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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Important Things

You know what's funny about my kids? Even though we've gotten ourselves out of Crisis Mode, even though everyone is pretty stable, even though meds have been tweaked and therapies have been added, and we're not falling apart anymore, there are still little "quirkies" that remind me on a daily basis that although my kiddos appear "normal" on the outside, they have a lot more going on in their little brains and bodies.
For instance. One of my darlings has been sick a lot frequently. This particular child truly believes he may die if he gets one single sniffle. So imagine being faced with a VIRUS. The world must surely be ending. No matter how much I try to convince my darling that he is not, in fact, meeting his demise, he is filled with despair, agony, misery, anxiety, and is in a foul mood until the virus clears out. And he lets me know how miserable he is. As often as possible. He told me, as he fretted about what was wrong with him, that he was sure he had rheumatoid arthritis because everything ached. All his joints ached. And while this is pretty cute and funny, the thing you have to understand about my son is that he truly believes he probably has rheumatoid arthritis. He also convinced himself that he had mononucleosis (he says the whole word, which is adorable. Not just "mono," because that doesn't sound severe enough. No, "mononucleosis.") And he thought he most likely was having a stroke. Again, he truly believes this, which leads to heightened anxiety, which leads to irritable mood- because who can be in a calm mood when you are living with the belief that you could die at any moment? 

My son lay on the basement floor as I cleaned up, moaning "Why do I feel like this? Why am I so crabby? Why do I feel like crying? Why am I so depressed??" I love moments like these (although they are also INSANELY irritating) because they're such teachable moments. My son is just at the right point where he can understand something new about himself. I love teaching my kids self-awareness, because that is something they all lack. I talked with my boy about how when our bodies are sick, we are crabbier. Being sick makes us sad, and depressed. We talked about how this is why my son was having so many behavior problems during recent days. When he is sick, he has mood and behavior problems. That's the way it's always been. My son listened in silence. Later, he said "Mom. I think you're right about how I feel crabbier when I'm sick, because I'm sick. I think being sick does make it harder for me to control myself." 

See?? A teachable moment brought self-awareness. Next time he is sick and falling apart, I will remind him of this fact about himself, and he will begin to internalize this information so that someday I won't even have to remind him that he is sad and angry just because he is sick. It will just be part of his own knowledge about himself. I love how that works. Yes, I have to remind him of all these things over and over. But someday, he will just know it. And how cool was it that he mulled over the information, processed it, and realized that it is true- he is a bear when he is sick. 
My under-the-weather boy wanted to go out for dinner as a family to have something to look forward to that day. I thought it was interesting that he knew he needed something special to look forward to all day in order to try not to focus on how he wasn't feeling good. So we said we could go out for dinner.

One of my other darlings said he wanted to stay home instead of going to the restaurant. We tried to convince him to come with us, but ultimately we feel he is old enough and responsible enough to be home alone, so if that was his choice we couldn't change his mind. 
When we were 3 minutes away from home, this boy called my cell phone, crying and yelling. He had changed his mind and wanted to come with us. As we had pulled away from our house, he said he had been running after the van, trying to get us to stop, but we hadn't seen him. So of course this was our fault. Not his fault for adamantly saying he wanted to stay home from dinner. So we turned around and went back to get the upset boy. 
At dinner, the upset boy had calmed down. Or so I thought. But he was very irritable. Everything was making him frustrated and angry. Finally he said "You know why I'm mad? Because everything is bothering me. There are PUNS in the menu that are pissing me off! Look at this. It says 'Chili Chili' and then they TRADEMARKED that!! Who TRADEMARKS that?? And it's too loud in here. And the lights are bothering me. I can't see, the lights are too dim. And the floor is too slippery and my chair keeps skooching. And I keep accidentally kicking Mom. And my arm is sticking to the table in this one place. And WHY HASN'T THE WAITER BROUGHT MY F***ING SPOON! My shake is MELTING and I don't have a spoon to eat it with so then it's going to MELT and I'm going to have to use a STRAW."

Well. That is quite a lot. And I had no idea my son was struggling with all those things that I can easily manage. It was eye-opening. No wonder he was Mr. Crabby Pants. I would be crabby too if I was upset about all those things at once. Again, I was amazed at the fact that my son could verbalize what was going on. This is an improvement. This is progress. We've been working on this for years- not only being self-aware, but then being an advocate for ourselves and telling people what we need to feel better. And my son did that! There wasn't much I could do to help him, because most of the frustrations were out of my control. But at least I had a better understanding that his frustrations were legitimate. To him, the world can be a completely overwhelming and maddening place. He wasn't just trying to ruin our dinner out. He was legitimately having a very tough time dealing with all the sensory stimuli going on around us.
Ella and Aidan have been taking swimming lessons together for the past couple months. Lately, Aidan has been refusing to go to class. I've been able to convince him to go, using all my Mama Tricks. But last week, I ran out of Tricks that worked. 

