The Guilty Party


I complain all the time about housework and domestic drudgery, but if you really think about it, we totally have it made compared to our counterparts from centuries past. I mean, when’s the last time you had to haul your bathwater from a well and build a fire to heat it up, or beat your laundry on a rock? 

Exactly. 

We have machines to wash our clothes and our dishes, phones that are like little handheld computers (or, hell, phones and computers in general!), water that runs directly out of a tap and heats up on its own, even robotic vacuums that clean our floors without even having to push them. (Although I’m still not sure how one of those things would fare at my house; it would probably have to be an all-terrain vehicle to maneuver through the amount of debris lurking in my carpet.) Plus, we squeeze our extra flesh into Spanx instead of corsets, which are at least marginally more comfortable. 

Maybe. 

I mean, nobody needs fainting couches anymore, so there’s that.

But there’s one hardship we modern-day moms must endure that I’m pretty sure didn't plague the mothers of yesteryear: Mom Guilt. A mom from the past might have inwardly rolled her eyes at the occasional judgment from a meddling mother-in-law or spinster aunt, like, "Hrrrnph. It cold. Baby need more mammoth-skin," or “Dost thou truly think thy baby shouldst be crawling amongst the cinders of thy hearth?” But that’s nothing compared to what we’re put through; these days, we mothers have the entire Internet to tell us we’re doing it all wrong. All we have to do is sit in front of our screens for ten seconds and suddenly we’re bombarded with a plethora of reasons to feel like failures.


At our fingertips, we've got access to all the information we could ever need about parenting – but determining what’s accurate is the tricky part. There are articles (upon articles, upon articles) written by parenting gurus who are, by all accounts, reliable sources and experts in their respective fields. The problem is, they all say different stuff. Stuff that directly contradicts the other “expert” article on the same topic that you just read ten minutes ago. Even more confusing are the innumerable scientific studies that prove – prove! – how much damage we’re doing with TV and smartphones and sugar and artificial colors and gender stereotypes and plastics and medications and non-organic food. It’s enough to make your head spin. Vaccinate your kids to keep dangerous childhood diseases at bay (helloooooo Disneyland measles outbreak!), but don’t vaccinate because you read somewhere that vaccines are linked to autism. Put sunscreen on them because if you don’t you’re a negligent parent – but buy sunscreen without those harmful parabens because if you don’t you’re a negligent parent. Discipline them firmly because disrespectful kids are what’s wrong with society today – but don’t spank them because that’s just cruel and what kind of a crappy parent are you?! Oh, but don’t yell or put them in time-out either; it's bad for their self-esteem. Don’t give them juice boxes or pouches because they can be moldy inside – give it to them in a plastic cup. But make sure the cup is BPA-free. But actually, don’t give them juice at all because it has too much sugar and sugar is the devil. Oh and so is gluten. What? You mean you're not feeding your family a Paleo diet?! Tsk. Your neighbor does. In an artfully-arranged Bento box.

This morning when I woke up I saw an article about why French kids are well-behaved. It immediately brought to mind other articles I've read - like the one about why French kids don't have ADHD (and if you've read my "Hugging a Butterfly" post, you'll know this is a sore subject with me) and why French parents are superior. Oh yeah, and apparently, French women don't get fat. They're too busy being better moms, I guess. Quelle surprise. Thanks a bucket, Internet.

I'm no expert by any means, but there's one thing that I've learned while raising four kids and writing about parenthood: good mothers (and fathers!) do the best they can. It's that simple. We know our kids like the backs of our hands, and if we make the choices that we think will benefit them the most, then we're winning at parenting. Yes, there will be minor fails - and some that feel more than minor - but as long as our decisions are made out of love, and concern for their well-being, they'll ultimately be okay. We need to compare less and listen to ourselves more, because nobody knows our children, our circumstances, our needs better than we do - and every family is unique. We need to trust in our ability to raise a family successfully. Silence the "noise" (a.k.a., the land of wildly varying opinions that is the Internet) and follow your parental instinct. That's what it's there for.

Whatever you do for your kids, do it because you love them. Do it because you know what's best. Not the "experts," not the "gurus," not the neighbors: YOU. Don't get so caught up in the details that you can't see the forest for the trees, so to speak. Make even the most difficult choices with confidence, because in the grand scheme of things, you're doing just fine

Sure, the stakes sometimes feel insurmountably high. We all fear our children sobbing on a therapist's couch (or Jerry Springer's), talking about their ruined childhoods at the hands of incompetent parents. But if it were that easy to royally screw up a child, humans would have died out a long time ago. On the whole, we're a resilient species. Even if we eat gluten and watch too much TV.

And even if we don't happen to be French.

Save Me!

I like to watch Hoarders on TV because it makes me feel like my house is super-clean. Try it if you don't believe me! I might have, like, a perpetually crumb-y tabletop and a few hand prints on my walls and smudged-up windows. But then I watch Hoarders and see these people with crap piled up to their ceilings (sometimes it's literally ACTUAL CRAP) and rodents and roaches and dead cats, and then my house starts to feel like this:


It's the best way to feel good about the cleanliness of your space without actually having to clean it. Although you will have to clean it eventually, otherwise, you know ... rodents and roaches and dead cats.

