I will say it's gotten better. Oh, Charlie's still not sleeping, but it's not weighing on me so heavily these days; once we've sent him along to his room in the evening over his passionate protests, he occupies himself with quiet, constructive pursuits like this:
I'm sure he would use his power responsibly if only we whiny oligarchs were to give him some.
And he's still doing wildly inappropriate anti-social shit like this:
…enshrining a precious memory the other class parents will surely treasure.
And we're still getting notes home from school like this:
According to a 4th grader our friend on the way to school today turned around and slapped him across the face. When I asked him about this today, he said that he never turned around and therefore didn't hit anyone.
I stated that when I get two such different accounts of a situation, I ask the nearest adult to give a little more attention in the future. He didn't like this and stated "why do adult stick their noses where they don't belong." I reiterated that it's only because we care.
And it's hard. (Notice I didn't add a joke to that last?) I can't even describe it. I can't really think of it for too long without feeling frightened and discouraged, which is part of why I'm so quiet here lately. It's hard enough to put into words in the privacy of my own mind; to see it written out somehow makes it scarier. It looks so damning in black and white, even to me, without the moderating presence of the real live technicolor boy — and if it's hard for the one who loves him the most, how can anyone else understand? Finally, it's difficult to expose myself knowingly to judgment, when one likely verdict is certainly fair: I have no idea what I'm doing.
I'm probably screwing this up; I'm surely not making it better.
Yet it is better. Or at least it feels better. I feel better. Part of it — the part where I've thrown up my hands, poured myself a drink, and given the sleepless nights up to Jesus — is because I shared it all here. Sometimes I forget how the process of writing allows me arrive at my own real feelings. And I forget, because I'm new to this webernet communijournal AOLosphlog Geocitisphere 2.0.com thing, what a relief it is to talk to all of you, and to hear you talk back.
But the larger part of it is just...loving my kid. I know, I know: You're going to say I'm crazy because you hate and fear change. But about a century or so after you've sacrificed me to your angry gods for the sake of my radical ideas, I will be revered as a visionary genius.
I love my kid. That doesn't change. I act, I think, most of the time in his best interest. I act, I believe, with concern for him as my prime motivation. I'm teaching him, urging him, disciplining and rewarding him all out of plain old love. But I've realized that in the frustration and worry of the moment, I don't always behave in a way that makes Charlie feel it.
I'm working on that. I am trying to be kinder. To help him feel understood, to offer compromises when I can, to listen; to ask him gently, "What happened on the bus?" instead of "Why did you hit that kid?" Those are the obvious things, but there are the little things, too: letting him have a soda now and then, just because it gives him pleasure, just because why the hell not? Letting him stay up late in the den with me, both of us reading companionably, instead of marching him off to his room at the stroke of oh-my-God-you're-still-up? Offering him an expensive bath bomb to soak with, saying nothing about the glitter — oh, my hell, glitter — it leaves all over the tub, running his towel through the dryer so it'll be nice and warm to fold around him. (Oh, my bathtub-scrubbing hell, glitter mixed with bath oil. I mean really.)
Maybe you do these things as a matter of course — automatic, no big deal. I sure wish I did. But when I'm anxious and irritated, it takes mindfulness, intention, and effort. I work at it, at reaching out to stroke his head with one hand while I'm typing a mortified note to the behavior coach with the other. ("C sez didnt hit & u cant prove it & anyway kid desrvd it. LOL j/k BRB weeping.") I'm making a conscious choice to be nicer to my kid, even when I feel mad and helpless. I'm trying to show him love in ways that let him recognize it.
And it doesn't solve any of the major problems, but I think it's helping some. I'm still exasperated much of the time — if you think I didn't consider Photoshopping that class picture to replace him with a well-behaved ficus, you haven't been reading here long — but I'm finding that when I can nudge my worry aside long enough to ask him to help me with the crossword puzzle, my guilt at failing him eases somewhat. It turns out making my son feel good makes me feel slightly better, too.
Lies I tell my children
The hole in Ben's ear is, variably, a portal for sound, a window into the future, and the warren of a family of tiny raccoons who eavesdrop on his thoughts.
Why does Tintin's co-conspirator Captain Haddock carry a cane? To use in savage beatdowns of the hapless Thomson and Thompson.
It's a matter of simple coincidence that Ben's fortune cookies tell him the same thing very time: "Always do what Dad and Mama say."
