Broken Lightsaber

The rule is C walks or he rides on my shoulders. He always chooses to ride. I should be making him walk, he is three. But he is my last baby which means he’ll always be my baby. Also we run late every damn morning. Hoisting him onto my shoulders means the walk from the car to T’s school takes half the time. He often begs to be carried. I tell him he is a big boy (nothing like mixed messages!) so he can walk or he can do the shoulders, being carried isn’t an option.

And yet, on the way back to the car this morning I found myself carrying him in my arms without really knowing how he got there. His head was nestled into my neck and it just felt so good. I ignored the strain on my back and enjoyed the feeling of holding him close.

“Mama?” his muffled voice came from my shoulder.

“Mmmhmm?”

“I broke my lightsaber.”

“Mmmhmm.” This morning he did break his lightsaber. Broke it beyond repair.

“It was my fault.”

My heart stuttered and I held him tighter. I thought back to this morning. The rule in our house is if you break or lose something that is it. The thing is gone. We aren’t buying another one. The boys need to take responsibility for their actions, even as little kids.

On C’s occupational therapy evaluation it was noted that his inclination to be destructive towards books and toys and basically anything he can get his hands on is tied to the fact he is seeking sensory input. When Z and I read the report earlier this fall we were relieved. It was in line with the evaluation C received over the summer and it provided a reason behind some of his more frustrating behaviors.

Not only has preschool special education explained some of C’s behaviors, it is providing an opportunity to improve those behaviors. He is starting O/T this week. Z and I are attending a two night class on using sensory strategies with preschoolers that starts Wednesday. We aren’t expecting a magic bullet, but we are ready to do the work.

C has an extra set of challenges, but that does not mean he is off the hook when it comes to behaving. We will support him and give him some latitude, but at the end of the day his difficulties cannot be an excuse for him to do whatever the hell he wants to do.

My heart stuttered, not just because he was facing hard things, but because I was simultaneously flooded with joy. Weird, I know. But hear me out.

I have never heard him take responsibility for his actions before. He simply hasn’t had the words to do it. Speech therapy has done wonders for him. Just over a year ago he was basically non-verbal. He is a different kid these days. The leaps in verbal development are positively influencing his social and emotional behavior. He is engaging in imaginative play with his peers, he has special friends that he seeks out at school. His teacher actually used the word blossoming to describe his progress. It meant so much that I had to blink back tears when she said it to me.

He broke a toy this morning. And he articulated that it was his responsibility. I am proud of my kid.

sweet yoda

Fourth year one of the boys has been Yoda. We sure got our money’s worth out of the costume.

Blast Off!

me and my boy

He is a snuggler.

Navigating Early Intervention

“Do you know how lucky we are?” Z asked me as we drove toward the school where we would receive the results from C’s Early Intervention Evaluation. “Seven highly trained adults. Seven. Gave him their full attention for two and a half hours this morning.”

“I know. I know you are right. I know.”

“We are so lucky, so privileged to have access to this kind of help for him.”

“Yes. We are.”

I had told him I was sick to my stomach over getting the results of the evaluation. We spent the morning sitting behind a two way mirror observing his test while answering hundreds of questions about him.

We watched the meltdown he had an hour into the test. They redirected him and got him back on track. We watched as he was able to focus. We watched him eat his snack and get back to testing and we watched him fade until he was asked if he was all done. “All done.” he replied firmly.

Midway through the process one of the evaluators came into the observation room and mentioned Sensory Issues and I froze as dread crept up my spine. After she left I found myself standing and delivering a wild and nonsensical monologue to another woman in the room that touched on over-diagnosis and over-medication of ADHD (not even the reason we were there) and how if you look at any kid long enough you start to see something wrong with them.

Before the outburst I’d told myself I’d stay cool. We were doing what was best for C and that is what mattered. This whole thing was not a value judgment on him or on our parenting.

And yet, suddenly I was the parent who did not want to hear it.

