Friday, September 14, 2012

Language Take-Off!

After three weeks at TSD, it's amazing to see the new language development in both boys!  We can tell they are chatting all day with their teachers and peers.  I will actively work on capturing a video of their conversations next week.  In the meantime, here are a few changes we've noticed:

- adding "want" to his requests -
Normally, he would point at something, such as his red Power Ranger mask, and sign, "POWER-RANGER MASK, RED."  Often, he'll add a fussy face or sound to his request.  Now, more often than not, he signs, "POWER-RANGER MASK, WANT!"

- saying "mine" instead of using first person for everything -
Where he's always pointed at items, then signed, "TRAVIS" to mean, "That's mine," he is now signing, "RED MASK, MINE."

- putting together longer sentences -
As I had blogged earlier this week, Travis is putting together 3-ASL-sign sentences, which is equivalent to a 5-8-word English sentence. One example is, "SOON DAD PICK-ME-UP," or "NO TOUCH! THIS SNAIL MINE."
Good pizza is serious business!

Playing with his silly Pappy!

(Click here for more pictures from August)
(Click here for more pictures from September)

Today, I told him to tell his teacher "goodbye."  He signed, "GOODBYE, SEE-LATER."

Travis likes to be the one in charge.  He certainly likes to get his way.  He is still hanging on to his obsessions.  He must have the red mask.  He must have the blue glasses stamp at school.  He must have his rocket blanket with him at bedtime, but refuses to cover up with it even if he's cold.  He must have his food a certain way, his bed a certain way, his car seat just so.  He must get his own paper towel to dry his hands in the bathroom.  He must put his backpack in the back of the trunk himself.

Ken and I feel like we allow many of these obsessions when they are reasonable, but his worst fits will come when we don't allow him to get his way regarding an obsession.  For example, if he wants a particular color of spoon and it's clean and readily available, we are happy to exchange his for the color he happens to want that day.  (Often either red or blue, but you never know.)  However, if I gave him his red spoon, which happens to be his favorite, and he throws it on the floor, demanding a different color, he doesn't get his spoon.  Also, if the spoon he's asking for is dirty or not where we can easily find it, we will not search the house for it.  We feel he needs to learn that he will not always get what he wants.  It's healthy for him to know life WILL go on even if he uses a green spoon when he wants a red one.

It's a joy to witness his language grow every single day.  Each day, he's able to add more detail, tell us more of what happened, ask more specifically for what he wants.  He still has a long way to go to be  linguistically "caught up" to his peers, but for a kid that missed the first three years of language development and that's only had language for a little over a year, he never ceases to amaze us!

Tian continues to make strides in both ASL and spoken English.  He often speaks in more-like-ASL grammar, but will also add English articles to his sentences.   He still loves saying, "What the....?" and "What the heck?!"  Another English sentence we often catch him saying is, "It's right there!"  In ASL, this is expressed as an indexed pronoun....just one ASL sign...but he will say the entire English equivalent.  

Tian, snuggling and being silly with Nana.
He also has code-switching down pat!  When talking to a hearing person, he will sign and talk at the same time.  When he turns to Travis, his daddy, or other Deaf person, he immediately shuts off his voice, sometimes whispering words under his breath, and signs ASL.  Today, I even caught him making the common sounds that are often a side-effect from ASL mouth morphemes.  I must add that I'm so glad he signs!  Even though his spoken English is good, I often don't understand what he's saying, so ASL sure makes life easier for us all.  It's fun to see all of this language assimilation!

- New today, signing "which."
Tian was asking Ken which swimsuit he would take to school and signed, "WHICH SWIM(suit)?"

- In the mornings, while getting ready for school, Tian will often ask, "WHERE SHAYLA?" (his classmate) Then he will answer himself, "at SCHOOL!"

