Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Audrey and the Diving Board

Audrey has been doing great with learning how to swim, considering that just last year she was still afraid to put her face in the water.  Recently, her newest "trick" is going off the diving board by herself.  

It's been a process that started in swim lessons last summer.  This was the first time she went off the diving board.  One teacher lowered her into the water, and then another teacher caught her.  

This year, she surprised me by being super brave during her first swimming lesson of the year.  She was willing to jump off the diving board by herself to her teacher who caught her in the water.

Then, just this past weekend, she decided she wanted to go off the diving board all by herself.  Pool rules say that she needs to show a lifeguard she can swim across the deep end.  So she showed them, and then she jumped off the diving board all by herself, with no one in the water to catch her.

And then, she did it over and over and over again.  She eventually grew confident enough to get a running start and jump off the board.

After all the diving board excitement, she was willing to go on the water slides too!

Now we just need to work on getting her to do it without plugging her nose.  And on improving her swim stroke.  While we are pretty confident that she can keep herself above water in the deep end, it's not always pretty.  But she has made HUGE progress this summer, and I'm super proud of her!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Small Group Camping Trip

Back in May, our small group took a camping trip.  A TENT camping trip.  For THREE nights. My use of all caps should tell you that I did not think it would be a good idea.  Daniel and I used to tent camp before we had kids, and we always enjoyed it.  We took Audrey on two different one night trips, one when she was 9 months and one when she was two.  It went fairly well, but we had not been camping since Isla was born. I envisioned my prissy girls being whiny and bored and unable to sleep in the tent with all of us together.

I was getting ready for a garage sale and about ready to sell our camping gear.  My general rule is that if we haven't used something within the past year, then we get rid of it.  The camping gear had been sitting unused for four years.  So I said we either need to use it or sell it!

We talked to some members of our small group and decided that we would use it along with our friends!  We signed up for a three night camping trip over Memorial Day weekend.  We ended up having 10 adults and 7 kids with us, ages 6 months-7 years.

I was skeptical that a three night tent camping trip with kids would be the best way to jump back into the camping scene.  But we gave it a try, and it ended up being so much fun!

This was our main camping area set up, with two more tents on another site.

Bug catchers extraordinaire!

Isla love playing this checkers game.  She didn't follow the rules 100% of the time, but for a three year old, she was really good!

The campground had a little lake and beach area.  The kids had fun swimming, even though the water was so very cold.

At first, Isla would only get her toes wet.

Then she moved into ankle deep water.

Then up to her knees!

And before we knew it, Amy had convinced her to go all the way into the water...with her clothes on!!

One day, we took a little family paddleboat ride.  Despite the look on Isla's face in this picture, we all enjoyed it.

This camping trip was all about the food.  We all were on Pinterest beforehand, and we found all sorts of yummy camping recipes to try, and then everything turned out to be delicious!  Here are a couple of my successes.  This is bannock bread, kind of like a pancake biscuit.  It was SO good with a little butter and jam on it.
And this is a Hawaiian Chicken Stack Foil Dinner. It was good too.  This reminds me that I need to make this in real life, not just for camping trips.
Of course, we also had s'mores!
The weather was really perfect for most of the time, until the last day when it was super crazy windy.  This was the day that Amy made donuts with the kids.  Despite the wind, it was still a fun treat!

I was trying to take pictures the captured the craziness of the sustained 25+ mph winds all day long.  It was hard to capture in a photograph though!  This was Steve and Amy's tent, which looked permanently crooked all day with the wind blowing it.  This was especially problematic on our last night, when the wind continued to blow along with some rain, which blew right inside their tent!

The kids were getting a little restless on the last day, especially with the wind blowing everything around. So we took them up to the camp store to the little mining station they had there.  They each got to mine for "jewels" and they had a lot of fun.

The kids ate dinner on top of the Millers truck one night. A fun idea until they started spilling their drinks all over each other.

Overall, it was a great trip!  I came home ready to plan our next camping trip.  My enthusiasm has waned a little as time goes by, but I do think we will definitely go camping again with our girls...and hopefully our friends too!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

On Being Shy...

Fair warning: this post will be full of my jumbled, rambling thoughts.  Proceed at your own risk.

I've been thinking a lot recently about selective mutism and shyness in relation to my girls and also my own life.  I've always struggled with being shy and socially uncomfortable, so it's not surprising to see these characteristics in Isla and even a little in Audrey too.  The question that I am wrestling with is now is the best way to parent my shy, socially anxious kid (sometimes kids).

