Monday, March 28, 2011

FreeRange ADHD

I am a big fan of Lenore Skenazy and her FreeRange Parenting blog.  She's the mom who let her 9-year-old ride home alone on the NYC subway and then wrote about it in her newspaper column.  The resulting hubbub had parents (and non-parents) lambasting her, calling her "America's Worst Mom."  It was then that she realized then that we had lost something in the past 30-40 year; that letting kids exert their independence had become abnormal.  And for her a movement was born.

I grew up "free range" before it had a title - well, other than the title or normal childhood.  From a young age, I would leave the house early on a summer's morning to wander all over the neighborhood.  I would show up back home at lunch, then was back out again until dinnertime.  We'd all run out one last time when Jimmy the Ice Cream Man drove up to the circle in front of my house and we'd get pop-ups, Italian ice, or ice cream sandwiches, before coming home for good with the fireflies.

A lot has changed since the '70s.  I'm not talking about a rise violence or an increase in child molesters, which are about the same as they were then in most neighborhoods.  But the way we live is different.  When I was out running free range, most homes had a mom at home.  I didn't - my mom was a single mom who worked - but we lived in my grandparent's house and my grandmother was always home.  Quite honestly, she almost always had an idea of where I was at any given time, thanks to the neighborhood chat fest that went on all day.  Twitter feeds had nothing on the moms and grandmas posting updates throughout the day.

But the fact is that someone was home.  Aftercare hadn't even been invented yet.  But more than that, kids were encouraged forced to get out of the house.  No one had a housekeeper and all the moms and grandmas had to keep up with the housework, and they didn't want any pesky kids underfoot.

Okay, so it wasn't all laundry and vacuuming.   They had their "stories."  Another World.  Days of Our Lives.  Guiding Light.  This was the heydey of afternoon soap operas.  Today, any moms, dads, grandmas who might stay home and are unfortunate enough to turn on the TV get a steady diet of danger! danger! danger!  To listen to the Nancy Graces of the world you would think there is a pedophile behind every tree.  Everyone is just waiting to harm our kids.

So, today's kids are kept under watchful eyes.  Instead of running the streets they are in aftercare.  Instead of playing a pick-up game of baseball or soccer, they are on organized, competitive sports teams.  Instead of running down the street to see if their friend wants to play, their moms are setting of defined, well-scheduled play dates.

I cannot say that I do much different.  I work full time and Dylan has to go to aftercare.  When we get home, there's no time to let him run down the street.  He has to finish homework while I hurry to get dinner on the table before it's bedtime.  And even if Dylan had time to go visit a friend, none of his friends live in the immediate neighborhood.

But I still believe that instilling independence in kids is vital.  

Encouraging independence in a child with ADHD, however, can be challenging.  For one, it's not easy for a distractible child to take responsibility for their actions.  I have trouble getting Dylan to finish his homework some days, let alone remember to come home before dark.  For another, at least in Dylan's case, he's clingy.  Whether it's anxiety, immaturity, or just plain fear of the unknown, Dylan is not the kind of kid to push the envelope on exploring the outside world.  He has a bicycle, a scooter, and a skateboard, but if I tell him to take one of them and go down the street, he wants me to come with him.  

So we start small.  He has to put away his own laundry.  He's responsible for making his own breakfast on the weekends.  And from time to time, we leave him home alone.

Yes, I leave my ADHD child home alone.

I'm not saying I go off to work in the morning, kiss him goodbye, and then see him again at dinnertime.  Up until this past weekend, it was never much more than 60-90 minutes.  But this past weekend I was invited to a luncheon and RockStar ended up working an earlier shift than usual.  

I left the house around 11:00am expecting to be back a little after 1:00pm.  But the luncheon (for the Louisiana Center for Women and Government) ran long and it was almost 3:00pm by the time I got home.

Now, I did check in a few times while I was at the luncheon, and everything sounded just fine.  Which is exactly what I found when I returned home.  Sure, there were small appliance parts all over the living room. But we were the ones who gave him the broken coffee maker and clock radio to "build" a robot with. And having the pieces and parts all over the living room is not uncommon even when we are home.

But better than finding a home in one piece, I found a boy who was proud of himself.  Proud that he took care of himself.  Proud that he was trusted.

So often, kids with ADHD feel less than competent compared to their peers.  They get to hear about what they've done wrong and how they are not living up to their potential.  Which only makes it all the more important to find ways to help them live up to their potential.  To give them opportunities to shine and be proud of themselves.

I'm not going on a week-long trip and leaving Dylan home anytime soon.  But I know with certainty that I can trust him for a few hours.  And that that's just one of many steps along the way to growing up.