Monkey bread's made from monkeys. Baby ones, kind of like veal. Remember this fact for the future, when somebody offers you sweetbreads.
The hollow underneath where the arm joins the body is properly called the nuba, and the passages that go to the lungs and the stomach are collectively called goozlepipes. From the Latin. Look it up. Go ahead, I'll wait.
Chocolate milk comes from brown cows. White milk comes from white cows. Pink milk comes from flamingos, and it tastes a little like shrimp.
It is true, as rumored, that the Tooth Fairy's palace is made from the teeth of children, but it is not true that it is located in a fantastical other realm. It's here on Earth, open for tours, right next to a quaint little church. Someday I'll take you there if you want. Now go and brush your teeth.
Did you mean "retaliation"? I don't know, iTunes — did I?
Oh, my Hell, if school doesn't start soon I am going to run amok. Although it's been a full summer — five different camps that I can think of right offhand — in the last week and a half until the kids go back, Charlie's been home all day. Oh, he's good-natured and not outrageously high maintenance, especially since we've temporarily relaxed any and all rules having to do with the use of electronics, up to and including the one about not making Ben bionic. But there is this unabated thereness that's kind of cramping my style. (Did you know this about having children? They are often around. And they want things. Food and company and love and my laptop so they can play Minecraft. Consider yourself warned; if this comes as some sort of shock, please get a cactus instead. And water it once in a while, you monster. And give it the wifi password, and a recent version of Java.)
He's hilarious, that kid, and cooperative, and game. The days wouldn't be a big problem if we didn't also have the nights. See, Charlie doesn't sleep. He's regularly awake past 10 PM, and often past 11; a few nights ago Paul and I each paid him a courtesy call — okay, spoke to him lovingly but sternly — okay, attempted to smother him with a pillow — at midnight and half-past. Almost eight years in, I have to conclude he's simply not wired for it. (It pains me to acknowledge this because there is nothing I love better than what Wodehouse called 8 h. of the dreamless, except maybe 10 ditto ditto, and I'm pretty sure he's supposed to be like me, or else I've grievously misread the point of this whole parenting gig.)
No sleep, and we've tried everything: an unvarying routine. Reading aloud. Reading silently. Music. White noise. Guided relaxation...
...yeah, hey, iTunes, thanks for the help.
Where was I? Ah: warm milk. Three good thoughts. Snack. Herbal tea. A warm bath. A verbal ritual. A viciously tight tuck-in. Massage. Melatonin. A higher dose and a lower dose of his stimulant meds. An additional dose, then minus a dose, then a different drug as a downer. Meds six ways from Sunday, to the point where I'm mouthing a silent apology to poor dead Judy Garland as I split a pill in half.
The kid just doesn't sleep. His racing mind can't slow down. ("I don't have anything to do," he protests from his darkened bedroom. "There's nothing you should be doing," we answer, "but lie there and wait for rest." And then:
I'm tempted to thunder, "Contemplate your sins," but I love him too much to fuck with him. I mean, in that one particular way.)
It's sad that Charlie can't sleep; it makes him anxious, because it makes us anxious. He can't help it, and I have a lot of sympathy, but to my shame, I also get mad. When I can, in the moment I cling to my mantra, a single lifesaving phrase I heard once from a wise friend: "He's not doing it to you; he's just doing it." And in fact, he's grown accustomed to being left to his own devices and stays in his room alone. He's usually not unruly; he's just...awake, and present, active in my consciousness, even if on the fringes. And at 10:30 at night, after a long day of, oh, just basically everything, the relentlessness of it leads me to a weird kind of outrage and impotent defeat. Like something important's been stolen, with no hope of getting it back.
So between the unstructured days and the unrelieved nights, I've been feeling a little hemmed in. I work at home, but I'm not especially disciplined, so when there's an interruption in my routine — kids leaving later than usual, someone home sick, the jarring sound of unauthorized breathing, child sidling in and draping himself across me like a sweaty human Slanket "juuuust to get a liiiiittle bit closer" — I struggle to recover lost focus and time. As a hardcore introvert, I need time to recharge alone, but that's been impossible; in these last five days without preschool, Ben has easily found every hiding place I know, which can mean only one thing: preschoolers can, in fact, smell fear.
