Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Little Love Notes

We like to leave notes for each other in our house.  Little love notes left on a pillow, or taped to the bathroom mirror, or posted on the computer screen.  I think I started it with notes in Squirrel's lunch box when she went to school.  Then I added notes to Munchkin's lunch this year too.  And then (miracle!) Munchkin learned to write and started leaving notes around the house for everyone!  Simple little things:
I love you.
Your my best mom.
I love my sister.
And my favorite: No dads work on Saturdays.

Then, not to be undone, Squirrel started leaving her own notes for everyone.  And now, well, it's common place for us to leave each other little notes in places where we know they will surprise the other person and make them smile.

Except there's not as many smiles lately, because Squirrel has taken to leaving notes of a different kind.  Most of them are taped to her bedroom door, which is usually closed these days.  The words vary slightly, but the sentiment remains the same.  Tonight's note said, "Don't come in unless you knock first!  Just don't hurt your fist."  Then that was crossed out--now it just says, "KEEP OUT!!!" scribbled in marker, with a big angry face drawn next to it.

This kind of sums up my dear child's attitude lately.  She's cranky, irritable, snotty, argumentative, rude, antagonizing, and emotional.  She doesn't do anything I ask her to do, and I don't know if she's ignoring me, not really hearing me, or just not processing what I ask.  But if I repeat myself, she snaps at me and gets upset at me for nagging her.  It's not like I'm asking her to do anything major...I just want to know if she's had lunch yet!

She keeps picking on her brother--she tells him he's wrong all the time (which she KNOWS will make him upset).  She won't let him in her room, which has never been an issue before.  She's bullying him when they play together.  She keeps hitting and pushing and pinching him.  I know all siblings fight, but this is getting ridiculous--the intensity and the frequency of her mistreatment of him is escalating big time.

She walks around on edge.  She's angry all the time--except when she's sad.  She looks ready to either throw a tantrum or burst into tears all the time.  She's huffing and stomping her feet and screaming and slamming doors.  She's talking back to everyone--even people she'd never dream of being disrespectful to before.  She even tried to hit me today.  She hasn't done that since she was a toddler.

Is it just summer break wearing on her?  Are we too relaxed?   Not enough of a routine for her?  Too much down-time?  Too much electronic-haze--you know, that funk brought about by too much time in cyber-world, and not enough interaction with real breathing people?

Is it something more?  Is it a mental issue?  Should I be calling her psychiatrist?  Are her meds not working?  Is it because she's not seeing her counselor anymore?  Is she more depressed than I realize or is this just normal pre-adolescent angst?  And is she old enough to blame this on hormones anyway???

Am I being too lenient with her?  Am I letting her get away with too much?  Excusing her behavior as part of the ADHD or the SPD when I should be nipping it in the bud?  Giving her too much slack and too many chances to fix it?

I don't know what to do.  I don't want to make excuses for inappropriate behaviors, but I also don't want to ignore red flags and warning signs.  I don't always know when to view something through my special needs lens, or my mommy lens, or some other lens.  I can't always trust my instincts, because I don't understand everything going on with my daughter, and I don't want to demand more of her than she can give.  But I also don't want to be a doormat, or allow her to treat anyone else like one.  I seem to be yelling at her a lot, which makes me feel all kinds of bad and guilty.  I feel guilty even putting this in writing--like I'm painting her in a bad light, or exposing our secrets to the world.  But I set out in writing this blog to be honest about the struggles we face, and to reach out to others both to give and to receive help.  And I kind of need some help with this one.

You know, I kind of want to write her a note right now.  One like this:

Dear Squirrel,
You are driving me absolutely bonkers lately!  Oh, and Munchkin too.  Can we please get this straightened out soon so all the bickering and screaming and crying can just stop already?  
Your exhausted, frustrated, confused Mommy

Yeah, I won't though.  I don't think that will help matters any.  Instead I'm going to write her a note telling her how much I love her.  (Because I really, really do.)  Maybe it'll help make tomorrow a better day than today was.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


When my hubby and I were dating, we used to talk about all the things we were going to do someday.  When you are young and in love, all the promises of the world are at your fingertips.  Someday we were going to grow up, and have jobs we loved, and get married, and have a nice house, and have a few kids, and watch them grow up, and take awesome vacations, and...

You know what was never in our plans for someday?  Reality. 

I'm pretty sure we never said, "Someday we're going to have two imperfect children.  Someday we'll wonder what's wrong with them and is it really supposed to be this hard?  Someday we'll struggle to come to terms with their diagnoses.  Someday we'll have to teach them things that other kids just figure out on their own.  Someday we'll have to think about the best schools to meet their needs and fight for the services they're going to need to succeed in those schools.  Someday we'll be on a first-name basis with psychiatrists and neurologists and social workers.  Someday we'll deal with meltdowns and depression and anxiety and motor delays."

Nope, I don't think we ever planned for that.

You know what else never entered that conversation?  We never said, "Someday we'll have to use our savings for therapists and doctors.  Someday those vacation plans will fly out the window along with any extra money we might manage to find.  Someday we'll struggle to pay the bills and put food on the table and still keep the kids in therapy and in the kind of social groups that will help them mature and grow."

