Between our two kids we've got apraxia of speech, sensory issues and attention deficit disorder with a side of anxiety, compulsive behaviors and, depending on the week, tics. Things may be complicated in our house but, hey, at least they're unpredictable.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Lessons From the Good Book

M. attends Hebrew school on Tuesday afternoons. Like most fourth graders—this former kid included—he would rather not.

It’s hard enough for some kids (read: boys) to get through a seven-hour school day without tacking on another hour and a half of classroom time, even if it is only once a week. It’s even harder for kids with attentional and anxiety disorders; they’re working pretty hard to keep their act together and at some point, it has to come out. There are times we haven’t even left the school parking lot before M. is falling apart.

When I picked him up at school today he very calmly said that he didn’t want to go to Hebrew school. I asked why he felt that way and he didn’t have much of an answer other than, “I just want to go home and relax.” He actually confessed that he could go—meaning, he wouldn’t freak out on the way there and throw his shoes at my head while I was driving—but I wasn’t sure I should force him. The past few days had been extremely rough and my primary goal had become to keep M. calm. I didn’t want to push my luck, so I drove home.

M. went into the kitchen and found on the table some books we had bought for his teachers at the school book fair. He picked up Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, looked it over, and took a seat at the table. He started reading. You have to understand that this is unusual; although M. has many books and enjoys reading, it’s not something he’ll voluntarily do during the day. So he kept reading and I kept my mouth shut. I knew a good thing when I saw it.

I decided to pick up a magazine and join him at the table. I thought if I modeled back the behavior, he would read for a longer period of time. It felt as though I was in my own version of Gorillas in the Mist; except it wasn’t the mountain gorillas of the Rwandan jungle I was trying to blend in with and understand.

After a while, M. asked me to read to him, which I did. In total, he spent about an hour happily—and calmly—reading.

Given how challenging M. has been of late, and how chaotic our household has become, this moment of normalcy was priceless. When you live with a child whose mood—and aggression—flips quickly and unpredictably…these moments are, well… a blessing.

And a far more powerful one than any he might have learned at Hebrew school.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Iced Tears

It couldn’t have been the most exciting trip to the mall for an eight-year-old boy.

We were there to help Dave’s sister and our future brother-in-law select their wedding invitations. Max was very patient. He drew pictures with Dave. And he and Ari took up residence underneath the table and played their Game Boys side by side.

When we finished, the four of us headed to a restaurant in the mall. And although it was now about 7 o’clock and we had a twenty-minute wait, Max took a seat on the floor and quietly waited. Once at our table, he and Ari colored on their children’s menus and placed their own orders with the waitress.

As I sipped my iced tea and looked at this well-mannered, patient boy, I had to fight back tears.

They weren’t tears of pride as one might consider. I was crying—rather, trying not to cry--for all those days when Max was none of the things he was today. When you live with a child who has behavioral issues that include hitting, talking back and just an overall obnoxious attitude, you come to understand what you’re in for. You certainly don’t like it. But you learn how to best manage it and you accept it…well, as much as one can without throttling said child.

But today, when Max was so perfectly behaved the woman at the stationary store remarked how well mannered and patient he and Ari were, you cry. You cry that there aren’t more days like today where your family can go to a restaurant and not worry that your son will freak out because he has to wait. You cry for all those difficult days. You cry that today, as nice as it has been, may not happen again for a while.

This outing was a reminder of how things could be. And how they aren’t. And probably never will.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

In the Mooooood for a Laugh?

Ari and I were cozy under the blankets in my bed as we read a book before bedtime. Max, who typically reads on his own (Something new that started when he started third grade. Yay!) was sleepy and joined us for a cuddle.

We were in the middle of a Freddie Fernortner: Fearless First Grader book. In this one entitled A Haunting We Will Go, the three first grade protagonists were lurking by a house reputed to be haunted. They heard a noise and ran away and one of them, Darla, fell and got her pants muddy. She said, “My mom is going to have a cow when she sees how dirty my pants are!”

I was curious to know if the kids understood, given the context of the story, what it meant that the mom was going to “have a cow.” So I asked. Ari said no. Max said, “That her mom is going to have to wash her pants.”

I was about to offer the correct explanation when he elaborated.

In milk.

I hadn’t laughed so hard in a long time.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Aftermath of the Storm

I don’t know which was worse.

The venom-spewing, arm-flailing, world-class tantrum Max threw the other day, complete with destruction of property, threats of violence, and an attitude so big I don’t know how it fits inside his eight-year-old body. Or, the sobbing wreck of a child who sought me later on, uttering apologies and hugging me tightly, as if holding onto me were an attempt to hold on to himself.

“I’m a monster,” he said. “I’m a terrible kid.”

It’s one thing for a parent to think their child is a monster after a particularly bad moment—show me a parent who has never thought this and I’ll show you a parent who is lying—it’s quite another when the thoughts are coming from your own child. When I have those thoughts, they are fleeting. They blow over as soon as Max’s tantrum does.