Anyway, I like to think of myself as a relatively tidy person - it's my kids who trash the joint. I'm always tossing stuff in the garbage (like "sparts!"). But the other day I was giving my kids some pineapple chunks and found myself washing out the plastic jar afterward instead of pitching it into the recycle bin. I went to put it away, and realized that I actually have like twenty of them stashed.

Immediately my mind flashed to my grandma Elsie, who for as long as I can remember kept a kitchen drawer full of twist-ties and rubber bands. Hundreds upon hundreds of them, that she literally never used but kept anyway "just in case."

Then my mind flashed to something else: the stash of empty canisters in my laundry room, the ones that once held those little beads you use to add extra scent to your laundry. I save those every time, too. With a creeping sense of horror, I realize that this is a really hoarder-y thing to do.


In my defense (or maybe as further proof that I am indeed a hoarder in the making?), I have little kids. And I feel like these plastic containers could somehow be used for a craft.

Even though I, uh ...

... well, I don't craft.

Shit. I'm a hoarder waiting to happen, aren't I?

Does anybody else do this or should I schedule an intervention?


Ugly Beauty

I dyed my hair yesterday. Yes, all you hairdressers out there who are appalled: I dye my own hair. With twelve-dollar color that I buy at Walmart. It's because I have all these money-sucking kids who always need new jeans and new shoes and, like, food and stuff more than I need my roots touched up by a professional. So it's either color it myself or go full-on Granny at age thirty-four, and I'm not down with a head full of pube-y looking silver. Because that's exactly what my grays look like: crinkly, pale pubes.

I'm scared to get old for this reason. Are there "mean girl" cliques in nursing homes?

Anyway, I dyed my hair, and I was standing there in front of my bathroom mirror wearing my oldest, most raggedy T-shirt. It was smudged with brown dye, looking like I'd given a shoulder ride to a diaperless baby with a pooping problem. My hair was saturated with goop and piled on top of my head in a gloppy mound, like a mini-beehive.

While I was waiting for my hair color to develop, I decided to floss my teeth. So I was all up in the mirror like this:


(Okay - so less plaque, perhaps, but approximately the same amount of chin hair.)

After that was done, I decided to file my feet. My mom bought me this sander thing for Christmas that's kind of like a power tool - it grinds the dead skin right off. So I put one foot up on the sink, bent over it like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and got to work. Foot-dust was flying everywhere. I should have worn some sort of protective breathing apparatus or some goggles or something. I mean ... foot-dust. *shudder*

With ten minutes left in the dyeing process, I figured I had time to rid myself of some excess facial hair. (Yes, I do that myself too. Remember my post on DIY de-frumping?) So I adhered wax strips to my face, and I'm pretty sure I looked something like this as I ripped them off:


All this got me thinking. It's actually kind of ironic how ugly we look in the process of beautification. The end result is gorgeous and desirable, but we (or at least, I) look nowhere near gorgeous OR desirable when I'm primping. Right down to the mouth-gaping-open-while-applying-mascara step. I guess that's why we do it all behind closed doors.


... Because don't nobody wanna see all that. Until it's done, anyway.

Hugging a Butterfly


My nine-year-old son hugged me yesterday afternoon. Really hugged me. He wrapped his skinny arms around my waist and leaned in, resting his head peacefully against my chest. And he stayed there.

It was like - for lack of a better explanation - hugging a butterfly. Because normally, that's impossible; the butterfly flits around, touching lightly on a surface before skittering back into flight. Even when they're perched momentarily on a flower, their wings open and close, ready to flutter away in a blink.

That's how my son is. Kinetic. Ever-moving. When he talks, the words tumble out at a mile a minute, and he shifts his weight quickly from foot to foot, throwing in a random hop or raising up on his toes. His eyes flicker away, distracted. When he sits at his computer, his short periods of silence are punctuated by a series of staccato thumps as he gets up to run to his window and then back to his chair; he cannot be still. He literally bounces off the walls. LITERALLY.

And his hugs. They're stiff-armed, quick, like a cat who doesn't want to be picked up. I love them, and I'll certainly take what I can get, but they're few and far between.

He's in fourth grade this year, and every year it's been the same song and dance. Since Kindergarten. Colin has difficulty following procedures, say the notes in his daily planner. Colin is pestering others. Colin will not stay seated. The comments never change, only the handwriting, as the years and the teachers tick by. This whip-smart boy, who asked me when he was five if he could have ammonium dichromate to make a realistic erupting volcano, who was expertly programming computers by age seven, has been reduced to "that kid" in school. The one who's always out of his chair, always poking someone else's paper, disorganized, falling behind. But he's not "that kid." It's just that his inabilities have far overshadowed his potential, and it's sad.