I think it's easy to assume that kids who have trouble following the rules, who sometimes can't find their jacket, won't be able to be independent.  But just like "typical" kids, how can they learn if they never get the opportunity? 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

This is your brain on drugs

Remember that old PSA from the late '80s?  A guy shows an egg and says, "This is your brain."  He points to a frying pan and says, "This is drugs."  He cracks the egg into the frying pan, which begins to fry, and he says, "This is your brain on drugs."

I can relate to that spot, now, but in reverse.  The stark reality between Dylan being on medication and not was crystal clear this past weekend.

On Saturday, I did a craft fair.  We got there about 9:30am and because my husband was working, Dylan had to go with me and be with me all day. 

At 9, he's old enough to go off a bit on his own.  He tried out the maze.  He went to the playground.  In the booth, he sold World's Finest Chocolate for school and watched my friend's 4-month old baby.  We even slipped away for about an hour or so to attend my company's Family Fun Day. 

I heard nary a cross word.  At about 4:00pm, he said he was ready to go home.  When I told him we had to be there until 5:00pm, he was perfectly fine with that.  He even ended up going off with friends just as the fair ended to go to a family game night.  While I'm sure the meds had worn off, he was seemingly well behaved.

Sunday was another day altogether. 

I don't particularly like him to be on medications seven days a week.  I completely get that there are good reasons to do so and for some kids it may very well be a requirement.  But I like to give Dylan the chance to see the difference between being medicated and not medicated.  I also like to give him the chance to fall asleep on his own, since the medication rebound makes revs him up just as he needs to wind down.

So Sunday, he was unmedicated.  The difference between Saturday and Sunday was remarkable.  Getting Dylan out the door took forever.  Fifteen minutes after he started dressing, Dylan was standing in the middle of the living room naked save for one sock. 

When we got home from church I asked him to clean his room and provided an itemized list to help him check things off.  It took five hours and at least three declarations that he was finished (despite the fact that some items on the list remained completely undone).  At several points when I looked in, he was playing with the toys he was supposed to be putting away. 

Five minutes before brunch, he tried to take a break by getting a snack.  When we said he couldn't have a snack since brunch was almost on the table, he stormed off.  He argued over little things and told us to "just stop talking" so he could finish. 

I know it's a difficult decision to medicate.  A recent NYC play apparently addresses that very issue.  But it was plain as day this past weekend that the medications help him get through the day, help him to exhibit self-control, and help him to be happier with the world around him.  I wish there was a better alternative.  But until one appears, I'm happy to have medications - however imperfect. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A brief update and a sales pitch

First of all, my apologies for "going dark" for a while.  There was Mardi Gras.  Then a wedding out of town.  Then a conference out of town.  I'm finally back to my normal not-so-normal routine.  (And yes, we did find a place for Dylan to stay while we were at the wedding.)

In an earlier post, I talked about agreeing to participate in a craft fair.  Somehow, miraculously, I managed to complete three custom scrapbooks and get most of the way through a fourth to bring to the fair, which was today.  And I didn't sell a thing.  Sigh...

So now I'm trying to sell them anyway I can to make up for the cost of supplies and the booth fee.  To my followers and other readers, please take a look - any of these would make a great gift for a new mom or a new grandma.

All scrapbooks are 20 pages.  I can email more pictures to anyone who is interested.

Scrapbook #1 - a Green Custom Baby Girl Scrapbook with Title Page - $60.00

Scrapbook #2 - Blue Custom Baby Boy Scrapbook with Title Pages - $60.00

Scrapbook #3 - Pink Custom Baby Girl Scrapbook - without title pages (simpler, you can add your own titles) - $55.00

All costs are plus shipping.  Comment below if you are interested and I'll send you an exact quote.  Thanks for looking!  I'll get back to the regular blog soon!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Does anyone have directions to the village?

Hilary Clinton was right:  it really does take a village.  This is not big news.  We all know that family, teachers, friends, and neighbors are all important in the life of a child.  I'm talking about a much more immediate need, however. 

We (RockStar and I) are leaving on Thursday to attend a wedding.  It's an adults-only wedding so at first we planned to leave Dylan with his grandma, who lives on the way.  Then we found out about the Saints Experience.

Dylan is a Cub Scout and part of being a Cub Scout is selling popcorn the way that Girl Scouts sell cookies.  The boys have incentives, most of which are Amazon gift cards, but for one of the higher amounts - in this case $750.00 in individual popcorn sales - the boys earned the opportunity to see the NFL Champion Saints training facility. (I realize that that they have lost that title, but it was in effect during the selling season.) 

Dylan determined that he wanted to earn the chance to go to the training facility.  He worked hard, without complaining.  He sold his little heart out.  And did it, with money to spare.  I think his final total was $807.00 or something like that.  The prize was well earned.

