Friday, January 28, 2011

Just looking for a little peace and quiet

This has been a rough week.

First it was the school meeting and the fact that evenings have not gone as smoothly this week as they had been.

Then, Wednesday night, RockStar goes to see a friend's band.  That's cool because how're you going to get to be a rock star unless you are out there rubbing shoulders with other musicians?  But at 2:30 in the morning when I woke up and could immediately tell he wasn't home, it wasn't quite so cool anymore.  He had left five hours earlier, which seemed like an over abundance of time for shoulder rubbing.  I checked my text.  I called his phone...and got voice mail.  I texted response.

I laid in bed wondering what exactly I should/could do, and decided, not much.  I'd have to deal with it in the morning if he was not home yet, but I couldn't go looking for him with an 8-year-old sleeping down the hall.  And it was a bit premature to call the hospitals and police stations.

Fortunately, about 15-20 minutes later, he called. He had been asked to play with the band.  That's awesome, but he should have texted to let me know just how late he'd be. And by that point, I of course couldn't fall asleep, even knowing RockStar hadn't been mugged on the way to his car or hauled off to jail for smoking weed.

I was seriously tired the next day.  It was bad enough losing a couple hours of sleep, but I'd also taken an antihistamine at bedtime, and that puts me in a fog all by itself.  I was a zombie by lunchtime.

Since there's no rest for the weary, that night just had to be Literacy Night.  It's a school event where the kids go from table to table doing literacy-themed activities.  I had promised Dylan I would go.  At least I didn't have to come up with words from a cupful of Alphabits cereal.  (Maybe Bed.  Snooze.  Yawn.)  Instead, I huddled with the other moms while our kids raced from table to table.  I couldn't even tell you what we talked about or if I held up my end of the conversation. 

As soon as we were home, I relinquished all parenting duties and went to bed. By 8:00pm.  And slept hard.

Although I probably got close to 10 hours, I still felt out of sorts today and couldn't wait to get home.  Half a day of meetings and an unsuccessful work errand later, I made it home and immediately put on my PJs.  I settled onto the couch and convinced RockStar it was his job to get Dylan in bed.  I would casually relax and surf the 'net.

It became apparent that it was not going to go quite that way as Dylan chattered away about Ninjagos.  He was all around pretty chatty because he had lost Friday night TV privileges by lying earlier in the week.  (Lying, by the way, is at the very top of the criminal infractions list in our house).

Anyways, back to the Ninjagos.  Dylan has a birthday coming up and he was angling for some Ninjagos, but I told him we've already bought his birthday presents.  However, I casually suggested I would buy him a Ninjago if he would learn how to swallow a pill (figuring it would give us more medication options).  He immediately cried that he had tried as hard as he could (months ago), stood up and ran to his room, and shut the door. 

At least while he was in there I had a little peace.

When he came out, he wanted to shoot marshmallows with the Bow and Mallow he earned last year selling Cub Scout Popcorn.  While shooting marshmallows is a suitable alternative to TV, I wanted him to go in the backyard with Princess Nikita.  He wanted to go in the front yard where there's more light.

A little background knowledge here:  Princess Nikita of the Great White North is a Siberian Husky.  Her goal in life is to run off and join a sled pack.  It's something she tries to do every single time the front door opens.  Every. Single. Time.  Understandably, I get a bit nervous when the front door opens.  Making the backyard a better place - in my opinion - to shoot marshmallows.

Despite the fact that I obviously outrank him with the title of Mommy, Dylan did not listen to my request to go out to the backyard and went out to the front porch instead.

Paranoid, I tried to keep Nikki otherwise occupied, fearful that when Dylan came back in she would seize her escape.  I was trying to get her to lay down when tragedy struck.  She bumped the coffee table and my wine glass fell off the table.  Don't worry, it was practically empty so almost no wine was sacrificed (thank God!).  But the glass shattered.  I'd say that it recalled the terrible wine glass incident of New Year's Eve, but this was a very basic, ordinary wine glass - probably $2.00 at Target.  Maybe $3.00.

Nonetheless, it wasn't a peaceful experience.

RockStar is now reading to Dylan but I can hear that it's not going smoothly.  I can hear the haggling.  It's not going to be an asleep by 9 o'clock night.

