Tag: parenting

ADHD Test Results – and how it leads us nowhere

Max with onion ring

This week Max finally got tested for ADHD.  We brought with us the teacher evaluation sheets as well as the one I filled out and he took the test which I thought was going to be this big difficult long test – from the way everyone talks about it and the way no one wants to pay for it and the years it’s taken me to get him to this point…it turns out to be a 15 minute test.  I’m choking back my angry feelings that everyone – health insurance, doctors, teachers, etc – making this seem so complicated when it is very very simple.

Max does not have ADHD.  It is conclusive when all the data is compiled.  Just looking at the data from the computer stimulus test it is easy to see why everyone all along the way has thought it likely that he had ADHD.  But he doesn’t.  The test revealed some indication that Max has some auditory processing issues but to explore that further would require an occupational therapist qualified to do sensory processing assessments.  This would either cost us thousands of dollars out of pocket or that the school use their resources to perform such tests.

I almost started crying in the office.  I think the doctor thought I was disappointed that Max didn’t test positive for ADHD.  That’s not it at all – given my choice I would choose that Max not have any brain or neurological disorders.  I almost started crying because I have been pushing and pushing for this testing for years so I could rule it out and move on.  I was crying because other than the awful homework nights and PE failing – Max has been doing very well this year.  So well that all of his teachers and the school counselor can’t see what the problem is that I keep talking about.  I feel fraudulent.  I feel like the hypochondriac who feels cancer spreading in her body but no one else sees it until it’s suddenly an urgent problem requiring surgeries and treatments I can’t afford.  I feel like the mentally ill person no one believes because I’m, you know, mentally ill and us people have a tendency to see things distorted and enlarged.

Except that I know I’m not imagining the problems Max has had since he was a kid.  I know I didn’t imagine the self harm.  I know I didn’t imagine him talking about stabbing himself to death when he was two because he got in trouble for something and felt really bad.  I know I’m not imagining the difficulty he’s had fitting in socially.  I know I’m not imagining the teachers and principal at Ballston Community school calling me three times a week to tell me about Max’s disruption of their classrooms, his disrespect of this teacher or that, his refusal to cooperate, his altercations with the older kids, and them all looking to me for a solution.  Them looking to me to get him tested, or medicated, or give him consequences that would make his behaviors STOP.

Everyone looking at me to DO SOMETHING ABOUT MY KID.

I know I didn’t imagine how his fifth grade teacher gave up on him and had to send him to the principal’s office several times a week just to get him out of her classroom where he was making it impossible for her to teach the other kids.  I did not imagine that awful meeting I had with his teacher, the principal, and another teacher who wanted to be in on the meeting to tell me how disruptive and obnoxious my kid is in assemblies – the only time she had to deal with him.  I did not fucking imagine all these people telling me the school couldn’t do anything else for my kid.  They were done.

They looked at me and asked me WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT YOUR CHILD?

So I almost started crying because everyone keeps telling me I need to do something about my child and now everyone’s looking at me and asking why I’m making such a big fuss because my kid is obviously JUST FINE.  It makes me want to tear my hair out.

The tests have conclusively ruled out ADHD and the current psychologist and the previous one that I didn’t like both think he doesn’t have OCD either.  What looks like OCD is apparently sensory processing issues.  But right now there is no official explanation for his intense need for rituals.  The bed-time ritual whose order is very important and without which he will not sleep – there’s no official explanation for it.  But other people’s kids don’t stay up until 3am waiting for their bedtime routine to begin because their parents accidentally fell asleep before getting him into bed.  yeah, that happened.  Max stayed up waiting and waiting for me to tuck him in and put the fan on and give him his melatonin and his book and put the frogs on – he got so tired trying to stay awake and finally came down to wake me up and angrily ask me why I never came up to tuck him in.

I asked him why he didn’t come to get me earlier.  He didn’t know.  It didn’t occur to him.  He was waiting for things to happen the way they’re supposed to happen.

What now?  Nothing.  I worked hard all this year to avoid suddenly finding ourselves back in that bad place with no support in place to deal with it.  I wanted to set things up for Max to avoid having to wait until things get BAD to get him help.  I worked and stressed tirelessly for nothing.

Philip reminds me that it wasn’t for nothing.  After four years of not  being able to get him tested to find out if he does, in fact, have ADHD – we finally know for sure.  I wish it didn’t leave more questions and uncertainty, but it’s true that having at least this one thing crossed off the list of possibilities is important.  It’s off the table.  My kid isn’t “normal” or “typical” but we know at least one thing he’s not.  That’s something even if it doesn’t help me prepare for the bad times I know will come.

The psychologist thinks Max most likely has NVLD and describes it as a personality disorder rather than a brain disorder.  He thinks the reason Max is doing so well this year is because he’s in an environment that’s working for him and has teachers that he likes and respects – except for the PE teacher – and that as long as he has an environment that works for him and as long as he likes his teachers then he’s going to seem pretty normal and the school isn’t going to see his behavioral problems.  He says that when that changes, and he predicts that if it doesn’t in 8th grade then it likely will in High School, Max will likely act-out and become problematic as he was before.  So if it gets bad – and the behavioral issues return – then I push the school to test him for learning disorders.

In the meantime I can’t ask for any accommodations from the school.  Teachers can make them as they individually see fit and most of them already are to some degree.  The biggest issue this year has been the homework and his PE teacher.  He is trying harder with his new PE teacher and isn’t flunking his class now (the better shoes that correct his pronation are helping too).  As for the homework – it hasn’t been an issue during testing because he’s had light to no homework and it’s been AWESOME.  As the teachers return to the normal level of homework I will instigate my plan to help Max with or without their cooperation.

It is ridiculous for my kid to do more than one and a half hours of homework a night.  He often takes two to two and a half hours to do a full night of homework.  Sometimes it  becomes three hours.  This is unacceptable to me.  I have told the counselor and I will be telling the teachers that I will time his homework on any night that he has a full load so that he doesn’t do more than 1/2 hour of homework per class.  It’s what I have to do for my kid and it may affect his grades.  That’s possible.  My kid is smart enough to get straight A’s but if achieving that means going through the stressful struggle to get his assignments done and me having to spend my entire evening trying to change his dark mood and his frustration and tears back to a good mental place – it’s not worth it.  I care more about Max’s emotional state than I do about him getting top grades.

