The Motherload

I walk into the house after eight hours of internship.  I brush sweaty, freckled child cheeks with a quick kiss hello and I’m off.  I begin emptying back packs and carrying soggy, musty towels to the washing machine to begin a load—how can they smell so bad after only one use?  I empty lunch bags, mine included, and load the dishwasher with seemingly endless containers sticky with residue.  I make sure to get the AM dishes in there too, you know, the ones that were left haphazardly in the sink from the chaos that is morning.  If I leave them any longer, the dried food glued to their sides might become permanently affixed.  With empty lunch containers in front of me, I immediately begin to repack them for tomorrow. Some random child calls from across the room; she doesn’t want that sandwich, she wants a different one—the kids have barely looked up from their post-camp television haze to acknowledge my presence, yet they sense that I am doing lunch wrong and promptly put a stop to it.  I usher one child into the bath and as I turn on the water I’m acutely aware of the fact that I haven’t gone to the bathroom since lunch.  I try to go but absentmindedly sit down on naked child who has beaten me to it and now the opportunity has passed.  I head across the hall and gather the requisite uniforms for campers attending two different camps. I’m lucky, it’s picture day at both of their camps so I only have to remember this fact once—two different picture days and it’s a guarantee that at least one of them would not be wearing the required camp t-shirt.  A blood-curdling scream comes from the tub; I think maybe she’s gotten shampoo in her eye.  I run, dropping the clothes on floor of the hallway.  When I get there, I realize it was just her rallying cry. She’s very proud that she has shampooed, conditioned, and gotten out of the tub to dry off all by herself.  Upon closer inspection I realize she actually hasn’t, that half of her head is still covered in shampoo—I let it slide. I continue on my way, there are still so many things to do…

 

The Motherload…

Run to the supermarket, we’re out of… everything.

Drop off the dry cleaning.

Pack Man’s lunch.

Pack Lady’s lunch.

Pack my own lunch.

Get to class on time.

Is it early drop off for camp today?

Don’t forget to call the auto body shop to order new tires before you have a massive blowout on the highway.

Pack camp bags—does she swim twice tomorrow?  Better toss in two suits just in case…

Wait, go back upstairs, you forgot it’s stuffed animal day and you need to pack Carrotty Bun Buns for her.

overwhelmed_woman

Get your own school assignment finished, it’s due soon.

Sign the kids up for Fall dance classes.

What day of the week is it?

“MOMMMMMMM, can I have some water?”

Get back on that school assignment, it’s still due soon.

Sunblock the kids.

Prepare to run group tomorrow at my internship.

Speaking of internship, am I doing a decent job, because it kind of feels like I suck at this.

When was the last time I walked the dog?  Was it today?

Return library books.

Pick up ant traps, it’s getting ridiculous in here.

Go back to the hardware store, you forgot the Draino.

When was the last time I ate a meal sitting down?

“MOMMMMMM, there’s no more toilet paper!”

Is the air conditioning working? Better call for an appointment before the next heat wave.

“Man, eat your dinner!”

Double check that Lady’s play date is still on—am I dropping her off or is she getting picked up?

Shit- unpack Lady’s camp bag so you can put labels on all her clothes.

Go to internship.

“MOMMMMMMMM, can you help me tie my shoes?”

Do it all.

Do it all with perfectly flawless skin.

Do it all without cellulite, while looking hot in those jeans.

Do it with manicured fingernails.

With a stylish outfit on.

While getting a nutritious dinner on the table every night by 6:30.

With a smile on your face, a skip in your step, and without missing a beat.

 

What any mother can tell you is that this is just a fraction of what runs through our minds daily.  It’s called The Motherload.  It’s intense and it’s a bitch.  It’s the never-ending mental list that streams on a loop in our heads, always.  It’s our theme song- our anthem- the beat to which we march.  It’s with us in the shower, at the dinner table, at work, on line at the CVS, when we are driving, even when we are sleeping…or not sleeping because The Motherload is keeping us awake.  It’s a million tiny balls all up in the air at once; if one falls, they all fall, raining down heavily upon us leaving us battered and bruised.

