If only I was a stay-at-home mom…for the school.

Sometimes I wish I was a stay-at-home mom. I would get the Legos picked up off the floor. I would have the clothes actually put away in drawers. I wouldn’t get so wrapped up in trying to decide whether to crate the dog and keep the floors clean or chance it that maybe she won’t pee today while we’re gone.

And if I managed to get all this done during the day, I’d actually look forward to hugging the boys after school and sifting through their artwork and crumbs and broken pencils to find the one sheet of homework crammed into the torn folder in their backpack. I’d pull it out and gently guide them through a relaxing session of learning at our comfy “homework” snowman2station, reviewing their scattered errors on the week’s spelling or math test, finding the blue crayon to color in the weekends and yellow crayon for the weekdays of the calendar, and cutting out and pasting a photo of something beginning with the letter “N.”

Life would be so different if I was a stay-at-home mom.

It’s 4:17 pm. I leave a meeting at a local university. I’ve been in and out of the office all day. I’ve been trouble-shooting via email. I’ve been writing up grant ideas. I’ve been designing our new website. I’ve been answering phone calls. I’ve been learning how to merge scanned pages into a single PDF document. I’ve been shaking hands, smiling and thinking up grand ideas for collaboration during a two-hour meet-and-greet session. And I’ve been sweeping all that into the corners of my mind during the harrowing drive on snowy roads to get to the daycare center to gather the two youngest boys.

I rush through inches of snow in dress shoes to check on the driver of a car crash right  beside the center. I put up cones “borrowed” from the day care center to warn other drivers. I meet the parents of my middle kid’s new best friend. I commiserate on how not all day care centers are perfect. I find coats and back packs. I forget (again) to empty the papers from the boys’ mail slots which overflow until the teachers just hand them to me. I buckle the boys in with fingers numb from cold exposure and stubborn carseat buckles. I turn on track #8 so we can listen to it for the thousandth time. I breathe.

Home – gather up and take out trash and recycling. Move the clothes from washer to dryer and start the next never-ending load of soiled torn boy clothes (and just spray a couple of those stained white items – who ever bought white!?!). Take the dog out and beg her to pee because my ears and legs are frozen standing here with you. Open and close the fridge looking for left-overs. Open and close the cupboard doors looking for something mildly nutritional. Greet the second-grader dropped off by my mother who helps with after-school care. Warm up the chocolate milks. Monitor the math homework of the eldest child. Stop countless battles over Legos, time with the dog, who broke the train set, flashlights, Spy Gear goggles, books, basketballs, stuffed animals. You name it – it’s scattered on my floor and ammunition for whichever kid doesn’t have it in his hands at the moment.

Bathtime. Pajamas. Mama’s glass of wine.

Book reading. Teeth brushing. Really – put the pull-up on!

Settle down. Stop joking around.

Be quiet

Lay still.

By the time the oldest and youngest are asleep (and I awake from my mini-nap on their bed), I find the kindergartener wrapped in his special “blue blanket” sacked out in front of the space heater. I sigh. Lifting him gently and tucking him into bed, I kiss his forehead and pat the dog who cuddles in beside him.

Quiet.

For a moment.

I’m sorry, dear kindergarten teacher. Thank you for your kind email this morning. Yes, I know that homework at age five “is important to set a good foundation to carry through in the upper grades”….but I just didn’t get to it last night.

Forgive me.

And yet, this single working mother of three wild, delightfully rambunctious boys is going to do better today. I think…..

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How a magic pill became a monster

If you’ve been following along this journey, if you have a child who struggles with regulating themselves, then you know the emotional toll that behavioral struggles extract on a family. The diagnoses are clear, my eldest has significant difficulty focusing his attention and subsequently controlling his impulses, his emotions, his aggression, his frustration. I know all this and it seems easier to manage when they’re three and you can just pick them up and put them into another context without much strain. But when they’re eight and expected to function in a classroom, expected to process social-emotional information well enough to develop friendships, expected to control impulses enough to not constantly kick a brother walking by, then it’s a whole new game.

