Thursday, July 26, 2012

Day by Day

I've decided it's going to have to be okay for me to have a bad day.  I think it's the only way I'm going to make it through all of this without having a mental breakdown.  I've put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to be positive, determined, strong, and consistent, but the reality of the situation is that sometimes it's just hard to do that every single day. 

Today I'm giving myself permission to feel overwhelmed. To feel afraid. To feel frustrated. To cry. To worry about how in the world I'm going to find the tenacity to work, go to school, parent four children effectively, and find some sliver of time for my husband and for myself when we have limited financial resources and no family near to help.  In a nutshell, I'm scared.  Hudson's challenges, needless to say, are not the only stress factors in our life, but they're going to have to be pretty forefront right now.

I put my head down on the stairs at Hudson's feet today and cried as he was wrapping up a verbal onslaught against me and a fierce physical altercation with his bedroom door.  I know it makes me weak--and it probably undermines the stability and security I'm working so hard to give him--but in that moment, I felt so lost and overcome that it just happened.  I wonder how many days I'll have like this and how evident it will be to all of my kids even when I'm putting on my bravest face and sunniest voice.  Most of all I worry how my slip-ups will impact them.  It's just the beginning, and I have to believe it's going to get easier.  I miss my family support system more than ever right now, but I've just got to come to grips with the fact that it's on us to make this work and make it work well.  Please continue to cheer for us and pray for us, especially on days like today.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The First Step Forward

Today Jason and I took Hudson on what we decided was a date.  We're fairly certain it's the first time since Hudson was a toddler we have hung out together sans siblings.  We stopped by Daddy's office to pick something up, headed to the play therapist's office, and then celebrated a great visit with her with a little lunch.  All in all, it seemed easier than I thought it would be.  I guess asking for help really is the hardest part. 

We're starting out slowly with opportunities for Hudson to build a trusting relationship with his therapist.  We wished we could have had a bird's eye view into his time in the play therapy room, but we did hear him yelling (the silly kind of yelling) and laughing.  At one point I turned to Jason and remarked the therapist might think we're full of crap since he seems so happy and comfortable with her.  From what I gather from our first meeting, she is kind, invested, empathetic, and insightful.  She feels people in Hudson's life should invest the time to understand how he works, but she also knows he will have to learn to deal with life when it doesn't provide this ideal social construct. 

ADHD has for the most part been taken off the list of possibilities, and sensory integration disorder has been put on the list.  Right now the goal is to teach him some coping mechanisms, and I'm just fine with that.  Thank you for your continued prayers and encouragement for all of our family members.  My faith is stronger than ever that life, in all of its beauty and possibility, is holding the door open for our little man to step through in his own way and in his own time.      

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Aftermath

I can honestly say I had no idea what kind of response I would get when I opened up about our journey with Hudson.  I don't know if I'm just desensitized to the situation because I've faced it for so long or if I'm so aware of how lucky we are to have only this one challenge that I didn't realize how our story would impact people.  Either way, I was caught off guard by the overwhelming amount of people who reached out to us, encouraged us, committed to pray for us, and opened up about their own personal experiences.  I'm genuinely touched and grateful while maintaining a "deer in headlights" degree of surprise. 

Our first appointment with the counselor is tomorrow, and I'm now excited about moving forward in a positive direction.  She is a licensed play therapist and a retired special education teacher, and I feel like she is a great starting point for us.  Strategies that work are especially important to us, but I think a diagnosis is particularly important to me, whether it's anxiety or ADHD or Asperger's or any other possibility.  I have always put a great deal of stock in the field of psychology, and the mind itself is one of the most fascinating components of human nature.  If the body is sick, treating the particular ailment rather than stabbing at the dark with guesses is essential, and the same philosophy should be applied to the mind.  I'm not seeking a label for my son, but I am seeking a direction and an opportunity to arm myself with information so that we can help him in the most effective way possible. 

Thank you for the insights many of you offered me in disclosing your experiences with your own children.  I feel more open minded now and more willing to face whatever direction we are sent.  Our goals include acting as advocates for Hudson and achieving a greater degree of stability and positive energy in our household.  In many ways I feel like Hudson's challenges are a lesson in tolerance for Camden, Lawson, and Scout and a chance for us to learn to make sure each of our children feels special and nurtured.  Further, I hope our kids will learn empathy and acceptance for other kids who face various challenges. 

