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Friday, February 22, 2013

Little Gray Line

I met with an ADHD expert this week. I feel like I need more education on ADHD. Even though I've been living with kids who have ADHD for 10 years, things change as they grow. At certain points during the kids' development I feel like I need some help because of new challenges or questions that I have.

ADHD can impact a child in so many ways, and one huge challenge is that it can make them function developmentally 2-4 years behind their chronological age. I always forget this. So really, my 10-year-olds act in some ways like 7-year-olds, my 7-year-old sometimes acts like a 4-year-old, and then I have my 3-year-old. Whew. No wonder I feel wiped out! My three boys are caught in big boy bodies and their brains sometimes still tag a couple years behind. That must be frustrating for them too, even though I don't think they are cognizant of the delay. 

Here is something I don't know how to master: the Little Gray Line between enabling my boys and meeting their needs. The professionals who work with our family tell me that because of my children's specific challenges, I need to meet my children where their needs are. If one of my boys is having a frustrating morning and just isn't capable of locating his shoes, putting his feet into them, and tying them by himself, then it's ok for me to assist him with all these tasks. That is meeting his needs. 

But then professionals also tell me to step back a bit, to not enable my children and teach them helplessness.

So which is it? Am I a bad mom for helping my kid put his shoes on because it teaches him to be dependent on others to solve his problems, or am I a good mom because I can see that this particular morning the only way we're going to move on with our day is if I eliminate as much stress as possible for the family and find my son's shoes? 

I understand with my brain that the answer is a little of both. I try I not to do too much for my kids, I try to let them experience natural consequences and fail on their own from time to time. They experience success on their own as well. But I feel like my heart knows our family needs a little more on the end of "meeting needs." And although this can be exhausting for us as parents, I know that we can eliminate much of the stress, anxiety, and frustration the boys feel almost continuously by just helping them a little bit. 

Yes, our family looks different than our friends' families. Our home looks messier than our neighbors'. When you have children who have ADHD, you have to modify your expectations. You have to be happy that they threw their coats in the general area of the coat hook, and not be too irritated that the coats didn't make it onto the hook. You have to be pleased when the boys remember to bring their backpacks in from the bus at the end of the school day, and that that particular day nothing was lost or left behind. You just have to modify your expectations. Sometimes I'm really good at this and honestly, other times when I'm totally worn out, it really pisses me off that it is such an intense experience to raise this family. 

I decided to delve into my research again, to look into all the nooks and crannies of ADHD and boost my knowledge and understanding of my kids. Researching helps me be more tolerant because I realize that all we deal with is, in fact, "normal" for families who have these types of diagnoses. When I hear about typical families who don't have to be so hands-on with their kids, I realize that we really have legitimate challenges as a family. Challenges that take a lot of time and energy to conquer. Challenges that are valid, and therefore I am valid in feeling overwhelmed and wiped out sometimes. 

I am still trying to figure out how to deal with the Little Gray Line. Am I doing too much for my kids or too little? It's a battle I face head on every single day. But the ADHD expert I met with this week had some great advice that I think I need to post on my bathroom mirror: I just need to parent naturally, to do what feels right. I sometimes doubt myself and second guess my parenting skills, but really I need to just do what my instinct tells me, and that's the best I can do. So if one of the boys needs help putting shoes on, I can do that. If I find the entryway full of coats on the floor after school, I can remind myself that at least the coats are in the right room. If a boy gets his own fork to eat his own snack, but forgets to close the silverware drawer and the fridge, I can remind myself that at least he was motivated enough to choose his own things for snack! I have to adjust my expectations. Not lower them, just change them. 

I think I also have to give myself some room for grace. Room to just accept the fact that it's ok that I'm tired out and overwhelmed sometimes. It doesn't make me a bad mom because I feel like it's tough at times to handle everything our family has to deal with. Every family has a lot to deal with, and some families just maybe have more intense challenges than others.

As Ella put it so eloquently out of the blue the other day: "Mama, I love you so super much because you lay with me in my bed when I go to sleep and you wipe my butt." I guess the fact that I'm meeting my kids' needs makes even the littlest of them feel secure and loved. I have to remember that and follow my natural instincts. And try not to worry so much about that Little Gray Line.

