Wednesday, November 13, 2013

No One Brings Dinner....

I’ve been to at least 10 IEP meetings in 8 years.  The teacher has her own ringtone as does the school nurse.  We are on a first name basis and sometimes recognize each other just by voice by the beginning of September.  Christmas gifts each year easily total 20 for the myriad of teachers, instructional aides, bus drivers and everyone else who have not only crossed our path but have walked along it with us for most of the year.  In one of our most trying years, the gift tag said “Sometimes I’m naughty, sometimes I’m nice.  Thank you helping me learn to do right.”  I realize humor is the key to keeping friends in this journey.  I apologize a lot.  I thank people A LOT.  I cry, I laugh.  I dream of days of health and happiness for my son followed by days of fearing this is not possible for him….ever.  Whenever we hit a stretch of relative stability I first hold my breath thinking it’s too good to be true before slipping into a world of contentment and “normalcy.”  I become na├»ve, going along with life as if my child isn't sick, so very sick…and always will be.

Psychotropic medications are a miracle.  They aim to correct faulty brain functioning.  They make neurotransmitters communicate like air traffic controllers.  Chemicals, which are otherwise void, are produced in sufficient quantities.  The brain is healthy, even if bathed in man-made chemicals which can be toxic to the rest of the body.  The artificially healthy brain allows one to make the choices based on the things we have been taught on how to behave to blend in with society.  When my son was 4 ½, I cried when the first psychiatrist we saw, at the very first appointment said my son needed an anti-psychotic medication.  I wasn't surprised, just saddened that my baby wasn't well.  I could hear the nay-sayers, often parents who have never struggled to keep their child and those around her/him safe in the way I had, saying I was pill-pushing as a way to be a lazy parent.   I shoved those thoughts deep down in my soul so I could help my son.  We readily agreed to medication, but not without guilt and shame because of the way society admonishes this approach.  I also questioned it myself.  Had I tried hard enough?  What had I done to cause this?  Was I a bad parent?  What will this do to his body…am I killing him?  Eventually I settled with the truth.  If I didn't allow modern medicine to help him, I would be killing him.  He would remain suicidal, be a danger to our family, engage in self-harm and continue to wallow in the misery that his life had become.  I could not protect him from the danger of this illness by myself.

Because of the flood of emotions that come with the ups and downs, it was nearly impossible for close family, coworkers and friends to hear about our struggles.  What some don’t know about mental illness especially in children) is that it comes with plenty of entertaining anecdotes.  I've learned this to be true both through my son’s experience as well as my professional experience as a social worker in children’s mental health services.  It’s an understatement to say my son’s personality made the entertaining anecdotes epic. The events usually came out of bad situations, as a symptom of his brain disease.  If I didn't laugh, I would cry (uncontrollably at times) or die of shame and humiliation because my son had done something far outside of the bounds of social acceptability, again.  People came to ask if there were any more “Nick stories” because a laugh was sure to follow.  Let me tell you – I could write a book about the escapades of my son.  From covering a dog in syrup, washing his hair in the aisles of Wal-Mart or the off-the-wall way he interprets the world, the stories had me in stitches.  Some were not so funny, but odd.  All you could think was “what the h@ll was he thinking?”  I still laughed because it was so unusual and explainable I didn't know what else to do.  Once the humor went away, the tears fell.  My son wasn't a comedian.  His brain was being mean.  The brain does some incredibly cruel things to us when it isn't healthy.  However, he learned to embrace his ability to amuse others.  He’s a people pleaser and loves to make people happy.  He’s also a resilient kid who has learned to make the most of the life he has been given. 

I share frequently about the way our family has endured mental illness.  I don’t say suffer.  Suffer makes us victims and I refuse to let that happen to myself or my child.  We endure because that means we have “[held] out against; sustained without impairment or yielding” to this monster of a brain-based disease.  I do not seek pity or sympathy.  I seek understanding and compassion.  Perhaps I also share because this is a journey we have taken alone, aside from a few family and friends who we have come to lean on.  Don’t be afraid to ask how we are, if the symptoms are worse or better.  Don’t be afraid to ask about which you do not understand.  While I share openly about my son’s journey I also have a journey of my own.  It’s not nearly as exciting nor do I remember it clearly because I wasn't outside looking in.  For now, I behave oddly, sometimes having the social skills equivalent to a dog.  I’m intrusive, impulsive and hungry for attention.  I jump around in conversations and thoughts which can be annoying.  It’s okay to stare when I am like this, but stare to learn something, not to judge and wonder what the heck I’m thinking.  I am acutely aware of my socially unacceptable behavior, trust me, I am.  They often come out before I notice.  I am usually too excited to have human interaction.  I am excited to share my thoughts and ideas.  Please forgive me, my brain isn't healthy, the medicine isn't “quite-right” and I've ran out of options to get any better (for now). 

All of this brings me to this piece, which was shared by the Balanced Mind Foundation (www.thebalancedmind.org).  I hope it helps you shift your view (if different than your own) or reinforce your determination to walk this journey with those of us who are enduring this disease. 

