Monday, May 30, 2011

A Medication Vacation

When you think of a vacation, you usually think of relaxation, maybe a beach or a historical landmark.  There's sun, sand, and postcards.  And someone else makes the bed.

But that's not the kind of vacation we've been on.

It happened, really, by chance.  A week ago Saturday, the first day after the last day of school, I had to run off early in the morning for a work event leaving RockStar to bring Dylan to a birthday party.  Who forgot to give him his medication.  By the time I found out about it, it was too late to do anything and, at least, it wasn't like sending him off to a final exam. 

But still I worried.  A roomful of hyped up kids.  Presents that weren't for him.  Too much excitement.  All of these could be triggers for a major melt down, and neither of us were going to be there.  When my work event finished up, I drove to pick him up with more than a little trepidation.

Where I found that all was well

There he was, on top of the water slide, laughing.  Other kids were calling to him and he was interacting easily.  If there had been a meltdown, there was no obvious residual effect.  And when I finally got him (easily!) into the car to head home, he reported that he had had a great time with no conflicts. 

Well whaddya' know?

The next day, we decided to go to a festival.  Since Saturday had gone so well, we figured we'd go without meds again.  It wasn't the kind of festival that you have to pay to get into, and since it was just the three of us, we figured that if it didn't go well, we'd just come home.  And while he was a little whiney and not entirely into it, overall, he was well behaved with nothing close to a meltdown. 

Now, taking a day off from meds is not unheard of for us.  If we have nowhere special to go, we frequently forgo meds.  But when activities with kids are involved, experience has told us that 30mg of methyphenidate will help Dylan maintain self control in social situations. 

When Dylan was first on medication - which at that time was the Daytrana patch - we routinely skipped it on the weekends, that is until we noticed more and more problems.  One weekend scout camping trip in particular made us reconsider the weekend patch break.  On that trip, Dylan was argumentative non-stop.  He had frequent issues with other kids.  He got mad at us for just about everything, from mosquitos in the tent to losing a treasured stick.  It was not a pleasant experience and we realized that social events go better when he has more self control. 

It was over Christmas vacation, after disastrous experiences with family staying with us, that we made the decision to make medication a daily event, weekends included. 

So we were surprised when this impromptu medication vacation started off so well. 

On Monday, Dylan stayed home with RockStar, with no major plans on the agenda, so it was easy to extend the medication break to a long weekend.  But it was on Tuesday, when Dylan came to work with me, that we really made the leap of faith.  I mean, how pleasant would it be if Dylan lost his cool in my office, around my coworkers.  But, as I said, things were going so well, so we decided to commit to a real vacation.

He was at work three days - Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday - and was remarkably well behaved all three days.  Polite to my coworkers, if still a tad shy.  He kept himself busy and relatively self-sufficient on our family laptop, watching movies and playing computer games.  One day he even took a break with a visiting coworker who was actually on vacation. 

Friday, he was again home with RockStar so it was easy to keep the vacation going.  And on Saturday, I was home without much of an agenda, sending the vacation into the beginning of a second week. 

Yesterday (Sunday) was the first day that we began to see chinks in the armor of Dylan's self control.  Here we were, at another festival (this is New Orleans, so there's a festival almost every weekend) and we were reintroduced to a boy who complains a lot.  Who sees himself at the center of the universe with the rest of us as incompetent servants to his needs. Who wants what he wants when he wants it.  

It was unfortunately, really.  We had almost begun to forget why we were originally driven to seeking medication.

Of course, the main reason for seeking help was not to control a self-indulgent little boy.  We wanted him to be able to manage school and all that entails - tests, homework, and social situations. But it was the meltdowns and arguments that really helped us see that this wasn't just a maturity issue, something he would grow out of.  Just before our first visit to the psychologist, we had gotten to a point where Dylan argued absolutely everything.  If you said that it was going to rain, he would argue - vehemently - that it wasn't going to rain.  If you tried to get him to go to bed, he argued, and cried, and demanded to be carried.  Birthday parties were just opportunities ripe for hurt feelings and tears.  We were walking on eggshells and no one was very happy.

