Friday, May 25, 2012

The Difference A Year Has Made

A few years ago, I was given a copy of Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell by the hosts of a sales training I was attending. This book examines some patterns of success that are not what I would consider obvious to the casual observer. One of the sections of the book analyzes the birth dates of Canadian professional hockey players and presents this information adjacent to their levels of success. While there was much more to this book than just birth dates and life circumstances, the one point that stuck out to me was the one that hit closest to home, which is the success of my son.

From Wikipedia: "The book begins with Gladwell's research on why a disproportionate number of elite Canadian hockey players are born in the first few months of the calendar year. The answer, he points out, is that since youth hockey leagues determine eligibility by calendar year, children born on January 1 play in the same league as those born on December 31 in the same year. Because children born earlier in the year are bigger and more mature than their younger competitors, and they are often identified as better athletes, this leads to to extra coaching and a higher likelihood of being selected for elite hockey leagues."

This made perfect sense to me in relation to Will's struggles with school. He is barely old enough to be in his grade - his birthday is ten days before the September 1 deadline. In contrast, my daughter has an October birthday, and is generally one of the older ones in her class - little to no issues with her at all. Connection? Maybe. Anyway, last year, we retained Will for second grade because of the backlog of struggling, heartache and worry we had all been dealing with since he began kindergarten four years ago. In August 2011, I wrote this post: School Year 2011-12 and I'm Terrified. and to date it has been the singularly most read post I've ever written. It has been viewed 13, 358 times on Blogher and a couple of hundred times here directly on my blog, which leads me to believe that I am in no way alone.

Last year, we had Will evaluated by so many different education and child specialists it wasn't even funny. Behavioral, vision, occupational, psychological, pediatric, etc. - pretty much anyone who we thought could shed some light on why he was having such a hard time. It was the culmination of all this, plus our flat refusal to continue down the road we were on that lead us to decide upon retention. We stayed with the same teacher (who is a SAINT and without whom this story easily could have had an entirely different ending) and got the school year going. His problem, in our opinion, was largely in issue of maturity and development, and no amount of therapy, medication or behavioral interventions would help him grow up. Our stance became that time really was the only solution.


It is not to say that we have been entirely without incident or obstacles, but they are minimal, manageable and what I would consider pretty average actually. Will has made the honor roll repeatedly, has developed academically beyond my wildest hopes, has blossomed socially and most importantly, is happy and proud of himself. He smiles at school now. He doesn't hate it anymore. He's a leader instead of a trouble maker. He has learned tactics to manage his ADHD and emotions. He was a Terrific Kid. He has been accepted into the SAIL program. And yesterday, he actually opted to participate in field day and did it well and with complete joy.

I cannot stress enough the difference between now and last year this time. I also cannot stress enough how much I appreciate the efforts of Will's teacher and the other professionals at the school who have supported us through this. Will is now ready for third grade instead of just qualifying for it by his birthday. He is excited about being a third grader and happy to be one of the older kids instead of the "baby". We have actually been able to go through school like regular people, rather than being in constant crisis management.

While "red-shirting" kindergartners can be done for all kinds of unsavory reasons, I think there are times when it makes sense. I knew in my gut we should not have let Will begin school but we did anyway. The point that I am making is to reiterate that you and only you know what is best for your children. Obviously the experience and opinions of professionals should be taken into account but the final decision needs to be one the resonates with you on a gut level.  Only you can be their best advocate. I am so glad we held Will back - I honestly can say I think it changed the direction of his life, and that is no small detail. Maybe he'll be an Outlier one day too.

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Division Equals Subtraction, Now That I Think About It.

Last week, the cover of Time magazine once again ignited a heated debate amongst many women (and some men) in this country. I am not even going to touch on it because I am not giving it any more attention than it's already been given but what I did find to be most thought provoking was why these debates rage on over and over and over again. The "Mommy Wars", as they've come to be called, just won't stop. Breastfeeding, bottle feeding, homeschooling, stay at home, work from home, work outside the home, discipline, free range, helicoptering, attachment, etc, etc, etc. This list just seems endless.

I personally do not ever get into commenting arguments with people on any of this. The only thing I usually say is to just do your personal best, stop being judgemental and mind your own business. Lately though, I have been giving more thought to the WHY this keeps happening. My first reaction was that people argue and judge is because they feel insecure about their own life choices/circumstances but I really think that the problem is deeper than that. I wish I had noted something I read awhile back, because now that I want to reference it, I of course cannot find it but the thrust of what I read was this: the way to keep the status quo is to keep those who might change it fighting amongst each other.

The more I thought about this, the more it makes sense to me. This theory can apply to so many situations. Think about it - this whole country is just furious. Furious and divided. Yet the pot keeps getting stirred, we keep fighting with each other about pretty much everything and nothing ever changes. By remaining fragmented and focusing on non-issues like whether or not my neighbor breastfeeds her baby or not, we cannot consolidate and affect real change. Those that are making decisions and basically running everything will remain in power and the rest of us will continue pushing further and further apart until the fracture becomes a break.