No - sad isn't the word. "Sad" is a gross understatement. But I can't explain the way it tears at a mother's soul to know that, both at school and at home, her child is the target of more frustration and "no" than encouragement and "yes." Somebody's always getting onto him (granted, it's not without good reason). I'm sure, beyond a doubt, that it's hard to be Colin. If you'd just do what you need to do and behave, you wouldn't have this problem! Just stop fidgeting and listen! I want to plead. But I don't. Because, for whatever reason, he can't.

We've been witnesses to his decline, feeling helpless as we watch his love of school dwindle, his flame of curiosity glowing less brightly with each passing year. And though we've railed against it with all our might - changing his diet, trying multiple disciplinary tactics, using positive reinforcement - we have failed to address it adequately. And it's heartbreaking to watch him struggle.

I want his teachers to know the Colin we know, the one who emerges in the occasional calm moments. To see the sweetness, the compassion, the brilliance. I've tried to convey this a hundred times during parent-teacher meetings, frustrated at my inability to hold back my tears as I try to explain that my son is so much more than the way he acts sometimes. I know he can get on your nerves. Please don't let that make you dislike him. Please see past his difficulties to the amazing child he actually is. 

At one of these meetings about a year ago, it was suggested that he may be somewhere on the autism spectrum. We took him to a psychologist who specializes in childhood autism, learning disorders, and the like. He was tested extensively. And finally, we had a diagnosis. But it wasn't autism. I should have been relieved, but I was dismayed.

Colin has Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. ADHD.

Instead of being glad we were finally onto something, I was disappointed. I have to admit, I'm one of those people who felt like the diagnosis of ADHD was just another way of saying "your kid can't control himself." Like it was a blanket diagnosis covering all kids who were merely active, the way kids are. Like it was just an excuse to drug kids to get them to sit down and shut up and conform. I felt like medicating him for it would be taking the easy way out, and plus, I was afraid he'd turn into some sort of insensate zombie.

Not my kid.

"He may have ADHD, but we're not drugging him," I said adamantly to Colin's therapist. So we tried more things, more non-medicated approaches. She worked with him, teaching him techniques to help him focus. His teacher worked with him, letting him take small breaks and sit on a bouncy ball instead of a chair at school. And these things helped - sometimes. Always just briefly.

Despite it all, nothing really improved. He was still struggling. Still slipping. We were all exhausted, Colin most of all. So his dad and I finally opened up to the one thing we hadn't explored, the one avenue we had tried hard not to go down. Medication.

His therapist agreed. His pediatrician agreed. His teacher agreed. "I want to start him out on a really light dose," I said worriedly. "And if it impacts him negatively in even the smallest way, I'm not giving him any more."

So we did it. We "went there." And Colin took his first dose, and I watched him like a hawk while he got ready for school, ready to chuck the bottle of pills at the first sign of anything bad. I didn't know what to expect, but I called the school and told them that he'd started his meds, and asked them to please keep that in mind if he came to the nurse's office for any reason.

When he came out of school that afternoon, he walked straight to the car - no dawdling, as is usually his custom. He was smiling. Not zinging around like a pinball. When we got home, he hung up his coat and backpack. He did his homework, finishing in about ten minutes with zero arguments, and zero nagging on my part. There was a good note from his teacher in his planner. He didn't antagonize his brothers like usual. We had a conversation - probably the longest conversation we've had in years, and probably the first ever where he wasn't bouncing from place to place the whole time he talked.

And that hug. It was amazing.

For the first time in ... well, maybe his entire life, Colin seemed truly relaxed. But not in a stoned, disconnected way; more like a relieved way. Like someone who has finally been unburdened from the baggage that has unfairly saddled them for so long.

"I feel so much better, Mom," he told me. "Why couldn't we have done this from the start?"

Why, indeed? Because we didn't want to be the parents who drugged their kid to get him to sit down and shut up. That's why. We didn't want to take what we thought was the "lazy route."

But that was our misconception. We didn't know how much of a help medication can actually be. How it calms the noise in his brain, the jitters in his body, so he can be who he really is. I was so worried about being a bad parent that I closed off the one thing that truly could have helped him years ago.

I found a paper he wrote a little while back that truly sums up the way his mind jumped around. The brain!, it says. Did you know that you can survive without part of your brain?! Answer this: 1+6=? You just used your cortex!

Then it says, The Loch Ness Monster! I think the Loch Ness Monster is a dinosaur still alive. And by dinosaur, I mean water dino.

Then it says, Question: What makes salt?

Now he is able to focus on brains. Or dinosaurs. Or what makes salt. INDIVIDUALLY. He can give his tasks the attention they deserve. I can't wait to see what kind of improvements he makes at school. He goes each morning with a renewed sense of hope and optimism, and it's refreshing.

If nothing else, those hugs speak volumes. I look into his blue eyes - calm now - and he looks into mine, and stays put long enough for me to feel his warmth. Like he never has before.

And that's validation enough.


Sharethis

Blog Widget by LinkWithin