Thursday, October 17, 2013

Lesson Learned.

While we try to teach our children all about life,
Our children teach us what life is all about.
~Angela Schwindt

Today, Big Guy's school held a Cross Country run for all 4-6th grade students. And this coming Saturday, there will be a similar event for all students in the entire school district. Improbably, BG is totally stoked for both. Now, if you've read this blog previously, you know that my dear, sweet boy is not exactly the most athletic child...lovable? Of course. Hilarious? Absolutely. Sweet, fun, and genuinely kind-hearted? Without a doubt. But, athletic? Notsomuch. But, today, my not-so-athletic kid taught me a little something about sportsmanship, and character.

During the race, as expected, the boys who are footballers, baseball players, basketball players, etc. pulled out in front. As BG fell further behind, my heart sank. Like any mother, I would walk over hot coals if it meant protecting my son from embarrassment or sadness. As my friends' sons crossed the finish line (one even placing first!), I cast an anxious eye towards BG, bracing myself for his disappointment as he ran far behind. But, to my amazement and fierce pride, my boy wasn't running with a discouraged slump in his shoulders - his head was up, and he was going HARD!

My baby knew he was at the back of the pack, but he was running like he was in first place. He was working so unbelievably hard; but still occasionally slowing to keep an encouraging eye out for his friend who was even further behind. He was determined, persistent and absolutely AWESOME. Even though running has never been his thing, giving up has never been, either.

I worry constantly about my boy. I want to protect him from every single thing that could possibly hurt him. But, there comes a time when he has to try things outside the comfort zone I have created for him. And even when it's hard, maybe disappointing and super scary (for both of us!) -- it seems we have raised the kind of little boy who is determined to try. The fear of failing is nothing in the face of fierce determination. 

And that is what my 9 year-old keeps teaching me every single day. 

My son didn't win the race, but he finished and he never quit. My husband and I were so proud of him that 'proud' isn't even a strong enough word. And most important of all, he was proud of himself. He wasn't tentative or timid. He was brave and glorious -- and I want to be just like him.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Embrace the Balance.

My Little Guy was formally diagnosed with ADHD. We were prepared for the diagnosis, and to be honest, didn't really expect anything else to come out of our pediatrician's mouth. The next steps -- creating a treatment plan of action -- were where the difficult decision lay. Or so I expected.

Pre-diagnosis, my husband and I had thought we'd never put one of our sons on medication for 'behavior issues.' We both were guilty of being sadly ignorant of  ADHD realities, and also both adhered strictly to the 'boys will be boys' philosophy.  We believed that there were certain traits that all boys have, and that parents grossly over-medicated just because they didn't want to deal with a willful, exuberant child. (In hindsight, I could just kick myself for making such ignorant judgements. Especially now as I am experiencing firsthand how much those judgements hurt).

But, medication is exactly what our doctor recommended.  And in spite of our initial apprehension (and misguided opinions), we followed his advice.

I have heard personal stories and read countless articles about drug therapy since ADHD came into our lives.  How choosing to medicate is a really tough a decision; one article about how meds are SO bad for your child, and then the next tells you how meds are the only thing that works -- every parent and doctor (and unfortunately, random woman in the grocery store) has an opinion on the good or evil of ADHD meds. I was prepared for a long, drawn-out decision-making process, filled with lists of pros and cons, and hours of mulling it over.  But, in reality, once our doctor made his recommendations, I knew almost immediately it was the right thing to do for our family.

There are many reasons why choosing medical science to help our son was the path we chose.  1.) We trust our pediatrician; he's been the boys' doctor since the day they were born.  2.) The effects of the medication are not cumulative and completely reversible; if we change our minds, we can take him off the meds right away.  3.) Drug therapy doesn't have to be long term; if as a child, he needs medication to succeed in school (academically AND socially) so be it -- he has far more options for modeling his life to deal with ADHD as an adult.

But looking back now, I know I was always at peace with the decision to medicate, certainly for the reasons above, but also because of who I am -- a believer in technology, science and modern medicine.

When I was 18, I was diagnosed with Osteo-Rheumatoid Arthritis. It was an enormous struggle and an incredibly tough road at first. But, I was able to live my life and meet my goals and do the things I'd always dreamed about because I found the right medication that stopped the pain and let me experience life. When I was 32, I had a stroke. Although I don't like to necessarily think about it, I almost died.  But I didn't. I had surgery to remove part of my cerebellum that was possible thanks to medical science. I am a prime example of what medical technology and advancements can do -- it made me who I am.  Because of it, I still AM.

