The Kids Are NOT Alright

“All I know is that one day this boy was talking about Coronavirus at lunch and then the next day we came home, and we weren’t allowed to go back to school anymore.  I just don’t understand; I want to go back to school.  I want to see my friends, mommy.  I miss going out and doing things.”

Those were the words that my sweet, innocent eight-year-old cried as I was tucking her in the other day.  Through sobs and sniffles, her little body limp like a rag doll engulfed in sadness and desperation, I held her tightly as she bawled.  Eventually she exhausted herself and we just sat there hugging as her breathing began to regulate and she calmed enough to lay her head on the pillow and fall asleep.  This was not the first time that she had experienced such a profound episode of grief, and I suspect it will not be the last.

I keep hearing just how resilient kids are.  I do not disagree; they absolutely are. For the first few weeks, even months, it was easy to internalize this mantra. I held onto it with a vice grip to keep myself going day after day.  But as the realization begins to set in that there is no foreseeable end to this, it grows harder and harder to convince myself that they will come out of this completely unscathed.  And after watching my once effervescent and joyous daughter reduced to a state of inconsolable hopelessness, I am profoundly struck by the massive academic, social, and emotional toll this is taking on our children.

I have two vastly different children, so I am able to see the depth and breadth that the Coronavirus is having on them in a multitude of ways.  My son, nine, atypical with severe ADHD, and all of the academic, social, emotional, and pragmatic challenges that come along with the diagnosis.  My daughter, eight and academically and socially typical. 

Missing their school and teachers during the teacher parade

The educational impact on children with special needs is clear and undeniable.  At the very least they simply are not getting the academic support they require to thrive from distance learning.  My son has an extremely specific set of criteria that need to be met in order for his brain to operate at its most optimal and his learning to be most successful.  The requirements are written on a 504 plan; for others, they are written on an IEP. Like any child with a specific learning disability, or other diagnoses that make typical learning a challenge, his needs cannot be met at the kitchen table at home with a parent who is not trained in special education.  Despite the best efforts from schools and parents, academic, executive functioning, social/emotional, PT, OT, Speech goals and more that were so carefully crafted and monitored by an educational team are not being achieved.  Children such as these thrive from consistency and regularity, and distance learning is anything but.  Only time will tell how far behind many of these children are falling.

It is not only atypical learners that are feeling the impact of distance learning.  My daughter is just not self-motivated academically.  She is intelligent and loves reading and math but sitting and learning for the sake of learning is just not her jam.  I would argue that there are very few second graders who wake up every morning excited to go to school to learn how to use a yard stick to measure classroom objects.  No, they are motivated by the dynamics of the classroom, the group work, their friends and teachers, and the excitement of the school setting.  Learning from videos on an iPad screen is extremely hard for her.  Without the consistent reinforcement she gets from her teacher and classroom, she is just going through the motions until the assignment is done.  I’m sure she is gaining most of the basic curriculum to pass the second grade, but she is completely disinterested in the learning process and her ability to motivate to sit in front of a screen to learn is waning with every passing week.

Both atypical and typical children are suffering socially.  The elementary school years (and even into middle and high school) are key for learning essential, strong interpersonal skills.  Even after basic turn taking and sharing skills are mastered in preschool, the dynamics of developing and maintaining strong social relationships in the elementary, tween, and teen years requires the opportunity to practice.  Socializing has gone online, which brings a host of challenges not normally seen at such an intense level.  With the only opportunity to socialize being through electronics, I have seen one of my children begin to isolate, having little interest in interacting via Messenger Kids, while I have seen the other often misinterpret social cues because they are coming in the form of text messages.  FaceTime is just not the same as in-person time and navigating a complex social world on the internet is challenging for even the most socially adept children.  Let’s face it, all of our kids are little, or a lot, lonely.  They crave real quality time with their friends.

The emotional effects have not gone unnoticed in our household as well. My once vibrant, cheerful little girl is beginning to lose her sparkle.  Her joyful and radiant personality is starting to dull.  She does not meet each morning with the same merriment as she used to.  She goes about her day, dutifully and, at times, in robotic fashion.  She is like the groundhog who awakens every day to the same day and is unsure when she will begin to move forward within her world again.  When once she was occupied by school, friends and activities, she now calls me often throughout the day when I am at work (as an essential worker I still go to the office a few times a week) to tell me that she misses me and asks if I am being safe and when I am coming home.  My son cried the other day when my husband went out food shopping.  It was nighttime and he was convinced that somehow the risk of getting the virus would be greater if out and about in the dark.  He insisted on waiting up until dad got home just to make sure he was alive and ok.  Neither of them quite understands why they are still at home and when this will all be over.  The unknown is creating a palpable layer of anxiety within them.