Looking back on the last year I realized I never wanted to hear it. Every time I explained to someone that C received speech therapy I would casually explain that he had terrible ear infections and health problems when his speech should have been developing. I’d slip in that he tested normal in all other areas. Except I’m realizing now I wasn’t casual at all. I’m sure that I seemed oblivious and petty and desperate.

The emotions aren’t new. The fear, guilt, defensiveness, and worry. How could I not be able to teach my kid to meet developmental milestones? What is wrong with my parenting? Is this my fault? And there is a stigma for services. How the hell do I get over my own embarrassment so I can teach C he has nothing to be ashamed of?

—————————————–

In New York the Early Intervention provider switches from the state for two year olds to the local school system for three year olds. So another set of standardized tests are performed. During the week leading up to the test he was observed in his preschool classroom. Wednesday a Professor from SU and two of her graduate students spent an hour and a half in our home watching C play and asking me tons of questions. Thursday he had a three hour block, just him and the testers. He didn’t make it to three hours. After two and a half little man was so exhausted he napped for nearly three hours in the afternoon.

This process is important. But man, it is overwhelming both for him and for Z and me. Watching your not-quite-three year old be put through a multi-hour standardized test sucks even if there are some play breaks. By the end it just felt unfair and cruel.

—————————————–

Z and I sat at the head of a conference table, surrounded by the seven professionals who tested our boy and listened to the results. Most of which were in the normal range. But there were new concerns about coping when he becomes frustrated. The only area he scored below normal was the emotional piece, the area he’d had the highest score in the fall.

In the past year his speech has exploded. We were shocked to find he scored average and slightly above average in the two speech components. His clarity is poor enough that we think the school system will grant continued service and we hope they do. He is not at the same level with his peers concerning speech no matter what the tests say. A year later we have learned Early Intervention works. It works. His therapist has been amazing with him. His improvement is due to many factors, but she is one of the most significant.

During the meeting it was clear I was struggling. When his low emotional score was disclosed I couldn’t help myself, I asked what I’d done wrong. How could he have improved so much in one section while falling behind in another?

One of the kind evaluators pointed out that these areas of development do not progress in a straight line. There are fits and starts.

Hopefully C will continue the speech therapy. It is up to us to decide what to do about the other piece. Do we want to see how he does for a year without extra services? Do we want to just deal with this now?

Z and I are on the same page. We want what is best for our beautiful and wonderful and loving boy. I was sure he’d qualify for speech and nothing else. I know my kid. I know him.

It is awful to spend a morning learning that your child, your heart, your love, hell — your job is struggling in an area and you were completely oblivious. The doubt has crept in, if I didn’t know this about him what else am I missing? Does he deserve better than me? Is this the ultimate stay at home mom job evaluation and did I just fail?

Z was right when we drove to the meeting. We are so lucky. C is so lucky. Yes, these services are free. But the process is involved. We have the resources to send our boys to a preschool that made us aware of Early Intervention and helped guide us through it. How many parents out there don’t have the resources or time or knowledge to discover that this is an option? How many parents are so busy working to provide a home and enough food for their child that they don’t know there is an issue with the kid until he or she reaches kindergarten? How to we help get these resources into the hands of families that need them every bit as much as we do?

I don’t know. But I do know that I need to be grateful. I must stop wallowing about how hard this is for me. It is a waste of time to obsess over my failings as a mother. C needs help. Z and I will make sure that he gets it.

beautiful c

This boy. He’s going to be more than fine. Photo by Ellie Leonardsmith.

Mom Hypocrisy

“Have you received the packet in the mail yet?” C’s speech therapist asked me. When kids in Early Intervention turn three they are re-evaluated not only to assess if they still qualify for services, but because care shifts from the state to the school district.

“Nope.” I replied, “The case worker said she wasn’t submitting it till the end of the month.”

“Ok. So when the time comes I suggest you ask that a teacher be part of the team performing the actual evaluation. You are allowed to do that.”

