Laughing Mama's Blog

My inner monologue with myself inside my head put in this blog out in the open for everybody to read.

The End of A Chapter (AKA: “Canadians didn’t like Americans in 1877 either.”) September 18, 2012

Filed under: kids,parenting,Psychotherapy — laughingmama @ 3:59 pm
Tags: , ,

We’ve all heard the term “mama bear”. It’s a phrase meant to conjure up the image of a snarling mother fiercely protecting her young at any cost, striking fear into the heart of the one who DARES to threaten the cub on any level. I’ve definitely had my own “mama bear” moments where my children are concerned. Although, to be honest, I look less like a bear and more like a chicken with my disjointed head swivel going on, a finger waving in the air and a pointed “Mmmm hmmm!” at the end of the tirade. I’m sure I’m not very threatening. But, I do my best at fiercely protecting my babies. Which is why every time I’ve found myself in a meeting with our local county school system regarding my son, Drew, I’ve felt like I’ve had to have my guard up and fight for him. (If you don’t know Drew’s back story and have a couple of hours, start
here: “My Drew- Part One… (AKA: “With a mother like me, he’s GOT to be special.).) He’s had an IEP since he was 3 and with the help of some angels on Earth, he’s been doing better and better and is to the point now where he can handle himself in almost any situation and his IEP reflected that. There were no more modifications and the one remaining thing left to work on was his speech. I never thought his IEP would be so minimal.

And then the time for the annual review came yesterday. These used to be scary meetings with vice-principals, counselors, teachers and many, many forms to fill out and sign. I would go into them with my jaw set, a list of demands at the ready in my head. When I walked in yesterday, it was a smaller group, a smaller stack of papers and the first thing the speech therapist said was that she was recommending that Drew be exited out of speech. He had reached all of his goals, he’s speaking without mistakes 95% of the time, and there is no need to pull him out of class anymore. Part of me expected this and I agreed. There were other kids who needed her help much more than Drew. I signed the paperwork and the shortest IEP meeting ever was over in about 10 minutes. Drew’s IEP was closed. The end.

When I got to my car in the parking lot I called my husband who had unfortunately not been able to attend the meeting. When I told him the result, he asked me how I felt about it and I burst into tears. Some mama bear I am! But this has been such a long road. And although it’s by no means done (we still have Drew seeing a private therapist once a week- and I don’t mean for speech. See the explanation here: I See Fat People (AKA: “Shit OCD makes you say.”).) I felt a strange sense of sadness at the closure of this part of our journey. I exhaled with the sort of weariness of someone at the end of an extended battle. And suddenly, a part of me was scared that since we no longer had an IEP, we no longer had any recourse to get Drew any help in case he needed it. I forgot (temporarily) that I had been fighting for over 7 years for him and could again if necessary. I dried my tears and remembered something I had read a few days ago…

For Labor Day, we went to visit my in-laws in the NC mountains. While there we got on the subject of family history and tracing my husband’s family’s lineage. My father-in-law let us know there were boxes full of research his father had done and all kinds of papers and pictures going back more than 100 years. It was a treasure trove of familial goodness. He offered all of it to us since he had no interest in pursing it or storing it any longer, so into the car it all went and in my living room it sits. We’ve taken a few days here and there to look through some of it and it is fascinating. This past weekend we came across a letter written by one of his relatives in 1877. The cursive is beautiful and the script flows gorgeously, but it is a bit hard to read. Here is what I could decipher of its awesomeness:

“Charles says you call our boy a “runt“. He was born in Missouri but he is no “runt“. (My note: I surmised this slam on Missourians is because this side of the family originated in Canada and to them, someone born into American citizenship was a blemish on the family tree. Read further for proof of their clear superiority despite being from Missouri…) Our boy is a fine specimen of the sex- Canada today holds not his equal. Cast in the mold of beauty, he is perfection of form and personification of grace. He is energy incarnate, spunk typified and his ordinary howl makes the scream of a locomotive engine seem like silence. He weighs twenty pounds, stands flat-footed and alone, four months and three days old and he is no “runt”. Mark that down where you won’t forget it. (My note: That right there is what we nowadays call a bitch slap.) Hoping you may in future find it not inconvenient to be elegant as well as terse in your use of the mother tongue in speaking of our “King Ben”.”

That is the best letter from 1877 I’ve ever read! We parents have a way of defending our children. That is for sure. And any time I doubt that, I will think about this spirited correspondence. In the meantime, I will appreciate and celebrate where Drew is today – a mainstreamed student with good grades, lots of friends, the affection of his teachers and an IEP that has been rightly closed. Maybe mama bear can hibernate for a while. But rest assured that if need be, she will wake and she will be fierce! Mark THAT down where you won’t forget it, universe!