I am not referring solely to the current political environment and I don't even know who "those in charge" even are. I do know that I feel like my life is not all that self determined somehow. I do feel like whomever is stoking the "mommy wars" has some kind of agenda that really isn't to advance the cause of motherhood. And I can promise you that I am sick to freaking death of people attacking each other online, in person and on TV. No common ground was ever reached by two people calling each other vile names and ridiculing their positions. You want me to listen to your point of view? Then don't act like an ass and understand that extremism convinces me of nothing other than that you are probably crazy.

I think division of people keeps them from gaining power. I think the "house divided" point is the absolute truth. I want to hear what you have to say, I want you to listen to what I have to say and see if we can meet somewhere in the middle. Having strong convictions is great and while I don't think that everything has a true center, I do think that we can do better than we are at the moment. And I really think that people need to see each other as people first and not as a talking point attached to a body. Because were I to seriously define who I am, I don't start with Independent voter, or breast feeder, or work outside the home mom. I start with human and surely we can all relate to that. 

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

How My Son Is Trying To Kill Me, or, Why Jenny Lawson Is My Hero

Yesterday afternoon, I was making dinner as Lawton and Cecilia left for softball practice. Will had finished his homework and was wanting to watch TV but I declined his request of shiftless loafing and told him to go play instead. We decided that I was going to finish getting the spaghetti going and then go for a bike ride. He was going to "dink around" in the meantime.

About five minutes after this conversation, I was finished and went to the garage to find Will and leave for the bike ride. And he was nowhere to be found. I called and called, ran all over the house, walked up and down the street - still nothing. Hopped on my bike to see if I could see him down the road somewhere, but was pretty unsure about what was going on because both his bike and his scooter were still in the garage. Rode to the pool area - nothing. To the cul de sac where he likes to ride to - nothing.

Came home, wondering if maybe he was just somewhere inside and hadn't heard me. (I know, pretty impossible to believe with my big mouth, but still.) Then it dawned on me that he may have sweet talked Lawton into letting him tag along to softball practice and no one had told me. Called the husband - no answer. Called a friend who was at practice - no answer. Called the husband again. Called the friend again - he answered, got Lawton and they confirmed that Will was not there either. Lawton began to jump in the truck and race home and I was hanging up to call the police. About forty minutes had passed since I started looking and serious panic was setting in.

As I walked outside, just dialing 911, I noticed movement near the stop sign. Here came Will, walking down the street carrying his skateboard and elbow pads. The look on my face must have been enough because before I even started talking, he went on about how sorry he was, please forgive him, he loves me, etc. I began my sniffling teary diatribe about knowing where he is, making sure that I know where he has gone, and so forth but about halfway through it, I realized that my entire body had been practically singing with adrenaline that left so quickly I just flopped down on the ground.

 I have never been so scared in my entire life. Ever. And I am now certain that I am 77 instead of 37. I even woke up with a new wrinkle.

What happened next surprised me, and I guess it shouldn't have, but I don't think I've ever felt the way I did before the relief of seeing my son set in. After a few minutes of trying to compose myself, I realized that I was having a panic attack. People who I am close with know that I struggle with anxiety and depression, and have been on and off several different medications to deal with this. Most of the time I do pretty okay but every once in a while, well, stuff just goes haywire. The pounding heart, sweating, weird humming sound in my ears are all disconcerting but what really freaks me out is the feeling of not being able to catch my breath.

As you can imagine, feeling like you cannot breathe does nothing to actually lower your anxiety level, so that is why I take medication. I joke about my crazy pills, but when you are in the throws of an attack, that bottle is a lifeline. I don't take Xanax to get a buzz - when I need it, I take it to feel normal. When it kicks in, the only thing I notice is that I can breath again. That I feel like myself again. That I can think clearly again, instead of feeling like a trapped animal, trying to escape my own body.

Yesterday, one of my very most favorite bloggers, Jenny Lawson aka The Bloggess, experienced an anxiety attack of her own, and as per usual, shared it with us. Jenny has been very open and candid about her struggles with anxiety and depression with her bazillions of followers, in hopes that sharing her story with others who are struggling as well may help them. I think it's working too, because when you read the comments on her blog and other writings, there are scads of people thanking her for sharing her story.

Jenny has made the phrase "Depression Lies" her personal mantra and I have taken it on as my own too. Because it does lie. When I have a depressive episode, the things my brain tells me are horrible. Things like "no one would care if you were dead", "you are such a big fat failure" and "your life is completely meaningless" and the lowest, "your children would be better off with a different mother". Ouch.

Are these things true? Nope. Do I feel like they are? Sometimes. Why? Because depression lies and we believe it. One of my tactics to try stop my brain from doing this is to ask myself if I would allow someone to talk to me like that. Absolutely not. The other thing is that I ask myself if I would talk to someone else like that. The answer is unequivocally no. But sometimes this isn't enough, which again, is why I take medication and stay in contact with my doctor especially when I am struggling with my anxiety/depression.

Now, I don't want you guys to worry - really, I'm fine, honestly. But I think that the more people are open with their own experiences, the more other people who feel that they are alone in their struggles will know that they are not. They can know that there is no shame in taking medication to deal with this and that it is no different than taking any other medication for a physical disorder. They can know that there is hope and that they too can feel better. They can know that depression is a liar and not to listen. Here is the video that Jenny posted to her blog today. It's really good, and totally worth sharing. I hope that by sharing my experience, maybe I can help someone too. Be nice to yourselves, people. You are the only you out there. :-)

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