We have come a long way from using leeches and doctors not washing their hands before procedures and having polio and dying from illnesses that could be cured by a simple antibiotic. Modern medicine has done amazing things for physical conditions, from easily treating what were once fatal diseases to providing veterans with prosthetic limbs. Why isn't science as widely accepted as a way to treat mental disorders? I mean, if it's within my power to give my boy's 'race car brain' even a little bit of the relief I feel when taking my arthritis meds, isn't it worth a shot?

Of course, I am absolutely not saying there isn't a place for holistic treatment of illness. (We have begun our son in play therapy to address his ADHD in addition to his medication.) I also try to eat as 'cleanly' as possible and think a person's diet is better the more natural and chemical-free it is. (We have restricted the dyes and nitrites in my son's food.)  I definitely believe in the healing power of Mother Nature -- but to be sure, I believe in the strength of science as well.

We as humans (and part of nature) have developed the capacity for inventing miracles that help us (sometimes even save us).

Embrace the balance.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Guilt Is A Four Letter Word

Ahh, guilt.  Along with regret, one of the most useless, futile and absurd of all human emotions.  And yet, almost all of us feel it at one time or another, to varying degrees.  Currently, I am experiencing guilt-overload, and it is crushing.

I've always been a guilty person. (No, not THAT kind of guilty!) I am a people-pleaser.  I want everyone around me to be happy, and to like me.  I feel so bad if anyone is put out, inconvenienced or upset. That has meant conflict avoidance (even when confrontation was really what was necessary) and some bottling up of emotion. Totally unhealthy.  But the guilt I've been experiencing lately is even worse -- Parent Guilt. The most intense of all the guilts, in my opinion.

Ever since my husband and I were told of my Little Guy's potential (probable) ADHD, our lives have really changed. I've, of course, being a mom, have scoured the Internet doing research. We've been a lot more patient with him, knowing a lot of his behaviors he just can't help.  But along with changes in our family life, there has also been guilt piling up on me.

I feel guilty...
about the expectations I had for my children.  My husband and I were always part of the sports-related crowd.  I was a cheerleader, he played lacrosse and soccer. We had friends growing up and were always part of a fun group of friends.  I always expected my children to be the same.  But, neither of them are athletes, and both are a little young for their age...especially my Little Guy.  His teacher has noticed he has some problems relating to the other kids, which is a hallmark of ADHD. I feel guilty sometimes that he struggles with friendship. I wish it were easier for him. I feel guilty that I sometimes wish they were what I'd imagined them to be.

I feel guilty...
about the kind of mother I am.  Is my Little Guy's ADHD caused by something I did? Did I let him watch to much television? Do I fail in making sure he has the best nutrition? Did I expose him to some toxin in his bottles, toys, anything? What did I do wrong??

I feel guilty...
about talking to people about ADHD. Sometimes, it feels like all my conversations, regardless of where they started, come back around to it.  I don't want to be someone that no one wants to talk to because THIS is all they talk about (hello? People pleaser!!).  So instead, I just find myself retreating into myself...and bottling emotions.

I feel guilty...
about being so worried.  I have friends with children who are struggling with issues that are way bigger than ADHD. There are lots of people who suffer from ADHD; where do I get off being so consumed?  There are so many people out there with far more consequential, even life-threatening, concerns for their kids.  This is nothing compared to what others have to endure.

I feel guilty...
about my Big Guy. Dealing with an ADHD child requires a ton of patience and temper-control (one of the first things I read about it was the importance of remaining positive).  What patience and responsiveness can I possibly have left over for my Big Guy? Is he left wondering why all of our attention is directed his brother's way? We've explained the situation to him and he understands what's going on, but he's only 9. He's just a kid, too and even though he understands, it has to be impossible for him not to feel a little neglected.

I feel guilty...
about what choices we are going to make.  There are so many routes to take as far as treatment. Therapies, medications, diets -- so much to decide.  What if I choose poorly? I run all the possibilities in my head constantly, and I know I'll second guess everything we do. I feel more and more like a child instead of a parent...aren't the grown-ups supposed to decide and tell us what to do? Oh, I AM the grown-up? Well, it sure as hell doesn't feel like it; I am too scared and uncertain.