In all honesty the most powerful needs I feel right now are to arm Hudson with coping skills for every day life, to give him confidence and a healthy perspective of himself and the world around him, and to surround him with friends who look past his debilitating introverted nature and see the silly, loyal kid he is.  I always feel an irrational need to protect him from those who choose to overlook opportunities to connect with him because it doesn't come as easily as it normally would with other children.  I've tried very hard to help family members and friends find ways to reach out to him, and I'm so thankful they have put in the extra time to adjust their interactions to fit Hudson's social needs.  I'm also so grateful for his elementary school's counselor and administration because I know they are rooting for us to find the answers we need and willing to work with us to help Hudson reach his potential for success in school. 

Like any kid Hudson has good days and bad days.  The past two days have been such good days that I'm almost willing to overlook the fact that Scout is twirling around in a tutu singing "stupid butt" because she heard it from her older brothers.  Today it's back to the reality of making our situation work for our family as a whole and laughing at all the funny moments we're treated with throughout the day.  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your support and for the love you have shown us.  I look forward to speaking to and/or corresponding with those of you who reached out to us over the coming months.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Moving Forward Into Scary Territory

Today I spoke to a counselor about our son, Hudson, and we're taking steps to see her in the next few days.  Everything I've poured my heart out to my girlfriends and parents about has suddenly become much more heavy and real.  I'm nervous about taking this step when I feel like I should be relieved and excited to finally talk to someone who seems to grasp the gravity of our situation and who genuinely wants to help.  Someone who might actually help me become a better mom all around, not just a better mom to Hudson.  Why then do I feel like such a failure instead?

After years of working around symptoms of everything from social anxiety disorder to Asperbergers, I'm completely at a loss.  My descriptions to the counselor are all over the place, but the underlying theme is helplessness.  I'm almost numb to Hudson's declarations that he hates me, and unfortunately, he is perceptive of this fact.  His angry words have manifested into a game of sorts, where he dishes out various insults throughout the day to figure out what does and does not impact me. 

Two nights ago, I listened from the kitchen as he screamed at his father, called him a coward and an idiot, and then retreated to his room in a torrent of rage and physical violence (inflicted on his bedroom door, not on his family).  We never really know what to anticipate as triggers to his behavior and often watch as our sweet, quirky, sensitive kid morphs into a monster even he himself despises within a matter of seconds.  The fits go as quickly as they come, and Hudson is often left sobbing in frustration at his inability to control his emotions.

Whether your child's pain is physical or emotional, the effect is just as debilitating.  When my children hurt, I hurt.  After I launched my latest campaign against Hudson's cruel verbal tirade (spending the day in his room until he learns to speak respectfully), I walked away to calm down.  I stepped into the garage to turn out the lights and was stopped in my tracks by my child's heartbreaking sobs.  His room sits right above the garage, and the pain in his crying was unmistakable. 

I crept slowly up the stairs and listened outside his door as he sang to himself (still choking on sobs) and then talked quietly to himself about what a bad boy he is.   Never in all of his six years have we ever told him he is a bad boy.  This conclusion is one he's drawn himself based on what our actions and handling of his situation are saying to him.  My heart aches knowing he sees himself this way instead of the beautiful, enigmatic little man I see.  He recently told me he was never going to be able to stop having outbursts because he was only six years old and didn't know what to do.  All of his actions once the fits have passed are saying what he lacks the maturity to say.  "Mom and Dad, I feel helpless.  Please do whatever you can to help me say what I need to say." 

My husband discovered a line in a book he had given after the birth of one of our children and left it lying on the bed that night for me to find.  The line was "I need you to love me the most when I don't seem to love you at all."  My husband is my true parent-partner, and his subtle, gentle reminder gave me the push I needed to call in reinforcements.  Even though I'm human enough to wish I could have figured out the right answer for myself, Hudson's health and happiness far outweigh any egocentric notions I'm holding on to.  I do know that God created and loves my wonderful Hudson, and he chose me and Jason to be his parents for a reason.  Until the counselor tells me to do something different, I will respond to every outburst with a hug and an "I love you."

