Category Archives: NaBloPoMo

A Lessening Weight

Standard

I’m going to be writing a little this week about where we are now headed with Little K and his special needs, so I wanted to repost this for a little background on what his Apraxia is looking like after 2 years of hard work.  This was originally posted on Rocky Parenting

“Do you ever forget about K’s Apraxia, and then suddenly remember it?” I asked my husband.  “All the time,” he said.  We were standing in the kitchen, watching K dance around to a little ditty that was playing in his head.  On the way home from the store that day, K had said something was “silly,” and I’d remembered suddenly a sign K used to have for silly when he couldn’t verbalize any words.   It was an adorable approximation, and it was his favorite sign.

When K was first diagnosed with Developmental Apraxia 23 months ago, I would never have believed it would become a thing so routine that I’d actually forget he had it.  At first, it was with us all the time – like a weight we’d gotten tangled in had been trailing heavily everywhere we went.  Now, we’ve built speech therapy and sensory accommodations so intricately into our lives that it pervades every aspect while at the same time fading invisibly.  I think that’s the wonder of special needs: they take over your life and your life absorbs them, making everyone reevaluate their plans and add some flexibility.

K continues to make unbelievable gains.  The little boy whose mouth struggled to make a sound other than a scream is right now narrating an entire rescue scene with toy Transformers.  The child who hid his head in my shoulder if a stranger looked at him six months ago told a receptionist last week what he ate for breakfast.   He’s ditched his sign language in favor of trying every new word that comes his way, and he practices with so much patience when the words come out wrong.

His therapist equates speech development for kids with Apraxia to shoveling snow.  You shovel and shovel as you practice those words, and sometimes the neuro-pathway clears up for a while, but there’s always the chance another storm will come and pile more snow on that path you worked so hard to clear.  But you just keep on shoveling, and eventually the path is passable.  Accommodating a developmental disorder requires the same kind of shoveling through frustrations and regressions and circumstances beyond your control.  You never quite stop shoveling, but the snow gets lighter and lighter.

Now, K has such a big vocabulary that I do forget about the days I had to keep looking into the backseat of the car to see what he was saying with his hands.  When I can keep facing forward and driving while he talks, it’s easy to forget how hard his little mouth works to get those sounds out.  Sleepiness and stress catch him by surprise and make him stumble over word after word after word, but my brave little trooper just keeps shoveling until he’s said what he has to say.  In those times we can’t deny his Apraxia, but we stop to sit quietly in the snow while he shuffles words along the path.   To the people in his life who patiently take the time to hear and understand my sweet K, it’s obvious his path is headed somewhere magnificent.

Parenting All the Wrong Ways

Standard

At dinner last night, one of my best friends was describing the kind of small parenting nightmare we all run into roughly three hundred forty seven times per day.  Her son had acted out, she’d disciplined him, and now a week later she is questioning what she did.  “I put him in time out – and I just read that you’re not supposed to do ‘time outs’ anymore, so I felt really bad,” she said mid-story.

Time outs are just one of the many, many things that parents can do wrong.  By using them.  By not using them.  By using them too frequently.  By using them the wrong way.  By using them too infrequently.  Really, evidence shows that no matter how you are using or not using time outs, you are irreparably altering your child’s emotional development.  I’m sorry to break it to you.  You’re doing everything wrong.

According to Parents magazine, “Sometimes the best way to cool off a heated conversation is with a time out.”

According to an article in TIME, time outs are “hurting your child” no matter how you are using them.

One children’s hospital calls time out “a frequently used and positive intervention that can help modify children’s negative behaviors.”

Yet another therapist’s article says that time out damages a child’s “core sense of security and connection.”

What is very clear here is that nothing is.  Time out, sleep training, childcare choices, discipline strategies…we can go insane reading too much information on any one parenting subject because nothing is consistent.  And in reality, it depresses us and causes anxiety when we never know what is “right” for our children.  We stop listening to what we know is right for our individual children in our unique settings, with the parenting tools we have at hand, and start trying to slog through the mess of information that essentially tells us we can never be good enough at raising our kids.

No one strategy can apply to every single child in every home except consistent love.  I’m a fan of attachment parenting, but if that isn’t how you bond with your kids, that doesn’t mean you are less than.  Just as I am no less than the parent who never uses a time out when their child is out of control and could benefit from simple removal from the situation.

But that is not the message we get online or in “expert” books, blogs, or conversations.  And so we question our mothering.  When we question too much about our every parenting move, we get distracted by the millions of options for parenting the right way, the millions of things that are detrimental to children in every way.  We spend so much time reading about the perfect techniques for getting our children to sleep or eat or do their homework that we forget to look at our children and ask them, with our words and with our trials and errors, what will work for them.  What will work for us.

Because we’re parents, and we know.  When I slow down and watch my three-year-old, it is so much more clear to me what he needs. When I quit worrying how my actions – when they are loving intentions at the very core – are surely negatively affecting my sons or which expert opinion I read in the latest magazine issue that contradicts everything I know has been working, I can at least begin finding out what my little one needs. I still lay in bed at night and worry that I’ve done it wrong or that I’ve damaged my kids in some small way, but hopefully I am finding my own way.

