Tag: school

Parenting: Keep the Shovel Close at Hand


I’ve been filling out questionnaires for Max’s school testing that will commence next month.  Questionaires about his behaviors, his medical history, his social interactions, and his health.  It brings up such strange feelings.  My purpose never changes.  I knew the first time he said he would stab himself to death when he was a toddler that I was going to be filling paperwork out and fighting for his well-being and begging others to see what I see and help me help him.

But being firm of purpose doesn’t mean you don’t experience a full range of emotions while doing what you need to do for your kid.  Evaluating your kid, trying to be as completely honest and as objective as possible even though you can never be objective about your own child – it’s a strange banquet of memories you trawl and sift.  It’s a test of your own ability to separate your child from your skin, from your heart, enough to give solid information.

I think the most surreal thing to me is to be evaluating his social interactions and to know that he sees them so differently.  He was Skyping with one of his oldest and few friends the other day and I heard his friend’s friend say “I don’t much like this Max guy” and then they hung up on Max.  I asked Max if he was hurt by that.  He says “What?”  I said “That kid just said he doesn’t like you.  Did that hurt your feelings?”  He says “No.  Why should it?”

That’s everything in a nutshell.  Max doesn’t  care if people don’t like him.  He doesn’t care if they’re rude to him if he perceives that they’re just being honest.  Because that’s how he is himself.  He doesn’t understand why people get ruffled by the things he says or why people get hurt when he’s honest.  But Max loves having friends.  He just doesn’t keep them very easily.  The few he keeps tolerate his seemingly abrasive political and social rants and his blatantly unfiltered thoughts and opinions without much offense.  It takes a special kind of person to love Max in spite of his obsessive interests and narrow topics of conversation.

I was hurt.  Hearing that kid say he didn’t much like my son was bitter and choking.  I know a lot of people feel that way about Max too who never say it out loud.  He doesn’t feel the slights but I feel them all.  Every single one.  He has so little idea of how much he exacerbates and annoys people.  He only notices and cares about the really loud ones and the people in positions of authority who don’t like him because it has a strong impact on his comfort.

So I can’t be objective.  I know it’s unrealistic to expect it of myself.  Still, I need his issues to be taken seriously and so I have to take my role as observer seriously too.  I have to continue to hone my skill of separating the chaff of my motherly emotions from cool observation that might actually get him the help he needs.

The hardest things to evaluate are things like “Acts strangely” – how the hell can parents as strange as Philip and I judge what is strange or not strange behavior?  We’re the WEIRDSLEYS personified!  I was a goddamned suicidal teen!  Philip was an introverted artist and definite odd-ball.  We couldn’t have married each other otherwise.

This week Max and I have talked a lot about sex and sex-ed as presented in school.  He has many complaints to report.  He says the school talked more about the virtues of abstinence than they did about protection.  He also really hates that some kids his age snicker at the word “penis” and “vagina”.  I’m so happy he’s bringing these topics up.  I’m so happy we’re having the opportunity to discuss birth control and sexuality and what real “virtue” is.

Here’s my distilled stance on sexuality in a nutshell as discussed with my 12 1/2 year old:

  • Abstinence is not stupid if you aren’t ready to have sex and/or you feel it’s important to wait and certainly is a valid form of birth control, IF you can really BE abstinent.
  • There is no greater virtue to abstinence than there is to having careful and protected sex.
  • Sexuality isn’t a contest of virtue, it’s a natural human urge and action and there is no shame in being a sexual being.

It is irrelevant how many sexual partners you have or don’t have.  The most important thing is this:

  • Honesty.  Be honest in all your sexual relationships.  Be honest about what you want, what you’re about, whether you’re just wanting sex or you’re open to more.  Don’t cheat on a partner.  Don’t make promises you can’t deliver.
  • Safety.  Unless you are in a long-term serious relationship – always protect yourself with a condom.  STD’s are real.  Some are just uncomfortable nuisances while others can kill you.  Unwanted pregnancies present young people with impossible choices no matter what your politics are.  Always take precautions.
  • Consensual actions.  Never ever force another person to do things they’re uncomfortable with doing no matter how much you want them to do those things.  When someone says “no”, even after having said “yes”, it’s time to STOP.  Likewise – never let anyone pressure or force you to do anything intimate you aren’t completely comfortable with.  You always have the power to say “no”.
  • I am always here to talk to and I will not judge, I will only try to help and protect and heal my child/teen/adult.

