Tag Archives: parenting

The Accidental Spiritual Tourist

Recently, on a trip to Asheville, I was accosted by a woman who wanted me to purchase her books on Yoga. Wait – that’s not entirely accurate. She insisted I take one for a small donation. I truly had no cash, explained I was a tourist and that I was on my way to lunch. “Oh! I’m a tourist, too – a spiritual tourist!” she chirped. A spiritual tourist. Yeah, okay. Moving right along.

Much to my chagrin, over this past weekend, her words rang back to me and I discovered that I, too, am a spiritual tourist. “Let me ‘splain…no, no time to ‘splain: let me sum up.”

I woke this morning feeling sentimental about my old house in Ossining, NY, and  heavy-hearted, missing my mother. I have not seen my mother in over 39 years, so when I miss her, it usually means something big is playing out in my life or is about to play out in my life. The awakening was preceded by detailed dreams about visiting colleges with my daughter, Clarke. These dreams may have been triggered by a recent visit to Oxford England where many families were touring the University during “open days” as I was visiting as a tourist. (That is, an actual tourist, not a spiritual one.) Or it could be that I am dreaming about visiting colleges as it is Clarke’s junior year in high school and some time during the spring, we are going to have to do just that.

No matter what the trigger, when I opened my eyes this morning, I went first to check on Clarke because she had been complaining of an ear ache last night.  I gingerly touched her forehead with my hand, and tried not to wake her. I’m not exactly sure why I thought I would not wake her, because she has always startled if touched when asleep. She did in fact startle and let me know her ear kept her up a good bit during the night.  She weakly requested to visit a doctor, so I got dressed immediately.

We piled silently into the car and started for the Urgent Care.  On the way there, she put on some of her music, which I usually abide because it lets me into her teenage life just a little.  That’s when the Magical Mystery Tour rolled up to the first stop.

I found myself standing as a teenager in Montaldo’s Boutique in Greensboro, NC with my sister, shopping for her wedding dress.   All during the day my ear was increasingly more annoying and I therefore kept bothering it back.  By the time evening fell, I was in some pain.  I downstairs and interrupted the 11:00 evening news to tell my dad I needed to go to the emergency room.  It had become impertive that I get the invisible ice pick that was persistently jabbing my right ear drum removed at once.

If my daughter’s pain was a fraction of what I recalled from that night, she was surely suffering.  Her silence told me all I needed to know and my heart crumbled.  A few empathetic tears snuck down my cheeks, but before I could truly enjoy this sentimental stop, the tour bus careened around a corner screeching to a halt at the doorstep of my Ossining home.

At this stop, I recalled a time when my next oldest sibling had gone off to kindergarten. I was finally going to have my mom all to myself while my three brothers and sisters went to school.  These were supposed to be happy days for me, but they turned into seeds of anxiety.  Most days, once I was fed, Mom let me watch TV while she disappeared somewhere upstairs in our split level home.  I watched myself as a 4 year old girl, wandering around the upstairs looking for my mother. I called and called for her and she did not answer.  When she eventually re-appeared at the top of the stairs, I was dissolved in tears.  That brief time of feeling lost in my own home left me scared and much in need of her presence and comfort.

BANG!  The Spiritual Tour was nearing a close as I arrived at my final destination:  Gratitude.

During those days of needing hugs, kisses, comfort or the actual presence of my mother, I was building the deep desire to be available to my family.  Now, every time I offer them something as simple as an aspirin or quiet company when they are down, it is both a gift to them and a gift to me.  I am grateful to be here and to be a constant source of love for them.

Next on the tour:  Baggage Claim!

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Bouncing Back, Moving Forward

I am more than fairly amazed at my 11-year-old son’s resilience.  He’s had a tough couple of days, but it seems he is not at all taken down by happenstance that might crush an adult; he simply bounces back.  I am not speaking of his ability to down 16 Swedish Fish and two packs full of gummy worms in one setting without gaining an ounce, (in good time my son…in good time!), but rather the day-to-day stuff that can reach inside his bony little body and put a choke hold on his fledgling self-esteem.