No One Brings Dinner When Your Daughter’s an Addict
(credit:  Larry M. Lake via www.slate.com; posted November 8, 2013)


As always, thank you for taking an interest in my life whether out of genuineness or curiosity. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Unnatural Instincts: My Journey Through Motherhood

Sunday I will celebrate my 16th full year as a mother.  My life plans never once included being a mother to anything, not even imaginary children.  I couldn't magine taking that path in life.  I never wanted children and to this day, I don’t particularly like children (Tanner and Nicolas are people now, not children, so they are A-OK).    A yet-to be-fully developed teenage brain was more than happy to assist me in taking a journey I did not think I wanted to take (Don’t believe me about the brain?  Read this…. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124119468).
When I found out I was pregnant, lots of things ran through my head, some realistic but mostly they were panicked because I had no idea what to do nor did I want to do this thing called motherhood.  With the support of my mom (who was shocked at the news but exclaimed “I GET TO BE A GRANDMA!) I set about my journey.  Somehow I managed to figure enough out about being a mom that I picked up a second job while going to school full time so I could prepare for this future I hadn’t imagined.  I stashed away a couple thousand dollars during those 9 months but I had no idea what I really needed the money for or how far that money would go.  I just knew I needed it.  By the time Tanner arrived, I hadn’t figured out much more than I needed money to care for a baby. 
After several hours of “stuff” (I guess it was labor but it was really just a bunch of sitting and waiting post-epidural before a baby popped out) I held this red-eyed baby with an odd, coned shaped head briefly before passing him off to the Grandmas in the room.  Then, I did what every attentive new mother does – passed out cold until the next morning.   In retrospect, I have no idea who changed his diapers or fed him until he was about 18 hours old.  Ok, so I KNOW the woman now famously known as Nanny did it but never realized that I should be worried about feeding or changing my baby.   This lack of natural maternal instinct followed me home and hung around for several months. (It still makes an appearance on occasion, like when a baseball is flying through the stands at a crowded baseball game and instead of protecting my own offspring, I duck allowing it to knock one of them in the head).    On day 3 of being home from the hospital, I wake to care for a screaming Tanner.  I am eventually in tears right along with him.  Whatever hocus pocus I did to try to sooth him didn’t work.  I called the hospital, I swaddled him in a warm blanket, I paced, I did everything…at least I thought.  Famous Nan wakes up to help.  Her first question – when was the last time you fed him?  WHAT?  Fed him?  He didn’t tell me he was hungry!   To say motherhood did not come natural to me is an understatement. 
Five years later I made the decision to add to my motherhood resume.  I figured Tanner was still alive, I hadn’t killed him and he seemed reasonably well-adapted so I must be okay as a mom.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.   A myriad of social conditions in my life made the pregnancy an emotional hurricane.  Combine that with a brewing pot of mental illness and you have disaster.   By Mother’s Day 2001, I was a single mother again with a newborn AND a 5 year old.  I couldn’t find happiness even in full sunlight because of my life circumstances.  That Mother’s Day I woke for an early morning feeding with Nicolas.  As I am rocking him, Tanner tip –toes out of his bed to join us in the chair.  I sat there for over an hour holding both of my boys and watching them sleep.  It was magical.  My heart was full for the first time in a very long while all because I was a mother to these two amazing creatures.  All because I was on this life-path I never wanted to take. 
I was technically still a teenager when Tanner was born.  I was 19 at his birth and would turn 20 about 5 months later.  But emotionally, I was a teen mom for several years because I just wasn't emotionally mature enough to be a mom.  The worst part about being a teen mom is what you miss.  As a teen mom, you worry about missing time with your friends, parties and freedom to spend your money on yourself.  As a teen mom who is now chasing down 40, I am saddened about the things I missed with Tanner.  His first steps, sending him off to kindergarten and the list go on and on. In a nutshell, I didn’t have my focus fully dialed in to him to enjoy every.single.moment as his mother.  He missed out on a lot too by having a mom who wasn’t fully together until he was at least 10.  The only regret I have about bringing him into this world as early as I did is that he was cheated out of the best mom he deserved.  He had to rely other adults in his life and himself to grow up while I still figured it out myself.  Now that I think I have myself together, I have fallen in love with Tanner (and Nicolas) a hundred times over.  I know I’m the over involved mom, the quick-to-cry mom, the mom who just can’t quit obsessing about her children.  I also know I’m the mom who will be choking back tears of joy as she sends her unbelievably handsome little boy to Prom this weekend because he just grown up too darn fast.  For whatever emotional connection to motherhood I missed in the early years, it has come to me ten-fold now.  
The boys have grown too quickly, as all mother’s know.  As Tanner approaches college and Nicolas enters a stage of relative good health (and less dependence on me for his care) my role as a mother is changing.  As steadfast as I was about not wanting to be a mother, I’m as determined as ever that I want to be a mother forever.  I know my role in the boys’ lives is changing.  I’ve never been an adult without being a mother actively caring for my children.  To say it hasn’t been a struggle is a lie.  I have no idea who I am without the boys nor do I care to find out.  But guess what….it’s going to happen.  They are going to leave on their own journeys because that’s how I raised them and I am going to learn how to play a different role in motherhood even thought I can’t imagine it.  Remember the last time I couldn’t imagine taking a path in my life?  Let’s hope this next adventure turns out to be as enjoyable too. 
Happy Mother’s Day to the strong, nurturing woman in my life who made me the mother I am today.  Thank you! 

PS – Kids, if you are reading this, I would really like a new kitten to love and snuggle with since you are both outgrowing that stage.    

Saturday, December 15, 2012

What Batsh*t Crazy Looks Like

Bat:  any of an order (Chiroptera) of nocturnal placental flying mammals with forelimbs modified to form wings
Sh*t:  feces
Crazy:  full of cracks or flaws
being out of the ordinary                     

Some phrases in our culture have derogatory meanings or references but are used commonly without most knowing that it is rooted in some ugly, awful part of our history.  I admit, I am fond of the term “batsh*t crazy.”  It is humorous, cathcy and beyond logic when you break it down into what each of the words alone means.  Literally, to call someone batsh*t crazy is to say they are a nocturnal placental flying mammal with forelimbs modified to form wings full of cracks or flaws and being out of the ordinary slinging feces.  Now, if you really think you are a nocturnal flying mammal this may qualify you as mentally unstable (aka crazy).  That’s a whole other blog complete with a diagnostic manual to help us figure that out. 

