Hackles

I got this note from my son’s teacher today. Please tell me this is nothing to get defensive about…

Good afternoon!
I intended to drop a note yesterday, but got otherwise involved after school…[Dood] had a pretty good day (yesterday), seemed more settled, more organized, more able to focus on tasks at hand.
Today started out in a much different way, back to flitting all over the room, neglecting simple morning responsibilities (even with several reminders to…i.e., fill in the lunch chart, pick up the book bag, take off the jacket, get your chair). He is my morning prayer helper this week and just couldn\’t stand still long enough to do even that job…his hands were up above his head, he was fidgeting and unable to stay in one spot.
I am more than a little concerned about our field trip to [the Capitol] next week (Thursday). I know mornings are often not good or at least unpredictable for [Dood]. Please give me some helpful information (re. meds, etc.) for that early morning departure and ride to [the Capitol] (remember, we leave @ 6:15 a.m. that day). I also am curious about the ride home and what we can do to make it the best possible trip for him and his companions.
I truly want the experience to be a positive and enjoyable one for [Dood] (and for those around him).

My Angel Does Not Poop Fluffy, White Clouds

We meet again with Dr. Rita this Friday. I like your ideas of the reward system, but I’ll admit to being an asshole of a mom and stating it’s just easier on many days to wish I could thump Doodicus for being a real butt. However, since this is about HIM and not about ME, I’ll get some more ideas from the doc on how to implement a system that doesn’t backfire by bringing more attention to Dood at school. Seven- and eight-year-olds don’t notice that a classmate is walking around with a keychain of privilege cards or that the teacher is keeping a sticker chart. Ten- and eleven-year-olds will, and being the blood-thirsty heartless, little vultures that they are, they’ll go straight for his soft underbelly.

Let’s talk about Aitch for a bit now, shall we? She’s got me wound so tight around her little finger, my head is up my ass…twice. "Mommy, will you lay down with me? Just for a little bit?" she wheedles sweetly. And I perch myself carefully on a sliver of the bed she gives up for me. "You’re the best mommy," she sighs. "I love you," at which time she strokes my face with her still babyishly soft hand and tucks her feet between my knees to warm them. I’ve been lulled by her angelic nature.

She wrote her name on a piece of paper the other day, without any assistance. Sure, the "E" was backwards and the "L" was upside down, but it was her first autograph. She drew a picture of a person that same week. Again, without any insistence from us, and then came running up to me with a coloring of a very large-headed, stick-figure with three legs, tree branches for arms (per Aitch), and purple hair. She said it was me.

She’s as subtle as a hammer. Days spent at daycare means her "indoor" voice would rival a howler monkey. And she isn’t just loud, it’s constant. She’s either carrying on a self-monologue, singing or humming. My favorite is her trying to sing the Lion King’s opening credit’s song. If you didn’t know any better, you’d swear she was speaking in tongues.

What I’m really enjoying is her personal level of responsibility. When we ask her to get dressed for the day, she’ll happily skip to her room and come out just a few minutes later ready to go. Sure, she’s most likely wearing a yellow-striped tank-top under the purple polka-dot, long-sleeved t-shirt, zebra-striped leggings and a green tu-tu, but hallelujah! She. Is. Dressed. Most of the time, she’ll even remember to put the empty hangers in the hamper and shut off the lights to both her room and closet.

Doesn’t she sound positively PERFECT??

Yeah, well, before you hate me any further, I’m going to tell you Aitch’s dirty, little secret. She won’t poop in the potty. Oh, sure, she’s been potty-trained for nearly a year. She’s only had a couple of daytime accidents. But that ONE time she actually gave us a No. 2 in the potty was so traumatic, she utterly and adamantly has refused since then. Want to see a normally agreeable child figuratively lose their shit when they literally need to do so? If you don’t act quick enough for her liking, she’ll go put on her own diaper. Not a pull-up, mind you, but a diaper. She diapers herself.