Mainstream media likes to paint the picture of ADHD meds as aspirin for self-indulgent parents who just want to keep their kids quiet.  They make it seem as though it's not only an easy decision, but one that parents go looking for.  But our experience and the experience of any other parents I know of who have kids with ADHD is far different.  Parents agonize over the decision to medicate.  They go to the doctors - psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists, and pediatricians - as a last-ditch effort and they don't want to hear that medication is the best course of action.  They want an alternate answer.  They want to hear that if only you do this, your child will stop behaving that way, and if you feed him that, he'll suddenly be able to pay attention and do well in school. 

Oftentimes, if they have the means (time, energy, support), parents will try alternatives.  And I've heard that for some kids, alternatives do work.  But they can take all those means - the time, the energy and determination, and the support of all the caregivers and people in your life - to make them work.  Not every parent has these means, and even if they do, sometimes they are in a position where they need more immediate results. 

Medicating is never, ever an easy decision.  But many times, it works wonders.  

It isn't easy to find the right med right out of the box.  I've heard that one day, by using brain scans, doctors may be able to determine what the best medication for each child might be.  That would be wonderful.  But in the meantime, the decision to medicate is only made all the more heart wrenching by having to play trial and error.  You feel as though your child is a pediatric science experiment. 

Our medication vacation will soon end.  Dylan starts his first camp of the summer tomorrow.  It's a chess camp and being able to focus, pay attention, and concentrate is mandatory.  In fact, I won't deny that I'm a little bit nervous that the medication won't be enough, at least not enough to last until 3:00pm in the afternoon. 

Since this vacation went so well, however, we may consider other vacations.  He starts a 3-week run at another camp next week.  He's familiar with this camp and they keep them pretty active, with a new activity almost every hour.  Maybe the combination of familiarity and frequent change could make it easier for him to maintain that all-important self control  

We've enjoyed seeing him graze food throughout the day, instead of barely eating lunch, although I can't say if he's gained any weight.  It's been wonderful to have him fall asleep in five minutes without a nightly dose of melatonin.  If these little breaks also keep his body from getting used to the medication, so much the better! 

Happy summer vacation, y'all!  Hope any breaks you may take (whether they are by car, plane, or of the medication variety), go well for you and your kids. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Boy at Work

Today was the kind of day that working parents everywhere experience eventually, at least parents who toil in understanding work places. 

Dylan came to work with me today.

For some reason, in New Orleans, camps don't generally begin until a week after school gets out.  To make matters worse, camps end about a week before school begins again. 

It makes me wish I had some entrepreneurial funds that I could invest in holding a camp for just those two weeks.  I'd make a mint...or at least enough to pay for the summer's worth of camp.

Even though bringing kids in when you're stuck without childcare is acceptable, there's a definite tension involved.  After all, when you're supposed to be focused on work, you're simultaneously trying to entertain a child.  No small task, especially when that child has a limited attention span and likes to ask questions non-stop. 

Thank God for DVDs! 

I really can't complain.  Although he sometimes has trouble controlling his impulses, he is usually very well behaved in my office, and that was the case today.   The hard part will be the next two days.  He will be with me again on both of those days and it gets progressively harder to keep him entertained.  What's novel on Day One can get boring by Day Three. 

I already feel the push:pull between work and home, and days like this only accentuate it.  While on the one hand, I like showing him the positive side of being productive and having a career, it's hard not to long for more relaxed, unstructured time at home with him, on the other. 

If you have to bring your child to work, here are some items that can make it easier
  1. A laptop with Internet connection;
  2. Snacks;
  3. Access to movies or television (even better if it's on the laptop);
  4. Transportable toys.  Although Dylan is still very interested in playing with toys, it's actually getting harder to find appropriate toys that will travel well;
  5. Reading material.  This is a good idea for many; but unfortunately not very useful with Dylan;
  6. Understanding and - even better - interesting and interested coworkers; 
  7. Someplace else to go.  Maybe a restaurant for lunchtime (we'll do that tomorrow), an atrium (we are out of luck), or someplace interesting like a plant (nope).
  8. Ample patience.  If your child gets bored, it's not his or her fault (after all, you get bored sometimes, too, but at least you get paid for it).
Finally, I'll add one last necessity:  technological karma - which was not with me today.  It took me half the day to get the Internet to work on my laptop, not to mention the software issues I had on my work computer.  Here's to good karma and an abundance of patience from both of us.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Dealing with Evening Meltdowns