This doesn't make any sense.  People are not so stupid to refer to people as flying mammals. This led me to research the origin of the phrase.  According to a very “reputable” website (aka Urban Dictionary which also enlightened me to the various meanings of the term “double stack” one night as I worked a case involving an overdose of a double stack of ecstasy.  Let’s just say don’t look up “double stack” if you are eating).  According to Urban Dictionary:

The phrase has origins in the old fashioned term "bats in the belfry." Old churches had a structure at the top called a belfry, which housed the bells. Bats are extremely sensitive to sound and would never inhabit a belfry of an active church where the bell was rung frequently. Occasionally, when a church was abandoned and many years passed without the bell being rung, bats would eventually come and inhabit the belfry. So, when somebody said that an individual had "bats in the belfry" it meant that there was "nothing going on upstairs" (as in that person's brain). To be BATSH*T CRAZY is to take this even a step further. A person who is batsh*t crazy is so nuts that not only is their belfry full of bats, but so many bats have been there for so long that the belfry is coated in batsh*t. Hence, the craziest of crazy people are BATSH*T CRAZY.

This seems more plausible because when my illness is not under control my thoughts run around my head like a bunch of bats often bumping into each other and some jumping right out of the belfry into the things I say or do.  It’s a real mess up there at times. There are plenty of anecdotal stories of me being “out of the ordinary” and “full of cracks and flaws.”  Obsessive relationships, an impulsive and risky first marriage, tattoos that were not so well thought out, mountains of credit card debt (thank you to my AMAZING husband for climbing that mountain with me and effectively destroying it in just a few short years), verbal outbursts full of hurling insults and screaming for no reason, uncontrollable urges to jump out of car and beat the crap out of the driver who just cut me off, hiding in my closet for hours to avoid hurting anyone else with my out of control emotions. I have three hospitalizations under my belt from age 18 – 25 because I was dangerous.  Some of you have firsthand accounts of my behaviors for which I apologize.  Most of you have stuck by me through these less than fun experiences which made me able to pull through some of the darkest times. You literally saved me life. Some people are afraid of bats and walked away because it was just too difficult to handle.  I hold no ill-feelings towards those who walk away.  In fact, I thank you for being brave enough to check-out when you knew you didn’t want to on this journey with me. 

Unfortunately, baby bats have inhabited my baby’s brain since he was about 4 years old.  He was always an active baby with a smile on his face. You could tell from an early age his heart was warm and his emotions pure and strong.  The terrible twos brought out the mischievous side.  There are stories of a dog covered in syrup and a piggy-bank heist leading to a chase through our house with the end result being a shattered piggy bank and the beginnings of a tumultuous brotherly relationship.  Then came the f-cking fours which made us long for the days of the terrible twos.  Misery engulfed our family.  People were giving us all kinds of parenting advice.  I questioned if I had done something wrong and felt tremendous guilt for not being a good enough parent.  He was the child who never outgrew the temper-tantrum stage.  In fact, his tantrums grew longer and with more intensity than I could have ever imagined.  The moment I realized we had more going on than age-typical tantrums and poor parenting was when he went into a rage and tried to destroy his bunk bed at age 4 and attempted to jump out of the car on the interstate.  He would go from an uncontrollable rage to maniacal laughing several times within the hour.  Days would pass where he had only slept a couple of hours each night only to wake with seemingly unbound energy.  The tears would follow, both from him and us, as we struggled to find some peace within our family.

Little did we know we had yet to see the full extent of what his batsh*t crazy looked like.  We trudged between doctors hoping to find some relief from this disease that was torturing his brain and his soul.  By second grade he was dangerous to himself and others.  We moved him to a self-contained classroom for children with emotional disabilities.  It was one of the hardest things in my life to accept because it meant he was not healthy and happy.  It turned out to be essential to his road to recovery.  The teachers deserve medals of honor for what they went through with him.  During this time, we tried a homeopathic approach combined with psychotropic medications.  Nothing was giving him relief.  He believed he was a werewolf.  In a store one day he announced loudly that his mother let him hunt and eat raw meat by tearing it with his teeth.  He stuck his head out of the car window to howl at a full moon.  He woke his brother by howling out of his bedroom window.  It was hard not to laugh at these things but the laughter was only to ward off the tears.  The absolutely lowest point came one night after a long rage when he attacked us and tried to jump off the balcony saying he wanted to die.  Sitting on the stairs, I held him close in my arms when my heart shattered.  He was clawing at his skin, begging me to make it stop and asking to die.  To this day I cannot think of that moment without tears streaming down my face.  To be feel so hopeless and helplesss at 8 years old....wow.

Our journey continued, with both he & I having symptoms that made us nearly impossible to live with.  My husband and oldest son have scars from those years.  They lost long periods of time of having a mother, a wife, a brother and a son because we were both so ill we were not safe for human consumption.  I will always carry the guilt of not being the best I could be because I wasn’t healthy.  I had been treated for depression since I was 18 but it wasn’t until I was 33 that a new doctor finally diagnosed me with bipolar II disorder (bp II is when people have hypomanic or “high” periods without incredibly dangerous behaviors followed by episodes of depression.  It is a pendulum of emotions that never quite swings out of control but gets close enough to the edge to make it scary).  A new medication regime was introduced and my life changed with a few days.  I am now able to use the coping skills to manage the hiccups in my emotions because the medication takes out the huge upward and downward swings.  The first time my oldest son told me I was easier to deal with was a victory to me.  I can be the parent I always knew I wanted to be, something he was deprived of for many years because of a missed diagnosis. 

