Thursday, April 29, 2010

beyond the OT: changing gears, changing kids

All is quiet in my little domain right now - the Man is curled up with the Eldest, and the Toddles, sweetly stubborn, is coiled in my bed. He's snoring slightly, a quiet and almost contented sound, so of course I'm sitting next to him, soaking up his peacefulness.

For reasons that I'm still struggling to articulate, that peacefulness is crucial, a balance to an afternoon spent burying an urge to shriek. I'm close to the point where I can just spit it out, but to begin with? my apologies, but to begin with, I've got fragments and coherence still evolving.

I'm wriggling around tonight, trying to fumble my way between pigeonholes.

I really like it that the Eldest's school has male teachers, I said - and I meant, I want my kid to be taught by people with different approaches to the various chaos(es) and patternings of a classroom. But I might have meant, I think that men and women teach differently, manage a classroom differently.

Boys and girls think differently, I said (and to be fair, I was quoting) - and I meant, I want a classroom and teachers that will let my kid learn however he needs to learn. But I might also have meant, I want my child to be allowed to learn from his mistakes, from free-range sponge learning.*

We know what we're looking at, I said, and I don't think we have to name it. And I meant, we know what pigeonhole this is, but shhhhh - don't tell anybody. But I think I meant, we know what this is, but I'm still hoping that it will just go away.

I don't want a label for him, I said - and I meant, I just want to understand him. But, maybe (selfishly), I want to know that my struggle is because he's a challenge, rather than I'm not up to par as a parent.

sigh. Male vs female, standard vs quirky, diagnosed vs normal - every time I opened my mouth tonight, I fell into a pigeonhole. And those haven't worked so well for us this year.

I don't think this is working, I told the OT, months ago. Every time we talk about engines, energy levels, speeds, the Eldest gets wired up and upset. She and I both paused over this, unsurprised. We're focusing on the negative, and that's making things worse.

We nodded at each other, and agreed to part amicably - if possibly temporarily. The Eldest breathed a sigh of relief, and shrugged himself into a happier state of boydom. Hidden from his classmates, I curled an arm around him, pulling him close. He flicked a glance past my shoulder, admired the clear coast, and went limp against me. Slow, confident fingers reached out, and began rubbing the back of my hand. Squish the boy, rub the mom-knuckles, and a contented sigh.

Mentally, I smacked myself for letting this comfort be painted into therapeutic terms. It's comfort, it's the finding of balance, and not the fixing of boy. This balancing becomes complicated as he gets older, thanks to the crucial thumb/oral component, this route to balance is potentially embarrassing. The Eldest knows what his peers will think when they pigeonhole his cuddle, suck, rub, and sigh.

Question: which of the following best describes this behavior? (circle one) okay for kids my age/not okay for kids my age/maybe okay for kids my age?
Bonus: if not okay, in which category does it fall? (circle one) too young/too old/unrecognized-and-thus-weird?

He's lucky that his sensory balancing act is limited to this and some fiddling with a whatsit while he works (and some mild griping about the fit of his clothes). What his friends might think - well, that's already enough for him to have to shove aside when he needs balancing, and he doesn't need any extra pigeonholing to complicate this further. Especially pigeonholing by well meaning grownups with their handy EZ-Fix-Da-Kid toolbelts.

Or so I think. It's a gamble, hoping that the Eldest can relax enough, to the point of allowing himself to use the bag of tricks that the OT handed him. That he can wear his skin with enough confidence to be able to claim that bag o' tricks. We've backed off to let him do it, and hope like hell that he'll do so while still in the window of neural elasticity for this kind of thing - which supposedly ends sometime this year. Maybe. With this maybe-real clock ticking, can we let the Eldest wend his way between pigeonholes, and learn how to be the Eldest? We'd damned well better, I say fiercely, and hope that I mean it.

I'm tired of pathologies. Of pathologizing. It comes with a degree of worry about my sons that cuts away at us, slicing up the ground under our feet, our balance, our faith in who we are and what we can handle. It tramples the idea of quirkiness, of boys being boys into therapeutic pigeonholes, and surely a Fix-Da-Kid toolbelt cannot be far behind? The thought that there might be a pathology, trapping my child in a type of behavior, freezes us between helpless and incapable, waiting for the diagnosis to prove us to be one or the other. Or to free us to adapt.

