Friday, January 27, 2017

School struggles

I'm writing to ask for some guidance. I need help.

Jordan is having a really hard time in school. He says he hates school, which may or may not be true, depending on the moment. But it is true that half his day is a struggle.

Here's the deal, or what I think is the deal. And as I see it, there are two issues. One, a personality clash with a teacher who doesn't have a lot of experience. And two, the inability or unwillingness to stay on a task he finds boring.

Jordan is in a bilingual school. He has two main teachers that split his day--one for English, one for Spanish. All math instruction is in Spanish. Now, he likes math. In fact, he loves it. And his Spanish is great, so it is not impeding his ability to do math problems.

What he doesn't like, or anyway, claims not to like, is Spanish.

We heard this the first year, when he disliked his Spanish teacher. Last year was great; he loved both teachers, and they loved him. We heard no Spanish complaints.

This year, he likes his English teacher. She is fantastic. She's been teaching a long time, and she is  strict and fair and she has his number. He and his Spanish teacher have had multiple standoffs. He clearly frustrates and annoys her, and she frustrates and annoys him.

My brother had relationships like this with some teachers. I saw this annually. His grades were great and terrible, depending on whether or not he liked his teacher. Nick says he was like this as well, so it feels familiar to him.

Me, I just went along to get along. I mean, I didn't always do my work. But I was always, always polite and agreeable. Interestingly enough, that goes pretty far.

Earlier in the year, when the standoffs started, we met with the teachers and the school counselor, who was amazing. (She's now retired, and I don't know her replacement yet.) The counselor knew Jordan, and explained him well to the teachers. He's smart. He's sensitive and intense. The school day takes everything he has--he has nothing left for homework.

I agree with all these things.

Now, Jordan has had to stay after school a number of times to finish math problems. Two days ago he had to work over recess.

They get 30 minutes of recess a day, which is hardly enough as it is.

His teacher explained that she is opposed to taking away his recess, but feels it is her last resort, when she has no other consequences to mete out.

Nick and I have discussed how he does better when he's cajoled than when he's threatened with punishment. I've been in standoffs with him like the ones they have in class. Mine are of the "brush your teeth" variety, and hers are of the "do your math problem" ilk.

The standoffs are obviously wretched for all involved. He is extremely stubborn, and he comes by it honestly.

But he's not disruptive. He just...sometimes doesn't want to do what he's asked to do. So he doesn't.

Sometimes when they're doing math he just spaces out. He dawdles. Yesterday we had to complete his math at home, because he did two problems in 30 minutes, because he was just hanging out.

He's not climbing walls or pinching other kids or getting others involved at all. Nothing like that. He's simply not doing what he is supposed to when he doesn't want to.

But she feels that she can't let him out of classroom tasks without consequences, or her authority is undermined.

The other day she told me that he doesn't do his homework, so clearly he isn't used to doing things he doesn't want to do at home.

Want to enrage me? Imply that I'm a lazy parent. Tell me that I don't require my kid to do anything he doesn't want to do.

So I replied, politely but possibly through slightly clenched teeth, "He's SEVEN. I don't think seven-year-olds should have homework, and I am not going to make a seven-year-old do homework. And I assure you, he does plenty of things he doesn't want to."

Now, I remember having a history teacher that I disliked, and her class was boring. I would sit at my desk and quietly watch the seconds on the clock and see how long I could hold my breath. Tick tick tick tick tick.

I don't remember a single thing she said in class, but I do remember being impressed with myself when I got to a whole minute.

She never noticed. But I also did at least the bare minimum, and would never have said "no" to an authority figure.

So yesterday was a crap day at school, and I got an earful from his Spanish teacher at pickup, and we had a bad night of struggling with math problems. Because my kid didn't want to do them. Because he kept getting distracted. Because I had to keep him on task and keep him on task and keep him on task.

When Nick got home and I told him about it he said, "Do you think Jordan has ADHD?"