I can't work well. I can't unwind. And forget about time with Paul. There is always someone around. I'm finding this all very stressful. It's bad enough that I struggle to get my job done, and that I've developed an elaborate series of tics that throws me into a spastic macarena every time I hear Ben call, "Maaaaaaamaaaaaaa." And forget an amicable nooner with my also-work-at-home husband — even a midnighter's tough knowing Charlie's lying there awake. All discouraging, no doubt, but what's bothering me most just now is this: There are two unwatched episodes of Breaking Bad on my DVR, and if these fantastic kids, these impossible miracles, these drippy little hearts walking around outside my body don't go to school soon, how will I find out once and for all whether making meth is wrong?
Tomorrow they'll both be off. I'll send them out in style, wearing matching shirts and shy smiles, holding up cute signs, backpacks slung on skinny shoulders; I'll snap an unforgettable picture or two, and I may even get a little teary as I reflect on how far they've come and yet how small they sti — Oh, come on, people: save that shit for Pinterest. Not me. No, I'm going to work all morning, possibly shag my husband, and then spend two whole hours watching TV about drugs, betrayal, arrogance, the corrosive power of thwarted genius, the fallibility of the human soul, and — wait, I know! — man's inhumanity to man (but mostly drugs), and I'm going to watch it loud so I don't miss a single swear. Maybe first, though, I'll go buy a cactus. You know, in case I get lonely.
Where I fall in
Tough summer, this one. There's a post in my drafts folder with just one line in it: Will I ever stop being embarrassed all the time? That's all I could manage to write. (Subject: July 3 meltdown. Venue: the steps of the Vermont State House. Maternal behavior: Suboptimal. Witnesses: Many. Oh, God, oh, God.)
A hundred times since May I've wanted to sit down and bang out a few paragraphs — theme: children, awfulness of, inability to parent, despair therefrom — but found it all too raw in the moment to share. Then by the time I felt good enough, I felt too much better, if that makes sense; I'd gained enough perspective that I was a little bit ashamed of what I'd wanted to write. Which makes for a crappy blog, perhaps, but I still have my self-respect.
Thank you. I'm here all week.
Tough summer, this one, but with some distance, good. In a few short months I've watched Charlie stretch so much, rough days notwithstanding, and although Ben is monstrous, he is also monstrously dear. We took a trip to California; we swam in the neighbor's pool; Charlie went to hip-hop ninja camp and I am not even making that up. Ben turned four; I took on more work; Paul built a laser in the basement. And last week we went to Tyler Place.
I fall in the lake a lot there, it seems. This time around it was during my first try at paddleboarding. Do you know about this sport? Let me tell you all about it, as I am now what you'd call an expert. See, you stand on a...well, a board, and you...paddle. Oh, there are unimportant refinements of technique, I suppose, like the ones that keep you from running aground on slippery rocks, wobbling and flailing like Wile E. goddamn Coyote, falling backward, hitting the slimy lakewater full-out on your back, and bumping your head in the process, but to the true aficionado, the attraction of the sport is in its essential simplicity. Not falling off is for amateurs. If you want to know the truth, I think it's a little showy.
Now, I know when I talk about Tyler Place I get a little culty, to the point of accosting strangers and telling them the Tylers love them and have a wonderful plan for their life. "Sell a kidney," I bark, "if that's what it'll take," and then I stare at their midsection pointedly. I admit I appear sort of wild-eyed to those who aren't ready to hear this transformative truth. But they said the same about Jesus, so, you know, I can take it. In fact, maybe we should kick it up a notch: "I hear you have a blog," said one fellow guest to me, "with millions of followers." "Millions," I said with a solemn nod. "I'm sort of like Mohammed."
Anyway, fine: read what I say with a skeptical eye if you're not the religious type. I will tell you, though, that this year something different happened. Where I'd always felt uncomfortable mixing with people I didn't know, this year I felt enveloped. I relaxed, and I felt welcomed. The adults-only meals that had been something of a trial — "So! Do you like...things? Why, that's a funny coincidence! I also like things myself!" — became something I looked forward to. There were too many people I wanted to sit with and talk to, an astonishing problem to have for an awkward introvert.
And it could be that I'm just getting older, getting tired of my own bullshit. (I've never thought finding it hard to talk to people is interesting or special; it makes me feel sad and stunted, and I'd love to overcome it.) But I also believe there's magic in this place, where I can be myself — my snarky, unstilted self — and feel confident I'll find friends. I can be the clumsiest runner in a session of grown-up lawn games, my goose ducked six ways from Sunday, and still be admired for my shoes.
