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Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Hamster Debacle

I have had a bad week. It's one of those weeks that just gets you down, in a rut, and I can't shake it off like I normally can. The kids have been super special-needy this week. Intense, loud, chaotic, having trouble regulating themselves, having trouble doing anything independently, having trouble concentrating long enough to complete any self-care tasks or chores, meltdowns, blowups, crying jags, sibling name it, we've struggled with it this week. Plus Daddy has had to work 6 days in a row, 12-14 hours a day. So I'm home alone with all my munchkins, day in, day out. Trying to stay calm, supportive, nurturing, and not crabby and short-tempered. I don't think I'm doing that great of a job this week, I have to say.

Speaking of which, I just got interrupted by Jonah who had a mouth full of blood from playing "Super Heroes" with his brothers. And Ella is screaming her head off in the basement because all her brothers decided they're done playing down there. Ahh. Gotta love this week. When is bedtime???
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Crises have all been solved. Mommy to the rescue. Jonah lost his tooth at dinner tonight, and took the opportunity to carefully explain the role of the Tooth Fairy to his little sister. We take our fairies very seriously in this family. Maybe the Super Hero bonk to the mouth hastened the loose tooth process, I'm not sure. What a day.

Back to my bad week. Every day, the kids struggled this week. More than usual, it seemed. Our OT recommended trying two therapeutic techniques at home, for all four kids: brushing and therapeutic listening. Brushing involves a plastic brush that you rub a certain way a certain number of times on certain limbs. Basically, it helps open up the nervous system to input, then reorganizes the sensory system, and then you do joint compressions to close the door on the nervous system. We are supposed to do this whole process three times a day for each child. 
For therapeutic listening, the child uses special headphones and a special CD. The child has to listen to the music for 20 minutes twice a day. (Remember we have FOUR kids, so this is quite an undertaking to accomplish during our already-busy days) The program is supposed to connect the two sides of the brain so that they can communicate better, and then the hope is the child will become more regulated and efficient. We've got a pretty good handle on getting the listening program done twice a day for everyone, but I keep forgetting to do the brushing. Aidan was so upset with both of these techniques that I had to hold him tightly the first day and do the brushing, then the headphones. I always wish I had at least 3 more arms. It's hard to hold a squirming, screaming 6 year old and at the same time hold huge headphones onto his ears for 20 minutes. That was a workout. But after that first day he's much more willing to participate in the programs, especially since we have a Chart now, of course. Charts fill our kitchen. We have a Chart for everything. So there is a great reward at the completion of the OT Charts. Aidan is big on rewards, so I know this will work with him. All the kids have tried both of these OT programs before during various times of their treatment. Most of the time the techniques really help calm the kids down, focus their energy, and just work better as a kid. We stop the techniques when the kids' bodies tell us to. It's all sort of invisible, touchy feely stuff, but if you're in tune with your kids, it really works. So fingers are crossed that the brushing and listening programs can give us some relief soon from irritability, mood swings, inability to handle sensory input, etc.

On top of everything else this week, we have three hamsters living at our house again. Long story short, a couple months ago we bought a boy hamster. Three days later "he" had five babies. "Sammy" was apparently "Samantha." As my friends so hilariously pointed out, this would only happen at our house. So we suddenly had SIX hamsters, when I had signed up for ONE. Little did I know that Mommy hamsters will eat their babies if the babies are not thriving (EW), so we ended up with two babies when all was said and done. I found a good home for one of the hamsters and the kids convinced me to keep the other baby and Sammy. It has ended up that Mommy gets to do all the hamster work, of course. Cleaning the cages, filling the water tanks and food bowls, etc. 

Yesterday, the baby hamster we gave away was returned to us because apparently it's not getting tame and friendly quickly enough. So we now have three hamsters in three cages in our front room. Smelling up the whole house and making my allergies go bonkers. This was the straw that broke the poor sleep-deprived, overwhelmed, grumpy camel's back. I joked that we'll just add a couple llamas and a few chickens to complete our Crazy, and we'll be all set. 