And I know we never said, "Someday we'll cry because our plans for the future all have question marks after them.  Someday we'll worry endlessly about our kids because of bullies, and teachers who don't understand, and strangers who stare and judge us and them.  Someday we'll wonder if it will ever get better, and someday we'll celebrate every little tiny milestone because of all that went into reaching them."

And in all of our plans for Someday, we never, ever said, "Someday we'll struggle to connect with each other because we'll be exhausted from meeting the needs of our kids day after day after day.  Someday we'll try really hard just to get a date night once a month, because we'll be desperate to reconnect with each other."

Yeah, isn't it funny how our plans rarely end up just like we thought they would? 

But do you know what else we said?  "Someday we'll spend all our free time together and not have to go weeks without seeing each other.  (Ours was a long-distance romance while I finished school.)  And someday we'll be able to just sit and relax with each other, secure in our unending love and commitment to each other.  Someday we'll look back on these days and how in love we are, and wonder how it's possible to love each other more than we do now." 

I guess some things DO turn out the way we plan.

Happy Anniversary to my love, my friend, and my partner in this crazy, unplanned life.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord.  "Plans to prosper you, and not to harm you; plans to give you a hope and a future."  Jeremiah 29:11

Friday, July 8, 2011

My Mama Always Told Me, You Are What You Eat (Turns Out She Was Right)

I've been reading a lot lately about--I mean, I'm off work for the summer, and actually have time to pick up a book or two again!  I prefer novels that allow me to lose myself in someone else's life for a few hours, but I like to try to balance out the mindless drivel with something informative and useful once in awhile.  So I've been checking out a lot of books at the local library (but not the one that insulted Munchkin, if you heard that story) about some of the issues my children are dealing with.  I figure I might as well approach the coming school year with more information and tools to help them succeed.  Plus all these books have little anecdotal stories about other people's kids, many of which make me feel so much better about my lot in life.  Let's face it--when your own "issues" try to overwhelm you, reading about someone who has it a lot worse than you makes you appreciate that your issues are not THEIR issues.

Anyway, all of these books have what I'd call a nutrition component in them.  Eat this, and you'll focus better.  Eat this, and you'll behave better.  Don't eat this, or you'll be out of control.  And supplement with this, this, and this, or it's all for nothing.

I go back and forth on the diet issue.  (And I don't mean my own diet--though I tend to go back and forth on that one too!)  No, I mean what my kids do and don't eat, and whether or not it actually makes a difference.

Way back when (which was really less than 2 years ago, though it seems much, much longer), when we were still in the agonizingly long process of having Munchkin evaluated and eventually diagnosed by Dr. N., our neuropsychologist, several of the therapists evaluating him mentioned these "blank stares."  We'd seen them too--he would be doing something, and suddenly go into his own little world for a few seconds.  He wouldn't hear you or see you until he snapped out of it, and then he'd go on as if nothing had happened.  We laughed about him going into his own little world and how spacey he was.  We had no idea that these were actually seizures until all these therapists started showing concern!  So we followed Dr. N's advice and made an appointment for an EEG--four months later.  Yep, that was the soonest they could get us in for the 24 hour EEG she wanted him to have. So in the meantime (and armed with a new diagnosis to Google) I started researching.  And one of the first things I read about was something called MSG.

Like many of you, I thought MSG was that stuff they shake on Chinese food.  But I read that MSG can cause hyperactivity, meltdown behaviors, sleep disorders, and--wait for it--seizures.  And then I read more and found out it's in everything!  Anything that has been processed most likely contains chemically-created MSG.  And then they go ahead and add it in as a "flavoring" too.  Feeling horrified that I had been poisoning my children for so long, I went a little nuts.  I emptied out our cabinets--I read every label and threw everything that had anything "bad" into boxes and trash bags.  (Which I donated to the local Food Pantry, feeling only slightly guilty that I was probably poisoning other people's children now.)  Then I spent three hours in the grocery store replacing everything in our pantry with healthier alternatives.  And I followed a dye-free, preservative-free, MSG-free diet with my children religiously for several months.

And Munchkin's seizures stopped.  Completely.  His meltdowns became less frequent, his hyperactivity seemed to be less extreme, and he started sleeping through the night more often.  It was a small fix in most ways, but the absence of seizures was amazing to me.  I was sold.  (The fact that my migraines stopped for the most part, and my stomach issues cleared up was also an added benefit.)

When the behavior problems began to intensify again, I started looking at what else we should cut from his diet.  I'd read a lot about the Gluten/Casein Free diet for kids on the spectrum.  But he is such a picky eater, that I hesitated to take chicken nuggets, yogurt, milk, cereal, and pb & j from his diet--that would leave him with nothing to eat!  We decided to go gluten free and see if it helped, and it did to an extent.  It cleared up the eczema he'd had since infancy, and made him more "regular" in the potty sense--which apparently made his tummy feel better, and I hadn't even known it was hurting him!  Actually, I don't think he realized it either--he told me a few months into the diet, "Wow, Mom, my tummy doesn't hurt anymore!  I didn't even know it hurt me before but it's all better now!"

