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.

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