I have been crushed by The Motherload lately.  With the recent loss of our babysitter coinciding with the start of my graduate internship and summer school—a time when my satanic professors feel It’s important to cram 15 weeks of work into just six short weeks.  And as much as it pains me to say this, I have brought part of it on myself.  I told my husband that I didn’t need a new babysitter until the Fall, that I would be just fine for the summer with work, school, and the kids all by myself.

What the fuck was I thinking?

I was thinking I could handle it.

No, I was thinking I should handle it.

There is a significant difference.

As mothers today, we are made to feel we should do it all.  We can have that fantastic career, thriving social life, happy, seamlessly operating home, and lovely, well-raised, children along with our sanity completely intact, all tied up neatly with a bright red ribbon.  Somewhere, some little voice in a remotely accessed corner of my brain screamed, “You don’t need any help, you should be able to do it all!!!”

This, my friends, was where I was wrong, because I can’t do it all on my own, not without being leveled by The Motherload.

Mothers unconsciously carry so much of the load and I fear it’s because we feel we have no other choice.  However, I’m beginning to see that the harder I work, the less I should be doing.  I need to unload, to give up on the idea that it all must get done, done well, and done by me.

Another School Year With ADHD

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As Man eagerly climbed the staircase of the bus for the last ride of his second-grade year, I let out a deep sigh of relief.  A year’s worth of emotion flooded out of me as I waved at his smiling face through the window while the bus drove away.  He disappeared down the street on his way to his last day of school and I burst into tears.  We had made it through another year of school and he was still a happy, sweet, and eager boy.

Second grade had been a success.  More than a success, he had thrived.  And suddenly I felt all the inner strength, fear, anxiety, worry, and anticipation that had slowly gathered inside of me over the last 180 days pour out at the end of my driveway while my dog looked on in wonder.  She walked over and licked the tears from my face, as she could feel the massive release of tension oozing out of me in that moment as well.

I don’t think I had realized just how much I was holding my breath every day until those doors closed behind him.  I don’t think I understood how much of my worry got on this bus with him and rode to school each morning until I knew that it was his last ride.  For my own survival, I had compartmentalized my fear and anxiety into the furthest recesses of my heart.  It was always there behind every beat, but I had refused to let it drive its rhythm.

My goal for Man every year (and I suspect this is the goal for many parents) is to just get him from point A to point B, from the beginning to the end, happily.  While I do push his studies and, of course, want him to thrive academically every year, my overarching goal is simple—his happiness and self-esteem.  I am of the belief that it doesn’t matter how smart he is or how well he did on that spelling or math test; if he isn’t happy and he doesn’t feel good about himself, then none of that matters.  His intelligence is static, it will always be there, ready for action, but it will be useless if we must first fight through depression and poor self-esteem.

Kids like Man are at constant risk for depression.  It’s not because they are born with a chemical imbalance (though some might be), it’s because their day-to-day academic and social environment isn’t designed for them.  For better or worse, I have accepted that his school setting is one we must live with and make work for us.  He, and others like him, will always be the round pegs trying to fit into the square holes.  It doesn’t matter what district in what state we live in, the laws of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) have not yet caught up with the social, emotional, educational, and executive functioning needs of the diagnosis of ADHD.  As I wrote about in my post Your Child is Too Smart for an IEP, he does not qualify for an IEP anymore and because he is doing well enough academically (the law states you must be two standard deviations below the norm), we wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if we pushed for them to pay for a program that caters more to his executive functioning and emotional needs.

So here we are, stuck making each new year work for us.  We take the social, emotional, and academic demands of each grade and face them head on.  We design and implement new strategies to fit that new year, and so far, that has been working.  He is still a happy little boy.  But with that comes extreme fear and anxiety—what if next year it doesn’t work?   I feel my ability to protect him slipping out of my grip with each passing year.  As he gets older, he grows to understand more about himself and the world around him.  As he climbs through the grades, he sees more clearly both his differences and his similarities.  As the years go on, he begins to ask more questions about these differences and how they have come to be.  And this makes me worry.

 For right now, for today, he loves himself.

