Gretchen Schock shares her love of recipes, crafts and frugal living. She also speaks very opening about the challenges and triumphs of parenting a neurotypical child and a child on the Autism Spectrum. After a breast cancer scare in 2012, she decided to say goodbye to her nightly glasses of Chardonnay. It was time to get sober and live life with eyes wide open! The CocktailMom name remains, however with a new focus on healthy and authentic living.

4/28/2011

College Park Patch: To Tell or Not to Tell...That is the Question!

This article was originally published on the College Park Patch as part of the weekly column by Gretchen Schock, Parenting on a Tightrope
I am torn on this matter.  My son is very high functioning, and thankfully doesn’t have as many public meltdowns as he did in previous years. Nor does he have any behavioral issues. But would his instructors benefit from knowing that he is on the Autism Spectrum?
I don’t know. In some instances, I have told the instructor and I’ve noticed that because they are aware of his difference they treat him differently; they allow him to get away with laziness. They don’t push him to try hard or to participate, and I am left on the sidelines feeling frustrated that I just paid good money for him to pick paint off the wall while the other children are participating in the class and learning something.
When we first moved to Maryland, we were living in Anne Arundel County. I signed L up for t-ball with the hopes that he would meet new friends. When I told the volunteer coach, also a father to one of the kids on the team, that L was on the spectrum, he didn’t seem to know what to do with that information, and wound up treating L exactly as he did the other kids. He was the type of coach that yelled and demanded t-ball be taken seriously with crunches and pushups before every practice. Needless to say, L was not a fan and would often be in the field running away from the team.
A friend of mine who is a dance instructor came to me asking some advice on how to deal with one of her students, who was showing clear signs of OCD and may also be on the spectrum, given some of her other behavioral issues. My friend thought that if the child was diagnosed, that the parent would have said something to her since she is the child’s instructor.
It made me think … what would I do now?  We haven’t had any new experiences recently where I have had to deal with this issue. It's a really fine line. I honestly don't tell people unless I feel that it would better serve L or make his experience better.
Maybe your child isn’t on the spectrum. Maybe your child has an ADD or ADHD label, or maybe your child is just a runner or screamer or is in a biting phase.
Do you wait until a situation presents itself to say something, or are you honest and up front about it from the beginning? Are you worried that he/she will not be treated equally?

4/20/2011

FREE Bowling for kids all summer at AMF!


This summer, your kids can bowl for free at your local AMF Bowling Center. Sounds too good to be true, right? It’s not! All you have to do is register your children, and you’ll get weekly coupons via email for two free games per child per day all summer long. Children love bowling; it’s fun, active, social and local and – best of all – it’s FREE! That’s how AMF does summer! 

4/19/2011

College Park Patch: A Smile Changes Everything

This article was originally published on the College Park Patch as part of the weekly column by Gretchen Schock, Parenting on a Tightrope
 This was our last night in the apartment, the apartment that marked our new life changing from a family with a mom and a dad all living under one roof to the kids living in two homes.
At that time we read every book from our public library about divorce and different styles of families. On this night, with moving on the horizon, my oldest son, who is on the spectrum, begins to tear up.
I ask what’s wrong and he just pulls me into a tight hug as I tuck him in for bedtime. I try to pull away slightly so that I can see his face, read his facial expressions. He just pulls me in tighter.
We remain in that pose for a few minutes. I quietly whisper in his ear all the things he is going to love about the new house. We’re only moving 5 minutes down the street. He’s going to remain at the same school.  We will still shop at the same stores. Not much is really going to change in the grand scheme of things.
I can sense his breathing becoming steady, and as I pull away, I ask him again what’s wrong.  And he simply says, “I feel sad.”
I nod. I understand his sadness. He doesn’t like change, and the feeling of not knowing what is coming next creates a lot of anxiety for him.
The next day as I drop him off at Before Care at school, I kneel down and ask, “Are you feeling okay about everything? About the move?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Why were you feeling sad last night?”
“I don’t know…we had a lot of fun at that house. I liked you there.  You smile a lot there. Are you going to smile a lot at the new house?”
My eyes begin to tear up. I muffle out a “Yeah, I’m going to smile a lot at the new house too.”
He gives me a quick hug and then turns to join some kids playing with beanbags.  I call out, probably too loudly, “I love you!”
“You too Mom,” he says over his shoulder.
As I walk to my car I think about how children and their observations once again amaze me. Though my ex-husband and I never fought in front of the children - we aren’t the yelling and screaming type to begin with - the kids saw more than we thought we were protecting them from. A simple smile gave it all away.
Have your children observed more than you were aware of?

