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Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Seven days ago my life forever changed. All four of my children woke up in the morning and got on a school bus. For all-day school. All my children. And get this-- there's no baby at home to take care of! Usually once a kid is in preschool, we have another baby around to love and snuggle and cart around while I do my errands. Not this time. They've all gone off to school. This is a huge Life Change for me. After 12 years of taking constant care of other humans, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, there's just little old me home. Alone. For 6 hours, 5 days a week. I do have to take care of Ollie, the Dog, but that's not quite the same as taking care of a human. He sleeps on the couch all day. None of my humans have ever done that.

 Four days before school started, I had a mental breakdown. I got all the kids to bed and then bawled my eyes out. Because all my kids were going to school, but especially because my littlest baby was going to school. How can such a small person leave their Mama and get on a bus and be gone for 6 hours and go to the bathroom without my help and eat lunch without my help and ask questions without me and not have me around to kiss her owies and tell her I love her?? I told Alex that I like Ella too much to share her. I want her home with me forever. She of course has challenging moments, we all do. But the enchanting way she has of saying what's on her mind, or the way she runs down the hill while holding Ollie's leash on our walks, with her hair bouncing behind her, or the way she says things like "*sigh* It's a beautiful day just like in Arrandell" (from 'Frozen'), or the way she calls VW Bugs "lady bug cars", or the way she wraps her sweet, slightly sticky arms around my neck and feels my hair and says "I love you, Mama"…how will my days go on with my sweet, enchanting Ella? I like her too much to share her.

But the day came to put her on the bus. I don't show my kids how heartbroken I am that they leave me and go to school. Because most of them have anxiety about leaving me, and if they saw that I was just as sad as they are, they would never leave the house. And I'd have to homeschool. Which I would not be good at and they would not enjoy. So I focus on the amazing achievement of having made it through another summer, and the excitement of the upcoming school year, and how big the kids are, how much they've learned and grown, how great it is that they are getting more independent and that they're able to get on a bus and go out in the world and do what kids are supposed to do. I focus on that. I'm not a Crying At The Bus Stop kind of Mama, not that there's anything wrong with that. I just hold my sadness in my heavy heart until I have a little privacy to shed a little tear. Or two. Or 40,000.

The first morning of school, Ella was THRILLED because I had to wake her up when I woke up Aidan. Last year she was so disappointed that I never woke her up like I did her brothers. She would sometimes go back to her bed, close her eyes and pretend to be asleep, and DEMAND that I woke her up. So to be old enough to be woken up, wow. That's a big deal at our house. (The kid needs to learn to sleep later than 5:30 am and then maybe she'll get woken up now and then!) 
"Moooom! We're too old for pictures!!"
I had made Ella and Aidan a little checklist of things to do in the morning so Ella knew how to get ready for school. Aidan was such a helper. He got dressed because Ella was excited to get dressed. He volunteered to go potty first. They ate breakfast together. They were so excited. Ben and Jonah came out to the bus stop with us, to watch their baby sister FINALLY get on that bus that she has watched and envied for so many years. There wasn't a tear in sight (from the kids at least. My tears were hiding in my heart.) as the bus pulled up after I got all my First Day pictures. Ella was right at the front of the bus line and climbed up those bus stairs like she knew just what she was doing. She sat down in her seat and waved to me excitedly. It was a much different scene than when I sent Ben and Jonah on the bus the first time to Kindergarten. I have a picture of Ben looking out the bus window in tears. It's a terrible, gut-wrenching picture. I don't know why I captured that moment. But Ella was so happy to be a Big Kid and get on that school bus with her big brother and all her neighborhood friends.

The first couple days of school have gone well, overall. The kids are all a little overwhelmed. As of day 1 1/2 of school, Aidan had already lost his assignment notebook. Ben and Jonah are a little freaked out and overwhelmed by 7th grade, but they're hanging in there. No major panic attacks have happened since the night before school started, so that's good. The kids are all very tired by the end of the day, and Ella was upset on Friday because she raised her hand when it was potty time but no one called on her so she didn't go. I emailed the teacher, who is one of my top 3 Most Favorite and Amazing Teachers On The Planet and let her know a little bit more about Ella. Including the fact that advocating for herself is still something we're working on. The teacher emailed me this morning and said Ella had already had a bathroom break! Hurray! 
She made it! First day of Kindergarten accomplished!
Two days ago, Ella got off the bus and collapsed in my arms, as usual. As I carried her into the house and snuggled her warm little body, she said softly that she didn't get to eat lunch that day. Trying not to overreact, I asked her a million questions about her statement. She said the teachers and kids told her she couldn't have lunch. Or snack. Hm. Strange. I thought there had to be something fishy about her story, but just in case she really didn't get lunch I emailed the teacher. Again. And told her what Ella had said. The teacher was horrified and said that she was in the lunchroom and was almost positive that all the kids had food in front of them. She said she'd make sure to watch Ella more closely. I said maybe she just didn't want to eat or something, who knows.