For example, last night was the last game of his baseball season.  His team had been down 5 to 1 but had rallied during the final inning and brought it back up 5 to 4.  We parents were in a rapturous lather and were cheering our little on men to victory.  When my boy got to bat, the kid before him had been walked to first and the bases were loaded.  Two outs were showing on the board.

Let me stop here to say that my son loves baseball.  He has improved greatly this year, but sadly, although he made some good plays, he does not excel at batting.  He got one hit all year and it was a bunt that went foul.  I silently blessed the other parents for not groaning  audibly  when he stepped to the plate.  (They’re good people, these baseball parents).  Strike one…ball one…ball two…strike two…strike three.  Game over, season over.

While I died a thousand squirming deaths for him and tried to pretend I didn’t notice the other parents avoiding eye contact, he came bouncing up with his bag over his shoulder, corn chips in one hand and G2 in the other.  “Hold this” he said, slinging the chips at me as he used two hands to bring the oversized bottle to his mouth, and tried to open it with his teeth.  I watched his undisturbed countenance for a moment.  Wordlessly, I held the chips back out to him, traded him for the bottle, opened it and handed it back.

On the way back to the car, my husband broke the heavy silence.  “That sure was an exciting game.  Too bad you guys didn’t pull it off.”  There was no pregnant pause, although both of us wanted to give Bryce the opportunity to talk about what had just happened.  “Yeah,” he immediately replied, “I’m gonna spend the summer getting really good and then I won’t miss again!”

And this is where I find myself in awe of the child.  He didn’t bluster about “losing it for the team.” He didn’t pout and shuffle his feet or declare that he “sucked.”  And most surprisingly of all, he didn’t look remotely like he might want to cry…it never crossed his mind!  He believes he is a good player and that he will work hard and come back even stronger.

What a wonderful, beautiful gift this child has and I will do all I can to cultivate it.  Now if I could just cultivate a little of that for myself!

Adventures in Driving

Like most Catholics, I am a firm believer in the help I receive from Guardian Angels. Tonight, as my daughter and I set out on an errand, I prayed that Jesus would cover us in His protection…forgetting all about poor Flossie, my Guardian and friend for Life. Luckily for me, Flossie shows patience with me.  Otherwise, I’d have been dropped from the protection roster long ago.

Anyway, on our merry way home, Clarke had to change lanes in order to make her turn. There was a short span of available lane for her to use and she dutifully checked her blind spot, as did I.  Neither of us saw the *insert your favorite insult here* coming from behind her to pass her, and as she was half way into the lane change, this (ahem) individual came careening up on her right side, blowing the horn and maintaining position with a roaring engine.

To say I “squeaked a bit” might be an understatement, but rest assured the squeak was in stereo. Clarke pulled back out of the lane allowing the (ahem…) individual free rein to speed by us and jet forward another hundred yards, so that he or she might get to wait at the red light just a little sooner than would have been possible had they applied their brakes.

Once our hearts were out of our mouths and we could speak through the panting, I told her I pray a blessing over people like that. “Heck, it’s only traffic,” I said, “Grow up, chill out and move on…ya know?” “Yeah,” she breathed, still stunned from the experience. “So, it’s a good thing our Guardian Angels were looking out for us, huh?” she asked. Then she said she didn’t know the name of her Guardian Angel or whether she had a girl or a boy protector.

“Flossie!” I said. “Mine is named Flossie!”

“How do you know that?” She said. “I heard you’re supposed to pray to them and ask them to tell you their name,” she stated, matter-of-factly.

“Well, I did that,” I replied. “I did that and my angel said ‘Flossie.’ I heard it in my head.” Then I began to laugh. I began to laugh really hard.