Here's how a typical social interaction goes between Isla and someone she is not comfortable speaking to:

Person: "Hi Isla! How are you today?"
Isla:  stares straight ahead, does not speak
Person:  "Are you good?"
Isla:  stares straight ahead, does not speak
Me:  "Isla, can you nod your head and answer the question?"
Isla: stares straight ahead, does not speak
Person: You are getting so big.  How old are you now?
Isla: stares straight ahead, does not speak
Me: "Isla are you four?"
Isla: stares straight ahead, does not nod or speak
Me: "Can you hold up your fingers and show how old you are?"
Isla: stares straight ahead, does not move or speak
Me:  (unable to stand the silence anymore, I make an excuse for her) "Sorry, she's just shy."

The longer the person tries to interact with Isla, the more Isla shuts down. Often she will hold my hand and just squeeze as tight as she possibly can.  I usually try to help out a little and prompt her to answer the questions.  Right now, as baby step #1, we are trying to encourage her to respond non-verbally.  She gets a reward for ANY type of nonverbal response.  Sometimes she will nod her head, but a lot of times, she won't.  If she won't respond at all, I end up "rescuing" her and ending the conversation by excusing her behavior because she is shy.

This is not a good thing for me to do.  It provides an escape for Isla, and she learns that she can just avoid feeling the anxiety of responding to people because Mommy will do it for her.  I'm trying to change this.  But it is SO hard.  It makes for the most awkward social interactions when Isla is silent. And social interactions are always awkward for me too, so I just can't stand to deal with more awkwardness caused by Isla not speaking. Making an excuse for her is so much easier, even if I know it's not the right thing to do.  We are slowly working on changing this.  But it is going to take a LONG time.  Baby steps.  That's what I keep telling myself.

What I am discovering is that dealing with Isla's shyness also forces me to deal with my own shyness. As a child, I was often described as painfully shy.  I didn't reach the levels of non-speech/participation like Isla, but I remember being very quiet and very reserved and very nervous with people I did not know.  I am STILL very nervous around people I don't know.  I do not enjoy meeting new people.  Small talk is my worst nightmare!  I would rather do just about anything then stand around making small talk with a group of strangers.  Or even make small talk with a group of friends.  It makes me want to curl up in a fetal position and cry.  Obviously, I've learned how to do it and I do try to do it with good manners.  But it is never, ever something that I want to do, even now as a grown up adult.

I've always struggled to make friends in new places, as it is so scary to make conversation with new people.  I've often been accused of being stuck up or intimidating, because I don't talk to people like others do.  The idea of people thinking I am intimidating just makes me laugh, because it couldn't be farther from the truth.  I am the one who is intimidated by everyone else!  How could anyone be intimidated by little old me??  I have found that I enjoy planning parties and leading events, because it gives me something to do.  When I am in charge of a social event, I have a list of things to do to keep me busy and I don't have to worry as much about interacting socially with everyone else.

I grew up thinking that this "shyness" was a bad thing.  Something that I always wanted to change about myself.  Something that I always tried to change about myself.  As a kid and a teen and even a young adult, I would have given anything to trade places with someone and be more outgoing.  Anything!  I hated being shy, but no matter how hard I tried, I could not change that about myself.

It has taken a very long time, but now as an adult, I have finally come to accept that being shy is just a part of who I am.  While I think it is important to be friendly, move out of my comfort zone and reach out to people, I also think it is okay to just be quiet.  Being quiet has its strengths (Sidenote: I really need to read this book and this one too!).   I have ALMOST come to a point where I can completely accept that idea, though I still find myself wishing I could change it some days.

But what I really want is to find a way to help my kids, specifically Isla, accept their shyness at a younger age than I did. For a while, I did not want to use the term "shy" to describe them. I didn't want them to label themselves as shy or use it as an excuse to avoid polite social interaction.  However, I have since changed my mind about using the label "shy."  I am now okay with calling Isla shy, because I think that is honestly going to be a part of who she is.  What I want to do is use the term with a positive tone, so she doesn't grow up to view herself as negatively as I did.  I would love for both girls to see that being quiet and shy can be a strength and not a weakness.  To grow up feeling confident in their quietness and comfortable in their own skin.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Selective Mutism

Hello!  I am really going to try to get serious about blogging again. For real. For very real (as Isla likes to say).  I took an unintentional break and considered just being done with the blog altogether.  But I am not ready to give this up yet, as I love having this record of our life, and I enjoy being able to share it with family and friends.  So here I go again with yet another attempt at regular(ish) blogging.

For today's post, I am sharing an update about Isla.  I have been debating how much of this we want to share publicly.  I don't want to bring unnecessary attention to Isla, and I don't want to make a big deal out of this and create a label that defines her (more about that in another post!). I also don't want her to look back on this and be upset with me for sharing so much information about her.

