Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Photo Essay of a Work-Outside-of-the-Home-Mom

I'm not going to lie, times have been tough lately. Dave got a job in Frankfort - over an hour a way. Yay for the job! Boo for the commute. I work in Bullitt County, anywhere from half an hour to 45 minutes (even an hour) away, depending on traffic. We have two kids who go to two different schools to drop off and pick up. One of those kids sees an occupational therapist every Thursday and goes to Girl Scouts every other Tuesday and has swim lessons every Sunday.

Even on days when I'm not whisking Stella off to an after-school activity, my afternoons are NUTS. I've always been good at multi-tasking, every teacher has to be, but this is IN-FREAKING-SANE. Ridiculous. Really.

Wednesdays are days I relish. No after-school activities, no after-work meetings. I allow myself to leave work around 3:30pm on Wednesdays, pick up my kids, come on home, and chill for a bit. But that's not quite how today worked out.

First off, Stella has a "Family Art Project" due this week. These pop up once a month, usually on a holiday theme, and I suppose they are fun for families that have at least one parent who isn't working an insane schedule. For us, they usually end up causing us frustration and headaches when we look at the calendar and realize the blasted thing is due the next day. This time, it's a leprechaun trap for St. Patrick's Day. After schlepping 500 bags (containing all my pump equipment plus Sam's stuff from school plus Stella's stuff from school plus MY stuff from school) and Sam in his carrier into the house, I quickly got Stella set up to work on her trap. Keep in mind with this and all photographs two things: 1. I never claimed to be a decent photographer. 2. I only had access to my ancient and broken iPhone at the time.

At first, it seemed that Sam would be cooperative and hang out in the exersaucer.

Alas, this is usually his witching hour. Because I pick him up right when he'd normally want a nap, and because he can't seem to get that nap unless the circumstances are perfect, there comes a time - usually when I'm helping Stella with homework or trying to get dinner on the table - that he wants to be picked up and walked around.

I tried to distract him with food, something that usually works well in our family. I gave him a peeled pear to hold and suck and a bowl of organic baby oatmeal to eat with a spoon. We do a mixture of hippy baby led weaning (letting him eat hold foods with his own hands) and old-school spooned mushy foods because he has a crazy appetite and doesn't like the subtlety of sucking on foods. Yet he likes the control of holding it in his hands. He's stubborn. Like his parents.

All the while Stella was working on that trap, and doing a great job. I had to open jars of paint for her, and help her clean her paint brush, and hot glue something or another here or there. But for a brief moment, it seemed it would all work out OK.


Sam was done. DONE. He wanted to be picked up at that instant. And so I did. Getting food all over both of us. At this point, the exhaustion of the day was just too much for me. Sam woke up around 2:30am and never really settled back down. I went to work at 6:45am, managing 120 kids at the height of their puberty all day, with barely a moment to eat or use the restroom. I'd battled traffic to pick up my two kids from their two different schools, and I'd rushed right into the house to get started on a kindergarten art project and feed a baby. I. WAS. OVER. IT.

Stella, seemingly oblivious to the drama that just went down with Sam, was still begging for my help with her rainbow. But I know my limits, or least I'm trying to know and honor them, so I told her we needed to take a little TV break. And she was all too happy to oblige.

"Jake and the Neverland Pirates." Our go-to. Sam nursed a little bit, but fussed a lot more. I got him Mister Monkey, his pacifier/lovey, and he started to doze. I took a deep breath. I let go of my frustration, and started to see the situation for what it was. We were all tired. We were all over-worked. We all needed a break. And I was happy to be with my babies.

Stella snapped a silly picture of me in the sunlight, I snapped a silly photo of her. Then I looked down, and saw Sam was passed out.

Dave came home, and I was certain I could hear angels singing. It was only 6:30pm, but when Sam started to stir again, I could tell he was ready for bed. I know, I know. 6:30pm is crazy, but if I don't put him to bed then, he just screams until I do. And the longer I wait, the harder it is to get him to settle down. But when I tried to change his diaper, he kept flipping over and fussing like crazy. And I was just too bleeping tired. So Dave came and rescued me, and Stella and I finished her leprechaun trap.

I stood and supervised Stella while scarfing down the hamburger and fries Dave managed to cook up in ten minutes before he took over Sam duty. Then I made Stella at least attempt to eat her dinner, despite the fact that it wasn't plain pasta or black bean quesadillas - the only two dinners she wants to eat these days. 

Here's the finished product. Keep in mind that, in addition to NOT being a photographer, I also don't claim to be crafty:

That's a pot of gold and jewels under a rainbow, in case you can't tell.

Dave was a saint and got both kids in bed for me tonight, so I could deprogram the only way I know how: with a Guiness and some blogging.

I am so grateful for my job and my kids. But I'm not going to lie. Trying to juggle time for my babies with an out-of-town job, a job that has no down-time and a huge emotional investment, all while my spouse also works out of town - it's a bit much. I don't always handle it well.