We're going on a journey into the unknown, and we're going to need lots of prayers and encouragement as we move forward.  Today the counselor threw out the word "emotional and behavior disorder."  I cringed as I flashed back to my first year teaching resource classes with students enduring varying degrees of EBD.  Many of those closest to me know about the challenges we've faced with Hudson, but this step is different.  I will try to open myself up a bit more in the hopes that what we face and find will be helpful to other parents.  Writing about it will hopefully help me, too, since my feelings of confusion always seem less muddy once I've written them out.  Often the solution to a problem reveals itself to me in my writing, or anger and pain ease just in the process of letting my emotions flow through my fingers as they scramble across the keyboard. 

Go on this journey with us, but please understand that mocking the field of child psychology when you don't understand it or smugly assuming what Hudson needs is old fashioned corporal punishment will raise my hackles and defenses quickly.  If there is anything my years as a mom and as a teacher have taught me, it's that you can't presume to know the answer to someone's problems if you've never walked a mile in their shoes.  It's age old advice Atticus Finch relied upon, and it's good enough for me.  After trying in vain to find the right solution, I'm putting my faith in someone who has insight into Hudson's mind and training in how to help him that I lack. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Toy Story Effect

Yesterday I got to sit down with all of my kids and enjoy Toy Story 3.  Although we've easily watched it twenty times before, the movie always holds our attention from start to finish.  Camden watches me carefully to gauge when the tears start, and with each viewing, it happens earlier and earlier.  This time I made it until the moment Andy's mom walks into his room and sees it bare for the first time.  When she mutters "I wish I could always be with you," the waterworks really cranked up.  I imagine myself as the mom from the commercial that shows her jumping in front of dodge balls as they are hurled at her child during P.E.  I could totally be that mom.

One day they will go off to college.  It will come sooner than I'm ready and faster than I realize.  I'm already torn over my feelings for my kids' growing independence.  Camden can now function fairly independently, picking out his own clothes and dressing himself and taking big kid showers.  Bath time was always time to connect with the kids one-on-one, and now I've lost that with him.  I know it's important for their development to learn to do things for themselves, though, and Hudson has now become my little project.  I'm teaching him how to wash his hair thoroughly and stepping aside to let him bathe himself while I sit by and give suggestions.  I've tried to make it kind of funny with lines like "don't forget your undercarriage" or "make sure you get the twig and berries."  Hudson tends to be my most resistant to letting go of me, so making him laugh detracts from his protests and complaints. 

Lawson will soon follow (and often does if he and Hudson are in the same room).  Scout apparently was born an old soul with a very defined sense of self because it's been months since I was allowed to pick out her clothes or assist her with any kind of attire related tasks.  I do enjoy watching her become a helpless diva when she's with her daddy, though, and I respond to his hapless looks of frustration with smug satisfaction, considering I brought up three Mama's boys. 

My Aunt Dottie has two grown boys, and she tells me she has loved their teenage and young adult years.  Considering how much I loved teaching my middle and high schoolers, I hope I'll feel the same way.  Despite the fact that they'll need me less for physical tasks, I hope they will turn to me for help with their emotional needs.  My relationship with my parents was very real, and I especially told my dad everything even when it hurt him to hear it.  My goal is to foster the same kind of honesty and hope for the best. 

My empty nest years will come like a snowball.  The boys will head to college one after the next (ouch says my bank account), and Scout will follow a mere three years later.  I'll probably cling to her with such unabashed attachment that she will hit the ground running the second her college acceptance letters arrive.  In the meantime I'll try to stop sniffling quietly every time Camden mutters I embarrass him (seriously, isn't seven a little young for that?) and remember to be thankful for the times I can't sit down and eat my dinner because my kids are too small to reach the cabinet full of cups or dip a second helping from the stove without a stool to stand on.  Pretty soon they'll live hours away like I do from my parents, and I'll be grateful simply to hear their voices on the other end of the phone line.  That reminds me.  I need to call my parents.

P.S.  This is almost embarrassing to ask, but does anyone else feel guilty when they toss their kids' old toys?  It's like I can imagine them crying dramatically like Barbie does when she's on her way to Sunnyside Daycare. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

It's Family Dinner, Darn It!

I really wanted to use an expletive in the title, but my innate "prose politeness" somehow prevents me from following through with it.  I've just gotten up from another comical yet disastrous Jones family dinner, and I'm reeling with multiple emotions, namely disgust, frustration, and bemusement.