We began seeing a new doctor for my son as well.  The homepathic treatment was stopped and an aggressive psychotropic medication regime was started.  We saw improvements almost immediately but weren't out of the woods yet.  He no longer wanted to die or do dangerous things but school was still a huge struggle.  After several tweaks in medication, he hit his stride last spring.  I received a call from the teacher after 4 weeks of school asking who the kid was who showed up to 6th grade because it wasn't the same kid who left 5th grade.  With relief from symptoms finally setting in, he made the honor roll for the first time in his life.  I sobbed tears of joy for him and he celebrated his accomplishments. 

This year will mark the first holiday season since 2005 with everyone in our family healthy and happy.  There have been no threats of revoking presents or the need for consequences for outrageous behaviors in school.  I am almost skipping through the stores as I shop for presents without the fear of the holiday being ruined by my irritability or elaborate fits of rage from my son.  I am fully present and accounted for with both of my children and my husband.  Above all else, I’m happiest that my son is healthy and happy.  He feels good about himself.  He is smart enough and been through so much that he understands the nature of the disease.  He has stopped blaming himself and accepted it as a medical condition.  He knows when he needs a break to take care of himself and when he needs to see the doctor for adjustments in medication.  He tries to educate others about mental illness (sometimes to strangers so he may have a future in advocacy and public health education).  He has been through more in 11 years with bravery and resilience than most people go through in a lifetime. 

Even if we never have another holiday season of good health and happiness for everyone in our family, this one season will always be in my heart.  This is what recovery looks like.  This is what batsh*t crazy looks like.  We will always have bats in my belfry, but now we know how to clean up the mess. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Warrior Dash 2012

I'm not an active person despite being incredibly active in high school nearly 20 years ago.  I have visions in my head of returning to my former, active self and somehow find a way out of it.  I had a nice romance with a very nice gym for about a year where I frolicked in the pool with old ladies during water aerobics, gave a whirl at spin class (the old man recovering from knee surgery survived longer than I did in that class), fell in love with yoga, and a bunch of other random things that made me feel as if I was really doing something (we will not count the time I was using one of the weight machines backwards feeling like a superstar only to realize everyone was laughing at my ignorance).  I've had my share of flying off treadmills and making a fool of myself in aerobic classes.  But in the last few years, I have done nothing more than take the occasional flight of stairs at work and walk like a mad woman on Black Friday to get the deals.  

Being inspired by some pretty amazing women in my life who are fearless runners, I caught the fever to start running.  I "ran" cross country in high school as a way to train for basketball season.  It didn't go so well.  After my first race my dad told me he could have walked the course faster than I ran it.  I was the only girl on the team for a couple of years.  By the time I would finish my measly 2 miles, the guys would have finished their nearly 3 miles, cooled down, stretched, had a snack, packed up, went to China a back and were waiting for me at the bus.  It never stopped me though.  I had drive. If someone said I can't, I did.  At 12, my brother told me I couldn't detassle corn with him because I wasn't tough enough.  He lasted 3 days and I lasted 3 years just to prove a point.  

One of my fearless runner friends has this amazing ability to convince me anything is a good idea and that I absolutely  freakin' can do it if I want to.  It's a darn good thing she leads me down the right path or else we would be running a large prostitution ring out of the basement of our house all the while claiming it was a "great entrepreneurial exercise."  About 10 days ago I get a message saying we should do the Warrior Dash on the 11th  together.  Why not I say.  It had been on my list for a long time and I had just started officially training to do a 5K. Seemed pretty soon, but okay.  September 11th gives me a few more weeks to be ready.  Um no.  August 11th Warrior Running Goddess says.  Here's the point where I could have bailed.  Any logical 15 year veteran couch potato would have said no.  And then the magical powers of Warrior Running Goddess kicked in.  Without saying another word she had me convinced I could do it (I have no idea how she obtained these magical powers, but if I can figure it out I want those same powers to convince my kids to do their #@!%$ chores). So, I did my usual self-doubting routine which only fueled my determination to do it.  Again, if I shouldn't I will is my motto.   

I give a modest attempt at "training" by running a mile or two in the 10 days leading up to the event.  I initially thought I was sure to die from exhaustion during the Dash but pushed ahead anyway.  I think I ran a only 4 times during those 10 days for a total of 6 runs in the last 8 kabillion years of my life.   The morning of the run I am preparing like I'm a bad-a$$ runner, fueling up on protein and stretching like my life depends on it (I was actually wondering if my life was on the line but threw caution to the wind anyway).  I have my pink tiger striped knee high socks on and am ready to run.  

We wait patiently until our turn to run and then we are off.  A nice slow jog for the first 1/2 mile or so leads us to a creek of water.  I splash through, initiating my shoes in the mud.  The course was supposed to feature 11 obstacles throughout the 5K, with the first being a "large hill."  We discover it is not only a large hill, but has multiple brothers and sisters of hills that we have to battle as well.  We slip & slide.  Warrior Running Goddess is being a cheerleader despite planting herself face first up a hill into the mud.   On the 600th  hill (who the hell knows, there were probably only 4 hills but it felt like forever) I try to navigate the descent down and gravity takes over.  My legs are moving like Wiley Coyote's in a fast circle while my body is no where near keeping up.  Then it happens.  I wipe out, rolling down the hill and landing fast first in the mud.  I look up to see a bowling-ball sized rock just inches from my face.  At this point I'm giggling (maybe just inside because my abdomen was too tired to actually move up and down to laugh out loud) and thankful I didn't get a face full of rock giving me "summer teeth" (some are there, some aren't).  In a strange way, that made me feel fierce rather than embarrassed and we forge on.  

