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Category Archives: Parenting

How I Became a POW in the Bedtime Wars

As I look backward through the smudged glass of my memory, I see very clearly that bedtime has always been a problem. For a while there were night terrors; countless hours where I sat with my back against his bedroom door, crying silent tears as I watched him wander his room aimlessly, screaming and crying for no apparent reason.

 

As he grew, we went through a phase where he ended up in our bedroom every single night, usually sometime between midnight and 5am. And always, always he appeared at my side of the bed, inches from my face, with an exceptionally loud, creepy whisper, “Mommy. Moooooommy!” Sitting bolt upright in panic, I would scoot over to make room for him in the bed. Fearing I would eventually have a heart attack during one of his middle-of-the-night creeper episodes, we helped him transition to having his very own Buzz Lightyear sleeping bag in the corner of our room, where he could come in quietly during the night and bed down.

 

Recently I realized that he’d not been in to sleep in our room for almost two years. Somewhere along the way we slipped into a normal, stable sleeping pattern. Things were humming along and life was slightly less complicated for a while.

 

But now Connor is approaching the age of 10, and things have changed again at bedtime. Sure, I could blame the autism or the ADHD. I mean, I’m sure those things don’t help to make bedtime easier. But somehow I think this has more to do with the slow, steady progress toward becoming a pre-teen, and I’m feeling my sanity start to wither and shrink, like an old prune.

 

It should be a fairly simple routine. At about 8:15 p.m., either my husband or I tell Connor that it’s time to brush his teeth and get ready for bed. In response, we generally get a very sullen “okay.” But then…he continues playing on the iPad, or on his computer, or watching a TV show. I stand there and watch, and watch, and watch…

 

And then we tell him again. And again.

 

He ambles off to chew on his toothbrush as he dances around in front of the mirror, flexing imaginary muscles and making faces at himself. The Husband and I are distracted with bills or laundry or kitchen clean-up. Eventually we notice that the boy never came back out. I go off to look for him and find him on my bed, watching TV.

 

“What are you doing?!”

 

“Watching TV.”

 

Did I really expect a different answer?

 

“I told you to go brush and get ready for bed. Why are you watching TV? I am SO mad!”

 

“Wait, why are you mad? I’m just watching The Amazing World of Gumball?”

 

“Because you’re supposed to go to BED.”

 

“Oh. Can I have just a few more minutes?”

 

“NO! You just took a few more minutes! Let’s go right now.”

 

If I don’t grab the remote and turn off the TV, I can be assured that I will stand there for at least 3 minutes while he fondles it slowly, turning it over, looking around leisurely for the off button, dragging out the seconds so he can see what marvelous shenanigans that stupid blue rabbit gets himself into.

 

So I turn it off and usher him out of my room and toward his room. But he stops, saying “Wait, I forgot something!” And he runs off to grab his paper ninja star, or his Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, or a football.

 

“You don’t need that for bed,” I tell him. And I somehow get him into his own room.

 

As I collapse on the couch, I hear his door open. “Don’t mind me, I just need another drink of water.”

 

Motherfucking fuck!

 

“Get your water and GO.”

 

But, you see, it takes a few minutes to jump up and sit on the counter, sift through all the cups to find just the right one, and then get the water out and pour it, ever so slowly, into the cup. During the filling of the cup, I’m certain that three more hairs have gone gray and I’m close to having an embolism.

 

Boromir knows...

Boromir knows…

 

I begin the litany of threats regarding the future availability of electronic devices and he starts walking toward his room, tossing over his shoulder that I’m “mean” and “not fair.”

 

Since I can’t stop myself from daydreaming about running away and living in the wilderness, enveloped by peace and quiet and filth, I turn on Mick Dodge. My soul needs to be soothed by visions of the rainforest.

 

Then I hear noises coming from the boy’s room. I open the door to find him playing with trains on the track he has just constructed across his bedroom floor. I can tell by the screaming in my head that I’m beaten. He has squashed any authority or parenting ability I ever thought I had. His stamina is truly a wonder to behold. Finally I stammer, “You don’t have to sleep, but you have to stay in your room. Do not come out.”

 

Twenty minutes later I’m wondering how Mick will find out who’s been stealing his tree stashes, when the boy appears before me again.

 

“Mom, I got my Newton’s cradle all tangled up, can you fix it?” He holds up the cradle which is, indeed, tangled into a jumble of string and silver balls.

 

Please God, strike me with lightening right now. Do it. End this farce.