So no, my kids are not alright.  All I can do is hold them a little closer, hug them more often, and try my best to answer any questions and quell any fears they might have. 

*It’s important to recognize that while my children are not alright, they still have a roof over their heads, food on the table, and access to the technology required for distance learning.  There are a great number of children who are not alright because they only get one meal a day, do not have the tools required for learning, or they live with an abusive parent and cannot get access to help. Or worse, they have lost one or both parents to this deadly virus.

Sad and bored, she creates

I was Already Exhausted Before Coronavirus

Some days, I’m almost positive I’m not going to make it. 

Those days involve yelling and tears. 

And then more yelling-louder this time- and of course, more tears.

This is often accompanied by silent prayers for my sanity. As I gaze skywards inaudibly mouthing the Serenity Prayer (God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the power the change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference) my kids glare at me wondering if I’ve finally lost it. 

There’s also tons of begging on these blessed days. I plead with the kids to sit down and do their work independently so mommy can get some of her own work done.  I implore them just stop fighting and play with each other peacefully.  Because after six weeks of uninterrupted sibling time, older brother Man is over it, while little sister Lady is gearing up to play her 5,000th round of hide and seek. 

These days I wear two hats, full time employee and full time teacher/caretaker. 

I hang up from a conference call and immediately switch back into special education teacher mode.  I read Man his assignments, just as his 504 dictates I should.  I lay out his organizational tools, creating a step-by-step plan on how to accomplish his next task with as little guidance and support as possible, just as his aide would do.  I allow him to stand and take body breaks as needed, just like his classroom teacher would do.  I wordlessly thank God that in my past life I was a Speech Therapist and have a vague familiarity with both his diagnoses and the tools he uses regularly to promote effective learning. 

I walk into the other room and begin to access Lady’s distance learning tools on her iPad.  Is that assignment in One Note or Teams?  Why do these worksheets insist on hiding within each application?  Did I make sure to read the updated class e mails from 9:47, 10:05 and 10:13?  My GOD, why is this link not working? Did we miss today’s class chat?  WHAT IS HER DAMN PASSWORD?? 

My computer alert bings, work e mails are coming in that will simply have to wait. 

Time is quickly running out!!!  By 1PM I disappear behind the door to the “office” and log on to telehealth where I run therapeutic groups for the next two hours.  I will not be available to assist my children at all.  They know that when Mommy runs her groups they are not to disturb, so they often slip notes through the cracks of the door jam, “Can I use my iPad yet?  I’m hungry, when can you help me get a snack?  Lady is bothering me. Man won’t play with me (angry face, angry face)!!!”

I am temporarily distracted by the sound of the sound of the paper landing on the floor.  My group notices.  Do I take a minute and read the note and help my kids or do I continue to run my therapy group and ignore it?  At this moment, both my clients and my children require my focus and they all deserve my undivided attention. 

I am being torn apart and reminded again that I am forced to simultaneously operate as two different people in only one little body.  

Just like all of you, my dear readers, I’m both physically and emotionally exhausted.  I don’t know how working full time and having the kids at home is sustainable for any real length of time.  I am frightened and anxious by the prospect of what the summer might look and feel like.  However, at the same time, I’m oddly ok.  And it’s not because I have a degree in mental health counseling or participated in my own individual therapy for longer than I care to admit, or even because I’m in recovery and have acquired some additional, unique coping strategies.  It’s because this, for the most part, is startlingly similar to the way my life was before the Coronavirus hit.

I was exhausted before.

My mental load was at its maximum capacity before. https://manvsmommy.wordpress.com/2018/07/11/the-motherload/

I felt overworked and under self-cared for before.

There was too much to do and not enough time to do it before.

I lived the dual life of super mom and super employee BEFORE.

While I will not try and say that these times aren’t exceptionally stressful, exhausting, and anxiety provoking, these feelings are nothing new for us parents.  I mean, it’s as though we’ve have been training for this crisis for years.  Put me in coach, I’m f****** ready!

THAT’S what I have the hardest time reconciling.  I am not surprised by the extreme emotional overload or constant onslaught of daily, unending anxiety and stress.  I’m surprised by how little this emotional experience differs from my day to day typical life. And that is the most disturbing realization of them all.

On any given day I’ve already readied myself, prepared three breakfasts, thrown in a load of laundry, and packed up two school bags all before leaving for work at 7:30AM. 

I have rushed out of work to pick up one child at an activity by 5:30 and then schlepped across town to make sure to get the other one by 6.  Then head home to pack up three lunches and make dinner while assisting with whatever was left of the kids’ homework. 

