Friday, August 27, 2010

All Within the Range

Because you are all lovely, caring people, you're probably wondering how Jack is doing. The short answer is: better. The longer answer is a little more involved. We started with our general provider, who gave us a referral to see a neurologist at Children's. The best thing I can say about the woman we saw was that she really, really liked Jack. She congratulated me on my superior powers of observation and pointed out that if Jack was in a different kind of household with a different kind of mother, he'd probably be put on heavy drugs for ADD. She was very sweet and attentive and kept saying things like "Clearly, he's fabulous!" She genuinely liked him and that was all very heart-warming, but not very useful from a medical standpoint. The good news is that Jack consistently aced all the neurological tests and his chart states "perfect upon examination." So nothing wrong with his brain. The conclusion of Kindly Neurologist was "You're a fantastic mother, keep doing what you're doing and come back in four months. And by the way that will be $237.00 please." My next move was to take him to Dr. White, my lovely chiropractor. It was abundantly clear after x-rays that Jack's neck was grossly out of alignment and in such a way that Dr. White assured me it was affecting blood flow to his brain. Jack has received two adjustments to his spine, and there's good news and bad news. The good news is that his spine is now in perfect alignment, and on our third visit Dr. White said that Jack didn't need a third adjustment because he was still holding perfect alignment. The other good news is that Jack's headaches seem to be less frequent and, when they do come, less intense. We are always able to nip them in the bud and avoid the vomiting stage. The bad news is that he still gets headaches. I'm grateful that for the time being they stay headaches and don't progress to full-on migraines. Dr. White suggested a blood allergy test to look for foods that might bother Jack, as allergies can be common migraine triggers. We are learning more and more about how to manage his situation, and were even able to take a two-hour road trip to Lake Wenatchee for a little vacation thanks to the miracle that is Dramamine. I'm not normally a big fan of giving my kids medicine for every little ache and pain, but I am a huge fan of being able to drive for a couple of hours with no one vomiting. Another tool we discovered(thanks to Anna) is something called Migrastick, which is a little vial of essential peppermint and lavender oils. When Jack feels the first signs of a headache(which he is getting better and better at recognizing) we dab a little oil on his forehead, temples, and the back of his neck. Usually, ten minutes later he feels fine. If not, we break out some chewable ibuprofen and carry on with our day. I'm trying to train him to feed and water himself more independently, and all in all things are improving. I feel like I need to catch my breath a little before we seek out further treatment, which will most likely be with a naturopath. I received so many e-mails full of concern and recommendations, and I'm so grateful for all of them. Thank you all for caring about my son, I deeply appreciate it. And speaking of appreciation, I had a rather tragic invitation to appreciate my life a lot more than I have been recently. It's embarrassing how easily I can lose my perspective, and the depth of awfulness sometimes required for me to get my head back on straight. For a while there I felt like I was in a storm of difficulties, trying to manage Jack's migraines and allergies while keeping Jack and Matteas from killing each other, all while feeling misunderstood by my husband. It was not a good time. And then Kayleigh blew into town and we had an amazing two weeks together, full of food and conversation and insight. I realized how important it is for me to make space for myself, to take a break from the daily grind and do things that feed my soul. I also realized I need to spend more time talking to my husband and less time talking about him. The night before we went on vacation I finally came clean to him about something I've been upset about for years. Literally, years. It's really not that juicy in terms of content, but the principle was that I didn't trust him with my wounds and it was driving a wedge between us. It was a small wedge at first, and the space it drove between us was so small I thought I could overlook it but the more I overlooked it the more the space grew, until one day I looked up and saw that the small space had become a large chasm and that I needed to make a choice: keep drifting, or reach for my husband. I chose to reach, and he met me with open arms. I thanked him by getting snot all over the shoulder of his black t-shirt on account of all the blubbering that ensued, but he didn't mind. He just held me while I blubbered and whispered really nice things to me, and I realized what a fool I'd been not to let him comfort me a long time ago. He would have if I'd asked, but I refused to ask. Life had to push me to a really dark place before I would admit I was in pain. So now we are quite in love, Jack is doing much better, Matteas is his charming self(and he's now three years old) and we are working on our master bedroom and reading C.S. Lewis together out loud. All this goodness was thrown into sharp relief by a visit to the park the other night, just the boys and me while Aaron was out. Two little boys were at the playground, 5 and 2, and they immediately befriended Jack and Matteas. Their dad and their grandma were with them, who seemed like kindly, if odd, people. Turns out they were very odd, and very sad. The grandma, not bothering to make the usual playground small talk, launched into a detailed account of her son's nasty divorce which is apparently being driven by his hateful wife who detests him and abuses her children. She blurted all this out while the kids were playing right next to us, and I was torn between trying to be kind to her and protecting my kids from someone else's tragedy. When it was time to go, Jack volunteered to give the dad our phone number so we could meet again. "Oh," I said, "we come here all the time so I'm sure we'll see you guys again." I made a mental note to avoid the park on Wednesday nights, which is apparently the one weeknight Hateful Wife grants her soon-to-be-ex-husband custody of his own children. We headed home and I put the boys in the bath, and fed them watermelon while the warm water soaked the dust from the park off their skin. I told Jack that next time he meets a kid he likes at the park, he needs to ask me if it's okay to exchange phone numbers before volunteering that option. He asked me why, and the best I could do was to say that there are some friends that we make a part of our lives, friends we have over for dinner and plan vacations with, and then there are friends that are just park friends. He didn't really understand, and it suddenly hit me that we are rapidly getting to the part of the show when I will have to explain Harsh Realities to him, to teach him about things I don't want him to know. He was only a year and a half when Karoly shot himself, wasn't born yet when my oldest sister left her five boys. He hasn't had to process any deep personal tragedies yet, and I was overcome with a wave of gratitude that, for all my complaining, my struggles are really all within the range of normal. I may struggle in my relationship with my husband, but if I struggle it's in order to have a better marriage. The boys might drive me crazy with their fighting, but they can only drive me crazy because I am here being their mom every day, not just Wednesday nights. We struggle still, but generally it's in a thriving kind of way, and whatever else may happen I know we will at least struggle together.

