I can’t believe it’s mid-May already. In a little over a month, my twin seven-year old boys will be done with their public school first grade experience, including the support we receive through their Individual Education Plans (IEP’s). I have to admit I’m a little nervous. They’ve been in school for six hours per day, five days per week, and now I’m out of practice at entertaining them and caring for them for so many hours in a week.
Have you been diagnosed (or self-diagnosed) as a perfectionist? I have to admit that I suffer from this debilitating ailment. Last year at this time I had already designed a written plan of weekly summer enrichment activities that were meant to maintain, if not advance, my boy’s academic and behavioral success. Am I a trained paraeducator? No, just a mom on a mission.
My plan last summer was ambitious. I knew I wouldn’t accomplish everything in the plan, but for me, just striving toward the perfection was enough. I was and still am proud of the plan, which included a special activity for every day of the week. Mondays were science field trips (to forests, arboretums, and streams), Tuesdays were arts and crafts projects, Wednesday was Adventure day (hikes and bike trips), Thursday was public library day, and Friday’s held park play dates (to help my boys continue to build their social skills and communication).
I also chose two or three major goals for each child to achieve by the end of the summer. Choosing a small number, I reasoned, would help me focus on what was really important when I was feeling lazy (as if!), or overwhelmed by all the choices of what to do (a regular problem).
Last year, I chose as major goals:
- riding their bikes without training wheels,
- learning to swim well (so I didn’t worry so much about them), and
- learning to tie their own shoes (selfishly because I was tiring of the task).
My fellow mom friends chuckled and rolled their eyes at my ambitious plans, but they were also inspired to come up with their own, probably more realistic, summer plan for their kids.
I have to admit that last summer, not even for one week, did I actually accomplish all that I’d planned for the boys. But most weeks we accomplished at least three out of the five days. For that, I was proud of myself and of my boys flexibility, willingness, and energy. It wasn’t perfect, but I kept focusing on what I was doing right, instead of what I failed to accomplish.
Of course I have no empirical proof (I am a scientist after all), but I do believe that our efforts prepared the boys for their transition into first grade, and certainly influenced the leaps both boys made during this school year.
My greatest joy of last fall was when the special education coordinator said, “It seems like the boys didn’t lose what they learned in kindergarten over the summer. Great job, mom.” She has no idea how much her praise and reassurance meant to me.
This summer will be quite different and I’m a little scared. Granted, the boys are now a year older and they’ll have a greater level of independence (yeah for me). But I won’t be able to provide them with the same level of attention and determination as last summer. This year I have my own disability to deal with (thankfully temporary). I tore several ligaments in my knee and broke my tibia just jumping in the air at a rec. volleyball game. Well, it wasn’t the jumping, but the landing that did me in. I’ve been on crutches for over seven weeks, and unable to cook, clean, (frankly not missing it) or do much else but yell crazily across the house while swinging a crutch in the air. Although I started walking again this week, our future is uncertain. I must decide when to have surgery to repair my meniscus and ACL and I must actually work at healing my injury, like a part-time job through physical therapy.
Last year I could put the boy’s needs ahead of my own almost every hour of every day if needed. I was shooting for “the perfect parent.” But this summer, I’ll be far from perfect. I’ll have to say no a lot more often to elaborate crafts and science experiments, there will be fewer grand outings, and this summer, my boys will learn the hard but valuable lesson about putting someone else’s needs before their own.
As an empress of worry, I enter this summer with the fear that my injury will hinder my boys behavioral, emotional, and academic progress. I’m concerned that heading back to second grade in the fall will be tougher for them without all the prep I’d planned.
My plan for this summer will surely not be anywhere near the perfection we glimpsed last year. Instead, it will be a grand exercise for us all in compromise and learning to accept “good enough.”
This experience has taught me many lessons, a few of which I’ve listed below.
I’ve learned to:
- be more patient,
- gracefully say no to opportunities that aren’t an “absolute yes”,
- accept and appreciate help from others,
- accept that I will never be perfect (still working on this one) J,
- set my standards at a more realistic level, and not beat myself up when I “fail”,
- appreciate my husband for the super-dad that he is, even when he doesn’t do it my way,
- encourage my children’s independence,
- worry less about reaching (or not) specific milestones, and
- focus more on spending memorable time together.
I’m sure that this summer, together, we will all learn many more life lessons.
How have you learned to muffle (or strangle) your inner perfectionist? What is your “good enough” summer enrichment plan for your special needs child? And please send me an e-mail if you’ve got any advice on how to recover from a knee injury. 🙂
Thank you for reading and sharing your stories with this group of caring, supportive parents.
Lorraine Wilde is a freelance journalist, environmental scientist, and mother. Her work has appeared in Entertainment News NW, Ithaca Child, and on the parenting web site Neighborhood-Kids.com. She is writing her memoir, and also blogs at My Wilde World.