That night, I had the time and energy to make Grandma M's homemade lasagna! I never make things from scratch for weeknight dinners, it's always something just thrown together, because I'm stressed and tired. AND we ALL sat at the dinner table TOGETHER to eat said lasagna!! This also never happens in our house. We usually let the kids eat where they fall once they come in for a landing at dinner time. They're too tired and overwhelmed from their days to cooperate about coming to the table to chat with the fam. The fam can irritate and aggravate everyone's fragile moods. So this was a rare occasion. 

We chatted. It was lovely. I love spending time as a family when we're not fighting. I asked Aidan how his lunch was, what he had eaten. He told me. Then out of the blue, little Miss Ella pipes up that she had the BEST corn dogs for lunch. AND they had PEACHES at school! 

uh…what now???

I subtly asked her more questions about her lunch-- if I freaked out about the fact that she had told me she didn't get lunch, I emailed the teacher, etc, she would have shut down and cried. I wanted more details to make sure I knew which story was the true one. Sure enough, she had all kinds of details about her delicious school lunch that day. I gently reminded her of how she had told me that she didn't get to have lunch. She stopped like a deer in headlights and said "Ohhhhhh. I guess I forgot that I did get lunch."

I emailed the teacher again and said "Here is why I love 5 year olds." Luckily she thought the story was funny and wasn't annoyed with us at all. Whew. 

So the hiccups continue. I'd like to say that after awhile, the kids will get the hang of school and there will be fewer hiccups, but I know my children. We're going to have chronic hiccups all year. It's our MO. I'm ready. I have more energy since the kids are all at school. I'm so excited to see them climb down those bus stairs in the afternoon. I'm so content when all Ella wants to do is sit on my lap and snuggle after school. At least until a friend rings the doorbell to play. Maybe this change of everyone being in school will have some positives. I'll have to get used to being alone, and I don't like that. But there are positives. For instance, do you know how much more you can get done when you're a grownup and you're alone? As a mom, I have in my head how long it will take to do whatever. Like how much time I need to allow for kids to get shoes on. Or how long it will take them to go potty. Or how many times they will fuss about something they think is necessary to buy at the grocery store. Or how many times I'll have to put someone into or out of the cart. I figure all these things into my every day, and make sure we have time for all of it. But now there is no one to buckle in a car seat. No one to take to the remote bathroom at Hobby Lobby. No one arguing about the fact that they would really prefer to go to the library naked and shoe-less. It's just me. I just get in my big ol' empty van and go. I just put the leash on the dog and walk-- there's no arguing about who is going with and what vehicle they will be riding that I will end up carrying home on my hip. I feel guilty about this, but logistically life is just easier when the kids are all at school. I can get so much done. So when the kids come home, I'm ready for them. 

Bring on the hiccups. I can see some big ones coming our way, but I'm ready. We're all growing in new ways this year, and growth can bring pain. But in the long run, growth is always good, right?

Monday, August 4, 2014

Osoko Yemna

Last week, Alex had hip surgery. He had a tear in part of his hip that they had to repair, and extra bone that they had to shave off. The surgery took longer than expected because once the doctor got in to look at Alex's hip, he realized there is more damage than they thought based on the MRI. No one came to tell me that Alex was fine, things were just taking longer, so that was a little harrowing. When the doctor says the surgery will take 1-2 hours and it takes 3 1/2, that's pretty significant, if you're the one in the waiting room. But he made it through. 

We didn't realize the extent to which Alex would need help after his surgery. Thank the sweet Lord in Heaven my parents were here for a couple days to help out. Nana and Papu cleaned, cooked, shopped, played with the kids, fixed my curtains, did endless loads of laundry, took the dog for about 300 walks…they were completely exhausted by the time they left. Every time I passed a room, I was shocked that it was still clean. Because Nana and Papu were cleaning machines. At one point they said they can't believe how much work there is to do here, and how few people there are to do it. Namely, me. I said Yep. Welcome to my world. 