“Oh….Ok….”

“A teacher will be able to figure out if there are behavioral issues that qualify for services.”

I froze. And then I blinked back tears. And then I plastered a stupid grin on my face.

“Oh….Um…Do you think his behavioral issues aren’t typical?” This conversation happened after I unloaded on her about how incredibly difficult he has been in the last week.

“I’m not sure, that really isn’t my area. Why don’t you talk to the special ed teacher in his classroom at school?”

It was hard to make the call to Early Intervention late last summer. Hard to admit I couldn’t teach my kid to talk. Hard to admit he was behind his peers. Hard to get over my own prejudices about what it means to have a kid in Early Intervention. But C’s struggles with speech were not about me. The best option for him was to get him help.

It has been amazing. I am in love with Early Intervention. His speech therapist is absolutely amazing. We adore her and she has helped C so much. Dude is rocking the three word sentences. He initiates conversation. His Star Wars related vocabulary is bizarrely gigantic. Hell, he barely squeaked by to qualify for six more months of therapy when he was re-evaluated last month.

His issues tested as strictly communication based. All the professionals think he is late to talk due to his health problems and the ear infections that took place the winter he was about 18 months old. I was secretly relieved. He isn’t unintelligent. In all other areas he tests as a typical child including emotional life and relationships. We identified a problem and we got our kid help. Was it hard to take that step? Fuck yeah. But the reasons behind his delay were reassuring and made the whole situation easier to accept. And he is responding so well to the speech therapy–the proof was right there when he crawled into our bed a few mornings ago and said to me, “Mommy! Wake up!”

Well, I’m an asshole.

The reasons behind his delay were reassuring and made the whole situation easier to accept?

Seriously? Who the fuck do I think I am?

Turns out I’m ok with early intervention when he only needs it for communication. The mere suggestion that there might be behavior issues freaked me out, horrified me, embarrassed me.

Not my kid. My kid is normal.

The next morning I asked the special ed teacher about C’s behavior. Turns out she and the lead teacher had been talking about it that very day. C is hitting. C is scratching (that morning T went to class with two wicked welts slashed across his neck care of his little brother).

Fuck.

The special ed teacher feels it is linked to the frustration that has accompanied his communication issues. He can’t ask for his turn fast enough when he is with his peers. He can’t speak up for himself before the conversation has moved forward.

The thoughts running through my head make me even more ashamed. I can’t bear to have my kid be a hitter. I can’t wrap my mind around having a kid with behavioral problems. Didn’t I always swear my kids would be respectful and well behaved? Me! Me! Me!

This is not about me. Duh. Obviously. DO YOU HEAR THAT KAREN?

This is not about me. This is about C and what he needs. This is about following through with our beliefs. Since C has been in early intervention I have self righteously said many times that if parents know their kid is behind developmentally or behaviorally they are making a costly mistake by not getting them help. Service are free for god’s sake. Who cares about labels, just get your kid help.

Who cares about labels? Evidently I do.

C deserves better.

Perhaps I should climb off my high horse.

Yes, we will make sure C is tested for behavioral issues. It is the right thing to do for him. But I will have that fake and rather alarming smile plastered to my face the whole time.

The team surrounding C both in school and in services is extraordinary. He is so lucky to be in a situation in which so many qualified and compassionate professionals have his best interests at heart. I am grateful to each one of them. And I could learn so much from them.

This early intervention thing is still surrounded with stigma. There is the worry that if you were a better parent your kid wouldn’t need them. Entering services is an admission that your family is not perfect. We look at the other families that do appear to be perfect, but we have no idea what goes on in their homes. That they might be looking at other families just as enviously as we look at them. And we can’t remember that perfection does not exist. The pressure our generation puts on itself to be perfect at this parenting gig is toxic.