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I See Fat People (AKA: “Shit OCD makes you say.”) January 27, 2012

So, if you’re a regular reader (like I’m some Erma Bombeck or something) you know by now that I have a son, Drew, and we’ve had our fair share of ups and downs in his young life. If, on the other hand, you are blissfully unaware and want to educate yourself, here’s the story in black and white: “My Drew”. But be warned – there are a lot of words. After a period of relative quiet over the past couple of years, Drew’s difficulty processing the outside world decided to rear its ugly head again this past fall. After mulling over whether or not I should write about it, I remembered that the advice you hear most about writing is to “write what you know”. I also rationalized in this way: Drew isn’t aware that this blog exists yet and hopefully he won’t know that I’ve been writing about him until I’m long gone. Then he can’t be mad because being angry at dead people is against the Ten Commandments. Or something like that. If you are mad, adult Drew, I’m very, very sorry. But, you shouldn’t feel too bad because look at you! All handsome and winning at life. Damn, you must have had great parents!

And as your parent, I’m taking it upon myself to share our struggles so that others may be helped. Or at least get a chuckle because even though childhood mental illness sucks huge donkey balls, it can lead to funny situations. Take for example the manifestation of Drew’s “disorder” last October. For about a month prior he had started exhibiting obsessive compulsive behavior. Not the hand washing or checking door locks 100 times type. More like the feeling compelled to say things (in this case, “bad words”) and not being able to stop yourself or getting stuck on one train of thought kind of OCD. The day it came to a head and I realized he needed help was scary for all of us and decidedly not funny. I won’t go into that, but what grew out of that day was a move away from obsessing over “bad words”and towards obsessive thoughts about fat people. I wish OCD and anxiety disorder made sense because it would make things a lot easier to handle and explain, but it just doesn’t. So, we blamed it on his penis. More specifically, the beginning stirrings of puberty, the fact that his crush at school was slightly “round” in a totally cherubic way and the misunderstanding that somehow these feelings he was having about her were wrong and bad.

He began to notice (and comment on aloud) the fact that an overweight person looks like they’re about to have a baby but they’re not pregnant. And he began to wonder (again, aloud) what enormous amounts of food they must have consumed to get that big- possibly even, he thought (aloud), the Hindenburg. Let me interject here that the people he was talking about while not thin by any means were not “Guinness Book of World Records” fat. (Yes, he used that description too.) And when I say “people” I not only mean the people he saw in public, I mean me. I can’t tell you how fucking fantastic it is to have the fruit of your loins- loins which haven’t looked or behaved the same since he sprang from them I might add- point out your every outward flaw and exaggerate them 100 times over. Add to that the mental anguish he was so obviously feeling (as evidenced by the compulsive act of scratching his scalp that had also emerged and which he couldn’t control) because he knew the things he was saying were wrong and hurtful and he didn’t want to say them, but he was literally compelled to and absolutely couldn’t stop and… well, you’ve got yourself a one way ticket to hell.

And then the State Fair came to town. (I told you you’d chuckle.) Promises of rides and bright lights and cotton candy proved too tempting for Drew and he begged and pleaded with me to be able to go. I did not think the fair was the ideal place to be for a child obsessing about people’s weight. Not judging or making a statement about fair goers in my state or any other state for that matter, but I was being over protective and thought the possibility of a high concentration of slightly larger than average people might put Drew over the edge. I explained this to him but he insisted he could handle it. I had a world of doubts, but my sister was in town and my daughter also joined the chorus of those in favor of the fair. So, being outvoted, away we went.

You know how in movies they can convey the feeling of something being amplified in someone’s mind by editing frantic shots of the person looking here and there while sweat pours from their head next to close-ups of the thing they’re obsessing about which is seemingly EVERYWHERE all at once? Yeah, that’s how the first 30 minutes of the fair went. One of the first booths we came across was the “Giant Turkey Leg” vendor. Every single person stepping away from the food cart was grasping this club-like hunk of meat and gnawing on it cave-man style while grease dripped from their chin and down their arm as they made their way to the roasted corn on the cob vendor to fill their empty food shovel on the end of their other arm. I know, I know, smoked turkey legs are delicious (Mary had one) and so is the corn on the cob (my sister had one of those). But when your child is staring wide-eyed and begins to scratch his scalp, you see things in a new light.

We decided to take a break from the midway and go look at some of the animals. My sister and daughter decided to make a potty stop. The minute Drew and I walked into the barn we heard some people saying things like, “Man, I ain’t never seen a pig THAT big!” and “Shoooey! I wonder how much that fat pig eats?!” and “Mmmmmm, all that flab makes for some goooooood bacon!”. Drew looked up at me, pleading with his eyes and I took him by the shoulders guiding him through the crowd saying, “I know, I know. We’ll be out soon. It’s okay.”. We both breathed easier once we got outside, but only for a brief second. We were leaning against a fence waiting for the girls, when a new mother trying to fit into her pre-baby clothes pulled her stroller up next to us. Drew glanced her way just in time to see her bend down to get something from the bottom of her stroller and get an eye-full of everything her pre-baby tank top couldn’t contain. Which was a lot. I heard him suck in all the air around us and his hand immediately flew up to his scalp and started scratching. I directed him to look the other way. But soon that view was filled to the brim with someone who had come over to rest their substantial bones. More deep breathing from Drew and furious scratching. I feared he would leave the fair bald, so I directed his attention to the ferris wheel across the midway and suggested that he count how many times it goes around until his aunt and sister get back.