I have fielded phone calls from school in the middle of an individual session with a client.

Left work early to take a child to an emergency doctor’s appointment. 

Spent weekends food shopping, cleaning the house, doing laundry, chauffeuring kids from play dates to activities, and completing school projects.

I’ve been found reciting what my husband dubbed my “mental list” to myself in the corner of the room just to make sure that I have checked of everything required of me to satisfy the needs and wants of those in my care.

I have not done all of this alone, it is accomplished with the assistance and support of a dedicated teammate, my husband.  Yet I still have not carved out ample time to make my own personal mental and physical well-being a priority. 

I don’t know when I began to place so much pressure on myself to be super-human, it happened subtly and without warning.  I suspect I’m not the only mom out there that feels this way either.  There is simply so much to do for our families that it never seems done.  

If I have come to take away anything from this horrid experience, it’s that I need to begin putting some of my own needs at the top of my “mental list” more regularly- and that doesn’t just mean getting a quick mani/pedi on a Saturday afternoon.  It’s time to make some much needed lifestyle changes, for I am not superwoman; I am simply Laura. 

How To Cope With the Stress of Coronavirus WITHOUT Alcohol

We are living in times of extreme uncertainty.  We don’t know when life will return to normal, or what this new normal might even look like for us.  Without concrete answers, anxiety levels are at an all-time high.  Even for people who don’t normally experience much stress, the worry is real, palpable and significant.  The unknown is a frightful place and we look to cope with our new, unparalleled, anxiety in any way we can. 

Everyone has their go to coping methods, some healthier than others.  However, when stress levels are sustained for extended and profound periods of time, these strategies which might once have only been employed only a few times a month, can become daily events.  This runs the risk of becoming dangerous for some.

My newsfeed is forever filled with “mommy juice” memes.  Not a week goes by where there isn’t some gif or blurb discussing the value of wine as a mom’s primary food source, best friend, and most feasible coping technique. Therefore, it came as no surprise to see post after post declaring that friends were going to, “Forget the food shopping, I’m stocking up at the liquor store for my quarantine.” 

What came as more of a shock were friends who began to reach out and ask me how I planned to cope with quarantine without wine.  As an alcoholic who does not hide her recovery status, what I have heard from numerous people is that they do not want to rely on their old, faithful friend, the bottle of wine or in some cases, the joint.  They wanted to stay as clear as possible during this time.  Some are coming from a place of medical necessity; past or current illnesses bar them from regularly imbibing.  But many, MANY, are coming from a place of physical and emotional self-awareness. 

This is not to say that people were looking to “get sober.” But I do think people are surprised at how quickly utilizing wine or pot as a weekly coping strategy can become a daily habit when you are home every day, all day, and don’t have to fulfill typical life roles.  Most people cannot fathom how out of control this can become because they don’t come from a place of powerlessness—they feel they have a choice over when and how much they want to use.  Suddenly, those choices feel more available when the days aren’t filled with work, chores, activities, driving, and other general adulting responsibilities.  The weeks grow long and boring, the kids get tiring and annoying, there is seemingly no end in sight to all of this, and suddenly that glass of wine gets filled earlier and earlier, until…

So, if you find that suddenly you’re relying on alcohol or pot to cope more than you would like to, take heed, this does NOT mean that you are an alcoholic. However, if you would like to explore some healthier coping tools, here are some tips from someone who is!

First and foremost, explore your stressors, or, as we say in the world of addiction counseling, your triggers.  This could include the isolation of being home and not being able to socialize with friends, suddenly having to homeschool your kids, your current job/financial status, worrying about family, worrying about getting sick, just generally feeling out of control because we have no idea when this will end, or the boredom of not being able to go out and do stimulating things. (Please note, these are only a few general stressors that people are currently feeling; there are many more and no stressor is “wrong” – they are simply what makes you most anxious.)

Tailor your coping strategies to directly combat your triggers!  I will give you a general list of what works for me in recovery, but you can pick and choose based on what is stressing you most in the moment.