Once again I find myself lacking as a Mom. Once again I vow to try and do better, to be the mother that my boy deserves. Jesus fucking christ this is hard. But those two boys of mine, they are worth every single moment.

c hugs yoda

He has so much love in him. We are going to keep working with him to get him on track with communication, and if he gets help from the school system for behavioral issues we will embrace it. His needs are what matters.

the other one

The other one. When T was sick with strep last week he and I were hard core cuddling on the sofa. He looked at me and said, “I think our family is perfect.” He was right. We might not be perfect in the textbook sense. But we are perfect for us. I wouldn’t trade my boys for anyone. And I still feel lucky to be married to Z. Perfect for us. The new definition of perfect.

Individuals

Z and I sat on the sofa sipping our coffee and trying to recover after a night of nightmares and crying jags brought to us by the boys. T wanted a bagel, but Z told him he needed to eat his yogurt first. T and C sprinted to the fridge. We keep the yogurt on the bottom shelf so the boys can get it themselves.

A moment later T hysterically burst into the living room, “There is something in front of the yogurt! We can’t get it! You have to move it!” he cried.

I lumbered to my feet and slowly made my way to the kitchen. C was bent down in fierce concentration, tugging with all his might on a leaking and collapsing takeout container. I sprinted over to him and grabbed the container from his hands, spill averted. C reached for the yogurt and T immediately snatched it out of his hands.

I rolled my eyes and returned it to C who broke the four pack into pieces and handed one to his brother.

Back in the living room I settled on the couch, coffee back in hand. “You know,” I said to Z, “That little interaction was basically a distillation of who those kids are. When faced with difficulty T panics and runs for help while C attacks the problem.”

An hour later when Z was headed out the door to work he turned to me, “You were right, you know. That thing with the yogurt–it is exactly who the kids are.” “Yup,” I replied. “T is me and C is you.”

Knowledge is power-T needs encouragement to face the world. C needs us to remind him that a blitzkrieg attack on the world isn’t always the most advantageous approach. Neither way is better than the other, but understanding how to approach each kid makes a huge difference.

Doing the work to figure out who they are and how they respond to the world is exhilarating and frustrating as hell all at the same time. And it seems like we need to relearn lesson that they are individuals who need to be treated differently over and over-when you’ve spent tons of time developing an effective way to deal with your kid it is sort of heartbreaking to accept you are back to the drawing board with the next one.

T cares about pleasing authority figures-Z, me, his grandparents, his teachers. C does not give a single fuck about pleasing us. He cares not that we require him to eat his chicken before he gets more pasta. As hard as it is for me to bend, I’ve realized that giving him an extra piece of pasta as a peace offering will, more times than not, get him to put more chicken in his mouth. I would never do that with T-a simple I’m going to count to three and if you don’t finish your chicken you will lose your dessert works nine times out of ten.

How to negotiate with your kid….not the most fascinating topic. But it is the key to a smoother coexistence. It matters a shitload more than I thought it did before I was a parent. Back when I firmly believed that my kid would never throw a tantrum in public–my superior parenting skills and firmness as a disciplinarian would prevent it.

Ha! I say to my old self. Ha! And you are an asshole! An ignorant asshole at that! Ha! You are in for a very rude awakening.

Is it legit to feel schadenfreude towards an earlier version of yourself?

Though my faced burned fuchsia on Saturday in the Wegmans Cafe while C was spread eagle on the ground screeching at the top of his lungs, I knew that he was frustrated as fuck that he couldn’t explain to us exactly what he wanted because of his limited vocabulary. Delayed speech sucks ass for the kid. He knows what he wants. He thinks he is explaining himself. He has no earthly idea why we don’t understand. He isn’t losing his shit because he’s a dick, he is trying to figure out how to navigate this big bad world and it is not working out for him.

Me-from-a-few-years-ago wouldn’t have been able to work any of that out. She would have looked at the toddler on the ground and then she would have looked at the parents and she would have JUDGED. Big time.

C (or T for that matter) doesn’t have free reign to behave any way he wants because life is hard. Z and I are responsible for teaching him how to be a contributing member of society, not a spoiled dickweed. Understanding who he is and having some sympathy for him actually helps with that process.