Every evening I fight many factors to accomplish the impossible task of sitting six Joneses down in the same space for longer than fifteen minutes. I consider myself a well-informed parent, and I've read many times that experts believe children not only learn social skills at the dinner table, but they also have more positive connections when they endure regular family meals.  I sometimes allow myself to wonder what an "expert" might take away from one of our meals, but then the shuddering starts and I have to nix my visions.

Tonight's debacle revolved around spaghetti.  The trick is to lure my husband into the kitchen and hand him plates I scoop and prepare to each child's liking and then pray he doesn't call the pigs to slop before I can get our plates fixed.  Tonight was an epic fail.  By the time I sat myself down, our oldest had ingested his entire plate of food in an action that can only be accurately  described as "scarfing."  It was almost revolting to watch, but I found myself marveling at his speed.  I couldn't look away and froze, plate in hand, for a solid two seconds while a multitude of fleeting thoughts raced through my head. 

"Man, there goes my chance to sit down.  He's going to ask for seconds the moment my butt hits the chair.  I wonder if he'll have a stomach ache later.  His second helping is going to be wasted because halfway in, his brain will catch up to his stomach to tell him he is full.  Stupidly slow hypothalamus.  Why is Jason waiting on me to hand him a bowl and water?  What is this?  1955?  Wow, look at Hudson go.  He's really eating, too.  Crap, Lawson sat at Camden's spot at the table.  Now he has the large helping but a tiny appetite.  No wonder Camden finished so fast.  Man, I'm hungry."

This internal dialogue ran its course within seconds, and as predicted, Camden asked for seconds the moment I sat down.  As soon as I handed him his plate and tried to sit down again, Hudson asked for seconds.  As I sat down a third time, Camden said he was done (with half a plate of spaghetti left) and asked to be excused.  Around this time, I got the crazy eyes.

"No!  You may not be excused.  We will sit for a family meal and talk.  Yep, talk."

It's connection time, baby.  Topic:  If you conquered the universe, what would you do?  Ah, clever, Molly.  You are so good.  The first sign of trouble came when one child said he would kill everyone and allow aliens to take over the planet.  Cue internal dialogue:

"Kill?!  What, is he a sociopath?  Why is Jason stuffing his face and acting like he didn't hear that?  Why are the other two boys laughing so hard?  Crap, Scout just rubbed spaghetti in her hair.  Whoops, I know that look.  She's got to pee (as she slides deftly off her chair and bolts from the room).  Hmm, how do I handle this?" 

The shocking response (delivered in typical boy fashion) elicited a reprimand from me on appropriate dinner conversation (and conversation in general), and I made a second attempt at finding a successful conversation starter. 

If you had $100, what would you buy?  Brilliant.  Camden would buy a rocket ship.  Little does he know that little purchase will be made of paper mache at that price, but I admire his lofty goal.  Lawson would buy a house with a pool in the front yard AND back yard, and Hudson would.....wait.  Did Jason seriously just get up in the middle of our conversation and lie down on the couch? 

This act led to a reprimand about setting an example (better known as nagging) followed by protests that he's tired and his head hurts, but all I saw was an opportunity for shameless manipulation and guilt trips as I listened to the boys yelling hysterically and trying to top each other with ridiculous scenarios and purchases.  Poor Hubs.  No doubt his head hurt.  I managed to chase down a rogue Lawson and Hudson down and drag them back to the table and then pulled Lawson out from under the table where he was undoubtedly feeding our crafty dog.  I then lectured the boys on the importance of respecting others when they talked and using appropriate words and volume levels at the table so that their poor daddy could bear to sit and have a meal with them.  Jason looked fittingly overwhelmed, which earned him brownie points.  

"Okay, Mom."

"Tomorrow, we have FAMILY DINNER.  A proper family dinner. Does everyone understand?"

(Imagine the stern mommy stare.)

"Yes, Mom."

"Now, what do you say when you would like to leave the table?"

In unison, "I enjoyed it, Mom.  May I be excused?"

Sigh. "Yes."

Cue obnoxious "Pokemon" theme song and three little boys singing contentedly along.  Imagine a jaded but determined mommy eating a cold dinner alone at the table.  Wash, rinse, repeat. I'll do it all over again tomorrow.