I’m his parent.  I know my kid.  I know his strengths (he has a lot of them) and I know his struggles.  My relationship with my son is important and finding the delicate balance between preparing him for reality and protecting him from it isn’t easy but it’s something I take seriously.  I’m trying to make him take responsibility for his experiences outside our home but I also know he’s generally behind his peers in practical ways and pushing him when he’s not ready is both ineffective and destructive.

When Philip came home after the testing and commented to Max about his test results Max said “Yeah, I guess I’m just your problem child.”

And that about sums it up. There’s no diagnosis to explain his otherly-ness.  I know he has anxiety and that his anxiety medication has helped him quite a bit.  But he doesn’t even have an official diagnosis of anxiety.  There’s no official explanation for why Max is so different.  Why he poses such parenting challenges.  It’s fucking hard just feeding the kid.  It’s practically a full time job trying to get him to try new foods and find ones that are healthy or healthy-ish that he’ll eat.   Being able to explain to people that his food issues are related to his OCD was the closest we ever came to shutting people up – shutting down their criticisms and interference and rudeness and unwanted advice.  Now we don’t have anything.  We have no official defense against everyone’s criticism.  And yes – I get criticism all the time – both outright and implied.

So I’m IT.  I’m our only defense.  I’m wearing mental boxing gloves and I will fight anyone who tries to put my kid in their own boxes and then find him (or me) wanting.  We have our own yardsticks for success and normalcy.  I will do battle with anyone who suggests or implies that my kid is the way he is because he’s just a bad seed, a willful shit, or that he’s “normal” and that it’s just my parenting that’s made him into a spoiled kid who won’t eat vegetables.

Max is my problem child.  Parenting him is like parenting three kids at once.  I wanted protection for us.  I wanted help.  I wanted support.  I didn’t just want those things – I’ve been desperately in need of them.  But what I keep coming back to is that it’s just us.  We are on our own as usual.  Doctors can’t help.  Teachers can’t help.  There are no resources for us.  There is no help.  We’re on our own.

But you know what?  The fact that Max is as confident and well adjusted as he is today is because of mine and Philip’s determination to parent the child we actually have and to adjust our parenting to meet our child’s needs and challenges.  We aren’t following anyone’s parenting rules and we keep making it up as we go along.  We change as our child changes and the most important thing we’ve ever done is to choose our battles carefully.  Max trusts us.  He talks to us.  He turns to us and he knows he is loved no matter how weird he is and that, in fact, we love his weirdness and he loves that his parents are really weird too.  He takes pride in it.  So I think the three of us, with my mom in a supporting role (and who’s also wonderfully weird), will protect each other and support each other even when no one else does.

Max is an amazing kid.  Parenting him is going to be the death of me but it is also an incredible privilege.  This kid of mine has a whole lot of shining to do and it’s my job to make sure he has the opportunity to do so.

Before you try to fit any of us into your preconceived notions of how parents and kids should be or act – I suggest you look up!

Before you judge any of us against your own yardsticks – I suggest you LOOK UP!

My boxing gloves are on and my fists are ready.

You should know that I have a wicked right hook.

All the Disorders and the Moon Too

ghost of a boy

This was the week of doctor visits for Max.  On Tuesday night we took him to his physician.  The same one that did my horrible exam this past fall.  We went to discuss his stomach aches, his leg pains, and his occasional dizziness.  Here is what the doctor thinks:

1) He has some kind of stomach problem and she thinks it’s H. Pylori.  His blood is being tested for it.

2) Leg pains are being caused by the early development of plantar fasciitis due to the wearing of CRAPPY-ASS SHOES.

3.) He has the “angriest” interior nose landscape she’s seen in a long time and a cobbled throat due to severe allergies which she says would account for occasional dizziness and sore throats and headaches.  Also: nosebleeds.

All of his complaints, you see, seem to have physiological explanations and are NOT psychosomatic.  We knew he had seasonal allergies but didn’t realize they were so bad.  He’s taken allergy pills before and it didn’t seem to help him much.  I need to find out if he needs to get tested for specific allergies in order to address this.  But if his allergies are so severe – how the hell did he manage to be examined by an ear-nose-throat specialist for nose cauterization and not have this problem brought up?

I suspected bad shoes might be the issue behind his leg pains because he used to complain a lot more about foot pains when exercising (also considered by most and sometimes even me to be due to his dislike of certain activities) until I could no longer find the Vans-style slip on shoes in his size which were the ONLY shoes he’d wear.  When he was forced to wear tie-up shoes that had more cushioning he complained a lot less of foot pain.  These tie up shoes are crap, of course, but you can’t just force a kid like Max to switch what he wears – it takes care and prepping.  I was working on finding support inserts for his shoes but he just rejected the first pair last week.  Doc says he has to wear better shoes.  So we will buy him better shoes with our next paycheck.

To the P.E. teacher who accused him of lying about his pain: FUCK YOU.  Sometimes kids can both hate you and your class but not be lying about the pain they feel when you make them walk fast or run.

The stomach pains do so often show up at times when he’s stressed out so that I’m only hating myself a little bit (a lot) for not looking deeper into them a long long time ago.  He may not have the H. Pylori bug but the doctor is certain that his complaint is not psychosomatic due to the tenderness he feels in his upper abdomen.  So yeah, I am actually kicking the shit out of myself for not making a doctor look into this 3 years ago.  All this suffering?  Jesus!

The only thing that pissed me off about this new physician that we all share now is that she did give the obligatory shaming speech about Max’s diet.  “If you only have good food in the house he will eat good food.” I started to explain that, actually, my kid will starve himself to death – but Max piped up and did it for me.  I gave up.  Why the fuck bother to explain that his food issues aren’t because of an indulgent parent but a product of his body and mind being very different?  Everyone thinks what they think and I’m always going to be the bad junk food eating parent (though I hardly eat any junk food) cramming her kid ignorantly with fried and packaged crap and Max is always going to be the spoiled power-hungry kid determined to die of diabetes.  Luckily she didn’t go on and on about it like the pediatrician did.