That seemed to do the trick. All was well and we were back on track until we continued up the path and came to the “Guess Your Age” game. We had stopped because my daughter LOVES flamingos and one of the prizes was a huge, cute, stuffed one. In that brief second we stood there admiring it and debating if she could try to win it or not, my brain suddenly kicked in and remembered that the second choice in this game is “Guess Your Weight”. That, of course was the strategy the next person in line (a very cute 10-year-old boy) opted for and before I could distract Drew again or at the very least cover his ears, the carnie began his very loud schtick into the microphone. “You want me to guess your weight? Well, let me look at you. Geez, you’re a really FAT KID. What’s your mama feedin’ you? You must be 200 pounds, you’re so fat!” I turned to my sister who had just realized what was happening and I said “I’ve gotta get him the hell outta here.” We quickly ushered the kids somewhere else. (As an aside I just have to give my sister props for being the most understanding and supportive sister and aunt. She later took Mary to another “Guess Your Age/Weight” booth by herself and paid for her niece to win a flamingo. That was the very least of what she did that weekend and she was just generally awesome in every way.)

We eventually made our way to the kids section to ride some tame rides and play some outrageously expensive games. As long as Drew was occupied and having fun, he was fine. I hadn’t seen him scratch his head for an hour or two. I kept the tickets (and ATM receipts) flowing because we all were in desperate need of this good time. And I steered clear of the exhibit containing the “world’s largest woman”. With my guard down, I watched the kids get in line for another ride. But then something caught my eye. It was a girl 4 or 5 kids in front of my children. I recognized that sweet, round face. It was the girl Drew had a crush on. You have GOT to be fucking kidding me, right???! I thought. Almost 128,000 people attended the fair that day and THIS is the girl we run into? The girl who my son was obsessing over and who might have contributed to this latest incarnation of his OCD (obviously through no fault of her own)?? Really? Thanks, God. I didn’t say a damn word but watched Drew to see if he would notice. Of course he did. And instead of the sight of her launching him into a shame spiral, it was totally adorable. At first he did a double take and I could see the wheels turning. Then his hand went to his head and began scratching. (Uh-oh.) Then he asked his sister if that was who he thought it was. She was very supportive and said, “What?? I don’t know.” He stepped slightly out of line and called her name. She turned around and smiled and waved and he did the same. His hand came down from his head and into his pocket. (Phew!) He talked to her for a minute until it was her turn and he told her to have fun. She waited for his turn to be over and when he got back on the ground she waved bye to him and told him to enjoy the rest of his fall break. He looked at me and sounding just like Opie Taylor said, “Gee, it was good to see her.” Some of the tension I had been holding in my body started to relax.

We played two more games before we left. At the first one the prize he chose was a light-up ninja sword. At the second his choice was a GIGANTIC inflatable banana. If that wasn’t a sign that this boy was having issues with his penis, then Sigmund Freud was a woman. I laughed… until he gave it to me to carry through the crowd. As we left, we stopped at a booth near the exit which had every fried food they had to offer at the fair all in one place. Fried candy bars, fried pieces of cheesecake, and even fried kool-aid. I handed Drew his prizes so I could help carry our fat-filled goodies. I looked down at my son, who didn’t have a free hand available to scratch his scalp even if he wanted to. Standing there holding his enormous phallic symbol, I knew he was going to be okay. Anxiety disorder and OCD is no fun, but it’s nothing lots of love, a therapist, a giant banana and a fried Reece’s cup can’t make better.

 

I have a secret… (AKA: “E’s True (Non) Hollywood Confessions”) January 25, 2011

Filed under: Humor,Life,Psychotherapy — laughingmama @ 11:59 am

How does that song by Nina Simone go? “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me and I’m feeling…” eh. Now that Jennifer Hudson sings it in the new Weight Watchers commercials it’s kind of ruined it for me. Nothing against Ms. Hudson… at all. The girl can SANG. I just don’t want to think about Weight Watchers every time I hear that song from now on. Like one of Pavlov’s dogs, I don’t want to hear Nina Simone’s smooth voice and immediately reach for a carrot stick. But, I digress. The lyrics of the song are the important thing right now. It is a new dawn, a new day, a new year. And with every new year comes resolutions. Well, I’ve always called resolutions bullshit. I don’t like to be disappointed so I avoid letting myself down at all costs. Therefore, I don’t make resolutions. However, this year I’ve kind of changed my tune. (I wish I were IN tune like Ms. Hudson but that’s not the gift God gave me.) This year I’m focusing on being more real with myself. “Yeah, yeah” you say. That’s an easy “focus”. There’s no accountability. Unlike not dropping those 30 pounds you vowed to shed, nobody will be able to look at you come December 2011 and point out, “Gee, you’re just as deluded as you were last year. Way to fail your resolution.” But that’s where you’d be wrong. Isn’t that half of what a blog is all about? Being real? And conveniently so since you don’t actually have to look anybody in the eye when you’re doing it. Well then, let’s get started.