Super Tall Guy has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, with a corresponding learning disability in written expression, fine motor delays, and “meets criteria” for Oppositional Defiant Disorder (I could have told you that), though this is all likely related to the primary disorder – Attention Deficit.

The fact that it makes sense doesn’t make it easier for me to think that my (well, somewhat) perfect little man has a “disorder.” The fact that I go around presenting on the consequences of early life experiences, including prenatal “insults,” having profound and lasting effects on the brain doesn’t make it easier for me to acknowledge it in the child that I’ve chosen to love and care for for the rest of his life.

“He would likely really benefit from medication.” You know, if I was in the doctor role – the one where I dispense all the advice – that’s exactly what I would say too. Yet, deep in my heart, I resist. I worry about using a chemical to control behavior. I wrestle with putting “unusual” compounds into young children to alter their actions. I struggle with feeling that parenting should shape behavior well enough and if my child needs more, does that imply I have not been a successful parent? Maybe Super Tall Guy is just in the wrong context for how he’s formed – maybe he needs a great big farm and less structured schooling?

I pick up the prescription. We follow the doctor’s advice to learn to swallow pills with a box of tic-tacs, a twisty straw and a cup of juice. We are successful with the tic-tacs….we toss a couple pills before Super Tall Guy swallows the two tiny caplets around 9:30 in the morning.  “How you feeling?” I ask an hour later. Nothing. He’s much too excited about the trip to Target to pick out a gift in celebration of “Adoption Month” (the anniversary of adoption for the boys fall on the 12th, 24th and 26th of this month so I figured it would be easiest to shop for and mark the occasion on one day). He does, however, spontaneously say from the back of the car, “Thank you for letting me get this present, Mom.” Huh. A spontaneous thank you?!?

And the day floated along smoothly. He was courteous. He was agreeable. He didn’t complain. He went along with what we were doing. I don’t remember him hitting, kicking or shoving a brother – huh.

And then the flood gates opened. He started talking…..and talking…and talking….and talking from the moment his basketball game ended until hours and hours later. Whereas Super Tall Guy rarely put 5 or 6 words together in a sentence (unless he really really wanted to tell you about a wonderful time he had just had), he now talked about anything and everything. If it hit his brain, he was going to talk about it. Everything. He talked about everything. And there were very few pauses unless I specially interrupted 3 or 4 times and would manage to get a sentence in before he had more he absolutely desperately needed to share. I just laughed at him. I think the younger brothers were stunned. They certainly couldn’t get a word in.

speed talk

Started taking notes of his speed talk…

At one point, I sat on the stairs and eavesdropped into his conversation with his brother. He explained how multiplying something by one was so easy. And if you multiply by zero it’s just zero and you need to know this Mr. Ornery because you’re in kindergarten and you’re going into first grade and you need to know. And you will go right into first grade, not like me. I had to repeat kindergarten because mom wanted to try to help me and make the right decision, but now I’m the oldest and the tallest kid in my class. But you’ll go to first grade when you finish kindergarten and you need to learn to multiply. And you need to be a Christian too because you need to be in Heaven so I can see you. Because Mommy and I are going to Heaven so you need to pray, “Dear God, please come into my heart and soul and I believe. Amen.” You need to say it so when you die you’ll go to Heaven. And maybe they’ll have Spy Gear there. And you’ll have a new body. And you see, Mr. Ornery, you just hurt The Little Guy. You see, that’s wrong. That’s a mistake. But if you believe then you’ll be okay. In Heaven you’ll have a new soul and God is so happy.

Super Tall Guy was on speed. He couldn’t stop talking. It was like truth serum. I wish I had some really good questions to ask him. I did ask “how do you feel?” With a huge grin, he replied, “I feel AWESOME. I feel SO SMART!!” And then he told me that he was really good all day. And that there were sometimes that he thought about kicking the Little Guy, but then he stopped and thought about it and knew he would get in trouble, so he didn’t.

Bingo. That’s the point at which he should be for an 8-year-old. Right? He should be able to stop and think. And it took 45 mg of Concerta for him to do that.