So, there it is. Logically, I know feeling guilty about all of the above (and more) a.) doesn't change anything, b.) might be a little ridiculous, and c.) doesn't do anyone any good.  But I still do. Writing all this down does help; I can see in black and white how silly and pointless some of this is. I know I need to (wo)man up and stop catering to the stupid, illogical guilt. My energies need to be focused solely on helping my sons (both of them) through this.

I'm trying.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

It's Been One Week Since You Looked at Me...

Happy Valentine's Day!

I've been very lucky to experience a lot of love over the past seven days.

It's been one week since we first heard those little letters that have thrown our world into upheaval.


The past week, I've been scouring the Internet, reading books, trying to absorb every little piece of information I can get my hands on. Some has been helpful, some has not. Some has been scary, some comforting. But the most helpful thing I've found is putting aside the experts' words, and finally opening up to my friends. I should have known this from the beginning; my most valuable resource, for information and support, are the people around me (after all, they're in my life for a reason!). Just talking about what is going on has been amazing - hearing related experiences from friends, empathy from other parents, reassurances from our doctor and our teachers. My  "Never Say Die!" perspective on life is firmly back in place.

But one thing that was temporarily lost in my week-long whirlwind of information-absorption (and I can't stand myself for this) has been my little angel.

Little Guy has no clue whats going on. He doesn't know what 'ADHD' is. His world hasn't changed a bit...but, I'm so afraid he can feel me looking at him differently. And (I can't stand myself for this -- even more) I think I have been. But, today, he was in a great mood. He flashed a lot of typical LG smiles.  He asked me to be his Valentine. We played Snoopy for a while. Then we played Cup of Doom (something his fantastic imagination created). All of which was quintessential HIM. And it it was like a lightening flash in my brain.  Yes, I'd been (albeit subconsciously) looking at him differently. HOW STUPID. This is MY BABY. No matter what he 'has,' no matter what he needs, no matter what changes are ahead in our adventure -- we'll always face them together.  And he will always be able to rely on his mommy, no matter what. He's always going to be the little tow-headed angel  who completed our family. I feel like the worst mother in world for losing sight of this for even for one second. But I'll do my best not to forget again.

So, happy Valentines has been an emotional rollercoaster of a week. But I think the love has pushed the fear to the backburner (for now) where it belongs. Here's wishing you the kind of love that sees you through when you need help, and fills your heart with the deepest comfort and fiercest happiness!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

But...I Don't Do Fear!

 "If there is one thing which I would banish from the earth, it is fear." 
-- Henry Ford

Yesterday, I read a blog post entitled, '10 Facts on Motherhood.' It struck me, (and other readers, judging by the comments), that while the truths she listed were entirely accurate, they also seemed counter-intuitive. Not that they didn't all apply (they absolutely do), but as an inclusive list, they seem to preclude one another. But as much as the list was accurate, the seeming contradiction is accurate, too. Wisdom and incompetence, resentfulness and joy, anger and appreciation -- yes, they are all felt deeply and simultaneously by mommies. Sometimes, all of them make an appearance in the space of only an hour.

My latest 'strengthener' (some may call them obstacles, but I've had so many of them that I refuse to characterize them that way) is a glaring example of this kind conflict in my own personality. On Thursday, my husband and I met with a team of educators from the elementary school my boys attend. We had this meeting scheduled for a while, and knew it was regarding our Little Guy's focus issues and his seeming inability to pay attention in school. I honestly wasn't that concerned about it. We had had the same meeting two years earlier for our older son. It was literally the exact same meeting -- the exact same team of our principal, the occupational therapist, the guidance counselor, the IST teacher and our first grade teacher and the exact same problems. Or so we thought.

Our previous meeting went a lot differently.

Big Guy got a sticker chart, with rewards for focusing in class each day. And the principal even said, 'Hes a first grade boy. If we're having this meeting in 5th grade, then there's a problem.' That was that, and by the next year it was fine. But, this time, the women's faces were much more serious. There was no 'he's just a little boy' dismissal. They had a different opinion. They felt we should have our Little Guy evaluated by our pediatrician for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

If you've read this blog before, you know I pride myself on my tenacity.  I live by the words perseverance, positivity and purpose. Not to toot my own horn, but I've been through a lot, health-wise. And I've come out the other side stronger, better, clearer. The arthritis, my stroke, all of it -- I've faced it as bravely as I could.  But here's where my conflict is. Now? I am scared.