After the first few months of her being potty-trained, we tried so hard to get her to try pooping (again) in the potty, but we only succeeded in causing such major constipation that we had to provide enemas and mira-lax. I have had a child before who refused to be potty-trained on both levels so I knew it just wasn’t worth the fight. It makes everyone unhappy and even unhealthy. In fact, knowing that it took us over eight years to finally feel confident that Dood wasn’t going to come home from school with "damp" underwear, I have given myself permission to wait out Aitch’s rebellion for at least another two years before I get my own panties in a twist. She’s never had an accident. She always waits until we’re home before the urge hits her. On our trip to Disney World? She regularly came to me in the morning to announce her intention, did her deed, and away we went to the parks and never had to give it a second thought.

I guess if there’s a potty-training issue to be had, she’s got the "easiest" kind. She asks for the diaper. She stays in her room (as required) until she’ done. She then gives us a shout. We get cleaned up and away we all go. There’s no impossible to reach awkward-tushy-spot on the toilet. There’s no embarrassing public call-out in the Target bathroom, "Mommy! Wipe my butt!" Of course, I would like to not have to buy diapers and would love to finally move the diaper pail into a recycle heap, because as wonderful and as sweet and as loving as she is, her shit STILL does stink.

In this case, I’m not calling out for help. It’s more of a hey, we may LOOK like we pretty much have it going on in the Big Kid department, but in reality we are letting a nearly four-year-old continue to dictate parts of our lives I would much rather have back for myself. Especially Sparring Partner who has brought her to the edge of Meltdown City before remembering there are much bigger battles to be waged and won coming our way, including prom-season. I don’t care if it is another 13 years away. She just better watch her step because if she even tries on a dress with cleavage cut to the naval, I will not be afraid to remind her how it wasn’t that long ago she was crapping in her pants.

504 Plans and Punishment

Doodicus had his second therapy session almost two weeks ago. During our appointment, Dr. Rita scribbled some notes on a sheet of paper and handed them to me when we were done. It was a list of accommodations we would send to the school. The beginning of our 504 Plan.

Now in my head, the 504 Plan was this formal outline that not only required a notary, but the signatures from no less than a dozen physicians, and the stamp of a unicorn’s ass to make it official. Apparently not. In our case, it just needs to be a neatly formed letter describing the disability (ADHD) and how it can affect the child’s learning and then basically a list of bulleted statements of accommodations the school (or even the family) will take from that point forward.

After years of "pleading" with teachers to just take a few extra moments, if you don’t mind, I know you’re busy and all, but would you double-check his assignment book to make sure he’s filled it out before coming home, it’s now just as simple as this example:

"The teacher will review and sign off on Dood’s assignment book every day, which is then to be double-checked by the parents."

As you can tell, it’s not really a request. Just like you don’t ask your kids, "Will you please eat all your peas?" I have to realize that this is not a favor I am asking, but that just like eating your peas, it’s simply an expectation of what is best is the given situation.

So I am figuring this out (slowly), but there is still so much gray area to cover. For example, we are also supposed to come up with punishments for repeated infractions. The punishment must be immediate and straight-forward. It’s simple to exact punishment at home: no TV, no video game, quiet time in room, etc., but what kind of punishment is acceptable by the teacher in front of 20 other kids in a classroom? The infractions that we are trying to eliminate may seem rather…petty…but they are part of helping Doodicus understand what responsibility means. Here are a few behaviors and if you have any suggestions on how to motivate Dood to not repeat them, please shout it out:

1) Not hanging up coat/throwing coat on the floor. It’s causing a tripping hazard to other kids and a distraction to Dood.

2) Late assignments. I have taken reduced recess out of the equation.

3) Carrying on with neighbor-student (talking, joking, horse-play) during the lesson. BTW, I believe it’s this type of activity that ends up getting Doodicus excluded from planned group activities. No one wants the trouble-maker on their team….

4) Using his pencil as a sword or light saber during study hall. He’s playing by himself, but he’s not only distracting everyone around him, he’s not getting his work done. Obviously, you can’t take away the pencil.

All thoughts and opinions are helpful. There’s no such thing as "assvice" around here.

