Thursday, September 30, 2010

Into the Woods

Our Labor Day visit to Cannon Beach, Oregon

We took our wagon to pull the kids around, so Joran could sit sometimes, too. It was such a great idea over a stroller. Sometimes, with Jasmijn's help, we didn't get very far, very fast, though.

Recapping the day's explorations. Still much to discover.

What successes we have had this month! A few months ago, during the summer, I pledged to myself to begin more activities that would fulfill Joran's needs and my own. Not an easy task with such different personalities, basically boiling down to his desire to stick with familiar situations, away from new people and environments, juxtaposed to my desire to socialize and build a broader community network. But I was determined!

One of the challenges was to make the right choices without input from Joran, knowing that we might have to push through many awkward moments in order to find the right activities and people. It may seem strange not to ask him if he wants to take a class or go to a new playdate, but I've learned that he will always give a negative response until he understands what the experience is. He has no way of understanding the experience until he's tried it, and he often needs to get over social anxieties before he can truly have fun. The question for me is to what extent do I push him to engage? I have to ask if I am pushing him to do something that he's genuinely not ready for, or am I pushing him to do something he will love once he gets over his anxieties.

First, we met a wonderfully wise occupational therapist who answered a lot of my "why" questions. She taught me why Joran needs so much BIG, full-contact play. She taught me why he resists certain activities whether it's about being around other people or about using certain muscle groups. And she showed me how I can facilitate and encourage getting his needs met at home and out-and-about. She's given me the gift of understanding, where I was previously confused about Joran's behaviors. Now I can just BE with Joran, allowing and accepting of so much more. Now that I feel so trusting of his behavior, I am able to focus more on getting my own needs met, also.

Next, we started going to a local gymnasium for open gym trampolines, tumbling, sliding, etc.... Joran loved the open gym and I got to meet up with other moms. I was always right there on the gym floor with him, and there were never more than 10 people there (usually 6), so even though there were always different people, Joran was able to avoid what he needed to avoid and enjoy great fun otherwise. Being "open gym" also meant that he could follow his own pace, not the instructor's agenda.

Seeing how excited he was about open gym inspired me to sign him up for the trampoline/tumbling classes, because open gym was going to change schedule once school started. I love that I can make these decisions and know that there are always options. After a couple classes, it was pretty clear that the class demanded too much structure. Joran needs freedom to guide himself in a safe environment and to navigate away from social interaction when he becomes overloaded. We were able to transfer our class payment to use on future open gyms. Lesson learned, problem solved.

Then came the best decision ever! We started Wilderness Awareness School. My biggest concern was about leaving Joran in a class by himself -- would I be able to attend until he was confident there on his own? I don't believe in leaving my emotionally overwhelmed child in the hands of someone who is a stranger to him, no matter how confident I am in this person. If he needs me, he needs me, and I believe he'll go off on his own when he's ready. So, I was pretty happy to hear that they invited parents to attend the first 4 classes. I felt this would be good enough for Joran.

The first day was emotionally exhausting for me, which is no surprise. There were over 20 people there, and a lot of the early time was spent indoors going over safety and procedures. Boring stuff for my 5-year-old, even when it's presented in a "fun" way. He really wanted to leave, would not speak to anyone, including other children, and would not participate in the program at all. Finally, we went out on an adventure through the woods, so this was more fun, but by the time I got everyone back in the car, I seriously needed some TLC. Fortunately, Joran and Jasmijn fell asleep right away.

In the next 2 weeks, Joran started talking with both instructors and children, and even playing away from me, going on little adventures into the woods with another adult. During the 3rd class, he was okay with me going for a 20-minute walk and meeting up with him and the group later. The success of this wilderness class was not just about the choice of activity, but also about the instructors, who have been fully understanding of Joran's needs.

The final test was yesterday during the 4th class, when the children were expected to leave on an adventure without the parents. Joran had said he did not want me to go, and his behavior was reflecting that, but I was amazingly calm and open. Most of the children went off on the adventure, and Joran still refused to part with me. One of the instructors talked with him for a while, pulling out all kinds of creative ideas and soothing words, and what it finally came down to was that she challenged him to a race to the pond. She declared that she didn't think he could beat her, even if she were running backwards! Ah-ha! Joran was off and running, and didn't look back once as I watched them round the bend. Backwards running over a rugged forest path is also good for laughs!

When I returned 2 1/2 hours later to pick up Joran, he greeted me with a running hug and exclaimed, "I did everything for myself!" He was so proud and confident and happy! Even when he tried to put on his "tough guy" attitude later, he could not hide the twinkle in his eye or the smile on his face.

Luckily, I've also learned about Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence through an advisor/teacher at a local homeschooling support center. One of the things I read was that bodily-kinesthetic learners feel compelled to express all of their thoughts and feelings through their bodies. This explains why living with Joran can feel like a full-contact sport. I've learned why Joran loves to be dragged around on the floor, have pillow fights, snuggle up in his cacoon-like swing, crash into a pile of pillows, fall, tumble, and stumble onto the floor, into a wall, and into another person and so on. And finally, with this knowledge, it felt easy to understand and be patient when he needed to crash into me, shout, climb around the car, spin around, or fall on the ground after his big day on his own at Wilderness Awareness School.

So, what have I gotten out of all this, personally? Lots of time with other moms, a few new friends, and a more fun home.

I also have to shout out a big "Hooray!" for Liam, our 6-year-old neighbor. He and Joran run wild together, usually outside, and otherwise creating big adventures indoors.

Life is good!
Jolene =)

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