Friday, August 20, 2010

We Laughed, We Cried, We Learned a Valuable Lesson

I knew today was not going to go well. I knew this because Matteas woke up early, and by "early" I mean that he got less than 12 hours of sleep. I always feel torn about how to handle these days; do I lower expectations to avoid potential meltdowns, carry on as normal, bribe the boys into good behavior? Originally, I planned on laying low. But then I realized we were out of food. Really out. I used our last few pieces of bread to make toast for breakfast and had since been periodically throwing granola bars and string cheese at the boys whenever they made hungry noises, but then I got hungry too and the wilted half-carton of arugula did little to fill me up. The boys were fighting a lot and I debated whether it was the type of day that would be improved by an outing or if temperaments were so out of whack that we should not take ourselves out in public. I chose to risk an outing. I chose wrong. Our library books were due back, so I proposed a plan to the boys: hit the library, then PCC. Normally, they are excited about doing both of these things. It took us half an hour of whining and general bad behavior to make it to the car with everyone appropriately diapered and shod, but I foolishly pressed on. We got to the library and were greeted by the sound of 35 children's voices singing some idiotic rhyme led by the voice of a woman who clearly didn't like children. I picked out a few books for the boys while they checked out the fish in the giant tank, then I looked away for two seconds and looked up to see Matteas climbing over the back of a chair, a chair where the woman who clearly didn't like children had hung her jacket. He was climbing over the chair to get to the free-standing little puppet stage. So he could climb on it. I ran over to him, but the woman who now did not like my children specifically beat me to it. "No, no, NO," she said, motioning to Matteas to get off the chair, "the puppet stage is CLOSED." I grabbed Matteas and slunk over to the checkout, where I scanned our books and made haste out of the library. On the drive to PCC, it occurred to me that maybe trying to buy groceries would be a poor choice, so I proposed an alternate plan: we would splurge on prepared food, then head to the beach. The boys agreed it was a fine plan, and said they hoped it would be our turn to use the car cart at PCC(side note: why the f**k does PCC only have one of those carts? Worst idea EVER). I said that maybe it would be our turn, maybe not. We pull into the parking lot and lo! there's the car cart unattended! Score! The boys and I hustle over to it, but immediately Matteas starts whining for a baby cart. I have a rule about the baby carts: we only use them when Dad comes shopping with us. Two toddlers running around the grocery store with their own carts in opposite directions does not make for a productive shopping experience. I remind Matteas of this rule, then tell him that if he wants to go to the beach I need him to get in the car cart and help me drive. He obeys, but with a lot of whining. We hoof it over to the hot food section and I'm pleased to find a Mexican casserole type thing made with beef and cheese and corn tortillas, so I get a sample cup to let Jack try it. He loves it, but Matteas refuses to try it. He whines, loudly, about three more things in the next ten seconds. I tell him if he doesn't stop whining, we can't go to the beach. He pitches a full-on fit, so I grab our empty cart and head for the door. Jack knows we're not going to the beach now, so both boys are wailing as loud as they possibly can and everyone is staring at me. I don't even bother smiling in apology, I fix my eyes on the door and try not to look like I'm kidnapping the screaming children in my cart. We buckle in and head for home, the wailing now punctuated with cries of despair. Jack declares that this is the worst day ever, and then he lets me have it, the toddler equivalent of an F-bomb: "I hate you!" As soon as it says it, I realize my mistake. Well, actually, there are several of them. When Jack tells me that he hates me, it stings. And pisses me off, which tells me two things: I take parenting too personally, and also that it is way too important to me to have my kids like me. It's not my job to get them to like me, it's my job to teach them not to behave like hooligans in public places. We get home and I