As you might guess, the day scheduled for the Saints Experience ended up being the same day as the out-of-town wedding.  We almost couldn't believe the bad luck, but once we got over that, we started thinking of ways around it.  Obviously, Dylan would have to stay here while we went to the wedding.  It would mean three nights at someone else's house away from us. Something he had only done once, after Katrina. 

We had what we thought was an immediate go-to person, although we didn't consider it a shoo-in since it was four whole days.  It was a friend of ours from church, someone who had acted as a surrogate grandmother in the past.  Literally.  She's been to school twice on Grandparent's Day to participate in the school's activities.

We asked if it was possible and she said yes.  Only then, did we ask Dylan to choose - between going with us and staying with grandma, but missing the Saints Experience, or staying with our friend and going to the Saints Experience, but missing seeing grandma. 

Normally, decisions such as this are very hard for Dylan.  I'm sure it is for all kids, but I suspect it is more so for ADHD kids, simply because their concepts of time and future are a little bit different. But he gave it great thought and after a couple of days decided to stay here and go to Saints Experience.  We called our friend and let her know.

Because it would be four days and because we didn't want to put her out more than was necessary, I made arrangements for him to attend camp two of the days.  His school is on break this week due to Mardi Gras.  I also arranged for someone to take him to the Saints Experience, but our friend said that wasn't necessary; that she could do it.

We worried about telling his grandma.  She only sees him a couple of times a year and we knew she would be disappointed.  But when we told her, she was actually relieved.  She is 86 and suffers from bouts of very painful post-shingles neuralgia.  She has been having a lot of spells of it lately and she worried that she wouldn't be able to care for Dylan since she has a hard time simply getting up and about.  We were beginning to feel glad that things had worked out the way that they did. 

That was all a couple of weeks ago.

Yesterday, our friend called and began the conversation with, "I've got disappointing news."  And the conversation started off completely understandable in that her cousin has passed away and the funeral will be on Friday.  I could completely understand how that would change things.  I so wish she had stopped there. 

She went on to say that there was a party on Saturday she had forgotten about.  And a parade on Sunday that she usually liked to go to. 

Suddenly, it wasn't a tragic family emergency.  It was a busy schedule that she had neglected to consider when we first asked.  And now, days before we were set to leave, she was changing plans.

Again, I have to stress that if her focus had been all on the funeral, I wouldn't be feeling this awful feeling I have right now.  She could have even bent the truth if she felt the need, saying that she would be spending time with her grieving family.  That's so much easier to take than a party and a parade she forgot about. 

She said that she imagined Dylan would just have to go stay with his grandma.  But of course, that was no longer an option.  On top of that, Dylan had now chosen the Saints Experience, something he had worked hard for. 

So now, we are really and truly scrambling.  We leave in four days.  If our friend was Plan A, we are now on Plan C, having asked one person who couldn't do it because her kids are away with their dad and this is her non-kid time (something I understand).  We are waiting to hear from another family.  Their kids are friends with Dylan.  But they have just moved and, more importantly, our families differ in some very key ways.  They are extremely all-natural.  I'm not just saying they buy organic milk, but they are a gluten-free, sugar-free, Whole Foods only family.  I applaud that.  But not only does Dylan hate eating 'not eating' at their house, I suspect that giving Dylan medication will be a moral issue with them.  I put it out there, because I didn't want to surprise them with it, but it might kill the deal.  They may also worry about the not eating thing - even for play dates, Dylan will barely eat a grape at their house.  After one birthday party, he was convinced he didn't like chocolate cake anymore because he didn't like their chocolate cake, which was really carob cake. 

I have more names on the list, but my spirits are sinking.  We leave just days from now.  Most people we know are out reveling, enjoying all that Mardi Gras has to offer.  Contacting people during these four days could be rough.  And, families that might have been an option weeks ago, may have now made plans that will interfere.  I just called the Plan C family and left a message and I'm trying to figure out when to move to Plan D because I can't wait forever to hear from them. 

Another concern is that most of these alternate plans involve families with children.  Short-term, this is a great thing for Dylan.  But for four concerns me.  On meds, he'll be pretty fine.  But night after night after the meds wear off with other kids' needs and desires in their own family.  Well, I'm concerned.  He's had some sleepovers, but not more than overnight only. 

Of course, the final plan will be to bring him with us and get babysitters when we go to the adults-only activities.  We'll lose the $100.00 we've spent on the camp (the cancellation date passed last week) and we'll pay more for hotel babysitters that we won't even know.  I don't expect a lot of other kids at the wedding in the same situation because the bride and groom are quite young and our friends are all long past the age of having kids. 

But the biggest loss will be to Dylan.  He worked hard for something and earned it.  That doesn't happen very often for him.  Not with grades or academic awards, certainly.  Cub Scouts is very important to him and he worked hard to make this happen.