But it still hurts and makes me want to pry my  kid’s mouth open and shove every fruit and vegetable down his throat in desperation because I fucking know how bad his diet is and it has been the source of incredible stress and worry since he was two and began the great food rejection.  The real kicker is that he’s actually eating some produce almost every day again and trying new things – he’s making a fucking effort.  But we are always going to be the willfully unhealthy people to all doctors and all people who don’t have extreme picky eaters of their own – the only people in the world who understand the truth of the situation.*

Yesterday morning we had an appointment with Max’s new psychologist.  It was a fantastic change from the previous psychologist.  He’s willing to give Max the ADD testing now – he says that Kaiser prefers to rule out all other possible issues before giving the testing but that Max definitely shows enough indication that he may have ADD to warrant the testing.  The other doctor made the decision to insist on making the school do testing that the school was not going to do – putting me in a bad place.  But this guy is willing to go to bat for Max which earned my trust immediately.  The last doctor decided (without bothering to discuss it with me) that Max does not have anxiety or OCD but that he has Sensory Processing Disorder.  Since Max’s original psychologist ruled that out early on I have not been willing to consider that as a possibility.  Dr. Carey’s explanation for why he didn’t believe Max had SPD was really clear and I agreed.  Dr. Disney** thinks Max may have Non-Verbal Processing Disorder which is related to SPD and is a learning disability.  So he doesn’t completely disagree with the previous psychologist but I’m willing to listen to him because, like Dr. Carey, he made a very good case for this and it doesn’t really negate Dr. Carey’s assessment but I can see how some behaviors can become more clear when kids are older.  Dr. Carey saw Max between the ages of 7 and 11 and in a totally different environment.  Dr. Disney is seeing Max at 12 years old and there’s no question that differences in the natural development at different ages can show you different aspects of a person’s whole psychological makeup.

I have never heard of NVLD.  After talking to us and Max for an hour and going over Max’s self-assessment paperwork (first time he’s been old enough to fill that out and it may make a significant difference in the diagnostic process) he showed us a checklist with 3 columns, one for ADHD, one for something else I didn’t catch, and one for NVLD and showed us that there were more behaviors related to NVLD checkmarked than for ADHD though both show strong enough indication that he may have both (they can be co-morbid).  He definitely thinks Max has anxiety but isn’t convinced he has OCD.  In digesting all these different disorders it’s important t to note that they all share some clusters of behaviors in common and most of them can present like OCD and complicating matters more is that they can ALL exist co-morbidly.  It is most likely that Max doesn’t have one thing or another but a mish-mash of different issues to varying degrees.

The trick is to sort out the groupings of behaviors and issues and figure out which are brain based and which are personality based because this is the most important thing to know when it comes to treatment.  ADHD is brain based and can usually be treated very effectively with medication.  NVLD is personality based and is not treatable at all with medication but with behavioral and occupational therapies.  Very very different treatments.  OCD is anxiety based and can be treated with medications but the medications that are effective for it are completely different than the meds that treat ADHD.  We know Max has anxiety – that is the only thing we know for sure.  The anxiety medication (and he’s on a very low dose and is probably in need of increasing it soon) has worked well for him and proved therapeutic.  He has not self harmed since starting on it and he has been less high strung about most of the things that stop him in his tracks and his sleep has been better as well.

You will observe that until yesterday my one goal was to get Max tested for ADD so we can get a 504 plan in place.  That has been a huge goal of mine.  And this new psychologist is willing to start that process right now.  But we’ve decided to wait a little longer.  No doctor or psychologist that Max has seen has doubted he has ADD, every last one of them has concurred that it’s a likely diagnosis.  But now that we finally find ourselves in what seem like careful and capable hands – we feel like we should wait to do the testing and give the new psychologist a chance to get to know Max and work with him and sort through all these issues of his and see if patterns emerge that will help clarify what we are dealing with before we launch into official testing.  It might seem a little surprising that given the green light for the testing AT-FUCKING-LAST I would suddenly back off of it – but my only real concern is to figure out how I can help my son navigate successfully in a world that is acutely uncomfortable to him.  The only reason why I’ve been fighting so hard for a diagnosis and the testing that determines it is because at least in the school environment I can’t make many demands without that stupid 504 and I need all the available tools at Max’s disposal to help him succeed – that’s my job as his parent.

But at the moment he’s doing very well in school (except for flunking P.E. but I hardly count that) and now we finally have a psychologist who I feel we can trust – and he has given us new food for thought and homework to do and so I feel we can afford to slow down now and let a professional guide us.  I had no one to repose confidence in since we left Max’s last psychologist in Oregon.  I feel some profoundly deep relief right now.  I spent yesterday reading about NVLD and it was a bit of a revelation.  I got to talk to a friend whose son was diagnosed with this and it’s remarkable how much this processing disorder can look like OCD but with some significant differences.  I am too new to reading about it to explain what it’s all about.  If you happen to be curious I read two articles yesterday that seemed pretty good:

Non-Verbal Learning Disabilites: A Primer

What are Non-Verbal Learning Disabilites?

So we have the next appointment in two weeks and I am feeling hopeful and so relieved that I was a basketcase all of yesterday and got nothing at all done and couldn’t think of anything else.  I have been carrying so much stress over the health and well-being of my kid (I always do – but it’s been exponentially worse in the last few months) and the stress of no one listening to me or helping me – that now it’s leaving my body I feel like I’m in shock.  A good kind of shock, but shock none-the-less.

Meanwhile I have been saying “FUCK YOU!” and “FUCK OFF!” to a whole lot of people in my head like I’ve got a Greek chorus in there.  It hasn’t stopped since yesterday.  It’s directed at people who think all you have to do is force kids to your agenda and they will bend, to people who think my kid is just fine as he is and doesn’t need any help (get your damn self in my shoes and you will see why he seems okay to you and you will die of exhaustion), to everyone who doesn’t believe in ADD or OCD or other mental disorders, to every fucking fucker out there who believes that all you have to do if you have depression is “change your attitude” and “snap out of it” and that all you have to do if you have anxiety is “stop worrying so much”, and to all those smug parents with kids who eat massaged kale salads who think the reason my kid doesn’t eat good food is because I don’t make him, and to all those people who think that my kid is a lying lazy-ass.