I don't remember much of the obstacles in the middle of the race.  Some tromping through mud again, some walking across tight ropes over a creek, etc.  By about 1/2 the way through it I feel like a complete beast.  Rocky music is playing in my head.  I don't feel like a 35ish year old mother of 2 who does very little to take care of herself.  I feel like Jada - the one who has her fight back.  We come up to a series of small hills which send you plummeting into pits of cake-batter like mud.  Mud is in places it shouldn't be.  Every inch of your body is covered, including my teeth (note to self:  don't scream while sliding down hills).  In perhaps my favorite memory of the day, Warrior Running Goddess says "I think I just douched with mud."  You see, this is one of the reasons I love her.  She's not only fearless, she's funny.  

We tackled all of the obstacles, with only 1 being too tough to finish this late in the race.  The final stretch was swimming into the middle of pond to climb over stuff, leaping over fire and then a belly crawl through the last mud pit to the finish line.  I don't think my body is what finished that race for me today.  It was my gut, my grit and determination to do what I'm not supposed to do.  We had planned on taking an hour and a half to two hours to finish the race and came in right around the 57 minute mark.  

I learned a lot about myself today and the very special friendship I have with Warrior Running Goddess.  I'm really struggling with my transition from a very hands-on mothering role to watching two young men become independent.  I've always been a mom and am terrified of who I will find in a few years when I take a part-time role as mom and full-time role as myself again.  I caught a glimpse of that person today.  She's tough, she's stubborn, and I like her.  As for Warrior Running Goddess, she inspires me.  She calls me on my BS and gives me a wedgie with my big girl panties just to remind me to quit being so irrational.  She pushes me to grow, be my best and never sell myself short.  I needed that swift kick in the butt to get me into this race.  I thought I would finish, get a medal and a fuzzy warrior hat and go home.  But instead I found a piece of my tough, driven self again.  And for that, it was all worth it.  

PS - Ask me again tomorrow if I think it was all worth it when I can't get out of bed!!  

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

My Comedic Protege

In honor of Nicolas' 11th birthday this week, I wanted to take a trip down memory lane (or memory freeway as fast as kids grow up).  He has no physical resemblance to me, in fact, my cats look more like me than either of my children.  However, Nicolas was cursed and lucky at the same time, inheriting my personality and quirks.  He's funny when he's not trying to be and overbearing when he's trying to be funny.  He makes others laugh when all he is trying to do is be the best Nicolas he knows how to be, enjoying life.  He has faced many difficult situations in 11 years and he is as resilient as any kid I've ever known.  Some of these less than typical experiences have resulted in the best "Nicolas Stories."  At one point, his adventures had become so amusing I would have people asking me what he had been up to lately just for a good chuckle.  So, here you will find a brief compilation of my favorite "Nicolas Stories."  

Syrup Bath
Starting at a young age, Nicolas had a very curious and creative mind.  There wasn't much he couldn't find a way to work through, around, over or under.  He was the kid who would be out of the crib so fast he could be sitting on the couch waiting for you as you left the room thinking he was in bed for the night.  One morning when he was about 2 years old, we were having a chat with Tanner at the kitchen table over some inappropriate behavior.  All of our attention was on giving our best "you should know better" lecture, which was more for our benefit than his.  We hear a dripping sound coming from around the corner.  I get up to find Nicolas giving the dog a "drink" of syrup and by drink, I mean a head to toe bath in syrup.  He just stood there, smiling as if he was being a kind hearted soul helping the thirsty dog.  It took a good hour to get the dog clean and for us to stop laughing.

The Great Heist 
At about the age of 3 both boys had receiving ceramic piggy banks for Christmas.  Nicolas managed to break his shortly after Christmas, but Tanner's sat safely on his shelf stuffed with his meager savings.  Once again, we hear a commotion.  I walk into the living room to see Nicolas, clad in footie pajamas, running wildly towards his bedroom with a ceramic piggy bank in hand while Tanner chased him.  As Tanner closed in on him, Nicolas decided to "ditch" the evidence by throwing the bank onto the hardwood floor outside of his room.  

The Best Time to Wash Your Hair is In Wal-Mart
As I prepared for an out of town business trip I needed to stop at Wal-Mart for a few hygiene items.  Tanner had just been dropped off at Tae Kwon Do so I had just a few minutes to accomplish this.  Standing in the shampoo isle, I turn my back to Nicolas (about age 3) to make my selections.  He seems to be content moving bottles around on the shelves and I could tell he was still right behind me.  As I turn around, I see him with a head full of bubbles.  His little hands were fully into the scrubbing of his head making an abundance of lather.  I burst into uncontrollable laughter, then realize I have to somehow get him out of the store AND still make my purchase.  Thankfully, he wasn't tall enough yet to be seen above the counter but I was in tears trying to hold in my laughter.  Again, he has no clue that this is anything other than normal (maybe he was onto something back then and is really the mastermind behind People of Walmart).  When I get to the parking lot, I call my mom to tell her story.  I am still experiencing body shaking, belly hurting laughter.  I spring into my story as soon as she answers but she thinks I'm crying and there is a crisis.  It took me a few minutes to calm down enough to get my story out.  I then have to take him into Tae Kwon Do classes (after managing to wipe out most of the obvious evidence).  When we sit down with the other parents, someone says "Something smells really clean."  Um, you don't say!

