Wednesday, February 23, 2011

An Open Letter to My Son's School

Help me.

Help me help my son.

I have experience with exactly one ADHD child.  Really, just one child, period, neuroatypical or otherwise.  I have no nieces or nephews, and I don't personally know more than one or two people who have kids with ADHD.  Actually, I'm sure that I know more; but I only know of one or two.

You know about 450 kids in any given year.  Over the years the school has been in existence, you've known thousands of kids.  According to the November 12 edition of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (a happy sounding publication if there ever was one), our state is in the highest tier for incidence of ADHD.  Surely, surely you have come across more than a few kids with ADHD over the years and have gleaned some hint of how to teach a child with ADHD.  And if you haven't, surely, surely there is someone in the school system in this city or at least the state who has.

Exams begin on Friday and I do not feel my child is ready.  Despite the fact that I know he is bright, his tests over the past quarter do not demonstrate that fact.  And our efforts at studying this evening do not give me hope that this quarterly exam will turn everything around.  I know he can do it; but I don't know that he will be able to.

And while we are on the subject, why is there regular homework during exam week?  I know some of it is test prep, but at this point, I'd like to be focusing only on Friday's test, not worrying about 20 minutes of reading and not watching him work in a workbook in preparation for the preliminary state assessment coming up in a month and a half.  Let him/us just focus on exams right now. 

Of course, the reality is that I cannot teach a quarter's worth of math in two nights.  I can't teach good study skills when we spend so much of our time just getting through it. 

I feel as though you - the whole school, not just the teacher - look to me for the answers.  But I don't have a degree in education, much less special education.  I support my son, I sit with him while he does homework, I try to engage him and show him tricks to get through it.  I really do try.  But by the time I pick him up after my day at work, we are both tired, and I still need to try to put a decent meal on the table and get him in bed at a reasonable time.  I need more support from you.  By 5:30pm, I feel as though we should just be icing the cake, not stirring the batter.

Help me.  If you can help me, I promise you the results will be worth it.

--Dylan's mom

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Do I need to learn how to say no?

I may have a problem that requires an intervention.

I seem to have a problem with saying: "No."

Now, this is not an entirely uncommon problem.  Other women, mothers in particular, frequently seem to share this challenge with me.

And while I see it as a problem, I also see it as a gift.  I'm fond of quoting Lily Tomlin:
"I always wondered why somebody doesn't do something about that.  Then I realized I was somebody." 
I really believe that.  Don't complain; don't wish it away.  Do something.

That's how I ended up as a den leader, which is not something that I had ever dreamed or hoped for.  But Dylan was not getting enough out of cub scouts and he really really wanted to.  I didn't see any point in complaining about it.  If you want something done, do it.  So I did.

It's also why I am on the Pastor Nominating Committee at my church.  We are a small church (about 40 regular members) and it just isn't the kind of place (IMO) that you can sit back and just wait for things to be done.  Everyone needs to play a part.  Or should.

My latest venture is participating in a craft fair.  Again, it's not something I have specifically pined to do.  And even though it's for a good cause (a child development program), I'm not really doing it for altruistic reasons.  I'm hoping to make some money.  But I'm also scared that I'll end up losing money.

I've written before about my wannabe Rock Star husband.  A year ago, he had a full-time job with a reasonably good salary.  Together with my salary, we could take care of the necessities of life and have a few extras.  We could afford a vacation at the beach in the summertime.  I could buy a nice dress without worrying about it.  And we could let Dylan participate in things that interested him, like swimming.

That all changed when Randy lost his job.  It's a long and complicated story, not all of it his fault.  But his subsequent job search was not...all that I would have hoped for.  He did finally get a job this past November.  But it's part time and his recent raise just put him up above minimum wage. (Don't ask.)  So we are not back where we were.  In fact, before the raise, he was making less than he made on unemployment benefits.  I'm not yet sure how the raise will compare. 

I've spent a lot of the past year frustrated to death with him.  But recently, I determined that if I couldn't get him to pursue something more lucrative, then I would have to be Somebody.  I can't wait for Somebody to do something about it.  I will have to do it.

