Broken Windshields and Digital Detox: Handling Mother’s Day

It was not a good morning. A wet t-shirt whack to the middle child’s arm left him in tears and left the eldest arguing about the subjective experience of pain. My attempt to explain this subjectivity was unwanted factual information at a time of emotional distress which escalated the issue. Before long, TV remotes were flying, pillows were flying and by the time the baseball helmet was about to be launched toward the sliding-glass doors, I took him down.

I give the boy credit for moving into submission rather than fighting back with all his might as he outweighs me by at least twenty or thirty pounds now. But we drove to school with me emotionally exhausted. As they jumped out of the car, tears welled as I texted a friend: “It’s so hard when people tell you how mature and wonderful Super Tall Guy has become and they don’t have to see the shit that he gives me at home.” Over and over again.

He pops into school and does well all day, while I carry around a heavy heart. Because his loss of control seems more intense lately, I eventually decided to call for an intake appointment for psychiatric/therapy services. It’s been on my mind, you know, every time he flips out and then I say, “Well, he’s calmed down again.”  But I worry about the emotional toll on myself, the toll on him to deal with uncontrolled anger again and again, and the toll on the younger brothers emotionally and sometimes physically.

After school he wasn’t much better. I arrived home with The Little Guy (after learning that since a cavity was filled in the same tooth eleven months from the last time, insurance wouldn’t cover it and I’d be paying $175) to find Super Tall Guy running out to my car to say, “I’m sorry for hurting Mr. Ornery.” Sigh. Apparently a discussion had gone awry about who got the “best” placement for the Mother’s Day gifts they brought home from school. Mr. Ornery’s loss left a scratch on his back.

My consequence of banning him from visiting his aunt’s house where Awesome Cousin had just arrived from the West Coast was met with upturning the video/CD shelving. I took the younger brothers over while Super Tall Guy cleaned up the mess. Expecting him to have turned the corner, we went over to my sister’s as well.

The evening seemed to go smoothly and given the beautiful weather, I worked on cleaning my car while the boys rode bikes on the street. I heard but didn’t see the crash that sent my 7-year-old nephew onto the pavement as he swerved to avoid Super Tall Guy lying in the middle of the road. His full-face helmet offered important concussion and teeth protection, but his lack of a shirt resulted in brush burns to back and shoulder. Comforting the young one, I let Awesome Cousin chat with Super Tall Guy about his poor decision.

We soon left for home and just a few hundred feet down the road, I reiterated how dangerous it is to get in the way of young kids riding on the street. Super Tall Guy was not in the mood to hear more about his mistake. Embarrassment leads to anger. Remember that. Embarrassment leads to anger. He picked up his feet and kicked the windshield – causing a brilliant star-shaped shatter. Shocked, I pulled over to the side of the road and just sat there for a couple minutes crying “I can’t do this anymore.” Super Tall Guy cried in sadness and despair. The Little Guy cried out of fear at the intensity of the emotions around him. Mr. Ornery must have been wondering what all the fuss could possibly be about as he didn’t notice the cracked windshield until the next morning.

Walking into the house a few minutes later, Super Tall Guy collapsed onto the couch and fell asleep as I took the dog for a short walk. I gave The Little Guy a tight squeeze as I reassured him that his mom had this. “I’m strong. I got this. Don’t you worry. I’m going to help your brother.” Kissing Mr. Ornery good night, I talked about the many reasons people cry but he seemed unconcerned other than hoping that his cousin would be feeling better soon.

Then I sat on the couch with a bowl of Ben & Jerry’s and let the shock fade.

This is Mother’s Day weekend. This is the boy that first “made” me a mother. This is my love. And yet I struggle so hard to parent him. The emotional toll is huge. The physical burden gets overwhelming. The struggle to understand what he needs and temper his anger is intense.

Reflecting on his day, I can tell that he was very tired. He was probably also reacting to a long week of dealing with consequences for behaviors last weekend that left him without his Ipod and without his laptop to play games on (the XBox has been gone for quiet awhile – that will be another story). And, I have a strong suspicion that he is “detoxing” from sustained “digital heroin” intake and experiencing a reorientation of his dopamine neurotransmitters.

Too often I have relied on electronics to keep Super Tall Guy quiet and keep his emotions at bay so that he isn’t bothering his brothers. But time spent in this digital reality hasn’t been teaching him how to deal with the typical everyday annoyances of having younger brothers. It’s going to take years and years to learn that, I’m sure.

The day after his explosions he spent a couple hours doing “community service” for his aunt. He spent hours playing with his brothers and cousins. And, after an hour of TV and then a tantrum about how he “needed” more, he and I started a game of Monopoly before bed.

I remind myself that detox is not easy. I am going to need a lot of patience and friend support as Super Tall Guy and I go through this, I’m pretty sure.

And, I remind myself that this parenting gig is not easy.

