Loner Land

Our move back to Massachusetts and into a fantastic school system was absolutely the right thing to do. Especially for Joe. We are one month into the new school year and his teacher has already opened the lines of communication. It was an email response to a writing assignment she’d given to the parents in Joe’s class. Her response to my writing assignment titled The Care and Feeding of Joe Faherty, was, “I am wondering if Joe continues to see a therapist?”

It was a great question. One that tells me she’s paying attention. That she sees what I see and despite a fantastic summer filled with confidence and lively discussions with other children, Joe is having issues in the classroom again. It was a message that I found both encouraging and heartbreaking.

I’ll be completely honest, I knew this would happen as soon as he began the new year, but I didn’t want to be pessimistic. He did so well over the summer. He walked into camps in our new town with such confidence and came out of one with a firm “job offer” for next summer. That camp leader was so impressed with his patience and great attitude, she hired him to be her helper and has already arranged it.

During his stint at Ocean Ecology Camp, I watched him walk into a group of boys who fist-bumped him their good morning greetings. At the time, I sat in our mini-van and nearly cried with happiness over those fist bumps. At the beach, he gave impromptu talks about horseshoe crabs to groups of children and their grown-ups. He was awesome – holding up those prehistoric looking creatures and answering excited questions.

And then school started.

Don’t get me wrong, he’s still a happy guy. He gets on the bus with smiles and hugs in the morning and in the afternoon, reaches for my hand as soon as he exits. He holds on for the duration of the walk down our new street and doesn’t care who sees. I love holding his hand, it’s almost as big as mine now.

I tried to capitalize on the confidence he developed over the summer. When school started, I eased him into the social scene with daily challenges. Things like, Today you should try to have a conversation with someone new, or, Ask someone three questions and tell me what you learned about that new friend. He was hesitant, but he played along. And then one day at breakfast I said, “Trade telephone numbers with a new friend.”

Bad idea. He began to squirm uncomfortably and poked at his egg.

“Um…maybe I could wait a while. It seems too soon…I need to get to know people better.”

No amount of support or encouraging words will sway him. By now, I’m hearing all of those familiar cues that he has one foot back in Loner Land. His table mates are frustrated with him for not transitioning quickly enough, “This one girl takes “line-up” way too serious.” He doesn’t sit with the same kids at lunch – meaning, he hasn’t made any connections with another kid.

How is it that this kid who is gregarious and loving and so very smart at home is an entirely different person at school? How do I fix it? How do I make sure he’s a happy and well-adjusted human who has friends and some social involvement when he doesn’t show other kids he wants to be involved?

It’s time to find a new therapist.

Amy True 016

Creative Outlets: How I Try Not To Lose My Mind

During my last MFA residency, a wise group of women authors/faculty members led a presentation about creativity. In other words, what writers do when we aren’t painting portraits with our words. Come to find out, writers are also talented graphic designers, knitters, artists, musicians, photographers and interior designers. Yeah, yeah, I know there are other creative pursuits, but these are the ones that hit home for me. The ones that spoke to me. Those creative outlets that faculty members discussed as fuel for writing and those fulfilling pursuits that we escape to when our word well has temporarily dried up.

February brought draught-like conditions to Narragansett No. 7 and to those more serious writing projects I’m currently working on. The ones I am attending graduate school to perfect…under the tutelage of those aforementioned authors/faculty members.

In the midst of last month’s barfing, coughing, cleaning, nurturing, crying, sleeping and mental breakdowns, I began questioning my choice to attend graduate school. I did that thing that so many writers do and I decided that I am most certainly not a writer.

For the 1,457,962nd time, I came to the conclusion that everyone else at Stonecoast is a serious writer and I’m just there by some fluke. Some day, those smart faculty members and writers diligently pursuing their MFAs are going to find out and they’ll all laugh at me. They’ll point and they’ll laugh and then they’ll all tell me to leave after dumping a secretly stashed bucket of pig’s blood on my head at the next Stonecoast prom. (You have to be a Stephen King fan to appreciate that list bit.)

See how whacked out I became last month? I’m the first to admit that I do this every so often and I’m finding out that many writers go through similar patterns of self-doubt.

