Friday, May 24, 2013

Stress? What Stress? I Spent My Week Reading About the First Indochina War

1. I did seriously spend most of the week reading Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam by Fredrik Logevall. And I have just requested (from the library) his book Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam. And Stanley Karnow's Vietnam: A History since Logevall has yet to write about the Vietnam War from 1965-1975. And don't forget, Ken Burns' documentary series on Vietnam will run sometime in 2016.

I cannot recommend this book more highly. I expect it will be the best book I'll read this year. I was born in 1975 so the Vietnam War is not something I grew up with but it's something my parents' generation experienced. And in all of my US History classes, we never discussed it because by the time we made it to WWII, it was late spring and time to start reviewing for end of the year exams. I love good history books, and this is a good history book, because I want to understand why things happened, why people in power made the decisions they did, why battles were fought, why people died.

I heard about the book because Marty Moss-Coane of WHYY's Radio Times Interviewed Logevall. I've listened to the interview twice. It will give you a great introduction to his work, which, by the way, just won a Pulitzer.

What I loved best about the book was the careful way he laid out the events, especially the diplomatic wrangling over what to do and why the individual powers made those particular decisions. He also doesn't seem to play favorites (this guy was stupid, this one was smart, etc.) but shows the flaws and mistakes of all the players and what the consequences were. Hindsight may not be perfect, but it certainly does help to allow time to gather records from all the parties involved.

But it does bring up, to me, at least, the age old question of when is it wise for the US to intervene in foreign conflicts. Like the current mess in Syria, for which no one seems to have good advice, should the French and the Americans have just let the Vietnamese people work out their own issues and kill each other unimpeded? What about Rwanda? The Balkans? I don't know. If Logevall has a central argument in his book, it's that it would have been better to spare the many, many thousands of people who died in Vietnam from 1945-1975 and let Ho Chi Minh have his way. Since he won in the end, anyway, why did all those people have to die?

Now, of course, my curiosity is piqued about Cambodia, Laos and the Korean War. Anybody have some good history tome suggestions on those topics? And someday I'll actually figure out why Communism was so popular since I can see it from the perspective of, well, it just doesn't work. And nobody who implements it does it for the reasons they say they're doing it for. Maybe I need to go back to my A History of Russia book by Riasanovsky. Oh, look! There's a new edition. :)

2. No trips to the movies this week. Too busy playing with Pepper the Shih Poo dog who belongs to my cousins but who is vacationing with us while they are vacationing on the West coast. And reading about the First Indochina War. And watching Phillies baseball. But, hey, the French Open begins on Sunday, which I will be watching, even though Andy Murray isn't playing. Novak. Roger. Rafa. Sigh.

3. Several people helped me with gardening this week. Marshall did most of the work of moving a broom shrub (the flowers on mine are red, not yellow, and gorgeous) from the front yard to the back since it had seriously outgrown the slot next to the irises where I planted it several years back. It's droopy in it's new spot but we are watering it frequently and hoping it will readjust. My neighbor did an iris exchange with me, giving me several of her plants in colors different than mine and taking a few of my deep purple. And my mother-in-law came Tuesday morning to help me trim back a bunch of the other shrubs and otherwise encourage me. Now if it would only stop raining, I could mow the lawns again.

4. Miranda's fever turned into strep last weekend. It was ugly. I've never seen her so miserable nor been so grateful for antibiotics. Or children's ibuprofen.

Her chosen show for the week (because variety is just wrong, I guess) is Octonauts. It's not as annoying as Jake & the Neverland Pirates (which both Alex and I despise), but after a week of it, I'm feeling done. But then, all Alex wants to watch is the first hour and a bit of Wreck-It Ralph (he doesn't like the end, because it's scary). At least the with The Octonauts, I have 32 episodes to choose from, and it's educational!

I miss Yosemite Sam.

5. Alex has completely thrown himself into Plants Vs. Zombies just at the point where I am tiring of the game. And, did you know there are plush toys? We already own most of the Angry Birds toys. I'm done.

6. Here's a write up on Alex from Marshall:

The six year report

I'm writing this to update friends and family on our current state of affairs with our son, Alex. Some of you know that we've been fighting an uphill battle with his Autism since he was diagnosed at thirty months. He has been in school 212 days a year since before he was 3 years old, and has made some great strides in reciprocal language, reading and math. He has come an amazing distance in the last seventy-two months.

So it is with a lot of disappointment that we have to tell the other part of the story, and to ask for any help you think you can be to us for the next several years. Alex finished his second grade year clicking along academically part-time in an inclusion class (special needs and neuro-typical) with an aide. But his attitude was very poor. He had become depressed and mulish during the winter of 2012, and as 2012 continued, became increasingly stubborn, explosive and violently contrary.