Clarke glanced at me as if she thought she might have to keep driving to the funny farm and drop me off.  You see, I had been imagining meeting Flossie. What if our little incident had turned out for the worst and I came face to face with my very own Guardian Angel? In my mind’s eye, Flossie was standing by the side of the road, arms crossed wearing a disgusted look. Head shaking side to side, Flossie, who closely resembled Mean Joe Greene, growled at me, “Flossie! FLOSSIE?!” That wasn’t me talking in your head — that was that jive-ass Gabriel messing with me again! Pleased to make your acquaintance, Claire…the name’s Crusher. Now, c’mon and I’ll take you to God…

…she’s got a thing or two to talk to you about!”

American Idol Experience – Mom’s perspective

I took my daughter to audition for American Idol this weekend and learned many valuable lessons.  Let me end the suspense right off the bat:  Clarke did not get past the first round but she did get to audition, which not everyone does.   Had we driven several hours and waited from 5 am (YES, 5am) until 3:15 to audition, and she had NOT gotten to sing for anyone, the frustration level may have been more than we could have endured.  However, we were spared that and I am grateful.

What you see on TV, if you ever watch the show, is thousands of excited fans waiting gleefully in line to get into the audition venue.  It’s a big party, right? Let me let you in on a little secret:  the mass of people in line to audition is not to be under estimated,  it’s frightful.  It’s more a cattle call than a curtain call.  No one that shows up screaming joyfully on the screen is actually that excited – they just want to get into the venue.  After all, Charleston at 5 am begins the day at 85 degrees – the thought of the sun coming up struck more fear into me than it would have had I been a vampire.

At 8:30 when we finally got in, the air conditioning did in fact bring brief and actual joy to contestants and guardians.  Then we got to our seats.  The TV hype began immediately.  A constant loop of Lady Gaga’s “On The Edge of Glory” played so that everyone could learn the song and participate when it was time to film.

For those who had not jumped from the upper levels to escape the inane song in sweet and welcome death, a few treats were in store.  One of the low level producers let the crowd know what to expect: we would be filmed for TV – all 12,000 of us.  We were to shout ridiculous phrases and then jump up and do the wave and hold up banners (if we had them) as the camera panned around the coliseum.  They had us chant, “If Scotty McReery can do it, so can I!”  and “I am the mouth of the south!”

It was at this point that I elected to get in one of many long lines to buy an some way over-priced  food.

In line, I was pleased to find I had escaped singing along with the crowd for the filming of  “Edge of Glory.”  Although I sound bitter, this is not the case:  we had air conditioning, a seat that was not pavement, and eventually, we even saw Ryan Seacrest – the AI people could have gotten anything from us.  Anything except $6.50 for a bottle of water!

Ryan got the crowd genuinely excited for about 30 seconds, then evaporated for the remainder of the day.  This made the entire trip “worth it” for Clarke, so I was glad for that. The low level producer then explained how the sections of the coliseum would be brought to the floor of the complex, lined up in groups of four and marched up to one of the 12 tables of judges beginning at around 11 am. (And you will be shocked to know that J-Lo, Randy and Steven were not present at any of those tables.)

After an early lunch of salted soft pretzel for me and nachos without cheese for Clarke, we shared a $3.50 clear soda to save her white dress from any insult or injury.  While we waited for Clarke’s turn, thousands of contestants marched up to the judges and did what they came to do.  Winners exited to the “winners room” stage left with a  golden ticket (but not THE golden ticket) and non-winners had the long walk of shame to the right of the coliseum.  Guardians of contestants under the age of 18 were put in a corner of the floor of the coliseum that I referred to as “parent time out” to await their childrens’ fate.

Let me insert here a few notes about a full coliseum of very talented and nervous individuals.  The singing one hears in the hallways, corridors, sections of seating areas and from the floor during auditions is phenomenal.  There is a TON of talent out there and a 15 year old can get a bit shaken up.  And at any point the producers can say, “Thank you for coming out, but we’re done.  Try again next year” and they will pack up their kit and kaboodle and leave like the Cat in The Hat.  So, part of the nerves everyone feels is whether there will be an audition at all.