Please Tell me I'm Adopted
Nicolas has seen his share of doctors and needles in his lifetime.  He pays close attention to what the process is at each visit, often asking lots of questions about what is going to happen next.  We went to a new laboratory one day requiring me to fill out paperwork.  I pull out the insurance card to fill out the forms. Nicolas is glaring at the paperwork and then glances back to the insurance card.  Then the questions start.  "Mom, is that my adoption card?"  Huh.  Odd question, but no.  "Does it say I'm adopted?"  Well, no it doesn't.  "Please tell me I'm adopted."  No sweetie, we didn't adopt you if that's what you are worried about.  "No, if I'm not adopted then that means you have had...you know what."  I'm still engrossed in the paperwork and blindly ask "It means what Nicolas?"  He loudly replies "S-E-X and that's just gross."   I can see this is traumatic for him so I try to relate my own thoughts on parental sex.  I tell him it's okay if it makes him uncomfortable because I am uncomfortable thinking about  my parents having sex.  Wrong.  I have now spiked an emotional overload.  "NANNY AND PAPA HAVE SEX?  OLD PEOPLE SEX?  THAT'S DISGUSTING" he shouts.  Oh Nicolas....

What Sounds Like Meditation but is WILDLY Inappropriate to Do at the Dinner Table
As you may or may not know, kids with mood disorder can have a sexual preoccupation at a much earlier age than their typical peers.  This isn't because I've exposed my kid to endless hours of porn or other weird stuff, it's just something about how the brain is wired.  Songs with the word "sexy" in them make him squirm in his seat until I turn the station.  He's got super sonic radar ears when there is any hint of a sexual conversation going on, even if it's a fact-based conversation.  But somehow he missed the boat on a very important word about the activity of self-pleasure.  As we sit around the table enjoying a nice dinner and conversation, I look over to find Nicolas seated with his legs criss crossed and his palms pressed together in front of him.  His eyes are closed and he is taking deep breaths.  It's odd.  He never sits still.  So I take the bait.  Again, wrong.  His response to my inquiry about what he was doing was "I'm masturbating.  It helps me relax."  My super mature, incredibly serious family-mates (Jason & Tanner) erupt in laughter, prompting Nicolas to open his eyes with a questioning look on his face.  I then explain that masturbating is perhaps not the word he is looking for, but yes, that would help him relax too, just not at the kitchen table please.  

Everyone Wants Armpit Hair Made Out of Cat Fur
Nicolas used to have insomnia.  He would sleepwalk (we once found him peeing in the litter box while a very confused and ticked off cat looked on).  He would often wake for no reason in the middle of the night with some crazy idea in his head that he just had to execute right that second.  One night, round 1:00 a.m. I hear some commotion coming from the hallway.  I see a light on in the hall bathroom so I go to investigate.  Maybe one of the boys are sick I thought.  (Why do I always have such rational thoughts after all this time with Nicolas).  Again, I was wrong.  Instead, I find him stark naked in the bathroom standing in front of the mirror.  He has one arm raised above his head with the other hand firmly pressing into the opposite armpit.  When I was finally able to convince him to move his hand I discovered yet another wonderful Nicolas invention.  Faux armpit hair fashioned out of gum and cat hair.  Ohhh, that makes sense.  Everyone wants a furry cat under their arm.  Now, you may be thinking "where did he get that idea" or "how did he get the cat hair."  Come on people, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS REASON OR EXPLANATIONS IN THE WORLD OF NICOLAS! (haven't you been following along in this blog!).  I ended up having to use Goo-gone on his armpits to release the gooey concoction.  If you ever need to get something to stick really, really good to skin, ask Nicolas.  He somehow has a special technique to warm the gum in his armpit and then use his fingers to spread it as thin as possible.  Jason's keen observation was we were lucky to have discovered him before he finished the arm pit hair and traveled south on his body.  

These are just a tiny, tiny sample of the great stories we have with Nicolas.  He often says things that are soooo close to what he actually means yet so far off base they crack us up.  His view of the world is just as tilted as mine.  I have no idea what makes his mind tick.  I know his mind works in ways that only famous or infamous people's minds do.  The neatest thing about Nicolas is along with the wonderful approach he has to life, he also has the kindest, biggest heart.  He thinks of others first (most of the time).  He can read emotions like a book.  His teachers often comment that he asks them if they are frustrated way before they even realize they are frustrated.  Hhe responds to other's emotions in very appropriate and considerate ways.  He once asked the teacher if she needed a time out because he was "really annoying her" and he was sorry.  He gives the best hugs and isn't afraid to admit he is a Mama's boy.  I still get a hug every day when I pick him up from school right there in front of his friends.  I've sometimes wondered why Nicolas is sick or is just plain out different than most kids.  I've finally come to realize Nicolas is perfect just the way he is.  If he didn't have humor or have a mind that bends around things differently, he wouldn't have survived what has been thrown at him.  I have learned so much from Nicolas that I could never have learned any other way.  That makes me a better mother, a better person, and a much better social worker.  

Happy 11th birthday my sweet boy!  


Monday, April 16, 2012

Feelings are Not the F Word

I love my husband.  He's wonderful, very talented, and a great provider.  He has a sense of humor that possible outlasts mine and is the ultimate planner.  Like everyone, he has a bit of deficit in one area.  Empathy, emotional responses and especially, medical know-how.  I'm not concerned that he doesn't know how to conduct in-depth therapy or determine if a mole is cancerous.  It's the basic, everyone-should-know-this kind of stuff that makes me laugh (and drives me bonkers). 