Most people don’t have to become parents to figure this shit out, but that’s what it took for me. Yeah…I haven’t always been the smartest or most mature person in the room. Better late than never, though. I’m pretty damn grateful being a parent has made me a kinder person. Those sweet boys, T and C, they have done a hell of a lot of good for me.

t school 2013

Trying to decide if we should order school pictures.

C school 2013

They are pretty damn cute.

sledding

First sledding event of the year.

Bob Dylan lullabies for C.

Pacifier

This is my fault. I still think of C as a baby and it is a major disservice to him. He will always be my baby, T will also always be my baby. But C is the youngest, the last one. Accepting that he is growing up means accepting it is time to start letting go tiny bit by tiny bit, a torturous process I’m guessing I’ll wrestle with for the rest of my life.

His delayed speech has made it easier for the baby charade to continue. It’s been an excuse for so much. How can we transition him to a big boy bed if we can’t have a conversation with him? How can we potty train him? How can I wean him when he is so comforted by breastfeeding? How will he understand when we take the pacifier away? The truth is he understands language. I simply do not give him enough credit. It isn’t fair to him.

Last January we explained to him that he could only have the pacifier at night. Sometime over the spring he started taking two pacifiers to bed-one in his mouth, one to hold. And he’d switch back and forth between the two as he settled. Sometimes he’d lose them overnight and cry until we got them for him, but it was occasional-a small price to pay for a good night’s sleep. A couple of weeks ago he started losing the pacifiers more often. And more often. And more often. Suddenly Z and I have found ourselves up half a dozen times a night. We are at our wits’ end.

I need to be on a daily maintenance med for anxiety. Not only for my mental health, but for the health of the entire family. It isn’t fair to Z and the boys that the anxiety has been so acute lately. It puts a strain on everyone. I need to wean him in order to start the drugs. I’m still struggling with the letting go.

Parenting is triage so much of the time. It is easier to get up in the middle of the night every once in a while to pop a pacifier into his mouth than it is to deal with the struggle of taking the pacifier away. Until the day you wake up and realize you are getting up six times a night. A monster exists. And you created it by taking the path of least resistance.

So the time has come for us to do the hard work. Yesterday when C got up we asked if he was a big boy. He nodded. We told him big boys don’t need pacifiers. We suggested that we give all his pacifiers to our friend who is expecting a baby soon. We talked about it on and off all morning. I put him down for nap without one. It was terrible. He wept. I cried because when he hurts I hurt.

And then he slept for three and a half hours.

Last night it was another struggle, but he went down without a pacifier again. He did wake at 4am. And dude was up for the day. So this is going to take some work, this no pacifier deal, but we are facing it. We are back to making choices rather than letting the whims of a two year old dictate our behavior. He needs us to parent a hell of a lot more than he needs us to fetch his pacifier.

And in a few weeks I will wean him. The goal is for him to be done with the boob by the time we embark on our annual winter sojourn down south to see family. A friend was kind enough to come by yesterday to talk to me about how she weaned her daughter. She had great advice. And she listened, really listened to me. Which was a huge kindness. The talk made me feel armed with information. It reminded me that weaning him isn’t going to ruin his life. Kind of embarrassing that I needed that reminder, but I’ve gotten myself ridiculously spun up over this.

In other news, C’s speech therapy is going swimmingly. He has picked up a few words after about a month of sessions and both he and T love his therapist. He is working hard to overcome the communication issue. Z and I are working hard on letting him become a big boy.

bumblebee c

My littlest man rocking his brother’s Bumblebee costume.

family cuddles

The fam. Last night we cuddled on the sofa and watch Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

still running

The only social media my Dad follows is Instagram. He digs the pictures my sister and I post of our kiddos. Yesterday we were chatting and he asked me if I was still jogging. “Five days a week.” I told him. He wanted to know why I wasn’t posting pictures anymore. I told him I thought they were boring. And he told me it was the way he knew I was still doing it. He and my Mom have been wonderful cheerleaders during my foray into exercising. He asked for another picture. Guess he needs evidence. I’m in love with the top I’m wearing, by the by. Super comfortable and great for chilly days with the high neck and thumb slits so it goes over the hands.