The first few days after his surgery, Alex couldn't move his leg by himself. He couldn't go into the bathroom by himself. He wasn't supposed to shower or get his wounds wet. He was pretty helpless, poor guy. While Mom and Dad were here, I was able to focus mostly on what Alex needed, so that was good. Despite my generous offer of a permanent air mattress in the basement, my parents had to go home after a couple days here. So then the real challenge began. 

Alex has an exercise machine for his leg that he has to use three times a day for an hour and a half each time. I help him get his leg into the device and then he's on his own, to lay there and have his leg exercised by the machine. When he's not doing that machine, he has PT exercises he has to do twice a day. When he's not doing that, he has to be hooked up to this fancy ice machine (which I'm constantly buying bags of ice for, carting the bags upstairs, and emptying them into this crazy machine, then getting Alex's hip placed just right into the big ol' ice pack) to ice his poor, bruised hip. When he's not doing that he has to wear his hip brace. And whenever he is laying down, he needs to have calf compressors squishing his legs so he doesn't get a blood clot. And he can't get any of this done on his own. So Nurse Carrie is on duty. The machines are all very heavy and full of velcro. I'm so tired of fighting velcro. It sticks to everything it's not supposed to stick to. 

Then there are the meds. Alex can't ever remember when he takes his medicine (his brain is still foggy)-- either the pain meds or the regular vitamins he's on-- so I have to keep on top of that too. He's a good patient though. He does what I tell him to. He knows I'm his source of food. He texts me when he needs something. I call him from my cell phone when I need to ask him something and I'm downstairs. I say "Hello, this is Downstairs calling…" and he says "Hello, is this the Newsom Rehabilitation Facility?" when he calls me. We crack ourselves up.

Days before Alex's surgery, we were downtown Chicago with my brother and his family, having a fabulous day. We did so many fun things together, made really special memories. And then I realized my wallet had been stolen. Perfect. Because I need more stress. Perfect. 

Our darling children have been giving me a run for my money while Alex is out of commission. They sense weakness. They sense I'm at my wit's end. They sense I'm so exhausted that I don't have much fight left in me to make them do what they're supposed to do. I can't leave Alex for more than an hour because of his rigorous hip-py schedule, so we can't go anywhere or do anything. Our gracious friends have been helping, bringing us groceries and taking care of the kids when I have appointments. I don't often ask for help (stupid, I know) but I have been wracking my brain since Alex's surgery, trying to figure out who and when and where I can get help from for the kids. I'm calling in all my favors. Otherwise we may not all make it out alive from this post-surgery-end-of-summer-craziness.

We've also made some important discoveries about our boys during this time of fewer meds. We've discovered they legitimately need those meds. Without them, they can't calm down to sleep and they are very, explosively, irrationally impulsive. All the time. A few weeks ago when I started seeing that the boys were really struggling and all my "voodoo" (as Alex calls it) (I prefer the term 'alternative' or 'natural') wasn't really making a dent in their struggles, I began to feel like a failure. Like somehow the fact that we can't make it in life without our kids being on meds is a reflection on me and my obviously poor parenting skills. If I was a better mom, my kids wouldn't need meds, I kept thinking. But I talked to my support team (my parents, Alex, our therapist) and they all helped me realize that this does not have anything to do with poor parenting. This has to do with the fact that the kids have a chemical imbalance in their brains. This summer experiment shows us that the boys really do have ADHD. It gives us reassurance that they do need these meds in order to get the most out of life. At least right now. Hopefully someday we'll be able to go off of meds and stay off. 

I think the culmination of Alex's surgery and the insane amount of stress and busy-ness all on my shoulders has let me see more clearly that the boys need more help. The boys'  inability to calm down at night has been difficult for Alex and I to handle this summer. Their impulsivity and intense, angry, overreactive outbursts have been quite a challenge. And the outbursts have gotten more frequent as the weeks have gone on. The boys overreact to all kinds of little things, and while the tiny rages aren't as long and violent as they used to be, something has changed. The boys no longer demonstrate anxiety about having these mini-rages out in public. Being out in public is no longer a deterrent to difficult behavior. This scares me. No matter what we do, someone is always having some sort of total meltdown about something. If I take the kids to get ice cream. Or we go on a vacation. Or to the zoo. Or someone doesn't get the flavor of bagel he wants. Total meltdowns. I'm hoping that by being back on ADHD meds, the boys' impulsivity will be contained a little better. I'm hoping we can go on family outings again and not expect that there will be huge problems each and every time. I'm hoping the meds will help the boys regulate a little bit better. 

