My Three Little Hearts

Mr. Ornery comes by his nickname very respectfully. He earns it almost every day. You might even call him Mr. Mischievous. Mr. Where Did You Say the Line was Drawn? Mr. Rascall. He drives me absolutely nuts. He’s gorgeous with tight brown ringlets. His lower lip is slightly fuller than his upper and curls into a delicious smile. His body is toned and athletic. He giggles when you tickle him.

And he talks back. He loves to throw rocks. He barrels down hillsides on a flimsy plastic Big Wheeler. He jumps the speed bump on his Razor scooter. He is a daredevil. He attacks life and attacks it hard.

And I worry about him. We drove home the other night from Super Tall Guy’s baseball game and reviewed the preceding couple hours in which I had to curb Mr. Ornery’s behaviors several times. We got to the topic of misbehaving so much that other people, complete strangers, start to tell you to stop doing whatever you’re doing. I start down the thread of if you’re not listening to your Mom, then other people will step in. Super Tall Guy brings up that eventually “the police will come and take you to jail.”

Of all three of my boys, the middle one, Mr. Ornery, carries that highest risk. And it pains me.

After they crashed from their “I’m so tired, I’m obnoxious” highs into snoring slumbers, I sat down to catch up a little on the last season of Scandal. That was probably not a good idea as the episode was about a teenager shot by police. A brown body in the streets guarded fiercely by a grieving father. And the love of this father and all that the father had done to protect his son touched my soul…. and yet there he was…gone. I wept.

When they are born, you carry them and cuddle them. You meet their every need and you think this little bundle is perfection. You think about how this angel will grow and live and change the world someday. You delight in the dreams and the potential. You burst with pride and inexplicable love. You don’t realize at that moment that one day they will throw rocks at the neighbor’s lawn chairs just for fun.zoo

You can’t imagine them turning to drugs or alcohol and dropping out of college to go to rehab. You can’t even imagine them locked behind bars. You never dream of them dead.

When your heart and your soul are walking around in some other little being, you fear the decisions they might make, and you weep.

Each and every day, I say to these boys: My job is to love you and protect you. And every decision I make, whether you like it or not, is based on those two principals. Always and forever and no matter what, I will love and protect.

My three little hearts

Come closer

Stay nearer

Listen and learn

My little men.

Your Mama loves you so

Be good to my heart.

 

Baked Goods and Boys’ Behavior (and a recipe)

Tonight I made cookies again. Even though I didn’t really feel like it. I just made a batch of chocolate-chip cookies yesterday for my friend and her husband’s 40th birthday party cookie table. Several neighbors were delighted to receive the “spare” cookies yesterday and the boys nibbled on quite a few.

cookiesTomorrow a new neighbor will be receiving a plate of cookies. I never met him before, but we all did this evening. Apparently at least two out of four of the “older boys” thought it would be a good idea to “annoy the old man” and ring his doorbell and run away.  I turned to look down the street of the townhome community to see him emerge from his house and exchange words with the boys that I couldn’t hear. As he turned to come my way, yelling “whose kids are these?” I jumped up to claim them. “Well, they need to stop ringing my doorbell when I’m trying to eat. It’s annoying.” “Yes,” I agreed, “that would be.”

My sister left with her kids and I sent mine to their rooms. It is a bit difficult to get the “real story” out of them, especially when Mr. Ornery challenges me with “Well, if you’re asking for a story, Mom, then a story is not real, is it?” Sigh….

Then brilliance hit me. When you do something “mean” to someone, one of your consequences is to be “nice” to that person. (We’ve tried this a bit between brothers, but it got hard to keep finding “nice things” they needed to do.) I informed them that they would be taking a plate of cookies to said neighbor and apologize to him. They will be squirming. They hate to be embarrassed. “Super Tall Guy has to carry the plate,” says Mr. Ornery as he settles into bed. Yet, they will learn and grow. For simply “talking” to them isn’t enough. “Grounding” them isn’t powerful enough (yet, that is, when they don’t have enough to miss out on). We’ll see how it unfolds tomorrow. There could be a lot of cookies leaving our house over the next few months or maybe, hopefully, only when I feel like baking!