For right now, for today, he thinks his group of friends is simply the best—and so do I!

For right now, for today, he thinks he is smart as a whip—and he is!

For right now, for today, he thinks his choices in extracurricular activities are sublime—and they are!

For right now, for today, he is a happy little boy—and I will work to keep it that way with each passing year.

bus

Why I expect My Son’s School to Provide More Than Just The Requisite Support

“We provide the requisite support.”

This is the statement that the school principal made to me when I expressed concern over Man’s participation in an upcoming school event.  Our school does a wonderful, day long, event that involves relays and egg tosses and a multitude of other team building activities that promote sportsmanship and working cooperatively.

The kids love it, they look forward to it all year.  Why wouldn’t they?  A day of no classes where they get to run around and play games all day.  Eat ice pops and laugh with their friends.  Feel part of a group and relish in the power of team work.  Sounds amazing, right?  What child wouldn’t look forward to a day like that!?

Man. Man doesn’t look forward to this day at all.

Sports and other physical activities are challenging for him.  He’s not the fastest, slickest guy on the field.  And even when he’s participating in a seemingly innocuous activity like an egg toss, his Sensory Processing Disorder makes it extraordinarily challenging.  When kids are running and screaming around him, his body gets overstimulated and basically shuts off.  He drops the egg and lets his team down.

This day, though the best day for most kids, is one of the worst days for him.

As his parent, I dress him up, give him a little pep talk and send him on his way to do his best.  I think it’s important he learns to participate and that he understand that trying his best is good enough. I also refuse to raise a quitter.  Not every activity that he is expected to participate in is going to be his favorite or something he is good at.  It’s important he understand this early on and learns to try his best to rise to the occasion.  And who knows, maybe he will get a surge of “sportiness” and help his team to victory.

As his parent, I’m also going to do whatever I can within my power to advocate for my son’s success.  That’s why I e mailed the school and asked if there was any way they could create one, “non-sports-based activity” for that day.  Just one thing that would help a “non-sporty” kid feel like he or she could contribute to his or her team in a meaningful way. I pointed out that teamwork can just as easily be promoted through LEGO tower building or some other less physical event.  I highlighted that while I valued their support of Man’s academic success, it seemed that their support of children with special needs did not to extend outside of the classroom as much as they thought it did.

Not unexpectedly, their answer was no.  “We provide the requisite support for your son.”

That statement was like a bullet to my heart.  You see, as many parents of children with special needs can attest to, “providing the requisite support” is NOT the same as promoting an environment where we let our children shine and thrive for their differences.  Today, with the statistics of children diagnosed with any number of behavioral, learning, and/or emotional disorders rising dramatically from year to year, different is the new same.

I have an expectation, and maybe it’s an unfair one, that my school go beyond just providing what is required of them by law.  I have an expectation that they encourage an environment that allows children to be celebrated for their individuality.  I have an expectation that they demonstrate how some kids might not excel in one area but might kick butt in another completely different arena.  Teaching teamwork is showing children that they all have something unique to contribute.  It’s allowing each team member to be called upon for his or her strengths and carried by others when he is weak.  It’s making sure that every member of that team feels the power of their own personal contribution to that team’s success.  It’s not creating an environment where someone feels less than all day, especially a young child.

I want all children, typical and atypical, to feel the glow of success within the walls of their school.  I want them all to be celebrated for their assets and to understand that they won’t be defined by their weaknesses.  I want schools to go above and beyond what is just legally required of them for the development, success, and benefit of every student that walks through their door.  I want them promote acceptance and understanding.

Who knows, maybe Man will toss the winning ring, or hop across the finish line just in time to win it for his team.  Maybe he will have the best day ever.  But that doesn’t mean that my expectations of his school will change.  It doesn’t mean that I will stop carrying the message and advocating for the support and celebration of his differences.

