesn’t have room at this time, Jamie says “rats!” and that is the end of that.

The last time I visited Jamie, he threw his arms up in the air dramatically and said “Squaregirl, you’re back!”, to which my heart completely melted…my little friends can melt my heart in a way no one else can. We all hung out, Jamie told me a knock knock joke and showed me a photo of his “girlfriend” ( a girl at school he likes and inexplicably insisted on bringing flowers to school one day, which turned out to be her birthday!) Jamie’s mom told me that he talks about me and tells people that I am his “cousin”. I love this! Jamie has no siblings of his own, but he has cousins and as I am pretty familiar with JamieSpeak, I am quite certain that what a “cousin” means to him, is “someone who is a big part of the family, but doesn’t reside under the same roof”. I looked at his mom and said, “I hope you didn’t correct him”, and she responded, “I wouldn’t even think about it.”

Friday, February 24, 2006

Differences of Imagination

My nephew's Imagination food looks like, well...nothing, unless you have enough imagination to see it. My neice's Imagination food looks like, well...gravel.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Imagination Food Diet

My nephew is no longer eating Imagination food off of the floor, but rather has restricted his Imagination food consumption from bowls, plates and cups. My sister, his mama, very much the an encourager of creativity, does not know weather to be happy that she has discouraged him from eating off of the floor or be worried that she is stifling his imagination.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Seeing Stars

Tonight, while in the outlairs of Los Angeles, I saw stars...lots and lots of stars. You know, the kind that are in the sky. And in Southern California especially, that is always a very rare and beautiful thing.

Friday, February 17, 2006

A New Agenda

I used to believe that everyone has an agenda, well intended or not. I have no problem with other people’s agendas as long as they don’t push them to hard…for example, if someone’s agenda is to save the dolphins or feed the homeless, I may feel that they are wonderful agendas, but I would get pretty frustrated if people incessantly talked about these to me…not because they are not important, but because there are too many important things that need to be examined to get fixated on one singular one…For this reason, I have never been a huge agenda pusher, even though I have them and I think they are worth addressing.

When I taught a Special Day Class, which consisted of eight students all diagnosed with autism, I was a little taken off guard with how un-welcome me and my students were when we first arrived on campus (the class had been moved from another campus due to silly logistical reasons…I just loved that, as surely it is logical to move a classroom of children with a diagnosis of autism to a whole other campus with a new teacher and aides and everything!). Needless to say, it was a huge eye-opener to how blatantly discriminatory people can actually be. When my prinicipal was showing me my classroom, she made it clear to me how much of an inconvenience it was to have my class on their campus as their students were already underperforming and we were distracting their staff from their own students needs. And then as she introduced me to some of the general ed. teachers, they would look at her (not me) and ask, “Why do we have to have her class HERE?”. I am quite certain many parents can relate to this, but I was shocked by the BLATANCY of it… I wanted to ask people if they realized that they just asked that OUT LOUD. In the beginning of the year, assemblies, events, performances, presentations came and went that I was never informed about…People clearly knew which box was mine, as I would get sweet (not really) little notes about one of my students who had done this or that during lunchtime/recess/etc. But when it came to announcements or information about school events, they seemed to make it to every other box but mine…After several weeks of this, I developed my own agenda…Goshdarnit, I was going to get my guys (all my students were boys this year) invited to outings, assembly’s, other classrooms, special parties, etc! I believed that to know them is to love them, so I was gonna get people to know them. So I began getting to know all of the teachers, showing up at 7:00 every day, having coffee in the teacher’s lounge with the few other early arriving teachers, I played tennis with one of the third grade teachers, went to coffee on a regular basis with one of the Kindergarten teachers, volunteered to help plan the Christmas party, and as our school had a lot of male teachers I even stooped so low as to flirt a little (hanging my head in shame). The thing is, that it worked…I mean within weeks, me and my eight guys were getting invited to art classess, music classes, assembly’s, Halloween Parades, Library time, petting zoos, outings, etc. If there was an assembly that my students were late to, I even got phone calls to my room from other teacher’s who wanted to make sure I knew about the assembly. I considered agenda a success until…