A month or so later, I walked into a variant of this conversation in the Toddles' classroom. I know what I'm looking at, and you know what we're looking at, and we love that boy that we're all seeing. But, said the teacher, and I flinched. Deer in the headlights of a car that I saw coming, I froze. If I stood still, that car would keep on going - and not in my lane, not in my kid's lane.

And damnit, I'm about to flag it down. The school is suggesting that we do some testing, I told the pediatrician, the neuropsychologist, the Man. And I'm afraid that I meant, we need some help.

But I hope that I meant, we need to understand.

*if a kid is like a sponge, soaking up whatever he's offered, and you let him choose, or direct what's on offer, then that's free range kid-spongeing. Or, more or less autodidacticism.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

two days later...

HOW COULD YOU have SENT me into that room FULL OF POLLEN?

the kid had passed scream, and was settling confidently into screech.

are you trying to KILL me? You KNOW that I'm AL-LER-GIC! to that stuff!

The next day, he'd go outside to ride his bike, and come home with hives crawling up the backs of his hands. But he wasn't waiting for the hives to fracture into slivers of scared, paradigm-rebuilding boy. I rolled my shoulders, and tried to mentally adjust his volume.

Nothing doing.

He curled up on the futon, and started crying. I curled in with him, shoving aside the half hour of poisonously nasty kid, layering on the insults with admirable skill. Wrapped an arm around him, and pulled him in close. Squished him a little, while he considered melting - and did.

Boneless in my arms, he let the comfort seep in. I did too, remembering the Toddles' fear of feathers, and the way that the 'dangerous' and 'annoying' allergy categories can bleed together, when you are small. It's a tough line to draw, and a tougher one to install deep below the thinking part of yourself, somewhere in what we might call blind faith. The annoying allergies have to be dismissable for the boys to function. If they aren't, the kids carry fear with them through their day. Will I stop breathing now? they'd wonder. What about now? Is that scratchy throat a sign that it's coming - the big scary allergy thing is going to happen - now? You can't swing a bat if you are waiting for the sky to fall. Can't thread your way through the social labyrinths if the Minotaur is about to pounce.

You know what, kid? I think we need to rethink what we mean by 'annoying.' Because this is really kind of beyond annoying - definitely deep into the seriously irritating.

It was a feeble attempt, but I stopped, waiting for him to choose. He held himself absolutely still, standing in the middle of his fears, the paralysis of his awareness of risk. Outside of that web, he saw me standing with a stray snail's shell in my pocket, lifting leaves to peek underneath, finding rocks to climb over and the ponds where we've hunted for frogs and freshwater snails. Rotting logs, rich with bugs - and the occasional snacking bird. More importantly, he saw his friends weaving through a muddle of playgrounds, basketball hoops, burbling over and around each other, grubby and loud with boyness. He looked. We looked back, waiting, knowing the difference between suspense and a quiet - pause -

He tilted his head. Really, REALLY irritating, Mom.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

on the day that I was late

And oh, was I late. The Eldest had been splotching and itching (I'm fiiiine, he told me. Why are you here?), and we were all stumped. Benadryl was given, in hopes that it would stop whateverthiswas (it's didn't), doctors were called in hopes of light being shed (it wasn't), and teachers quietly peeked in to see the baseline, or what was the pin in the map of the kid's symptoms.

If it gets worse, do we call you? they asked. I shrugged. Depends on what "worse" looks like. There was a pause, while they thought this over. A quiet shudder. And, with a sympathetic smile, I left.

And cheered all the way to the preschool, quivering still with adrenaline, and preparing to babble apologies for being a full. 40. minutes. late. (omg, omg, I'm late. I've got the kid who can't be in the classroom when the others eat lunch and boy are they eating lunch now and I'm late and I got called on the carpet for being repeatedly oh, 7-8 minutes late because he just doesn't listen when he's tired and he wanders over to his friends with the wheat and the egg lunches and omg omg I know they said they understood that I had to take care of the Eldest but damn this is LATE.)

I drove up. Parked. Ran, and your son invented a new word today, the director told me, smiling. Relaxed. She was sitting on the empty playground with the Toddles, a demolished plate of apple slices, and one, lonely section of grapefruit. The Toddles, his face deep in a corn thin-sunbutter sandwich, didn't look up.

He did? I tried to sit, rather than crumple onto the bench.

Yes. Unpithing. She held up the grapefruit. The white stuff on the grapefruit is called pith, yes? I nodded. She grinned. So, he explained that he was un-pithing his slices of grapefruit.

You did? I asked the kid. He nodded, still chewing.