 

IMG_4122

 

“I’m not fixing anything tonight. You are supposed to be in bed, not playing with that. I will deal with it tomorrow because right now I don’t give a hot damn about fixing it!”

 

“Ummmmmm, you said ‘damn’! And why did you say ‘hot’? Why is it a ‘hot’ damn?”

 

I narrow my eyes to a slit and hiss, “Get. Out. Now.”

 

He storms off, slams his door, and then begins wailing about the Newton’s cradle.

 

“I NEED IT FIXED! SANTA GAVE IT TO ME FOR CHRISTMAS, IT MUST BE FIXED. WHY WON’T YOU JUST FIX IT?!”

 

My left eye is twitching, I can feel it. There’s an underlying panic inside that I barely keep at bay, but it threatens to rear up and take over. If I can’t get an almost-ten-year-old to bed, what the hell am I going to do when he’s a teenager?

 

Maybe Mick Dodge will let me have a little space in the rainforest, far away from Newton’s goddamn cradle and the sounds of a growing boy railing against the injustice of bedtime.

 

But probably I’ll still be here, with a full head of gray hair and a constant eye twitch. Oh yeah, and a tangled mess of string and metal balls, too.

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My Child’s Gone Feral and Yours Will Too

Everyone knows about the “terrible twos” and the horrible teen years well before they have children. People talk about it, all the parenting books mention it, your own parents remind you of how challenging you were during those phases of development. Yet somewhere between those two phases lurks a deep, dark secret that NOBODY talks about: at or around age nine, children go feral.

 

If this comes as a shock to you, then clearly your child is not yet nine. You should start prepping right now because there isn’t a moment to lose. If your sanity isn’t properly shored up, you are at great risk of losing it and never regaining it. I know lots of people who are only a shell of their former selves. I’d mistakenly chalked the phenomena up to alcoholism or adult ADD, but I now understand that these are parents who entered Age Nine with only a tenuous grip on their sanity to begin with, probably due to PTTD (Post Traumatic Toddler Disorder).

 

What are the warning signs of impending feral-ness? They can be tricky to spot at first because they slip in under the guise of typical child behavior. Sometimes they’re disguised as innocent questions, such as “But why do I HAVE to brush my teeth? What would happen if we just never brushed them?”

 

But once they’ve slipped in, they multiply rapidly. Soon, teeth-brushing morphs into a five-minute debate over why the brushing must be done now, and why can’t they just have one cookie first and watch one more quick little episode of The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. The next thing you know, your entire existence will be nothing more than pinging from one argument/debate/negotiation to another. You will feel yourself begin to slip. One day, after asking your child to sit down and get their nightly reading done, you’ll simply stand there in the dining room, mouth agape, as they run and slide across the tile floor (picking up every last dog hair the Dyson missed), pick up and chuck the dog toy across the room, watching it land in the dog’s water bowl with a splash that sends water spattering across the sliding glass door, turn around and open their umbrella in the house as they hop up onto a dining room chair and then leap as high as possible into their air so they can reenact the big scene from Mary Poppins, and then they suddenly careen out of the room entirely as you realize that they’ve yet to even pick up the damn book they’re supposed to be reading.

 

And then you know you’re well and truly fucked.

 

You’ll probably try bargaining first. “If you get blah-blah-blah done, you can have this-that-or-the-other.” Your mileage may vary, but it’s unlikely to yield results.

 

Next you’ll probably try being really, really firm. After all, it’s your house and you’re in charge. BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! It’s cute that you thought that. I used to think that too, and it still makes me laugh. You will threaten to take ALL THE THINGS away, and will soon find that you will have to do just that because your feral child didn’t even bat an eye as they said “But I don’t WANT to go to bed yet.”

 

By the way, that evening or weekend you suffer through because you took all the electronics away? Yeah, you might want to have someone on backup for when you’re ready to run screaming from the house and just drive until the car runs out of gas. Believe me when I say that you will spend a lot of time calculating how much gas you need to get to either Mexico or Canada, depending on where in the country you live and what climate you prefer. You won’t even think about taking your spouse with you, because at this point it’s every man for himself.

 

And here you are. Your child has gone feral.

 

Shhhhhhhhhh. There, there. Don’t cry, you’re getting snot everywhere. It’s going to be okay, I promise. Well, I don’t promise so much as I hope. I’m in the very same predicament YOU are. I lost my mind two weeks ago and told my husband I was quitting this lousy job, getting a crummy old trailer and moving to the Canadian wilderness where I would hunt and kill my own food with my bare hands. God, life would be SO much easier. But my mistake was in telling him my plan, because the next thing I knew he came home with a pizza and some hard lemonade and let me sleep in on Saturday and now I’m still here.