As a result, in the past week I've answered an ad for a writer to write about a writing contest (no reply), I participated in two research studies that netted me $10.00 cash and a $25.00 Wal-mart gift card, and I agreed to participate in the craft fair.

The research studies are no brainers.  Easy money with little effort.  The craft fair, however, will require me to put out a good bit of money in the hope of making it back and then some.  What I'm hoping to sell are pre-made custom scrapbooks.

I've been scrapbooking for several years - since Dylan was a baby.  I enjoy it, although I never seem to have nearly enough time to do it.  Yet, here I am now making scrapbooks for other people.  At least, I hope it's for other people.  If people don't buy them, I guess they will become gifts that I give someday.

Here's an example of the one I made last night in about five hours:

The craft fair will be on Saturday, March 19th.  I don't want to make more than will sell, but I want enough so that it doesn't look skimpy.  Very fortunately, I am sharing the booth, so it won't all be on me.  The other mom - who probably is doing it for altruistic reasons - will be selling tie-dyed diapers, barrettes, and jewelry. Still, it's going to be tough to get it all done.  We are heading into Carnival and all of the parades and merriment that entails.  Plus we are going out of town for a wedding for one long weekend and I have a work conference to attend just a few days after we get back.

Should I learn to say no?  I don't know.  While I desperately crave more personal time, I also roll my eyes at those who choose not to be Somebody.  And besides, if I'm successful we need the money!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Creativity with a dash of magic

I think the stereotype of a kid with ADHD is a boy running around wildly, maybe kicking holes in the wall, talking a mile a minute, and just too busy to sit and focus on anything.  It's not a picture of creativity. 

We need to change this idea.

A recent study confirms what many parents have known all along.  Kids with ADHD may be a little harder to manage, but their creativity is off the charts.  I know this is true in our house.  Dylan is just about the most imaginative person I know.  A simple walk becomes a whole story line.  Last night he and I took our Siberian Husky, Nikki, for a walk and in no time, I was Dylan's horse Goldie (fortunately without him on my back) and we were traveling through the desert.  I answered in what I hoped was my best impression of Mr. Ed.  Not that he has any idea who Mr. Ed is.

Today we participated in the Scout Parade.  The theme was magic, so Dylan was, of course, Harry Potter.  Okay, so maybe that's not the most imaginative costume, but he was completely in character, yelling out "Expelliarmus" and riding his Firebolt broomstick.

I think the hardest part is that these kids often have a hard time translating their imagination into something that fits into academics.  Education today does not leave a lot of room for self-expression.  There is a huge focus on being able to complete a test and if you are good at that, you are considered smart.  If you are not good at that, well, your intelligence is not, unfortunately, valued as highly. 

I don't blame teachers or even the educational system.  Schools are continually being asked to do more with less.  How do you create a meaningful educational environment with more kids, but a smaller budget; more requirements, but less time?  We need creative ideas, but we don't value them. 

There's a huge comparison going on between the U.S. and China.  China's education system values tests and getting the right answers.  And despite the fact that our history is built on imagination and thinking outside the box, American education is leaning toward that rote, only-one-answer-is-right kind of thinking.  We are being short-sighted.  We needed more than right answers to dream up the idea of going to the moon.

On my best days, I know that Dylan will do fine.  While his grades are all over the map, he enjoys school.  He thinks science is just about the coolest thing ever.  He likes to read, even though he still doesn't choose to do it on his own.  I don't know if his grades will ever reflect his ability (although I hope so!), but so long as he keeps that spark, that interest in the world, that belief in magic and imagination, he'll do just fine. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Things to be grateful for on a Sunday afternoon