- Not only is Tian explaining what happened in the recent past, but lying and blaming others for things he did.
Just tonight, I noticed two toddler-drawn-with-pencil "e" shapes on the couch.  I asked Tian, who historically draws on walls and furniture, if he drew on the couch.  He immediately answered, "NO. TJ."  When I told him I knew TJ didn't do it, he switched scapegoats and said/signed, "TRAVIS."

Tian is also talking about school and home, differentiating locations. 

Both boys are enjoying books more and more.  The are developing longer attention spans.  Tian will sit through as many books as we are willing to read.  It's a good thing there are 5 readers in this family and Tian is fortunate that his siblings love reading to him.  Travis used to barely sit through 2 pages if it wasn't a picture = one word book.  Now, Travis enjoys an entire story, then asks for more books.  Pretty soon, I'll blog about the different ways we read to each boy.

Both boys are also recognizing the letters of the alphabet!

All of these milestones are reassurance that the boys are thriving at TSD.  We're so thankful for the school, staff, and teachers!

Friday, September 7, 2012

School Time at TSD!

Today, the boys completed their first two weeks of pre-k and preschool at TSD.  Aside from Tian still being a little unhappy when we drop him off, they really like school!

Tian enters the elementary building.
Travis checks out his classroom.
This morning, my younger daughter and I dropped off the boys.  When we arrived at the school, Travis was eager to don his backpack and get into the hallway.  I stayed with a clingy Tian while my daughter stayed with Travis in the hallway.  Travis hung his backpack on the hanger, then proceeded to empty the backpack of its contents. Mackenzie tried to get him to stop, but Travis was adamant.  He finally reached his red notebook, sat it aside, and began refilling his pack with its items.  When his sister tried to hand him the red notebook, he told her, "no."  He zipped up his backpack, hung it on its hook, then took his red notebook and deposited it in a small box at the front of his classroom...exactly where it belonged.  Ken had been bringing the boys to school all week, so I didn't know this was the new routine.  It was so cute to see him insisting on what he knew he was supposed to do.  

Made it through my first day!
Travis' teacher said he loves school!  He is excited to be there in the mornings and is thriving on the routine of it all.  His teacher said that about 15 minutes before school is over, Travis comes up to her and signs, "DADDY SOON PICK-ME-UP!"  Wow!!  He's recognizing the schedule and putting together three-ASL-sign sentences, which is huge. That ASL sentence is equivalent to a 5-to-8-word English sentence.  

Last week, after just three days of being bombarded with language at school, Travis told his older sister, "NO, LEAVE-IT. WAIT," when usually, he would have just shaken his head and signed, "NO!" with some aggravation.  

Tian is less eager to arrive at school in the mornings.  He enjoys getting ready for school and loading into the SUV, but begins signing and saying, "No! No school!" when we pull onto campus.  The other morning, when Ken woke up Tian and told him it was time for school, Tian signed, "NO. STAY HOUSE. STAY HOME."  That breaks this homeschool momma's heart just a little, but God reminds me in sweet ways that all of my kids are where they are supposed to be.  I just make sure I spend extra snuggle-time with Tian and with Travis when they are home. 

Happy to see Momma at the end of the day.
Tian is talking and signing up a storm.  His language started growing a lot over the past couple of months, but he's done some really cute stuff since beginning school.  Just today, Travis hit his head on the couch (same couch, different place on his head, not nearly as severe as his nose injury) and was crying.  Tian rushed over to him and (with an "oh no" look on his face) signed, "WHAT-HAPPENED?! HIT-HEAD THERE (on the couch)?  YEAH, I KNOW.  HURTS."  Then kissed his brother on the head.  

Each boy is in his own classroom.  We played around with the idea of them being in the same class, but as days go by, we feel they are both in the right place.  We are happy that the school is willing to work with us and consider what is best for each child.  

The school itself is a pleasure!  Contrary to the statistics that 90% of Deaf kids have hearing parents, the majority of parents (at least in the early childhood area) are Deaf.  That's because many parents, like us, moved to Austin because of TSD.  