Oh, how easy I find it to tell my arthritis brethren, "Just do it! Be brave! No excuses!" And here I am, shrinking and humbled by the possibility of ADHD for my boy. There are so many questions and so much information out there. How will this effect his education? Making friends? What are our treatment options? What are we going to do??  I am overwhelmed and frightened. I just want to grab my son, hide under the bed and squeeze him and not let go.

I am shaken and afraid, and we don't even have a diagnosis yet.

I have spent the last few days alternating between my stalwart self, and saying, "Bring. It. On. You don't know who you're messing with!" But in the next minute, I'm terrified for him. Am I going to choose the right path for him to succeed? Is he going to struggle throughout his life?  I don't know how I feel, but I do know I HATE being afraid. It's just not who I am.

Logically, I know two things. 1.) We don't have an official label of 'ADHD' yet, so I am definitely getting ahead of myself. And 2.) ADHD is NOT the worst thing a parent could have to deal with, and I'm learning there are positives that come from a brain that is wired a bit differently.

So for now, I'm holding tight to my logic, and trying to keep the resolute part of me at the forefront. I know that's what I need to do, and what my sweet son needs most from his mama right now.  As I look at his beautiful face and infectious smile, it's a little easier to believe that everything is going to be okay.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

You're Not the Boss of Me...

My 40th birthday is (all too quickly) drawing near.  Although I am not one to be too bothered with age or getting older, it's human nature to look back and reflect as you approach a milestone.  As I ponder my life, my choices and challenges, my friends and my fate; everything is touched in some way by one thing: arthritis.

I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid and Osteo-arthritis at the age of 17, so I've spent my entire adult existence dealing with this uninvited companion. But, although it's been life-altering, I have done everything in my power over the past 23 years to put myself in the driver's seat when it comes to my health. And a huge factor in controlling this disease is EXERCISE.

WAIT!! Before you groan and quickly move onto cute cat photos or snarky memes, let me quickly reassure you that I am NOT one of those lunatic, exercise-obsessed, perfect body people (although, I do know and love many of them, and honestly admire their dedication and awesome figures).  I am YOU.  If you are an RA/OA sufferer, I totally get it. I have been in your shoes and I have felt your pain. Working out is not in my blood, it's not something that comes easily, and it doesn't feel natural to me all the time.  But, it is something I strive every day to do, not to look good (although that is something I consider...I do own up to a bit of vanity!), I have to do it. I MUST do it.  I won't be able to run errands, chase my boys or even walk if I don't force myself to haul these creaky joints to the gym as much as I can.

The effectiveness of exercise as a treatment for rheumatoid disease is well-documented.  It works for a variety of reasons, like strengthening the muscles surrounding the joints so the joints themselves aren't doing all the work. Range of motion, which in my case, severely suffered in the early years of my diagnosis is increased by regular exercise.  And although I have always found this to be counterintuitive in theory, I've experienced its truth in practice: exercise really does fight off the fatigue that is always accompanied by RA. In fact, the Arthritis Foundation has even spearheaded a nationwide movement called 'Let's Move Together!' to motivate our community to utilize exercise to combat rheumatoid disease.

Obviously, this is all very easy for me to say; after all, I've been eating, sleeping, loving and living with this disease for over 20 years. My RA/OA and I know each other very well and I am used to it.  It's different for anyone who has been recently diagnosed, or even those who've been hanging with arthritis for a while now and haven't found the right path for managing it.  I can hear you all right now -- 'I am in pain and this crazy lady expects me to get on the treadmill?? Not on your life!'  I don't blame you! Not at all. Like I said, I AM you, and I was in the very same spot.  There was a time when I couldn't even walk from the car to my doctor's office without help.  There have been times when I've needed a wheelchair.  There have been times a'plenty that I couldn't do something I wanted.  But that's not how I wanted to live. That's not who I wanted to be.

So I started small.  In the beginning, short walks were all I could do.  I was the only 20-year old in an aqua-aerobics class with 20 silver-haired retirees. But it was a start. And we all have to start somewhere.  And today, I spend at least three days a week at Planet Fitness, and two on my elliptical trainer at home. I am in the best shape of my life.  Because if I wasn't, I know I'd be in the worst.

For certain, I still have my bad days.  There are days when I get up and the last thing in the world I want to do is exercise.  My knees hurt and I am so tired, both from this stupid disease and life in general. But, instead of wallowing, I get up, and I get going.  And you can, too.  I know it's scary and hard and painful.  But it is what it is; but we are what we are.  And that is people who can take arthritis by the throat, and let it know just who's in charge of our lives - WE ARE!