drag my still-weeping children into our cluttered, foodless house. I deposit Matteas in his bed, leave Jack in the living room, and then heave myself onto my bed to ponder what it is I could have done to incite the wrath of God so that He would punish me with such awful children. I run back over my life's offenses, and the words of the gym teacher from Mean Girls come to mind. He's trying to scare a room full of teenagers into celibacy: "If you have sex you WILL get pregnant and you WILL die." So maybe that's where I went wrong. But something in me says that there is, actually, something bigger that I missed, something important. I realize that I have failed to instill in them a sense of respect for others, the knowledge that they are not the only people in the library or the grocery store, that they need to consider what impact their behavior will have on the people around them. I gather the boys and have a talk with them. I explain that we all have jobs, even kids. Right now their jobs aren't super big, but it's still important that they do them well. When it comes to food, our whole family works together: Dad makes money to buy food with, Mom shops for it and cooks it, and the boys need to be well-behaved while Mom does the shopping. I ask them what kind of family they want to be, one that helps each other or one that doesn't care about each other, and they instantly say they want to be a helping kind of family. I tell them that we are going to try again, that I know they can do their job if they try hard, and that if they don't there will be severe consequences when we get home(besides still not having any food). They look relieved that I appear to be in charge again, and quietly climb into their car seats. At Trader Joe's(no way was I going back to PCC today) they are quiet and cooperative. A few things catch their eye, but I explain we're not shopping for those things today. I manage to fill the cart with the basics, plus a few exotic yogurts. I splurge on a bottle of all-purpose cleaner that smells like the woods because I will want to wash the counter tops with it, and people smile at my children and give them stickers. A lovely British woman waiting in line behind us chats with Matteas, and he informs her(correctly) that his birthday is "about August fourteenf." I had no idea he knew when his birthday was, and for a brief moment I see my son not as the wretched instrument of torture he has been to me all morning, but as a stranger might: tan, blond, charming. I realize that I need to create more opportunities for Matteas to be his best self, and more opportunities for me to notice him that way. When we get home, I tell the boys that I need help carrying in the groceries. I normally carry them all in myself because I can do it faster and also the bread won't be all squished, but we've already covered the negative consequences of bad behavior today and I want to shift the focus to the positive effects of good behavior. I hand Jack a bag full of light stuff and give Matteas the mini watermelon I bought, and they trudge happily up the stairs and into the house. I thank them for their help and commend their performance at Trader Joe's, and tell them we are going to make a chore chart so we can keep track of all the ways they contribute to our family. Jack immediately proposes that he and Matteas can share the job of putting the chickens away: Matteas can use the broom to herd the chickens into their coop and then Jack can close the door. I tell him I think that's a great idea, and start thinking about how long I need to wait before showing my face in PCC again.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Peaceful, but working like hell

Shannon, Kayleigh and me
I haven't been here much lately. That's because August became a Festival of Amazing Women, and I cooked a lot of food and read a lot of books and had a lot of conversations. It was during this Festival that I realized that my life would be much better if I could manage the everyday the same way I manage childbirth: peaceful, but working like hell to give birth to something. I have so much to say I don't even really know where to start, so for now I'm going to take the boys blackberry picking because we all need to get out of the house. Sometime later I'll make some tea, and try to straighten out all the womanly wisdom I've been absorbing for the past three weeks. Because I really can't keep it to myself.