I've heard that blogs can be an excuse to complain, and I won't deny that it can be a good vehicle for venting.  But I'm inspired by both the weather and by the ADHD Mommas' Feel Good Friday on Facebook, both of which are reminding me to count my blessings.  So without further ado...
  1. We're trying a new ADHD medication with Dylan today.  Actually, it's the same active ingredient as the patch he usually wears, but it's a capsule that can be opened into a spoonful of something.  We tried it in yogurt on Thanksgiving Day and Dylan said it tasted like there were rocks in it and refused to take it again.  But while I still have mixed feelings about the school's position on increasing/changing his meds, I'm also curious to see if it would make a difference. Members on a message board I frequent suggested putting it in ice cream rather than yogurt, to make it more of a draw.  Since weight gain is not a big concern for Dylan, it seemed reasonable to give it a try.  He still almost balked when it went into his mouth, but he did swallow it.  And so far, he's been having a fabulous day!  In fact, that leads me to Reason #2 to be grateful... 
  2. Dylan came home from church and immediately started his homework!  That's a far cry from last weekend when we didn't even hear about weekend homework until the evening before school started back up.  He even held off coming out to brunch until his vocabulary workbook was finished!  Usually, he wants any excuse to interrupt homework.
  3. We have had a week of very positive social occasions.  First, Dylan's birthday party on Monday afternoon.  We limited the guest list to just a few boys, which is so much better for Dylan, and we went bowling, which gave them a good, focused activity.  Then on Friday evening, Dylan had a fun, relaxed play date that went off beautifully!  There were no arguments, no power struggles, and no tears.  And finally, last night, he attended the Cultural Cafe, put on by his school's French immersion program, and had a great time - with no drama!  I'm hopeful these signs show that his social skills are maturing.
  4. Today is a beautiful day.  It's about 70 degrees, sunny, blue skies.  I realize that we haven't had nearly the bad weather of the rest of the country.  With many of my family and friends in the Northeast, I know we are more than lucky to live in New Orleans, but still, the weather has been too cold and damp for me.  Today gives me hope that spring is on its way and soon my muscles will relax from being so tensed against the cold.  I may have been born into cold weather, but it was never the right climate for me!
  5. The past few days things have been going well between the RockStar and me.  The week started off a little tense, but after dinner with my friend last week, I wrote him a letter.  Just writing down my feelings helped immensely.  I only sent him about two paragraphs of it, half of which congratulated him for getting promoted to senior sales associate at the retail shop he works part time.  But it also included my concerns that we need to see a marriage counselor and work on our marriage.  We haven't discussed it, yet things seem remarkably better.  I see a little light that I hadn't been seeing before. 
  6. Finally, I am sitting in a coffee shop having a little "me time."  Always reason to celebrate!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Make time for friends

Life as the mom of a distractible child and the wife of a wannabe rock star is not often a day at the spa. Both necessitate extraordinary flexibility and the ability to multi-task to the extreme.  It does not leave much "me time."  It does often leave me wanting to scream.

A few months ago,with the stress threatening to suffocate me, I started seeing a therapist.  Now, I am not a good therapy patient.  I like the idea of it.  But the idea never quite translates into reality.  I've used more than my fair share of first-time Employee Assistance Plan visits, but I rarely make it to the second visit.

One therapist, at my first and only visit with her, was convinced I had figuratively married my father since my husband is 14 years older than I am and I had never known my father.  But unless my father was a teenage dad (and he wasn't, of that I'm sure), that scenario couldn't be further from the truth.  Another could not figure out why I used the EAP since it only covered three visits.  I was seeing her for work/family stress, which to me did not require a years-long commitment.

So far, this therapist has worked out okay, and it's good to just have someone to talk to.  But it doesn't replace a girl buddy.  Unfortunately, I haven't had one of those since college.

Work doesn't help much.  I work for a university, and it's the kind of place (at least in my office) where people come to work, do their job, then go home.  There's just not a lot of bonding.

Before this job, I worked at an event planning agency.  Bonding was plentiful, if a bit much at times.  It was like a large dysfunctional family.  You knew everyone's business and they knew yours.  One coworker hated it, left, and never spoke to any of us again.  But I liked the family aspect, maybe even more because I didn't have family here.

So I reached out to one of those coworkers and had lunch with her today.  And it felt so good.  While she doesn't have a child with ADHD, her youngest (now in college) does have a very mild case of cerebral palsy, so she knows about 504s and IEPs.  And her husband never tried to make it big in the music biz, but he did run his own company - badly - for a few years and it took her threatening to leave with the kids to get him to close the business and work for someone else.

Therapy is a good thing, but it doesn't replace history, common experience, and mutual affection, all of which I found today.

Saturday, I'm hosting my second-ever book club, and I'm hoping that there will be more of that.