I was planning to post tonight about baking anyway. I asked Mr. Ornery if he wanted me to make chocolate chip cookies or Crazy Good Brownies for the neighbor. We love Crazy Good Brownies. A friend in medical school made them for me several times and I just had to have the recipe. They are delicious in batter form (especially if you lick both the chocolate batter and the cream cheese spoons at the same time!). They are incredible right out of the oven in moist, gooey chocolate-chip melting form. And they are awesome once cool (even directly from the freezer where they will stay until needed for the last-minute-what-am-I-going-to-take-into-work moments).

People love it when I bring them Crazy Good Brownies. I made them frequently for my colleagues in residency. I make them for just about every party that I’m assigned “dessert.” I make them for staff at work. I make them for game night with the cousins! I love sharing the brownies and the recipe because it’s so good to make a person smile. This contrasts one of my graduate school classmates who would not share her “secret family” recipe (can’t even remember what it was for), but really – unless you’re making millions on it in the food industry, spread a little joy!

So here’s how to make Crazy Good Brownies: (btw, my chocolate chip cookies come from the back of the Nestle chip bag with only Giant Eagle margarine and removing them from the oven just before they seem done ….though I haven’t figured out the baking quirks of this new home’s oven yet!).

Crazy Good Brownies

Preheat oven to 350.

Grease (with cooking spray) a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

Brownies

  1. Melt 2 sticks (1 cup) margarine (microwave 1 minute).
  2. Place margarine in mixer and add:
    1. 2 cups sugar
    2. 2 tsp vanilla
  3. Add 3 eggs and mix
  4. Mix in ¾ cups of baking cocoa
  5. Then add:
    1. 1 ¼ cup flour
    2. ½ tsp baking powder
    3. ¼ tsp salt
  6. Mix in 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips.
  7. Pour most of brownie mix into pan, saving out about 1 cup.

Cream Cheese Topping

  1. Whip 8 oz cream cheese in mixer.
  2. Add ¼ cup sugar.
  3. Add 1 egg and a dash of salt.
  4. Stir in ¾ cup mini chocolate chips.

Spread cream cheese topping over brownie mix. Glop spoonfuls of set-aside brownie mix onto the cream cheese topping.

Bake for 35-40 minutes (until cream cheese topping turns light brown).

Enjoy!!

 

 

 

 

Seeking the not-so-faint at heart…

 

There are some unexpected challenges that come along with parenting in some families that are usually not spoken about….including struggles to finding a babysitter. I mean, yes, if you have seven kids, it’s pretty hard for someone to volunteer to babysit. But that’s also true if you have four boys. And it’s very true if you have “challenging” kids.

Parenting is exhausting. Same routine day in and day out. Dinner, bath (sometimes) and bed. Brush teeth. Read books. Take micro naps while lying beside the kids yearning to hear them snore. Every night. Doing it by yourself is especially exhausting. Naturally, I try to heed the advice I give to all parents, “Make sure you get some time out to rejuvenate and revive yourself. Get a break from the kids. Find time to talk to a fellow adult in sentence form rather than word fragment.” Yet sometimes it feels like it’s not worth going out at all. No matter what time I pull into the driveway, there seems to be a kid greeting me at the door.

This week, I lost it. It was 10:05 pm. I had had a very long day and an evening engagement. The lights were out in the house as Super Tall Guy and the Little Guy (well, I’m sure it wasn’t his idea) wanted to prevent me from knowing they were still awake. I politely paid the babysitter, assured her it was “no problem” that the boys were still bouncing off the walls, and said good night. Then I snapped. “Why did I just pay a babysitter to do the work of caring for you and putting you to bed….and I still have to do it all myself?”  “You’re nine years old – you know what it means to go to bed.” “I can’t believe you are so disobedient that you refused to go to bed,” tired Mommy roared. I was worked up enough to almost pull the ice cream out of the freezer to soothe the inflamed throat, but dinner had been too good.