The smell of bathrooms reflect the fear in a major and unsettling way.

During the first part of the morning, golden tickets are handed out like candy.  One after another walks left to the cheers of their peers and a few quietly take the walk of shame to the right.  By lunch hour, less and less walk left and more and more walk right.

Clarke’s chance to audition did come around 3 pm.  Tickets were fewer and fewer and I was just grateful she was getting a chance to sing.  Her practicing had been lovely and hopefully intimidating to those around her.  I went to parent time out and she began the long journey toward her chance.  As I stood on the floor, I heard one after another incredible voice and watched in shock the rejection of many talented individuals.

I did not get to see or hear Clarke’s audition — parent time out was near table 12 and Clarke’s audition was at table 2.  So I shook and prayed and kept my eyes glued southward.

Waiting for Clarke to emerge from the other end of the floor seemed longer than waiting to give birth to her, I swear, and I had no drugs to dampen my anxiety.  She emerged finally with the other three contestants from her table, got her wrist band snipped by some soul-less drone and began, not the walk of shame toward me, but a walk of extreme grace — with a large smile and arms stretched out for a hug.  I ran out to greet her, arms out too and heard Parent Time Out heave a collective “awww” for us.  I was doomed to cry either way, but I was so very, very proud of her and would do it all over again.

She got some good feedback – she got to sing 2 songs (Alison Krauss’s “Lucky One” and Paramour’s “When it Rains”) and they said she did very well but that she was still young and had time on her hands.  They encouraged her to come back again in a year or two, reminding her that Haley Reinhart didn’t make it her first time either and that David Cook was 28 when he won.  So, I see a return trip in our future – the girl just rocks.

Lessons learned for next time:

1. Register early – EARLY and get a good seat and audition before the judges are sick of everyone.

2. Ignore the rule that say “one bottle water can be brought per person” — bring three each in your back pack.

3. Ignore the “no chairs” rule.  They have a place for the chairs to be stored before you enter the venue that can be picked up later.

4. Once you are registered and have your seat, there is no need to show up at 5 am to stand in line.  Arriving by 7 should be sufficient.  If you still feel the need to get there at 5 am, get to the port-o-johns before the sun comes up.

5. Do not be intimidated by other singers.  There is a lot of talent out there; the fact that someone else can sing does not diminish your own abilities.

6. Don’t forget a moment of the experience.  You’ll have it forever whether you go to the winners room or walk the other way.

7. Ryan Seacrest really does seem shorter in real life than on TV.  But that remains to be seen at a later date.

A tale of two children…continued

When last I blogged about drugging my kids and what a joy it is, we were waiting to see the specialist.  That has since happened and I’ve received some eye-opening information.  When the doctor asked me what my goals were for Bryce, of course I told him that I would like him to be able to sit for his EOGs (End of Grade Tests) next year in 3rd grade.  If he is unable to sit and test, he will be unable to pass the 3rd grade.  Since he’s already repeated kindergarten, this potential blow to his self-esteem is not an option.  Then I told the doctor that I needed some counseling, too;  that I was resistant to medicating my children, although I know it’s for the best.

The doctor nodded sagely,  asked me several questions and observed Bryce while he entered data into his computer.  He had already received the mountain of paperwork from Bryce’s teacher, tests from his school and an additional mountain of paperwork from me.  For those of you who believe people drug their kids because it’s “convenient” for them, let me disavow you of that notion — it is an act of congress to get medication AND a superior court case to actually get referred to a behavioral specialist.  This visit was two years in the making.

Near the end of our session, which was a full hour at least — try getting a doctor to spend that kind of time with you when you’re not open on a surgical table — the doctor turned his computer screen toward me.  He explained about standard deviation from the norm and what an expected level of activity and impulsiveness is for a nine year old boy in good health.  Then he showed me Bryce’s results…TWO FULL standard deviations from the norm.  You’re familiar with a bell curve?  Picture that with a hole in the top and a skyscraper sticking out of it.  Apparently, only 1%-2% of the population fits into this elite group of people.