This week I taught the boys to make good ol' fashioned friendship bracelets out of thread and knots. When I say I "taught" them, I mean I showed them how to do it, they thought it was really cool, and then they made me make them all bracelets. Hm. Not how I had intended that project to go. So I was sitting at the table making knots in Jonah's bracelet tonight, reviewing my week. Sometimes I just can't understand why life has to be so difficult. I have been wondering why I am always given more than I feel I can handle. Why do all four of our kids have special needs? Why, when all I want to do is buy a teeny cute little hamster, does the whole thing have to turn into such an unending pain in my tush? Why can't things ever be simple? Why can't we just buy one hamster, who stays a boy, and enjoy the simplicity of that one pet? Why can't my children put anything away, ever, so we don't spend an eternity every day looking for the lost shoe, the misplaced toy, the missing blankie? I know I'm whining, but sometimes I allow myself to wallow in my own self pity. Then I pick myself up and move on. But for a brief, depressing time, I claim my angst and wallow. Most of the time I just put one foot in front of the other and move through the tough minutes and days, trying to find glimmers of hope and light as I go. Glimpses of progress in the kids, tiny moments that make my heart swell and make it all worth it. But there are times when life just stinks. It's hard, it's monotonous (if I have to unload the dishwasher that is filled with 302 little person cups one more time today, I'm just going to lose all my marbles), it's boring, nothing seems to get better sometimes. I'm tired of having to fight with the kids about every little thing we have to do every day, all day long. Everything from brushing teeth to washing hands to getting dressed to eating dinner to practicing their instrument to the fact that most of them should be able to wipe their own tushies after they go to the bathroom. I have found that if I give myself time to wallow, it makes it easier to pick myself up and get enthused with my life again once my self pity time is over. So I admit, I am sadly wallowing this week. 

Then, as I tied yet another knot in Jonah's bracelet that never seems to end, I realized something. I realized that so often I am faced with challenges that make me stretch myself. The challenges offer me two choices: the chance to grow and become a better person by practicing something I'm not great at, or just revert to what I've always done, which is comfortable but doesn't bring any change. Then it struck me- the Hamster Debacle has given me an opportunity to practice something I'm not great at- setting limits. This is an opportunity for me to say "No." "Enough." "I can't handle anymore, so stop giving me more." "I won't do it." I tend to take on anything anyone asks of me and, like so many moms, I never say no.  So now I can choose to grumble every single time I enter the front room where all those cages are lined up, stinking up my house, or I can have a powwow with my kids, explain that even Mommy has limitations, and take two hamsters back to the pet store, therefore returning a small piece of my sanity.

With this in mind, I had a serious talk with the big boys about what we (meaning Mommy) can realistically handle, and how we may need to return two hamsters to the pet store. The boys were understanding and receptive to this idea, however, World War III has begun over which hamster we should keep. The pet store has been made aware that it will have two hamsters joining its flocks of pets waiting for homes. Operation Return Mommy's Sanity is underway. I need to say "No, I can't handle cleaning three hamster cages every week on top of all the other chaos I have to manage." And I'm trying to learn that saying no doesn't make me a bad person, or a weaker person, or a meaner person. In the past I always felt I should be able to handle everything, and if I couldn't it meant I'm just weak and pathetic. But there are times when I stop and look at all that I do handle, and let myself be amazed by my total awesomeness. (I've perfected the self-high-five.) It's hard to see the good that I do, and it's hard for me to accept compliments or think that I am enough. Enough of a mom, a wife, a friend, a good person. But today I chose to silently cheer myself for my small accomplishments. They are small accomplishments to many people, I'm sure, but to me they're actually monumental. I got the kitchen counter cleaned. I got laundry put away. I emptied the dishwasher what must have been at least 87 times. We had an impromptu playdate with four friends in our basement. I got three out of four kids clean tonight in showers/baths. Plus all the other things I do every day to just make the day run. I'm hoping that by looking for glimmers of sunshine in the small successes of my days, I can get out of my self pity rut. I'm proud of myself for making the decision that it's ok to say no, and recognize that I can't, and don't want to, handle absolutely everything that everyone in my life throws on my plate. So there. 

I have to go remind the Tooth Fairy not to neglect her newest Toothless Wonder Boy. Here's to all our small successes, and to setting limits so our lives are just a little bit more manageable.


Unknown said...

hang in there! and you should be proud for all of the amazing things you do!

Unknown said...

I have only known you a little while, but you are an amazing mom and person! I admire your strength and compassion. And you made me laugh about all the little people cups in the dishwasher :)