  1. Lower your expectations- about everything.  A huge trigger for me is knowing that I have to work and that I am not as available to my children as I feel I should be during this crazy time.  But on the flip side of that is being completely available for your children and diving too deep into the world of homeschooling right now.  Know your limitations and be kind to yourself. There is nothing, I repeat NOTHING that you SHOULD be doing right now.  If you don’t feel like spending another hour on that Social Studies project, then don’t.  If you don’t want to clean your house, make the beds, or tackle projects that you haven’t had a chance to do, then DON’T!  If you do, and this brings you peace and pleasure, then fantastic, go for it!  Remember, your best is ALWAYS good enough.  Repeat that mantra to yourself often, I do. 
  • Stay Connected! Make sure to reach out to friends regularly, text, group chat or Facetime as much as possible.  Set up a Zoom meeting and schedule time to make sure to connect to the outside world.  I text “Ma Bitches” all the time, just to check in or shoot the shit.  I believe we are currently discussing the awesomeness that is Netflix’s Love is Blind.  I have a “cheese eating Facetime party” scheduled for later today, YUM!  Setting up a regularly scheduled time to virtually meet with people who make you feel happy and feel comforted or have similar interest is greatly helpful.  Encourage your children to do the same!  It will be a much-needed break from the current, extreme rigors of parenting and it will be helpful for them as well. 
  • Get out in nature.  The weather is turning, and nature is great medicine.  I cannot recommend a walk in the woods enough.  This will break up the monotony of being in the house, give your fresh air and vitamin D, and provide some reinvigoration to face the rest of the day isolated in your home.
  • Eat! While this coping strategy might be somewhat controversial and have later effects that are unpleasant, these are not normal times.  In that moment, if it’s a choice between reaching for that third glass of wine, or a cupcake, choose the cupcake!
  • Find gratitude.  At times like this, it’s easy to let the negativity completely engulf you.  And what better way to combat this fear and anxiety than to reach for wine or pot which will magically make that go away almost instantaneously?  Gratitude!  Take a good look at what you DO have, rather than what you don’t.  I am grateful that when I come home from work, I have time to spend with my family that doesn’t feel busy and hurried.  That afterschool rush does not currently exist.  I can sit and do a puzzle without having to worry if bags are packed or lunches are made.  Find what your most grateful for in this moment and hold on to it tightly.
  • Turn it over.  This is one of the main recovery tools utilized by alcoholics and addicts in recovery worldwide, but it works for EVERYONE!  Understand what you can control right now and what you can’t.  Let go of what you can’t.  You cannot control this virus; you can control getting up, taking shower, getting dressed and drinking a delicious cup of coffee.  No one knows when or how this will all end but worrying about it is not going to do anything to help it end any sooner.  When you pair this coping strategy with gratitude, it makes a huge difference.
  • Utilize electronics, with caution.  It’s ok to watch too much television or lose yourself on Twitter or Facebook.  Netflix and chill, my friends.  Netflix. And. Chill.  Catch up on all of those movies or series that you have wanted to see for the last year.  I have wanted to begin all of the Marvel movies with Man for ages and we finally have the time to do it.  We watched two in a row the other day; I’m cool with that!  As a side note, if you find yourself too focused on the news and it’s making you anxious, turn it off!!  You do not need to know every detail of what is going on right now, it’s not helpful.  You currently have all of the information you need. 
  • Do it with a friend.  Find a friend who also wants to cut down on their use of alcohol or pot as a coping strategy. Make a commitment to do it together and help hold each other accountable.  Do not judge if they are having a hard time, just be there for each other. 
  • Keep less of it in the house.  If you don’t want it, don’t have it available.  You’re much less likely to go out and get it if it is going to put your health and the health of your family at risk.
  1. Help someone else.  Take the focus off of yourself and reach out and help a friend.  The best way to take your mind off of your own anxiety is to help someone else with theirs. 

These are just some of the healthy coping strategies I use every day.  I reiterate that, you, dear reader, most likely do not need to get sober.  However, if you’re currently evaluating your use of healthy and unhealthy coping strategies during this time of extreme and continuous stress, these are just a few suggestions from someone who is both in recovery and who works as a mental health counselor in the field of addiction. 

Please, stay safe, and stay healthy.  The world will not be this way forever. 

*Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions or concerns over you own use of substances or alcohol.

Dear First Time Sleepaway Camper,

Dear Man,

Another school year has come to an end!  We spent this third-grade year meeting challenges head on, supporting you through failures, and basking in your successes.   As we continue along on your educational journey, we expect that each year will bring its new tests and trials.  You continue to meet these obstacles with grit and grace, and this year was no exception.  You complete the school year with the same continued happiness and self-confidence with which it began.  This has always been the only goal daddy and I have ever had for you and we are unceasingly in awe of the hard work and dedication you put in every minute of every day.

Tomorrow you leave for your first summer at sleepaway camp.  A new chapter in your life and a new opportunity for growth will present itself.  Your absence in this house will be a huge adjustment for all of us.  I am so excited to watch you fly free, but I am also incredibly terrified to take this momentous leap.