Camp Icky Sicky

Here I sit, waiting for more vomit. It's been an exciting night. I was awakened at 2:37am with a shower of vomit coming from behind me in bed from my little girl. That was quite an awakening. Ella has never thrown up before, so this was a first for her. You never know how a kid will react to throwing up. When Ben and Jonah were toddlers, they each threw up once in their beds during the night and didn't even wake up. Just slept right through the whole event and didn't even roll over to escape the yuck. Aidan had a big throw up episode when he was about 2. He was scared of the feeling of throwing up, I could tell. He whimpered and tried to bury himself in covers in between throwing up.

Ella just throws up matter-of-factly. She's been throwing up every 15 minutes for the past 61/2 hours, and the only complaint she has uttered has been "I don't like throwing up." She dozed off at one point, woke up to throw up, then just laid down and went back to sleep. Really? What kind of alien kid is this? I know she feels terrible, she says her tummy hurts and is pale and lethargic. After the last throw up, she agreed to have one small sip of water. I'm deathly afraid of my kids becoming dehydrated, after growing up in Africa and seeing poor, desperate mothers on our doorstep with their sick children- no medical attention as an option, asking my mom to please help their babies. I know I live in America, where a 4 minute drive will take me to my kids' doctor, but the worry written on those African mothers' faces always haunts me. I can't imagine, now having my own children, how those mothers must have felt, not having any resources to help heal their children.

Every once in a while, Ella will look up at me from where she is huddled under towels to catch any surprise vomit, and she will smile her biggest smile at me. Seriously, who is this child? Who smiles when they have the flu? I'm convinced my daughter is an angel disguised as a child.

Ben has been home from school for two days, and has some of the same symptoms as Ella. I wonder who else this enchanting little virus will spread to. 

The boys were hoping for a snow day today. Overnight we got about 5 inches. As I was up all night, wiping throw up off every surface, I listened to the snow plows rumbling through our neighborhood and the wind whistling around the corner of our house. There is something strangely comforting about being stuck in my bed with my baby, waiting for the next vomit, with all our sick things around us. We're camping out, Ella and I, waiting for Camp Icky Sicky to come to an end while the world rolls on around us. It's a luxury to be able to be here for Ella, with Ella, helping her. Alex stayed home from work today to help since caring for the Vomit Queen is a full-time position, with only 15-minute increments of time off. I can't really parent everyone else while holding this current position. I'm always thankful for Alex and his willingness to step up and be a Daddy in any way we need him to. He's out getting me a LARGE REGULAR coffee from Dunkin' Donuts right now. Not even decaf today. Mama needs a pick-me-up. And, don't tell my nutritionist, but Daddy's also bringing home a donut for me. I need comfort food today. Along with my large dose of caffeine. 

Ella's snoozing now. Her TV show is playing softly in the background and the Christmas lights around the head of our bed are on, as they have been since this whole Icky Sicky Adventure began. It's peaceful and cozy, a little magical if you plug your nose against the smell of Sick, and the snow plows keep rumbling by reminding me of the cold world I do not have to be out in today. Today I am devoted to the Vomit Queen and her big brother. The world will have to wait.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Odds & Ends

I was reminded of my dad the other night as I drove to the grocery store. I had forgotten that I had let Ella put makeup on me earlier, and I left the house in such a rush that I forgot to take it off. I looked a teeny bit garish. I tried to wipe off what I could in the car, but I still looked like a clown on Halloween. 

When I was little I used to put all my rubber bands in my Daddy’s hair, making little ponytails stick up in every direction. He sat patiently in his favorite blue chair as I worked, I’m sure yanking his hair painfully every now and then. We lived in Africa at the time, and we had electricity powered by a generator for four hours each evening. At 10pm, the missionaries would take turns turning off the generator for the night. I remember my Daddy, in his red African robe, with his hair in fifty ponytails sticking every which way, going to turn off the generator, hoping that he didn’t run into anyone along the way across the mission. Sometimes you do crazy things to show your kids you love and value them.

Yesterday Ella put makeup on a lemon that we had laying around the kitchen waiting to be cooked with. She was very proud of herself. I've never heard of putting makeup on fruits and veggies before, but whatever floats her boat.

I was eating lunch with Ella the other day and we were talking about her dancing. I said God gave her such a gift because she is such a beautiful dancer! She was thoughtful for a minute, then replied that she wants to give God a gift card to say thank you for such a wonderful gift.