I have a secret I want to tell. Well, it’s not much of a secret anymore since I’ve already let the cat out of the bag to a few people. And soon, you. Truthfully, it’s not much of a secret anyway. It’s not scandalous or juicy. It won’t make the needle on the record make that horrible scratching noise and cause the room to go silent. My revelation probably won’t make people whisper behind my back or cause me to hang my head in shame as I walk through town. I don’t really walk through town anyway, so I’m safe from that if I ever DO do something particularly embarrassing in the future. Which is pretty much a given. My “revelation” isn’t even really much of a revelation to some people. When I disclosed it to one of my friends she supportively said, “Yeah… I’ve known you for how long now? I kinda figured that out, it’s not a big shock.”. So, without further ado, this is what I want to get off my chest: Hello. My name is Eileen and I’m afraid of the telephone.

Why are you snickering? It’s a real phobia. I looked it up. It’s called telephobia… or phonaphobia… or phoneafriendaphobia. Actually, that last one might be the fear of Regis Philbin. I don’t remember. It’s not important. What IS important is that I literally HATE the phone. I don’t like dialing a number, I don’t like talking on it and I definitely don’t like hearing it ring. I get nervous. I wonder what the person on the other end wants. I wonder what we’re going to talk about. I fear an uncomfortable silence. If I’m calling to ask a question of someone, I fear appearing stupid. Or them not understanding my question. I fear giving too much information. Or too little information. I fear a poor connection will make it hard for me to understand the other person. Or it will be hard for them to understand me. The phone is awkward and awkward makes me feel icky.

All of this makes my mother howl with laughter. When I was a teenager, I used to hang on the phone for HOURS. Of course, this was back in the old days when there was an actual cord attached to the receiver. I would stretch it all the way from the kitchen, around the corner into the dining room and sit on the plush, white carpet and run my hands over the old stain from the Thanksgiving years before when someone had dropped the marshmallow topped sweet potatoes on the floor. With every birthday that passed, the phone cord would become more stretched and would reach further into the dining room, away from the listening ears of my mother. I never understood why they just didn’t get a short cord to force me to talk in the kitchen so she wouldn’t have to make a big show of coming into the dining room “looking for something” when she clearly just wanted to spy on me.

The phone was always a source of entertainment in my house. I have 3 older brothers and an older sister. My mother would swear my sister’s friends had ESP because on weekends when she would come home from college the phone would start ringing for her approximately 2.5 minutes after her Maverick pulled up to the curb in front of our house. I always knew how my parents felt about the person on the other end by the way they called our family member to the phone. A lilt in their voice meant curiosity… an unfamiliar voice and name on the other end. A professional tone meant it was most likely a manager from someone’s job. Disgust? It was probably one of my brother’s friends- most likely the one who said “Man” every other word. As in, “Hey man! I’m calling you, man. Man, can you come get me, man?”. My father’s imitation of him always cracked me up. Especially since he would do it while holding the phone waiting for my brother to pick up.

The phone was also a bone of contention in our household. I frequently heard, “Didn’t you JUST see her at school?” when my best friend would call. Or, “Don’t tie up the line, someone might be trying to get through.” You see, this was back in the day before call waiting. I remember being grounded one time over the summer because a boy I had met the day before called me and we talked for three hours. I’m sure we would have talked longer but my mother walked in the door from work with her mad face on, slammed her pocketbook on the counter, pointed to the phone and told me to hang up immediately. She had apparently been trying to reach me for a while. Then there was the time she caught me on the phone long distance at 1:30 in the morning. Yes, with a boy. I was sitting in the dark in the dining room trying to be as quiet as I could be when she flipped the light on. There I sat staring up at her, much like a cockroach, trying to squeeze myself further into the corner I had been hiding in. Never did I think about the huge umbilical cord attached to my ear that would lead her right to me. “What the HELL are you doing???” she demanded to know. “Having phone sex with a guy from NY. He’ll be done in a minute.” was clearly not the answer she was looking for.

It seemed I loved the phone. It was my lifeblood. My main artery. My connection to everything and everybody. So, what happened to sour this beautiful relationship? I believe the turning point came when I got a job one summer as a telephone survey operator. It seemed like a dream to me- getting to talk on the phone all day and get PAID for it. As is the case sometimes, dreams turn to nightmares. The survey we were conducting was about health insurance. We were supposed to ask Mr. and Mrs. America all kinds of questions about the type of insurance they had and if they didn’t have any, why not. Boring! Not to mention, who’s going to take time out of their day to talk about THAT? My completed survey numbers were the worst of the bunch. Most people were either rude or condescending, or they simply hung up on me. Plus we had to sit in this giant cinder block room in the basement of the building. It was like torture. And I only lasted 2 weeks.