But I did OK today. Not great. Definitely not terrible. OK. And I'm learning to be OK with OK. I think.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

What SPD Looks Like

Sometimes, this is what it looks like. Yes, adorable.

Sensory Processing Disorder is still one of those diagnoses that is little known and largely misunderstood. People sometimes assume it's another way of saying autism (it isn't). People think it's a made up disorder, born of a generation of neurotic helicopter parents always looking for a problem (it isn't). People find it hard to believe that such a sweet, normal-looking kid like Stella has it (she does).

I've spoken before about how we came to this diagnosis with Stella, how it exhibited itself when she was a baby (although we didn't know that's what it was) and as a toddler, when her wonderful preschool teachers alerted us to it. But I haven't talked much about what it looks like now that she's an almost 6-year-old.

Honestly, I sometimes don't know the difference between regular kindergarten behavior and signs of SPD. I'm used to teaching older kids and am all-too-familiar with their adolescent quirks. But with the help of parents of similar-aged kids and Stella's teachers, I've been able to identify which behaviors stand out. Here's a random sampling:

  • Needing food to be ice cold before she'll eat it
  • Taking a very long time to eat a meal - sometimes over an hour
  • Making a huge mess while eating
  • Refusing to eat a lot of foods because they're too spicy, including many spaghetti/pizza sauces
  • Taking a bath only in very cold water (even on frigid winter days)
  • She's finally - just recently - able to dress herself, but she still can't snap the snap on her pants because it hurts her fingers.
  • Not being able to buckle her own seat belt
  • Stopping in the doorway of any place she enters, refusing to budge, especially if it's new, even if I'm right behind her carrying 4,000 heavy bags
  • Hating any place that's loud (like the sing-along I tried to take us to today to escape the house on my 15th snow day)
  • Throwing scary fits, screaming and flailing, refusing for sometimes over an hour to calm down, over the slightest change in routine (examples: the time she couldn't use the glue she wanted to at Girl Scouts and the time her after school program replaced the markers with different ones)
  • Wanting to repeat pleasurable experiences, like eating the same exact food day in and day out, wanting to watch the same episode of the same show, wanting me to tell her the exact same bedtime story, etc.
  • Getting hyper-active in certain situations, especially when there's a lot going on - singing a song over and over, hopping on and off couches, etc.
  • Not being able to play by herself - at all, really. Sometimes we get five minutes here and there, but she craves human interaction. (Yes, I'm taking frequent breaks from blogging to play with her right now. In fact, she's leaning over my shoulder, sucking on a squeezable apple sauce, finding sight words in my entry. And yelling each one loudly in my ear.)
  • Not being able to make friends - she doesn't like how she can't control their play, doesn't like the spontaneous touching and loud noises, doesn't like it when she finds herself in a group of more than three
  • Having issues with voice volume - yelling like a banshee when it's just the two of us in the bathroom (her brother sleeping just feet away), whispering while in the backseat of the car over the sounds of the engine, other cars, and her brother crying
  • Not being able to handle strong smells - like her brother's poop, vinegar, or the way I smelled while pregnant ("Mommy, I love you, but you smell funny.")
  • Losing her mind when the sun gets in her eyes (this can even cause her to cry)
  • Getting so easily distracted by any sight, sound, or smell imaginable. Sometimes it can take forever just to get from the house to the car, because we heard a bird, saw a squirrel, and smell dog poop.
  • Needing a white noise and a dark room in order to sleep
SPD is different for every kid. Some kids seek sensory experiences constantly, some run from them like the plague. Some are a mixture, like Stella. All kids struggle to integrate the senses in the world around them in a way those who don't have SPD will never understand.

I wish I were the kind of mother who knew that this is not any of Stella's fault, and therefore maintained my patience 100% of the time. But I'm not. I'm flawed and riddled with issues, and sometimes (like this morning), I just lose it a little. I just find it to be a little too much for me. Which is pretty darn hypocritical, considering I'm pretty sure I've always had a mild version of it myself.

Stella sees an occupational therapist one time per week and we're seeing some improvement. But I worry about her - mostly when it comes to making friends and succeeding in school. And I worry about us, because I don't like how I can get annoyed with these quirks, I don't like how they can sometimes come between what is otherwise a lovely, amazing bond between us. I'm working on my empathy, I'm working on acceptance, and most of the time I think I'm doing OK. But some days, as politically incorrect and generally crappy as this is, I just find myself thinking, "Why can't you just be normal?" And that, my friends, is completely my problem. Not Stella's.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

I Hate Thank You Cards

If I haven't lost my Southern card yet, I'm going to lose it today. Unlike the good Southern Belle I am perceived to be (ha!), I hate writing thank you cards. I mean HATE. With a passion. God it feels good to get this off my chest.