The evening meltdown.  A rotten way to end the day for everyone involved. We’ve had, uh, some experience with these situations, so I’m sharing ideas that have worked for us

1. Stay extremely calm.

Harder to do than it is to say, and the worst part is that might not be a quick fix.  Even if I stay as cool as a cucumber, Dylan often gets ramped up initially, I guess because he isn’t getting the strong reaction he was looking for.  But over time, it’s difficult for him to keep up his anger and defiance in the face of unrelenting, monotonous calm.  Just react simply to the situation in front of you and don’t talk about anything that happened earlier or project about later.  Be dispassionate.  No reaction beyond what’s necessary. 

2. Be very loving.

Much like being calm, it’s hard to stay mad when someone is only showing love.  And also like being calm, there’s often an initial negative reaction. But most of the time, it’s what he really wants. I’ll ask him if he wants a hug or wants to sit in my lap, and usually he will.  He might still try to argue, but it’s easier to calm him down and even make him laugh.

3. Give your child a "win."

It does not have to be what you are arguing over. Dylan has been adamant lately about going for fast food after school and I have been equally adamant about not doing it.  On one occasion recently, by letting him sit in the car and pretend to drive, he felt like he was getting something he wanted.  It wasn’t fast food, but it was an alternative and moved him past the defiance and argument.

4. Give a little protein.

ADHD meds are notorious for affecting appetite.  In Dylan’s case, even before he started the meds, he often skipped lunch in order to play more (lunch and recess are combined at his school).  Whatever the cause, I think that not enough food and low blood sugar have a lot to do with his evening melt downs.  So I've started giving him cheese and crackers or something else with a shot of protein in it as soon as he gets home.  It generally helps to even out his mood pretty quickly.

5. Set firm rules on TV and screen time.

TV and video/computer games can kick off some meltdowns.  If screen rules are uneven or nonexistent, it’s hard to tell your child it’s time to turn it off if they could do it yesterday.  For us, the rule is no afternoon/evening TV during the week, and exceptions are rare.  You don’t need to be as strict, just set a rule and stick to it, no matter what.  Remember that there are plenty of other things that kids can do with themselves.  In fact, with summer coming up, I’m planning to work up a list of alternative activities with Dylan, then put them in jar so that when he’s “bored” he can pull one out. 

It’s important to remember that this, too, shall pass.  As awful as the meltdowns can be, they will end eventually.  By minimizing the impact you will hopefully make them end more quickly, but more importantly, you will minimize the emotional fall out for both you and your child. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

To Award or Not To Award

Today was 1st - 3rd Grade Awards Day.

When I went to school, there was no such animal. If you got straight As on your report card, your family might do something special, like take you out for ice cream, but that was about it.  The school provided the report card and it was there that their recognition stopped.

Times have changed.

At our school, there are numerous awards given out, with exponentially greater numbers of students receiving each award.  There's the Beta Honor Roll awards that goes to students who maintain a B average.  And the Alpha Honor Roll awards for A average students.  The Principal's Awards go to straight A students who maintain an outstanding behavior record for the entire year.  That to me is an accomplishment worth recognizing, although I worry about the recipients of those awards, too.

Then there are the citizenship awards for other students who maintain outstanding behavior throughout the year (but without the straight As).  There are awards for perfect attendance and for being on the pep squad.  Two students from each French immersion class received awards (overall French grade and most improved), while a number of non-immersion students also received French awards for their progress in learning the language.  There are art and music awards, and an overall band award.  Finally, each teacher is permitted to select one student for their "Husky Paw" award, to recognize someone who may not particularly shine academically or otherwise fit in one of the categories.

Despite all of these awards, there are always a few students - merely a handful - who receive no awards at all.  My heart breaks for them.

I understand that the school wants to reward effort and to motivate students who have ability but just haven't made it to the next level.  But to me, the awards process singles out these remaining students and imprints them with failure.

That said, the awards program was kind to Dylan this year.  In first grade, at our first awards program, both of us went into it having no idea what to expect.  They gave out the awards in a little different order that year and Dylan sat there watching student after student get up to receive an award.  By the time he finally did receive one, my emotional guy was in tears. 