Fuck you all.

As for the rest of you – all I can say is thank you for constantly holding me up when I get frustrated and for understanding what it’s like to raise a kid who is really different – awesome and cool but really different – whether it’s because you’re raising one of your own or because you have that amazing thing called empathy and imagination.  You guys are the ones who get me through all the rough days.

Thank you.

*Not totally true.  There have been a few pediatricians and a few fellow parents with kids who eat normally who DO understand that this eating issue of Max’s isn’t something he’s just doing so he can eat crap food.  And I’m deeply thankful for each and every one of the exceptions to the rule of assumptions surrounding extreme picky eaters.

**Don’t even say it.  Shhhh!  Yes, that’s his real last name.

Sometimes Parenting is Less About Teaching and More About Mediation

disembodied

Topics of recent conversations with Max: video games, stem cell research, sexually transmitted diseases and related to that – unromantic but important conversations to have with potential sexual partners, abortion, why God should be thankful for the work the devil does, proofs that God doesn’t exist, video games, P.E. class and why it’s stupid, and Pippa’s infernal cuteness.

I told him he would have to take two years of a foreign language to graduate high school and asked him what he’d like to take.  He would like to take Russian.  I said I wasn’t sure that would be available at the high school level.  His second choice is French.

The SST meeting was canceled because Max’s grades are too good.  Everyone involved knows he doesn’t need special ed.  So we ended up having a meeting just between me, Max, and the school counselor to discuss how to help him raise his grade in P.E. from an “F” to passing.  The counselor told Max that he really respected Max’s strong sense of self, his confidence, his strong beliefs and his willingness to stand up for them (particularly referring to the battle of the Pledge of Allegiance).

Max just called me from school to bring him a new book to read for lunch period.  He also wanted me to take a photo of his wacky hair that he let a couple of girls put in a pony-tail on top of his head.  Oh, and he got another detention in PE for refusing to run the mile or whatever ridiculous run they’re supposed to do in a certain amount of time.  He said his legs were hurting.  The PE teacher doesn’t give a damn.  She says he needs a doctor’s note to get out of running.  Max thinks he’s going to get a doctor’s note when we go to the doctor next week so he can get out of running.  I had to explain to him that that’s not necessarily going to happen, that we’re going to talk to the doctor about the “leg pains” he’s had off and on for the last few years.  But he probably doesn’t have anything wrong with them.  Between him and the PE teacher I want to scream.

Max always seems to develop one adversarial relationship a year at school.  Every time it happens I want to yell at the adults who enter into these relationships with him.  Adults (particularly ones whose profession forces them to deal with a great many kids with a great many different personalities) should know how not to exacerbate such situations.  They should know how to diffuse a kid like Max without switching on his stubborn battle mode.  Yet every year there is one adult in Max’s school life who tries to fight him and force him to do their bidding rather than work with him to get him to cooperate.  I know the type of adult who does this and they are almost always exactly as rigid and stubborn and dictatorial in their ideals as Max is.  It makes me tired.  It makes me resent the teachers and/or administrators who engage in this futile battle of wills.  It’s unnecessary and results in their frustration which inevitably leads to Max getting in more and more trouble.  The teacher doesn’t get what he/she wants and neither does Max, really, but Max pays the bigger price in the end.

Max is never going to run that mile in the necessary time.  Ever.  I can tell you that right now.  So he’ll keep going to detention during lunch.  But this means he won’t eat lunch.  The PE teacher thinks the punishment is keeping Max from playing during lunch but he doesn’t play during lunch anyway.  He eats his lunch in the office every single day so that he doesn’t have to eat his lunch around other people’s food and so he can be close to the only clean bathrooms in the school that he’s willing to use.  So the real punishment is that detention (when there’s other kids sharing the room with him) forces Max to sit in a room with kids eating disgusting (to Max) food which makes him lose his appetite and so he won’t eat his own. Hunger and a little torture.

That sure as hell wouldn’t make ME behave, and I know it isn’t going to get Max to behave.  Every time she sends him to detention she’s making a bigger enemy out of him.  And me, because I get to deal with diffusing all his anger and dislike of his teacher when he comes home edgy with the irritating hunger of not having eaten anything for 7 hours.

I have come to the conclusion that I don’t really give a damn if Max flunks PE.  He is gaining nothing from that class just as I gained nothing from it when I was a kid.

I’m tired.  I’m glad it’s Friday.

My laundry is everywhere and our tense relationship with each other is taking up a lot of room in this house.  I suppose I should take a break from work to try to come to a mutual understanding with it.

I would also like to divorce my uterus whose services I no longer need.  Thank you for the child, good womb, but it’s time to pack up the equipment and turn off the services because we’re done collaborating.

I hope you all are having a less annoying Friday than I am!

Preparing for the Second SST Meeting

citrus size

You know how, as parents, we are supposed to teach our kids certain things that everyone expects you to teach them and as an adult you’re supposed to agree with?  But what if your kid rejects these lessons and you agree with his objections?  Like homework.  Max thinks all school work should be done at school and there shouldn’t be any homework.  I happen to agree with him.  He already spends 7 hours a day in school.  Then he’s supposed to come home and spend another hour or two (or sometimes three, because Max takes a long time) doing more school work?  What about down time?  I need to get him to be more active but his mental health requires that he have several hours of no expectations or work of him.  I NEED THE SAME THING.

Max doesn’t like P.E.  In fact, he hates it.  I did too.  I would hate it even now.  P.E. is a horrible class in which if you can’t perform well you are constantly humiliated and at odds with your teacher.  Plus – P.E. teachers are almost always the bully types.  People who LOVE sports and think it’s a shortcoming in you if you don’t.  Plus they’re often mean*.  I’ve had a lot of them so I know something about this.  I know a lot about falling short in physical activity and hating having to do organized exercise.  It wasn’t that I hated physical activity – I rode my bicycle all over town and I also walked a lot.  Not to mention tree climbing and romps in the park.  So how can I reason with Max about P.E. and get him to cooperate when I share all his feelings about it?  He might be flunking P.E. at this point.  His teacher doesn’t sound like the understanding or flexible type which is all the fuel Max needs to be rigid and difficult.