Daddy and I both have such fond memories of our time at sleepaway camp and we so badly wanted that for you.  We weren’t sure it would happen.  However, we took the time to find the right camp for you, one that would support your needs but also provide you with a typical and complete sleep away camp experience.  We are thrilled that you will get to participate in this incredible rite of passage. 

Sleepaway camp is going to be like nowhere you have ever been before.  You will have a unique opportunity and I don’t want you to miss out.  There are such high expectations placed on you in the classroom, you always have to give 200% just to accomplish a small task.  Camp will NOT be like this; it will be a place where you can let your guard down and be your most authentic self all of the time.

This summer, take some time do the following…

Leave your box behind and truly live outside of your comfort zone.  Do things you didn’t think you could do.  At least once a day, get involved in an activity that you wouldn’t have chosen to participate in at home.  Camp is a place to explore new things in a safe and kid friendly environment.  So, pick up that Gaga ball, get in that pit, and give yourself over with wild abandon to those activities you fear the most.

Relax.  There are no tests here, no behavior charts, and no assignments due.  No one is demanding your full attention or checking over your shoulder to see if you completed your “must do” work.  There are no unwanted pressures placed on your cognitive and mental load.  Let down your proverbial hair and just have fun.

Befriend someone wholeheartedly different from yourself.  You will have a chance to live with a variety of boys for an entire month.  If you allow it, you will get to know these other kids at their core.  It will no longer be about the superficiality of who is “sporty” versus who likes to play video games, it will be about who they truly are on the inside.  You will find that you have more in common with the vast majority of these boys than you had originally thought. Camp bonds are deeply rooted and lifelong, these friends don’t go home at the end of the day, they go to sleep right next to you night after night.

Grow up, dad and I won’t be there for you.  It’s time to reduce your dependence on the adults around you for every little thing and learn to problem solve on your own.  You will be expected to make your bed, clean your bunk, brush your teeth, and finish your meals without our encouraging words and support.  The decision on what activity you choose to participate in that day or if you go out in a rainstorm in just a t-shirt and flip flops will be yours and yours alone.  You will have some adult assistance and guidance, but this will be your first real foray into maturity and independence.  Don’t waste it.

Break your addiction to technology.  You will be encircled by mother nature, grow to love her again.  Take the time to connect with the people and the beauty that surround you.  Sit by the lake and write a letter, lounge on the stairs of the bunk and laugh with friends, play cards, do Mad Libs, take a walk, read a book.  Do anything that doesn’t involve a screen. 

Be yourself.  At camp, you get to be just who you are without any additional expectations.  You’re not a student, a classmate, a brother, or a son.  You’re not the kid that’s terrible at kickball, or the one who distracts the other students in class.  You’re not the fun friend that’s sought out to make the other’s laugh or the one who likes to help his peers with math.  You’re not a lover of EDM or hater of Fortnite.  You’re not the kid who has ADHD.  You’re just Man. 

I know you will have a wonderful time at camp.  I promise, if you let it, it will be the start of a wonderful tradition.  You will come home and begin to count the days until you can return.  You will grow and thrive and return to us a new Man. 

Love,

Mom

Graduation: A Story of Growth

There was no fanfare, no pomp and circumstance (though that will come in a few weeks), just me, walking out alone into a chilly damp evening.  And just like that, it was over.  After a little over two years, I had completed the schooling for my masters in Mental Health Counseling.

I walked out of my last class with a huge sense of nostalgia, I looked around, soaking in a view I would likely never see again; for there will never be a reason to return to this campus, at least not as a student.  I couldn’t help but get a little teary eyed.  I recalled walking in on my first day so eager and excited, understanding that I was doing something big, something important, something lifechanging.  Now, that was done, the transformation was complete! Yet, I didn’t feel a change.

What I felt was significantly humbler then when I had reached every other educational milestone in my life.

High School graduation, I was 17. This felt HUGE, and I’m not selling it short, it was!  I was finally an “adult.”  I had goals, dreams, and no sense of urgency to complete them.  As I drove myself home following that ceremony, I tossed the cap into the back seat, manually rolled down my window (because, you know, first car), cranked up Oasis’s Wonderwall (it was the 90’s…), and lit a cigarette.  I felt so mature and so experienced, like, voila, adulthood!  Like all teens, I was naïve.

College graduation, I was 21.  NOW, this adulthood thing was getting real!!  I still had plans and they were taking a more solid form.  My next moves in life were all laid out in front of me and the path was as clear and bright as the yellow brick road.  I lived in the big city, albeit with my parents because who can afford to live on their own after graduation, but I could come and go as I pleased or even stay out all night if I fancied. I was a grown woman after all.