This year, Dylan earned an award within the first few minutes, recognizing his B average.  He went on to get a medal for citizenship and a certificate for his participation in chorus.  But the most exciting moment came when he received a Husky Paw reward from the music teacher, recognizing his enthusiasm in music.  It was a very special moment for him...and for me!

with all of his awards

Should they give out all these awards?  I don't know.  I worry about the kids who receive none.  I worry about the Principal's Award winners who build up their expectations so high so young. That's a lot to maintain over the next dozen or years or so.  I worry about the kids in the middle who'll think they are doing enough because they got a medal, any medal.  And I worry that all the kids will assume that if you show up and smile you'll always get a reward.

For Dylan, it works.  As the kid who will never be the brightest or the fastest, he needs recognition to keep him going.  And so far, he's not content, saying for the third year in a row that he wants to "win" the Principal's Award.  And therein lies the rub: teaching him that these awards are solely a reflection of the work he puts in, and not a competition or popularity contest.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Race to Nowhere: A Film Review

I saw the film “Race to Nowhere” last night at a screening put on by a local private school.  I first heard about the film a few months ago and was intrigued by its message.  It is a documentary created by a parent who saw her children getting caught up in a child’s version of the rat race, riddled with anxiety and stressed by hours of homework each night.  With homework a nightly challenge at our house, it was more than worth seeing.

As I see it, the film targets three issues.  The first is only touched on – jam-packed schedules.  There’s school sports, recreational sports, travel sports, student government, clubs and activities, and community service.  Several students interviewed in the film talk about how it’s not enough to get good grades; how colleges want an A student who plays a sport, is involved in school life, and volunteers in the community.  This is not the director’s main beef, however; so while it’s mentioned, it does not get a lot of screen time.

Much of the film’s message is directed at homework. You meet students, parents, teachers, and psychologists, along with Sara Bennett, founder of Stop Homework.  While their messages are powerful, I wanted more.  For instance, Bennett mentions a principal at a Wyoming school who stopped giving homework.  I would have liked to have met that principal and heard, first hand, how it worked.  What kind of school was it (although I suspect it was not a public school)? Did student scores and grades fall or improve?  What percentage went on to college?

Other countries are also mentioned, but I would have liked to have seen some comparisons.  The film was made before the most recent international PISA assessments were released, but it’s no secret that both China (where the pressure is greater) and Finland (where the pressure appears not to be so great) far exceed our educational results.  I would have liked to hear from educators in those countries, particularly Finland, to hear how they approach education and homework. 

The last area that the film addresses is college preparation, probably the hardest topic to cover.  It’s obvious that college as an educational goal has become a norm.  When I was in first grade and told my family that I wanted to go to college, it was breaking news.  No one in my family had ever gone to college before and it was still considered to be something for wealthier, more connected families.  Things changed a lot societally between first grade and twelfth, but it was still not as widespread a parental goal in 1984 as it is today.  What parent today does not hope plan for their child to attend college? 

As more students strive for college, the competition to access college gets greater and greater.  And students don’t aspire to attend the local community college; rather, they want their dream schools, who in turn want better grades, higher ranks, and more AP classes.  The result is students pushing themselves to the brink, often cheating just to keep up.

The film primarily focuses on upper middle class, predominantly white schools and communities.  Several are in California, including the school the filmmaker’s own children attend.  I don’t know which of these are public or private, but the school profiled in New England is definitely private.  She includes a short piece on a student from the Midwest, and also includes a teacher in an urban Oakland school and several students from a technical school in Northern California.  At times it’s hard to align the challenges facing the less affluent schools with the more affluent ones. 

There are no schools in the South profiled. The parents attending the screening – most of whom I would guess send their kids to private school – felt that things were not as extreme in New Orleans.  I don’t necessarily agree with that view and, in fact, I think it actually begins earlier here due to the pressure to attend the right high school.  But that's a blog post for another day. 

The film’s message is scary and there are no ready answers.   I may return to the topics it brings up again in this blog.  I recommend viewing this documentary as a starting point, as one element to consider in the ways that we educate our kids.  We want well educated kids, but we want kids who can think critically, make honest, mindful decisions about their lives and the lives they touch, and who can live full, happy lives, whether that means getting into a “good” college or not. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Counting Down the Days 'til Summer

Eight more days of school.  One more exam.