How can I teach him to be honest but at the same time demand that he not tell people what he really thinks because it might a) get him in trouble b) hurt someone’s feelings or c) make people angry?  I know it’s really about teaching him when to share his honest opinions and when it’s appropriate not to.  When you should lie to make a person feel better about themselves and when to be brutally honest.  These subtleties do not come easily to him.  To give him credit – for a kid with very little brain-to-mouth filter he’s doing pretty well at learning to pick his moments but the messages we’re expected to send kids is at odds with the behaviors we’re supposed to teach them.  Honesty is the best policy – except for when it isn’t.  And he notices these inconsistencies constantly and calls people (and me) on them.  Other adults are not keen on this habit of his.

Questioning authority, social mores, ethics, and rules – I approve of all these things and yet as his parent I am supposed to be teaching him to also respect these things.  Helping him find the balance is much harder than I ever imagined and as I prepare to go to our second SST meeting at school this afternoon – I have no idea how I am going to face his P.E. teacher without giving her a set-down.  How will I be able to mediate between him and the school satisfactorily when I am championing his needs and I am as otherly as he is?

*P.E. teachers are NOT mean to the kids who excel or at least do relatively well in their classes.

Blaming Gun Violence on Video Games is Like Blaming Rape on Short Skirts

Mau hat

I’m sick of people blaming video games for the world’s problems.  Specifically blaming video games for gun violence.  Blaming video games for all the evils of modern youth.

It’s like blaming rape on short skirts.

It’s like blaming teen pregnancy on rock and roll.

It’s like blaming promiscuity on condoms.

It assumes that the responsibility for our behaviors as humans is always reliant on outside stimuli, that when exposed to certain stimuli we are instantly rendered incapable of retaining our understanding of right and wrong.  This allows people to not take responsibility for their actions – there is always some factor out of their control.

Is that what you’re teaching your kids?  Because that is NOT what I’m teaching mine.

My kid is passionate about playing video games.  It’s his thing.  Though I was angry early on that Philip exposed him to them – close proximity to them has taught me to appreciate that video games are a legitimate form of entertainment and the result of a lot of talented artists and animators and programmers making amazing things happen.

I would rather have my kid be a passionate “gamer” (as he calls himself) than ever have him join the armed forces.  I asked him the other day if he thinks he might want to join the army some day because he loves weapons and war games.

“No.  Why would I join the military and kill real people when I can play video games and shoot at AI people and not hurt anyone?”  He’s a warrior kid, he had weapons in his hands before I ever let toy weapons into his life.  I’ve mentioned this here many times before – that I could see who he was before he could talk.  For an anti-military, anti-violence, and anti-weapons person it’s uncomfortable to have a son who is the quintessential warrior.  To squash that personality, to try to mold him into someone he’s not would be to disrespect him and teach him that his nature is bad and when you do that to a person you force their natures into dark passages.

My greatest fear is that Max will one day join the military.  I am anti-military to the core.  When you join the military you are relentlessly trained to kill human beings.  Our country likes to glorify soldiers, make them out to be heroes, people with extraordinary bravery and weirdly people often assume that all soldiers are imbued with a strong moral fiber and honor.  The truth is – the military takes people and turns them into killing machines.  They are trained to intimidate, to be tough, and are trained to see the enemy not for what they are, human beings, but targets.  The history of armed forces is not actually an honorable one at all.  The rape of enemy women is common to all the world’s armed forces.  It’s what happens when you dehumanize the enemy.  Your own gently reared soldier will never tell you this.  They will not come home and tell you the things they’ve done, the blood on their hands, the suicides they’ve witnessed, the bullying of the enemy, the torture they’ve been party to.  If every soldier who went to war came home and told you everything they’d done and seen – we would not be able to keep seeing them as heroes.

If my son ever joins the military I will do my best to support his choice, just as any loving mother would, but I will not see him as a hero.  I will know that he will either come home a broken person or he will come home a desensitized echo of the person he used to be who’s done things I can never be at peace with.

That’s the reality of military training.  And yet – how much fanfare do we give returning soldiers knowing they’ve done horrible things to other human beings?

Video games are not reality.  Anyone who confuses video games with reality has issues that go beyond their choice in entertainment.  My kid has a very strong grip on the difference between reality and video games.  We talk about it all the time.  We discuss how conflict resolution in real life is much different than in games.  He has shown no more tendency towards violent behavior in his real life than any other growing boy.*

What he likes about video games is that he can explode things and shoot weapons and be a hooligan without hurting people.  How is that problematic?  Video games are an outlet for his interest in war that allow him to explore that side of his personality without doing harm to others.  The military can’t offer that.  Video games can’t break someone who isn’t already broken.  His air-soft guns give him the same thing – an outlet for his love of weapons that can’t hurt animals or people.  This is an acceptable and healthy way for my son to explore a natural aspect of his personality without having to feel shame or pay unbearable consequences.

If my son ever commits a violent crime it will not be because he played video games or collected air-soft guns, it will be because he has chosen to abandon his good judgment.  It will be because he chose a bad course for himself.  It will be on him, not on his choice of entertainment.

*He has had a couple of incidences of hitting other boys but since most men I know have a couple of these incidents in their youth as well (his father included) who didn’t play video games and who weren’t warrior types – I consider his behavior as pretty natural.

Here’s Hoping 12 Isn’t Like 9

Max is 12 years old today.  The thought that keeps going through my head (because it amuses me) is that: I’ve kept a kid alive for 12 whole years!  I have loved my kid at every stage.  Except for when he was 9.  And 3.  Oh, and 5 was a pretty rough stage.  The best times with him when he was a tiny baby was when he slept on my chest and I slept too.  The best times with him when he was a bigger baby was bicycling all over town with him in a seat in front of me.  Plus his laughter.  The best times with him when he was a toddler was playing chase until we fell over laughing.  The best times with him when he was a little kid was having philosophical discussions about the ethics of war.  The best times with him when he was a bigger kid was going to Powell’s and see him find stacks of new books to read.  The best times with him when he was a big kid is family movie night which 45% of the time involves watching Zombieland.