So, it's not quiet, either.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Just when you think things are going along well...

The week between Christmas and New Year's was more or less a nightmare.  With two grandmas staying with us, a complete lack of schedule, and a drastic change in sleeping arrangements to accommodate our visitors, Dylan was not exactly at his best, with frequent outbursts.  Even that first week back to school was not stellar.  Major difficulties sleeping that had begun when he was camping out on his bedroom floor did not go away when he was back in his bed even after school restarted.  An increase in medication, from a 15mg Daytrana patch to a 20mg patch probably didn't help.  I think he was up past 10:00pm at least three nights that first week back at school.  Instead of the 9-10 hours of sleep he should get, it was more like 7 or 8 much of that week, a big difference for an 8-year old.  By the end of the week his distraction level had gone through the roof. He was so off track his teacher even asked if he was off of his medication. 

We were determined to get a handle on his schedule.  We started by not giving him medication that weekend so he would sleep more easily.  And sleep he did, demonstrating just how tired he was.  On Monday, a week after school had restarted, he was back on the 20 mg patch and we were ready to get our schedule straightened out.

Stimulant medication is well known for causing sleep disturbances and we had already been giving him 5mg of melatonin to help him sleep, at his pediatrician's advice.  But the full dose all at once was not cutting it.  Somehow, I don't even know how, I got the bright idea to give him a portion of that dose - 2 mg - early and give him the rest right before bedtime.  And that second Monday, a week back at school, that's just what we did - and it worked.

Even better, that same day when Dylan came home from school, he had finished all of his homework.  I don't think that had ever happened in his entire history of having homework.  As a result, I could get dinner started as soon as we were home.  I even allowed Dylan to go on the computer, even though screen time of any kind is generally forbidden.  But I was so pleased and proud of him, I felt he deserved some sort of reward.

With dinner occurring earlier, bedtime also came along at an earlier hour.  By 7:30pm, Dylan was brushed and in bed and we were having "interactive" - reading together, each taking a page or maybe even switching off sentence by sentence.  We talk about the book, and the usual bedtime rules - Be Quiet, Be Still, No Talking - aren't in effect.

At 8:00pm, the earliest he had been getting in bed previously, Dylan snuggled down and I read a chapter book to him.  He fell asleep easily and comfortably.  The combination of "layering" the melatonin and an earlier schedule combined to send him off easily to dreamland.

The latest he got to bed that week was 9:00pm.  With adequate sleep, he was generally more pleasant in the morning and he was continuing to come home with his homework finished.  I really thought we had turned some sort of magical corner.

Then I was asked to come in to school.

There was nothing markedly different really.  The meeting was in response to Dylan's last report card conference, which had occurred in the throes of that first bad week.  I still though that things were improving.  But when I got to that meeting, it was obvious that the school didn't agree.

While I was seeing big changes in completion of his homework and even in his approach to homework (coming in and sitting right down to it) the teachers reported little to no change in class.  He was still needing a lot of direct assistance and attention to get his classwork done.  If they sat with him and coached him along, tests got done and done well.  If not, work was not done or not done properly and not finished, and his grades suffered. 

I still thought we were on the right track...until I mentioned how the increase to 20mg of Daytrana was working.  Three of the four teachers and facilitators gathered (all but his homeroom teacher) suddenly saw the only possible solution was increasing or changing his medication.  That was it, they said.  He just needed to be properly drugged.

I was stunned.  I should have said more.  I just was so taken aback.  It just didn't seem possible that educators were telling me I should medicate my 8 year old even more.  Considering that I had only been asked to attend the meeting two business days prior and didn't get the written notification until the day after, I couldn't help but wonder what solutions they might have considered had I not been there and had they not suddenly latched onto the medication.  ADHD has been around for a long long time and that is the best we can do?  It's really no wonder that some consider stimulant medication to be as big an epidemic as attention deficit itself.

The medication is a good thing, don't get me wrong.  It helps kids like Dylan get through the school day.  It helps curtail their impulsive responses.  It gives them a few seconds of control that they wouldn't necessarily have.  But should it be the only thing?  If ADHD is as widespread as it seems, shouldn't we have more options, more methods for helping them in class?