When Sensory Eating Turns Into Failure to Thrive: A Horror Story

As a student of Mental Health Counseling, I often think of a diagnosis as a tree trunk.  There is one, solid stable disorder planting its roots and from the symptoms of the disorder, a branchlike network of additional challenges and diagnoses blossom.  I have discussed Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) before (Imagine Your Child With Sensory Processing Disorder), this diagnosis has planted a giant Redwood like tree trunk in our front yard.  There are a multitude of symptoms that have allowed additional problems and disorders to branch and bloom, casting a large shadow over our entire house.  One such symptom is sensory eating, and from this symptom a tangled grid of branches has formed to develop a new and even scarier diagnosis, Failure to Thrive (FTT).

In my post, Sensory Eating and Picky Eating are NOT the Same (Picky Eating and Sensory Eating Are NOT The Same! A Guide to Improving Feeding in Sensory Eaters), I discuss the differences between a picky eater and a sensory eater.  The major difference, the most significant and frightening, is that sensory eaters would rather go hungry than eat a food that would disturb their bodies fragile peaceful state.  Man is a sensory eater.  Most people assume that that means that he can’t eat certain textures.  We all know people who can’t eat tapioca pudding or cottage cheese without having a visceral reaction.  Personally, I couldn’t eat shrimp until well into adulthood because that rubbery crunch gave my body the heebie-jeebies.  But for Man, it’s flavor intensity.  He cannot eat foods that have too much flavor.  When he was three-and-a-half he mistakenly grabbed a garlic flavored cracker off the counter and before he could even finish chewing the first bite he broke out into a cold sweat, his eyes began to water, and his entire face turned bright red.  His body was literally rejecting the flavor.  He couldn’t eat for the rest of the night.

Years of having such extremely intense bodily reactions to flavors have naturally resulted in extremely poor eating habits and dread around food and mealtime.  I mean, if every time you put food into your mouth it made your body feel pain, would you want to eat?  In our house, mealtime brings fear and anxiety, not pleasure and excitement.

You see, from day one, every bite of every meal that has gone into his mouth has been prompted by me.

“Eat, Man.”

“Take that bite, Man.”

“No, you’re not finished yet, Man.”

I can remember when he was younger, I would bring him his breakfast on a Monday morning and think, “Here we go, 21 meals and the week will be over.”

Meals can take upwards of an hour-and-a-half.  He laboriously chews each tiny little bite, bites small enough that he really won’t have to actually taste the food, while I would stand there, trying to stay calm, encouraging and supportive.  If I walked away, he would simply not eat.  I’ve tried everything, and there have been times of improvement.  He does eat some new foods, but ultimately, the quantity he eats remains the same; poor.

After many years, I decided that I did need to walk away and just let him be.  Mealtimes were causing me such stress, anger, fear, and resentment that I didn’t want to be around him at all anymore.  I forced myself to accept that he was going to eat what he was going to eat and that was going to have to be ok.  I couldn’t help him in any way if I was internally fuming and freaking out three meal times every day.

That tactic worked for a while, he wasn’t growing a lot, but it was steady growth at his own slow rate.  That was until our most recent visit, where we found out that he has begun to lose weight.  Now, a seven-year-old boy that only weighed 38 pounds, was a mere 36.5.  This has brought out the anxiety that I have tried to keep in check for all these years.

When we heard the news, it sent me into a frenzy and I yelled at him.

No, I screamed, I threatened, and basically tried to instill a fear in him that would force him to eat better, that would allow me to remain in my protective “Man eating bubble.”

I am ashamed, and it brings tears to my eyes and an ache to my heart to know that I made him cry so much about something that he really has no control over.

I vowed to get my fear in check and help him in a calm and loving way.  And that worked… for a few days.

Can you imagine what it feels like to have to remind your child to take every bite of every meal that he has ever eaten in his entire life?  It’s exhausting.

Can you feel the anxiety through the screen as I even type those words?  It’s palpable.

Like an alcoholic picking up a drink after a period of sobriety, I picked up my anxiety about his eating right where I had left it.  It has now intensified to such a severe level where every morning I’m yelling in a way that humiliations me to admit.

Every meal I look at his gaunt body across the table.  I see the dark rings of malnourishment under his eyes. I watch him pull up the pants that are sized for a child half his age as they slip down while he trudges across a room and I yell.  I yell out of fear.  Fear for his health.  Fear for his growth.  Fear for my own sanity.