And here we are.  I don’t know how 12 is going to be.  I’m hoping 12 isn’t like 9.  But right now I absolutely love the stage he’s in.  He’s just discovered drama.  He actually cares about his grades and is super proud of the 3 A’s he has right now.  Except for PE.  He couldn’t care less if he flunks PE.  He is mature enough that he had a debate about homosexuality with his semi-homophobic friend in which they agreed to each come up with valid and reasonable points and they would listen to each other.  Max reports that they both came up with good points and acknowledged them.  Do you know what kind of maturity it takes to listen to someone – to really listen – to someone whose viewpoints you are absolutely opposed to?  How many adults do you know that can do that?  He’s anti-war but loves weapons.  (He will always be a warrior in nature)  He loves fancy glassware and dishes.  He loves movies.  He still loves video games.  He’s funny and articulate and his empathy for people has slowly been  catching up to his great empathy for animals, though I suspect he’ll always love animals more than people.

I will admit that I fear the onset of hormones that shapes so much of everyone’s teen years.  I’m hoping that the dramatics of his early life were enough and that we’ll be spared a terrible teen, but I’m no fool.  I know not to have any specific expectations.  Right now – Max is awesome all the way through.

The other day we were at Target to find a jacket for Max.  We passed by some shoes and I spied a pair of the most hideous hiking boot/stiletto/platform combination ever and I declared that I had found my fall look.  Max says “You mean you want to wear hooker hiker boots?” really loudly.  I burst out laughing but quickly realized that I shouldn’t take my son out in public.  Next we passed by a pair of nasty looking sweater “boots” like a flat sole with a big knitted sock sewn to it.  They were white and dotted with silver sequins.  I suggested that these were going to be his next pair of shoes, to which he replied “I’m not going to wear tranny shoes!”* even more loudly than before.

Which is when I realized you can’t take any of us out in public.

Our tough times are tough but we have a lot of fun together and at the end of the day – it’s a good sign when your kid still likes hanging out with you when he’s 12 years old.

Happy Birthday Max!

*He has no negative feelings about transexual people other than that he’s seen some examples of transexuals dressed in questionable manner.

Some Things I Love About Max

Some things I love about Max:

  • His enthusiastic pantomimes expressing how delicious the food on his plate looks when he knows I’m stressing about his eating and he just wants me to feel better.
  • His love of going out to restaurants and cafes.  He’s a routine guy like Philip and I are.  But he goes on these jags where he wants to try a new place and there are two criteria for whether or not a place succeeds or fails.  1) The presence (or absence) of Grape Italian soda on the menu 2) How good are the fries?
  • He’s a connoisseur of root beer.
  • That he loves fancy glassware with an emphasis on stemware.  He’s been wanting a martini glass because he thinks they’re cool.  I got him one.  Now he drinks his soda in his martini glass.
  • He thinks I’m pretty and not fat.
  • He thinks of The Walking Dead as “our thing”.  (He lets his dad watch with us out of kindness – but since we watched the whole first season just the two of us during our last week in Oregon when it was just him and me – he thinks it’s our special thing.)
  • He wants to be a consultant for the zombie apocalypse section of the Post Apocalyptic Kitchen project I’m working on with my friend Emma.
  • That he said this after our horrible doctor’s appointment last week “I’m a picky eater.  I’m not proud of it, it’s just a fact.”
  • He’s an avid reader.  He mostly reads humorous nonfiction (The Zombie Survival Guide, for example) and graphic novels like Bone and Usagi Yojimbo.  I don’t care what he reads as long as it isn’t porn.  He loves reading and it makes me really happy.
  • How he gets in a mood to hang out alone with Grandma or with me or with his dad.  How he likes to have alone time with the individuals he loves.
  • His parting comment the other morning on his way to school “You wanna know what would be really gross?” (me “always!”) “Vaseline toast”
  • His strong sense of self.  No one tells Max who he is, he tells them.
  • That he engages his Xbox online friends in debates about abortion, religion, politics, and the questionable (to him) ethics of eating meat.
  • That he thinks animals are equal to humans in worth and deserve to be treated that way.  (Yes, I think my influence can be spotted here)
  • That when he builds women characters in his video games he makes them regular sized people with pretty much regular sized boobs.*  (In character creation you can make bodies super skinny or fat and you can make boobs any size you want too.)
  • That he had the guts to tell the girl he liked last year that he liked her.
  • His curiosity.  He wants to dig under the surface of things.  His questions are interesting and make me want to be able to answer them.  This morning’s question is “Why does stevia have an after taste but regular sugar doesn’t?” (He’s eating a new protein bar that is partly sweetened with stevia to keep the sugar content down.  He likes the bar but has to drink something afterwards to wash the after taste out.)  I happened to have a jar of stevia that we grew and dried and my mom crushed into semi-powder.  We smelled it and noticed it leaves a sweet taste in your mouth when you breath it in.  Max had theories.
  • Max always has theories.

No matter what challenges he faces (and us with him) he’s an awesome kid and I love him.

*There is nothing wrong with big boobs but it’s such a stereotype that the women characters in video games have enormous breasts.  It just pleases me that Max is going against the stereotype.  You can also clothe them in next to nothing if you want, he also doesn’t do this.

Perpetual Awesome

A few days ago my kid said “You know what you are, mom?” I said “No.  What?” and he said “Perpetual Awesome”  Hearing things like that does not change the horror of finding out that I pretty much need a second job to pay for the self employment taxes on my first job because I’m paying 39% of my income to the state and the feds, but you know what it does do?  It makes me feel good.  I wasn’t even doing anything for him when he said it.  It was spontaneous and it made me feel like I’m doing something right in my life.  Something is so much more than nothing, if I’m measuring shit.