P.S. I plan on posting more about the 504 Plan because it’s taken me almost three years to actually understand what I needed to do. I had a gist, but Dr. Rita has been invaluable in helping me appreciate how very simple it is.

I Remember the Stove

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This stove sits in the dining room of the house I grew up in. When we would lose electricity, which of course only happened when the nastiest of blizzards would be blowing through, this was our only source of heat. We wtould hang quilts to separate this room from the others, to keep the heat concentrated during extended outages. I loved, and still do, leaning onto this stove, my backside quickly warming up so I would have to arch forward for a few seconds losing contact
and then returning my¬† cooled butt to its comforting and familiar heat. After chores, mittens of all sizes would cover the top to dry away the snow and cold. There was nothing like that moment slipping the gloves back on, hot and crustily dried, before going out for the evening chores when it was 20 degrees below windchill. Mom would also keep an old teapot filled with water to humidify the room. The kettle had so much mineral build-up from decades of evaporation, the spout was blocked shut. It burns oil, not wood, and if it wasn’t venting properly, the smell would choke me and sting my eyes. My dad, with his 100 lb frame and aging bones, keeps the stove running at least 300 days a year, easily. I’ve walked into the house on balmy summer days and have felt heat from its surface. I’m so accustomed to its warm presence that when it is off , the cold iron feels foreign and awkward. I imagine its like trying to hug a corpse of someone you loved dearly.

The Alzheimer’s Threat

Since Doodicus was a baby, his grandma, my mom, has spent one day of the week watching the kids. It’s been a wonderful opportunity for all of us. As you know, my mother’s declining mental health has made many day-to-day tasks challenging. Initially diagnosed with early dementia, she is now in the early, but moderate, stages of Alzheimer’s and on several different medications.

These were prescribed with the intent to slow the affects of the disease, but they only work when they are taken consistently. How do you get someone who cannot remember what day or time it is to take their Monday morning dose? My brother who lives within a couple minutes from the farm, stops in almost daily to see if she’s taken her medicines, but he’s reported there are times he hasn’t been over for two or three days to discover she’s not taken anything.

When I talk to her on the phone, I can tell when she’s been taking her medicine as prescribed. She happy, content, talkative and rarely repeats herself. Without, she’s brusque, bitchy and can’t remember what the topic was from the five minutes before, if she even stays on the phone that long without hanging up without so much as a "good-bye" or "Love you". A couple weeks ago, I had asked if she could come to watch Aitch on Tuesdays instead of Mondays because I have Tuesday afternoons off. I can keep a better eye on her and let her go home earlier as she’s so exhausted by noon. She remembered and I was relieved. Tuesday passed without a hitch except she left her glasses behind. Two days later, as we were eating breakfast, she rang the bell and I went to the door puzzled by her unexpected visit (mind you, it’s a 25 mile drive). I thought it was because she had forgotten her glasses and she had some kind of appointment in town and was stopping by to pick them up. I asked if she wanted to spend the day with Aitch since she was in town. She said, "Well, that’s why I’m here. Your dad said I was suppose to come up." I hadn’t talked to my dad in a couple of weeks and certainly had not told him that mom was to be at our house that day.

We discovered she wasn’t taking her medication again. Sunday I called her, and since I was in a shit mood, having sat at the table with Doodicus for four hours trying to get him through his homework, I told her simply that if she didn’t take her medicine as prescribed, she couldn’t watch the kids anymore. I feared for her safety and I feared for the welfare of my kids. She’s incapable of using the cell-phone we leave at the house for emergencies. Against my repeated requests, she lets Aitch play in her car, which seems to always result in the key getting turned over or the lights turned on leaving her a dead car battery at the end of the day. (Yes, grandma stays with her, but what if mom collapses in the car and my daughter has the key or can’t open the door on a hot day…I go into a panic just thinking about it.)

Sparring Partner has had enough, too. He will drive home over lunch to make sure they are eating and almost always finds Aitch sitting in the living room in front of the TV with a glass of soda (which we don’t allow her to have, much less have in the living room, much, MUCH less in an open glass!) eating marshmallows out of the bag or he’s picking up a dozen tootsie roll wrappers littered across the house. It’s like grandma just doesn’t give a shit.