Last week Ben and Jonah got their braces off! Their gums are healing well from their oral surgery, and now they are without any metal in their mouths. As usual, I was way more excited than they were. I took them out for a special treat after they got done at the orthodontist. On the way home, Jonah said he missed his braces and if he had to choose he would want them back on. What?!? Crazy kid. As I was snuggling with Jonah before bed, he almost got teary. He said he has had some tics that involved his braces and now he couldn’t do the tics and it felt terrible. I hadn’t realized this. We talked about how Jonah would get more comfortable with the changes in his mouth over the next few days and soon he wouldn't miss his braces anymore.

I told the kids I had to run to the drug store for a few odds and ends. Jonah asked which one- CVS or Walgreens? I told him CVS. He said "Yay! Because CVS has carpet and Walgreens doesn't, so you hear your noisy feet when you walk around Walgreens. I like CVS better." My kids have all kinds of sensory sensitivities that I am not even aware of! I didn't even realize that one store had carpet and one didn't. How oblivious am I? The cool thing is that the kids have learned coping skills to deal with some of these difficult situations, all on their own. It makes me wonder about how many times the kids just seem irritable or grumpy when it is actually related to a valid sensory issue.

One night Jonah was taking a shower. I get the temperature just right for him and then he jumps in. He jumped into the stream of the warm shower this particular night and started yelling at the top of his lungs "SPD!! SPD!! SPD!!" I had no idea what he was talking about. I said "Calm down! What's the matter?" Our shower head can flip from a sharper stream of water to a more gentle stream, and Ben likes one side and Jonah likes the other. Ben had gotten in the shower first and I had forgotten to flip the shower head to Jonah's side. He was yelling because the feeling of the water was so horrible on his skin. We had a good laugh about it, after the shower head was flipped, because it was so funny to hear Jonah screaming "SPD! SPD!" and me not knowing what in the world he was even saying. It was funny that he thought of the term 'SPD' to get his point across to me in his panic.

A few days ago, we got 8.5 inches of snow- our first real snow of the year. Ella has gone out to play in the snow once before this winter with her brothers, and although she had fun, her snow pants "bowther" (bother) her. So she has refused to go back in the snow since then. But this big snow was just too irresistible. Ella's brothers were out in the snow, her neighbor friends, her Mama...she couldn't resist. So Daddy bundled her up and out she came. She had so much fun and conquered her fear of her bothersome snow pants. She still refused to go near the sled because it's "too fast and scary." Even if Mama just pulls her slowly down the snowy street in it. It was a no-go. 

I wondered the next morning as I stretched why my arms were so sore. Then I remembered yesterday: I shoveled the driveway four times, dug three snow forts, and built a snowman. Ahh yes, that's why I'm sore. I love snow. I have such fond memories of playing in the snow with my Dad and brother when we would come back from Africa during the winter. It was like heaven. I love being out in the perfect, still whiteness. Alex laughs at me because I hate the snowblower- it's noisy, stinky, and ruins the ambiance of the winter wonderland. I refuse to snowblow. But I'll shovel any day. What's super irritating to me is when I finally find a good time to go out and shovel, and I'm all excited about the stillness and beauty of being out there in the snow...and then a neighbor picks that exact moment to snowblow their driveway. Ambiance ruined. I understand snowblowers are very efficient, but they're so crazy loud and annoying!
It's been a full few weeks. Many changes, many new milestones. We're so busy that I know if I even dare to blink, my kids will be grown up. They'll be choosing their own drugstore to shop at- a decision based, of course, on their carpet needs. They'll be choosing which type of shower head bests suits their own needs. They'll be deciding what type of snow gear they want to wear when they play in the snow with their kids, or whether they want to shovel the driveway or use a snowblower. Hopefully they'll at least remember to wash off the makeup their kids have put on them before they go to the grocery store, or take out their 50 pony tails before heading out in public! 

Love Day

I love Valentine's Day. I love making people happy, spreading love, spoiling my kids, enjoying a whole day devoted to kindness and love. I love the romantic part of Valentine's Day too, of course, but now that we have a pack of kids, "romance" has taken on a different meaning. Alex and I enjoyed a "romantic" breakfast, just the two of us, at a diner close to our house while ALL the kids were at school. That was romance, let me tell ya. If we're able to have an uninterrupted conversation, not cut up anyone's food or feed anyone or tell anyone "Enough syrup!!," then that is romance.