The adrenaline faded from my veins, and a slow peace crept in. I had an urge to look down, to check my footing. My kid was safe, being fed allergy-friendly food as if it was no big deal that a staff person has to be dedicated just to him (a big freakin' deal that affected all of the other teachers, shuffling the kids around to keep the ratios legal) and we're now talking about how funny he is with language. Um. So, is everything okay? asked the director. I nodded. And what about you, she pursued, are you okay? I nodded again.

I'm going to smack the person who pops this bubble, I thought. Because this has got to be some sort of a fantasy world, in which my children go to schools that understood them, adapted to them, and maybe even kinda liked them. Us. Especially on days when the cost is spelled out: he could have a reaction. You could actually have to use the needle-thing that I showed you. That mom could disappear because she has another kid with medical needs. You could be stuck with the anaphylactic wheat kid until she resurfaces. So, shall we talk about re-enrolling next year?

I'm fine, I told her. Actually, more than fine. Because today, I left my son at school while he was in the middle of an allergic reaction. A mildish one, and unlikely to proceed, but still - he wanted me gone, maybe needed me gone, and I went. And I could do that, knowing that he'd be safe, even if something happened. I met her eyes, and saw that she was as moved as I. And while that was happening, I was able to focus on him, knowing that the Toddles was fine - the teams that we have in place at these two schools... I trailed off, shook my head. It's extraordinary.

She shook her head, thinking. Yes, she said. It is.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

patent leather and merry grunge

It's pick-up time at the OK Corral, and I am the lone mama, stalked by children with a variety of agendas. One needs hugging, another needs admiring, a third needs a mama-substitute, the fourth wants to be sure that I'm up to some good/tie a shoelace/ be awestruck by a bit of stick-and-fluff, and my quarry - well. Er.

He's zoom! over there zoom! somewhere - no, wait - zoom! he's over, well. It's an enclosed area, and we're bound to find him eventually.

Aside from the adorableness of the kids wanting hugs, and the poignancy of the ritual mama-substitute, I hate picking up the Toddles. Love having him with me, hate the pick-up itself - and the teachers noticed. Politely suggested that perhaps I could use some help? The kid looks so tired...

(sprawled on the floor, binky in his mouth, the Toddles was humming quietly to himself as his eyes closed)
(blurring in our sight, the Toddles charged up and down the hall, vibrating with glee and absolutely not even a tiny wee bit with full bladder)
(swaying gently, the Toddles stood still, unable to remember how to put his coat on)
(pause. maternal nudge. pause. maternal encouragement. pause. maternal snap. pause. maternal implosion. The Toddles blinked with surprise, looking up.)

Does he really still take a nap? What time does he go to bed - oh, really? Hunh. Was there somewhere that I could take a nap, perhaps before coming to get the kiddo? No? Maybe, then, ah - hm. They huddled, I tried not to look like I was hiding behind my own jacket, nope, not humiliated here, nooooo. Cripes.

Days later, the Toddles proudly showed me a tiny clipboard, with a checklist that he'd made with his teacher.
  • 12 o'clock: Mummy-mom comes
  • hug Mom
  • go to the bathroom
  • put on bag and coat
  • go out the door
  • go to the car
The last one proves, you know, that the teachers had watched the Toddles make it (glacier-like) to the door, and then sprint with astonishing agility and momentum for anything other than the car. Sigh. The Toddles was super-proud of having made it, drawn some of the pictures, and loved filling it out all of oh, twice. And then didn't want to touch it again.

(Hey, square one, how've you been?)

I do hate pick-up. Except, perhaps, this past week.

I arrived at the playground, where the Toddles was zooming round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round on a tricycle, waving a sparkly silver wand in the air. Expelliarmus! he shrieked, and tried to ram his tricycle into someone's plastic pedal-car. From the looks of his clothes, he'd tried this before, and overturned once or thrice in the process.

A pair of perfect patent leather shoes stepped forward, attached to a young lady of extreme style. She put her hands on her hips, and looked at me sternly. WE don't want to play the games that HE is playing. Behind her, another little girl looked sheepish but determined. Patent Leather considered tossing her head, tried it, pulled it off - and the Toddles, grungy, giddy with speed and the wattage of his grin, zoomed past.

I'm going to drop an atom bomb on you and make you dead! he shrieked. His pants were beige with dust, sand was leaking out of his pockets. The pale pink socks with hearts-and-flowers (Mum, MumMumMumMum - look! aren't they beautiful?) were now pinkish-greyish. I waved, he brandished the wand, and took the corner with style. I looked at him. Looked at Miss Patent Leather. Grinned.