I spent most of yesterday lounging on the futon in the game room watching Max play Skyrim.  Have you seen or played this video game?  It’s unbelievably cool.  I don’t like video games but this one is something else.  The art and design of the landscapes, characters, and things that populate this game is incredible, gorgeous and I found I was jealous that I wasn’t one of the people who made it.  The music is also fantastic.  This is quality time spent with my kid.  Perhaps to some parents quality time means cooking in the kitchen or doing something “real” or old fashioned but my kid loves it when I watch him play video games which is his big passion in life aside from reading.  It makes him feel good.  He got to explain all the strange plants and potions his character was acquiring – the game has lots of mushrooms in it!  There are books you can buy or steal that you can actually open and read.  Yep. This game has books with actual content in them.  The level of thought and programing and detail in this game makes it a true work of art.

Philip brought back a few books for Max from the comic book store in Portland.  I caught Max still reading at 12:40 am.  I couldn’t scold him.  It was a Saturday night and my kid couldn’t put his book down.  I woke up late this morning and the first thing I see when I walk down the hall is my kid reading.  This is another indication that we’re doing something right in our life.  Yes, our kid plays hours and hours of video games a week, sometimes in a day, but he also reads and reads and can’t put his books down and doesn’t like to go anywhere in the car without books.  He’s a reader.  He hates going to the library though.  He doesn’t like browsing for books either.  We discussed his aversion to going to the library in his last therapy session and he said it isn’t because of all the people but because he finds the library overwhelming and he can never find anything and there’s just too much there.  The solution is to preview the library catalog online and make choices for what he wants to check out ahead of time then we help him find them.  It was agreed that he needs to go to the library himself so as not to encourage agoraphobia in him.  He must keep going out in the world, we just have to find ways to make it more comfortable for him.

That’s not about developing crutches but about developing solutions.  I say that because when I was a lot younger and making life choices to reduce my anxiety and nightmares I came under a lot of criticism from people who didn’t know crap.  I stopped reading newspapers or watching the news when I was eighteen years old.  This decision significantly reduced my nightmares (from pretty much every single night to maybe every other night) but others implied on more than one occasion that it was a crutch to not read the newspapers, that to not be able to read them made me a lesser citizen of my country and that I shouldn’t be allowed to vote if I didn’t stay informed.  I countered that the media didn’t do much to “inform” me of anything worth being informed of and mostly filled my head with hyperbole, lies, and fear which wasn’t useful at all.  It sunk in though.  This idea that I should fix myself so I could read the newspapers again and that I wasn’t good enough as I was.  That being broken and limited made me inferior and that to “cater” to my mental illness was to encourage me to be more weak.

My psychologist, Dr. Jay Judine (RIP), said that was complete and utter bullshit.  He explained that the only way my not reading newspapers could be considered a “crutch” or a negative avoidance is if I personally felt I really needed to be reading them, that I really WANTED to be able to read them but didn’t feel I could.  Get the difference?  If my life is good and rich and fine without reading newspapers and not reading them also improves my mental health, it isn’t something in need of fixing, it means I’ve found a solution to improve the quality of my life and everyone else can go hang themselves on their own issues and leave me the hell alone.  So I learned to evaluate what in my life and what about myself needs “fixing” or needs help or intervention not based on comparison to other people and what they think or need or want but based on what is important to me.

If not going to the library prevents Max from reading books, something he greatly enjoys, then finding a way for him to use the library in the greatest comfort is important.  How we accomplish it is not.  If picking out all the titles he wants ahead of time in the comfort of his own home makes it easier for him to go to the library to get them, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Incidentally, this is also one of the main ways to decide if your issues are in need of addressing, to decide if you need to be professionally assessed and treated for your mental quirks and challenges.  You could be very much like me in all your anxieties, maybe even have the anxiety levels I do, but if you’re comfortable with the way your life is – if these anxieties don’t get in the way of what you want, if they don’t destroy relationships or impact your ability to function – then it doesn’t matter that we’re anxiety twins, you don’t need help.  That’s a major criteria for diagnosis – how these mental challenges impact your daily functioning.  Mine impact me a lot.  They impacted my ability to parent my child when he was a baby – I spent most of my day just meeting his most basic needs but wasn’t truly present for him – that was a problem that needed addressing.  I didn’t want to miss his whole childhood under a cloud of depression and anxiety.  Getting treatment (both therapy AND medication) made an enormous difference in my quality of life and therefore, my child’s.

If we’re depression or anxiety twins but you function pretty darn well and don’t feel the need for help or assessment – I think that’s great.  I’ll still recognize you as part of my tribe.  Don’t be offended.  You can’t be wired just like me and not be in my tribe – you just don’t have the name tag.  And I’m not eager to give you one if you don’t want one or need one.  But I still know neurologically challenged people when I meet them.  I suppose if you were offended by me considering you a part of my strange mentally ill tribe then we aren’t bound to be good friends anyway.  My tribe, diagnosed or not, is full of the most amazing, talented, bright, cool, kooky, weird, genius, and interesting people in the world.

I realize that I’ve been talking about mental illness a lot lately.  I’m definitely trying to keep momentum up on my informative series but being in such crisis right now as I obviously am in – it’s an important topic for me personally.  I have started using my blog to spew again, as I used to do in the beginning.  Catharsis.  Without being able to afford therapy I must seek it in whatever way I can.  My fiction writing has completely stalled, as I mentioned a post or two ago.  It may be because my head is such a mess and there’s so little light in there.  I need some light to write in a pointed manner.

Spring cleaning has been helping too.  We have unloaded at least 3 boxes full of books, 3 boxes of Max’s Hot Wheels cars, 3 boxes of bathroom stuff (unused soaps from the store stock that I don’t use because the fragrance is too strong and other non-creepy bathroom stuff), 3 boxes of clothes, 5 boxes of fabric and crafts, and at least 3 boxes of miscellaneous house crap that might be useful to others.  All these things to both friends and to families in need.  I’ve got a long way to go.  I’ve been letting go of things I didn’t think I was ready to let go of.  I’ve come to a point in my life where I don’t need so much stuff.  I need my tools (kitchen and sewing and preserving tools, for example) but I don’t  need nearly as much stuff as I have.  Not only do I not need it, I don’t want lots of stuff.