I'm sad.  I'm sad that the big improvement I thought we were seeing maybe isn't the turn for the better we thought.  I'm sad that two weeks after homework was completely done when we got home, it was far from completely done when we got home today.  I'm sad that it's 9:56pm and I can still here him rattling around in his room.

What are the solutions?  And why don't we have better methods? According to the CDC Mortality and Morbidity Week, Louisiana is among the top areas for ADHD diagnoses.  Why don't we have an ADHD center or a university-sponsored ADHD program?  Why is there no CHADD support group here?  Everyone agrees this is a problem affecting more and more kids.  Yet there seems to be no urgency to addressing it.  The idea that it's caused by poor parenting lingers. I can't believe that this is the very best we can do.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Working Full Time x 2

When does 1 + 1 = 0.5?

When you are a full-time mom working full time.  At least, that is how it feels to me.

Like many families, in order to pay our mortgage and put food on our table, I need to work full-time.  If that was ever unclear (it wasn't), it became crystal clear when my husband lost his job and was out of work for six months.  Had I not been working, we would have easily lost our home.

So work is not an optional activity for me.

Just as mothers who stay at home (SAHMs) hate for their role to be diminished, mothers who have jobs outside the home don't want their efforts to be viewed as less than they are.

The media frequently call SAHMs "full-time moms."  But even though I spend approximately 40 hours per week at an office, I'm no less of a full-time mom.  I'm there reigning in my mental wanderer when a flyer, a print on the wall, the dog, or an empty envelope distracts him during homework.  I'm there at doctors' offices, which we've seen many of since Dylan was diagnosed.  And I'm not only there at the Cub Scout den meetings - I'm there in uniform as the official den leader. 

When I am working, I try to put 100% into my professional responsibilities.  That is, until I remember that I haven't added the latest doctor's office appointment to Outlook.  Or until my mind wanders to try to figure out when we are going to pick up a present to bring to Saturday's birthday party.  Or until I recall a new ADHD treatment/compelling parent story/potential tutoring option that I wanted to look up.  There are days that I feel so distracted by all of these thoughts and concerns that I wonder if I have ADHD (I don't).

It actually makes me feel jealous of the SAHMs.  I don't want to.  I know that it can be equally hard to be there all the time.  To not be able to escape it and focus on something else.  But it does seem to open up more options.

I hear frequent tales of parents pulling their ADHD kids out of school so they can homeschool them.  I don't even know how I feel about homeschooling in general and I think I would be terrible at it in specific, yet...I can't help but wish it were an option on the table.  Or even that I had more time to work with Dylan after school instead of even having to consider hiring a tutor.

And besides all that, none of the above even leaves room to consider me.  What I might or might not want to do to nourish me.  Surely, searching for "me time" is not something that only working parents struggle with, but at least in theory, SAHMs (the ones who don't homeschool) have the hours that kids are at school to at least consider some of their own needs. 

I am not trying to purport a position that one is better or worse.  Both positions (really all positions since I haven't even touched on WAHMs) have their pluses and minuses.  I'm only speaking for working moms who struggle to get it all done.  Work, homework, the breadth of health needs, and even the "extras" like Cub Scouts.  It's like a road race but the finish line keeps getting pushed further and further back. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why I'll never use Chinese parenting with my son

Everyone is talking about Amy Chua's provocative essay in the Wall Street Journal, Why Chinese Mothers are Superior and it's easy to see why.  In this excerpt from her upcoming book, the Yale Law professor paints Western mothers as namby pamby pushovers who let their kids do whatever they want and fail miserably while Chinese mothers and a select group of mothers of other ethnicities enforce a strict regime to produce straight A virtuoso children who will take care of them in their old age.

When I first read it, linked from a friend's Facebook page, I just skimmed it and it still made me sick to my stomach.  Having just read it in full, I think I want to throw up.

Writes Chua:
If the child comes home with a B on the test, some Western parents will still praise the child. Other Western parents will sit their child down and express disapproval, but they will be careful not to make their child feel inadequate or insecure, and they will not call their child "stupid," "worthless" or "a disgrace." Privately, the Western parents may worry that their child does not test well or have aptitude in the subject or that there is something wrong with the curriculum and possibly the whole school. If the child's grades do not improve, they may eventually schedule a meeting with the school principal to challenge the way the subject is being taught or to call into question the teacher's credentials.