 

Kindergarten Fears

Standard
Kindergarten Fears

My older son started kindergarten this year, and we were expecting him to love it once he got past initial worries.  He was anxious to begin with – he was worried he wouldn’t know anyone, worried he would be late to school , worried his teacher might not be as nice as his preschool teacher had been.  Once school started and he realized he did know kids in his class, that it’s ok to be late once in a while, and that his teacher is just as nice as the preschool teacher, I figured it would be smooth sailing.

As it turns out, not every child, even the well-adjusted ones, loves kindergarten. Even kids who love to learn and love the idea of school can have a setback with a change as big as starting public school. And don’t get me wrong, he likes kindergarten; it is just very, very stressful for him.

N has always had anxiety about new things, but until kindergarten started in such a difficult way for him, I didn’t realize just how much pressure he puts on himself.  When he misses an instruction during a game of tag in gym class, he feels embarrassed and worried even if the gym teacher doesn’t notice.  He has cried several afternoons after school because he said it’s “too much for him” to worry about doing everything perfectly during school hours.

We’ve never had a house where anyone feels outside pressure to be perfect, and I try to reward effort or kindness over perfection and being the best at things.  But some children are just born anxious, and I think my N is one of them.  So I started looking into things I could do to help him survive a little more easily.

Statistically, 10-20% of school-aged children experience anxiety.  It is the most common mental health condition in children and adults, and luckily it is one of the easiest to deal with before it becomes debilitating.  It is nice to know that my child isn’t alone, and that there is expert advice out there to help me help him.

The Child Mind Institute has some excellent suggestions for helping children deal with anxiety.  Among their list of suggestions is this:

“The message you want to send is, ‘I know you’re scared, and that’s okay, and I’m here, and I’m going to help you get through this’…You can’t promise a child that her fears are unrealistic—that she won’t fail a test, that she’ll have fun ice skating, or that another child won’t laugh at her during show & tell. But you can express confidence that she’s going to be okay, she will be able to manage it, and that, as she faces her fears, the anxiety level will drop over time. This gives her confidence that your expectations are realistic, and that you’re not going to ask her to do something she can’t handle.”

Giving children skills to manage their anxiety will help them be successful in life without being afraid of failing.  Because they will fail, and we have to let them.  But we can work with them to be okay with not being the best at everything, not being perfect, and not being afraid to be who they are.  One thing I have learned while helping my son navigate the first month of kindergarten is that sometimes we don’t even know these worries are in our children.  If we don’t ask or don’t pay close attention to what is going on with them, we may miss it altogether.  Had my son not broken down over a Lego fight with his brother that would never have fazed him otherwise, I would not have thought to ask him what was really wrong, and I would never have known he was constantly worrying about school.

Now that the communication is open and I’m making a big effort to curb some of this anxiety, we can talk about it, run through scenarios that might come up, and then debrief after each long day at school.  If my son can manage to get through some of the smaller hiccups like forgetting an instruction, he can move onto dealing with life’s bigger unknowns and hopefully learn to deal with his internal pressure in positive, productive ways.

 

*A version of this post first ran on Greeley Moms.

Raising Boys: The Loudest Mess

Standard
Raising Boys: The Loudest Mess

I always wanted girls.  It’s something I’ve written about before, thought about constantly before we had our fist boy, and have just assumed would be a reality from the time I knew I wanted children.  When I had one son, and then two, people began asking me if I would keep trying for a girl.  Complete strangers, even.  It seems that mothers are supposed to want girls because, well, it’s the mother-daughter ideal we all carry around with us.  Boys were just not something I was used to or had really considered.  And now, here I am comfortably situated as the mother of two of them.

Boys are just different creatures.  They’re so loud and messy and accidentally destructive.  Our house is one big racetrack/fort/construction site.  It is playdoh monster truck rallies, stunt jumps off the upstairs landing, torn-out pant knees and muddy shoe tracks.  I am their personal always-dirty laundry gatherer, puppet show audience, and tag referee.  We’re backyard soccer buddies, kitchen table scientists, inventive sandscapers.  And we do it all, dawn to dusk, in a whirl of noisy exuberance.

I never expected I would have children like this.  I get overwhelmed and overstimulated fairly easily by noise, and there is no noisier place in my life than my house, midday, with my boys.  But with them I rarely get overstimulated.  It’s come naturally to me, this boy-mothering.  I can get on the floor and get dirty and make toot jokes without missing a beat.

But one of the things that has really surprised me about mothering boys is how much they really need their mothers.  I had this idea in my head that boys start out and stay independent, that they quickly grow out of cuddling and don’t want to be buddies with their moms.  That only a select, spoiled few were “mama’s boys.”  Mine have dispelled that ridiculousness quite effectively.  My oldest is (hopefully!) not spoiled, and is still my best buddy, my mama’s boy, at age five.  Little K, at 2, is just growing into needing his mama, and showers me with kisses and snuggles during the day, too.

