Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Third Million...

Yep, Brenden's teacher asked for a million words (or less) also... 

When I think about how many words I'm limited to, a million doesn't seem like quite enough to tell you about my wonderful son. I think he's a very special person, and I'm really excited to see him grow and mature over this coming school year.

Brenden is unique. When other boys are playing sports and getting all excited about competing with each other, he is usually perfectly content to do his own thing. From an early age, we knew that he would be a spot of joy in our house. By nine days of age, he was sleeping through the night, and he has consistently done the same thing ever since. I love that I can send him to bed, and other than the occasional distraction between me and his bedroom, he nearly always goes to bed on his own, and goes right to sleep. I often wish I had that skill. He always wakes up like a ray of sunshine, and I wish I had that skill too! 

with Great Grandpa Charlie
Brenden was a very easy going young child, and is probably the most compliant of my four kids. Oddly enough, he is also the only one that's ever been sent to talk to the Principal, or had to write apology letters. I have learned that Brenden's compliance can sometimes be misused. Since he is so willing to please people, he is also willing to follow directions from his peers in order to gain their approval. We have found that we need to give him a little extra guidance in this area so he doesn't get into trouble because others like to encourage him to misbehave. Sometimes this behavior came out in the things he would draw, or the words he would write and occasionally even the things he said around other people. Often times it would be shocking things, and then after getting reprimanded, he felt even worse about himself.

Besides not really being into sports, Brenden has always been opposed to attending school. It's never really that he disagrees with his teachers or has any major problems with students, but he just feels like he is inadequate or that he doesn't belong. I believe this started pretty early as well. He was well into Kindergarten before he was diagnosed with Amblyopia, and his Ophthalmologist was convinced he couldn't even see the moon. Once he put on his first pair of glasses, it was like a light bulb lit up, and we haven't seen much of the front of his face since! Instantly he was spending hours peering through books, amazed at the details he could see in both the text and the artwork. He began showing remarkable improvement in his reading and writing skills. But sadly, he was already quite a ways behind, and he felt like he would never catch up.

Monkeyin' around
We have worked with Brenden through many things that have troubled him in school. This feeling of being unable to succeed has followed him for several years. This past year, his teacher was Mrs. Coleman, and she helped him to change a lot of his viewpoint about himself by stretching him in ways that proved to him that he could get things done, even if he needed a little extra time to do so. She also was instrumental in getting Brenden through testing (again) to narrow down the long list of learning disabilities that he may or may not be struggling with. She frequently kept him after school so he could study in silence or with help.

I'm grateful that Brenden's tests all came back pretty good. He is bright, he is knowledgeable, he CAN do it... but he was diagnosed with ADD and we are working closely with his doctor to help him. He also processes things very slowly. I have to give him things to do one at a time, instead of giving him a lengthy list or he gets completely lost. Writing things down is very helpful for him, and the more details the better. Often he would bring home an assignment book with a couple comments for himself, but not be able to even remember what he wrote them down for. He was also very good at forgetting to bring his books home, and he would have to go back to school and get them. This caused him a lot of frustration.

Of course you can expect that homework time for us these past few years has been rather hectic. I would more accurately describe it as “hellish”. Spending four hours on a single spelling sheet, or three long weeknights on a single math worksheet was enough to make me feel a little bit crazy. It also meant that my other three kids had very little help with their homework in order for Brenden to get the simplest things accomplished. You can also imagine that it didn't improve his self esteem any.

He turned a corner when he realized that he'd finally grasped fractions. I was impressed at how he could whiz through those assignments, but only when he was really focused. At the end of this last school year, he was prescribed medication, and thank GOODNESS! Within one hour of taking his first med, and then attempting to do his homework, he complained that I hadn't put him on meds years before. He was so thrilled to be able to use his brain the way it was intended to be used, and to get through several things without his mind wandering off on him. He was very happy, and the whole idea of school took on a new look – for all of us. He very rarely asks to be homeschooled now (haha!) and he's genuinely giving Middle School a good shot. I haven't once heard him say that he hates school in the last three weeks. He enjoys all of his teachers, and he likes being able to get up and move between classes because it gives him time to refocus.

I mentioned that Brenden prefers to do his own thing. His list of his “own thing's” is quite lengthy. He loves subjects that lean towards science and social studies. He spent a few years raising a leopard gecko – a pet that I wasn't too keen on having at first, but he persisted and now I'm really glad we did that. In the meanwhile, he learned everything possible there was to know about geckos. And, just about everything else that slithered, creeped or crawled while he was at it. Right now, he's really into fish, so naturally his Christmas gift was a fish tank. He has stocked and maintained it, and one more tank, since then. His fish identification book is almost entirely memorized.

Brenden had a three year fascination with anything having to do with pirates, so he collected pirate things, pretended he was a pirate and read books about them. Once he grew out of that, he went on to hunting. He loves to wear camouflage, and would have it on his body head to toe every day at times.

Brenden has a fascination with guns. I don't mean an obsession over a gun in particular, or shooting them, but the history behind them, when they were used, and who used them. At one time, his focus was on Napoleon, so he researched everything there was to know about Napoleon and the French Revolution. Then he moved on to the Civil War. He probably knows more about that than anyone else in our house right now. He was super thrilled to get a chance to visit the Civil War Museum in Kenosha, WI this past summer.

I find that each time Brenden dives into a new subject, that I often accompany him. I end up learning a lot in the process! I understand that this could be part of his attention difficulties, and that once he finds something he is really interested in, he zeroes in on that and spends quite awhile there. We've decided to just roll with it, and keep him in the real world as much as possible, while still allowing him to explore what colors his world.

Brenden is a nice kid. I don't just say that about any kid, because frankly my daughters weren't always “nice” in Middle School. But Brenden is. He is caring towards members of our family, and only gets really upset at his younger brother when he's being really loud. The volume seems to bother Brenden, so he often gets excused to go outside and spend time alone and he seems refreshed by that. Brenden also has chickens, and he shows them in 4H. He is so sweet towards his birds, and it's given him a new opportunity to dig in and learn about something new that he's interested in – it also happens to be something the other kids enjoy as well, so we participate together as a family.

I probably wouldn't let the other kids at school know this, but Brenden gives the best hugs. I think that nobody has told him yet that it's not cool to hug his Mom. I'm certainly not going to say anything! He never leaves for school without first making sure I get a hug goodbye, and I think that's pretty special.

Having Brenden for a son has not been without it's challenges, but it's also meant that I've had to learn to really communicate with whoever his teachers are, and to keep in constant contact. That's been good for both he and I, and I'm grateful for that. I hope that by the end of this year that Brenden will be looking forward to his next year of school for the first time ever!

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