We have discussed so much this week.  I used to dread the time we would have to have these talks.  Now that the time has truly arrived I feel up to the task.  We have fleetingly discussed masturbation (how it’s healthy and normal which he already knew) and how even if you believe in a woman’s freedom to have an abortion it is still, for most women, a dreadful and emotional choice to have to make, and the difference between a healthy libido and a slut.

We discussed how “slut” is a pretty charged and judgmental word to use.

We discussed how it’s okay to have a strong libido if you:

  • Protect yourself.
  • Respect yourself.
  • Respect your partners.
  • Remain honest at all times.

We discussed douchebaggery.

There’s not a lot more I can do and yet there’s so much ahead of us.  I’m haunted by my need to protect him and to simultaneously set him free.

I know what I know in my gut.  My gut has yet to steer me wrong.

Stay the course, keep the shovel close at hand.

Our Progress is in Inches, Not Yards

Max and Zeke Christmas

(Max and Uncle Zeke in the back seat on the way to Grandpa Michael’s Christmas party)

This post is unedited and so may have many typos.  I’m not fixing them.  There may also be incomplete thoughts and poorly constructed sentences.  I’m not editing for those either.  I just needed to write and now I must get back to my paid work.

I am experiencing rising levels of frustration with the school system and with the healthcare system – two systems that are clogged with bureaucratic turds.  Public school is wildly underfunded making it ever-more difficult to get a good education and for kids who are different to find a comfortable place to learn or get special help.  The healthcare system is wildly over-funded which makes it maddening that the level of care most of us are getting is so below par and barely cutting it.  I’m so tired of all this.

Max is struggling in school.  It was only a matter of time.  I tried getting him a 504 and this should not have been difficult since most of his teachers for the last 3 years and his main doctor and his psychologists (both old and new) have no doubt that he has ADD.  Yet I can’t fucking get him tested and without the official diagnosis I can’t get him the 504.  I’ve been trying to get him official help for 5 fucking years.  FIVE.  For the first several we had no health insurance and we visited the psychologist out of our own meager pockets but we could never afford the very expensive testing.  We’ve had two different health insurance coverages for Max in the past 12 months and still can’t seem to get him tested.

So I’m tired.  I’m tired of reporting to his teachers all his challenges and tough nights when he takes twice as long as he should on homework and not hearing back from them or hearing that he’s doing just fine even though I know what a toll it’s taking on him and also his grades have fallen.  Does he have to be getting all D’s before he isn’t doing “just fine”?  Are grades the only way they know how to judge how a child is doing anymore?  What about all the class time he misses by going to the office with aches and pains?  I’m tired of having to hear about how Max’s PE teacher is obnoxious and pushy and it doesn’t matter if he has anxiety and gets frequent stomach aches and his ankles hurt or he gets headaches – she only cares about him passing his PE tests.

He’s also complaining about a kid in his science class.  He hasn’t complained about other students for a few months.  This is usually a sign that things are going down hill.  He’s complaining about being overwhelmed with homework and I want to complain about that too.

When I hear about all this it makes me angry.  Angry because whether or not Max is “making up” all these aches and pains – he’s clearly not doing well.  Either he really is having physical problems that need addressing or his aches and pains are anxiety-induced which means his anxiety is strong enough that it’s manifesting physically OR he is imagining the aches and pains which indicates that there is possibly some serious hypochondria going on.

I’ll tell you what he’s not doing: making shit up just to get out of unpleasant shit.  He definitely lies about things sometimes (ALL KIDS DO) and I catch him in them.  But when he lies he has much less conviction than when he’s doubled over with a stomach ache.  If all his aches and pains are fiction then it’s an elaborate one that he’s been working on for many many years.  If he’s making it up then why do the tums sometimes settle his stomach?  Why do the headache medicines often work?  Why does he keep doing it when it does not get him out of his responsibilities?

I know what it’s like to be Max.  To be otherly and misunderstood.  To find the world we live in to be a terribly uncomfortable place.

Max is a different kind of kid than I was in one big way – he has total confidence in who he is and he thinks other people should let him be who he is and is really vocal about it, unlike me who held so much inside.  He doesn’t bow down or shrink into corners as I did.  He doesn’t hide or try to do what is acutely comfortable for him for fear of consequences as I did.  He believes that others should respect him and his differences whereas I didn’t even respect myself.

I respect him.  But that isn’t helping him in school.  I think he’d have a much graver level of anxiety if he was scared to be himself, as I was, if he was easily intimidated as I was, if he believed that what makes him different makes him inferior, as I did.