My day started well before the sun came up- Ella had a rough night. I didn't get much sleep. At about 5 am, I heard the kids all rustling around. At 5:30, Ben and Ella came in to wake me up, insisting that I come downstairs RIGHT NOW. I have learned that this insistence usually means they've cooked up a surprise, so no matter what time it is when I'm summoned, I go. I just drag my eyelids open and stumble down the stairs to see what it is that my kids are so excited to share with me.

As I came down the stairs on V Day with Ben and Ella, Jonah and Aidan popped out from behind a door and they all chimed "Happy Valentine's Day, Mommy!" This is a huge shocker: they were ALL DRESSED (usually this is fight numero uno every morning)! Then they gave me a card. Inside, they had all very carefully signed their names in SUPER neat handwriting. Taped to the other side of the card were two 1$ bills. The kids were so excited to tell me they had given me this treasure so I could go to Starbucks today!! I just about burst into tears, they were so sweet. They had taken money from their allowance and given me one of the most special gifts I've ever gotten. Those kids. Boy, do I love them.

Daddy and I had valentines ready on the table for the kids before breakfast. Teacher valentines were in backpacks, ready to head to school. We had a lovely morning without any fighting. Everyone was calm and excited about Valentine's Day celebrations with their classes. Even Ella was going to have a class party. 

While everyone was at school, I made Valentine cupcakes for my sweeties- a family tradition. I also had time to run out and look for a special gift for each of them- something they could always wear that would remind them of Daddy and me (instead of wearing my coat or boots, or Daddy's sweatpants). I found the perfect little treasure for each of them.
We had an awesome day. The kids were happy, they each got 30-some reminders from their friends about how much they are liked, I got to do some special things for them, and I got to have breakfast alone with my hubby. I love Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Outside vs. Inside

Here's how it looked from the outside:

We were having a "Horrible Day," as Ella calls it when her brothers are having behavior issues. It was Saturday, and all three boys were supposed to be going to Aidan's counseling and then karate with Dad. Dad may have temporarily forgotten how long it takes to get the boys ready to get out the door, since they all have ADHD and can't focus long enough to tie a shoe most mornings. Dad may have expected the boys to rush like typically developing kids are capable of. Sometimes Mommy does the same thing, sometimes we forget our kids have special needs to the extent that they do. 

The boys were lalagagging. Dad and I were stressed because they were going to be late for therapy. The boys started having meltdowns. All three of them. Not easy to handle. In fact, it was total and complete chaos. If they start having meltdowns while you're trying to get them out the door, it's like the whole family is moving in quicksand- everything is a million times more difficult and takes a million times longer. 

So all three boys are freaking out, swearing, yelling, crashing chairs, whatever. Ella is doing her best to stay out of the way of the "Horrible Day." Alex and I were doing our best to stay calm and move the family along to the next step of the day, but we were failing. I was very emotional because sometimes I just can't believe that this is my family. That this is how the children that I have raised can act. Sometimes it just boggles my mind how our life can fall totally apart over something simple like trying to get karate uniforms on and head out the door on a Saturday morning. 

Finally, all the boys exited the house. I tried to repair Ella's fragile little world by spending some extra time with her. Alex dropped Aidan off at counseling and then came back home with Ben and Jonah. Ben had been having more of a meltdown because he didn't want to do karate all of a sudden, which made the rest of the family upset and disappointed for a couple reasons: We've paid for him to do this sport weekly. He said earlier in the morning that he did want to go to the class that day. It had taken moving heaven and earth to get him out the door with his brothers. 

Ben came in the house after Jonah and Dad. He took his boot off and whipped it across the kitchen as hard as he could, trying to take out something that would make a loud crash along the way. Then he did the same thing with the other one, all the while yelling at the top of his lungs. He smashed his coat onto the floor as hard as he could, and yelled some more. He and Dad had had a big fight on the way home. Big. Ben was in tears while he screamed, and Alex was visibly exhausted from the last hour of fighting with the boys. 