But it is oh so worth it.

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

 

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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 am your ACE

Sometimes the strain of parenting really gets to me. Sometimes I am not personally balanced enough on my own little teeter-totter, that when the boys throw me a curve ball, I fall off in the attempt to catch it.

I’ve been doing a lot of work in establishing a crisis nursery for the Pittsburgh area. Although a respite for any parent, it started as a child abuse prevention model. Put the young children in a crisis nursery for a few hours or a few days to keep them safe while the parent or caregiver takes a break and attends to an emergency or pressing situation.

This work is built on the premise that our young children are very vulnerable to stress under the age of 5 at the same time that their brains are developing at lightning speed. If they are exposed to “adverse childhood experiences,” their brains, genetic structure, and immune system can be altered for life. Yes – brains, genes, health…changed for life. This is some serious stuff!

So, these adverse childhood experiences are called ACE, because no one likes to say a mouthful of words. In the research, an ACE score was based on an experience of physical abuse, sexual abuse, exposure to domestic violence, having an incarcerated parent, living with a parent with mental health issues or substance abuse problems. The higher the ACE score, the harder the childhood, the worse the person’s health in adult life.

I spoke with a friend about this research recently. Her whole career is focused on this area and in helping people think about ACE and how we care for children and adults who have been traumatized by events in their life.

Naturally, as she is a mother of a boy….we also shared a lot of stories about the joys and stresses of parenting boys. I told her that when Super Tall Guy was around 2 or 3, Way I feelwe were reading a “feelings” book together that had wonderful illustrations of a range of emotions and the word identifying them on the page. He was silent as we turned pages….until the drawing of a red head with exploding swirls and dark eyes and jolting lightning bolts….and he said “Mommy” …  right there at the page labeled “Angry.”

I paused. That moment is imprinted on my mind. Sometimes, for my developing boys….“I am your ACE.” I am a stressful experience. I am a scary moment. I don’t want to be that. I don’t want to be the model of an angry face, even if sometimes my head is red and there are lightning bolts jutting out at all angles. (I’m not trying to downplay the seriousness of these ACE “experiences,” just reflecting on how powerful emotions can be and a parent’s potential role).

I once took a mini-video of Mr. Ornery when he was having a huge fit of tears and anger. I played it back for him to let him see what it looks like as he yells and flails and stomps and wails. It’s probably the case that I should actually take a “selfie” of my own face sometimes when I’m in a “mood” with the boys….when I’m frustrated at having told them for the umpteenth (I now understand that that word refers to parental infinity) time to not stand on the piano to climb up and hoist yourself over the staircase railing…. when I’m reminding them to aim in the bathroom…. when I’m shaking my head and saying “really? Really? You just hit him for what?!?”

It’s quite possible that my selfie might make me reconsider my outburst. It might help me step back and count to ten. It might encourage me to put myself in my own room for a time-out break and some deep breaths. It might be just what I need to remind myself that I actually never want to be an ACE for my children and will do absolutely everything in my power to protect them from a single Adverse Childhood Experience.

Wrapping them in the “protective relationship” of unconditional love, body-slamming them with praise, encouraging their expressions of independence and individuality….these….these are the experiences I must provide. For I am your Absolutely Cherishing Each – ACE!

Love is patient, love is kind. It…

4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8Love never fails.

The other day I was playing “catch” with Noah – which essentially means that I try my very best to throw a baseball directly into his half-open stiff baseball glove despite him occasionally jumping out of the way when he judges that the ball could possibly touch him. Throw after throw, I reminded myself that “this” is what it means to be patient…and suddenly the 1st  Corinthian’s verse (13:4-8) popped into my head. And I began to wonder why it is used in almost every wedding ceremony I know to describe the love of two adults….

…..when clearly it was written as encouragement for parents.

Love is patient – and that’s not just in playing catch, it’s in repeating 3 times “do not spill the water, Do not spill the water, DO NOT spill the water…..ahhhh! You spilled the water!”  Right. Big breath. Patience.

Love is kind – it is going out of your way to do things for your kids. For example, we’ll just say that maybe the chocolate flavoring was empty and the other night I ran to Target to get some chocolate for Noah’s morning cup of milk….just because I know how much he likes it. Wow – that was nice of me!  (boast)

It does not envy – okay, let’s be honest, sometimes it does envy the single friends who go home and sit on the couch, have a quiet dinner, watch some TV and sleep in late on a Saturday morning….

It does not boast. It is not proud. – I certainly don’t boast (too often) about my “love” for my boys – but I love to “boast” about my boys! There’s something so delightful in being proud of your children. Idlewild_coasterWhen they take their first step. Pedal on two wheels instead of four. Ride a roller coaster solo for the first time. Jump off the diving board. The heart flutters and the mouth wants to scream “that’s my boy” – and you know that usually the only one who understands the depth of this pride is another parent (or grandma!).