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Loving Austin! Downsizing Adventures Revisited

My older three kids plus their cousin, D!
Have I mentioned how much we love Austin?  Well, we do!  We adore this house.  Of all 3 homes we've owned, this is by far my favorite!  While I did really enjoy our location and pool in Highland Village, this house is arranged better and is easier to maintain.  In our 15 years of marriage and ownership of 3 homes, we've learned that extensive landscaping is beautiful, but also costly and a ton of work!  We have a few pretty shrubs and plants in the front yard.  There are two trees in the back, but otherwise, it's just a grassy backyard, which means easy maintenance.  Of course, we have the fabulous team at The Austin Lawn Service taking care of our mowing and trimming, so the amount of work we have to do in the yard is minimal.

We had hoped for a one-story home, but with the layout of this house, we don't mind two stories at all.  The stairs lead to an open "balcony" hallway that looks down to the front of the house on one side, and the living room on the other side.  The openness makes it Deaf-friendly and toddler-friendly since we can easily see each other from either level.

Another detail I enjoy about this home is the location of the kitchen and breakfast area.  The kitchen is not open to the living room, which I always thought I preferred.   There is simply an open doorway from the living/dining room into the kitchen.  The kitchen is a nice size with a bar that separates the breakfast nook.   This nook has become our school room.  It's perfect!  We have huge floor-to-ceiling windows that look out back and toward the front door.  The walls are golden-yellow, so it's bright and cheery.  It's hidden away enough from the rest of the house, that I have been covering the walls with school posters, maps, dry-erase board and art.  I spend so much time in the kitchen anyway, it's nice to have the school room and kitchen together.  It's like my own office space!

The square-footage of this house is just right.  We were a tad tight in the apartment, but it wasn't too bad.  Our Highland Village house was a bit too much in both square-footage and landscaped yard.  This house is just what we need.

We've met a lot of our neighbors, (almost all of the neighbors who share the cup-de-sac) and they are fabulous!  We have super-sweet empty-nesters on either side of us.  There are a few families with kids in the Brownies' age-range and they've already had a great time playing for hours.

Click here to continue reading why we are loving Austin...

Loving Austin! Easy to Just BE

Ken and I have enjoyed aspects of each city in which we have lived.  In Oklahoma, we had some of our best friends; in Las Vegas, we enjoyed the mountains, dry climate, and church family; in North Dallas, we met some wonderful homeschooling and neighborhood families.  However, being a Deaf/hearing couple presents challenges when it comes to socializing with the general population.  

In most cities, I would get plugged in with a women's bible study group, a homeschooling group, and either AWANA or Scouts.  I might work in the nursery or run the soundboard at church, so I would quickly get to know a lot of people.  In these settings, 99.9% of the friends I made were hearing people who didn't know ASL.   Language certainly presents itself as a barrier.  It was easy for me to visit with other ladies on a deep level, but not so easy to connect our families.  (We love with all our heart a lot of hearing friends who do not sign.  Just making sure I'm clear on that!)

Whether we were at Scouts or a friend's house or a church event, Ken was basically left out.  Let me say he was left out not because any person chose to leave him out.  HE did not want me to interpret for him in those situations.  I would some, but if he saw that interpreting was becoming my major function at a social event, he would scoot off somewhere to read the news or text on his iPhone.  This is a big reason we'll be celebrating 16 years of marriage soon!  He doesn't expect me to be "his" interpreter, nor do I pity or "baby" him when we're out being social with hearing people.  He's a grown man, so if he chooses to remove himself from a social situation, he can.