I don't think I was this excited for school to get out when I was in third grade.  But I am tired of the homework, tired of the arguments, tired of walking into drama.

It can be tough enough for me to help Dylan get through homework.  But it's almost worse for me to let RockStar do it. 

Because of the way the calendar fell this year, Dylan's exams started last week, which was the week after Easter break. His last exams are this week and next week is his last week of third grade. 

Before Easter, he had that wild dip in the effectiveness in the meds that led us briefly to the Vyvanse, and then we went back to Metadate when evenings were worse on Vyvanse.  So I don't think we are quite there, but it doesn't seem to be as bad as before Easter.  Or at least it didn't.

Yesterday, I was exhausted and I asked RockStar to work with Dylan on his homework so I could take a nap.  This is monumental.  I'm not a napper.  At all.  Unless I'm sick or...exhausted. So a nap last night sounded good on paper; not so much in reality.  I got all comfy, was beginning to zone out, when I started hearing the arguments.  Then some music.  Then more arguments.

Then, Dylan came running in, in tears, saying Daddy was being mean.  He wouldn't let him practice chorus but instead was making him do homework.


So it was up to me to get up and wrangle the homework process.

Tonight, it was much the same, except I was out at Jazzercise and when I walked in Dylan ran to me in tears. 

I didn't get him to do his homework tonight (it was something about a missing a notebook that I could never get to the bottom of), but I calmed him down to where he could basically eat dinner and go to bed. 

Just as much as Dylan, I just need a break!  Summer break here we come. I know it will be something else, and there will be stress, but at least it will be a break from homework.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Lemonade Day

If you don't know, today was Lemonade Day. Although their website does not immediately make it clear, it's a nationwide day for kids to try their hand at setting up a lemonade stand.  One of the main sponsors is Junior Achievement and the materials you pick up talk about finding an investor, purchasing supplies, setting goals, advertising, location, etc.  It's really a great concept. 

Too bad we've been too busy to prepare. I registered Dylan before he even knew about it, and had RockStar pick up the materials. But then I didn't want to get Dylan wound up before bed so I didn't bring it up at night.  And we were somehow always busy during the day. Or I'd plan to tell him but I'd forget. And before I knew it, it was here. 

We did speak a little about it on the way to school on Friday and looked over the materials before Cub Scouts on Friday night. I tried to get him to think about goals and location. But he was mostly interested in what to call it. He decided on Lemons into Lemonade, which I'll admit is pretty clever.

I'll admit that the lemonade stand could have stood with a little more planning.  The "stand" ended up being two flimsy card board boxes, one on top of the other.  Dylan desperately wanted to make lemonade from scratch, but I finally convinced him that we didn't have the time this go round.  With having to run around and get supplies, the stand didn't even open until about noon.

Our location plans also didn't go as planned. Had we planned earlier, I would've suggested that he set up in City Park, but I came up with the local library as a good alternate for foot traffic.  Only problem:  as a government entity, they were not allowed to participate in any kind of solicitation.  (I wonder if we had asked earlier and gone up the chain of command, perhaps it could have been arranged.)  So we ended up in front of our house - not exactly a hotbed of traffic.

Despite the lack of traffic, the minimal planning, a wind issue that blew over and spilled one of the pitchers, and even a minor but blown-out-of-proportion incident with a red ant, I'd say that Dylan's first lemonade stand was a success. After paying me back for my investment of $9.00, Dylan cleared a whopping $2.00!  Not enough to buy the Wii he wants to much, but a profit nonetheless, and he was happy about it, which really is the main indicator of success.

I hope that he will do it again next year and that together we'll be able to do a little more planning.  But for now, he's savoring the success of his first business venture. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Best Mother's Day Gift

I was already set up to be proud today.  As Dylan's Cub Scout den leader, I knew he would earn his bear patch tonight, along with a series of activity belt loops. He had worked hard to earn the patch, although it's definitely easier when your mom is the den leader.  So I thought I was prepared for the evening's dose of pride.

I picked him up at after-care and we were ready to run off and grab a quick bite before the pack meeting.  Then he ran inside because he forgot "something."  That "something" ended up being a yard sign.  A "student of the month" yard sign!