But even after that, my phobia didn’t kick in right away. I was still young and the phone was pretty much the only method of communication. But with the advent of e-mail, I found myself using the phone less and less. The phone would ring and instead of looking at it with excitement, I would look at it with trepidation. Who was it and why didn’t they just e-mail me? Sadly, some of my friendships have suffered because of this. I no longer wanted to hang on the phone for hours. And frequently when I didn’t answer the phone, I wouldn’t call them back at all. I fell out of touch with some of them and I feel completely at fault and ridiculous for it. It’s a phone!!

Thankfully, though, with Facebook and texting I’ve reconnected and I’ve never been happier. It’s not that I don’t like talking to people, I’m really quite a Chatty Cathy. I’m just SO much better face to face. Lots of lunch dates, play dates and girl’s nights have been set up through these electronic means and I don’t think it makes the end result any less valid. I’m not a recluse, I don’t use technology and “virtual friends” in place of the real thing. I get together with friends and family in real life quite frequently and always have. Like I told someone recently, “I love you. But I’m not going to call you.” Does that make me a horrible person?

I hope not because I don’t know how to change it. Everybody having their own personal cell phones has helped a bit. That way I can call them directly and don’t have to have any awkward small talk with whoever answers the house phone. Again, icky. Maybe I need therapy, I’m not sure. If not for this, then probably for other issues. We’ll delve into those at a later date. One deep, dark secret at a time. For now, I’m glad I shared this one. I actually feel like a weight has been lifted. It IS a new day… and I AM feeling good. Where’s my phone? I think I’ll tell someone about it. Thank God I’ve got unlimited texting.

 

My Drew- Part Four… (AKA: “Go Forth and Prosper”) March 5, 2010

Continued from Part 3

The thought of leaving the LD Center and going it on our own never failed to send me into a panic attack. The fact that we had come to rely so heavily on these “strangers” for daily support never failed to make me laugh. If I could rent a time machine, I’d go back to me as we were first stepping onto the LD path, pat my past-self (the one with the horrified look on her face) on the back and tell her it’s going to be okay. Who would have ever thought I couldn’t live without these people? Certainly not me. Those people kind of had an inkling though. As with everything else there, they were intuitive and understanding and began preparing Drew and us for our departure six months before it actually happened. We met as a team to discuss the transition, how to best handle it for Drew, and things we should keep in mind as we “mainstream” him.

For example, I didn’t know how to handle our first meeting with his new public school teacher. I wanted her to know about Drew and his challenges but that’s not what I wanted her first impression of him to be. I wanted her to know we were on top of everything and very involved parents without making her feel like we were going to be invasive. More than anything I wanted her to know that I thought of all of us like a “team”. That was one of the best parts about the LD Center- the fact that everyone who had anything to do with Drew was part of a team with one goal in mind- success for him. I wanted his new teacher to know we were on her side and wanted to make her year a success just as much as we wanted it for Drew. Dr. S suggested I say just that. She assured me that my sincerity and love for Drew would shine through and put this woman at ease with us. If it were another woman, maybe Dr. S would have been right.

Our foray into Drew’s public education didn’t start out well. To begin with, our neighborhood had just been rezoned so the school Mary had been going to for three years was no longer our school. I had loved that school and hated that we wouldn’t be going there anymore. On the other hand, I thought the change might be a good thing since Drew was going to be joining his sister. This could be a new adventure we would all be starting together instead of Drew being the only new one. Also, there would be fewer expectations as “Mary’s brother” at a place where nobody knew either of them. That being said, I didn’t know anybody either and three years of volunteering at the old school, showing my face around, and making friends in the school office in preparation for the day Drew joined the ranks had just been flushed down the toilet. (Not that the experiences weren’t still valuable but the in-roads I had made with the administration had essentially just been deemed irrelevant.) I began to make my round of phone calls to the new school and the county to figure out the procedure for getting Drew’s IEP reinstated or if, instead, we could have him retested and a new IEP drawn up. Little did I know it would take five months and being bounced around like a pinball for that to happen. In that time, I made multiple phone calls and wrote letters to assure people that 1) Drew was indeed supposed to be going to first grade at the same school as his sister 2) he DID have an IEP but had been in private school for two years and he probably needed to be retested 3) had been registered at our base school two years prior before private school was decided upon and was in the system 4) DID have an IEP on file (even though it was outdated) 5) his last name had a “d” in it instead of a “t” 6) HE HAD AN OLD IEP ALREADY- I SWEAR!!! Even after all that, the county refused to return phone calls from me or the school, actually faxed the wrong child’s file, and finally declared his old IEP “expired” and suggested he be retested and a new IEP drawn up. Government agencies can really make you want to stick a pencil in your eye sometimes.