One day when I was sitting by myself in the teacher’s lounge a First Grade teacher named Antonio, a very shy forty-year-old man who stuttered a little when he was nervous and I knew nothing about approached me and asked if he could talk to me. He seemed nervous. Oh dear. I said yes and prepared for an all too familiar concern about something or other regarding one of my students. SquareGirl, I’ve been wanting to talk to you about this, but I haven’t had a chance to talk to you before, but I wanted to tell you that I would love have your students come to my classroom. I was a little shocked…I had never really had an unsolicited invitation to a classroom before. I Asked him the questions that I had become accustomed to asking, “How many students?”, “How many aides?”, “What time during the day works best for you?”, etc. It didn’t matter, he told me. Whenver, wherever, whoever. Not, “I’ll take the quiet one, but please don’t send that one who makes all the noise”. Or “Sure, but only your second graders on Wednesday’s for art”. It became increasingly clear that he actually wanted my guys in his classroom, and he wasn’t doing this as a favor to me. In fact, as we talked, it became increasingly clear that Antonio was a man who was kind, compassionate, unimposing and pretty much agenda-free. This for me was one of those Universal lessons that I find so profound due to the simplicity of the message that I had never even payed attention to before. It was then and there that my agenda changed and I realized that I needed to spend a lot less time on people who needed me to make them like me in order for them to be inclusive and accepting of me and my friends, and a lot more time and energy noticing the people who don’t need me to push that kind of agenda on them because they are already compassionate, inclusive and simply kind.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

blaming my p.c.

My web server for work tends to have a lot of problems and I often have trouble getting logged in. Well, maybe it isn’t always my server…

The other day, I was talking to the guy at work who set up our accounts to tell him that I had been having problems again lately. “I think everything’s been fixed”. He told me.

“Well, it has been much better, but it always seems to have problems early in the morning at around 6:00 to 6:30 a.m. I get an error message whenever I try to log in” I tell him.

“That’s strange”, he tells me.

Today, I tried to log in and got the “error” message, but this time it was at about 11:00 a.m. and I realized that I had used the dash where I was supposed to have used the underscore symbol, which is when it hit me…6:00 is p.c. time for me, you know, pre-coffee. I usually will read my e-mails p.c. time, but usually know better than replying to any e-mails before my first cup (yes, I know I have a problem). Needless to say, I looked straight at computer today and told him, “I am so sorry. I realize that it isn’t always you, it’s me.” I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to work through this little misunderstanding, my PC and I.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Is it just me?

Or does Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper taste just like regular Diet Dr. Pepper?

Monday, February 13, 2006

A Holiday Story for a Hallmark Day

After the three trailers that I went to go see yesterday, the theater kindly showed a movie called “A New World” by the always poetic Terrence Malick. While I am quite aware that everything we know about Pocahontus and John Smith, is legendary due to the limited documentation, I am quite certain that the actual truth about what transpired is indeed stranger than any fiction we might imagine. Of course, watching the movie, I couldn’t help but be a little amused by recalling what my elementary school beliefs about the first Thanksgiving with the “Pilgrims” and the “Indians”, which was a little like this…

On arrival to the new world,

Pocahontus: (in perfect English) Welcome, we are so thankful to have you here.
John Smith: Thank you…we are so thankful to meet you.
Pocahontus: You and your people simply must join me and my people for a bountiful feast.
John Smith: Splendid! We will bring the mashed potato’s and beer.
Pocahontus: Wonderful!

At the feast;

JS: Happy Thanksgiving to all of our new friends, whom we call “Indians”. Let us all bow our heads and thank God for this delicious food.
Pocahontus: Yes, let’s!
Native American’s: Amen!

After the first course:

John Rolfe: (clinking wine glass with his spoon)…excuse me everyone, I have an announcement. Pocahontus and I will be getting married!

Native American’s and Colonial’s: Hooray!!!

John Rolfe: And oh yes, Pocahontus’s new name will be “Lady Rebecca”

John Smith: Wonderful! Now let’s all celebrate and watch the big game!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Square Girl’s Weekend Movie Trailer Reviews

Today, I went to the movies and saw three new trailers* which I will review here…(Sure, I know no one asked or cares, but I simply love providing public annoyance, I mean service, so here they are)

1. A Clear Day: This movie trailer* was based on a true story about an Englishman who after retiring feels pretty uninspired and useless, so he decides to begin training to swim the English Channel yet doesn’t tell his wife who realizes that he has a secret and starts to think he must be having an affair…It has one of the hobbits from LOTR in it (you know, the one who isn’t on Lost), who says he can drive a boat, but really can’t and it’s all pretty funny. I enjoyed this trailer and would recommend this trailer* as one to see.