But he couldn’t stop talking while watching a movie. He couldn’t stop talking long enough for me to finish the Hardy Boys book we were reading. He couldn’t stop talking enough to put aside his new Spy Gear Night Vision Glasses so they wouldn’t break if he fell asleep. He couldn’t stop talking when I finally gave up and walked out of the room after an hour of trying to get him to sleep. He couldn’t stop talking despite my replies that I couldn’t hear a word he was saying as I ran on the treadmill. He couldn’t stop talking despite my multiple admonitions and threats to time-out/ground him/remove privileges…..nothing was going to get him to stop talking.

He was awake at 11 pm. He was still awake at midnight. By 12:30, he was convinced he was never going to fall asleep. By 12:45 we were in a huge argument about putting the Spy Gear glasses DOWN and I mean, DOWN, and go to sleep! He was angry. He was out of control. We were both out of control. He was probably scared and worried that he’d never settle down to sleep. I knew he was “under the influence” and that it wasn’t his fault, but I was exhausted from his endless chatter. I was frustrated that I hadn’t had any quiet “non-kid” time for the whole evening. I was worried that he would in fact wake up at 6:00 am and have a miserable day from lack of sleep. I didn’t like this whacked out boy I now had on my hands. This wired unpredictability worried me. I finally climbed into bed at 1:00 am beside him and he tossled and complained and I ignored him and fell asleep first.

The Magic pill gave me a sweet boy – one who in his stream of talk said, “I love you, Mom. You’re the best Mom in the world. I don’t know what I would have ever done without you. I’d be stuck in an orphanage somewhere. I’m glad you’re my mom.” Magic pill. Wow.

Turned into a late night monster of out-of-control alertness causing anxiety and fear of being awake forever. “Yeah, that’s not doable,” as a friend noted. We didn’t try again the next morning.

Guess I’ll be calling his doctor tomorrow. Sure would be nice to find the magic pill. I think.

 

 

Sometimes the Positive Parenting just doesn’t work….for me….

angry baby

(Image courtesy of clip-art)

I’m sorry, but sometimes reading a bunch of mini-articles and blogs on “positive parenting” techniques is just a bit too much for me. Like when Mr. Ornery has drawn his battle lines – he’s not going to kindergarten today; he’s not going to put his shoes on; he promises to take his seat belt off in the car. His arms are crossed. His brows are furrowed and the eyes narrow to slits. His feet are planted….without socks on yet – he refuses them too.

I look at him. I size up my worthy opponent. I conjure up all that I’ve read about being a “great parent.”

Okay – the kid is apparently experiencing some pretty intense emotions.

  1. Take some deep breaths and calm yourself.
  2. Label the emotions – “Wow, Mr. Ornery, it looks like you are feeling very angry about school today.”
  3. Provide support and love as “those big emotions can be scary.” I kneel beside him and extend my arms to offer a “supportive loving” hug. He shoves me off balance.
  4. Empathize
  5. Encourage
  • Check
  • Check
  • Check
  • Check
  • Check

“Whatever!” I finally yell. I tuck the 47-pound obstinate soldier under my right arm, scoop up his shoes and backpack and coat with the left arm (we small wily moms have incredible strength) and march through the door graciously opened by our Thai guest (who must be thinking, “these American parents are nuts!!”). I toss him into the minivan and glare intently into his eyes ~ “GET  your  seatbelt  ON  NOW!!!!  And I mean NOW!!”

Yep – “positive parenting” at its best. Did it – failed. Tried it – failed. Resorted to….Power.

I know – in the long-term, the physical power of picking up a kid is not going to get me anywhere (especially when he’s 100 pounds). But on Thursday it got us to school on time.

Mr. Ornery does not like his new kindergarten class. I understand that. I understand that this month of “change” in every single aspect of his life is a bit disruptive. I understand he’s stressed and expressing his inner turmoil through obstinate defiance. I understand his emotional woes.

I understand a lot.

“Get in the car now!!” is how all that soft stuff boiled down in the moment of confrontation.