I knew my monkey-boy was a monkey-boy, but I had no idea how monkey of a boy he was…because he’s the boy I love and that’s just how he is.

This may be why I needed a little push to point me in the right direction.  In addition to my son’s medical, behavioral and educational history, the doctor also had a good bit of my family history plugged into his computer.  Thanks to my very honest responses, his file indicated that my side of the family, (while we do not suffer from phlebitis, angina, coronary disease, rabies, psoriasis, of poor personal hygiene),  has a significant history of alcoholism…On both the maternal and paternal sides. On a good note, although I’ve certainly been accused of such on a more than casual basis before, I don’t strictly have mental disorders in my family.

But I digress…

According to information published in 2009 on addresources.org, “…people with ADHD as a whole are more likely to medicate themselves with substances than those who do not have ADHD.  Drs. Hallowell and Ratey estimate that 8 to 15 million Americans suffer from ADHD; other researchers estimate that as many as 30-50% of them use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate their ADHD symptoms.

The doctor looked at me and told me point blank that given my family history, Bryce is up to 50% more likely than the average kid to develop alcoholism or substance abuse if his ADHD goes untreated.

That’s all it took.  I told him to sign me up.

So, we started a new round of treatments a few weeks ago.  Bryce is taking a powerful drug that causes drowsiness and (at times) crankiness while he adjusts to having it in his system.  It’s been tough watching him temporarily become “not-Bryce” and seem to lose interest in some of the stuff he loves, like swimming and baseball.  However, once he adjusts all this will change, I’m told.  And if not, we’ll try something else.  Then, something else.  But, by golly, we’re sticking with it.  I’m praying that he’ll adjust and get some of that zip back in his step.  Then, we’ll have to wait and see how things turn out for him when school starts.

Its for certain, “The Marauding Mother” will be back on moonshine musings talking drugs after EOGs.  Until then, keep a good thought for a really neat kid.

Ode to the summer ‘do

At 9 years of age
He is spunky and bright
His hazel-gray eyes

dance beneath

a wiry ash blond fringe
and frame a freckled pug nose

How best to honor
the spirit of a boy

on the verge of summer
and on the brink

of incomprehensible changes?

With a new ‘do, of course

With a manly new ‘do.

A Tale of Two Children, Part II

As you already know from my last post, both my kids have been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD and things have turned out well for my daughter.

But this is the story of my son, who is a “horse of another color?”  “Another ball of wax?”  Well, after all that self acceptance and actualization, the second child blew me away.

When Bryce’s kindergarten teacher contacted me and told me I needed to have him evaluated, I absolutely rejected her proposal.  There was no way that I could have TWO kids with ADD.  No way – statistically impossible.  God just wouldn’t do that to me.  (This IS about me, right?  Maybe not-so-much…) After all, he doesn’t play with matches, terrorize small animals or have social issues.

Well, well, well…wasn’t I suddenly Mrs. Smarty-Pants-Know-It-All?  That is a grave misconception of ADD kids as “bad” kids or “out of control” children whose parents supposedly put them on drugs because it’s inconvenient to parent them.

Guess I got a little judgy-and self righeous didn’t I?  Dang, I hate it when that happens...just the same, I did not want to put in the paperwork and jump straight to the conclusion that I could have failed at parenting twice.  I was going to make doubly sure about Bryce because…well, because I had gone back to being ashamed and feeling like a failure.  After using every trick in the kindergarten arsenal of separation, silent lunch, developing an IEP (Individual Educaiton Plan) with the principal, teacher and guidance counselor, and taking him for analysis by a psychiatrist, sleep therapist and physical therapist, I got four different opinions.  The school system said ADD.  The psychiatrist said NOT ADD – have him checked for Sensory Modulation Disorder.  The sleep therapist said not ADD – consistent sleep interruption due to low iron and lack of R.E.M. sleep produced symptoms that presented as ADD.  The physical therapist said, “What a sweet boy – he just doesn’t listen!” (however, she backed the idea of sensory modulation disorder.)