4/18/2011

College Park Patch: What's Wrong with Being Average?

This article was originally published on the College Park Patch as part of the weekly column by Gretchen Schock, Parenting on a Tightrope
 I poured a glass of wine and put on a pair of comfy yoga pants. Only then did I feel ready to tackle the box in front of me. I never did unpack it from my last move a year ago.
Inside were documents I knew I needed to hold on to, but that I also had to take the time to organize - letters to Santa mixed with outdated voter registration cards.
The box also included a 4-inch stack of testing results, evaluations, progress reports from speech therapists, occupational therapists, pediatricians, and neuropsychologists.

Ah yes, the year of diagnosis. I remember you well.
I skimmed the papers, smiling to myself at certain moments, “L came into the testing room carrying a Spiderman and wearing a Superman costume.”   I had forgotten the year he only wore pajamas, all the time…everywhere. Then came the realization that we have been living in the Superhero phase for almost 4 years now!
One of these reports lists his developmental age based on the results from the testing. At the time he was 4-years-old, and the psychologist conducting the test determined that he was developmentally 2 ½-years-old. Keep in mind these tests are conducted in a strict regimen very much like standardized testing in the public schools. But hearing that your child is 2 years behind feels like someone just punched you in the gut. It didn’t help matters that I also had a normal developing child exactly that age.
After many years of early intervention, fast-forward to today. L is in a mainstream classroom and on grade level for all of his subjects. But it’s quite remarkable to look back and see how far L has come since first being diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum.  I celebrate every time the teacher reports that he is on grade level. I feel so proud of him.
Recently it seems as though every conversation that I have with another parent includes the subject of TAG testing.  Everyone is obsessed with thinking that his or her child is exceptional, and should be learning above grade level.  Why is there this pressure that children should be reading 2 or even 3 years ahead of their developmental age? What happened to being an on-par first grader and that being okay? Is this pressure created by the administrators? Have the parents done this to each other?  Are we “keeping up with the Jones’s" in terms of our children’s education? Who created this standard that each child should reach so that they can be labeled “gifted”?
Don’t get me wrong. There are children who are naturally exceptional learners and need to be challenged beyond their developmental age. As fate would have it, my younger son is one of those children.  But it can’t be possible that 9 out of the 10 parents that I’ve talked to recently believe their child is “gifted”.
The worst part is that the people who are hurt the most are the kids who are reading on grade level and behaving in a manner typical for their developmental age.  These children, like my oldest son, are left feeling ashamed for not being above grade level.
What is wrong with being average?

4/15/2011

College Park Patch: Wearing Your Heart on Your Sleeve

This article was originally published on the College Park Patch as part of the weekly column by Gretchen Schock, Parenting on a Tightrope
 My youngest son is 5.  He’s a typical boy -- he gets dirty, plays rough and can hardly sit still. But he has a soft side to him as well.
He requests cuddle time daily -- it’s as if his body needs the physical contact with another human being in order to survive. Just being held is as much a priority to him as air, water and food. He seems to be drawn to tears faster than other kids his age, and his feelings get hurt easily.  I overheard an older gentleman, a grandfather of one of the kids on the playground, say to his wife while watching Z begin to cry for the third time in the last 45 minutes, “that kid needs to grow a thicker skin.”
Many times I’ve sat on the park bench and could overhear other mothers commenting on my older child, who is on the Autism Spectrum, doing something irregular.  Like refusing to get out of the plastic tube or sitting under the slide.  I’m becoming used to strangers commenting on L but it takes me aback when strangers feel the need to remark on my “sensitive” boy. As if it’s not okay to be a boy who actually expresses his emotions.
“I don’t think I’d like Z to grow thicker skin, it’d be gross!”, L says since he was sitting on my feet and could easily overhear the grandfather talking.
He’s looking up at me, making eye contact and I’m the one to look away first while I try and gather my thoughts.  I struggle with this one though.  I don’t want to send the message to my children that it’s not okay to cry or to show your emotions.  I don’t want to raise boys who hide their true feelings and bury it deep within.  Those aren’t the men I want in the world.  That being said, I will be the first to admit that Z can go a bit overboard on the crying.
“Umm ... when that man was a little boy, a long long time ago, he wasn’t allowed to cry.  It was considered a sign of weakness---” I said.
“Like green lantern and the color yellow.”
“I don’t know… I think so.  But I like that Z feels comfortable expressing his feelings don’t you?”
I will admit that there have been times when I may have rolled my eyes, when Z wasn’t looking, because of his crying outbursts.  That has more to do with my particular level of patience at that moment and nothing to do with the belief that boys are not allowed to show their emotions in our society.
I want all of our children to be able to express themselves and not feel ashamed of their feelings.  How do you tell your children that it’s okay to cry?  That it’s okay to hug their friend.  And that men who “wear their heart on their sleeves” can do great things in this world.