I flipped out. Of course he would pick a facile answer. Of course he would be all, let's just throw some medication at our kid. Ooh, I was mad.

He doesn't bounce off the walls. He can sit still. He can concentrate, really concentrate, when he's interested in something. Of course he's bored with those math problems. Especially with the way you have to do math now, drawing boxes and circles and whatever the hell. My god, I'd be bored. I'd quit halfway through, too!

I got over being mad and I did some reading.


So many of the descriptions of symptoms felt so familiar. They could be describing Jordan. Not just in school, but at home. (More surprisingly, they could also be describing me.)

But reading a list doesn't mean this is what it is.

I don't want him to hate school. I don't want him to have miserable days, and then miserable nights. Switching classes is not a solution, in my opinion, because even if were possible, I don't know how he'd get along with the other Spanish teacher. And we'd be giving up the great English one.

It seems only right that we get some professional help at this point. If there's something to diagnose, like ADHD, obviously we want to do so. And if it's not ADHD, but there is something else that can help our kid, we want to do so.

Where do I start?

Monday, January 09, 2017

Blue, blue, electric blue, that's the color of my room

I was going to start this out with, "The problem with depression..."

But of course, there's not one THE problem. There are a variety of problems and inconveniences. I don't actually know that there's any upside.

A friend who has bipolar disorder described a manic episode to me, and I have to say--and in fact did say to her--that it sounded like fun.

She said they can be fun, and you can be super creative and get a lot done, what with the time you spend not sleeping and seeing the world in a very different way. Which is what makes manic episodes so seductive.

But mania has a dangerous component, and of course depression can be crippling.

So there's that.

Whereas I have plain old depression without the mania. It's not like I'm wishing for a manic component.

Of course, if I had a wish, it would be not to have to deal with depression at all.

But my depression is manageable, and so I manage it. With medication. With daily exercise. With nutrition. I have a light box. I'm limiting sugar, and trying to get off it (oh, but I love sugar...). I'm avoiding fast carbs and alcohol.

All of these things help a lot. But they don't completely fix it. There isn't a once and done fix, or not for me, anyway. There's maintenance and vigilance.

When I am overwhelmed, it seems Sisyphean. Other times, it's just like having asthma, which is only limiting when I don't manage it properly. I don't think of it as my defining characteristic, but I have to think about it, so I don't let it slide.

This is just how it is.

It used to be that when I got depressed, I'd cry. I'd cry at work, alone in my cubicle. I'd go home and sit on the floor and cry. I wouldn't be able to leave my apartment because I couldn't stop crying.

I could hold it together for meetings, provided they weren't all-day meetings, because if they were, I'd have to go to the bathroom intermittently to cry.

I'd run regularly because I couldn't run and cry at the same time. It was a good break.

But now, now when I sink, it manifests in anger. I still cry pretty easily, but I do not sit around and cry for hours on end.

Instead, I get impatient. Angry. I snap at everyone. I have so little tolerance for anyone and anything, myself included.

Basically, I'm a lot more functional in my depression, but boy do I suck to be around.

But this also means I don't recognize it so easily. It's much more obvious when you cannot leave your home, or have a whole conversation, because you can't stop crying.

Now I just seem like a harpy. I'm shrill and ill-tempered and screechy. But that might not be depression. It could also be hormones. Or a bad day. It might not be a shift in brain chemistry.

Hard to know.

I mean, I saw my shrink last week and told him I thought my current dose of medication was great. I'm doing really well, I said.

But it turns out I've been horrible to my family. No patience, no tolerance, very sharp tongued.

I could feel myself doing it, but I didn't recognize it. It was just...why why why is my family SO ANNOYING?

And then on Saturday, Betty asked if I'm depressed.

Depressed? Me? Why?

Because I've just been so unpleasant. So short with the kids. With everyone.