Make time for friends.  They'll help you get through what life throws at you.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A double standard for ADHD meds

If I told a friend that I was taking blood pressure medicine, I don't think he or she would tell me I shouldn't.

If my son was diabetic and I mentioned he was on insulin, I don't think anyone I know would tell me that I shouldn't do it, that I should control his diabetes with diet.

Yet, people - friends - have no problem telling parents that they shouldn't give their kids ADHD medications. 

When Dylan was first diagnosed, I didn't rush out and tell everyone I knew.  But eventually, I started letting it out here and there.  A long-ago friend called about a month after diagnosis and it somehow felt "safe" to tell him because I don't see him everyday.  I shared the fact that we were  probably going to start Dylan on medications.  Big mistake.  His first reaction was:  "Just get him off the sugar and he'll be fine." 

It's a good thing those long hours watching Discovery TV have given him a medical degree! 

I blew it off and decided that this was a topic not to discuss again.  Now, months later, he calls again and it's almost as if he's been mulling it over, worrying about Dylan's state since then.  He wanted to warn me about the dangers of pharmaceutical companies,questioning that Dylan really needs this medication.  In comparison, he tells me a story about medication he received to treat some pain and how the drugs made him really depressed, almost suicidal.  I really didn't let him get to the end of the story, but it sounded as though the doctor prescribed the wrong thing.

I can relate, actually.  I was prescribed Cipro for a bladder infection about two months ago and that made me feel terribly depressed.  More than that, really.  It was like a dementor was sucking the joy right out of the room.  I stopped taking them and the bad feeling went away. 

I haven't sworn off drugs (and in fact, I'm on a different antibiotic for another bladder infection).  One bad drug does not spoil the whole lot.

I think the underlying message, however, is that "you haven't tried hard enough."  "You're just feeding him the wrong thing."  "Boys will be boys."  "I wasn't a good student either and damn, I couldn't pay attention."  Yeah, that's why you got into trouble until you were about 30 years old.  I don't want that for my son.  He's so bright!  So interested in science!  Why would I squelch that for him if I didn't have to. 

I don't love the medications.  We are still working through them.  But I love that they give him a chance.  And I wish everyone else would give us a chance at it, too.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Unscheduling...then Doing More

I have discovered a new blog and it's changing my life!

Okay, maybe that is a little dramatic, especially since I only found it about a week ago.  But I love what Kel and Tracy are doing in the Dao of Doing. These two friends are spending a year doing.

You know how it goes, we all say we're going to paint/write/travel the world/be in a play/learn Chinese.  But you get busy with your life.

Kel and Tracy decided enough was enough and they are working on their particular interests every day.  Kel paints and Tracy writes.  But it's really more than that.  They have read/are reading some good motivational/inspiration books that are guiding them on this journey.  For instance, right now they are reading BJ Gallagher's Why Don't I do the Things I Know are Good for Me?  This week's task:  go unplugged.  No TV, no radio, no newspapers.  Focus on family, friends, and what really matters.  Potentially daunting, but it also sounds pretty darn cool!

I also picked up the idea of the Unschedule, which is based on books by Neil Fiore.  The gist is that you write down your personal time in your planner first.  Then schedule the have-tos.  I tried it today.  Okay, so I had some have-tos on my schedule already.  And some of the things I added weren't exactly relaxing/inspirational/creative personal time. But it helped me get at least one horribly procrastinated task out of the way.  I actually had two Christmas presents I had never mailed off!  They actually still aren't mailed off (it was after the post office closed) but they are in boxes with addresses on them.  So they are a lot closer to their destination than they were when I got up this morning!

I have Unscheduled the rest of the next four days (I'm off of work on Monday and Tuesday) and there actually is time in there for me!  Writing and scrapbooking.

As a mom of a kid with ADHD and a husband who is trying really hard to be a teenager, having "me time" is very important but is the very first thing to go.  But I know that if I take care of myself, I will have more psychic energy to deal with the stuff that gets thrown my way.  And I won't feel resentful.  No more "Why am I always..." or "When will I ever get to..."

So go Unschedule some time for  yourself.  And visit the Dao of Doing!