So I went with it. I decided to let my word well fill up again and I read a few of the books assigned to me for this semester. Mostly, I just tried to forget about the pressure of the writing part. I realized that I must have faith in my ability and the learning process and that the words always find their way back to brain. (At least, this is what I repeated to myself over and over again.)

Aside from reading, I nested.

1. I ordered chickens. 8 chickens to be exact. They will arrive during the second week of April. Prepare yourself for the insanity.

Not my Domoniques - photo courtesy Wikipedia

2. Two nights a week for two weeks, I made dinner for my family plus two others. Remember when I shared that post about my friend Jess? She’s home and recovering from surgery but we’re all trying to help out in any way we can. I also cooked dinners for the family of a little boy named Finn who went to Gwen’s preschool last year. Finn is being treated for brain cancer and I hope to post more about him in the next few weeks as they are at the point where fundraising has become needed. And prayers. Don’t forget the prayers.

Jessica and her beautiful family

3. In the name of St. Valentine, I made cake pops and Oreo cookie pops and blew the insides out of eggs  and cut heart-shaped pieces of watermelon. And I did this while I should have been writing.

4. I entertained a cursing fairy to the point of exhaustion. She slumbered in a beanbag on the kitchen floor. Presumably having dragged it there to escape her mother’s manic creative pursuits and ADHD-riddled thought patterns. Note to self: adults with short attention spans confuse the shit out of children. Please don’t forget the ADHD medication.

Swearing fairies require naps up to the age of 4

5.  I became addicted to Pinterest whilst nursing my children into the wee hours during the now infamous Barf Fest of 2012.

6.  I was overcome with the need to make some changes around the house that we just moved into and which I just made changes to last year. But that’s me. I like to make things pretty. In fact, I struggled between returning to grad school for that MFA or pursuing a degree in Interior Design. Somehow the thought of bitchy women being bitchy about something I designed didn’t appeal to me, so I opted for the MFA.

Anyway…Pinterest sparked that creative side of me that dives headfirst into design projects and I spend my writing dry spell on little projects like this: 

Joe's dresser, newly painted and with knotted rope handles. I'll post more on this later!

 And this…

 
The Valentine’s Day eggs that I blew out, painted and then proceeded to shove tiny messages of love inside off. Damn you, crafty Pinterest people. Damn.You. Life was much easier back when I just went to the store and grabbed a couple of Hallmark cards and some chocolate.
 
And this…

The girl's bedroom - undergoing some changes

 
Gwen and I went to My Sister’s Garage in Windam, Maine and she fell in love with a vintage children’s room they had so perfectly arranged. For those of you not in the area, My Sister’ Garage is a local antique/vintage shop that gives new life to furniture and collectibles and I just love to go there. They will be at Brimfield in May if you want to check them out. They also have a website with just a sample of some wares. Pop over and take look. Gwen loves My Sister’s Garage much that she cried last week when I said we wouldn’t have time go. I think I have pickin’ partner in Gwen because she has inspired a new vintage bedroom for herself and Kate. I’ll post more about this later in the week.

photo courtesy My Sister's Garage

So there you have it. This is what I was doing during the month of February when Narragansett No. 7 sat collecting dust and the only thing I was writing were status updates. Sometimes, you just need to take a little vacation from what you love. And that’s okay.

Chalkboard Declarations

First, let me begin by saying that I believe in self-expression via writing. Words are the most effective means of communicating how we feel, right? It’s kind of a no-brainer that I, of all people, would encourage my children to write.

So with that in mind, I painted an entire wall in Joe’s room with chalkboard paint.

It’s been fun to find their silly little drawings. Joe’s nearly perfect attempts to recreate Chomp from Super Mario World. Gwen’s weird-looking princess people with something resembling an antenna springing forth from their heads. A series of wobbly lines drawn by Kate and placed directly over the artwork of her siblings thus eliciting screams of protest and angry pleas for me to make her stop.

Sometimes Gwen is permitted to sleep on the top bunk in Joe’s room. These are the nights when her heart swells with joy and she beams with giddy delight at his invitation for a sleepover. We know that giggles and fake farts sounds are part of the deal. Dave and I accept that we’ll be required to stand at the bottom of the stairs and issue several warnings to settle down. Of course we know this, but boy, do those two children share a special bond. We love to see them loving each other.