My mom use to talk with so much scorn about the people who would end up in the nursing home "batshit crazy and not knowing what day it is" and claiming she would never want to end up that way, and yet here she is, one step away, and it’s pissing me off. My mom and dad despise each other (another long story) so they only live in the same house, refusing to help each other. Dad’s not going to remind her to take her medicine; mom won’t ask dad to remind her to take her medicine. I’ve offered to buy my mom a pill dispenser that has an audio alarm, but she doesn’t want it. Won’t use it. And sure, I can threaten that she can’t come up and spend the day alone with the kids, but what good does that do when she doesn’t even remember the threat?

The thoughts I have about the situation are selfish and ugly. I am already feeling the crushing weight from what is going on with Doodicus, and frankly I just want someone else to just make it all go away.

I Remember Dialing the Phone

There was a wall-mounted, black rotary phone in our "den" when I was growing up. The den was a tiny room at the front of the house that was eight square feet, at the most. It contained the shotgun cabinet, a drop-front secretary desk, a door to the outside, an arched entrance into the dining room and that rotary phone. In fact, it still has all of those items in it. The only change that’s been made is it’s been painted a couple of times and new carpet. To make a phone call, you simple picked up the phone, listed to the handset to make sure the family you didn’t share it with (a "party" line) wasn’t already using it, and then you stuck your finger – or a pencil, if you were feeling fancy – into the hole with the corresponding number and rotated it clockwise until it hit the stopper. Then you lifted your finger out and went to the next number. Repeat six more times.

If I got in a hurry and put my finger in the 4 instead of the 3 and moved it even slightly, I had just fucked up everything. I have to start over. Waiting for the rotary to return from the stop was eternal. Especially if was a zero, which required a nearly 170 degree rotation. 1 was the closest to the dial and therefore the shortest to wait for. Our prefix was 337. Every number we ever dialed started with 337. After that, each phone in the community was numerically assigned. Apparently our family’s was the 865th phone number assigned.

When I needed a phone number of a friend, I could simply dial -0- and ask the live operator. If you picked up the handset and your party line was in use, we had three options: 1) listen in on their conversation until they were done; 2) hang up loud enough so they knew someone else wanted the line; or 3) ask them if you could use the phone quickly and then they could have it back.

I frequently have nightmares about being unable to use my phone or repeatedly dialing the wrong number. It might be a throw back to all those years using a rotary and knowing precious seconds could tick away if there was a fire or someone cut off their finger if I mis-dialed 9-1-1. Why they ever assigned emergency services 9-1-1- back in the days of rotary phones, I will never understand considering 9 is just next to the zero.

I Remember the Liver

My dad was cutting up the trunk and branches of a tree that had fallen and found a nest with four fledgling kestrels, all still alive. Yet unable to fly and likely abandoned, they would never live on their own. My dad did some reading and discovered the easiest food we could give them were bits of raw liver from chickens, which we raised and slaughtered over the summers.

We kept the birds in the former rabbit hutch and every day we would crawl in there with those little birds and hand-feed them slivers of livers that they happily gobbled it down. They quickly outgrew the hutch as their flight feathers came in. The chickens had all been slaughtered, so we moved them to the brooder house. We rigged up branches and perches and then we would startle them so they’d practice flying. I know there’s a picture of me as an awkward ‘tween with really badly permed hair stooping over in the brooder house with one of the kestrels perched on my back. I’m wearing a short-sleeved, red sweater. If I find it, I’ll make sure to share it for the laughs.

Soon they seemed to be ready to be released so we opened the door and shooed them out. They flew out and then immediately landed on the ground. The barn cats circled. We’d chase the cats away and try to get the kestrels to land higher, whether on the barn’s roof, electric lines or nearby trees. Eventually we knew it was survival of the fittest. We couldn’t keep the cats away from them forever.

In the days and weeks that followed, it was impossible to know if the kestrels we saw flying around were the ones we raised. But even now, 30 years later, I like to believe that some of their descendants still live on the farm I was raised.