2. Failure to Launch: This trailer* features Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew McConoughy…pretty people, but yawn…I barely remember anything about this trailer…I don’t recommend it.

3. Take the Lead: This was the final trailer* I saw today and I’m not even sure if I got the name correct. It is another movie “inspired” by a true story, “inspired” by movie’s about inspirational teachers in inner city schools, like Jaime Escalante (Lean on Me, I think), and that movie with Michelle Pfieffer. This time, the inspirational teacher who inspires troubled and difficult inner city kids is played by Antonio Banderas, and he doesn’t teach English or Calculus or anything like that, but, now get this…he teaches Ballroom Dancing. I am not kidding. This is a trailer about a ballroom dancing teacher who learns from and teaches troubled students. I actually do recommend this trailer* however, as I found it amusing and I really could see how Antonio Banderas dancing might “inspire” a student or two…plus whenever I hear his voice now, I can’t help but think of Puss in Boots from Shrek 2…an adorable little rascal indeed.

* Please take note that these are indeed TRAILER reviews, NOT movie reviews.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

On quantum physics and energy and stuff like that...

Please note that Squaregirl is NOT a quantum physicist, nor is she claiming to be an expert on quantum physics...please read with that in mind...

The exact position and velocity of an electron is very hard to find because attempts to "see" it involve bouncing other particles off of it. By doing this, you've just changed the electron's velocity, so your data is useless…

One of my more recent topics of interest has been quantum physics (albeit the abridged layman’s version of it). One of the things that interests me about quantum physics is that particles, atoms, etc. CHANGE simply by being observed…This is fascinating to me…especially in my own practice of developing theories, I have developed quite a few through my own observations of the children I have taught and worked with…My most useful “research” was done when I taught a class of eight boys on diagnosed on the spectrum, as I had the opportunity to observe eight children at one time, instead of one at a time, like most people usually get to do…

More often than not, I noticed that while all my students were individuals, there was something collective about their behavior. I noticed that there were days when everyone was happy, content and themselves, and there were days, that it seemed like ALL of my students were just having an off day (when I say having an ‘”off day” I am not trying to imply anything negative, but simply saying that they seemed to not be the way they were typically). The theories I came up with as to why this was were the following:

1. Something in the environment was causing everyone to be “off”, i.e. a full moon, the weather, the smell of new paint, etc.
2. I was the one who was “off” and they were responding to my energy…they were intuitive like that
3. My perception of them is that they were “off” when in fact they were not off at all

I have chosen to assume that all three of these theories plays a role in how I perceived my guys’ behavior, yet there was something that really intrigued me when I was teaching.

My classroom was a SELPA classroom and considered to be a “model classroom” (oh dear…do model classrooms have only one computer that is broken computer and very limited school supplies?). As a result, our class was observed A LOT (by parents, therapists, consultants, SELPA directors, principals, etcetera, etcetera) and when I say A LOT, I mean sometimes like three to four times a day. While I have no problem with the concept of observation in general, there were many times I recall shouting (in my head of course), “get out of our classroom already!” Here’s the thing…whenever people came into my classroom, my students CHANGED, sometimes subtly, sometimes for the better, but their behavior was almost always different. The amusing thing to me, was that my students rarely acknowledged the existence of the adults entering the room, and to a careless observer, it might appear as if they didn’t even know, but let me and the classroom aides tell you…THEY NOTICED. Another thing interesting to me, is the way they changed…see, sometimes the change was big and sometimes it was small, on the rare occasion they became better behaved, but mostly their behavior was a little more er, exaggerated (I really can’t put my finger on the right word for this, I would say “worse”, but I don’t think that “behavior” is good or bad, but just so people get the idea). Needless to say, I had some regular observers and non-regular observers, and I really began to notice a pattern. There was one particular consultant that came in and EVERY TIME she did, my student’s stims would increase, and they would become more anxious, (one of my students would run and hide his beloved legos, another try to retreat to the corner, another would approach me and try to pull some piece of jewelery or clothing, another would begin rocking). Then there was the district’s special ed. director, who used to be a Special Ed. teacher for years and she would just look at my students and they would behave like the angels I knew they could be…

My point being quite obviously that it really began to seem to me that the energy of the observer, changed what, or who in this case. Again, I am quite open to the idea that it is I who changed affecting my students or their perceptions, but I am not convinced that this is the entire explanation. I am quite certain that environment plays a role on the behaviors of the children I work with, but to me, environment includes not only chemicals and toxins, but things such as schedule changes, furniture placement, sounds, and most importantly the people that are in the environment. I think people tend to forget how much of an impact that the energy of people affects how children on the spectrum and everyone and come to think of it, EVERY LIVE THING, for that matter react, and we need to pay more attention to our own selves more often than we tend to do in order to help those around us flourish.