As long as I feel like I know for certain that the boys do actually have a challenge that will be helped by medication, then I'm ok putting them back on meds. I just don't like second guessing whether or not they have an actual diagnosis, like "do they actually have ADHD or is their impulsivity a byproduct of something else?" I just want to make sure I'm doing the best thing for each of the kids, not just lumping them all together onto bunches of meds. So this summer experiment has validated the fact that the boys do need some of these meds to help them function better.

All the boys are back on their sleepy med. Aidan is at a half dose. Tomorrow Ben and Jonah will start their ADHD meds again. I'm waiting on Aidan. I want to see what happens when school starts. He hasn't had the kind of impulsive outbursts that his brothers have been having all summer. And his appetite is better. And he has tried eating NEW THINGS!!! Things he NEVER would have tasted in the past. Cucumbers and poppy seed muffins and red grapes!! This is just incredible. Remember he was the one who needed feeding therapy a couple years ago to address his SPD surrounding eating? He was the one who ate ONLY Yoplait vanilla yogurt and Cheerios for an entire year? Now he is eating all kinds of things! Incredible. I'm not quite willing to give that up yet. I'm not ready to say he needs ADHD meds back on his plate. 

One funny thing-- funny in hindsight. Last night I finally had time to make a nice family dinner. I had a roast in the oven all afternoon, mashed potatoes, veggies. I laid everyone's plates out on the table, proud of my non-cooker self for making such a healthy dinner for my family. Alex is the chef in this family, not me. So meals have been less-than-exciting since Alex can't move. Anyway. I was proud of my hard work.

I went across the street to gather my children and greet our new neighbors who had just moved in. As I was chatting, Aidan came out of our house and yelled across the street that Ollie the Dog had eaten all our dinner.


I was torn between screaming bloody murder and just falling on the sidewalk laughing. I decided screaming might prematurely scare off my sweet new neighbor and her little children. She should at least have the opportunity to get to know me before she's scared out of my life. So I just laughed. Seriously. Only at our house. The dumb dog ate the whole darn pot roast, going to everyone's plate on the table and gobbling the meat up as if I never feed him. 

I went home. I gave the dog a very large time out. I made everyone else grilled cheese for dinner, thanks to a neighbor who had bought us bread earlier that day. Seriously. What else can happen at our house?

I feel like I have the Newborn Numbness. You know when you have a brand new baby and you're up every two hours to feed the little thing? Or maybe that's just when you have preemies. But since I don't know any different, we'll just assume every new mama feels that way. I have that level of brain-dead-ness because of exhaustion. One or two kids wet the bed every single night. Yes, I've called the pediatrician. And our holistic doctor. And we're doing everything they say, with one exception. My biggest bed wetter will not wear the tiny device used to train kids to wake before they pee. His anxiety and sensory issues make it impossible for him to agree to try this thing that will set off a super loud alarm every night as he is laying in slumber. At least one kid has a nightmare most nights. And there is always a shrieking human next to my ear at the buttcrack of dawn, yelling about how there is nothing for breakfast. 

Trying to remember everything for everyone, trying to keep everyone fed and clean, trying to keep the house running, trying to make sure my hubby remembers all his exercises and meds, trying to deal with the never-ending litany of mini-rages that fire up all through the day…

Brain dead. That's all I have to say.

My dad said today that he has a new diet for anyone who is interested. It's called the Newsom Diet. All you have to do is come and live at my house for a couple days, he said. He lost three pounds in 2 1/2 days living at my house and taking care of everything that needed to be taken care of. This doesn't explain why I am not a size 2, but whatever. Glad it worked for him!

I always try to look on the bright side, glass half full, all that jazz. But sometimes things just suck. Life is overwhelming. Having your wallet stolen is overwhelming. Having your husband go through surgery is overwhelming. Having kids with special needs is overwhelming. I get worried that this is as good as it gets. I tell myself it'll get better, easier, happier, blah blah blah. And I do know it will. But being stuck in the house with 4 warring children and an invalid husband and a roast-snarfing dog is not my idea of a picnic. Tomorrow's a new day. Hopefully with an hour of peace, as I go to my chiropractor appointment, knowing that Alex is tucked into whatever machine he is scheduled to be in during that hour, knowing that my dear, dear friends are making sure my 4 little monkeys are taken care of while I take a breath.

As I was expressing my eternal gratitude to my parents for everything they have done for our family this past week, they told me that in the native language of the African tribe we used to live with, Gbaya, there is a saying: "Osoko yemna." It means many thanks. And also that 'thank you' is not enough. 

Osoko yemna to my friends and family and therapists and doctors. "Thank you" is not enough, no matter how many times I express it. Thank you. Osoko.