So I stopped and looked back and realized that I've been retreating for a while. It's been harder and harder to leave the house. I haven't been enjoying things. Was this depression? I thought my meds were right.

I don't know if it's my brain chemistry or the weather or the alignment of the planets or what-have-you.

Nobody really knows. My shrink admits it's a guessing game. They make their most educated guess, and then it's trial and error. Which is what makes mental illness so hard. There's still so much of the brain that's a mystery.

I have permission to up my dose.

So I did.

And the world is starting to look a whole lot more appealing.

Friday, January 06, 2017


I'm in the sandwich generation. Maybe some of you are as well.

My kids are 4 and 7, and my mom is in her late 70s. This is a big span of ages.

Betty lives with us, and this is good in so many ways. My kids are growing up with their Nana in their everyday lives. When they list our family, she is included. When Jordan reads at night after dinner, she is who he reads to.

If we are Facebook friends, you regularly see pictures of them together in the red chair.

But sometimes, one of my kids and my mom are ill or in need of some kind of help, and I get a little overwhelmed.

I do freelance writing and editing, but no longer have an office job. So when someone needs me, I am here. I can do what I need to do without calling a boss first, without sprinting home from the office.

This is a lucky position to be in. I know.


My mom had been wheezing for a while. I would hear it every once in a while when we were sitting together. Once or twice I offered her my inhaler.

We all had colds all fall, so I figured it was connected. But this week it hit me that it had just been too often, for too long.

On Tuesday I asked her if she wheezes regularly.

Every day.

I asked if this concerned her and she said, "Maybe this is just how I am. I wheeze."

No. People do not just wheeze without a reason.

So I had her call her doctor, who, when she heard about the wheezing, was able to squeeze her in on Thursday.

And then Wednesday night Jordan started crying while Nick was brushing his teeth, which is how Nick wound up looking in his mouth, and then called me in, and then we both tried not to freak out so that Jordan wouldn't think it was something terrible.

It was a big bump on his gums, above his remaining top front tooth. Big, round, and sore.

I freaked out after he went to bed. What if it were something terrible?

Our dentist is away this week, so early yesterday morning we started calling around and got an emergency appointment with a pediatric dentist in Chevy Chase.

I asked if they thought we would have time get to K Street for my mom's appointment by 12:30. They said yes.

So we took Betty with us, and parked right across the street at Saks, because Betty said she would browse and also get parking validated. (Note: she got us free parking, plus they gave her a bunch of samples.)

The staff was lovely. The dentist was wonderful. And they kindly gave us a break on the anesthesia Jordan wound up needing.

Jordan had an infection. That was the big bump. The baby tooth had to come out.

But it took longer than expected. Because anesthesia, tooth extraction, hang out and breathe through the oxygen mask recovery.

All went well. He was a rock star. 

So at noon Betty got nervous about her appointment--as did I--and got a cab. But not before handing off our parking validation.

As soon as we could leave the dentist, Jordan and I raced down to K Street and parked in one of those lots that charge you like a million dollars an hour.

I am, on the whole, opposed to paying for parking, but sometimes it is just not optional.

We sprinted a block, Jordan complaining the whole way, and got to the waiting room in time for them to call my mom back.

I go to her appointments because she is a terrible self-reporter.

She'll be sick and when the doctor asks how she's doing she'll say, "Fine!"

Seriously. Her arm could fall off and she'd say she was fine. And if the doctor didn't notice, she'd come home and I'd ask what the doctor said about her missing arm and she'd say, "I forgot all about it."

So now I go to her appointments and she says she's fine and then I'll be all, "Except that you've been so sick you haven't been able to eat for three days, which is why we're here."

And then she'll say, "Oh, right. Except for the terrible nausea." Or inability to breathe. Or whatever it is. Severe pain somewhere. Arm falling off. Etc.

Also, I wanted to make sure to tell them that she's smoking. Yes. I wanted to tell on her.