It's not that I'm not grateful. We are blessed with incredibly generous friends and family. Generous with actual, physical gifts, but also generous with time and patience and support. I can't tell you the kind gestures we've received in years past. The time my entire family jumped to our aid when Dave landed in the hospital with septic staph. How our friends made us meals and offered childcare during that turbulent time. Lovely tokens and cards at my and Dave's birthday shindigs. Amazingly beautiful clothes and toys and books for our kids. My sister and mom cleaning our entire house and stocking our fridge with food when Sam was born. The many lovely dinner parties we've attended. The list goes on and on and on. The gratitude in my heart is boundless.

But have I written thank you cards for each and every gesture? I'm ashamed to say no. I haven't. I've meant to. I've reminded myself to. But I know I haven't.

What I'm about to say will sound like an elaborate and childish excuse, much like those my students give for why they can't complete the scant homework I assign. But I implore you to hear me out.

Writing something out by hand is excruciating to me. I get maybe one sentence out before my hand starts to cramp. As a teacher, I've come to realize I have an undiagnosed graphomotor dysfunction. I struggled to write all my life, until I discovered computers. Sure, I did it - making straight-A's was important to me. But the quality of my handwriting was constantly criticized by my teachers and my hand ached. God how it ached.

Typing? I can type all day. I can type until the cows come home. But somebody in their infinite ridiculousness decided that thank you cards have to be hand-written. Why? To torture people like me? Probably. But I know that if I could type or even (GASP) email thank you cards, I'd never miss a beat.

I also hate the formality of it. How there's a formula to follow. Mention the gift. Mention one specific way you plan to use the gift. Go into detail about how the gift will enrich your daily life. Discuss how you look forward to seeing the giver of the gift soon. Do this even if the giver is a friend of your mom's whom you haven't seen in a decade, or if the gift was a duplicate from your registry that you plan to return. I'm all about gratitude, but I have a really hard time with what I perceive to be shallow gestures. I have a hard time with formulaic etiquette.*

And one final complaint - why is always the woman in a relationship who writes the thank you cards? Somehow it's just assumed that I'll write them - not just by Dave, but by those around us. Nobody every got angry at Dave for being late with our wedding gift thank yous. Or baby shower thank yous. Or kids' birthday gift thank yous. But I got stink eye after stink eye after stink eye. And, in Dave's defense, he'll write them if I implore him. But I must remind him frequently, and his handwriting is nearly as illegible as mine, so it's just a constant disaster for us.

I'm a polite person. Generally well-liked. But my aversion to thank you cards has caused more than my fair share of strife. My mother-in-law nearly disowned me when I didn't get thank you cards out for our wedding gifts immediately following our honeymoon. I read somewhere (or maybe made up in my mind) that we had up until a year to get those out, but she insisted I was wrong. So I took time away from wedded bliss to torture my hands and curse the universe.

I know that some of my friendships have been strained when we neglect to send out thank you cards. I can feel it in our interactions. And then I hit this weird zone - do I send a thank you card out for a gift we received a REALLY long time ago? Is it worth it at that point or just weird? I just never know. And I hate it.

It's gotten so bad that when we receive thank you cards from others for something we've done, Dave and I both let out a sigh. A deep, deep sigh of discontent. This person is awesome at thank you cards. We suck at them. We suck we suck we suck.

Maybe I can blame my upbringing? In my family, we never write thank you cards. It's just never been a thing with us. But what we do - consistently - is make sure the giver sees us enjoying the gift. We wear the sweater our aunt gave us when we go to visit. We play with the toy Mamaw got us when she comes over. We take out the wine glasses the friends gave us when they're over for dinner. We mention how much it meant to us to have a clean house and homemade food when the baby was born. We mention it a lot. We mean it every time.

And I'm adamant about telling people that they don't need to send me thank you cards - especially new moms with too much else to think about. I usually write it on the card - PLEASE DO NOT SEND ME A THANK YOU CARD. YOU HAVE ENOUGH ON YOUR PLATE. Most of them don't listen, but I want them to know how I feel. And honestly, Dave and I couldn't tell you who's sent us thank you cards and who hasn't. I have zero recollection. But what I do remember is that last time I saw my niece McKinsey, she was wearing the shirt we bought her for her birthday. And that just delighted me.

I fully expect people to get angry and defend the practice of thank you cards. I agree - I think they are an incredibly nice gesture, and I wish I were better about it (despite an entire blog entry spent rationalizing why I'm not). Look - we've changed a lot of old traditions. Many brides no longer throw bouquets, many women no longer take their husband's name, several people send out new baby notices via the internet. Why can't we move to electronic forms of thanks so I no longer feel like a terrible person?

Anyway, like exercising and eating more whole foods, I'll add being better about writing thank you cards to my growing and often neglected list of things I need to do to be a better person. And if you are one of the many who's hurt by this character flaw, I hope you know that I'm sorry. Sorry and so so grateful for any and all kind gestures you may extend.

*Keep in mind, I never feel this way when reading the thank you cards I receive, only when I write them myself. I fear that this paragraph is the one that will cause the most anger from my readers...