 

WE’RE still here. Me and you.

 

So last night I looked at my husband and said, “This little jackass is running the house. You realize that, don’t you? This is bullshit, we’re taking our house back.”

 

And then my husband got up to go get me a hard lemonade, but I was already at the table, working on my plan. And THIS was my plan:

 

 

Shut up, it's NOT a sticker chart!

Shut up, it’s NOT a sticker chart!

 

You’re probably thinking, “But Flannery, we took AWAY the electronics and it didn’t work. How is this any different?”

 

You see, they get absolutely no electronics privileges to begin with. Zip. Nada. They have to earn that shit, yo. And I know they’re going to come at you with, “But it’s MY iPad. Why can’t I use it whenever I want?”

 

And that’s when you say, “It’s MY house. I make the rules. You either follow the rules or you and your iPad can go live with grandma.” The beauty of that statement is that you still win if they go and live with grandma, because your house will be quiet.

 

I know you’re skeptical. Hell, I’m skeptical. But it’s been 12 hours and, so far, it’s working. I need to add a caveat to the plan, though. The next time I sit on a pissed-on toilet seat, I will take ALL THE TOKENS and he’ll have to start over. No, that’s not extreme. Extreme is when you smell like piss because your feral child was too damn lazy to lift the toilet seat.

 

I admit that I have no idea how long it will last, or if it will create lasting change, but I’m not going down without a fight. And you shouldn’t either. If we let these feral kids take over, civilization will be lost.

 

But just in case, I’ve calculated that I’ll need about $175 to get to Canada. Yes, you can come with me. But you’ll need to buy the road snacks and know how to skin a moose with nothing more than a bottle opener and your bare hands, which actually sounds a lot easier than parenting my feral child.

My 4th Grader’s Letter to the Boy Scouts of America

When is the “right” time to discuss sexuality, specifically homosexuality, with your child? Until today, I didn’t have an answer for that question. But today when I picked up Connor from school, he asked me if I knew about the Boy Scouts of America (BSA).

 

(deep breath)

 

I explained to him that I was very familiar with them. And I decided to explain to him why we never pursued membership for him with their organization.

 

“What does ‘gay’ mean?”

 

So I told him that it’s when a man wants to date or marry another man, or a woman wants to date or marry another woman. And I told him that there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just the way they were born. Some of us are born to love someone from the opposite sex, but not everyone.

 

“It’s not terribly different from being born autistic, it’s just the way you are.” I told him.

 

And we talked about their rule that members must believe in God. He asked me, “Did their God tell them not to like gay people?” And, of course, I told him the truth.

 

While we worked on homework, he looked at me and said “I don’t like the rules those Boy Scouts have.” I asked if he wanted to write them a letter and, to my surprise, he said he did. Writing has always been hard for Connor, so I helped with spelling, punctuation, and paragraph spacing. I prompted him to tell them who he is and where he goes to school. But the rest of the words are his alone. And he felt very strongly about adding the sad faces.

 

unnamed

 

There is simply no way to describe the kind of pride you feel as a parent when your child shows you that they care more about what’s right than what everyone else thinks. This parenting gig is HARD, no doubt about it. But days like this are what keep us going during the more challenging of times. I think this one will keep me going for a good, long while.

 

Ways In Which I Either Failed or Excelled at Being a Mother Over the Summer, Depending Upon Whom You Ask

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Sometimes I’m pretty certain that I’m not up to snuff with this parenting thing, yet I lack the intestinal fortitude to actually do something about it. Hence, weeks stretch into months, and then we’re almost ready to start a new school year. By that time I figure it’s too late to turn this ship of fools around, so I let it just continue on its present course.

 

There’s always next summer, right?

 

If you’ve been a little, um, lackadaisical with your summer routine, then this should perk you right up and make you feel like you’re on top of your game. Because, man, I don’t even have any game this summer.