No, I guess you don't, I said. But I do.

Now, I'd be a tidy story-builder if I let the post rest there, but the truth is stragglier than my sense of narrative aesthetics prefers. The next day, the Toddles went over to Miss Patent Leather, and tried to tell her his best jokes. And alas,

that's not funny, she told him. He tried again.

that's STILL not funny, she said. And moth to a shiny-shoed flame, you can guess what happened next. The teachers and I, watching the new kid fumble his way through the social minefield, stood back. Let him fumble, then pause, bewildered. Periodically, he'd be quietly steered him to a safe harbor. But all too soon,

oh. says Miss P.L. What do YOU want?

Which makes me suspect the following: first, that youth is not wasted on the young. It's clearly the time when you get to be too young to remember all of your humiliations. And that learning definitely comes with social mud in yer eye. Second, that the laid-back caring person watching this, might possibly be quietly chewing through their lip, albeit in the most mellow way possible. Because I don't care how normal this may be, it sucks uber-allergenic smelly eggs. And third, that in a world where the balance is tipped towards aaaaargh at 12 noon, when only one kid goes home and that kid is the least equipped to do so gracefully (and matched with a mama of his ilk), it's nice for that mama to be the hero once in a while.

Because oh, yes, I'll play with him - he's a wicked fun little guy.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

between the bookends

Today was the day when the traffic gods looked down and said, whoops. Missed a spot. Adjusted, and smiled. There. That's better.

(on the highway, I hit 62 mph, I blinked and wondered if I was speeding too egregiously.)

At the moment, however, I'm sitting in a very untrafficked chair at the table - and contemplating the Headache That Swallowed New England. It began modestly, by sneering at a couple of extra-strength, fast-release acetaminophen. An hour later, it was sending me fun auras* to entertain and enliven my day, and chortling at the migraine stuff that I tossed at it. The Eldest was rescued, and brought home to a limp mama, who winced when he explained that feeding was in order.

TROMP, TROMP, TROMP, said the headache, and the mama considered hiding under the table. Feed us, said the children, and the mama considered turning green.

But in between these two ostentatious bookends, there was something completely different. It began with a triple handful of salted, roasted nuts at a picnic bench, overlooking a pond, with two kinds of ducks, geese and a dive-bombing blue jay.

Moving past the duck pond, we headed for the dam, and a ruthless rushing of sound and momentum that I can hardly do justice here:
The water poured heavily through the dam, garnished by the millstone that was once strategically placed, and now? is aesthetically, possibly nostalgically sited.

Unless you ask the lichen.

I ran my finger in the swirled grooves of the millstone, listening to the falling water's white roar. The noise seemed to wrap itself around me, ruthlessly carrying away something that I'd been holding on to.

We climbed the rocks, she looking upstream, I looking downstream. Quieter now, the water whisked past iron-rich rocks, veins of quartz and mica, through clumps of swamp cabbages, wild onions, and sprouting lily-ish bulbs that looked awfully promising. We'd lost - no, scorned - the path. Climbing the banks, raspberry canes tried to delay us, but we ducked and kept wandering.

Eventually, reluctantly, we walked back towards the roar of the dam, the brisk pace of the day, watching bacteria exhale a shimmering metal, the fiddleheads uncoil and a snail, tiny, considering the sun. Leaving behind us a pool of quiet and ruthless growth. Later, I'd hand three wild onions and a tiny violet, bulb and all, to a preschool teacher. She'd grin at me over her armful of sticks, collected on a walk with the children. We'll build the alphabet with these, she told me.

I nodded. An eddy of meaning, I nearly said. Instead, I offered the Toddles a wet stone from the water, and watched him trace veins of quartz in it, turning it over and over. Over his head, the teacher smiled.

To the lady who wisely brought the maps, and then surpassed her own wisdom in ignoring them: my thanks.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

the Pascal sacrifice, taken to the logical - something -

So, this guy wants to make a sacrifice to God, says the Eldest, and he takes a piece of iron and says, God, this is for you.

(pause, while two adults look up from their recipe and change mental gears)

Because it's a sacrifice, right?

(two adults nod)

And the metal disappears, and the guy says, hey - where did it go? And then, clang! It falls on his head. The kid grins. Guess it never made it out of the Earth's gravity.

(two adults stare, one possibly smiling slightly, the other choking on a theological lecture)