If you are thinking this is a story about husband-bashing you couldn't be more off base.  These deficits are the quirky oddities about him that make him who is he and who I love.  Just like I don't have money sense and am not a planner AT ALL, two qualities he has mastered, these are areas in which we balance each other. 

We often joke (okay, I often joke) that he thinks feelings are the "f" word and therefore, we shouldn't say them, acknowlege them, or even reference them...ever.  (Strangely enough, he isn't shy about releasing a barage of the real f-word while dismantling a video game or working on a complicated home project.)  But start talking feelings and he gets this uncomfortable, almost fearful look in his eyes that tells me he is about to check out of the conversation.  Maybe it's because I tend to leap into full-out therapy mode, analyzing everyone and everything in my path looking for an underlying message in their behavior.  Just because he doesn't put the toilet paper roll back on just how I like it (over not under) doesn't mean he is harboring secret feelings of contempt towards me.  His typical response to my expression of emotions is "I'm sorry you chose to feel that way."  He is being as genuine as he can be with this methodical, pre-programmed response to my emotional-meltdowns but it somehow feels automated and detached.  Then I realize, he is analytical and a planner.  That does not leave much room for free-flowing interpretation of situations to warrant anything other than his standard, safe response.  So, it's not his fault nor an attempt to disregard my feelings. It's simply how his mind works.

Now, what does this have to do with medical know-how?  Just last night I rammed my toes into the corner of the couch leaving me with throbbing pain that would not subside.  After about 30 minutes (okay, maybe 10) I am in tears and certain something is broken.  Things are swelling and bruising and throbbing and sending signals to my brain that something isn't right.  I manage to hobble down one flight of stairs and to the top of the basement stairs where he is involved in an intense battle via XBox live.  When I finally manage to get his attention, I whine that I think something is broken.  His response?  "There is some demoral in the cabinet.  Maybe that will help."  Oh thank goodness.  That makes me feel comforted and really important.  No need to spring into "my wife may need me for emotional support" mode, but a calculated, solution focused reponse.  The same type of way he would have responded if I said the toilet was clogged.  Problem + solution = no more problem.  I shouldn't have been surprised.  Over the last ten years, he has never strayed from this approach to any type of situation. He is predictable and that makes me feel safe. 

When the tables are turned though, he turns into someone entirely different.  Every year, and I mean EVERY year, he gets a cold/sinus congestion/something that yields basic symptoms.  He comes to me with the came complaint.  I don't feel good.  I respond with "how do you feel" and get a basic list of symptoms.  Congestion, aches, sore throat, drainage, etc.  My next quesiton is always the same -- have you taken anything for it?  His response, after 10 freakin' years is also the same.  "I didn't know what to take."  Now, I know he doesn't have a long history of medical care.  He didn't get sick much as a child, was only injured a handful of times and each time, didn't get medical care.  It was always a "tough it out and it will get better" approach.  But after a few years of this same dialogue, I finally made a special container in our medicine cabinet labled "HEY JASON  - COLD & SINUS MEDICINE.  THIS IS WHAT YOU TAKE."  Who knows if this approach will work as I just implemented it a few weeks ago.  Why hadn't I thought of this sooner?

All of these cooky things about him are perhaps odd to me because I ooze emotions.  I leak emotions all over my life, often thinking this is normal (ha.  Nothing about me is normal!).  People who aren't open and forthcoming with emotions or who do not have an emotion laden reaction to what I think are emotionally important situations are somehow stiffled and in denial in my world.  Then I realize, if he were a highly emotional person we would be a hot mess.  My emotions often leave me with the inability to make a decision, even about simple things.  He not only makes decisions, he is confident in his decisions.  He is meticulous in his planning, resulting in us accomplishing things I would never dream possible (erasing a mountain of my debt in 4 short years and landing us into a home nicer than I could ever imagine for our family).  Our vacations are jam-packed with day-to-day activities, including a list of must-dos and places we must-eat.  I've never been disappointed with our vacations and he gets all of the credit for that.  Even though he doesn't say the "f" work (feelings) he shows it through his planning, he thoughtful actions that brought us to where we are today.  But I sure would have appreciated an appearance at the top of the stairs last night to carry me to couch while I whined and complained of my "it needs to be amputated right now" foot.  He would have appreciated if I had planned ahead and wore shoes in the house.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

An Idiot Abroad - My Bucket List

One of my new favorite shows is "An Idiot Abroad,'' starring Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant who send  their friend, the close-minded and simple Karl Pilkington, on outlandish adventures that are commonly found on bucket lists.  Sounds enjoyable, right?  Except Gervais and Merchant always add a twist, producing more anxiety in their already laced-up-tighter-than a corset friend.  Swim with dolphins?  Great. But change that to swim with sharks and Karl nearly dies of a panic attack.  Visit a group of natives on an island?  Interesting.  Be named the God of the natives and made to dress in traditional attire that includes a hallow stick as your penile covering while they dance around and worship you? Slightly uncomfortable.  Or as Karl continues to remind them while trying to negotiate his way out of this, "My parents are going to be watching!  I can't do this to them!"  Part of my amusement with this show is Karl's unwavering hesitation about the adventure his pals have planned for him.  He hem-haws around, making absurd "what if" circumstances seem very real and then goes through with the activity with much trepidation.  I almost feel voyeuristic watching as Karl nearly has an emotional break down every episode while Gervais and Merchant howl in laughter each time they phone in with more details of the adventure.