("They're built for speed," I told the group, then grudgingly added, "...badly.") I can squawk show tunes off-key and loudly, not caring if I'm heard, happy just to sing. I can fall in the lake, come up laughing, and know someone's laughing with me, the friends who'd gone along with me, the friends who remained ostentatiously vertical, but were kind enough not to angle away from my blue-green algae reek. (The laughing at came later, after cocktails. It's that kind of place.)
I don't know how to say it beyond calling it belonging. My kids feel it, too, I know; either my year of patient brainwashing bore fruit — "You looooved going to your group, Ben. Right?! No, darling, you mean LOVED." — or Ben was just ready to embrace it this time, scampering off without a backward look to join the other four-year-olds. And Charlie was utterly at ease among kids he'd never met; if you'd ever seen him hang uncomfortably back even with children he knows, the difference would knock you out.
It helped, I'm sure, that Patrick was there, whom Charlie worships slavishly. A highlight for him was their air hockey game, played in the pre-teens' game space. Their idea to set up an obstacle course on the table using Lego baseplates had the inevitable and unfortunate consequence of jamming the table's slots. Charlie had it all figured out, though, seeing the latch on the side of the table that opened it for maintenance. "Just get a paper clip," he said oh-so-suavely. "I know how to pick locks."
For his part, Ben loved Caroline, and magnanimously acknowledged Edward's existence. Our two families shared a duplex cottage, so occasionally we'd open the doors and let the kids commingle. I temporarily quashed Ben's idea for a sleepover in our half by counting the beds in the kids' room, but he's a can-do problem-solver like his brother and quickly lit on the answer: "Edward and Caroline can sleep between you and Dad!" (Edward hogs the blankets, but Caroline likes to spoon.)
The break was, as always, exactly what we needed. For a whole week, it helped me see my kids in the best possible light — occupied, stretching themselves [.MOV], tired, happy. It let me be a grownup, insofar as I ever am, appreciated independently. It gave me space to hold hands with my husband, have lunch with my mother, and snooze on a chaise longue in perfect peace. It set me up to see the rest of the summer in a slightly more positive light. And if you don't know what a gift that all is, well, you don't deserve those kidneys.
Posted by Julie at 12:45 PM | Comments (28)
Falling boulders...snakes...poisonous iguana...possibly Satan...
Oh oh oh okay so I'll tell it like this: Once upon a time there was this kid who wanted, of all things, a fish. This kid — let's just call him Charlie, no relation — had been finding it tough to bring all his stuff home at the end of the school day, despite his parents trying everything, evvverything, to make it easy for him to remember. Finally his mother — we'll call her Cher — look, who's telling this story, you or me? — hit on something that motivated Charlie. If he could remember to bring home his backpack, school folder, notebook, and coat every school day for three weeks running, she would get him a fish.
Here I am abridging many lectures about responsibility and being dependable and Who's going to feed the fish and clean his tank and see that he gets neutered and make sure he gets plenty of exercise by taking him out in the yard to play Frisbee? because this is the Internet and there are only so many pixels to go around. Assume they took place in plenty.
Anyway, Charlie applied himself to this goal with a diligence that surprised JulI mean Cher — hey, no, wait, can I change that? Because I've always sort of wished my parents had named me Boutros Boutros-Ghali and that is the God's honest truth. Anyway, this mother was surprised and impressed by Charlie's commitment, so duly followed through on her promise. The fifth day of the third week found the two of them at the pet store, selecting an inky-blue half-moon betta to be Charlie's forever fish. "I think he likes me," Charlie said. And although His Excellency the Secretary General privately thought that the fish was at best indifferent, it was sloshed into a bag, purchased, and duly taken home.
Not him, but close enough
After an afternoon of intense deliberation, Charlie christened his new pal Shredder.
And so the fish did thrive, with daily feedings and weekly water changes, and many a bubble nest did he build in his obvious contentment. (It's kind of the fish equivalent of painting the nursery, only finished off with milt instead of Etsy wall clings.)
And then came Charlie's spring break, and the trip we'd planned to Washington. Charlie and I called — whoops, you got me, the majestic pop icon cum illustrious diplomat was actually me all the time — our nice next-door neighbor and asked if she'd care for the fish in our absence. She agreed, but asked, in some trepidation, "What if it dies while it's here?"