Ken explains how Travis fell while the classmates respond, "Oh! I see!"
Now we are in Austin.  It's simply easier to be here.  We are totally spoiled at TSD.  Everyone signs, except for just a few parents, so Ken and I are on even ground when it comes to socializing and visiting with staff.  The first day of school for the boys, I peeked back to the playground to see a young classmate of Travis' ask Ken, "What happened to his face?"  Ken knelt down and explained that Travis had been jumping on the couch when he hit his head.  I wanted to cry when I saw their exchange!  Normally, when we are out around other kids, they might approach Ken, but the minute they learn that he is Deaf, they are either petrified, dumbstruck, or simply don't understand what to do.  I never realized how little I've seen my husband interact with other kids in social settings until witnessing this discussion about Travis' bumped forehead led me to get all choked up.  (What fortunate kids at TSD to have Deaf adults like Ken and the other parents they can look up to!)

We realized just how spoiled we were by TSD when we went to tour the elementary school in our neighborhood.  The front doors were locked, and to gain entry, one has to push a button on an intercom and wait for the secretary to answer, "May I help you?"   

In the three weeks we've lived here, we've had friends over and have visited other friends.  It's delightful.  Again, everyone can communicate with everyone else.  Deaf, hearing, kid or adult, everyone can visit freely.  I don't really know how to explain it other than saying it's easy and the exact place we are supposed to be.

We are still looking for a church.  The girls and I visited Soma Church last Sunday and loved it!  I know if we end up getting involved there, they will embrace anyone from the Deaf community.  I can just tell.  :)  Also, Ken and I hope to host Financial Peace University classes and possibly a Dynamic Marriage class from our home. 

Another not-Deaf-related thing we love about Austin is the laid-back attitude of the town.  Sorry, Dallas, but you ARE all about fashion, perfect makeup and hair, and keeping up appearances.  It's just generally the truth.  I know there are pockets of that same culture here in Austin, but it just seems less common.  My sister and I were stunned to see all the moms at the homeschool pool party actually getting their hair wet!  Of course, we really dig the SoCo area, all the food carts and local businesses of Austin, too.  We can't wait to do more exploring!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

School Adventures Part 3

To say I was anxious to see TJ Thursday afternoon would be an understatement.  I was dying!   I had gotten a call from TJ at 11:30am, but didn't hear it ring.  He didn't sound happy, so I knew he had at least had a tough morning.

When the kids came piling out of the classroom, TJ walked past me, faking a smile, and quickly blurted, "Let's go to the"

The teacher said he had been very anxious a couple of times during the day, but calmed himself down just fine.  I didn't get the chance to visit with her beyond that.

TJ instantly let us know he had no desire to go back ever again.  He liked the other kids.  He loved music class and social studies.  He hated the food, which he had been excited about when he first saw the menu, and just about everything else.  He said, more than anything, he wanted to be home with us.

That evening, TJ helped Ken install a ceiling fan in Ken's office.  They talked about public school, homeschool, and the expectations we have for TJ this year.  After talking about it, Ken and I both agreed that public school was not the answer for TJ.

Much of my struggle with TJ and frankly, all three of my older kids, is following through with discipline and routine.  There are some behavior and character issues that need to be addressed and chiseled.  Those issues are parenting issues that won't be solved by sending one or all of them to public school.   Whether TJ is in Scouts, co-op, Sunday school, or just with neighborhood friends, he excels.  He's a leader.  Adults pull me aside to tell me how well-behaved he is, how sweet he is to other kids, or how helpful he is.  At times, I don't know whether to laugh with pride or cry of shame, because he can be downright rotten at home!  He tests me and pushes me to my limits.  I figured putting him under the instruction of another teacher might solve the problem, but that was not the answer.

I still don't have all the answers.  I've spent much of the past two days preparing to pull in the reigns, batten down the hatches, and put together a solid plan for the kids this year.  The burden is on me, as their mom and teacher, to do the tough work that I expect them to do in return.   I'm trusting God that this will be a good year for all three kids and their schooling.  We'll hopefully be joining a co-op soon, getting involved with homeschool soccer and park days, and feeling like we have "started school."  The adventure continues!