When N isn’t threatening to go live with family friends because surely they never say “no” or make people clean up after themselves, he wants to be glued to my side.  And I’m okay with that.  I’ve said before that I know the snuggliness won’t last forever, but I’m as excited to see how my relationships with my sons evolve as I would be if I’d had daughters.  We used to say we would adopt a girl if all we had were boys, but now when talking about adoption in the future, we talk even then about another boy.  In a complete 180, I can’t imagine having anything other than this mess of craziness, and even better?  I’ll never have a teenage daughter like the one I was, which will probably be the best blessing of all.

Grandma and the Christmas Skeleton

Standard
Grandma and the Christmas Skeleton

It’s Thursday afternoon, and I’m helping my mom package some dolls she’s sold on eBay while the boys try to coax their aunt’s pet snake out of the woodchips carpeting the bottom of his terrarium.  I see a large skeleton still hanging on my parents’ kitchen curtain rod (I come by my taking-holiday-decorations-down procrastination honestly), and I tell the kids to go check it out because they have a weird love affair with skeletons.

The next thing I know, my mom is excitedly producing not just one, but two skeletons with clacking jaws and wiggling bony limbs.  My mom starts teaching her grandsons how to dance the skeletons so their jaws go clackity-clack and their feet tapdance on the wooden floor, and N chimes in with “the skellies on the bus go jingle jangle jingle…”.  The boys are elated at the fun interaction with their grandma, and soon I am volunteering at my mom’s suggestion to knit Christmas hats and scarves for the skeletons (because *that* would make them appropriately-themed holiday decor).

My mom is not the typical grandma, if there even is such a thing anymore.  With three adopted, teenaged daughters at home and a full-time career supplemented by a zillion hobbies, she isn’t home babysitting my boys or taking them to the park.  Although we live only a mile from them, we definitely don’t see one another enough in a way just dedicated to hanging out or enjoying the grandma/grandson relationship.  There’s no one to blame and no use doing so – it’s just the way our lives have evolved, and despite the atypical life we all have, my boys are incredibly close to Grandma and Papa.

Which makes interactions like singing and dancing with creepy  jolly skeletons  in a living room full of packing supplies all the more special.  Seeing my mom be with my boys like that reminds me why we will always live close to her and how much she has to offer my kids.  Not every child needs a grandma who knits them sweaters and walks them to the park – some would rather sing a goofy song with bony toes tapping out the rhythm of their grandma’s laughter.  And I would rather have a mom who appreciates the joy little boys get from these authentic interactions, even if it means I’m left sitting on the couch knitting hats and scarves for her pair of Christmas skeletons.

Blessings

Standard
Blessings

Blessings at dinner are something I have struggled to redefine for my own family after I left my parents’ house.  I discuss our rituals of gratitude over at Rocky Parenting today!

All growing up, my family said a blessing at the dinner table each night.  ”God is great, God is good, and we thank him for our food…” it began.  I can recite it in my sleep, and have memories of thousands of dinners holding hands with my parents and sister, saying the words.  But after a while, saying the words became a rote task – one we did as habit, without thinking at all about what we were saying.  Now, when my boys and I eat dinner at my parents’ house, with my parents and my three teenaged sisters, my boys hold hands and stare blankly at the rest of us while we speed through the blessing… read more at Rocky Parenting!

Defining Special

Standard
Defining Special

The label special needs really makes me cringe.  Special needs children have cognitive disabilities, physical disabilities, things that change the way their worlds work and the way everyone around them reacts.  Special needs children have lifelong problems accompanied by sadness and stress for the people who love them.

It took me a long time to admit that I have a special needs child.  And it changed my perspective, my definition of what special needs really means.  It doesn’t have to be dramatic, but it is a different path from the one we imagine.  Of course all children have unique needs, and we mold our lives to meet the different needs of our individual children.  But it usually follows at least a kind of predictable pattern with typical children.  With children who have special needs, we have to redefine the pattern.  And we have to remake the mold we’ve been using  with our other children.

When Little K was diagnosed with developmental apraxia last year, I was a little…destroyed.  And then when I did accept the reality of his speech needs, I closed the door there.  I assumed his obvious speech differences were the extent of his disorder, of his tricky neurological development.  But as he grows into a complete little person and we sort through his frustrations, his sensitivities and additional needs are impossible to ignore.

Neuro pathways are so incredibly complex and intricate that it only makes sense that Little K’s neurological differences would not begin and end with speech sounds.  His sensitivity to noise, his anxiety when faced with strangers and new situations, even his intensely terrified reaction to having band-aids on his skin – these have to be connected to his unique neurological structure.  And they are one more doorway we need to walk through in order to embrace and understand his differences.  His special needs.

I don’t want to define Little K by his needs, but I have to acknowledge them in order to understand his world.  In order to help him understand it, and especially help him understand why it is so stressful sometimes.  If that means skipping a visit to out-of-state family at Thanksgiving because an overwhelming month has caused him to regress in multiple areas, or if it means rejecting library story time – that absolute requirement of good mothering – because he freaks out when he is expected to keep up with actions and simultaneous singing in a group, then we’ll embrace that, too.  Because this life of ours is his, too, and we absolutely have to make him a special space in it, unpredictable needs and all.