I reassured her cheerfully, having seen Shredder merrily dipping and bubbling just that very morni...Huh, wait, when was the last time I really looked at him? Paul and Charlie fed him nightly, and Charlie and I changed his water weekly, and I usually glanced at him absently as I made the bed in the morning, but... As soon as we hung up, I caaaasually went down the hall to check on the fish just to make sure he was fit to travel the 30 long yards up the driveway.
Shredder was lying on his side on the bottom of his tank, looking what you would call bloated but alive-ish. He could swim to the top of his tank, but would sink again almost immediately. A quick perusal of the available literature — a Google search of "betta sinking oh my hell why is this happening NOW" — revealed two likely causes. The more desirable scenario was a swim bladder problem, for which the preferred treatment is to relieve your fish's constipation. (Now Googling "constipated betta I can't believe I'm Googling 'constipated betta'.")
The more troubling possibility was dropsy, in which a fish's organ's fail, causing full-body swelling. A meticulous differential diagnosis — Google "betta swollen scales standing out looks like a tiny blue pinecone that's a good sign right" — revealed that that was the most likely case for poor bottom-dwelling Shredder, who was, by this time, not looking quite so alive-ish. And dropsy is nearly always fatal.
This came to a head the day before leaving, so a few dilemmas unfolded. Do we call Charlie's attention to the fish, whose hours are obviously numbered? Do we say goodbye and euthanize him a scant eight hours before vacation, to let the neighbor off the hook? Do we take him over to the neighbor's house, knowing he's going to die? (No. I like my neighbor far too much to make her take the fall.) Or do we act like everything's normal, wait for a brief break in the weekend's busy schedule, sneak off to the pet store, buy a replacement fish that looks only somewhat like the original because, shit, they're out of half-moons, creep up to Charlie's room while he's briefly distracted, scoop up the sick fish in a yogurt container, nonchalantly take my "yogurt" outside on the deck to "enjoy" despite the 45º drizzle, fling the poor doomed bastard out into the woods with a whispered plea for forgiveness, and hurriedly decant the unsuspecting Shredder II into the now-vacant tank and act like nothing's happened?
Charlie has yet to notice. Nearly a month has passed. I wonder what would happen if I'd replaced Shredder with a blobfish.
I don't know, I wouldn't have minded the opportunity to talk with Charlie about the natural order of things, the sad fact that we generally outlive our pets, the certainty that Shredder Classic had gone to a better place. (Okay, maybe not that; I can't really say that a nest of bracken is actually better, if you're a fish, than a clean, roomy tank filled with sparkly rocks, a hammock, and, you know, water.) The timing was simply ruinous: the fish was going to die while we were gone and there was just no good way to handle it.
Still, I feel bad about killing the fish, bad enough — and cowardly enough — that I have no plans to tell him, although the Internet being what it is, I suppose I can count on a future employer to bring it up in a job interview. It turns out I'm mom enough to do what had to be done, just not so awesomely extreme as to own up after the fact.
Grandma goes to Washington
We spent last week in Washington, DC and it was, like a lot of things we do as a family these days, about 80% wonderful and 15% how-come-the-human-race-didn't-die-out-long-ago? (The other 5%? Cortisol, trace elements, and mechanically-separated chicken.) I find it very easy to travel with Charlie; he rises to the occasion beautifully, given liberal access to electronics on the long car ride — check! — and strict adherence to his pharmacological regimen — check! Oh, believe me, check. Ben, on the other hand, is tough these days. I lost count of the number of times we had to yank him away from this attraction or that: Ben, please don't put your hands on the glass display case. Ben, see that sign? It says, "Don't touch." Ben, there's no touching here. Ben. Hands in your pockets, please! Ben, if you touch the glass again we'll have to go out.
Repeated reminders because it was all so stimulating that I could see how he'd forget, and because I really didn't want to leave. But then invariably he'd touch again, with a sly look: You mean like this?
Here he is touching the picture of a mother monkey yelling at her children, immediately prior to my yelling at him, and if that's not recursive, I don't know what is. Yeah, Mr. Darwin! Yeah, evolution!