Mostly, I just feel and incredible guilt every day.  This is obviously my fault because I can’t handle making sure he adequately eats each meal.  This is obviously my fault because I’m not finding the magic cure that will make this all better.  I’m obviously only making it worse by revealing my anxiety and fear to him in such a loud way and angry.

I just wish I could find a chainsaw strong enough to cut the branches of FTT off at the root, because right now, I’m terrified that this tree will fall and crush us underneath it’s weight.

FTT

Your Child is Too Smart for an IEP

“I have good new for you!  We are declassifying your son!”

This statement was recently conveyed to a friend by a member of the Special Education Department at her child’s school… and it was decidedly NOT good news.

This has been a running theme with many of my friends and fellow special needs mama warriors lately: declassification from Special Education and the removal of their child’s IEP because recent test scores show that they are “too smart for an IEP.”

It’s infuriating.  If you think about the way the ADHD brain functions this statement doesn’t even make sense!

This very concept has struck a chord of fear within me.  Am I going to walk into Man’s next meeting and fight to maintain the Special Education services that he desperately needs just because he happens to be producing grade level work?

Most children with ADHD and other behavioral and emotionally manifested disorders are, in fact, quite smart.  We had Man tested recently and, as expected, the scores show that he is NOT intellectually disabled.  They indicated that his IQ is adequate to maintain age appropriate, grade level work, if not work that even is somewhat above grade level.

However, his ADHD makes that impossible.

My incredibly smart and gifted son can program a computer yet can’t find his way out of a paper bag.

Why?

Because the ADHD brain lacks executive functioning skills.  This means he can’t organize his classwork, he doesn’t know where or when to start an assignment, or how to pace himself so his brain doesn’t fatigue a third of the way through.  He can’t remember the materials he is supposed to gather, or if he was supposed to do it in pencil or crayon.  He can’t plan each step out or problem solve if he get’s himself stuck.  Therefore, it doesn’t matter what his IQ is, he cannot use his intelligence effectively without the help of the Individualized Education Plan that creates goals and accommodations to account for his lack of Executive Functioning.

My incredibly talented and smart child has a command of math that is beyond his years, but some days he can’t add 2+2.

Why?

Because the ADHD brain lacks the ability to regulate emotions.  This means that if he is feeling too anxious, his brain might just shut down.  If he is extremely angry or sad it can affect him to the point of being unable to complete classroom work that day.  If he is tired or overwhelmed simple tasks begin to seem insurmountable and he just gives up and walks away.  Therefore, his excellent math skills don’t matter, he cannot use them effectively without the help of the Individualized Education Plan that creates goals and accommodations to help him with emotional regulation on the days when he simply cannot do it for himself.

Some days, all you see is Man’s ADHD.  It’s worn like a badge, displayed like an eye sore across his chest.  Everything he does, everything he touches, is affected by it.  Without an IEP in place every day the bad days wouldn’t just be bad, they would be disastrous.

Some days, Man’s ADHD is imperceptible.  A mere hint showing itself at random, innocuous moments, leaving him undisturbed and highly functional.  Without an IEP in place every day these great days would only be somewhat satisfactory.

The only thing consistent about ADHD is its inconsistency.  Frustratingly, its symptoms will come and go without rhyme or reason.  Some days its sufferers will be super-starts, far exceeding the expectations of those around them.  Other days, they will be deceived by their very own brains, and even the simplest of tasks will seem impossible. Therefore, the accommodations and support that an IEP provides must be a constant.  The solid steadiness of that IEP is a vital guide for grounding these fragile, ever fluctuating students and their teachers.

No parent wants their child labeled or “classified.”  If we could fix our children and make their brains function perfectly, we absolutely would.  However, you are not calling us with “good news” when you tell us that you want to eliminate the services that they rely on to manage school successfully.  You are essentially removing their lifeline to victory.

Being intelligent and being able to effectively use that intelligence are two entirely different things.  Intelligence is so much more than just being “smart.”  It’s a combination of a thousand distinctive characteristics that must all be operating in synch with one another, like a well-oiled machine.  ADHD takes a huge wrench and just gingerly tosses it into that machine.  It doesn’t matter how “smart” a child is, an IEP works as a tool to eliminate that wrench so our children can effectively use their intelligence.