If a Chinese child gets a B—which would never happen—there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. The devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A.
All I can think is:  What in the world would a Chinese mother do with a child with an attention deficit (with or without hyperactivity)?

I've thought of this in other contexts.  Reading accounts of the pioneers when children were an integral part of life on the farm and good behavior was expected and enforced, I can't help but wonder about the little daydreamer.  A 10-year-old kid gazing off into the sky while the team plows right through the crops; a 12-year old girl trying to sit still and sew but completely unable to stay in her seat.  How did those parents - who surely knew nothing of disorders - react?

Chua describes being called "garbage" as a young girl, and repeating the cycle with one of her own daughters.  She says it proudly, as a badge of honor.  She describes 3-hour piano practice sessions, including one where she dragged her daughter to the piano, forcing her to play.

I saw this same type of parenting first hand when visiting a friend in my early 20s.  Her mother constantly berated her.  Later my friend told her that her mother felt it was her job to do so; that complementing her was tantamount to telling her she had done "enough" and wouldn't "encourage" her.  It was painful to be in the room when her mother was there, and I avoided her as much as possible.  

I won't deny the precision the Chinese display in areas such as gymnastics, ice skating, piano, and so forth.  But at what benefit.  Okay, so you are among the top five in the world who can do X.  But you spend 16 hours a day at it, have utterly no social life, and can't really have a dynamic conversation about a new book, a trend, or hot button topic.  A child with ADHD would not thrive in this type of world.

My son may never play violin like Joshua Bell.  He may not compete as a gymnast in the Olympics.  But I have no doubt that he will be able to talk your ear off on any one of a number of subjects.  He'll be able to describe beautiful images and create amazing inventions.  All because he has been encouraged and because we have worked with and not against his ADHD. 

One final note - I think the worst part of Chua's argument is that it paints parenting as either/or.  Permissive or strict.  Easy or authoritarian.  Personally, I believe most of us - from all cultures - use a blend of techniques depending on what we've seen, what we've experienced, and who our child is.  At least I hope we do.  One blogger, Wendy Sachs, seems to agree.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

I hate Report Card Day

Open admission:  I was a straight-A student, at least most of the time.  Yeah, I had a few Bs here and there.  I think I even had a C at one point (which was devastating to me) but for the most part, I did well in school.  Some things came easy (English).  Some things I had to work at (math).  But I worked hard, got homework done right away, started studying well in advance of tests, and got good grades. 

In third grade, I don't recall a lot of homework or a lot tests.  I have only two really vivid academic memories from that year.  The first involves my handwriting.  On every report card, all of my grades would be S (satisfactory) except for handwriting, which was always U (unsatisfactory).  We didn't have letter grades or even an O for outstanding.  Just S and U.  In the space provided, the teacher's comment was always along the lines of: 

Deirdre is doing well in all subjects except handwriting.  She needs to work harder to improve her script. 

By third quarter, my mom was pretty tired of seeing that U and even more tired of seeing that comment.  She wasn't mad at me, though. 

In those days, we kids brought our own report cards home.  There was a place on it for the parents to sign, as well as lines for them to make comments, and the kids would return them the next day.

That third quarter, in her frustration over the repeated comment about my handwriting, my mother wrote the following in her own perfect Catholic school script: 
Obviously you can read her handwriting since she is doing well in all of her subjects.  
My second vivid academic memory of third grade is "helping" Billy with his schoolwork.  And by "helping," I mean letting him copy my work.  At the end of the school year, Billy was placed in "major works," which was what they called the gifted program at that time.  I was not invited to attend.

Was it my mother's response to Mrs. Gaudet, the fact that my writing wasn't up to snuff, or maybe my teacher just didn't like me? Whatever the cause, it's obvious that I was at least as academically deserving as Billy to go into major works, and very possibly more deserving.  Fortunately, in fourth grade, I had a wonderful teacher.  I don't thing she ever commented on my handwriting, and she saw that I bored in class (I would finish my work and go read in a corner) so she up recommend that I go into major works for the fifth grade. 

So third grade was pretty much the worst of my report card experiences...until I had Dylan.