Friday, February 10, 2006

I often wonder...

if our president ever read...I tend to imagine that if he did read, he read books like 1984 and thought "Big Brother, neat! that's one heck of an idea!"

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Six more weeks of what?

One of the grooviest things about the new significant vehicle in my life, other than the handy, multi-size accomodating cupholders, is my own handy-dandy outdoor temperature guage...I've never had my own personal outdoor themometer before, so I am quite enchanted with it...anyhow, today, driving between appointments in and around Pasadena, California, I noticed that my very own personal themometer said 83 degrees farenheit! Someone needs to let that Phil charater know about this...

A new "day"

Happy "make up your own day" day! It took me all day yesterday to come up with that one...I like it though!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Make-up Days...

Apparently, according to the new West magazine delivered with my Sunday Los Angeles Times, today is "dump your significant jerk" day. I've never had a significant "jerk", as I don't like jerks too much and practice blatant discrimination against them, but if I did, I'd be sure to dump them today. Of course, I encourage everyone to dump their "significant jerks" at any time, should they have one, and not just wait for "dump your significant jerk" day, which coincidentally or not comes one week before "single awareness" day. Of course the most interesting thing about this whole thing, is that apparently anyone anyone can just make up a day these days...Now that I know this, I think I can entertain myself for hours, making up days, like "adopt a spider" day or "hug a crossing guard" day...I wonder what one does to make a day official, or at least get it written about in the new West magazine...hmmm...well, I''ll think about that part tomorrow, and today I'll just concentrate on making up days.

Monday, February 06, 2006

A Monday search for inspiration…

I just realized how many songs are written about “Monday’s”. And they are usually about how they (along with rainy days) always get someone down, or they’re manic, or someone doesn’t like ‘em wants to shoot them down…I don’t know why Monday has gotten such a horrible rap…I mean, I have to admit to being rather uninspired, but I have no reason to HATE Monday or want to shoot it down or anything…There are some Tuesday songs about Ruby’s and being gone and there are hardly ANY Wednesday, Thursday or even Friday and Saturday songs (you’d think there would be more Friday and Saturday song’s, but there are surprisingly few)…bloody Sunday’s…a couple, but again, not much. I never found Monday, to be too inspiring personally, but then again, I’m no songwriter.

Friday, February 03, 2006

A very long post indeed, no need to read...

Being involved in the world of autism, there are many questions that I have that are left unanswered, and I don’t mean questions like “What the heck IS autism anyway?” (of course that is an unanswered question that I have…) but I mean questions like why the color blue? And why trains? (those I can understand a little), but why rainbows? And what is so terrible about the birthday song anyway? And I will admit (with the risk of sounding loony) that on more than one occasion I have had conversations with other teachers/consultants/therapists that went like this…

Teacher: “My kids were a little off yesterday.”
SG: “Was there a full moon last night?”
Teacher: “No, and I checked. There wasn’t a full moon.”

I am resigned to the fact that the answers to most of these questions can or never will be answered via research or a carefully designed study, and have thus been practicing what many careful observers in this autismworld practice…developing theories. Theories that would most likely be considered nutty to the scientific community…

In the past, many plants have fallen victim to my self proclaimed very-non-green thumb…Needless to say, on a weekend visit to my grandparents about four years ago, my grandmother insisted, as she always does, that I pick out a piece of furniture from her house so that she could give it to me right then and there (you know, before she dies…her words). I am always torn when she does this, as I know she really wants me to have something, yet I don’t want to just take pieces of her furniture, as she is not dead and she and my grandfather are still using their furniture. So on this particular hot July day, for some reason or another, I decided that it was time for me to attempt to be a non-killing plant owner once again and I told her that now that she mentioned it, my place could use some more life, and maybe I could have one of her plants, as I really liked the idea of having something that belonged to my grandparents and was LIVE…it seemed kind of special. She loved the idea, as I thought she might and she carefully chose one of her plants that had been with my grandparents for 15 years and survived 2 moves with them that included both snow and very hot weather. I was extremely pleased with her choice as well, until after my three hour trip home in my un-airconditioned black jetta, I saw that over half of the leaves had completely wilted, and I devastated at the fact that I had killed my grandparents plant, that I was so determined to keep alive.

