Read Along with Me: Last Child in the Woods

Okay, I finally decided to start reading “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv. So many have asked me if I had read it, that I was starting to feel embarrassed. I felt like one of those presenters who is in front of a large crowd and a hand shoots up and says, “But have you read the most seminal piece in parenting this day?” Ahhh…..

Fine. I’ll read it.

And you can journey along with me.

I completely agree with the premise. Today’s kids have become more and more distant from nature and that is having serious consequences on their health, creativity and development. It is also having an impact on the environment. I’m just not sure I need 300+ pages to tell me all that, since I am now also a product of the internet age and want my information concise and quick.

But I’m going to slug through the book and see what I learn, having started on page one in the middle of the night while waiting for the emergency medicine vet to evaluate my dog’s chocolate toxicity level. Apparently the scent of delectable dark chocolate nonpareils was more than her four paws and sharp canines could resist.

One paragraph that caught my attention was Richard Louv’s description of how much our society uses technology within our cars now. No longer do kids observe endless fields and mindless telephone poles whipping by their peripheral vision. Instead they are plugged into a device and miss out on observations of nature and changing landscapes, thus missing opportunities to understand the expanse of the world and the connection countryside and cityscapes.

“We actually looked out the car window. In our useful boredom, we used our fingers to draw pictures on fogged glass as we watched telephone poles tick by. We saw birds on the wires and combines in the fields. We were fascinated with roadkill, and we counted cows and horses and coyotes and shaving-cream signs. We stared with a kind of reverence at the horizon, as thunderheads and dancing rain moved with us.” (pgs 63-64)

Okay. He got me there. I have long patted my shoulder for keeping all electronics off in the car while we travel around “town,” but whenever we started a road trip that would last longer than an hour, the boys knew that devices were now “allowed.”  I’ve been doing it backwards!

But here’s my argument; that is to say, here’s what I do to convince myself my decision is of course the right one. I’m a single parent driving three bouncy, noisy, crazy boys six hours to get to the beach. There’s only so much a mom can handle before she becomes too much of a distracted driver and things get unsafe. I can’t juggle the arguments about who won the counting cows contest, who is touching whom, who stole whose pillow. So if they’re going to “plug in” and leave me to my inner introvert thoughts for a bit, I’m just going to go with it. We will all arrive safer and saner this way.

As a compromise, we have developed a routine of turning off all electronics about forty-five minutes out from our destination so we can see the landscape change and start to smell the salt air. It’s a moment to bond with each other in excitement and in connecting with nature. We spend the next week feeling and talking about the power of waves and the pull of the tide. We stumble over sharp shells and curl our toes into the sand. We explore the rough, heavy wet sand which shapes into castles with the fine silky hot sand that floats in the wind as you let it spill from your fingers. It’s a whole week of being unplugged which the boys still relish at the ages of 11, 8 and 6.  I’m hoping we get a few more golden years of spending a week at the beach.

And after starting to read this book, I have tried to be more intentional about pointing out “nature” a bit more as we drive around town and through the city parks. I throw in small comments about the shape of the clouds, the color of the sunset, the shade offered by the trees, the grass along the side of the road. This pacifies my guilt a bit, but I still wrestle with wanting my kids to be more comfortable in the natural world and to connect more with it.

So I’ll keep reading (though I confess that I’m more drawn to “Before I Wake” by Dee Henderson which I’m also currently reading!).

 

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.)

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.

 

 

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….