I've seen these signs around the neighborhood and honestly, I wasn't sure Dylan would ever get one.  I don't even know all that goes into becoming a student of the month.  I thought it was grades, but the recorded voice mail from school suggested that it was more about the school's core values - the "Husky High Five."  While I can't rattle off those core values, I know that it consists of things like being cooperative, being safe, and being helpful.  And while he might argue me to death, he does love to be helpful. 

I'll also admit that I wondered if maybe he was "due."  He told me that every class has a student of the month each month.  Since he has a small class, I thought maybe they had just run through the rest of the class, and it was his turn.  But nope!  According to Dylan, another student - a very bright, all-As kind of kid - has never been student of the month in all of the four years they have been at the school.

A coworker has frequently said she'd rather have a kind, cooperative kid than a smart aleck who gets straight As without even trying.  I guess I've got that kind, cooperative kid.  You know, the Student of the Month. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

How to Make This Work

I started this blog first and foremost as a stress reliever, but I won't deny the the idea of waxing philosophical and thereby touching the life of someone else who might be going through something similar did, indeed, cross my mind.  After all, I'm a writer by vocation and by trade.  However, there are days I wonder if those cogent, philosophical essays are even possible for me.

For one thing, I'm possibly just too close to the situation.  I'm so "in it" that it makes it hard to write about it.

For another, I already have a day job.  In addition to the night job as Dylan's mom.  And the Den Leader job.  And let's not forget the wife job.  Being the wife of a wannabe Rock Star is not all music and roses.

Mostly, I just think I'm losing my mind.  There aren't enough hours to be mom, wife, den leader, blogger and, oh, yeah, myself

Today was a good example.  At work, I'm frantically trying to squeeze in some real work that moves one of our projects further, but not having much success amidst various meetings.  During lunch break, I'm working on den stuff.  And this afternoon I'm trying to work on a job description because my amazing and fabulous assistant will be leaving the city soon.  So it won't be long before I'm doing the job of two people, and the track record of our Human Resources department suggests that it will be September at the earliest before I have another assistant.

Today, I leave work early so Dylan can go to tutoring.  Tutoring that might be a good thing if Dylan could go more than once a week, but considering we can't even afford the once a week, we try to make the one time enough.  Today, tutoring puts homework behind but thankfully Dylan's meds are working fairly well.  (He is back on the Metadate after our failed Vyvanse experiment.)

At home, he's back on homework, while I run to the grocery so I can come home and cook.  Again, he's doing well.  Difficult on transition from one subject to another, but much better than I've seen in the past few weeks.  At least he's trying.

But before I know it, dinner's on, homework's not quite done and Dylan obviously needs to call it quits.  We eat, then he's off to bed.  Amazingly, he falls a sleep in a snap, which gives me a few minutes to pay bills and da-da-dada, blog a bit!

I want this to be better.  I want to find my blog voice and develop a following.  Something, quite honestly, that's mutually satisfying:  I'm helpful to people and they provide ideas in return.  We all benefit. But I don't feel it's quite there yet and I wonder if I can amidst all the stress.

But, I'll keep trying.

In the meantime, I'd like to encourage you to fill out a survey.  I received the following:

My name is Erica Merson and I am doctoral student from University of Maryland, College Park. I am conducting a research study to learn more about the experiences of mothers of children with ADHD to eventually use this knowledge to improve the understanding and treatment of families of children with ADHD. I am looking to recruit mothers of 5-13 year old children who have received a diagnosis of ADHD. Participants would complete an online, confidential questionnaire that asks questions about psychological health, relationships, employment characteristics, and parenting behaviors. As compensation, participants will be offered the chance to enter into a lottery to win one of three $25 Amazon gift cards. Those who are interested can follow the link below to the study.
 Link to survey

I work for a research university and I know how important these surveys can be.  This really does help move the science of ADHD along.  I don't know about y'all, but I want more answers.  I'd like more surveys and research conducted.  Some say - well, we know that.  But you can't go on just anecdotal knowledge.  Until you have the data, you can't show what's really cause and affect.  So I urge you to fill it out!  Who knows, maybe you'll be a lucky gift card winner.