Graduate School graduation, I was 24.  Almost my mid-twenties, so now I was a full-fledged adult with a masters and a career!  I had a job and an apartment.  I paid my own bills and made dinner every night that was eaten from actual plates. I lived with my boyfriend and only true grownups cohabitate with their boyfriend, right?!  This was real adulting.  I had finally reached the peak of the growth cycle.

Then came the next 15 years. 

I was hit with the reality of the real world like a wrecking ball to the face.  Many amazing things happened, and yet, so many more terrible things happened too.  Realizing that I wasn’t even half the adult that I thought I was, was an incredibly hard pill to swallow.  And for someone who never shied away from swallowing a pill that was offered, this realization was almost unbearable and insurmountable.  With each graduation milestone, I felt like it was finally time to become, time to meet those goals, and attain that adult status.  However, I never could.  I always felt one rung short of completion, like I was hovering just below the surface and couldn’t figure out how break through.  Despite getting married, having children, acquiring a mortgage, and doing all of the things “real adults” seemed to do, my growth as a person, as an individual, had stalled somewhere between listening to Wonderwall and eating dinner on actual plates.

This graduation, at 39, feels significant and important in a different way then all of the others.  It feels like I am finally blossoming into the person I knew I could always be, but never knew how to be.  I have finally lived enough to understand that we don’t simply grow up and, presto chango, the process is complete.  No, true growth is a constant process.  It ebbs and flows from moment to moment and most often occurs when we least expect it and aren’t even trying. 

It comes in the little moments of sheer joy when hearing your baby say her first words or watching him take his first step.

It comes in the tragic, heartbreaking moments of despair, when you believe life will never be ok again.

It comes from moments of anger, feeling brave enough to express it or safe enough to simply let it go and move on.

It’s there when you land your first job, but also when you get fired from that very same job.

It happens when you take a risk, but also when you just play it safe.

It happens over dinner with girlfriends, dates with your husband, and coffee with a colleague.

That time you dropped a quarter into a homeless man’s cup, that was growth.

Growth comes even when you’re sitting on your couch binge watching Netflix all day because you don’t feel up to doing anything else.  In that moment, you have recognized that that is all you’re capable of today, and that’s OK!!! 

Growth happens every day, all day, as long as you’re open to it.

Three years ago, I began a journey to remake myself.  I shed off my cocoon of alcoholism and became a sober butterfly.  In that process I decided to return to school and fulfill a life-long dream of becoming a therapist.  That portion of my journey is now complete.  However, unlike previous graduations, I don’t feel that my growth is over.  In fact, it’s the opposite, my growth is still happening every day, because I am finally ready for it.

Up next, graduation!

Words Matter: 8 Statements From IEP Team Members That Have Truly Hurt Me

Teachers, principals, assistant principals, bus drivers, teacher’s aids, librarians, office staff, special education directors, school psychologists, OT’s and guidance counselors, I’ve had conversations with ALL of them.

I’ve discussed the good, the bad, the success stories, and the major failures.

I’ve requested, directed, strategized, and begged, apologized, thanked, praised and collaborated. 

Team meetings, conferences, informal conversations, evaluations, I’ve participated in all of them over the last seven years and managed to maintain my composure and gratitude for those that help my son on a daily basis.

Not all of these conversations are easy, in fact, most of them are downright painful.  It’s rare that you get a phone call or an e mail just to randomly tell you how wonderful your child is doing.  After a few years, I finally began to request that before launching into what’s wrong, we take a minute or two to discuss what’s right. 

Most of the time I welcome these conversations, it means they have taken the time out of their day to discuss my son’s education, health, and well-being.  I am thankful that they care enough to do this, going the extra mile for my little guy is not in the job description.  However, I have also heard some doozies over the years, utterances that have made my blood boil, my teeth grind, my eyes tear, and my brain scream…

… and, in some cases, literally cursing the messenger:

Is he on medication?  First of all, giving a child medication is a personal, family decision.  Whether he is or is not medicated should have no bearing on the level of care you provide for him.  With that being said, he actually takes a booster dose WHILE AT SCHOOL.  If you are a member of the team that provides bi-weekly services to my child, you should be familiar with every aspect of his plan.  As one friend said, “that’s just sloppy work.”

Oh, he is on medication, well, are you sure you give it to him every day, because some days it seems like he’s not on anything?  Are you joking?  Yes, I can see how, on rare occasions, one might forget to medicate their child.  But I think the bigger question here is, have you ever worked with a child with ADHD?  Medication is not a magic pill, while it helps significantly, it is NOT a cure all.  The only thing consistent about ADHD is inconsistency.  So yeah, some days, for no rhyme or reason, it might appear as though he is unmedicated. 