This though – this is a hard one. “It is not easily angered.” This one can be a struggle for me. We had a lovely day at Idlewild Park today – just perfect – and I knew we should probably have left around 4pm for the hour drive home. But we were doing “just one more ride” and letting Noah get on the roller coaster for the first time….and it was closer to 5 when we headed to the car. By that time, though, Micah had surpassed his coping threshold and sat on a bench refusing to walk to the car. Threats. Bribes. Cajoling. Tons of energy and finally he dragged along behind me as I pushed the stroller and kept Noah beside me.

When Micah picked up a handful of rocks, though, Noah began nervously looking over his shoulder – I knew he was wondering if Micah would throw them at him. We got to the car, I opened the doors to tuck Seth in….. Micah showered the rocks against the back of the van. I flipped….long streams of meaningless words….got him into the van, demanding that he get in his seat and buckle up. It took 15 minutes and two stops alongside the road “to rest” before his tears and my anger subsided.

It keeps no records of wrongs” – oh yes it does! Actually, the behavior (“that was really a bad decision, Micah” – substitute in the word “stupid” a couple times, though I keep trying not to) receives consequences (no TV for the next 3 weeks unless you earn some time back), but I have to be able to let it go. I have to work through the frustration of “you ruined a perfectly good day by having a fit at the end.” I have to think through how I could have helped that transition go more smoothly. I have to figure out how to not “flip out” the next time myself.

I sit here still this evening, saddened by the darkness that reared in ugly fury. Frustrated. A true dragon.

Yet, I cling to these words – for these are the words of a parents’ love:  “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” Read them again.

We hug. We snuggle into bed. Kiss goodnight.

Tomorrow we will do better.

Love will not fail.

4 words I need to say more often

It’s been a challenging couple of weeks with Micah again. I don’t know if this is just the pattern we’re going to be in or if there are particular reasons that we’re having more frequent meltdowns. My guess is that there’s been a bit too much change for him over the past couple weeks.  When there’s a lot happening, he seems to lose his coping abilities – graduation from kindergarten, party at my brother’s house, week at the beach, start of a new summer camp.  And much more intense physical activity tires him out, weakens his coping, ends him in bed at 7:00pm and awake at 5:00am (have I mentioned that’s not a great schedule for me??).

The problem is, when we exceed the coping mechanisms of a newly-minted 7-year-old, his fall back mechanisms are those of a two-year-old. “Did you just take that toy from me?” = whap! “Did you just splash water on me?” = knockdown!  I’m glad there hasn’t been any biting at least, but a few times I’ve had to resort to pinning him to the ground and waiting for his body to calm. Needless to say, he’s two-thirds of my body weight and almost comes up to my shoulder, so we’re getting pretty evenly matched in the sport of wrestling. Guess I should contemplate weight training!

When we’re in this “mode,” it’s just not fun. I realize that I am much less interested in engaging Micah or spending time together. So, I’ve been going out of my way to be a bit more “huggy” and rewarding the positives. I know that I tell him that I love him often, but I keep trying to find other ways to say that.

The other day, I wrote this as a reminder that I do really enjoy the boys.

I delight-1

I delight in the fact that Micah just learned to float on his back and jump in the deep end (though I panic at that as well).

I delight in many of Noah’s quotes, including today when he said “Thank you, Mommy, for not calling me grouchy anymore because that hurts my feelings.”

I delight in Seth’s toothless grin and the way that he waves and says “hello” to everyone on our way into Starbucks to get my calcium supplement mixed with caffeine and chocolate-flavored sugar.

I delight in finding a small Sarris candy bar in my office as I type this :).

Yes, it’s good to praise the boys….to reward the positives….but sometimes, we just need to tell people “I delight in you” just for who you are. May I remember that next time Micah’s and my tempers roar!

 

I abhore 5:00am….Just ask the dragon

I do not like 5 am.

I was not created to be a morning person and the only time that I will intentionally wake up at 5 am is when that is the only time during the day that I have any chance of being alone. And the only times I’ve had to do that is when I’m on mission trips in third-world countries and I’ve wanted to wake up to see how the world around me is rubbing their eyes and embracing the new day.

I do not embrace the world at 5:00 am at my house. In fact, I’m not even embracing my own boys. I am generally, thoroughly, shockingly, surprisingly angry. Deep down angry that they have the gall to make any noise or heaven-forbid to say “hi, Mommy.” And I’m even angrier if they decide to say hello to a brother and thereby have more than one child awake when the birds haven’t even gotten in tune yet.

Naturally, the first step to solving a problem is to admit that you have a problem. I have a problem. I do not like the person I am when I growl at my innocent, bright-eyed bouncy children in the morning. It’s just not pretty when I try to push a 70 -ound Micah off the bed because he won’t be quiet and won’t stop poking me.