I don't know if some schools still just send the report cards home with the kids, but at my son's school, the parents have to attend report card conferences if they want to see their child's report card.

It's not that any of Dylan's report cards have been really awful.  But the experience of getting them has been stressful and isolating. 

This past Thursday was report card day.  Or should I say Report Card Day, which is sort of how it's viewed at his school.  Like a bad holiday. 

I used to get there right at 3:00pm, which is when it begins.  But I always found a line of parents ahead of me.  So I got wise and started arriving around 4:00pm, by which time most parents had already come and gone.  That was not the case this past Thursday.  There were three parents in line ahead of me, and one who arrived right after I got there. 

While waiting, the parents chat.  And this is the part I hate most.  There's this constant, subtle one upsmanship.  Attempts at showing how gifted their kids are, hidden by self deprecation.  The dads don't really do this, but let's face it, it mostly moms who are there.   This is an example of the parent chatter:
"Oh, Xavier is starting soccer this week.  I just wish Mssr. Chauvin stop assigning so much homework.  It so interferes with our evening after practice is over.  And he doesn't really need the homework.  It's just busy work for him."

"Why do they want us to talk with them about grades?  I know Alysha is doing well.  It's not as if I don't see the teachers all the time when I'm volunteering."
"No, Ishmael does not participate in study group.  I already pay for aftercare.  What do they think, this is private school?  I can't afford another $50.00 for 12 weeks of tutoring....Christmas?  Oh, we got the kids a Wii, an XBox, that new Nintendo DS, and an iPad.  I wish Mssr. Chauvin would hurry.  My Lexus needs a tune up."
 It's even worse when they come out of the conference.

"Xavier got a 3.6, can you imagine?  I'm so disappointed in him.  I know he can do better than that.  He got a B in reading.  In reading!  That is even in his own language!  How does he expect to get into a good high school?  I'd rather that he were put in a lower reading group if the best he can get is a B."
Suffice it to say, I go into the report card conference from an entirely different perspective.  I would do cartwheels if Dylan had all As and Bs.  Heck, I'd do them if he had all Bs.  This quarter, he did get an A in language, which is his best subject.  And a B in math and in reading, both of which he struggles with.  But he got Cs in science and social studies.  While he vacillates over his opinion of social studies, he loves science, so it is frustrating in that even in a subject he loves, he struggles. 

So while it wasn't a bad report card, it's on the edge.  And, in discussion with the teacher, well...I have to wonder if some of those grades truly reflect his work.  Dylan gets accommodations and his teacher isn't convinced, sometimes, of what Dylan knows.  Dylan is permitted to answer verbally and...I think the teacher necessarily coaches the answers out of him.   And only grades him on the answers he completes, rather than the full test.  Even with accommodations, Dylan often does not complete the tests in ample additional time. 

Dylan needs academic help.  Our financial situation makes it difficult to pay that $50.00 a quarter for the study group, but because he needs every bit of help he can get to learn the material, we make it happen.  But it's group study with other kids, most of whom don't have significant academic issues.  Even that can only help so much.
He doesn't participate in sports because there's no way homework would get done.  And while homework often does seem like too much, he needs the review.  He does do a couple of activities but we watch it closely to make sure it doesn't impact his learning.  That said, the activities do help his self esteem and that is crucial for him.  Because he often does not feel good about himself in his academic life.

It's not that he's not smart.  He is bright and creative and interested in everything around him.  But keeping academic information in his brain in a usable way escapes him.  

It's hard for him, maybe even more so because a number of the kids in his class really are gifted.  Dylan feels bad when he doesn't do as well as those kids.  He wants to be that kid who zips through the test and gets an A.  But his brain, his distracted, frenzied brain, just won't let him.  And it's heartbreaking. 

I hate listening to those other parents go on about the wonderful things their kids are doing because it is wonderful and they - the parents - don't appreciate it.  Homework is annoyance for them, not an all-evening undertaking that often doesn't even result in completion.  They moan about the cost of after school help when they lavish fabulous electronic gadgets on their kids.  They're disappointed over excellent grades and in third grade no less!  Honestly, I want to slap them and say, "Hey, it could be worse!  Quit complaining and thank your lucky stars that your child can get through a test in the allotted amount of time.  That you have the time to volunteer, that  your child doesn't need tutoring or that you really could afford it if you wanted to, that even with soccer, your child can get his homework done."