Ben went to the back closet and got my winter coat out. He put it on. He took my winter boots out and put his feet into them. Alex continued to try to convince Ben to do the karate class that morning but Ben kept yelling no, he was NOT going to do it, while tears dripped down his face. I asked him if he was angry because Daddy had hurt his feelings while they were fighting. He said yes, but that wasn't the only reason he was upset, he said. He said he was upset because Daddy had hurt MY feelings. (!) He burst into tears, opened the door and went outside into the cold and snow. 

Crazy, random behavior, right?

Here's how it looked from inside, if you know Ben deep into his heart the way I do:

Ben witnessed the family having some moments of chaos. He can't deal with chaos. The only way he can react to outward chaos is with his becoming chaotic and disorganized himself. This is why Alex and I do our best to limit the chaos in our home, for all the kids. Ben saw me upset, and I was upset because of the whole situation, not because anyone had hurt my feelings. Ben sometimes misinterprets situations, especially those involving emotional overload. Sweet Ben was hurt on my behalf, thinking my feelings had been hurt by Dad. He was lashing out at Dad because he thought somewhere in his subconscious that he needed to find a way to protect me and comfort me- which means he is capable of feeling enormous empathy for others, which means all our work is paying off.

[]'}"{Ben reacted aggressively toward Dad. Dad responded with being upset. Ben's feelings were hurt but instead of expressing his hurt, he emotes anger. As Ben stood in my coat and boots, I asked him if he was hurt more than angry. I could see he was, and wanted him to identify this feeling for himself, to sit with the uncomfortableness of hurt feelings and label that feeling correctly so that in the future there will be one more instance he can recall of having hurt feelings instead of just the global anger he has always felt and expressed. We've been working for years to get him to differentiate between his feelings, identify how he feels, and be aware of what situations trigger which feelings.  So he did say that yes, he was hurt, not really angry. 

But there was a layer to that hurt that neither Alex or I saw coming- the fact that he was hurt for me because he thought I was hurt. 

I know he put on my boots and coat for the same reason the boys wear Alex's clothes to bed when he's on a business trip: he wanted to be close to me. He wanted to comfort me, and also be comforted. He wanted to do all those things but at the same time couldn't verbally express that and didn't want physical contact. So he did what he instinctively knew how to do. He wrapped himself in the warmth of my things.

Ben also refused to go to karate. Instead he went out into the snow by himself. When he came back in the house, he put on his noise-blocking head phones and retrieved his blankie. He knew how to soothe himself!! This is HUGE!! He knew what would make him feel better, and he did it all by himself! Again, we've been working for years on self-soothing in therapy: what can Ben do to make himself calm down and feel better? He has had difficulty with this skill since the moment he took his first breath in this world, and has relied mainly on me to navigate his world with him, making it safe and comfortable for him since he can't make sense of it sometimes and is incapable of soothing himself. 

Just like any father, Alex wants to share experiences with his kids, and karate is an interest that they all have. When one of the boys doesn't want to participate in karate, it's disappointing because it's an activity that all the guys in our family can share and now someone will be missing. That Saturday, though, Ben was saying a few things with his statement of "No! I don't want to go to karate!" He was saying he felt he and Dad needed to have some space to cool off. He was saying he was too overwhelmed with his emotions to be able to handle karate that day. He was saying he knew how to take care of himself and needed to do the things he was doing. He needed to self-soothe. And we let him do that. 

Alex and I talked afterwards about how actually amazing the whole thing was for Ben, what an incredible milestone. I couldn't believe he instinctively knew how to calm himself down! He knew my coat and boots would help him feel better. He knew he needed alone time so he would stop being upset. He knew he needed silence (head phones) and softness (blankie). He knew what he needed...and then got it for himself! Amazing.

So yes, from the outside, the whole thing looked a little bonkers. A little disconnected and random and odd. But if you know my boy, and you know what he's been working on for 10 years, and you know his struggles and limitations, you know that this was a life-changing moment for Benjamin. He experienced a strong negative emotion and then dealt with it appropriately, not with a rage. This was a success. This was movement in the best direction possible. This was amazing. 

I'm proud of my Ben. He's making changes that would be tough for anyone, even a grownup, and he's not even realizing how much he's changing for the better. He's an incredible kid. I like being on the inside when I catch my kids growing in all kinds of ways.