trying not to beat myself up

I absolutely have control over the universe.   I am convinced of it.  Weekends like the past one totally convince me that I am the star of some crazy stellar hiccup. As I write this, I am having metaphysical daydreams about how this could actually be possible. I wonder how my writing a blog post about how well things were going could actually make the whole situation take a gnarly turn.

That is just it.  I wrote a few days ago that things were going well.  When I wrote that, it caused the gods who actually pull the puppet strings to throw me a curve ball. It isn’t as though I couldn’t predict this turn of events. I admitted, in WRITING, that things were going better. In turn, I also relaxed the structure of our lives a bit. Although I can only see that in hindsight.  I didn’t think about the consequences of my actions. I have myself to blame.

Here is the list of events that caused the collapse in my house yesterday.

  1. G was out of town for the weekend. That is enough to cause some major distress for M.
  2. I took M to Target with me Sunday morning.   I had to grab a few things and I wanted to try out some techniques which the OT recommended. The techniques (fidgets + iphone and headphones) worked for the most part, no tantrums.
  3. I then pushed the limits by taking M and M2 to church and dropping them in Kid’s church. I have been trying to make this a consistent part of our schedule so that he can get used to the routine.  But we are still early in that process. I ended up dragging M out of church screaming as people were praying quietly.
  4. I didn’t try to get M to nap on schedule. He was already dysregulated from our church experience and I let him fall asleep on the sofa for a mini nap in the late afternoon.
  5. The bedtime routine ended abruptly.  The kids take a bath as part of the bedtime routine.  They love it. They play nicely together, pouring water from cup to cup and drawing with the bath crayons.  It is usually a relaxing time. Last night, M2 pooped in the bath.  On the eve of her 2nd birthday, this was a first! I had to quickly end the bath session before M was done.  Slow transitions are the general key to success at our house.

I should have skipped church and Target and opted for a quieter Sunday at home.  Maybe a walk in the park or some other activity that I know he finds calming.  The alternatives to what I chose are endless, really.  I should have cleaned the tub quickly and refilled it for a do-over of the transition out of the tub.

Sometimes when M gets dysregulated, he retreats.  He will chew on his lips and lick the wall. He gets nervous and clingy.  Not always and not yesterday. After the bath, he became manic.  First it was manic happy, he and M2 chased each other around the table in their pjs for about an hour just laughing and roughhousing. Mind you, it was already past bedtime. When it was time for that to wind down, he wasn’t ready.  He became manic aggressive I tried reading but he was just jumping on the bed and getting more and more antsy. I finally shut off the light and he freaked out.  He demanded to go in his therapy swing. I swung him for a minute, I could tell by the tenseness of his body in the swing that he was not settling in to it and a minute later he demanded to get out. At this point it was almost 90 minutes past bedtime and M2 was getting very sleepy.  I went to get her settled and left him out in the living room.  He stormed in and grabbed his water bottle and threw it across the room aiming it at me.  It only nearly missed M2 and I was at a loss for what to do about his behavior. He was getting more and more aggravated. He gets this rolling eye movement and resists being touched or even talked to.  I was still calm at this point but I couldn’t think of a better way to handle the situation and I just locked him out of the room while I talked calmly to M2 who was already unnerved about her brother’s behavior. I let him cry outside of the door for a few minutes but it was torture. His angry cries quickly turned to sad cries.  It went from a raged “Mama, don’t lock me in!” to a exasperated “Mama, don’t leave me!” I just sat comforting M2 and crying. After what may have been about 5 minutes, I let him into the room. He laid in his bed without a fight and cuddled up with his quilts.  It was one of those parenting moments that I “won” because he went to bed but I failed big time in the emotional development realm.

Afterwards, I consulted the internet.  What should I be doing when my child is out of control and violent? One of my favorite sites, Hand in Hand Parenting, had these tips:

  1. Step one in helping a child is to stop the aggressive behavior by moving close and offering a warm connection.  (Failed here for sure.  Locked M out of the room.  Totally the opposite of moving close and offering a warm connection.)
  2. Don’t blame, shame or punish. 
  3. Stop the behavior than “staylisten”.
  4. An aggressive child is a frightened child
  5. A child who feels connected can heal her fears. A child who doesn’t feel connected can’t.