So yes, I hate Report Card Day.  I wish a U in handwriting was all I had to worry about. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

No basis for comparison

I wonder all the time what other kids are like.

I'm an only child, and while I had friends, I didn't experience what other kids in a family are like.  I only knew me.  I was advanced, at least academically.  Possibly a bit behind socially, but I seem to have caught up in that area just fine.

I also had no first cousins.  Neither my uncle nor my aunt ever had kids.  My mother's cousins had kids, but our families weren't very close, so I didn't have that close family relationship with them.

As an adult, since I was an only child, I could never become an aunt within my own family.  And my husband's only sister never had children.

I don't even have really close friends, or at least none that live nearby, to see their kids up close on a regular basis.

And my mom was self-admittedly not maternal.  I don't feel as though I can get any parenting insight from her.

So sometimes, it's hard to know what is ADHD and what is normal kid behavior.  And how to respond.

Is it normal for an 8-year-old/nearly 9-year-old to want someone to sleep with him?  (And how do you break that?)

Do kids get so doggedly set on something, like walking daddy to his car when the child is already in bed?  (And how do you respond when you can't convince him otherwise?)

What about a sudden obsession with getting a flute - but not getting lessons or playing it in the band?  (How do you convince him that you don't buy a real instrument that you don't plan to learn how to play?)

What are their sentences in writing homework like?  (And how can you help guide them, especially when they want help but don't want to hear anything you have to say?)

Do they refuse what you are serving for dinner, even something they like, and only eat a croissant?  (I know enough that you don't make this a big deal on a given night.  But what about if it becomes a pattern?)

Do they get angry when you tell them something they know, even if it bears repeating? 

How do you figure all this out without role models or examples? 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Marriage should get easier with time, shouldn't it?

All day, I had planned to write about how I like a clean slate, the kind of clean slate you get at the beginning of the year.  I was minutes away from writing it, looking forward to the positive, upbeat feeling of it and feeling good about 2011.

Then I smelled it. 


Somehow, ten years into marriage, I feel as though I've begun living with a teenager, and it's not my 8-year-old son. 

I had had hints about it beginning several months ago.  But I wasn't quite sure.  I guess I couldn't believe it really. 

It's not that I'm a total prude.  Sure, I could see Randy and his bandmates smoking a joint after a gig.  But before church?  On the way to get a gallon of milk?  It just didn't fit to me until I really couldn't ignore it.

When first I confronted him about a month ago, I lost it.  Really lost it.  Told him he had to figure some things out.  Get his shit together.  I thought I had made myself pretty clear. 

After all, this is a man who had been out of work for six months.  Who had not been pursuing a replacement job with quite the zeal I would expect from someone with a family.  With a son who has medicinal and psychosocial needs that are not fully covered by insurance.  With a 15-year old car.  With a wife who likes to eat out at least once in a while. 

It just didn't fit, to me, that he'd be zoning out on pot on a pretty regular basis.

I can't help but wonder if there a connection between the lack of job motivation and the pot smoking?  Wayne and Garth were never real eager to move on with their lives.  Neither were the potheads in my high school.  And I guess you can kind of see it in a 17-year-old boy who isn't ready to grow up.  But a 58-year-old man?

So I detected the tell-tale aroma again just moments ago.  I guess that since I have resumed speaking to him and we've had some good family meetings, he thought that the weed was back on the table. 

I really had no idea that you could deal with this kind of stuff after being married ten years.  Maybe I'm stupid.  Maybe he's been doing this for ten years and I'm just now catching on, although I don't think so. 

If it was just the pot, if we had sufficient funds to cover our bills and do some fun things, if Dylan didn't require every single ounce of attention and fortitude, maybe, maybe I'd say, yeah, whatever.  But the fact is, we are struggling financially and our son needs both of us to be on our toes, aware and proactive to his needs.  I need a full partner in all of this.  Not someone who runs to smoke a joint whenever he gets stressed, even if this is way of self-medicating his own ADHD.

I told him again, more calmly (that is, resignedly) this time, that I'd like him to stop.  But I just didn't even have the strength to address it.  I was coming off of my own high - the clean slate high. 