If you know anything about the level of instruction at different levels of public education, you know that 3rd grade isn't just linearly more difficult than 2nd grade, it is exponentially more difficult. Third grade is where the rubber hits the road in learning: the previous three years have chiefly been behavioral and rote learning, and to teach habits that make a child easier to teach. When you hit third grade, they want you to start making intuitive leaps. ("How would that make you feel?" "What did the girl think was going to happen that caused her to throw her backpack at the dog?") Alex does not intuit and he was heartily sick of rote memorization of subjects that did not interest him.

Within the first two weeks back in school, he had bitten his aide. He would not sit with his aide in his inclusion class, and quickly discovered that if he mouthed off to the teacher, ("You shutup, I don't want to hear you anymore") he would be ejected from class back to the self-contained Autism room, which he considered an improvement. He was still required to work there, but it was largely one-on-one.

By November, we had a full-on crisis going, since the more he had been coaxed along to work in the inclusion class, the angrier and more tightly wound he became. He began refusing to go to bed, because going to sleep meant a mental 'fast jump' forward to the next day when he had to go back to school, and even with idiosyncratic grammar, he could tell you long and loud how much he hated school.

We cannot praise the administration of the school enough. The principal, the Child Psychologist, his teacher of two years and his primary aide; each of them pulled out all the stops to persuade him to sit in class, participate appropriately, and do his class work. Working with them and Alex's doctor, we retuned his ADHD, anti-depressant, and anti-anxiety medication to try to settle the wild behavioral swings and get him chugging forward again. He responded by making escape attempts from the school. (None of which succeeded, nor even got him out the front door. But his intent was clear and well verbalized.)

By January, the inclusion class was no longer possible and was dropped. Alex took to standing on his desk and screaming, regularly biting his aide and otherwise endangering the other students, sufficient that he was often put into a restraining 'hold' by his teacher. (I'm sure you've heard horror stories of something like this going awry and a child being injured in anger by the adult. That is not what these circumstances were: These were professionals doing what was necessary to bring someone who was a danger to themselves and others back under control in the most humane way possible.)

All of these circumstances have been rising and falling rapidly ever since. We may go several days without a train-wreck at school, but never more than a few days. Alex's behavior became so poor that the staff would let him choose his own assignments, even selecting work that he was capable of doing blindfolded, if only he would do it. No dice. Fifteen minutes of homework were regularly requiring two to three hours of Sarah's time at home simply to keep Alex pinned down to it long enough to complete the work.

So it was with a real sense of defeat this week that the staff, in our yearly formal consultation with them, recommended that Alex be moved from Larchmont School to Hartford Middle School where there is a single, four student Autism class for fourth grade, with no inclusion, and one-to-one instruction. Sarah and I are in complete agreement. Alex's attitude and behavior has so poisoned his environment and relationships at Larchmont that the staff there can no longer be effective in teaching him, because he will rebel solely based on WHO is asking him to do the work. A fresh start is required.

That said, we had gone into this meeting expecting it to be very rough. We had no idea how unprepared we were. When a sharp minded, innovative teacher who has utterly exhausted herself and her staff trying to reach the brightness inside Alex breaks down in tears of frustration in your IEP meeting because Alex must be moved out of her class...that's bad.

The other part of this is that there are no calculable probabilities that this 'intervention' will work. Almost all of the instruction next year will be behavioral, back in the K-2 range that he just left. If the multiplication problem you are working is hard, you can't pick up your desk and throw it at someone. (He's done it.) Yet that is the kind of reaction we MUST teach him to suppress because this is essentially the last stop in the public school system before he winds up being farmed out to Bancroft NeuroHealth because the public school system (even one as top drawer as Mount Laurel) cannot handle him. All of the problems surround his social behavior, not his Autism, per se. This is not a matter of being unable to express himself: he knows exactly what he is doing. But there are no brakes on his emotions, so spilled milk is treated with the same explosive reaction as spilled blood.
I write all of this so that if you are the praying type, that you will do so for us. We also have a lot of unrelated personal challenges that we won't go into which work daily to wear down our reserves for dealing with our children. We have tremendous moral support from our families and our church and often tremendous material support from them both as well. We don't know what the future will hold for the Webber family, but we know that where-ever we find ourselves, we won't be alone in our challenges.

7. And here's Jen.

1 comment:

Virginia said...

We will be sure to pray for each one of you every day. I've been keeping up with your family, but I'm sorry I haven't sent personal messages. We send our love.
In case you know more than one "Virginia," I'm Laurie's mom.