I tell myself stupidly unhelpful things like – you know, if you went to be at 10pm (it’s 11:43 pm right now) instead of midnight or 1 o’clock, you wouldn’t be so tired and grumpy in the morning. It doesn’t work. I’m a night-owl, my children are early birds. And the Great Horned Owl is known to eat over 50 species of birds, including ducks, herons, Canadian geese and hawks. I’m just saying – don’t mess with me at 5:00 am. You will face the dragon.

I have, in my own head, for the past few years thought of myself as “Dragon Mommy.” (In fact, the folder on my laptop which stores my writings is titled Dragon Mommy.)  This description is based purely on my emotional state. I don’t know, the dragons in children’s books always look pretty benign….until of course, they are disturbed. Then the faces turn red and they spew fire and burn up castles and forests and trees (eg, “The Paperbag Princess” by Robert Munsch). It can get pretty nasty….and that is what I can become. In fact, just this evening, Micah said “let’s play where you’re the dragon and you capture me and throw me into the tickle jail” – a great game which gives me fantastic exercise, but really – am I the dragon a lot?

So when Micah previously woke up at the respectable hour of 5:47, I would go against my conscience and hand him my cellphone for Netflix at 6:00 am….but not until “6-zero-zero, Micah” so that he doesn’t want to wake up earlier and earlier just to watch it. But after a few days of 5:02 and 5:08, I have totally compromised my morals. This morning when I was stuffed between Micah on one side, Noah pressing in on the other side, and Seth reaching up his hands and mumbling through the binky and toothless grin “up please”  – I handed Micah the phone, convinced Noah to go back to sleep and sent Seth off to “find Auntie” – gosh, I’m really bad a 5:00am. Please just let me sleep until 6:20 – that’s all I ask.

Maybe tomorrow morning I’ll work on a strategy to settle the dragon….maybe….

Maybe check in later in the week….and we’ll see.

…… It’s Friday….my sister comments, “wow, I can’t wait until tomorrow when I can sleep in!” I sigh – “wish I could….but my lovely little ones will have me up by 5:10.”  Yes, no change, no resolution….except that I have succumbed to it and got myself to bed a little earlier last night.  Seth probably thinks that I’m the meanest mommy in the world, because even at 5:38, I’ll bark “get back in bed – it’s nigh-night time!”

 

There’s that saying about nailing Jell-o to a wall….

“I am jello.”

That’s my newest mantra….in the scheme of constantly changing parenting mantras. Hey, at least I can temporarily find something to cling to.

This one has been working this week. I learned it from a saint of a friend who has 4 young boys – all within 6 months of the span of my boys’ ages. So whenever I think I have it bad or that I’m having a rough day, all I have to do is say “at least I only have THREE boys!”

The concept of “jello” is that it doesn’t stick to you. So when you start an “engagement” with a child (euphemism for an escalation of emotions), you remember that you have your own emotions and do not have to take on those of the child. Be jello – don’t let their emotions stick to you.

This is in stark contrast to my usual mode of engagement – volcanic eruption! So I thought the jello thing might be worth a try.

Monday was strawberry jello. Micah jumped right into one of his typical morning jelloinfractions – full-body slam of one of the younger crew – usually either Ryan or Noah. I suggested that he take a break on the stairs (or you could call it a “time out”). He took his cup of strawberry milk with him and for the next 3-4 minutes sat on the bottom step taking a swig of milk and spewing it happily across the hard wood floors. I stood one room away in the kitchen door frame saying to myself, “jello”….. “jello” …… “not volcano….jello.” I wet a few rags, walked over to Micah and suggested that whenever he was ready, he could clean up.

Score one for Mommy Jello Queen!

Tuesday was lime jello….as in the color of the “Micah broke the stained glass window” text that I received as he and I pulled into the driveway. Apparently, that morning after I left early for a meeting, he and his aunt got into an engagement – likely for a reason very similar to Monday morning = full body contact! So I sat him down on the couch and “jello,” suggested that he tell me what his punishment/consequence was going to be. I rejected the 100 push-ups idea (he can’t even do 2) and accepted the 6-weeks of no TV….begudgingly….because that really just means 6 weeks of punishing me!

Score two for Jello Queen!

The orange jello of the Cheez-it eruption was just not quite as successful. Probably because I was tired and grumpy and he was tired and grumpy and I didn’t feel like repeating “mushin” (the martial arts word for controlled mind) to him or “jello” to me! Instead we had Cheez-it lava spewing throughout the kitchen and hallway floors and eventually the dust-buster was pulled out for this “when you’re ready, clean up” mess.

So, I’m 2 for 1….which is very important to Micah’s competitive brain (even though he doesn’t know my jello trick so the competitive aspect is not quite so fun). Maybe we’ll have to keep seeing how many colors of the jello rainbow we can be!rainbow_3