Unfortunately, the clean slate just got cloudy from all that smoke. 


Sunday, January 2, 2011

School Anxiety

Dylan goes back to school tomorrow after his holiday break.  But I'm the one with school anxiety.

He's eager to be around other kids.  And he says he is eager to learn.  He does like school and likes most of his subjects.  But liking something does not make it come easily.  And certainly does not make it quick to get through for a distracted learner.

As with most breaks, I started off well-intentioned to encourage Dylan to do something academic while he was home.  I did suggest several times that he read (and Santa provided several books for just that purpose).  And I had planned to get Dylan onto some educational websites.  Santa even put some multiplication flash cards in Dylan's stocking, which could have been turned into a fun game.

But none of it came to pass.

Yes, we were busy, with two grandmas staying in the house, and a variety of activities planned.  But the biggest factor was that it was nice not to have push him to do something academically.  It was nice not to have that struggle. 

All that will change tomorrow.  It's back to the required 20 minutes of reading per day.  Back to math homework.  More social studies; more science.

More stress.

It's hard for me to understand, really, because it all came easily to me.  I'd zip through my homework and get everything right.  No one stood over me to encourage me along.  I just did it.

Of course, I'm sure I had much less homework than Dylan does.  I don't even specifically recall homework, although I'm sure there was some.  But most of the work - in third grade, at least - happened in the classroom.

I don't know if we are better or worse this way.  But I know that it's tougher for us.  I dread walking in the door at 5:00pm and finding out that homework isn't finished and, in fact, it's not even half done. 

So I have school anxiety.

I hope that this quarter is different.  That Dylan "gets it" more easily.  That homework is easier and quicker to complete.  But hoping doesn't take this anxious feeling away.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Diagnosis is just the beginning

I suspect that for most parents, the diagnosis of ADHD is really more of a confirmation.  An external source validating what's been suspected for some time.

Mixed in with that validation is maybe even a little relief.  Finally, something to call it.  Finally, something can be done.

That something can be medication, or behavioral therapy, or a mix of both.  Or an alternative therapy.

However, that's not the end of the story, even though sometimes there is a desire to make that be the case.  But naming the beast does not tame it.  And with ADHD, neither medications, nor therapy, nor the alternatives cure the condition.

For me, the diagnosis set me up for an education process that I have only just begun.  I've already said that my new hobby is learning about ADHD.  Based on the number of blogs and message boards I've been on, this is a common mom reaction.

Not so much, it would seem, for dads.

Or at least Dylan's dad.

On more than one occasion, Randy has stared at his son in disbelief over an explosive reaction, a long drawn-out homework session, or an over-exuberant response that leads to some accident.  As the mom who is constantly learning about the myriad ways that ADHD presents, I, in turn, stare at Randy in disbelief.  How can you be truly surprised by Dylan's actions knowing that the neurons in his brain don't fire quite the way they should?

Such was the case last night.

New Year's Eve.  Together with Christmas and Valentine's Day, New Year's Eve is a date imbued with all manner of expectations.  Being parents changes those expectations, but it doesn't seem to diminish the feeling that something big is supposed to happen.

Of course, when you add in an easily distracted and very impulsive child along with disregard for his usual schedule, and you have a pretty good chance that something big will happen.  It just won't necessarily be the kind of excitement you had been counting on.

It's a shame, because our evening had been going along so well.  I made lasagna and some truly killer meatballs.  Randy bought a value pack of fireworks that we were detonating at regular intervals.  And we had started our traditional New Year's Eve game night.

But then there was the champagne.  Or rather, the champagne glasses.  The pair of them were a wedding gift.  Waterford Millennium Champagne Flutes.  Expensive and delicate.

Now, I don't like keeping good things locked up in a closet unused.  I don't get the point in that.  If you are going to own something, use it.  My grandmother died with a drawerful of brand new nightgowns she was saving for "someday."  I vowed never to live my life that way and I believe in using the china, wearing the good shoes, and not owning something that sits in a cupboard or drawer.

Despite that, the flutes were not everyday glassware.  I would've felt a little silly drinking my morning orange juice out of them on a Wednesday.  But New Year's Eve was definitely an appropriate and ideal time to use them.