But when Max has those thoughts, I worry about them taking root. Becoming permanent residents—unwelcome guests--within a brain already plagued by impulsivity and compulsiveness. There’s no room at the inn for self-doubt and low self-esteem, too.

I try, in vain, to explain to Max the difference between being “a bad kid” and making a bad choice. But no rationalization, no soothing, nothing I do convinces him that he really is a good kid. A good kid with a neurologically atypical brain.

We cuddle in my bed as I rub his back and offer reassurances I fear will be forgotten the next time a storm comes around. Max falls asleep, and I know tomorrow he will wake up refreshed and happy, without a hint of the self-loathing he demonstrated tonight.

Much as I hate his outbursts, it’s a piece of cake to listen to Max call me names compared to hearing the horrible things he says about himself.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Scooby Dooby Don't

I wasn’t the least bit surprised to come out of the shower and find Max and Ari in front of the TV, watching cartoons.

The same cannot be said for what came out of one of the cartoon character’s mouths.

Scooby Doo and Shaggy were (surprise) trying to get away from a creature. This time they were on a snow-covered mountain. And what I heard Shaggy say froze me in my tracks.

“We’ve got to get away from this bipolar polar bear,” he said.

Yep, you heard that right: bipolar polar bear.

I would like to know what purpose this particular rhyme served—other than offending people with and parents of children with bipolar disorder. I fit neither category and I was most definitely offended.

I know cartoon creators are cognizant of the adults that may be watching along with their kids. And I certainly appreciate when they include a joke or reference intended for someone in my age bracket. But is that what they had in mind when someone greenlighted “bipolar polar bear?”

As the mother of a most curious boy, who has his own set of behavioral issues and questions everything he sees and hears, I was most grateful that this line of dialogue went unnoticed. I didn’t want to have to attempt an explanation of the disorder that my eight-year-old would understand. I have enough trouble getting him to understand his own diagnoses without having to go through the entire DSM.

Our two kids have a laundry list of issues. I’m typically the first to try to find the humor in what is usually a very trying situation.

But I found nothing funny in the cheap shot and inappropriate reference trying to pass for a kid’s joke.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Decline of the Easy Child

You know you’re really a special needs parent when the child psychologist hands you not one, but two sets of questionnaires for you to fill out.

One for each child.

Ari has always been my easy child. Anyone reading this blog certainly knows that, just by comparing the number of entries about Max to those of his sister. He simply produces far more material.

But I have been having concerns about Ari for some time now. Even though her apraxia has been considered resolved, she’s been continuing speech therapy to help with other issues—working memory, sequencing, word retrieval, processing. As fabulous as her speech therapist is, Ari continues to struggle with these areas.

She’s also been showing signs of attentional problems: she’s easily distracted, doesn’t remember what I ask of her, and has required no less than three trips to the emergency room in the past year. Her injuries—goose egg from falling on sidewalk, stitches from hitting head on playground structure, bruised finger (thankfully not broken) from closing our back door on it—are not the result of clumsiness, but rather, her lack of awareness of her immediate surroundings.

Her issues are subtle. Everyone who knows Ari, including teachers and parents from school, just love her personality. My concern, however, is that as she gets older, her positive qualities will be perceived differently. And soon my outspoken, confident, social, energetic child will be described as intrusive, bossy, overly talkative, and exhausting.

Although Max is who brought us to Dr. I. in the first place—some three years ago—it is now Ari who gets discussed in his office. And as he hands me the parent history forms to fill out, it’s hard not to think, “Here we go again.” It’s hard not to mourn—just the littlest bit—the loss of the easy path you had hoped at least one of your kids would travel.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Trying to Cool Off

Max asked Dave to help him make some origami. Dave had been in the middle of his own paper folding—he was reading the newspaper—so he told Max he would be able to help him in thirty minutes. Considered a reasonable response by most, but not Max, who quickly got bent out of shape.

It’s hard to describe the screaming/moaning/grunting that often results when Max doesn’t get his way. But I’ll say this—it’s not pretty.

Unable to wait the half an hour, Max came to me, not asking for help, but demanding it.

“Max, I will help you, but not when you’re screaming,” I told him. “When you can calm down, I’ll help.”

“I AM CALM,” he bellowed back.

Max continued to carry on, hitting me, yelling and calling me names. I continued to remain calm. (NOTE: Don’t be too impressed. Sometimes I yell back.)

“Max, this isn’t working. You’re not getting what you want this way. You need to stop screaming,” I said. “The whole neighborhood can hear you.”

“No they can’t,” he countered. “The windows are closed.”

“Max,” I said, “the windows are open.”

Still not believing me, Max walked over to the window. Discovering that it was in fact open, he closed it. That was his solution to our problem of his out-of-control screaming-—to close the windows so the neighbors wouldn’t hear.

The muffled sound that followed? That was Max trying to get me to stop laughing.