According to the school of Occupational Therapy at the Hebrew School of Jerusalem, “Sensory modulation refers to the ability to process and organize the quality and speed of reaction to sensory stimuli, to filter unrelated stimuli and retain a certain level of attention which is necessary for optimal functioning.”  For Bryce, this meant that when too much stuff is coming at him to process, he goes bananas.  “Bananas” is the clinical term, I believe.  Think of all the new stuff that goes on in Kindergarten – new kids, zillions of colors, letters, shapes, and routines…you get the drill.  So, we started occupational therapy several times per week.  We took him to a sleep clinic and after the evaluation, started him on ferrous sulfate (oh yum) to give him enough iron to help his body produce melatonin and help him sleep through the night.  We had several tearful meetings with the principal and teacher.  In the end, the IEP, iron treatments, O.T. (before and during school) and attempts to reject the possible diagnosis of ADD served no one.  Least of all Bryce.  He ended up unable to succeed in school and had to repeat Kindergarten (with a different teacher – that’s a blog for another day).

The following year, I acquiesced to Frank when he looked me dead in the eye and said, “Honey, we’ve tried everything else…why not just see if some medicine will help?”  We went to the doctor.  We filled out the mountain of paperwork and most importantly, we reviewed the observation notes of the counselor.  A portion of the review read like this:  “put pencil in mouth, chewed eraser, got up from desk, turned over chair, dropped pencil, pulled crayons from desk, uptrighted chair, hummed, chatted to self, chatted to neighbor, sat in seat, hummed to self, tipped back chair, fell out of seat, played in desk…” you get the picture.  I thought to myself, “well that’s about average for a school day, isn’t it?”  I looked down at the bottom of the page and the time lapse was “2 minutes.”  It was the wake up call I needed.

Bryce started taking Concerta like his sister.  I cried a lot.  His school work improved.  I cried less often.  Then his teacher sent home a note saying she was concerned and asked for a meeting.  I braced myself.  But when I arrived it was just she and I and two tiny chairs.  We squeezed down into them and made our oversized rumps as comfortable as possible.  (No wonder the boy jumps out of this darned thing 20 times a day – it’s a torture device!).  She looked calmly and sweetly across at me and told me my son was having a change in thought and affect.  “He comes to my desk and tells me that he knows those boys and girls over there are talking about him and making fun of him.  They’re not, Mrs. Armstrong.  They’re involved in their board games.”  That scared the bejezus outta me.

We went back to the doctor.  We got a new prescription.  Things were much better, but not for long.  He got severe nosebleeds.  We went back to the doctor.  We got a new prescription and Bryce began having extreme mood swings.  We went back to the doctor.  After a few more tweaks we thought we were nearly there.  Then, we noticed Bryce was turning on his light almost every single night of the week.  From his second round of kindergarten until last week, he didn’t sleep a full night more than once per week.  This year, we’ve had a pretty good dialogue with his second grade teacher.  He’s on grade level, but still unable to sit still.  We’re working on the sleep issues, and we’ve gotten the intense mood swings under control, but we’re not there yet.

Earlier when I posted about my daughter, my brother responded that while he was driving around his home town, he came up behind a car with a bumper sticker that said, “Have you drugged your child today?” Graham said he wanted to ram the S.O.B.  I feel the same way, but that’s not quite my response.  If I ran into this individual I would want to say:
“Well, yes, as a matter of fact I have drugged my kids today!  I do it for my own convenience.   And frankly, its been a cake walk.  It’s been everything I dreamed it would be.  On the surface, I appear to be a loving parent, but deep down, I’m a selfish twit and I don’t love my kids.  I don’t care if they succeed or are happy.  I don’t care if they learn anything and I don’t care if your ideal child learns anything either – especially if my hyper kid keeps him from it.  Yes, I have drugged my kids today, thank you very much.  And may your children turn out as perfectly as you have.”