You have to understand that Thursdays are crazy days for Ella and Aidan. I pick them up after school and we go straight to therapy. Aidan has counseling and Ella has speech and then counseling. Then we run straight to the gym where we change into swimming suits and jump in the pool for a lesson. Then we shower at the gym (which they hate and cries about every. single. week.), put on our pj's, grab fast food for dinner (I know. Bad Mommy.), run home to eat while we do homework, snuggle for a bit, and then pass out. It's not an easy day for the kiddos. I bring all sorts of yummy snacks to keep their energy running, I bring movies to watch in the van as we rush from place to place, I bring electronical devices for Aidan to play when he is done with counseling and waiting for Ella to finish her counseling. I do everything I can to stay calm and un-rushed, so that the kids just move as smoothly as possible through the tough afternoon. And usually we have some meltdowns, but we make it through.
Last Thursday was an exception. The first thing Aidan said to me when I picked him up from school was "I'm NOT doing swimming." And every opportunity he had from that point until we hit the gym locker rooms, he made sure to tell me he was not going to participate in swimming lessons no matter what. The teacher tried her best to convince him to just try. I tried ALL of my Mama Tricks. I mean, I pulled out the big guns. Nothin'. Nothing worked. Aidan lay face down on the bench outside the pool, fully clothed, crying. He said "Stop trying to convince me to go in. I'm not going to, no matter what you say, so just stop."

So I stopped. Aidan and the teacher promised each other that Aidan could take this week off and then next week he'd get back in the pool. So even though we've tweaked Aidan's anxiety meds, he still gets so worked up about things he can't verbalize, that he freezes and can't move on with the things he's supposed to be doing. He couldn't tell me what he was upset about. He said swimming was hard. And I know it is for him, but I also know he loves to swim. I'm sure he was a fish in another life. That pesky anxiety just gets the best of him sometimes. It's invisible, and it creeps into his spirit like a disease, turning him into someone he hates to be. 

Miss Ella has had sleep problems since she was a tiny little thing. Since beginning counseling a few weeks ago, her sleep has improved! Her anxiety about being in her bed without me has decreased. It's been a lovely interlude in an otherwise crazy nighttime drama. 

I have a couple of secret weapons I've been using in conjunction with therapy that have seemed to help Ella at nighttime. Once she is asleep, I put a rolled-up, soft blanket against the length of her. To simulate my body next to her. When I come in to check on her before I fall asleep, she's always wrapped around that blanket like she wraps around me when she's in our bed. So cute.

I also have an essential oil diffuser in Aidan and Ella's room. Once they're asleep, I sneak in and put a mixture of whatever oils they need into the diffuser and turn it on. Most nights it's Lavender and Valor, for relaxation and anxiety. Some night when one of the kids is sick, it's Thieves and Raven, to help them breathe and heal. I swear the oils work to help the kids sleep peacefully.

The last secret weapon I have is our weighted blanket. When Ella is asleep, I put the blanket over her and it helps calm her sleeping tics, and helps her sleep well. The only problem has been that Aidan has also been asking for the weighted blanket. And we only have one. So I'll have to investigate getting another one. Aidan says the blanket helps him sleep better, so it's important that we have two.

The other day, I woke Ella up for school like normal. We were chatting as she got dressed. She threw the rolled up blanket off her bed and said "I don't want that by me anymore. I always think it's YOU during the night!" 

Ha! I laughed out loud. She's on to me. I told her that that is the point. I roll the blanket up so that it reminds her of sleeping beside me, and then she can stay cozy in her bed and we both sleep better. 

When I went into her room after she had left for school that morning, I saw that Ella had put the rolled up blanket back in position on her bed. I was so happy that she accepted a Mama Surrogate for bedtime! She liked the idea of the blanket as something to remind her of me. We've really been working on Ella's separation anxiety during the past few months, because it has negatively affected so many areas of her life. And this showed me that she is comfortable being away from me at night, and using an alternative, other than Mama, to self- soothe is ok with her! Hurray! One small victory for Mama Sleep!

Ella does still occasionally come in our bed during the night, to attach herself to me. But she's not up for hours and hours anymore. She just falls back to sleep. She used to have anxiety during the night, that I wasn't even aware of, and she couldn't turn off her brain if she woke up. Counseling has helped in this area tremendously. Ella is already a much better sleeper because of all the things that we're doing to help her.

I said to one of our therapists how fun it is to have my kids, because I get to learn so many things about so many different things! Not every parent has to know that a weighted blanket can help calm and soothe an anxious, active little body at nighttime. Not every parent needs to learn how to scan an environment for sensory overload triggers. Not every parent has to know how to decode an anxious little boy's sobs when he can't explain what he's feeling because he has processing issues. I'm so lucky in that I have gotten to see the world in a totally different way because I am the parent of these amazing little people. I love to learn new things, I love to catch a glimpse into my children's reality. I am truly blessed and lucky to have the kids I have. Granted, we have tough things to deal with on a daily basis. But I choose to focus on the positive things, the tiny steps towards progress, the funny moments. Those are the important things. Those are the things that keep me going.

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