I understand that a 504 is a valuable resource.  It makes sense that schools want our children to thrive in the least restrictive environment.  However, academic demands change drastically from year to year, as does a child’s social and emotional growth.  The rush to declassify, an act that is virtually impossible to reverse, prior to a child demonstrating long-term, consistent success across a few grades seems drastic and irresponsible.  We should be more cautious with our children, as even the slightest inkling of failure and struggle can have dire consequences with this population.

So no, I refuse to accept that any child is too smart for an IEP.

Child with learning difficulties

Parkland: What Am I Allowed To Feel?

Man hold up his hands like a gun and takes fake shots.  He laughs maniacally at the video he’s watching.  It’s one of those silly kid’s videos where guys are using Nerf guns to shoot each other in idiotic places.  He thinks it’s hysterical.

“Turn that off right now!” I say curtly. 

“What’s the big deal?” He asks innocently.

“You know daddy and I don’t like guns or shooting or when you watch videos of shooting!”

“It’s just a Nerf gun mom, it’s funny.”

“Well, one day it could be a real gun!” I say as I rip the iPad away from him.

He looks at me, his already giant doe eyes even larger.  “Mom, I was watching that!!”

“Well, now you’re not.” I spit back. 

I take a deep breath; my emotions are running high.  I have just read another article about the Parkland shooting and I’m sad, scared, angry, defeated…

“I have to talk to you about something, buddy.”

“Ok.”

“One of the reasons daddy and I don’t like you playing with guns or thinking they are just fun toys is because one day, it might be hard for you to tell if someone has a toy gun or a real gun.  One day, someone might start shooting and it won’t just be pretend.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Well, you know all of those lockdown drills you guys have?  It’s because someone with a real gun might come into your school and start shooting and they want to make sure you know what to do.  That happened today at a school in Florida.  Some people even got killed.”

“Stop saying that mommy, you’re scaring me.  I don’t want to hear that!!”

“I know little buddy, and I don’t want to have to tell you this, but I do.  It’s important that you know that guns are dangerous and that they are not toys and they can hurt people.”

I’m crying now, and he looks at me a little lost.  He continues to back away from the conversation, scanning the room for his iPad so he can remove himself from this discussion altogether.  He can’t handle what I am saying and, quite frankly, I can’t either. 

A million thoughts are racing through my head: “He needs to hear this stuff, it’s a matter of life and death.” “He’s only seven, I shouldn’t be scaring him like this.” “Am I doing this right, because I’m not sure how to have a conversation like this with my seven-year-old?”  “I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO HAVE THIS CONVERSATION WITH MY SEVEN-YEAR-OLD!!!”

This morning they read the names and descriptions of the 17 killed on NPR.  I began to cry again.

Then, just now, I read some of the text exchanges between parent’s and their children.  I began to cry again.

Then I began to feel guilty, am I allowed to cry?  Am I even allowed to feel this way?  It wasn’t my school, or my children, or even anyone I know.  My sadness cannot take away from the sadness and distraught felt by the friends and family of whose lives were taken.

My emotions are so confused and disconnected.

I don’t know what I am allowed to feel; but I do know that I am heartbroken.

I don’t know what I am allowed to feel; but I do know that I am angry.

I don’t know what I am allowed to feel; but I do know that I am helpless.

There is so much I’m feeling, but mostly, I don’t feel it is my right to have any feelings on this matter at all, not until it happens to someone I know.

And there it is… “Not until it happens to someone I know.” 

The likelihood of it happening to someone I know is significant, it’s only a matter of time. 

That fact alone gives me the right to feel!

To feel angry!

To feel that nothing, NOTHING is being done!

To feel scared because we are all just sitting around waiting for it to happen again!!!

This didn’t happen to me, it happened to every single parent and child in this country and somewhere along the way we’ve been told to accept the fact that there is nothing we can do. 

In the end, why feel at all if those feelings aren’t going to amount to anything.