In the meantime, Drew finished up his days at LD. His phone calls home only occurred maybe once every other week which mostly consisted of him telling us things like “Hey Mama! I made blue gak!” and the sounds in the background were delighted squeals instead of demonic screams. We started practicing Arnie dropping him off at the door and Drew walking down the hall by himself. It was all coming together, just like they promised. And just like I thought, on his last day of school there Drew was, the strong one and I was emotionally fragile. I had bought each of the teachers a combination cork/dry erase board as a gift. To the cork board I had tacked a picture Drew had drawn, a letter I had tearfully written, and tons of gift cards I had hoped they would use to pamper themselves. On the dry erase side I had written “YOU ARE” in big letters and wrote all the adjectives I could think of to describe what wonderful human beings they were even though it fell woefully short of telling the whole story of them in our lives. I hoped it would say what I couldn’t because at the time I was choked up with all the feelings a grateful mother could fit inside and it felt like a huge ball in my throat. I tried to squeak out a “thank you” but nothing but tears, snot and a forced smile through a constrained sob came out. Yes, it was the ugliest of ugly cries. I didn’t think anybody who wasn’t a parent could get the magnitude of thankfulness I felt, but they did and pulled me in for the world’s longest hug. Going down the hall felt like a pep rally, everybody coming out to say their good-byes and Drew high-fiving every one. I lagged behind dabbing at my eyes, thinking with each step of how far we had come in two years, and how I didn’t want to leave this bubble. I came to the end of the line and standing there was the director of the Center. He was the first person we had met so it was a perfect bookend that he was the last one we saw. This older man who hadn’t so much as touched my hand in two years opened his arms wide and enveloped me in a tight embrace. After a minute he patted my back and said “You and Drew will be just fine.” “Thank you… for everything.” I quietly responded and apologized for getting snot on his tweed jacket. Drew and I left triumphantly and went to have ice cream.

It was the middle of July and it turned out that, with the 11 month schedule of the LD Center and our new school’s year round calendar, Drew only had two weeks before he started his public school career. We met his new teacher beforehand. Everything Dr. S had told me to do kind of flew out the window when I laid eyes on her. Arnie and I had an idea about what kind of teacher would be right for Drew. This woman was none of them. She was a classroom veteran, somewhat severe looking and definitely intimidating. Maybe that’s why when it came to be our turn to say hello during the open house I started talking and couldn’t stop. I verbally vomited on this woman who stood there shell-shocked trying to process everything I was throwing at her. I’m pretty sure the only things she heard were “unresolved IEP situation”, “social and emotional delays” and “challenging but lovable”. And then I asked if I could take a picture of her with Drew so he could look at it over the next couple of weeks and be better prepared. (Another one of Dr. S’s suggestions.) Ugh, the look on this poor woman’s face. She looked like she wanted to vomit for real. Still she could have completely ignored me and been warm to Drew but she wasn’t. On the drive home the kids were gushing about their new school. I was glad to hear their excitement but couldn’t hide my anxiety. Arnie glanced at me and patted my knee, “It’ll be okay” he said without ever having to ask why I was upset.

I hoped he was right. I tried to keep in mind what Dr. S had told me, to remember how unsure I felt when we started at LD and that (to quote my mother) “this too shall pass”. I never let Drew see any of my apprehension. In front of him I was enthusiastic, positive and always spoke highly of his new teacher. He had to know that he could trust her as much as his old teachers. I was praying she was trustworthy. The first day of school came. I followed Drew down the hall since he wanted to walk by himself. He looked so adorable with his camouflage backpack and fresh haircut. I walked with him into his classroom, found his cubby, and got him settled at his desk. I took a deep breath, went home and waited for the phone to ring. It never did. Drew came home excitedly telling me about all the new friends he had made. I was the tiniest bit relieved. The next day I walked him to class again. I was the only parent to do so. While talking to the teacher briefly about how Drew had done the day before, more students came in and were meandering around the classroom. Let me remind you this is first grade… and only the second day. All of a sudden the teacher very loudly began yelling at the kids, “Uh, uh, uh, uh UH!!!” she shouted as she shook her head, marched over to the light switch and (somewhat violently) flipped the lights off. The children froze. “We do not come into our classroom like THIS. We are quiet and calm and move to our seats in an orderly manner! YOU! (she pointed to a student who looked terrified) You get to where you need to be.” I was floored. I looked at the sweet faces staring blankly at their new teacher. Over half of them looked like they were going to cry. Hell, I was about to cry. She turned the lights back on, walked back to me and said, “So… anyway, Drew had kind of a rough time containing himself yesterday but he’ll get there.” I tried to smile at her but my ears were burning. I couldn’t believe this is the teacher we ended up with and that THIS was her method for teaching 6-7 year-olds. I went over and hugged Drew tight, waved at the other kids and told them they were doing an awesome job. I left the school, went home and began plotting how I could get my child out of that classroom.