So last week, during one of their sleepovers, Dave and I let them giggle and make fart sounds for a bit too long. Mostly because the giggles had turned to uncontrollable belly laughs. The deep and uncontrollable kind that can be so rare for Joe as he struggles with ADHD and anxiety and emotions. He’s a serious guy. So when he laughs so hard that he’s gasping for air, we let him and we share a glance and a chuckle before finally issuing the “that’s enough now” statement.

To tell you the truth, I didn’t give those belly laughs much thought the next morning. They had become a warm memory, filed away for use at some future date when I attempt to recall what Joe and Gwen sounded like at ages 7 and 5. When I need to pull that memory out because I’m pining for these days. The very days we are experiencing right now. The ones that parents of grown children tell me I will miss. I believe them. I do. But when you’re in the thick of it, it is hard to embrace that sentiment. Despite the wistful expression that washes over the face of a stranger when they see me herding my noisy flock through the grocery store, the look that comes right before they say, “I remember those days.” They say things like this as they stare at my children, not really seeing them at all, but traveling back in time to spend just a moment with their little ones courtesy of a warm memory filed away long ago.

When a complete stranger remarks that they miss their little ones, I pause. I do. I pause because I know I’ll feel the same way one day. Mostly because my naughty little brood makes me laugh. Despite their decidedly fresh behavior and inappropriate language, I will miss them terribly when they become pimply and gangly-limbed humans.

However, I will not miss finding the messages of self-expression that make it abundantly clear what those sibling slumber party belly laughs were all about.

 
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*Freaky Friday*

I figured that if I gave my post a title like FREAKY FRIDAY, it might lighten up the subject matter. Lately, it seems Friday has become the day for tragic posts involving my son’s development. As I often do, I’ve entered that stage of acceptance where I begin viewing his newly diagnosed syndrome with humor. Laughter is the best medicine, right?

My little guy and I spent a considerable amount of time in the pediatrician’s office yesterday. Have I told you how much I love our pediatrician? So does Joe.

Yes, he still has ADHD and we’re adjusting his medication to help those symptoms.

It also seems that he has Aspberger Syndrome…which is what I have suspected for quite some time. My gut was right.

When he was two and we were living in Boston, Joe went to an amazing preschool run by an amazing teacher. Her name was Siobhan. Siobhan and I both remarked that he had trouble making eye contact. It was then that I became aware that he didn’t play with the other children. He was just never fully socially engaged. From the age of two, Joe preferred building extremely complex structures with Magnetix. So much so, that one day, Siobhan saved one of his structures to show me. It was two feet tall and perfectly symmetrical in design and color. That structure presented a troubling mixture of amazement and alarm.

That summer, we went to Martha’s Vineyard and I bought Joe a wooden box filled with complicated Curious George puzzles. He sat in a restaurant and completed all four puzzles in less than thirty minutes and without any help.

When he was three, he became obsessed with two DVDs from a NOVA series called The Elegant Universe. He watched it every day, choosing theoretical physics, string theory and Michio Kaku over shows like Sesame Street or Thomas.

My guy has never really made a best friend. He’s not like the other guys. Group situations either cause him to find a solitary task or behave awkwardly.

In New Hampshire, Joe went to the Exeter Day School. It was there that a boy punched our four year old son in the stomach on the playground. Later, at summer camp, I watched a boy push and kick him while I sat in the carpool line. He was yelling at the boy to stop and the teachers leading the camp were nearby, but no one helped him. When we brought the situation to the staff’s attention, the woman said, “Well, Joe tends to go off by himself. He doesn’t play with the other kids…” as if was Joe’s fault that he was being hurt. That woman never apologized or explained why Joe’s behavior was never brought to our attention. We pulled Joe from that camp and cancelled Gwen’s planned preschool attendance.

Kindergarten began and Joe’s issues became more evident. Carpet time proved to be one of the biggest areas of difficulty. Joe wanted to lay down. Joe invaded the space of other children. Joe wasn’t picking up on social cues.

We moved to Maine that year and Joe finished Kindergarten here but his troubles have continued. Trouble with carpet time and coordination and bullying and tears.