In the calm of snoring children, I realize that my family just doesn’t do the “average” babysitter. The boys chew them up and spit them out. They don’t return my texts when I reach out to ask if they’re free to watch the boys. They don’t leave with a “call me anytime” response. They probably spread the word throughout our childcare center, “Don’t give your number out to babysit those crazy three.” Yes, finding a babysitter is easier than keeping a babysitter!

This difficulty in finding respite is amplified for families who have children with medical complications. I can’t even imagine their struggle to find someone able to care for medically fragile children. I have spent countless hours in the area of non-profit respite work. I know it’s tough.

It just hadn’t really occurred to me that I also needed to be looking for a babysitter who was “strong” enough to deal with active boys and defiant behaviors. Someone strong enough to say “No.” Strong enough to not back down in the face of opposition. Strong enough to impose limits. Strong enough to recognize and escape the wily kid traps. Heck, sometimes I’m not strong enough.

So if you know anyone who’s worked in juvenile detention, or as a therapist for emotionally and behaviorally difficult children, send them my way. Or to any of the other numerous families with challenging children. For a little bit of respite is good for the soul. And my boys really are good kids – you just need to have a ton of energy and a firm look to your eyes….and the desire to play hide and seek a million times!

Untreated ADHD is Just Exhausting

That was my conclusion last week. The effort that it takes to get the 8-year-old ready for school in the morning is more than my 8-hour work day. The decibel level of some of the spontaneous explosive noises in the car is worthy of heavy metal concerts. The number of “re-directs” I utter in those first two hours makes me comparable to a drill sergeant with new recruits.

That’s it. That’s what I decided last week. It’s exhausting.

And it might be feeling more so because I have this carrot dangling in front of me of finding the “right treatment” – the magic pill that’s going to help his brain focus better and control impulses more. I’m so eager to find that control, because let me tell you – tonight’s lack of impulse control escalated from putting the car window up and down, to swatting his brother, to throwing his pencil at the dashboard, to repeatedly hitting my shoulder with his flip-flop. It ended with me tackling him to the floor and holding him tightly until the fight left and his 101 pounds sat on my lap on the kitchen floor while I hugged him. “Bear hugs and kisses” my friend says – “bear hugs” to hold them until the anger leaves and “kisses” of love….because I love him.

But it’s exhausting.

Given the extreme reaction to his first medication, we decided to trial the intermediate acting one, hoping to get better sleep. And given his reaction of five hours of pressured speech, we decided to start at the lowest dose. So for a week, Super Tall Guy swallowed 10 mg of metadate sprinkled on apple sauce (much easier than swallowing a pill!). After a week of no observed change in behavior, I increased it to 20 mg. Still nothing…except for staying up later at night just a little bit each night so that by the weekend, when I increased it to 30 mg, we had a blow-out fight (see above!). I couldn’t figure out whether to attribute this explosion to the medication increase or the fact that for almost two weeks he had gradually gotten more and more sleep deprived – a sure trigger for explosive behavior.

Either way, it’s exhausting.

Tonight as I tucked him in, I asked him to review what went wrong while in the car earlier. He played with his toy truck as I listed some of his behaviors, you know, to prompt him. “You played with the window when I asked you to stop. You were hitting The Little Guy. You threw your pencil. You are a dog. You ate a cow.”

“I ate what?”

“Never mind.”

It’s too exhausting.

(I have a new prescription in hand….waiting for the weekend to watch for side effects.)

I need to let more mistakes happen

One of my greatest fears is the fear of failure. It’s likely what drives me so passionately toward my goals. It spurs my drive for perfection. It underlies 32 years of education and schooling. It is a fear that forces constant forward motion and yet can limit new experiences. I fear making mistakes. As I let the dog out tonight, I remembered sitting on the back stoop of my house years ago listening to a colleague in my medical practice explaining a mistake I had made in ordering a medication. The patient was okay now. She just wanted to let me know. Thankful for her honesty, I learned a great deal from that mistake.