But, as we have learned more about what is going on with Isla, I have found that I am beginning to understand my "hard to understand" little girl a lot more. And I want other people to be able to understand her too.  So by providing this information, I hope more people will be able to understand Isla and why she acts like she does.  I hope this will give you a little peek inside her brain. And for those of you who interact regularly with her, I want you to know what you can do to help her talk to you.

I have also found that this blog can be a way to help others going through similar issues, and that has been a good thing for us in the past.  I enjoy reading other people's stories, and I hope that sharing our story will be helpful for others as well.  Also, I hope that someday Isla will be grateful to have a record of what was going on in her life at this age.

So, here we go.  I've already written about some concerns we have had with Isla and her speaking/participating at school.  Basically, she didn't speak or do much of anything at all for an entire school year.  I've always described her as extremely shy and extremely stubborn.  But after talking to her teachers, some speech therapists and her doctor, we decided that her shyness and what appeared to be her stubbornness were beyond the range of normal.

We were referred to a psychologist who confirmed what the therapist had already suspected, Isla has Selective Mutism.  Selective Mutism is an anxiety disorder which causes the inability to speak (and in certain cases, like Isla, to participate) in certain social situations.  The biggest diagnostic tool for determining Selective Mutism is a child who speaks and acts normally in one setting, but then consistently does not speak in another setting.  School is the most common setting for kids with selective mutism to not speak, with home being the place where they are most comfortable speaking.  As I researched Selective Mutism, I found that Isla fits the description almost perfectly. It was like someone wrote a textbook about my own daughter! Even when I go back and read this last blog post, when I had no idea that Selective Mutism was even a thing, I now realize that I was writing about Selective Mutism without even knowing it.

Kids with Selective Mutism are often called shy and stubborn.  Some may describe them as defiant, especially when they refuse to speak or participate when it is requested of them.  This is exactly how we have described Isla's behavior at school for the past year (she is a different kid at home though)!  We have questioned whether or not this is an obedience problem.  Should we punish her when she does not cooperate with or speak to her teachers or other adults?  This diagnosis of Selective Mutism tells us no, this is not an issue of disobedience or direct defiance.  From all that we know, we believe that Isla wants to speak and participate, but she can't.  Anxiety causes her to shut down, and her silence and frozen stature are the coping mechanisms that her body and mind use to deal with the feelings of anxiety.

The goal in treating Selective Mutism is to help Isla feel more confident in these difficult social situations, like school.  We wan to slowly encourage her to change her behavior and the way that she copes in situations where she feels anxious.  It is a long process of tiny baby steps, gently pushing her to try to do the things that make her feel anxious, while trying to not push her too hard and cause more anxiety.  We are trying to use a lot of positive reinforcement, and we also are hoping to make some changes in her school classroom to help her feel more comfortable. If she feels safe, she will be much more likely to participate and eventually speak.  My advice to people who just meet her is to avoid asking her any direct questions, even simple ones like "how are you?"  A question expects a response, and for Isla, that expectation usually leads to her shutting down.  Isla responds best to people who are quiet and who don't try too hard to get her to talk.  She will talk to you when she's ready, and she will be more ready to talk to you if she feels like you are not expecting her to talk to you.  Does that make any sense?!

Research shows that most kids with Selective Mutism will overcome it and/or outgrow it.  While some social anxiety may persist into adulthood, we don't think she will be silent forever or for even more than a couple years.  It's not going to be easy to help her through this, and I have already been frustrated by the slowness of the process.  But I feel good knowing that we know what is going on now and that we have a plan to help her in the future.

While I have talked about some of the struggles she had at school over the past year, she did make some great progress at school too.  She started the year and would not even move from center to center, her teachers had to pick her up and physically carry her.  By the end of the year, she was walking willingly on her own, pushing in her chair, putting work (usually that she didn't attempt) in her cubby, participating in some of the daily jobs in her classroom, and nodding and pointing in response to her teacher.  We are super proud of this progress, and we are looking forward to even more progress in a new school year!

On the last day of school, she was all smiles and even let me take her picture on the playground and in front of her classroom.  I'm so happy that she ended the year with a smile.  Even though she didn't speak or participate, she still seemed to enjoy going to school.  In her head I think she thinks that she is participating more than she really is.  She knows everything that happens in her classroom, she knows the names of all the kids and what they do each day, and she even picked out a few kids whom she called her "friends," even though she didn't ever speak or interact with them in any way.

I've said this before, and I will continue to say it, Isla is a special little girl who teaches us daily that God created everyone with different personalities and abilities. No two people are the same, and we are learning to celebrate the ways that Isla is different and precious to us!