On the other hand, in place of the many books I’ve given away and sold – I have discovered a series of cookbooks I intend to have ALL of.  I already mentioned it – the Culinaria series.  I find it so inspiring – the photographs, seeing a culture through its food traditions – this is the first time in a very long time that I’ve coveted things as strongly as I covet these books.  I’d like to have them all in hardback  but I can’t afford that.  The Powell’s credit that Philip generously gave me will allow me to get the Culinaria: Greece in used hardback and the Culinaria: Russia and the Culinaria: Hungary in paperback.  Perhaps someday I’ll replace the paper ones with hardback but I can’t wait to get my hands even on the paperback.  I feel like a kid collecting Barbies.  (I was a serious Barbie collector).

Today is Sunday.  So much better than Friday or last Tuesday.  I cleared my work schedule so that Friday I could go to the CPA (poor dude has to face our hysteria and anger – he did it with complete compassion and grace) and meet with a couple of friends, so that Saturday I could hang out with my kid all day, and so that today I can cook.  I’m going to make a mushroom side to put on Stitch and Boots and I’m going to work on a secret pet project involving marshmallows and bacon, because I need something really silly to amuse myself with.  You know you wish you were in my kitchen with me today!  I may also be making biscotti and a stir fry of cabbage OR perhaps I’ll finally try to make Aloo Gobi.  Whatever I do in there – I’m just going to play.  My kitchen is my playground.

I hope you all have something good and silly planned for today to lighten you up before facing yet another week.  Let go and have fun!

An Unkempt Brain

I have been so scattered in the last few weeks.  We’ve had one crisis after another and yet I still managed to enjoy myself quite a bit doing things like making my own laundry detergent.  Remember Pete?  That baby snake is still in my thoughts.  Last night I was convinced that I had something terribly wrong inside my body, that something was eating away at me without me knowing and that it was going to kill me.  This is not an uncommon thing in my head.  I spend a lot of time telling myself why this isn’t likely.  The more people I know fighting cancer and other serious health issues the harder it is to make myself believe it.  I’ve been meaning to respond to an article on The Huffington Post about enjoying every single minute of your child’s life.  The article was great because finally another mom besides me is saying it’s okay to not enjoy every single minute.  What a fucking enormous load of crap pressure to put on yourself!  I remember hearing that a lot too and it was a constant irritant.  But I’m not going to go on at great length about it because as you can see, I’m still quite scattered.  I will say this:

Enjoy the great, the good, and the decent moments of parenting and feel free to not enjoy the parts that tear your heart to shreds, exhaust you, annoy you, and stress you out.  You are not obligated to listen to anyone else’s edicts on what motherhood should feel like to you.  We all have different parenting experiences and if yours feels like every minute is precious then that’s great (and I hate you), but some of us struggle more than others and it doesn’t mean you love your kid any less if you don’t enjoy every minute of it.  So do what works for you but don’t put pressure on others they don’t need.  It’s also okay for your kid to know you don’t love every minute of parenting because it’s good for them to see that it can be challenging.  It’s certainly more honest than pretending you never wish you could erase the last few hours of tantrums.  Bottom line: if you love your child that’s what your child will remember about your parenting the most.

Also: It doesn’t really go by fast at all.  It only goes by fast when you look backwards rather than forwards.  Be in the present, whatever it’s like, and you’ll get everything worthy out of your life and your child’s.

Here’s something weird – my sweet friend Kelly sent me some money with which to splurge because she knows how tight it’s been around here and so this weekend I bought two blocks of cheese (one jack and one cheddar) and beer.  My two favorite things in the consumable world.  I have to say that once I had it around again I realize that it’s not as important to me as I thought.  I’m pretty okay with it being an occasional treat rather than something we always have in the fridge.  It isn’t really that I feel physically better, but I do feel like not feeling like I NEED to have cheese is kind of nice.  I’ve been eating tofu and toast for lunch many days, sometimes with collards, sometimes without (depending on what we have) and in the past I would have obviously had it with cheese, but I didn’t miss it much.  Plus, I love tofu.  I just felt a little freer.  Ditto the beer.

The sucky thing is that after almost three weeks of eating about 75% less dairy and 50% less volume of alcohol, I did not lose a single pound.  I’m not crying in my lemon water or anything.  It just would have been nice to see additional rewards.

I’ve been having a great deal of trouble developing my character outline for Baby Girl Six.  A lot of staring at the blank screen.  I can’t start writing it until I know who she is and that was difficult.  Apparently I really do need this exercise of writing on demand and doing it more quickly because apparently I find it almost impossible to write about what other people are most interested in.  You say “Baby Girl Six!” and I say “All I can think about is Jane from the Winter Room.  So shut up.”  I’m going to have to let go of perfection, to start with.  Writing a serialized novel and trying to offer up a chapter a month is going to make plot challenges and character black holes much more visible to readers because even though I’m trying to come up with a workable outline to go from, it will not be possible to go back and change what I already have because people will have already read it.  This is an exercise in soap opera writing.  I’m sure the writers plan plots out months in advance but because they put episodes up every day they can’t go back and change things just because they came up with a much better idea for a story arc for this character or that one.  What’s behind you is done.  There’s only moving forward.  That’s how blog posts are too but with blog posts no one really expects a clean arc or literature quality writing.

So last night I was finally getting into the book I’m reading that was boring me to tears.  I still don’t love it but I’m finally invested enough to (I think) read the whole thing.  What I really need is a brand new author who has tons of books that have the same voice and type of story that I can dive into.  I’ve now read all but one Anne Stevenson books.  I want more just like that.  Anyway, I couldn’t get sleepy but really wanted to be.  So I turned off the light at 1am and promptly fell into a bunch of thoughts about Baby Girl Six and why a 20 year old would just be leaving home for the first time.  (She was going to be 18 but I just can’t write a main character under 20 years old.  Won’t do it.)  I got ideas.  My head was finally moving forward with some key information and thoughts that will allow me to begin this novel.  That’s some useful insomnia.  I didn’t get up to write notes though because I was pretending my head wasn’t finally full of ideas and pretending I couldn’t hear Philip snoring, and pretending that I wasn’t still worried that my body is riddled with cancer.

So I’m going to go write some of those notes now.  Then I’m going to order some herbal supplies so I can get cracking on making more lotion, lip balm, salves, and shampoo.  Then I’m going to wrestle some blackberries.

Hopefully will be a more focused person soon.