We still follow a dye-free, preservative-free, mostly MSG-free diet today.  ("Mostly" because that stuff is in everything!  It's so hard to eliminate it, unless you're going to cook everything from scratch and never use a boxed or canned food again. And I am not willing to make that kind of commitment.)  I am a label-reader anytime we try something new.  I ask to see nutrition information at restaurants before we order.  I bring a lot of our own food when we eat somewhere outside of our own home.  But I'm also less nutty than I was when I started this.  I do allow my children to have Popsicles at a friend's house.  I let them eat birthday cake at the party.  For awhile I didn't--but I got really tired of telling them "No" all the time and feeling like they were missing out on a part of childhood.  We suffer the consequences afterwards--usually extreme hyperactivity and some intense meltdowns will follow for the next 24 hours or so.  We're not as strict with the gluten restriction anymore either, mostly because it's so darn expensive and so hard to find substitutes that actually taste good for my picky little guy.

I guess there is something to this diet component.  It seems that a diet change can fix whatever ails you these days.  I read about a mom today who's suffering joint pain.  Every other comment on her Facebook status was from someone who knew someone who fixed their similar health woes by eliminating or adding something to their diet.  I do know that adding protein to our breakfasts helps Squirrel focus better.  So do the DHA supplements.  Adding a fruit and veggie supplement to Munchkin's daily regime has helped him finally put on some weight.  And cutting caffeine and caramel coloring out of my diet cleared up my stomach pains.

Well, I'm not ready to go all food-Nazi on our cabinets again anytime soon, but I guess I'll continue keeping an eye on our diets.  It might not make all the difference, but every little bit helps!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Mom's Crazy Fireworks Anxiety

I hate fireworks.

Is it "American" to say that?  On the holiday that celebrates our nation's birthday with huge bangs and flashing fire-lights, isn't this like saying "I hate birthday cake?"  But I really, really don't like fireworks.

I used to like them.  I remember loading up in the car every 4th of July evening, with blankets, bug spray, and a huge paper grocery sack of fresh popped corn, and driving over to the local high school.  The adults would sit and chat while the kids ran around with sparklers, writing our names and drawing pictures with the sparks in the darkening sky.  (Well, my siblings and cousins played with sparklers.  I was always scared of them!)  We'd run around saying hello to teachers and school friends that we hadn't seen since school let out.  I love the sense of community that surrounds the local fireworks display!  And when the fireworks started, we'd cuddle on the blankets and OOH and AAH and vote on the best ones.  Then we'd drive home, sleepily comparing our favorites and commenting on which ones were missing this year, and what was brand new.

I know exactly when I stopped liking fireworks.  When I was a teenager, I went to see the fireworks with a bunch of friends.  We walked over to the park where the fireworks were to be displayed and scouted out a prime location on the grass.  Just as we were getting settled, some friends waved us over to where they were, just 15 feet away from us, so we moved over to sit with them.  The fireworks started and we settled back to watch.  A few minutes into the show, we heard the whoosh of the firework being set off, but nothing exploded.  Then suddenly the firework went off in the crowd, just feet from where we were.  Right where we would have been sitting, had we not moved to join our friends!  Smoke filled the air; people were screaming and crying; people were grabbing their children and running away.  It was horrible.  The family sitting right in the rocket's path was severely burned and injured, including a baby.  And just as terrifying was the fact that the fireworks were all set off at once when this happened--presumably to send everyone home.  It was all chaos, noise, blinding light, screams of pain and terror.

I didn't see another fireworks display for a long time after this.  And I lost all tolerance for do-it-yourself firework displays.  I usually spend my Independence Day evenings at home, safe inside my house--away from the windows, just in case the pyromaniac neighbors aim wrong and a firecracker hits my house!

My kids, now, they beg to see fireworks.  And I usually give in.  We go sit in the park, and watch the fireworks, and I try to enjoy it.  But we sit as far away from the ignition point as we possibly can!  And between the mosquitoes, the annoying neighbors with their fire crackers and sparklers, and the tense anticipation, I mostly just endure it.  I'm sad that my kids aren't getting the benefit of the excitement of the holiday that surrounded it for me as a child.  I've never allowed them to hold a sparkler or be around when someone sets off a firecracker.  When our pyro-friend set off a display at his house one year, I hid in the house and begged the kids to join me watching through the windows.  (I was overruled on this one--so I paced and cringed and yelled through the window for them to sit down and not get any closer throughout the whole thing!)  The crazy neighbors have been setting off fireworks for days already, keeping us all awake half of the night and causing me needless concerns about sparks landing on my house and starting a fire, or firecrackers blowing out a tire or a window on my car.

Really?  Birthday parties should not be sources of such stress and anxiety!  So we will celebrate the birth of our nation in other ways.  I'm proud to be an American citizen, to raise my children in this country, and to enjoy the freedoms that others have fought for.  But blowing things up does not fit into my celebration anymore.  We will not be going to see the display tonight.  That is, unless the kids beg and plead enough to wear me down that case, I will put my ear plugs in, find a spot far away from everyone else, coat myself in bug spray, and suffer through yet another fireworks display.  Maybe I'll even make popcorn.