Where we’re at:

  • I’ve chosen a new psychologist for him at Kaiser since the last one was failing us and also thought he had Sensory Processing Disorder instead of OCD/Anxiety.  This was intelligently ruled out for good reason years ago by Max’s first psychologist.  We have an appointment with the new Kaiser doctor in three weeks and I will hound Kaiser until they give him the ADD testing he needs.
  • I’ve written to his old psychologist in McMinnville requesting a note be written to the school saying that it’s his opinion that Max has OCD so the school can explore making him a 504 based on anxiety (a much less common medical reason for a 504 than ADD because anxiety doesn’t often get in the way of a child’s learning – but in Max’s case there is indication that it is getting in the way of his learning).
  • I’ve made an appointment with his physician to talk about the stomach aches, headaches, dizziness, and ankle pain that frequently plagues him to rule out any physical non-anxiety-related causes.
  • I’ve made another appointment with the school counselor and Max’s teachers called a Student Study Meeting to discuss ways to deal with his issues.

Max is 12 years old, 5’1″ (and 1/8!), and overweight.  This was not a concern of ours previously since his weight gain was not originally due to any change in habits but we have been working towards addressing this in our own way and time.  He’s been going on walks with Philip and Chick in the evenings about 3 days a week now for 1/2 hour.  So that’s some added exercise and fresh air for him.  I’ve got him eating produce once a day most days again.  He’s eating protein bars again which is good because he needs more protein.  He’s been eating less potato chips (an indulgence that became daily for a while and is now relegated to weekends).  Less soda.  (Again, a weekend treat that through our own stress and tiredness started becoming much more regular).  And he’s trying more foods again.

I’m so tired of worrying.  One acquaintance of mine not long ago suggested that maybe Max is just a well adjusted regular kid who’s going to be just fine.  I can’t tell you how much that made me want to scream – how very unhelpful that is and how if I could believe that I would.  Kids who have started to self-harm at any point ARE NOT FINE.  That is an extreme reaction to stress and any parent who would look away and not address such dangerous behavior would be guilty of negligence.  So I worry because I have reason to worry.

One of the most annoying things about being a person with clinical levels of anxiety is that people are always suggesting that we are worrying about things that don’t need worrying about.  There is always a level of doubt people feel about your concerns.  Like every time I mention I think I’m dying of cancer.  But people really do die of cancer.  I think the main difference between me and them is that it occurs to me that I might have cancer when I notice weird physical issues whereas people without anxiety are much more likely to convince themselves they don’t have cancer.  Both camps of people get cancer.  Those who never believe it until a doctor tells them are shocked when things go wrong because they really believed they were too young or too healthy or that kind of thing never happens to people like them.  When people like me get a diagnosis we usually already know or at least suspected what was going on.   We might be wrong a lot too – but we’re never surprised by bad shit because we already anticipated it.

I think it’s just a different way of being.  My way shouldn’t cause people to doubt me more than others.

But back to Max – I am working hard to advocate for him and I can see that it’s not ever going to be an easy road.  The one thing  that keeps me going is that I know that Max appreciates that I go to all this trouble on his behalf.  My efforts calm him and validate him and ease his anxiety.  The other day he called home (for the millionth time this year) to say he had a really bad stomach ache.  He’s already missed too much school so I said he couldn’t come home.  I told him to lie in the office a little longer and take really deep slow breaths and to remind himself that nothing he’s stressing about in school is dire – that we’re working to make things more comfortable – and to just know that the stomach ache is most likely a result of stress and if he relaxes and breathes deeply it should ease up.  He did as I suggested and said later that it helped.  He stayed in school.  He needed me to hear him, to believe him, and to help him deal with the problem.  I’m here and I help him.

I am not dismissive of my kid.  I don’t talk to him in a  patronizing manner.  I listen.  I address his worries.  I push him to get through challenges.  And sometimes I just tell the world to fuck off and let us be – as imperfect as we are.  I get so tired.  But all this effort that wears me out is worth it because I’m raising an amazing person.  He’s weird, he’s blunt, he has inappropriate humor, he’s a warrior, and he has the sweetest side that he shows to those who stick by him and love him and are named Pippa and Penny and Chick.  He’s totally worth the effort.  That’s my message to myself today.