I immediately called the boyfriend, as he had grown up working in the family business, a flower shop in East Los Angeles. I had often heard him, his brothers and dad talk about flowers and plants and what kind of climate and weather they “liked”, yet thought nothing of it. When he came over, he looked at the plant and immediately started cutting off the dead leaves, as well as about half of the remaining leaves that I thought were perfectly fine. I was horrified, yet he insisted that these leaves needed to be cut off as they were already dead, and that despite the fact that the plant looked hopeless, it was going to be fine. Over the next few moths he continues to nurture, water, re-pot,and rotate the plant and I paid a little but not much attention to it, until one day, a couple months later, I looked up and noticed that the plant was not only really, really alive, but beautiful and thriving! I was truly amazed and over the course of the next few years, my apartment began to fill with more and more living green plants, under the careful eye of my boyfriend…”the cactus likes it that room,” he would tell me…uh, okay. "This one likes this corner"…it does?, I would think. Our Saturday morning ritual has been that while I make breakfast, he waters, rotates and trims all of my now 17 plants (I say “my”, because it is my apartment…he has his own)…he ALWAYS takes his time, and nurtures my plants, and they have always THRIVED. Last summer, Boyfriend was going to be spending 2 months out of state and left me with careful instructions about my plants (how to water them, how often to rotate them, places in my apartment each liked, etc.). After nearly a month, I was quite proud that I had followed the instructions to a tee and all of my plants were still alive, yet at the same time, when I looked around at them I could tell that they were not nearly as happy as they had been before…they were a little droopy and not nearly as lively. They weren’t dying, just not as beautiful and healthy as they had been before I took over their care. I remember looking at them one day and realizing how amazing it was that they were actually ALIVE, and how these, seemingly minor details, such as love, attention, observation and care made such a huge difference. I remember the impact it made when I realized how these living things that DIDN’T SPEAK, responded to attention and energy. It was at this moment, I realized the importance of these often overlooked, unresearched things such as love, observation and respect that actually made a world of difference to a LIVE, breathing growing entity.

Lessons like these, (the ones that take forever to learn because they don’t beat you over the head, yet are subtle and profound), always have a pervasive impact on my life…I have incorporated this lesson into my work, and have found that it makes quite an impact. Despite the fact that there are many professionals that think I am being strange, I will never speak negatively of any of the kids I work with and when in their presence, always speak as if everything I say is being heard and understood by them (I am quite certain that on some level it is). I only entertain loving and positive thought about my children, and attempt to be a constant observer of how much water they need, what parts of the room they like to be in, what I say about them and how I treat them. I am sure that they respond to my energy and my belief in their potential, and have learned from the resilience of my grandmother’s plant to never, ever give up on or underestimate the power of life and to always remember to love and nurture it.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

In memory...

"Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe that you must become its soul."
Coretta Scott King

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Moving On...

I know it’s been a while between posts for me lately, but I have been quite drained lately, especially after ending a five-year relationship with The Jett, and while I don’t really want to talk about it, we had been having tough times especially of late. IT IS SO OVER. There is no turning back, as I have already traded the Jett in for something a little lower maintenance, and while some say I would have been better off keeping The Jett around for a little until I sold him, I just didn’t want that kind of emotional baggage that might come in the way between my new relationship with the Civic…I’m really not the kind of girl to be hanging out with two cars at once if you know what I mean. Anyways, I know that always people say things like this, but this time it is going to be different, I am sure. I am sure that the Civic will make me happy, and besides it will most likely fit in better with the rest of my family since they all have good relationships with their own Honda’s…of course they all have Hybrids, and my Civic may feel a little insecure about that, but I am quite sure that my family will love him anyway…they can be very accepting that way…So while I know that I can never be a FOREVER kind of gal with my cars (I’m a little fickle like that), I am quite sure that the Civic and I will be very happy together for the next few years…And despite all of our farfanuugen days at the beach and driving up Angela’s Crest, I have ended my dysfunctional relationship with The Jett, and am never looking back!