Of course, another option is for me to stay here with him and I'm suffering from incredible guilt over that.  Part of it - a lot of it - is that we are already spending a lot of money (for us) to go to this wedding.  Money we don't really have, but the friendship is well worth it.  I would feel a great deal of resentment if my husband (they are his friends) got to go stay at this nice resort and I didn't.  I feel so childish over it, but that's what the imbalance in our relationship has caused.  With my husband's underemployment, we will likely not have any kind of vacation this year.  We never go out to eat anymore.  This trip was going to be a little perk, a little break from a life that has become all about getting through:  getting through homework, getting through the week, getting through the month, getting through the paycheck. 

On top of that, I thought the 10 hours in the car might give us the opportunity to talk - really talk - and come to some understanding about our life together.  I'm resentful for more than just this trip.  I resent that I'm working awfully darn hard to keep us financially afloat with very little input and return from him.  Maybe all that time in the car would give us an opportunity to figure it out.  Or maybe I could at least convince him to see someone about his own undiagnosed ADHD.

I guess I'm feeling like I have no one to turn to.  No one to lean on.  No village. I want the village. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

To help or not to help, that is the question

The question of whether and how much to help kids with homework has come up in numerous boards and blogs I have been on in the past couple of weeks.  Those who read my last post can see that Dylan struggles with homework and really getting what he is being taught.  So, should we sit with them, coach them through their homework?  Or, do we stand back, let the teachers do their jobs, and let them succeed - or fail - on their own?

There is no easy answer.

If we help, we can:
  • Learn what they understand and don't understand.
  • Teach or reteach the material.
  • Try to help develop good study skills.
  • Keep them on task.
But at the same time, are we:
  • Stunting their independence?
  • Setting them up for future failure when we cannot help them?
  • Keeping the teacher from seeing first hand what they understand and don't understand?
  • Doubling work when their might be a better way to teach the material the first time, in class?
If we let them do homework entirely on their own, the positives could be:
  • Developing independence and helping them discover their own study methods.
  • Encouraging self-motivated problem solving.
  • Teaching through results.
  • Allowing the teachers to see what material is not sinking in.
But at the same time, we might be:
  • Diminishing self-esteem.
  • Setting up a negative cycle that will be hard to overcome in the future.
  • Sending an unintended message to teachers that we don't back them up at home.
  • Ensuring that they don't get the material in either setting - at school or at home.
As I said, there is no easy solution.  It's almost like a can't win/always lose scenario.  As a parent, you almost always feel you are on the wrong end of it.

Before diagnosis and medication, we would sit with Dylan for hours - as far back as first grade - struggling to help him get through homework.  I sort of wish we knew then what we know now.  Would we be further along?

Since diagnosis, things have gotten progressively - albeit very very slowly - better.  We started off the year with those long, drawn-out evenings of homework.  At that time, the teachers said to let the kids do their own homework. It was pretty much impossible to completely let Dylan do it on his own, and he certainly didn't want it to be that way.  Even if you weren't technically helping, he wanted  you right-there next to him.  (Perhaps a case of body double?)  After some conversations with the teacher, we tried to plan on homework taking an hour and dividing subjects accordingly.  But when it takes you 15 minutes to get going on a subject you've allotted 15 for, does that mean your done before you've even begun?

Now, on sufficient medication and on a good day, Dylan complete much if not all of his homework in aftercare.  The teacher wants us to review it and sometimes we do.  But honestly, sometimes we knowingly don't.  For one, Dylan hates it.  Now part of that is his fear that it will be wrong and his aversion to redoing anything he's done.  He also knows that the teachers started off the year telling us to let him do his own work and he sees reviewing homework as a breach of that verbal contract (completely ignoring any direct help he gets).  But sometimes...I'm just tired.  I'm just happy he's done his homework and thankful for the opportunity, after a long day at work, to sit with my son and play a game.

Of course, we still have bad days.  And I know that even if he's finished his homework, that doesn't always mean he "got" it.  And there are tests.  And more tests.  And exams.  (And don't mix the two up - Dylan will call you to the carpet!).

I struggle with the "right" thing to do.  It changes for me, and maybe that's as it should be.   I don't want to feel as if I have to reteach my son every evening, but I also know that I am the most committed teacher he could ever have.  No teacher, no matter how good or caring, could want Dylan to succeed as much as I do.  I want - and try to - encourage independence.  But I want to preserve self-esteem.  I let some things go so the teacher can see what he doesn't know, but try to teach other things, so he will learn it when all is said and done.

And Hamlet thought he had it rough.

NOTE:  For those few regular readers here, my apologies for the gap in the blog.  We have been very busy here, and will get busier in the coming days as Carnival heats up.  Folks outside of New Orleans may think, "But wait!  Mardi Gras isn't until next Tuesday."  But Carnival is a season, not a day; a marathon, not a sprint.  We'll be parading and costuming. Perhaps I'll have tales of ADHD on the parade route...