I have M2 to protect and nurture. She was also scared of M’s behavior.  If G was home, he would have probably taken M to another room for a timeout. I was by myself.  I still don’t know what I should have done.  I probably could have restrained him in their bedroom so I was still close to M2.   But honestly, I don’t know, I still don’t have any answers for the right way to handle his aggression. But I feel terrible for how I did handle it. His cries of “Mama, don’t leave me!” are still in my ears today.

After he was settled in his bed for a few minutes, I went and gave him some affirmative words.  I said, “You are kind, you are gentle, you are good.”  He responded with, “Mama, I am a good guy.  I am not a bad guy.”  He has been a bit obsessed with “good guys” and “bad guys” lately. I am not surprised that he identified the situation in this way.  But I wish I could write the implication in his tone when he said that.  He was not declaring himself a good guy, he was trying to tell me and to get me to believe he was a good guy.   I am more than a  bit brokenhearted over the situation today. I do believe he IS a good guy.  But I am treating him like a bad guy and I don’t know what else to do.












trying to balance.

The one question that I get most often from the professionals involved in my children’s lives is, “how do you do it all?” This inevitably comes after I explain that I work full time in academia.  Yes, my schedule is flexible, but my job is demanding. I don’t “do it all” well.  That is the short answer.  In fact, I have been struggling with the fact that I cannot do it all well. I am starting to think of all the things I have sacrificed while trying to balance my career and my kids. For a while, I was putting my job first.  I was waking up at 4 am to work for a few hours before the kids woke up, and then working at night after they went to sleep.  I had M in daycare about 6 hours a day and was making up for the other time in the “fringe hours.”  Then arrived M2 and they spent more time in daycare, I spent less time working nights and mornings and my job performance has suffered greatly.

With my two kids, there is no down time at home. Because  of M’s aggressive tendencies, I have to be watching him at all times. This makes things like getting the dishes or laundry done while the kids are awake near impossible.  I now clean and do other household tasks in the time that I used to use to grade papers and plan lessons and write emails.

I feel like I missed a lot of M’s early days because I was too preoccupied with how to answer emails and grade papers on time. I would check and answer emails while giving him a bottle, in the middle of the night after a midnight feeding, etc.   But in the times between those emails, I would worry about all that I was missing at work. Then I just gave up.  I suppose this is where my downward work spiral began. I stopped using my time outside of the office to do work.  I spent all of last summer catching up on things I couldn’t get done during the school year and then prepping for the fall so that I could better manage my time.   That works well for the most part.  When I can plan ahead, I can manage.  It is the work tasks that pop up with little notice with immediate deadlines that I just can’t do.  I can’t just make time for the unexpected things or then the tasks I planned to do become late.  It is an endless cycle. If I leave the office early to take M to an appointment, I often miss the committee email conversations that happen between 3 pm and 8 am the next day (when I start checking email again).  By then, decisions are made, and I just look like a slacker who didn’t participate in the discussion.  It is hard to fight against this perception and there has been 4 of my colleagues who have made comments about this to me.  Dear colleagues, I want to participate, I do.  But we are just running on different schedules.

In my line of work, at a university, trying to get tenure, one of my most important tasks is to research and publish.  I have yet to be able to figure out how to squeeze this into my schedule. We don’t actually get “paid” for this work.  It is an expectation but one that is outside of our normal work schedule.  I have been told that this is what I should be doing with my summers.  My first two summers,  I had tiny infants to care for and during my third summer at this job, I was playing catch up from caring for two kids with special needs.

Unfortunately, there is no leniency for motherhood in academia.  I am not making excuses for myself, but this is a system that is generally unsupportive of mothers.

Check out this article: Fathers and Childless Women are 3x More Likely to Get Tenure than Women with Kids

I am not sure what the stats look like for getting tenure for women with kids with special needs.   This week, between M and M2, there are an additional 8 appointments in my schedule. EIGHT.   Speech (x2), Occupational Therapy, Mental Health Services, a visit with Regional Center for a transition from IFSP to IPP, Infant Stimulation Services, a social worker visit to my home, and a visit with the pediatric naturopath.  There are six that are regularly occurring.  Every single week, I have at least six extra appointments to transport to and from or the work involved in arranging for someone else to get the kids there.