You can probably see where this is going.  Naturally, with this being New Year's Eve, Dylan wanted to drink out of a fancy glass, too.  I had given him apple juice in an everyday wine glass and he was happy with that.  But, this being New Year's Eve, Randy decided that Dylan should have something just a little more special and he pulled out a plastic light-up martini glass I had gotten at some forgotten event.  But daddy didn't just give the light-up glass to Dylan.  He wanted to see the light show for himself and then couldn't figure out why one color didn't seem to work.

Daddy's action:  What's going on here?  Let me figure out why the green won't light up correctly.

Dylan's response:  Oooh!  Shiny, flashing lights!  And Daddy said it was for me!

So Dylan did what any impulsive kid would do, he climbed up onto the step stool to get a closer look and get his hands on the flashing cup.  And somehow the champagne flute got in the way.  And fell.  And broke.

I'll readily admit, I was upset at the sight of the beautiful glass, jagged and angry with cut shards.  I felt sad for losing something precious.  And, honestly, saw the correlation to our marriage, which has been dealing with it's own jagged and angry cuts.

I didn't want to yell or get mad at anyone.  So I took myself out of the situation.  From our spare room , I could hear Dylan run out of the kitchen to his bedroom crying that he didn't mean it.  Later, I heard him come out and say it again.  I couldn't hear Randy's response, but I heard Dylan run back into his room, screaming loudly.  His screams held it all - frustration, anger (at himself and at us), and sorrow. 

I wasn't ready to face either of them and figured, from the sound of it, Dylan needed some quiet time.  So I remained in the spare room.  But Randy was ready, apparently, to share his thoughts on the subject and he came to me.  He said he didn't care if Dylan stayed in his room and that Dylan would be paying to replace the glass.

Here's where I stared at him in disbelief.  Randy's anger was entirely out of proportion for what happened.  And it instantly called up the mama bear in me.  I told him he should've been more aware of what was going on instead of obsessing about the light in the cup.  (Perhaps his own undiagnosed ADHD saying, Oooh, shiny, me play with.) Randy stormed out; I stayed and fumed.

When I had calmed down the mama bear in me, I realized that I was not helping the situation at all.  So, I finally emerged from my bear cave and apologized.  Randy said he was sorry, too, but....that Dylan was always doing things like this.  He said it in amazement, like, where does this come from?

Diagnosis is just the beginning.

As I have on other occasions, I realized that Randy still has a disconnect between ADHD and the way that Dylan acts and reacts.  That he doesn't see how getting the diagnosis of ADHD is just the first step in a long journey for both Dylan and us.  Dylan needs to learn how to respond, how to control his impulsiveness, and how to describe his feelings without yelling.  We need to learn how to teach him those things and how to help avoid catastrophe. 

I think I do this all the time, almost without being aware of it.  If I'm anywhere near glassware - a coffee mug, a glass of water, a wine glass - I'm on the alert.  If Dylan gets within three feet of me, I instantly begin advising him to watch out for the glass.  Or I physically move it further away.  It's constant damage avoidance.

Am I preventing him from learning just how to control his body and his impulses?  I don't think so, at least not at this stage.  It will be a while, I think, before Dylan has the maturity and also the body control to keep this kind of thing from happening.  To me, he's like a big golden retriever, full of excitement and enthusiasm and not quite sure how that flailing yellow bush at the end of his body is connected to what's behind his nose.  To Dylan's credit, he will mature and will get more comfortable in his body...eventually.  But unlike the golden retriever, he has angry mood swings that go along with it, and he needs to learn to control those at the same time.

Dylan is blessed in a way.  After I went to him and told him I wasn't mad, he got over it almost immediately.  I wish I could say the same for Randy.  He didn't really calm down until this morning, long after the once-fun evening was over.

I keep hoping that these situations will open his eyes.   That the light will dawn and he'll realize that our son is different and that he will always be a little different.  I fervently hope Dylan will grow and learn and become more controlled, less distracted, and less impulsive.  But we're talking gradations, not a complete change.  There's always going to be a bit of a golden retriever in him.  He's not a German shepherd, or even a Great Dane, whom I understand are wonderful apartment dogs who have a good understanding of their body and the space it takes up.

And who doesn't love a golden retriever?