 

  1. I did not make Connor do one single worksheet this entire summer. Not even one little math problem. I should probably feel bad about that, yet I don’t. I figure that the 6 weeks he spent at ESY covers us for doing schoolwork during the summer.
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  2. The 8:00 p.m. bedtime routine went straight out the window. He went to bed at 8:30, instead. Or 9:00. 9:30 at the VERY latest. Except that one night we were out late bowling and it was, like, 10:00 p.m.
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  3. Between the two of us, we have acquired enough coal to light up the entire Minecraft universe with torches from one end to the other…probably more than once. And still I grab more coal whenever I see it. I don’t need more coal, but it’s like I can’t stop myself from compulsive coal-hoarding.
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    TORCHES
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  4. It’s possible that I let him sleep in his roller skates. A couple of times.
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  5. One day at camp a kid pushed Connor and took the ball from him. Connor waited until he had possession of the ball again, and then promptly chucked it at the kid’s head. Even though I made him write a letter of apology, I secretly felt more than a little proud of him.
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    ball to head
  6. I wrote down Lexi Magnusson’s cell phone number and encouraged him to crank call her.
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  7. The only people that call our home phone are solicitors. I always let Connor answer the phone because his first question is always “what are you selling?”
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  8. Tried to get him to listen to Guns ‘N Roses but he didn’t like it. I promptly tried to sell him on Facebook because, obviously, he can’t really be related to me.
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  9. Somehow my husband accidentally let him hear the song Wiggle by Jason Derulo. Now he randomly starts singing, “You know what to do with that big, fat butt!” at inopportune times. And I let him, because it makes me laugh.
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    wiggle
  10. Many, many days were spent in swim clothes, from morning to evening. The upside is that it sure cuts down on laundry. The downside? There is no downside, as far as I can tell. Neon orange and green swim trunks with a huge shark face, jaws wide open, is completely acceptable apparel for the grocery store, restaurants, bowling alleys, and anywhere else our summer adventures took us.

 

After writing this is occurs to me that I’d better get my crap together pretty quickly. T minus 3 weeks until school starts, and I’m pretty sure they’re going to expect some kind of parenting on my part.

I Hurt

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It’s easy being angry at injustice. It feels right, especially when it’s a cause greater than yourself. I can channel all my rage and anger into beating my fists against the walls of inequality, knowing I’ve put enough of myself into it when the blood runs freely down my fingers.

 

Humor comes easily, too. It would be impossible to put one foot in front of the other if I gave in to the feeling of defeat. You can’t make me cry. I’m able to find humor in the most unlikely situations, and the darkest of places. Laugh with me, friend. We will lose ourselves if we become too serious.

 

What’s not easy is pain. Pushing the words “I hurt” past my throat feels like giving away a part of myself. No. That’s not even right. It’s like…like I just trusted you with the most vulnerable part of myself and hoped you wouldn’t drop it and break it.

 

I had no business being surprised by the results of the state testing. No matter how much I shore up the dam of emotions, they just seem to spill out around the edges.

 

It doesn’t mean anything. Life isn’t about how well you do on tests. Not everyone tests well. It’s only a snapshot, of that moment on that day.

 

Still, I hurt.

 

(It’s less gut-wrenching to type it, than to say it.)

 

There will be extra classroom accommodations put in place for the next school year. They will focus on helping him in those areas…because the test told them to. I could have done that. I did do that.

 

So many words, they all blur together.

 

I’m glad for those supports, truly. Sometimes though, I just want my boy to be a boy. Just a boy with a sassy mouth and a new pogo stick for his birthday.

 

Just once…to be defined by his strengths, not his weaknesses.

 

The other day in the car, Connor began singing along to the radio.

 

“And I am feeling so small

It was over my head

I know nothing at all.”

But I didn’t start crying until I’d dropped him at school.

Because, there in the car alone, I hurt.

 

Hey You Guys, I Invented Something! At Least I Think I Did.

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As a child, Sunday nights were a mix of anticipation and dread. I looked forward to watching The Wonderful World of Disney each week, but I knew that bedtime followed the end of the show, and that meant the very next thing would be going off to school the next morning. I still dread Mondays, when the weekly rush of getting Connor and myself out the door will begin.

 

This past Sunday evening I was feeling particularly unsettled. We don’t do ADHD medications on the weekends, both to give Connor a break from them as well as to try and maximize their effectiveness during the school week. Unfortunately that means there is a lot of correcting of behavior and constant reminders about respect and personal space. Sometimes I don’t feel good about the weekends because it feels like we spend more time punishing or criticizing behavior then actually having fun together.

 

I was thinking about how frustrating it is to tell him something, and have him turn right around, completely forgetting what he was just told, and do the undesirable thing again. The phrase “working memory deficits” flashed through my mind, and then I had an idea for a game that would  practice memory skills AND build his self-esteem.