I do feel like the odds are stacked against me in my current position.  But I am raising my flag of surrender and taking a less demanding job.  I can’t even put into words how difficult this is for me.  I am a terrible quitter and the feminist in me feel like I should be fighting the structure of this system. I should be the success, not the woman that can’t “lean in”.    At the very same time, I have such a peace with this decision.  My family NEEDS this. My children NEED this.  The one thing I have been truly sacrificing is my own self care. See this post. I am looking to regain a part of myself that has been lost in this shuffle.  I am proudly stepping down, giving up, leaning out, and simplifying my career for my sanity and my family.

As I have said before, I am writing this blog to keep track of our challenges and successes. I truly hope that I don’t look back on this job decision with regret. I know it will be difficult to remember all the stresses that I feel now. When my new job is stressful, I want to be able to come back and read this and remember why I made the change.


standardized testing and the special needs child

Something has been bugging me for a while.   It is the way that our local regional center determines whether or not a child is eligible for developmental services. Let me first say, that as a teacher I have always hated standardized testing.  Mostly because of how many students get misjudged based on a set of criteria that just does not fit.  There are many other reasons to critique standardized tests but now this issue is directly affecting my life.

First, we have a law here in our fine state that a child is only eligible for regional center services if they are delay by 1/3 of their chronological age.   M qualified when, on their scales, his “self-help” skills, i.e. adaptive development, were that of a 10-12 month old at 28 months.  This delay has only worsened over time, he seems to be stuck around that level due to his tendency to dysregulate.  His speech has always been slightly delayed,about 6 months or so, as well. However, the first time he was tested, he was already almost 2 so that 6 month delay did not qualify him.

Here’s my qualm.  In order for him to continue to receive services he should be 50% delayed in one of their categories, or 33% delayed in two or more categories.  But they do that calculation based on chronological age rather than percentile rank. At the same time, they use STANDARDIZED assessments to make these judgements. Wouldn’t it make more sense to compare him to his peers rather than make strange age based comparisons. Ugh.  Maybe I just know too much about statistics.  But for the kids on the fringes of those scales, the scales are the least reliable.

looking on the bright side.

I haven’t felt the need to write on this blog in the last few weeks.  Mainly because things are going well for the most part.  M’s behaviors are improving.  And as a major improvement, he seems quite a bit happier.

M’s generally frustrated state is the one thing that I believe concerns me the most. I think that kids should generally be happy.  Yes, they have their psychological/developmental hurdles to overcome but those should be surrounded by times of genuine content.   I love when M is just joyous.  He can swing from happy to full meltdown and back over a short period of time.    I treasure the times when we spend hours just playing and laughing without incident.

Here are the improvements:

  1.  Sleep is better. Generally speaking, he is only waking once per night.  We’ve had a few nights where he has slept through the night.
  2. He is less aggressive. There were a few days last week where he had a few moments scratching and punching, but in general, things are good. So much better.
  3. M2 is less guarded around him and is interacting with him more.  Sometimes even playing together.  I think she is sensing how much less aggressive he is as well.
  4. Eating.  He is eating more.  Not well, but at least I see him getting more nourishment.
  5. I can be more relaxed and therefore he is more relaxed.
  6. He is wearing clothes with buttons and waistbands.  I didn’t realize before that his sensitivity to clothing comes at a much later stage in his dysregulation and he is fine with normal pants as long as all else is okay in his world.

Here are the things that I think are helping usher in the improvements:

  1.  M is drinking less milk.  I am almost certain that milk was causing us some trouble. I am about to put him through a battery of tests with a pediatric naturopath to check and see if there is anything else we should be avoiding.
  2. A more consistent schedule.  Neither of us has traveled recently, no major holidays, no major illnesses.
  3. I am constantly reflecting on “trying differently.” When something isn’t working, I give up faster to try something else.  For example, if it’s bedtime and he is just tossing and turning, I know more tossing and turning doesn’t seem to help so instead we go outside for some fresh air or swing in the therapy swing for a bit.
  4. Occupational Therapy (OT) has definitely taught me to take transitions much more slowly.  It really is the little things that keep him regulated.

Of course, my pessimism will take over and I start to think that we’ve had these honeymoon weeks and months before.  And always in the past, the behaviors have come back with a vengeance. I am trying to be positive and to keep enjoying the boy I have right now.