To be continued…

 

My Drew- Part Three… (AKA: “How many appointments does it take to make a therapist’s head explode?”) February 26, 2010

Filed under: Humor,kids,Life,parenting,Psychotherapy — laughingmama @ 2:51 pm
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Continued from Part Two

So there Arnie and I sat every Thursday at 11:15 discussing the seemingly mundane details of our home life with someone I was sure couldn’t relate to us on any level. Being a therapist of course she didn’t share any personal details of her own life. But, from what we could gather and using completely baseless stereotypes this is the picture we had painted of Dr. S: she lived in the local liberal college town with her husband who was either a professor, a spoon player in a grass-roots type jug band that only played gigs for fundraisers for the environment, or raised alpacas and grew organic vegetables on a chemical-free farm outside of town. She also belonged to organizations like PETA and Greenpeace, owned 2 cats, wore Birkenstocks outside of work and her house was powered by solar energy. Oh, and based on some of her suggestions we were pretty sure she had never given birth. The only thing that we assumed we had in common was our wanting nothing but the best for Drew. That and she and I were pretty much curly hair twins which was actually kind of comforting. It’s not that Arnie and I hate organic veggies, jug bands or cats, it’s just that we were fairly certain we lived in two different worlds. (Okay, we really are dog people more than cat people.)

Despite this we thought Dr. S was a very nice lady, we liked her very much and we hoped that she liked us. We had nothing to hide, felt like we were a pretty happy family and a strong couple and so our lives were an open book to her. We let her in on every detail she wanted to know. Although the beginning of our sessions were usually pretty irksome. Dr. S: “So…. how’s everything?” Arnie and I would look at each other as if we were passing some silent information back and forth. A quick scan into the windows of our souls, a gut check to make sure we were okay. A: “Fine.” Me: “Good.” Dr. S: “Uh huh….. uh huh.” Silent staring across the round table ensued as well as lots of uncomfortable nodding. It made me wonder what she would do if, instead of saying everything was fine, I blurted out, “I’m SO glad you asked Dr. S! I can’t take it anymore!!! I’m on the edge and can’t step away!!!” But, we didn’t know her well enough to mess with her.. yet. Finally, Dr. S would ask a more specific question or bring up something going on in school. At first it was very serious because serious things were going on with Drew. His anger was coming to a head and his alter ego, who we loving referred to as “Mr. Furious”, was making his presence known more often in the classroom, in a BIG way. This is where we took a leap of faith.

Even though Arnie and I came to the LD Center asking for help, we didn’t always agree with their methods 100% but we decided to give it our best shot and go through the process with an open mind. Their “letting the genie out of the bottle” theory seemed like lunacy to us. And it was resulting in behaviors we had never seen in our boy- hitting, kicking, biting, spitting. I was ready to call a priest to perform an exorcism on our dear son. Instead, Dr. S pleaded with us to stick it out and give it time. The beginning was going to be messy. Much like cleaning out a closet, you have to get all the crap out and make an enormous shit pile before you can sort it and put it back in an organized way. She reminded us that we had come to THEM for help and the reason was we had exhausted all our options and knowledge of how to handle Drew. She promised it would get better. It didn’t. Not as quickly as I would have liked, that is. Although, the interesting thing about the process is that when Drew left school, he also left Mr. Furious behind. Sure, we had our moments at home just like always. But, the extreme nature of his outbursts were confined to the classroom. Dr. S had told us to expect that. She reassured us that he knew he was safe at LD, that he knew he could “bring it” there and they would handle him in a gentle and understanding way no matter what. A couple of months went by and we began to see improvement. Drew was having fewer outbursts and he was asking to call us less frequently.

Did I tell you about the phone calls? Oh yeah, those. Calling one or the other parent however many times a day is a practice they engaged in because they felt it was important for the children to feel connected to their parents as they were going through this confusing time. I understood that completely and of course was always happy to take the calls. But often the sounds I heard on the other end of the phone (mostly from the other kids) were so upsetting that I had a hard time holding it together enough to reassure Drew that yes, Arnie and I loved him very much and always would. Sometimes I would hang up the phone from one of those calls after Drew was sufficiently settled, lock myself in my bathroom and sob. (Of course I took the phone with me just in case he needed to call back.) Not great mommy moments. My heart broke for our boy. As much as I was grateful for the school and their expertise, I hated that he was there.

At least, as I said, he was making progress. Our faith in the process was growing, even if we felt like some of the strategies were ridiculous and flew in the face of everything we believed as parents. For example, I have a temper. I can’t help it. It’s in my DNA. Obviously, being yelled at was not working with Drew. They implored me to try a different approach. My patience was tested at every turn. Instead of being stern I had to gently hold my out of control child who was screaming at ME and tell him that I “heard his message”, that I understood he was having a “big feeling” and that I was there for him, loved him and wanted him to be calm so he didn’t hurt himself or anybody else. That was SO not me but Dr. S once told us “You’re the adults. You have to step out of the tornado and stop it, not keep it spinning until everyone is out of control.” Damn it! I hate when people remind me I’M the one who has to be the grown-up. We quickly realized that how we parented Drew had to be adjusted for what he needed, not the other way around. He wasn’t going to fit into our “box”, so we had to do what worked for him. Putting her suggestions into practice and seeing positive results in Drew over time went a long way in developing our bond with Dr. S and the school.