I have also been an idiot abroad once.  Not in the sense that someone else planned my adventures and I blindly followed.  In 2009, I had the amazing opportunity to visit Germany with the IU School of Social Work for a conference on civic engagement and social learning.  I have never left the country, never really traveled on my own.  Before I decided to go on the trip, I had this burning question I had to get answered -- how is the food?  Now you all know I'm a big girl and I eat like a big girl.  But I'm a big MIDWESTERN girl and don't venture too far off the beaten menu path.  I had to know if I would be able to emotionally eat my way through home sickness and other unfamiliar feelings while half-way across the world.  Once that was settled, I readily jumped into this adventure feet first.  I think I did fairly well overall, but there were a few set backs.  For example, when stepping off the plane in Germany I had no Earthly idea how to 1) buy a train ticket 2) read the sign to buy a train ticket 3) exchange money to have the proper currency to buy a train ticket or 4) know the right language to ask someone how to buy a train ticket.  Me and a few classmates wandered throughout the airport thinking we could figure this out, but the sight of security with HUGE rifles threw us off our game (not to mention jet lag).  And all I could think about was my dire need for a Diet Coke - it consumed my mind.  Good thing I had planned ahead for this trip, right?  Because everyone speaks English and is enamored with American travelers.  Another faux pas was also because of my lack of German speaking/reading skills.  My roommate & I were super excited to find an Aldi's grocery store on one of our ventures into the small town.  The store was closing soon.  We made our rush through the store grabbing candy, chips, and liquor for our evening's festivities.  We return to the hotel, pleased with our goods.  Except we have no idea what the bottle of orange, thick liquid is we bought.  We assumed some type of fruit drink mix for daiquiris or margaritas, but just aren't sure.  We traipse down to the friendly wait staff we befriended earlier in the week with our bottle.  He bursts into laughter and asks us why we bought egg nog.  Egg nog?  Really.  Well, really.  We should have noticed the picture of the chicken and egg prominently placed on the label but we didn't.  Germany was perhaps once of the most growth-filled trips of my life.  I came back looking at things differently and appreciating differences in people and situations like I never had. 

I long for more adventures like Germany, but I don't want to leave my bucket list in the hands of twisted, evil friends who like to watch me suffer.  So, here is my bucket list.  It is sure to evolve as I do, but just in case my end is near, I figured I better get something on paper and leave nothing in the hands of others.

  1. Live & work in a European country for a brief time.  I feel more educated and sophisticated in a scarf and messenger bag slung over my shoulder while walking on cobblestone streets.  Europe is just the place to do this.  Jason refuses to add this to his list, so we may have to do a lot of Skyping. 
  2. Meet my grandchildren (but not too soon!).  I don't want to die without watching my children become parents, if they so chose.  I'm sure I will enjoy the grandchildren, but I will be in awe watching my boys learn to become fathers.  They have certainly had an amazing example of what it means to be a father through Jason, who chose them as his children.
  3. Major social events - Super Bowl, NYE in Times Square are two of my ideas, but I'm still thinking there may be others to add to this list.
  4. Fearlessly be myself - I should be able to do this now, right?  I'm not there, but I'm growing towards it each day.  One day I will officially have the "I love myself and don't care if you do" attitude and REALLY mean it.  
  5. Renew our wedding vows.  I'm thinking something classy, like Vegas (jk).  I guess anything would be classy compared to our first circus wedding. 
  6. Be famous.  I have this little girl dream to be famous, perhaps a musician or performer. I really dig the idea of being idolized and adored by masses of fans (footnote -- see #4 for an explanation why).  
  7. Road trip with my family.  This one will actually happen this summer as we travel to Buffalo, NY; NYC; Boston; and Jersey Shore.  But this can't be the last!  I have visions of extended family road trips with my children and their families, with cousins and friends.  I can never be surrounded by enough of the people I love.
  8. Take a cooking class.  I once made a chicken-pot-pie so awful my kids think chicken-pot-pie is a dirty word now.  I'm pretty good at heating things up though.
  9. Let go of past mistakes.  So what if I had that unfortunate accident in the pool at age 8 (for the record, there is no documentation of this event so you can't really prove it was ME who left what was mistaken for a penny on the bottom of the pool floor) or if I stuck my foot in my mouth on more than one occasion. 
  10. Write a book.  No surprise here - I love to talk. And write.  This perhaps ties in with #6 because if only I can turn my words and thoughts into something amazing, I will become semi-famous. Ohhh, I could sign copies of my book with some unreadable signature.  
  11. Botox.  Either my mirror was swapped with a fun house mirror or I am getting wrinkles in undesirably places (note - all wrinkles are undesirable unless you are a Sharpei dog.  I mean, we use a hot iron to get wrinkles out of fabric so obviously they are ugly).  I would also go for a tummy tuck, nose job, and boob lift.  Boob lift first because I don't need a built in hiding place for pencils or lipstick on my chest.  
  12. Become BFFs with Donnie Wahlberg and Peyton Manning (come on, did you think we would get out of this list without the mention of Donnie or Peyton?).  Better yet - I would get both Peyton and Donnie together so they can both tell me how awesome I am only for them both to realize they are rivals.  Donnie proclaims his love for all things Patriots/Tom Brady, while Peyton defends my honor as a Colts fan (or a Cardinals fan.  or a Dolphins fan.  Or maybe I'm crying now, so what?).  
So there you have it.  My bucket list.  Nothing exotic or crazy.  Nothing terribly exciting either.  I'm sure I could make the list go on and on because I'm just not ready to quit living.  Good thing I wear a seat belt and sunscreen, right?