Results

There are the stupid things that don’t matter, but really matter. For the last three months I’ve been on a 21 day cycle instead of the trusty old 28 days. When my period is heavy, or actually whenever I bleed, my anxiety intensifies.

(Hi new readers! Or do the new readers actually come back? To the folks that have been around for awhile I got Freshly Pressed a couple of days ago. That’s what the new reader thing is about. So, new readers. Hi. Welcome. Fair warning: I talk about my period. And my anxiety. And my Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I hope we can still be friends. If not I totally get it.)

I’m anxious. I’m bloated enough so that my jeans that weren’t tight yesterday barely button today. C was whining all morning as I was trying to get ready for the crew of ladies who were coming to evaluate him. I grabbed him and yelled at him to stop. Just. Stop. It. T looked at us crouched by the sofa and shook his head at me. “Yelling at him isn’t going to make him stop, Mommy.” I tried not to cry and apologized to both of them.

Today our 13th wedding anniversary. When I’m nervous I’m an asshole. I was an asshole to Z. In front of others.

The evaluation is complete. C does qualify for intervention. Managing not to cry during the last 10 minutes of the visit was a herculean feat for me. Listening to the below average results of the first standardized test your kid has ever been given is extraordinarily painful. I wanted to make excuses for him. He was tired. He was cranky. He usually listens better. I wanted to explain that I was always terrible at standardized tests. Only got 1090 on my SATs back in 1994. Seriously low compared to my peers in the advanced track. I was ashamed of that score for years. It still sort of stings. I suck at tests, too! It’s my fault his communication score was low! I wanted to explain he is a wonderful child. He is fearless, his gross motor skills are off the hook, he is affectionate, he should be scored on his cuddling ability because it is that good!

Why am I so upset about an outcome I wanted? I think I secretly expected them to tell us he is perfect in every way and we were all worrying about nothing. Instead the evaluators told me we’d hear from them in a week or so, the plan is two 30 minute sessions a week at our home with a reevaluation in 6 months. I thanked them as they left and ran to our back door, out of sight from the boys, I wept and wept and then I wept some more.

My baby needs help. More help than I can give him or Z can give him. My baby needs help and I yelled at him this morning. I was an asshole to Z, my partner in this whole mess. I was terrified by my period. My period! Which I’ve been dealing with for a fucking quarter of a century. I felt completely defeated by life, by that bitch anxiety who whispered in my ear that I am pathetic. That things aren’t actually bad at all. That I lead a charmed life of privilege and the fact I can’t hack it is pathetic. I started to shake and decided there was no way I could go to class this afternoon.

After a while I stopped crying. I fed the boys. I put C down for a nap. I packed my backpack. The babysitter arrived and I went to class. In a couple of minutes I’ll get dressed for our anniversary dinner.

C is fine. He is going to be even better than fine because we are getting him help. T is fine. I have a feeling he is always going to be fine. Z has every right to be angry at me. But eventually we’ll be fine, too. He has proven over and over again he is on my side. And I am fine. When scary things happen I still think about shutting down. But more times than not I manage to force myself to keep going.

It’s been a shitty day. But it has also been a good day. We are getting our boy help. We are doing the right thing. And we’ve been married for 13 years. Even if I’m an asshole, actually especially since I’m an asshole, that is pretty fucking awesome.

c backpack

This perfect-for-us kid is loving Mommy’s new backpack. I have no explanation for what his brother is doing.

13 years

Thirteen years ago today. We were skinny. And there wasn’t a single tattoo among us. The kid I was in the picture had no idea how good it would get. Don’t get me wrong, she didn’t know how bad it would get either. But the good has been extraordinary.