School started two weeks ago, and this is our first week with regular homework. Last year, Sam’s kindergarten homework consisted of reading every night and writing the name of the book he read, one sentence that told about the book, and a smiley or frowney face showing whether or not he liked it. Once or twice a week, he had a math sheet to work on including a math game, or a couple problems.
Enter first grade. As is the natural course of school work (and life), things get harder as you get older. Samuel is not quite as understanding or accepting of this concept. He decided sometime in the last week that he no longer likes school. He LOVED school last year, and after open house this year, he seemed to get on board and enjoyed the first days. I’m not sure if it’s the change in schedule from summer, new teachers, new school schedule from what he was used to, harder homework, or what, but he doesn’t like it (or so he says).
Samuel just lost his first tooth last night. (This is relevant, I promise!) He lost his first tooth with no tears, no meltdowns, and even a smile on his face. I would say that getting Sam to go to school and do his homework is as difficult as pulling teeth, but ironically, it’s harder.
Back to homework. It took F-O-R-E-V-E-R! He only had one math sheet to finish from school. It wasn’t even the whole thing. He wrote out his numbers, filled in the blanks for missing numbers in the line, and then had to write the < and > symbols showing less than or greater than. THAT was a chore. You see, Samuel is a perfectionist. Perfection meshed with autism = FRUSTRATION! His symbols looked fine to me, but they were definitely NOT fine with him. He kept erasing parts of the symbol and re-writing it, but then it didn’t match. So he’d scream and cry and have to erase the whole thing and start all over. Repeat for every single one.
Finally, he finished his less/greater than symbols and had two last riddles to solve. This is where he shut down completely. The riddle went like this:
“I am an odd number between 40 and 50. You use me when you count by 5’s. Who am I?”
Now, Samuel is extremely smart. He knew all his letters, numbers, shapes and colors by 1 1/2 years of age. He counted by 10’s and 5’s before he went to kindergarten. This is not a foreign lesson to him. I asked him to count by 5’s, and he refused. We’ve discovered that one thing that helps Sam is to write things out for him because he is very visual. I flipped over the paper and wrote by 5’s in a vertical column and stopped when I got to 40. I showed him in the one’s column (as he’s been learning, and had just finished homework writing out the ten’s and one’s columns) 5, 0, 5, 0, 5, 0 etc. He’s very good at patterns too. I asked him what comes next in the pattern. Silence. I grabbed mini post-it notes I had out earlier and wrote a 0 on one and a 5 on the other. “Choose which one. 0 or 5. Which one?”
No eye contact.
I repeated the question. “Which one comes next? Choose 0 or 5.” He chose 0. I think he did it just to be a booger-head, haha! He looked at me when he picked up the 0 with a mischievous gleam in his beautiful stone-blue eyes. I corrected him and he finally chose the right number. After 5 minutes of writing in the right number (45) with much erasing and re-writing, he faced the last riddle.
I won’t go into as much detail with the last riddle; suffice to say it was just as difficult, if not more-so, than the first one. Then he didn’t like how I wrote my 6 in the numbers I had used to help him choose the right answer. He said it was sideways (instead of a big circle at the bottom) and he wanted to fix it. One of our goals with Sam is to teach him that people are different, and he can’t always control what other people do. This was a prime teaching moment. I should have known better to go there after all the struggles he just went through with his homework, but I was determined to get through to him. It was an epic battle of control between mother and son. He was desperate to change my 6, and I was desperate for him not to do so. He kicked his feet, slammed his hands on the table, frantically shook his head “NO!” and was crying. To you and me, it’s just a 6. To him, it might as well have been the Leaning Tower of Pisa. One of our methods is to say, “No big deal.” He caught on to that months ago and now retorts, “It IS a big deal to ME!”
“I understand you don’t like my 6. But that’s Mommy’s 6. That’s how Mommy writes.”
“No! It’s wrong! I have to fix it.”
“Samuel, I don’t like how you wrote your 8. Can I fix it the way I want it to look?”
(With terror in his eyes), “NO!”
“Okay. That’s okay. I won’t fix your 8. But if I can’t fix your 8, you can’t fix my 6.”
And with that, it was over. We had a few more back and forth comments, but it all ended well. Homework was finished, and so was Mommy.
I remember praying the whole time. “Lord, give me patience. Help me love him and teach him well. Let me not get angry and please keep my spirit (and his!) calm.” My mom used to tell me never to pray for patience – because then the Lord will give you an opportunity to practice! But I was already in the opportunity and needed it right then and there. Praise God, He is faithful when He says He gives grace in the moment of need, because by golly, I was in need! Yet He abundantly provided. I never yelled, never raised my voice and never spoke harshly. Exasperated sighs, firm words, and occasionally holding my breath, yes. Believe you me, my tongue was ITCHING to say some things. But when I held it up to how I could love him well, those words did not align and so I remained focused on what would help him best at that time.
We came out a bit frazzled, a few hairs out of place (some came out of my head), and a few hairs turned white, but we were both in one piece. After homework was over, my Samuel was back. And boy were we hungry!
I have four words to end this post. Thank Goodness It’s Friday!