Last year, Joe didn’t qualify for the 504 because he is too “academically advanced.” In the meantime, he struggles socially and his self-esteem has plummeted. At bedtime the other night, Joe said, “It’s easier for me to bad than it is for the other kids. For them, it’s easy to be good.” I assured him that he’s a good boy. A smart boy. A kind boy. A loved boy.

His diagnosis doesn’t change the way I view my son. Not at all. However, it makes me more aware of the way he is treated by people who don’t know. Strangers, teachers, family and friends who don’t know or understand that he is not purposely being naughty. I don’t want him to feel labeled, but I do want to empower him. Mostly, I want him to know that he is loved. I want him to go school and enjoy his time there without feeling like a bad boy, or a different boy or a boy who will be picked on.

And so, we begin the journey to give our son what he needs.

Buh, Bye Booger Wall!

As parents, we tend to overlook some of the more ground-breaking hypotheses that our children deliver. Mostly because we’ve been desensitized by their inane chatter. There must be some base instinct aimed at preserving our sanity that has enabled us to tune them out yet, respond to hours-long monotone diatribes about Bakugans and Yoshi’s with a series of non-committal mmm, hmms and random uh, huhs. Lately, Joe has begun to remind me of a character from the movie Meet the Robinsons. The villain who, as a child, suffers from a lack of sleep and seemingly never stops talking. Not ever. Joe has become the child version of Michael “Goob” Yagoobian. 

Joe recently started medication for ADHD of the Inattentive Type and, two days after beginning the medication, David and I endured 40 minutes of incessant talking. Talking with no breaks. If he did happen to take a break say, to breathe, he started over again at the beginning of whatever convoluted and wildly uninteresting tale he was trying to relay.

His droning monologue began in the minivan, continued through two errands, back into the van and finally, mercifully ended in the kitchen. The child didn’t even stop talking when we shut the doors to the van, paused for a breather, then opened the sliders to let the kids out. Gwen had melted into her booster seat, wearing a glazed expression similar to what I imagine the people who have undergone music torture must wear.

We resisted giving him the drugs for nearly a full year after his original diagnosis, so when this new chatty version of Joe evolved, I was concerned. Under the circumstances, I did what any mom would do. I jacked one of his pills to see what it felt like. It is, after all, a form of speed that we’re pushing on our son. However, seeing as I already talk a lot it was, in retrospect, kind of a stupid experiment.  I did, however, learn that going to your physician, explaining that you’ve stolen one of your son’s Adderall and seen the light, then requesting a prescription of your very own probably isn’t the brightest idea. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that they had a good laugh when I left the building.

Where was I going with this? Oh, right…inattentive ADHD and excessive talking.  

Thankfully, Joe’s non-stop talking has leveled to a socially tolerable state and, with his newfound clarity, I’ve begun to tune back in. I’ve discovered that he’s a deep thinker. I mean, I always knew that he had some important stuff tumbling around in that little head, but now he can actually present his theories in an organized and intelligent manner. I’ve been learning something new every day!

This morning Joe was wiping the sand from his eyes when I jokingly told him the Sandman had brought him dreams and, while he was there, he stopped to poop in his eyes (I know, I know… I’m not the most appropriate or mature mother in the world, no need to leave nasty comments).  Without missing a beat he turned and looked at me, “Actually, that’s not true.”  

Oh, really?

I detected a hint of eye roll. “It’s just boogers that go up to your eyes.”

I was intrigued by his reasoning. “What do you mean; it goes up to your eyes?”

As if suddenly realizing that I’m an idiot, he explained, “When you pick your nose it makes some go straight up into your eyes and some goes into your ears.”

“So let me get this straight. Booger picking causes eye boogies and ear wax?”

“Well, not just picking them…you have to eat them too.”

“Okay, so if you pick your nose and eat it you’ll end up with eye boogers and ear wax?”

“Right,” he confirmed.

“So…you’ve been eating boogers then?”

“Right,” was his matter of fact response, “I think I’m going to stop though because I’m thinking that eating boogers gave me that earache a few weeks ago by causing extra ear wax.”

So there you have it. Adderall has provided my boy with the clarity he needed to kick a nasty booger eating habit. He’s taking a stand and knocking that monkey off his back once and for all. Maybe together we’ll tackle the removal of the Booger Wall behind his bunk bed this weekend.