Have you tried outside therapies?  Now I know you must be joking!  Like every parent I know who has a child with special needs (or any extra medical challenges), I have done everything emotionally, physically, and financially in my power to help my child.  I often find that the school toss out unsolicited suggestions on how to help a child without considering the ramifications to the family.  Most often, extra therapies are not covered by insurance and families have to pay out of pocket.  I understand your limits as a school, I see that you are attempting to try your hardest, please assume that I am doing the same.

But he’s so brilliant!  I hear this one often, and while it might seem like a compliment, it really only serves to aggravate the situation more.  I know he’s brilliant, I also know that what he has achieved academically does not reflect just how smart he is.  I see that he works his ass off every day, thrice as hard as most of the other kids to only get half as far.  I take no solace in the fact that you think he’s intelligent, as he’s clearly not thriving, but just surviving.

I don’t have any power over the IEP team!  I believe I actually used the word “bullshit” when I heard this one.  As a member of the team, be it a teacher, OT, school psychologist, or SLP, your words and recommendations matter.  As a parent, all we can do is gather the information from our team and go forth to present our best arguments when requesting services for our child.  The information you provide regarding his or her performance is power.

He has the potential, I’ve seen him do it.  Yes, but he isn’t really doing it.  Much like its previously stated cousin, “He’s so brilliant!”  this statement doesn’t allay my fears, it only serves to enflame them.  He does have the potential, and in four years of being at your school, you still haven’t figured out how to maximize that potential.  When do we stop trying to fit my round peg into your square hole? 

PLUS, when this statement is made at a team meeting, it serves as evidence that what they are doing IS enough, they have “seen him do it!”  Instead of serving to open a discussion on ways to truly amplify his capabilities, it actually shuts the door permanently in my face.

All kids develop at a different rate.  So true!  But when the tests that you’re giving demonstrate that his development is significantly behind his aged matched peers, this condescending statement does not serve to alleviate my worry.

PLUS, when this statement is made at a team meeting, it often signals that they are about to shut down any special service request and use this statement as the reason, which is, simply put, shitty.

We’re just biding time.  Wait, what the what?  No, I want my kid to start thriving yesterday!  How long do we wait, how many different strategies do we try before we finally do what’s in his best interest?  He’s a little boy, not a science experiment.  What we do now, how permanent, lifelong, consequences.

Your words matter.  I am the primary care giver, the primary worrier, the mother of a child with special needs, the way in which I am approached about my child is key to my mental health.  In the end, you have my child on your caseload for a few years, I have to wage the war forever.  Choose your words and your delivery kindly, because most of us mamas have a good fight within and we won’t tolerate anything but the best for our children. 

ADHD: I LOVE Him, But His Poor Impulse Control is Killing Me.

I’m sitting at my desk at work, knee deep in charting.  I hear the phone inside my desk drawer ring, and I ignore it, too busy to deal with whatever it is.  Moments later it rings again.  I hear the impatience in the tune it spits out and I can’t disregard it anymore.  I close my chart and open the drawer, glancing down at the screen I see it’s the babysitter.  I have three missed calls from her.

My heart pounds.  It’s an emergency!

I call her back, and she assures me immediately that the kids are fine… HOWEVER, it seems that Man has stuck some metal into a socket and blown a fuse, the kitchen has no power. 

This is the third time that he has done this in the last year, so I know exactly how to walk her through fixing it.

I push the fear from my mind and the aggravation sets in- will he ever learn that that is dangerous?  Will he hurt himself, or someone else the next time he does it?  For there is ALWAYS a next time.

We’ve all seen THAT kid and THAT mom.  You KNOW the dynamic duo, you’ve met them before. 

The kid who is standing in the shopping cart, arms out, pretending to fly, as his sibling runs him down supermarket aisles.  His mother running after them, yelling angrily, embarrassed, and worried about concussions and broken bones.

The kid who is hiding in the clothing racks at Target, playing hide and seek.  His mother, frantically searching for him, frustrated, impatient, worried about a possible kidnapping.

The kid who just picked up that huge rock on the playground and tossed it across the field, oblivious to the 10 kids it almost hit in the head as it arcs nicely and lands on the ground with a loud thud.  His mother, shamed, desperately apologizing to other parents, worried that the other children will not want to play with him anymore.

For this child, knows not what he does, and this mother understands that… and it worries the SHIT out of her. 

Impulse control. 