Now, I'd thought we were past this exasperating toddler bullshit where he tests us to see if we mean what we're saying, but apparently not. Since nothing rockets me across the room faster than a child intentionally defying me, I spent a lot of time chugging across public spaces, clean-and-jerking him from the scene of the offense, and then hustling him to wherever his howls of outrage would echo the loudest and disturb the greatest number of appalled tourists. (Wherever we go, be assured we're Ambassadors of Awesome.) At the Museum of Natural History I halfway expected an opportunistic team of curators to leap out from behind the leathern scrotum of the elephant in the atrium. They'd seize my preschooler and whisk him away to the taxidermy room, where he'd be summarily stuffed, mounted, and encased in glass, to be showcased in an upcoming exhibit: Why Humans Should Eat Their Young.
Tell me he wouldn't be tasty.
Okay, yeah, I'd miss him. But I did buy a membership to the Smithsonian, so I'd get 10% off at the gift shop plus discounts on IMAX tickets plus the monthly magazine, so, you know, there's that.
While we were in Washington, I attended RESOLVE's Advocacy Day. This year we asked Congress to support the Family Act of 2011, which would institute a tax credit for out-of-pocket costs associated with IVF. I met with staff of my state's three members of Congress and told my story — briefly, with no swearing, and I was wearing a slip. The other advocates and I outlined the provisions of the bill, and asked that they support it.
What a simple idea, to ask that our elected representatives do their job and...represent us.
This year I was taken, as I was in the past, by how empowering it can be to do just that. This time I felt more strongly than ever that one person really can make a difference, just by showing up and asking. During a meeting with one of the aides to my House member, she said that even if my rep fully supports a measure, he won't co-sponsor unless he hears from a constituent. Oh, hey: that's me. Or you.
If it's important to you that people have affordable access to the most appropriate treatment for the disease of infertility — Well! When you put it like that... — you can help make it happen. It takes 90 seconds to customize and send an e-mail message to your senators and representatives — 45 if all you add to personalize it is baby baby please please please I just want a chance to try. It takes 15 minutes to follow up with a phone call. Or, even better, schedule a meeting with your rep in your district; RESOLVE will help you do it.
Anyone who's been through the social isolation of infertility already understands that no one's going to do this for us. I could say RESOLVE will, but in fact they are us — us as a collective, us at our most forceful. At the event last week I watched the staff of RESOLVE manage it all so smoothly, and with such perfectly channeled passion, that it would have been easy to feel complacent; us is in good hands, and I'm grateful for all they do. But the framework's just that, a scaffold. Now it's our job to build on it.
One essential part of the story I told the staffers is that we started trying to conceive when I was 29. See, these aides are all so young, no more than 25 or so. While their competence is impressive, and frankly a little shaming considering how I spent my 20s (glug-glug gesture, energetic pelvic thrusts, slide whistle SFX re: my credit score), their life experience probably hasn't given them much exposure to infertility or its repercussions. It sometimes feels tough to connect, so I tried to emphasize that infertility affects even young, powerful, well-educated cute people. To say without saying outright, "This could be you in five years."
And in ten years? Why, you, too could have the unequalled pleasure of having a complete stranger ask you if you are your three-year-old's grandmother.
I shoved my walker up her ass, tennis-ball feet and all.
Whoa. My truss must have cut off the blood flow to my brain, because I can't think of a clever segue. Loosening it now with my button hook and taking a deep whiff of sal volatile. Ah, that's better. Now I remember the Hoover administration.
Charlie's ADHD meds work okay to curb his problems with impulse control and keep him on task when necessary, but we still work a lot on behavior modification. The latest innovation is the bonus video as reward: when he gets ready in the morning in a timely fashion — visual timer with abrasive audio cues, reinforced by hoarse-voiced maternal haranguing — he gets to watch a quick video on my phone. This is kind of genius, if I do say so myself; it's quick, it's finite, and it happens right at the table without stepping out of routine.
Right now we're working through Simon's Cat, but we're about to run out of those. I wonder if you have suggestions for similar: short, gentle, funny, and appropriate for kids. Ben would be happy to watch the same clips over and over again — "The one where the cat gets a baseball bat haaaaaaahahahahaaaa!" [Lusty sigh.] — but novelty motivates Charlie, so we're ready to move on. Do you have any ideas?