School Adventures Part 2

Wednesday, we began our first day of school by reading from Proverbs.  That went fairly well, but within minutes of beginning our book work, two of the kids were fighting...again.   Over the past year, I've felt like I have slowly lost control when it comes to enforcing structure to our day and the first day of school just proved it was more than a feeling.

TJ gets very frustrated when writing.  He feels like he writes too slowly and that it's messy.  Well, he's right, but I'm his teacher and I don't care as long as he does the work and improves.  He has beautiful writing when he's working in his handwriting book, but otherwise, it IS pretty messy.  He just becomes impatient with himself and gives up, saying he's stupid.

We had a rough last school year.  Academics took a backseat to everything else that we did.  But this year was going to be different.  I had no excuse.  The little boys were in school, so it was just the older three kids and me.  Should be a breeze!  It wasn't.  We wasted an hour trying to work out attitude problems.  At the end of that hour, I told Ken that I was at the end of my rope.  So he called the elementary school and asked for a tour and for enrollment information.  Ken and I had discussed the possibility before.  We could put TJ in school for one-to-two semesters so he could live out the structure of discipline of the average school day, then we would bring him back home where he would use the tools he learned in a public school setting.

Walking into the school, I felt no peace.  TJ was curious to see it, but was on the verge of tears the entire time.  The secretary who showed us around was such a sweet lady.  She made the discomfort I was feeling reduce greatly.  By the end of the tour, TJ, who still looked as if he was going to burst into tears, said he truly wanted to try public school.

So that's what he did.  Thursday, he donned his backpack and hit the fourth grade.  He was nervous, but his curiosity trumped his nervousness, so off he marched.  I prayed that he would have a good day.  I felt sick to my stomach.

I should note, I've had total peace about the two littles being at TSD.  It seems so counter to everything in me to send my baby boys off to school at ages 3 and 4, but when we are there, it feels like home.  It feels like the exact right place for them right now.  I didn't have those same feelings when leaving the elementary campus Thursday morning.  (continued....)

School Adventures Part 1

It's been nothing short of dramatic around here over the past week and a half.  It all started with Tian falling from the dining chair and slicing the back of his head.  He was fine and just needed a bit of Dermabond (superglue) to get put back together.

Then Sunday, the day before the littles' first day of school, Travis took all of the pillows off the back of the new-to-us couch, jumped off the arm onto the couch, and smacked the back of the couch right between his eyes.  We are pretty sure he fractured a bone, because the bridge of his nose instantly grew.  We iced it, gave him some pain reliever, then he took his afternoon nap.  It looked better when he woke, but instantly took on a life of it's own.  It swelled again, about as bit as half a pingpong ball, then started turning blue.  After talking with a nurse and agreeing that he didn't need to be seen by a doctor, he went to bed for the night.  Over the past week, the swelling has gone down and bruising has migrated from the bridge of his nose to under both eyes.  Poor guy!

The progression of his injured nose

The boys did well being dropped off at school Monday.  They were a little bit upset to be left there and fussed about it, but didn't cry or anything.  That made leaving a lot easier for Ken and me.  The next day, though, both boys signed "No!" toward the school when we pulled up.  They've shed a few tears, but always end up having fun.  They are usually smiling by the time we pass outside their classroom window. We're already seeing language improvement, especially in Travis.  It's amazing!

Monday, the older kids, Daphne, my sister and I attended the "Not Back To School" swim party with Austin Area Homeschoolers.  It was fun to see so many homeschooling families!  I was able to meet a fellow video interpreter who works for Z!  Love the small world of both homeschooling and the Deaf community.

Half of the Austin Area Homeschoolers who came to NBTS Pool Day! (See ours?)

The rest of the crew. LOTS of kiddos!

Tuesday was spent grocery shopping, getting a few more things unpacked, organized and put away.  By Wednesday, I was ready to get started with the basic Three Rs with my older kids.  That's when our short public school journey began. (continued)