That being said, there were times when Arnie and I literally rolled our eyes. Dr. S was obviously a big believer in the Freudian stages of development. Naturally, she felt Drew was stuck in the phallic stage. Arnie and I got a HUGE (stiff, throbbing) kick out of all the ways she supported her theory. His Lego creations were always tall buildings or enormous rockets. “He’s asserting himself as a male and what could do that better than a long, powerful rocket?” Wow. I should really do Part 3 as a video blog so I could show you the hand gestures that went along with Dr. S’s assertions. They were quite… graphic. Arnie and I frequently pinched each other under the table and I had been known to bend down to fish a piece of gum out of my purse on the floor during these discussions so Dr. S couldn’t see me trying to stifle juvenile laughter.

We did joke with her, it’s who we are. And we usually didn’t pull any punches when we didn’t agree with something she said. For instance, she once showed us a drawing Drew had done of a big, tall, lighthouse with a window about 3/4 of the way up. Dr. S told us she thought it was unusual for him to include a window in the lighthouse and thought it was Drew trying to say that he wanted people to SEE him, see inside him for the good boy he is. Totally deadpan, Arnie looked at Dr. S and said, “Yeah, yeah… that could be. Either that or he’s drawing a picture of the lighthouse we saw while on vacation in the Outer Banks last week that looked EXACTLY like that.” At least Dr. S admitted that might be it, even if she didn’t back down from her original assessment.

Months went by and as things started to calm down, we developed an easy rapport with Dr. S. As a matter of fact, the receptionist who was posted at the front of the LD Center told me that she could hear us all laughing from behind Dr. S’s closed door at the end of the hall. (She also said that doesn’t happen very often so… gold star for us!) We were steps away from singing Kumbaya with the crunchy Dr. when the incident where Drew pooped on the boat happened. (If you haven’t read it yet, here’s the blow by blow: https://laughingmama.wordpress.com/2010/01/07/pooprainbow/.) As we recounted the incident, I had never seen anybody scribble in a notepad faster than she did. The look on her face said it all. To call it a “shocked expression” would be the understatement of the century. It bordered on horror, pity (for Drew) and excitement. I say excitement because this was the type of childhood trauma that could haunt a kid for years. In her mind, we just gave Drew a reason to need therapy until he was 18. She wasn’t so sure about us after that.

At this point I think it’s important to explain something about my husband. He’s a fire starter. By that I mean, he likes to screw with people. He finds a hot button and pushes it, repeatedly, until you end up in a corner mumbling to yourself. Okay, he’s not that bad, but he is a tease and does like to stir up trouble. That’s why he took particular delight in telling her, after one trip to the mountains to visit his family, we let Drew fire a real, live shotgun at a can in the woods. Let me also reiterate something I’ve said before- my husband is a safety engineer, not a hillbilly, and would never do anything stupid or foolish with our kids. This is not one of those stories that starts out “Well, we were in the back of the pick-up truck gettin’ drunk one night…”. None of that mattered to Dr. S right then. I didn’t think our therapist could get any more pale than she already was… but then we put the words “shotgun” and “Drew” together. Her face was ashen.

And then there was the time we bought our new (to us but very used) boat. Seeing as how Dr. S was sure any mention of boats, canoes, kayaks, lakes or water of any kind would forever be tied to the pooping on the boat incident and would therefore scar Drew emotionally, Arnie couldn’t wait to tell her! She was less than enthusiastic about the idea. Our offer to have her aboard one weekend to go tubing with Drew to see how much he loved it was politely declined. Although, that might have had more to do with our very detailed description of the mold, rot and roaches (yes, roaches) we found once we purchased the boat. We might have exaggerated its condition slightly (although there really were roaches), but when you’re getting financial help from people you don’t want them thinking you’re going around purchasing yachts.

I do have to give Dr. S props too, though. Sometimes she turned the tables on us and left us speechless. Like the time she suggested we tell Drew, who was 6 at the time, about the birds and the bees. I guess she felt like he was still too preoccupied with his penis and needed to be informed of its actual purpose before he did something stupid with it. I contended that learning its actual purpose would ENSURE he would do something stupid with it. After a round of “Let me tell you how many ways this is a bad idea”, I posed this question to her, “Can I give out your number to the moms that will be calling us after Drew has humped their daughter?”. Dr. S conceded that simply talking to Drew about self-love being acceptable in private would be a good compromise. She and I were kind of amused to suddenly see the “fire starter” fizzle out when faced with the thought of discussing masturbation with his 6-year-old. He was the one who was pale after that meeting.

The fact that we had moved into a comfortable relationship with Dr. S directly coincided with the great progress Drew was making. He had finished his first year and very easily transitioned into year two since most of the children were returning and his teachers were going to be the same. There were more good moments with Drew than worrisome and at times he spoke like a child well beyond his years with a certain wisdom and insight into his feelings most adults would be jealous of. It made me wonder what life would be like for us outside of the LD Center walls.

To be continued…