 

I have no idea if a game like this already exists. If it does, someone should let me know so that I can stop saying that I invented it! But if it doesn’t already exist, then hells yeah I’m taking credit for it.

 

I also have no idea if it will actually improve memory. I’m not a doctor, people! But it certainly can’t hurt, and the game will still be providing the child with a positive feedback loop, which is a good habit to start. At the very least, it will help with self-esteem.

 

I’ve not tried this yet, but am going to implement it this next weekend. If any of you have a chance to try it out, be sure to let me know how it goes. My hope is that it will help Connor learn how to hold something in memory, like “don’t slam the door”. But I also want him to know, despite the many, many reminders about not doing this or that, that he is still an awesome kid.

 

I wrote out the game on a handy sheet that you can print or share. Be sure to let me know how it works for you!

 

memory game

 

 

Are Postpartum Depression and Caregiver Stress Similar?

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After Connor was born, I had postpartum depression (PPD). I remember wanting desperately to escape from my home, to get in my car and just drive and drive until I was far away and alone.

 I’m sorry. That was a rather abrupt beginning, without a proper introductory paragraph. But that’s rather what postpartum is, an abrupt state of being without any proper or formal introduction. You wake up one morning and it’s just there, like a collar placed around your neck, just one notch too tight.

 I remember sitting and nursing with Connor for over an hour at a time. When he’d finally had enough and drifted off to sleep, I’d put him in his crib and steal away like a thief, eager for a quick shower or a simple sandwich. More often than not, he would awaken and begin crying within 5 minutes of being put down. The crying…it was like shards of glass in my brain. The sound set my nerves jangling and my adrenaline pumping like I was in fight or flight mode. I stopped feeling human. I felt like a thing, something to which this tiny screaming baby would forever be latched onto.

 One afternoon, I remember vividly standing on the second floor landing, looking over the railing…

 But I won’t finish that thought, that sentence. I won’t commit it to writing or utter the words aloud because it would be breathing life into a memory that should stay dead. Is it fear, or maybe shame? Or perhaps it’s the refusal to acknowledge the shell of myself that I’d become, unrecognizable to me now.

 There was no judgment. Not from my husband or my doctor. In fact, my doctor was extraordinarily understanding and helpful. He assured me it wasn’t my fault and he could help me with medication. There were so many resources available to me, and I was grateful. And I was fortunate that, for me, postpartum depression ended up being mild. I can’t help but wonder what a more severe case of PPD feels like, yet I’m frightened by the thought.

 The Mayo Clinic explains on their site that PPD is caused by physical changes (hormones, metabolism), emotional factors (sleep deprivation), and lifestyle influences (a demanding baby, difficulty breast-feeding).  PPD is widely recognized as a legitimate disorder and much effort has gone into awareness and education about PPD, as well as resources for new mothers. If you or someone you know is affected by postpartum depression,  please contact your doctor right away. Here is a guide that helps identify symptoms as well as providing tips for help and support.

The reason I’m bringing up PPD is because of the similarities I see between it and caregiver stress and burnout. Parents of special needs children are not just parents, they are caregivers. Whether your child has autism, Down Syndrome, or another disability, the support needs can sometimes be exhaustive. If you happen to have a child that also struggles with serious aggression, your stress and responsibilities may seem all-consuming.

 Unfortunately, there is not as much understanding for families living with serious aggression and finding resources can be challenging. Like PPD, there can be physical changes (brain chemistry), emotional factors (sleep deprivation), and lifestyle influences (a child with major support needs) that occur when living in that environment. Although caregiver stress has not been assigned a medical label or a publicity campaign to bring awareness to it, the effects of providing care to a child with severe challenges is very much like PPD. Ongoing stress can have a significant and long-lasting effect on the mental health of a caregiver.

 Like PPD, you should seek out as much support as you can. Certainly it’s a good idea to see your own physician, but also finding community organizations that can help provide support to your child. This link provides symptoms and support tips for caregivers.

 It is my hope that caregiver stress will someday be seen as every bit as valid as postpartum depression. But more than that, I hope we get to a place where resources and support are just as readily available to special needs families as they are to mothers suffering from PPD.

The next time you hear someone say “there is never a good reason to harm a child”, agree with them. Agree with them because there is nothing “good” about PPD or caregiver burnout, and certainly nothing “good” about harming a child. You can also remind them that the reason doesn’t have to be “good” to be valid, nor does it have to be “good” to be worthy of creating interventions to prevent it from happening to another child.

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