Comes with the territory
Ohhh, I just had a day. Two incidents of note:
- We'd been out in the car, and Ben's window was down because I make him open it while he smokes. When we got home I pulled into the garage; before I stopped the car, he asked me to roll up his window. That's how things are done when you're Ben: What was open must now be closed; what was askew cannot go unstraightened; and we have to do it the other waaaaaaaaaay or his little brain explodes. (Earlier on the ride, he'd happily chirped, "Wouldn't it be nice if all the cars lined up? The red cars would all go in the red line! Then the green cars would all go in the green line! Then" — chortling now at the wicked delicious fun of it — "the gray cars would all go in the gray line! That would be great, right, Mama?" I dared to offer a variation on his pattern by suggesting that the bicycles could make a line, too, and he was suddenly silent, as if struck mute by my heresy. "The bicycles don't go in these lines," he said carefully, as if explaining something very simple to someone very stupid. You know, "as if.")
Anyway, he wanted the window back up. Sure, I said; I turned off the ignition, and pushed the button for his window. Now, in our car, even though the power is off, the driver can still operate the windows unless someone opens a door. Paul opened his door, so Ben's window stopped a few inches short of closed.
As soon as Paul's door winged open I knew what the problem would be, and, sure enough, Ben immediately protested. I told him I would fix it, and turned on the car. I closed Ben's window. Riiiight on his fingers.
- Twice this afternoon we'd given Charlie some sort of treat or privilege, which resulted in him complaining about it. I don't even remember what the issue was, except that whatever we'd done wasn't treat-y or privilege-y enough, like, this housebroken turbotronic robotastic Pegasus unicorn only shits vanilla ice cream, "and besides, I wanted a liger." The third time it happened, I had pretty much had it. I really lit into the poor kid; although I didn't raise my voice, let us just say that I offered a frank and forthright disquisition on just how insufferably entitled he'd been sounding, and how I was I-didn't-quite-say-goddamned if I was going to let that continue. I gave him to understand that at that point I'd sooner hunt, slaughter, butcher, cook badly, and make him eat that liger he so admired than listen to another complaint about the nice things we give and do for him. So effectively did I develop my theme, in fact, that the poor kid was crying when I'd finished. And I thought, well, you know, good.
And both of those things were kind of awful. Ben's little fingers! Charlie's tears. But coming off each event, I examined my conscience and decided…it was pretty much fine.
Several times a day I let my kids down because of specific flaws unique to my personality. (Several times a day I am awesome ditto ditto.) But other times these things happen that are, I don't know, not about me but the job. So normal. So that-could-happen-to-anyone. Things that any mother might do — and either blame herself for, even while thinking, Jesus, kid, you knew I was going to roll up the window, or not, when I have had it up to my musky magickal beasthole with your snotty complaining, child.
What I am basically saying is that I had this day of feeling really connected to other mothers, aware of what comes with the territory, beleaguered but not especially, just ordinarily wrung out at the end of a long day's failures. And hungry — starving! — for liger, so Charlie? Yeah, don't push it.
I'm back in the ski lodge this snowy Saturday, somehow managing to collect my thoughts over the sound of young femurs snapping. (It sounds like bamboo windchimes. Relaxing in its way.)
First, my thanks for the support and ideas you shared on my last post. It feels so good to be understood. And if I say much more than that about how grateful I am, about how much your kindness moves me, I'll start crying — again, as I did more than once as your comments came in — and there's already enough wailing going on in this one cement-floored room. I must not join the toddlers in it. Jesus, kids, it's only a hip cast.
I have to keep reminding myself that I don't tell you everything here, nor can I expect everyone to remember everything I do say, especially when I've made no more than the briefest mention of this or that. So the short scorecard version is this: Charlie has been assessed, not by the school but by outside evaluators, and was found to have combined-type ADHD — you know, inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive, also known as the completely sucky kind (as opposed to the...other also completely sucky kinds).
He was found not to have autism, either Asperger's or other, although his assessment scores in certain areas were close enough to the clinical cutoff to indicate that we should stay aware, as he grows, of the possibility. In other areas, the ones that spring immediately to mind when we broadly consider autism — repetitive motion, obsession with particular objects, a lack of interest in other people — his scores indicated no involvement whatsoever. (That last in particular is notable: Charlie is interested in other people, in forming relationships. He just doesn't know how to go about it, nor can he read faces or tones of voice and adjust his behavior responsively.) Reading the report from the evaluator reminded me of nothing so much as the Magic 8-Ball: Answer unclear. Ask again later.