It’s something that develops over time as the brain grows and classic conditioning does its job.  When we stick metal in a socket it shocks us. Therefore, the next time the thought occurs to us try it again, we are quickly reminded of the searing pain that coursed through our hand and the screams it elicited from our mom the last time tried that.  We decide not to do it again.  Simple.

This does not happen for the child with ADHD.

These are not magical children who don’t get shocked.  They do- and that shock hurt them just as much a their neurotypical pal who tried it also. No, it’s that they don’t stop long enough to think of the consequences of the last time they performed such an action. 

In other words, conditioning does not work as well with this population.  They have an idea and immediately act upon it.  The mechanism of the brain that says, “Dude, the last time you did that you got hurt, blew a fuse, AND your mom got pissed!!!” is completely absent.

In our house, this is the most challenging aspect of the ADHD diagnosis.

It’s easy to see how a lack of impulse control affects one’s behaviors.  If your child never stops to think of the consequences of their actions, that can lead to some pretty out-of-control situations.

But subtler, and more challenging to understand, are the ways it permeates EVERY. ASPECT. Of functioning for this child and their family.

Without impulse control, independent functioning becomes almost impossible.  At three years of age, this is expected, but by seven, eight, thirteen years of age, it’s unconscionable and exhausting for parents.

It affects activities of daily living:

Yes, we have all had to remind our kids a few times to put on their shoes or brush their teeth in the morning.  However, eventually they get it.  Sure, they might need an extra, gentle, reminder or two (or several) on days when they are not completely on their game.  But, all in all, by a certain age, your child can dress and bathe themselves somewhat to completely independently.

This does not happen for a child who lacks impulse control.  The verbal reminder is given, but suddenly, a bird is flying by the window and it’s cool and it’s red!!!  The sweat shirt is dropped, the child gleefully runs to the window and enjoys his birdwatching for like 20 seconds.  But then, something else of interest catches his eye!!!  The sweatshirt remains crumpled on the floor- a complete afterthought- until mom notices that her kid is wandering around the house naked, hyper focused on peeling the wrapper off of a crayon he found under the couch yesterday.  She calls out, “Go get dressed!” However, he has dropped the crayon and become engrossed in tapping the spoon for his morning cereal on the counter- he’s jamming!  He is deaf to her words. 

This happens every morning.  EVERY. MORNING. Until mom just gives up and sits next to her child, a child who is waaaaay too old for this, and dresses him herself.

It affects school:

Oh, how it affects school.  Do I even need to elaborate on this one?

It affects learning in such a substantial and significant way that it’s almost too much for me to wrap my head around.  I think people often think that ADHD just means a kid “can’t sit still.”  Yea, you know why? Lack of impulse control.

Paying attention in class, completing assignments, participating appropriately, prioritizing and organizing work, homework (oh the homework!), simply walking down the hall to gym class- it’s ALL affected.

It affects relationships:

God, does it affect relationships with both family and friends. 

This post is borne from the shame I have felt lately because I have been extra short with Man. 

As his mom, I am tired.  Tired of having to help him with everything. 

I’m anxious.  Anxious that he will never improve.

I’m fearful.  Fearful that I don’t have it within me to be the understanding and calm parent he needs all the time.  Fearful that I am just losing my patience.  Fearful of how much more I’m yelling lately.

I’m reminded.  Reminded constantly that it is all out of his control, he never, EVER, does this on purpose.  (Sometimes I think it would be easier to handle if he were, at least then my anger would be justified.)

It affects friendships, relationships with siblings and other family members, teachers, random strangers on the street, even the checkout guy at the drugstore counter.  Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone who constantly interrupts you with their own stream of consciousness?  Eventually you just…

It affects one’s ability to truly master something, even something they love:

Mastery comes from the ability to practice and dedicate yourself to a specific task.  However, without impulse control, your ability to commit the time needed to achieve mastery is impossible.  It means that no matter how gifted you are, or how interested you are in something, you might never truly achieve excellence.  It’s as though you are trying your best, but your best just got up and walked away to do something else.  

This saddens me deeply for Man, as he is so brilliant and curious, yet, so far, he can only produce middle-of-the road success with everything he tries.

The hardest part, the most challenging and maddening part, is watching the one you love suffer because of something that is completely out of their control.  They, more than anyone else, are the most impacted by the lack of control they have over their own brain.  It often masks the kind, wonderful, interesting, and incredible children they are. They simply cannot make it function in the desired way and this leads to daily exasperation and regular disappointments.  They often work three times as hard and get half the results of their aged matched peers.

It’s this reason that forces me to push my own irritation aside, gather my strength, wrap my arms around Man, and be his scaffolding until he doesn’t need it anymore.