4/14/2011

Autistic Children and Flying

We use to live in Seattle WA and we would make many trips throughout the year to the east coast to visit family.  Both of my children know their way around airports.  When we get to the security check they each grab a bucket like seasoned pros and deposit their shoes and jackets.  But it wasn't always this way.  In the beginning I was that parent who got looks from bystanders as Logan had a complete meltdown because his special toy, Shawn, had to go through the xray machine.  Or when I would beg the TSA to let me through with gluten free snacks in my bag for Logan because I knew the airport would not have any of the 5 things he eats for sale.  (this was when you weren't allowed to bring food into the airport, thankfully that has changed!) 
 
CNN's Susan Candiotti reports on a Philadelphia hospital program that helps autistic children handle flying and is teaching the staff at Newark NJ airport to have a sensitivity to children on the spectrum.
 http://cnn.com/video/?/video/health/2011/02/26/candiotti.autism.flight.cnn

4/04/2011

College Park Patch: The Boxes Labeled Fragile

This article was originally published on the College Park Patch as part of the weekly column by Gretchen Schock, Parenting on a Tightrope


One of my favorite authors, Robert Fulghum, wrote an essay about his daughter, who once gave him all that she held dear -- love in a paper sack.  If a robber came into the house, that person would see the contents in the torn, taped, brown paper lunch sack and discard it.  But if the house were on fire, this would be the first thing Mr. Fulghum would grab before running out the door.
As I pack the contents of my house for our next move, I have a few boxes that I want to label "Fragile," though nothing in them could be broken if the box was dropped.
I’m even tempted to move them over to the new house myself because I don’t trust the movers not to damage them.  Within these boxes are the items I hold dear, the small pieces of my children’s baby and toddler years, including the scrapbooks that I have spent countless hours creating to document every milestone of their lives.
Many of the items are what mothers and fathers for centuries have held on to -- the outfit each baby came home in from the birth center or hospital, a curl from the first haircut, the very first time they each wrote their name.  I’m not the type of person who holds on to too much.  Recently when my office moved locations, my boss told the staff not to let me in her office for fear that I’d throw something away. Some people hoard. I purge with a vengeance.
There have only been a handful of times when I have regretted giving something away. In general, I have a theory that if it’s broken or doesn’t have more than one purpose…then I don’t need it taking up space in my life.  There are a few exceptions to this rule, of course. For example, the crystal vase my childhood music teacher bought for me as a wedding gift. I am since divorced but she died two weeks before my wedding and I can’t seem to let go of this last piece of her.  She wouldn’t be pleased to know that I use it to store cleaning brushes under my sink.
Another exception to this rule is Shawn. We use to live in Seattle, WA and on a trip to the East Coast to visit family, I convinced my mother to clean out her attic with my help.  My mother leans toward the hoarding side of the scale.  Within the contents of the attic were many toys from me and my sister’s childhood, and L found in one of the boxes a Ken doll.  As in Barbie and Ken.  On the cusp of 2-years-old, he immediately claimed it as his own and rightfully declared his name to be Shawn. There was no turning back, and the best part was he insisted that Shawn never wear clothes.  Now imagine the looks I got as I boarded the plane 8 months pregnant with a toddler in tow carrying a naked Ken Barbie doll.
Shawn never left L’s side for many years.  Shawn went everywhere from doctor’s appointments to playgroup to the grocery store, he became characters in L’s imagination and could easily turn into a sword at a moments notice.  He was his faithful confidant.  Shawn now is forgotten.  His legs don’t stay on so well and whenever one of the boys pulls him out from the bottom of the toy box to play with, he’s the toy that looses his head first in battle.
Anyone else would throw Shawn away. But into the box labeled "Fragile" he goes, still naked
Is there something from your child’s baby or toddler years that you hold dear?

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