If you have enjoyed this edition of Narragansett No. 7 please take a moment to vote by clicking on the obnoxious flashing brown button down below. One click, once a day casts a vote for No. 7 and tells me that you like me…you really like me. You do, don’t you?

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Monday

I spent the last seven days of my life immersed in writing samples, trying to select the perfect pieces for my residency’s manuscript submission. Thank God for David who took the bull by the horns and dealt with the financial aid stuff, made dinner for the family all weekend and entertained the kids while I sat at my computer telling them all to shut the hell up. I hate noise when I’m under pressure.

One of the side effects of ADHD is that when I’m focused on something with a deadline, something that needs to be just right, I’m not capable of acting like a normal human being. I forget everything else. I’m sure that to the rest of the world I appear to be a complete moron. David understands this. He might not necessarily appreciate it, but he gets it and works with me. He flips the pancakes that I started then walked away from to go clean the bathroom. Thanks to David, the house doesn’t burn down.

I picked my essays and started fine-tuning them yesterday afternoon. I felt good. Yup, I had it all together. No sign of any ADHD induced memory lapses at all. David and I even stayed up later than 9:00 last night.

This morning I was exhausted, yet for some reason when I rolled out of bed, I decided to flat iron my hair and slap on some makeup before driving Gwen to preschool. If only I had taken off the t-shirt that I slept in and put on a bra.

We were walking up to the front gate of the preschool when Gwen asked, “I’m the leader today, right Mommy?”

You know those dreams where you show up for school/work/your wedding and you’re naked? Yeah, well that’s how I felt as I stood on the sidewalk in front of Gwen’s preschool when I realized that it was my day to be parent helper. Technically, I was late, I didn’t have the fruit for snack, I didn’t bring a roll of paper towels and most alarming, I wasn’t wearing a bra.

I wracked my brain, trying to recall the contents of the mini-van, praying that I’d left a sweater in there at some point. For a brief moment, I was relieved when I remembered that I took my bra off at a red light a few weeks ago. Then I remembered that I hated that bra, took it off because it was uncomfortable and threw it in the trash at the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru.

image courtesy Google image search

We walked inside and I apologized profusely to the preschool teacher who, by the way, I swear is a direct descendant of Mary Poppins. She was totally cool with our late arrival and full of ‘don’t worries’ and ‘no problems’.

Sighing, I took off my coat and tried to pretend it wasn’t cold. I was thankful for the thin camisole I was wearing under the t-shirt. I took a deep breath and held my head high, as if going braless was a conscious decision and then Gwen said, “ummmm, Mommy…are you wearing your booby traps or no?”

I spent the morning playing memory match, circle time and serving snacks in what was, technically, my pajamas. Kate, who had dressed herself this morning, was clad in a pair of pants, a sweater dress and a pajama top. Her hair was sticky from breakfast. I tried to brush it with my fingers and ended up tucking it behind her ear.

That was my day.

image courtesy Google image search

Monsters

Here it comes. The monster is creeping in and I realize that I haven’t fed it in a few days. With all of the medications I was taking for my sinus infection, I forgot four doses of my daily 25 mgs of Zoloft. I hate that I seem to be stuck taking a pill for the rest of my life to keep the monster at bay. I feel like I’m being held hostage. It makes me angry but I have no one or, for that matter, nothing tangible to be angry at. It simply isn’t worth it to forgo the pill, so I have resigned myself to the fact that it will be an ever present morning ritual. Brush teeth, coffee, Zoloft, breakfast for the kids, school bus… the alternative is unbearable.

This morning Joe didn’t want to go to soccer. An offhand comment was made about someone else’s boys who play and if he doesn’t love it by now etc…well, that comment just hit me in the wrong spot. It fed my monster the wrong kind food which started a downward spiral of self-loathing and a new round of internal ass kicking. Why can’t Joe be like the other boys? What have I done wrong? It’s my fault.