Oh, and this is just an aside, but when I met the evaluator she said, at the end of our meeting, "I should tell you I've seen your blog."
What could I say? I just told her, "Ah. I Googled you, too."
Another aside: To determine whether a kid can read facial expressions, the evaluation includes — get this — Norman Rockwell paintings. Yes, Doctor, I agree that that picture of the boy discovering the Santa suit in his father's dresser drawer admirably shows the quintessence of disappointment, chagrin, and innocence lost. Aaaaaand thank you for ruining Christmas and shattering my son's childhood. I'd rather Rockwell painted that child finding porn, if you really want to know.
So to continue the scorecarding, Charlie attends a social skills group at lunch, is working through the Superflex social thinking curriculum, and has had his meds adjusted several times. Although we have concerns that it's not being fully implemented — a meeting about that is on the calendar — he has a 504 plan that includes accommodations like being allowed to chew gum in the classroom, getting frequent sensory breaks, OT and the opportunity to use a computer for his work to address his dysgraphia, and a...oh, I don't know what you'd call it, a smile chart to give him incremental feedback on his behavior during the day.
Whoa. I started to type this all out because I wanted to get us all on the same footing, so that no one need waste her keystrokes asking me if I'd considered talking to a lactation consultant, because although it doesn't bother me when you suggest things we're already trying, I don't know how to say, "Yeah, thanks, waaaay ahead of you on that," without feeling like an ungrateful asshole — like, if I'd only been more forthcoming, I needn't have caused you to waste your concern. But laying it out here turns out to have an additional benefit: I guess we are sort of doing a lot, and it helps some to see that objectively.
What helps even more, of course, are your stories and encouragement. One of you said it sounds lonely, and indeed that is true. I feel so much less so when I talk to you here. Thank you for helping me through.
I have to step outside now to see if I can get video of Charlie skiing. I have a new iPhone — welcome to 2007, Julie! — which Paul insisted on jovially calling my Jesus phone until I told him frostily that I'd thank him not to mock my belief system. And then I had him crushed between two large stones as the wages of his heresy. (He whispered, "More weight," at the end, and then Shazam kicked up The Band.) Will share some video later if my shiny new god wills it.
It's kind of fucked up how people say, "You're the expert on your child," when they want to be reassuring. You know, don't ignore your intuition. Let your knowledge of your child be your guide. Trust your instincts. Mother knows best. You're the expert!
I am not reassured by that phrase. In fact, it makes me panic. These days I don't know what to do with Charlie. And if I'm the expert, shit — does anyone?
Rough times. I don't even know how to talk about it. I walk around feeling so embarrassed — not by his behavior, his lack of impulse control, or his utter lack of insight into his own feelings or motivations, although God knows there's that, but by my own helplessness. By the way I'm stumped by my child.
He hit a girl who screamed in his ear. He shouted bad words, which made his friends laugh. He bopped a kid on the head in the telling of a joke. Knowing him as well as I do — being, ha, the expert — I can see, sometimes, why he does what he does. Sensory overload. Carried away. Can't read social cues.
But thinking I know why he does it doesn't help me know how to stop it. Patient conversations are all well and good; he knows the rules, can recite them with an eyeroll so advanced, I think he might be gifted, but they don't hold sway when he's in the moment. Incentives don't interest him; he's unimpressed by small rewards for incremental good behavior, and longer-term efforts to earn bigger prizes frustrate and confound him. Punishment? Sure, I guess: That works okay if the object is to make him feel bad for as long as the inconvenience lasts. But it doesn't teach him how to manage the urges that overtake him. It hasn't helped him change.
The impulsiveness, the active Id, not knowing when enough is enough: I know that most of this is the ADHD talking. (I smile when I see people sniffing and saying, "I don't believe in ADHD." That matters not at all, my friend, if it believes in you.) But that makes the quandary worse: How much of an allowance can you make before you're making excuses?
How can I penalize him for what he can't control? But also, how can I not, when that feels like letting it slide?
This, by the way, is on meds, which help, but not enough.
Lately I spend most of my time as a parent feeling like a failure. Shouldn't I know how to help him? I'm sad and shamed and mystified as to what to do for my kid. I see so clearly what might lie ahead, and it scares the bejesus out of me. I think, if I'm the expert, we're all in a lot of trouble.