I’m not a bad parent. I’m a stressed single working mother. I get three kids off to daycare and before-school YMCA care before many people finish their morning coffee (thank goodness for Keurigs at the office!). I’m trying to be sweet and sensitive and sometimes I am. Sometimes I’m a really super mom. Sometimes I’m not.

Do you know that if you meet your dear sweet baby on their first day of life…and stick beside them for 18 years, you’ll spend 6570 days together (give or take a few necessary “business trips” and “I just need to get away” trips!).  That’s 6570 opportunities to completely mess up – but in reality, you’re more likely to have thousands of awesome days, thousands of “pretty good” days…. and just a few “that was really truly awful” days.

So on those downright no good truly awful horrible days (like when I’ve threatened to return the dog to the pound, have grounded the boys for the next 5872 days, or carried a flailing screeching kindergartener out of a birthday party at the bowling alley)…. I just tuck those little ones in at night with a kiss and an I-love-you and remember – tomorrow is a new day. And it’s likely to be an awesome day.  Day number 3184, day 2173, and day 1379, respectively…to be precise.

 

 

 

 

Uncovering the mind

Give me a Hemoglobin A1c of 7.5, and I’ll tell you you have diabetes. Give me an EKG with ST elevations and I’m sending you off to the emergency room. Give me a boy who is active, bouncy, grumpy, defiant, aggressive, combative, sweet, sensitive, fearful, shy, and tender all rolled into one and I have no idea what to do.

  • Give me almost daily phone calls from the principal of the prior school.
  • Give me constant reports from family members about his difficult behavior.
  • Give me sleepless nights and buckets of tears and I keep trying to figure him out.

What happens inside the brain is a mystery. Thousands of neurons firing. Thousands of connections being made. Thousands of signals to control the body, the emotions, the thoughts, the dreams. And yet, this Super Tall Guy just seems to “be wired” a bit differently. I’ve read 7 or 8 parenting books and hundreds of blogs and articles on the internet. We’ve done months of counseling (which seemed to help mainly me!). A whole battery of assessments years ago. Time outs. Time together. Removal of privileges. Rewards. Grounding. Behavioral charts. Taking away toys and gadgets. You name it, and yet he remains a mystery – spontaneous, impulsive, defensive….challenging, oh so challenging to parent.

“Definitely ADHD,” she said as we sat in the small conference room at the neuropsychology office for the “feedback” session. “All the testing points to it and believe me, it took a tremendous amount of effort on my part just to get him to focus and complete the tasks in the evaluation.” Uncovering the brain….

“He also has dysgraphia, a learning disability making it hard for him to express himself in writing. And a difficulty with fine motor control plays into all of this as well. Any questions?”

You know how you can sit there blank and not have any questions at all? Nope. Not really. Will definitely google this later.

Ah yes, a question – “So….what do we do?”

  • Medication
  • Learning support at the school
  • Occupational therapy

I’ve been wary of the diagnosis for years now. Is the rise in the number of kids with ADHD a true picture of the burden, or is it another clear case of trying to fit kids into a mold that’s just not right for them? Is there something we should be doing differently or is this just the way it is for some kids? For my boy, he just never met criteria each time we filled out questionnaires before, and yet on more in-depth testing it pops out.

I can’t deny it really. He is impulsive. He interrupts. He bounces off the couch. He punches his brother and then acknowledges that the bump was likely an accident as the little one walked by. He is a zombie in front of a TV set as the rapid-fire stimulation of Transformer Rescue Bots engages his neurons. He hates spelling words. His handwriting is awful. He plays with Legos but his 5-year-old brother can construct them more easily.

You want to label the kid rude, aggressive, immature. Maybe it’s a lack of consistent parenting. Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe it’s a lack of motivation. Maybe it’s his fault.

Maybe his brain is different.

Quote from "The Giving Tree" ~ Shel Silverstein

Quote from “The Giving Tree” ~ Shel Silverstein

Tomorrow we meet with the psychiatrist. Tomorrow we talk about calming down the brain with medication. My stomach tenses. I wasn’t ready to discuss medication at age 4 or 5, but now? But now, we might need just a little more help….

uncovering the mind of my son….