Yesterday, I finally handed Joe’s Vanderbilt Assessments over to his pediatrician. It was his 6 year physical. Joe has been diagnosed with ADHD. I know, millions of kids are diagnosed each year, but I took the diagnosis to heart. I knew it was coming. I privately cried because I know that ADHD often results in depression later in life. I have unwillingly bestowed my internal hell upon my innocent son and I blame myself for passing on my mixed up brain to my beautiful boy. As I spoke to the pediatrician, I watched Joe painstakingly draw yet another intricate monster, absorbing every word the two of us said. He knows his brain works a little bit differently…he’s told me. He is an incredibly smart and observant little boy.

My head has been spinning ever since the assessment was completed and diagnosis rendered at 1:45 p.m. yesterday. As usual, my outward demeanor was composed. I discussed the course of action we want to take (no meds for now) with the pediatrician. I explained that I have the same condition and expressed my fears about his future mental health. Our pediatrician appreciated that I had done my homework on the subject. She is pleased that I can help him through my personal perspective but I’m heartbroken; mostly for him and, admittedly and a bit selfishly, for myself as well. I can already recognize that his comfort level is highest when he is in a small group or alone. Like me. I can already see that he is deeply affected by hurtful words and mulls them over far longer than a “normal” person would. Like me. I can already see his frustration and disappointment if he fails and how he internalizes the shame. Like me. Every time I see the pain cross over his little face (and I’ve already seen it), I feel it too.
To add to my arsenal of information, I went to the website “Healthy Place”. It calls itself America’s Mental Health Channel. There I found the paragraph that I was looking for…what I couldn’t verbalize to Dave, but why I fear for Joe and his future because it was my experience:
“One prominent theory is that the relationship between ADHD and depression may result from the social/interpersonal difficulties that many children with ADHD experience. These difficulties can lead important others in the child’s life to develop negative appraisals of the child’s social competence that are communicated to the child during the course of ongoing negative social exchanges. With increasing age, these negative social experiences and others’ negative appraisals can adversely affect children’s view of their social competence, which, in turn, can predispose them to develop depressive symptoms. An interesting study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology was designed to test this theory (Ostrander, Crystal, & August [2006]. Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder, Depression, and Self- and Other Assessments of Social Competence: A Developmental Study. JACP, 34, 773-787.” http://www.healthyplace.com/adhd/depression-and-adhd/relationship-between-depression-and-adhd-homepage-toc/menu-id-360
That’s why I beat myself up about him not wanting to attend soccer today. I need to help him focus and, at the same time, I need to help David understand how my, no…our brains function. We need to teach Joe self checking skills, we need to help him learn to focus and stay on course, we need to help him channel his attention before he is left standing on the sidelines wishing he had joined in. We need to help him learn to be a part of a group and contribute to a team. We need to advocate loudly for him at school. He needs us to be his voice or he’ll become invisible. I need to make Dave understand the importance of these things that I know because I’ve been living ADHD and depression for my entire life. My ADHD was undiagnosed as a child. We now know that leaving the condition undiagnosed almost certainly results in recurrent depression (Bipolar Disorder) later in life. The two go hand in hand. What a lovely pair…

So as my façade of togetherness, still holding on from yesterday afternoon, began its slow crumble this morning. I realized that my own monster had awakened. I was suddenly getting caught up in negativity and internalizing harmless remarks. Dave and I argued about whether or not Joe should go to soccer and I desperately tried to impart that things are different for Joe. He’s not just another kid who doesn’t feel like going. My words just wouldn’t form in a way to make Dave understand, so I shut down, stopped coping and the façade crashed to the floor. My monster had broken through the restraints and made its first appearance in months.
Later, Dave called Joe downstairs for a family discussion about what it means to be part of a team and how we are expected to follow through on a commitment. I reminded him of our discussion with the doctor yesterday and I shared that I understand how he feels. On a level that he could understand, I told him that my brain and his brain work the same way sometimes. As he watched my tears begin, his own began to flow. Our eyes met in mutual understanding of the frustration and emotion that seemingly no one else in the house has to deal with or fully understand. He slid off his chair and came to my side of the table where we wrapped our arms around one another and hugged in silent understanding.
I’m off to feed the monster its pill and get it back under control before it becomes strong enough to completely submerge me in the depths of its darkness. Once I’ve beaten it back again, I will wage a war against the monster trying to get my son and try my hardest to keep him out of its reach.