It was too cold to go sledding. Mr. Ornery was tired and got too cold to hang in there. coldMaybe it was because he wouldn’t – or he couldn’t – stop lifting snow up to his face to savor each mouthful. Maybe it was because it was barely into the teens and the wind chill was brutal. The little guy couldn’t handle it either and I shortly declared it “time to go” despite having spent a few minutes with the neighbor kid who joined us on the hill.

Mr. Ornery sat in the snow and refused to move. Mr. Ornery threw his gloves far from himself. Mr. Ornery “walked” down the hill on his knees, plodding along at a pace that slays a parent. Mr. Ornery removed his hat, his scarf, his gloves, his coat and finally slid out of the shoulder straps of the snow pants which then rested along his ankles as he proceeded to waddle along the sidewalk.

Mr. Ornery’s mother went ballistic. She was cold. She couldn’t handle it anymore. Fingers numb, carrying sleds, repeatedly beckoning the 3-year-old to keep walking, she couldn’t stand the sight of Mr. Ornery dropping items of warmth and picking them up only to drop them again. She couldn’t stand that he was clearly being obstinate and obnoxious and ornery! Clearly.

She slammed the door shut upon entering the house. She pulled off boots and snow pants tossed them across the kitchen floor. She picked up that Mr. Ornery and held him sideways stomping all the way upstairs. Super Tall Guy and The Little Guy kept their distance….but followed the excitement to the top. Depositing him into the boys’ bedroom, Crazy Mama yelled, “You better stay in there until you can figure out how to cooperate!!” before closing the door. Like that helps.

Crazy Mama sat on the top step and sighed deeply, catching her breath. Super Tall Guy wrapped his arms around the back of her neck and said, “We all make mistakes, Mom. It’s okay.”

I wasn’t sure if he was talking about my mistake in my over-the-top response or the antics of an angry 5-year-old, but he was right. We all make mistakes and it’s okay. I opened the door.

I don’t let the boys know that often enough. I don’t make it “safe” enough for them to experience mistakes and failures. And if I don’t figure it out soon, eventually I will be instilling in them the area that I struggle with the most.

eggAnd I knew this when I moved the kitchen rug the other night. Roxy dog had really been licking at it earlier. I couldn’t figure out why. Mr. Ornery was helping me make his cake for his birthday the next day and had gotten out three eggs. Apparently, there had been a fourth egg which had tumbled to the floor and while I wasn’t looking must have been hurriedly covered up by the kitchen rug (which is still in the laundry…sigh).

Why? Because Mr. Ornery was worried that Crazy Mama would yell at him. That Crazy Mama would get mad and cart him upstairs to his bedroom on the very night that he was beyond THRILLED that she was letting him bake with her. Mr. Ornery was worried that he had made a mistake and the consequences would be too great for him to pay that time. Hiding the evidence seemed to be a better option.

I know that I want my boys to be able to make mistakes. I want them to fail and to learn. I want them to “shake it off” and move on. I want them to see that it is the joy of trying that matters. I want them to be brave. (And I want them to clean up after their mistakes too!)

I need to model that. I need to tell them about my mistakes and how I learn from them and plan to do better. I need to show them my mistakes. I need to laugh at mistakes more often. And we need to encourage each other to let our kids make mistakes. And we need to help each other be okay with kid mistakes as sometimes kids’ innocent mistakes are the spark that ends in abuse. We need to let kid mistakes be just that…an “oh man!” moment for growth and moving on.

But as Mr. Ornery wouldn’t confess to the two little piles of poop on the bathroom floor earlier today until direct questioning…it’s clearly not “safe” enough for him yet.

I’m still making mistakes. Still learning. And so are they. One great loving and learning failing family!

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.