Chasing Snow

(It said “no tobogganing”, but everyone figured that since the sign was down it didn’t count)

The last several days have been quite full.  So full that I feel a little dizzy with it all.  I’m going to share the highlights in bullet points:

  • What do the Williamsons do when the weather gets warm and sunny and everyone in town is kissing the ground with tears of joy?  We head for the snow!  We drove up to Mt. Hood so the kid and Philip could do some tobogganing, which is prohibited, supposedly, but tons of other poor jerks in need of a cool down were there tobogganing too.  We unabashedly LOVE snow.
  • At the bottom of the mountain it was 75° and up at Timberline Lodge it was 46°, which was perfect t-shirt weather for us.  The snow was dirty and a bit wet-ish but provided entertainment for my strange child.  I filmed the tobogganing and realized the dismal truth that I have zero talent as a sports commentator.  It was a blow to my ego for certain, but I recovered in about 6 minutes.
  • We enjoyed a very expensive sub-par lunch at the Timberline Lodge.  Maybe that’s a little harsh.  It wasn’t sub-par but the menu for day visitors is not extensive (there is a different dining experience reserved for actual hotel guests) and it’s mostly $16 sandwiches not intended for vegetarians and $20 plates of meat not meant for vegetarians.  However, I did score a bowl of vegetarian chili that was okay.  Someone in the kitchen has an obscene love for chipotle.  Max had the best cup of hot chocolate of his life.  I believe his glowing report because he drank the entire cup of it.  Generally he only drinks 2/3 of a cup.  He gets tired of hot chocolate pretty fast.  Mostly we just enjoyed each other’s company and the lodge-y atmosphere.
  • Epic bloody nose.  The bloody noses had abated quite a bit.  Max hasn’t been having very many in general, compared to how he used to have them sometimes up to three times in a day.  The one he got when we got to the bottom of the mountain started out mildly enough but I should have known that my oversight in not bringing an entire box of tissues in the car doomed us.  It quickly became a matter of enormous stress for everyone requiring that we stop at a small “grocery” store to get tissues and dispose of the pile of revolting saturated ones that made it look like we butchered a pig for apres-ski amusement.  The kid was covered in blood.  I do mean COVERED.  This was a double sided one.  If you’ve never experienced a gusher so enthusiastic that it comes out of both nostrils while also pouring down your throat then you’ve really missed out.
  • Our neighbors got a puppy a couple of weeks ago.  How can that possibly be bullet point worthy?  Our neighbors are clueless eejits who leave their new puppy outside by himself for hours and while they can’t hear the poor baby yelping, howling, moaning in despair, and barking without cease the entire time he’s out there- we can.  It has been a torturous experience.  I get to be heart broken right along with the poor puppy who clearly thinks he’s been abandoned every time it happens.  We didn’t complain even though I couldn’t work without headphones on.  We didn’t complain until the night of the awesome thunder and lightening show for which the puppy was tied to a tree in the middle of the neighbors yard with no way to get to shelter.  My grown dog is terrified of thunder.  Imagine how a puppy feels out in the open under the drumming sky all alone?  When it started pouring buckets on the baby we were livid that the neighbors didn’t bring him in.  I marched over to their house and pounded on their door.  They arrived while I was deciding what torture I would visit on them for their pet crimes.  They claimed they didn’t know it was going to rain.  What lame asses tie a puppy up without access to a roof of some kind in the Pacific Northwest?  The situation has progressed to the point of calling ordinance control on them (for the incessant puppy distress noise that goes on for hours).  I’m sorry we had to do it.  We would take the puppy away from them and find him a more responsible home if we could.  We can’t.
  • In a breathtaking example of idiocy I managed to think Max’s school year ended on Memorial weekend so he got a whole week of summer vacation before having to go back to school because his mother’s powers of inquiry took a really big break.  He was (understandably) really pissed off at me.  School doesn’t really end until this Friday.  What’s completely unbelievable is that no one at the school seemed to have noticed he was missing.  No one called to find out why he wasn’t there for a whole week.  At the old school we’d get a call if he was an hour late getting to school.  Apparently the attendance rate of pupils at a school made up predominantly of special needs kids is pretty poor on average and so they don’t fuss about absences.  Duly noted.
  • We now have a pet snake named Pete.  Max caught him on the school grounds on Monday, making his return to drudgery pretty cheerful.  Pete is a baby garter snake.  Philip is not a fan of snakes.  When I say he’s not a fan of snakes I mean he really doesn’t like them.  When I say he really doesn’t like them I mean they occupy the space in his head reserved for nightmares.  So it’s pretty noteworthy how awesome he’s been about the fact that his son is now a snake owner.  We don’t know anything about keeping snakes as pets but we’re learning fast.  While I purposely planned on never owning a snake in my life, I have to say that Pete is adorable.  Never in my life did I imagine I would use that word for a snake, but it’s true.  And the excitement Max feels about him is also adorable.

And now it’s time for more coffee and a little work on the 3rd draft before starting my other work.