She'd quit a couple years ago after getting pneumonia twice in one season and not being able to get out of bed for weeks. Honestly, weeks. Her doctor told her sternly that this was just going to keep happening if she kept smoking.

So she quit. I think.

A couple months ago, when I found out she was sneaking cigarettes, I said, just like a kid, "I'm telling your doctor on you!"

Ooh, I was so upset. She said she'd already told the doctor, but I wanted to make sure. Because it matters.

And I wanted to ask about COPD. Because I am terrified of this.

To sum up: Jordan lost his last front tooth, and is absolutely delighted.

Betty has pneumonia.

And me, I'm just very tired.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

As midnight nears and shadows creep/Come into my sleep

You know I love my daughter.

I love her more than rainbows and chocolate and sunshine and sprinkles. We play this game regularly. What do we love each other more than?


I love her and her brother more than anything they can name. Anything imaginable.

But I want her the hell out of my bed.

I have thought about it, and counting bad sleep while pregnant, and the fact that India was up every two hours for at least her first year of life but in my recollection it was more like two, then if you add all my nights of good sleep together, I've had maybe one week of solid sleep in the last five years.

No wonder I am so tired and haggard and crabby. All the time.

Every night our little dollop of delight comes in sometime between midnight and 2:00 am.

You'll be awakened from a sound sleep with "thump thump thump thump thump" and the thud of a small body reaching the bed. She clambers up, and crawls up  the middle of the bed and into the covers.

And then it begins.

It would be one thing if she just went to sleep and didn't move a whole lot. I could live with that.

I'm not saying you always get kicked in the head or whacked with a sleep-heavy arm, but it does happen with terrible regularity. And she likes to sleep with one leg in, one leg on top of the covers. So your covers are constantly being tugged.

India has the middle of the bed. Prime real estate. But she wants to be right up against you. Nick has his claim pretty firmly staked, so I tend to wind up on edge of the bed.

She mashes against me. So I scoot. And she scoots. And inch by inch, we creep towards the edge. I awake fully when there is nary an inch ahead, just air. Hello, Charybdis!

During the day, it's different. I am super huggy. I touch people's arms when I'm talking to them. I hold hands. My daughter climbs up on me all the time.

But sleep? NO TOUCHING. This is my side, that is your side. I love you very much goodnight, see you in the morning.

If I go sleep in her bed, she turns her attention to Nick. So there is no real sleep. Last night I went to her bed at 2:00 am and then at 4:00 she came down and woke me up to find her water.

I nearly wept.

We have tried a sticker chart. Five stickers and India got to pick her treat! McDonalds! Frozen yogurt! A trip to the Diner! A pony! Our first born!

Anything! Dear child, anything! Just let us sleep!

We had five nights of staying in bed, like until about 5:00 am. Or coming to our bed but then agreeing to stay in her bed when Nick took her back.

This, for us, totally counts.

But then she was done. She'd accomplished it. Five was enough.

It turns out that there's nothing worth more to her than sleeping with us. Stickers for treats? Feh!

Jordan can be bribed encouraged with Pokemon and Lego. And he's always been a great sleeper. And he's like me--if he gets scared and comes to our bed, he stays an hour and then he's done. He wants his space.

India doesn't have things that she's into for bribery. And even the proffer of outings she loves aren't enough.

For a while we put a cute little foam mattress next to the bed. She could sleep in our room, but not our bed. She had her own pillow and my Gramma Lillian's rainbow afghan as her special blankie.

She called it her cozy bed.

Her cozy bed worked all night like twice. And then, then she enjoyed her cozy bed until one or two in the morning, and then crawled in our bed.

She says she's scared. This is what she says every time. No matter how cozy and safe she will agree that her bed is.

You cannot argue with scared. True or not, you don't want your kid to think that you are unconcerned about their fears.

(Even if it is up against my fear that I will never sleep again.)

We are old and tired and desperate.

So if you have any suggestions or resources we are begging open to them.