 What I am trying to say is that it WILL get better. You CAN do it.  Join a gym.  Join Let's Move Together and take advantage of the support system it offers. Sign up for yoga class.  Message me anytime if you need to vent.  Take control. Be the boss of you. In taking charge, I promise you will find your determination, positivity, and dignity. We can do and me, one step at a time.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Desperately Seeking...Something?

When I first created this blog, I was happily entrenched in my life as a stay-at-home mother. I had my hands full taking care of the boys, the house, my family in general.  But even then, I could see something out in the distance. A little glimmer of something, just out of reach and not quite discernible, but I knew it was there.  As the years have come and gone, that flicker of purpose got closer and closer.  And although the time has passed and I am still not quite sure what 'it' is -- here I am today, ready to reach out and grab it.

My sons have gone from small preschoolers who need their mommy for almost everything to big, independent boys who attend school. All day. Every day.  Without me. This fall, when the school year started and they were both finally there all day, that something out on the horizon started to poke at me.  I started thinking about the woman I used to be.  Now, don't get me wrong.  Choosing to stay home and raise my boys was the most valuable and important decision I ever made, and I would never change it, even if I could.  But, being a wife and mother was not something I'd always aspired to.  I had different goals and dreams as I grew up, and although they have been on the backburner for a while, they have never gone away.  Changed, evolved and metamorphosed, maybe; but never forgotten.

And now is the time to revive them.  Now, I am ready.

But here's the kicker -- all that change, evolution and metamorphosis?  Instead of wanting to start right back where I left off in the political arena, I am completely lost as to what I want to do NOW.  I don't mean to say that my past-life occupation wasn't important, or that I didn't believe in what I was doing, because I definitely did.  I believed in the issues I worked on and the people I worked for, almost to a fault (sometimes my passion did get the better of me!).  It's just now, my priorities have changed. It's hard to have two children, spend a significant time out of the workforce and reach the age of 40 without that happening.  My mission now is to take my changed priorities, meld them with my professional experience and find the perfect recipe for purpose.

So, what am I looking for then?  What are the ingredients that must be included to result in my desperately sought-after purpose? Well, though I may adjust for taste as the months go by and our family needs change, these are the core components:
  • Balance.  My boys have never been to daycare.  They have never had anyone besides my husband or me have to pinch hit if they're sick. As I have said, their well-being and happiness are paramount to me.  I would love to find an employer who understands this, and embraces it. I truly believe that employees are happier, more productive and more satisfied in their work if they aren't constantly plagued by thoughts of what-ifs. What if my child gets sick? What if the boss penalizes me for asking for a flexible schedule on soccer game days?  Just knowing my employer 'gets it' would make all the difference for me in choosing to go back to work.
  • Service.  Obviously, a factor in my returning to professional life is contributing to my family's economic well-being. But this is one thing that has not changed during my professional hiatus: I need for my work to be in service to others in some way.  In order for it to be meaningful for me, my industry has to help someone, somewhere who needs it.  I am drawn to non-profits and their mission to do good. As much as I adore the finer things in life, I have never worked just to make a buck.
  • Patience.  I have been out of the workforce for a longtime.  And while I have tried to impose some of my former skills on to my current reality, it isn't quite the same. I have no doubt that once I am employed again, it will take me hardly any time to get right back into the groove and learn the ropes.  Hardly any time...but SOME time.  It's a different working world than the one I left behind, and I do realize it will require some adaptations and a learning curve.  Although I am quite confident I can not only do it, but excel at it, my ideal employer would acknowledge this adjustment and work with me.
  • The 'Click.'   Not to belabor the point, but it has been a few years since I had a boss over the age of eight. At this stage in my game, it matters more to me what a potential employer's purpose is than specifically what I'd be doing within the organization. I want to connect, to click with it; I want to feel passion for its mission. I realize my resume gap will necessitate a certain degree of starting at the bottom. Again. But I don't mind. I am perfectly willing to pay my dues all over again -- answering phones or some administrative duties in the beginning. If the potential for advancement is there, and I'm contributing to the overall success of the organization, I can do what I'm needed to do. Ideally, I will find a position that will utilize my talents from past positions to become a real asset to my employer.  
Not much to ask, huh? :)

So, I continue on my path toward gainful, meaningful, and balanced employment. I am learning more about myself and my aspirations every day, and with every cover letter I write.  And although the process is taking longer than I would have predicted, I persevere.  I know it'll be worth the wait.