Category : On the Home Front

On the Home Front

On the Home Front: An Early Mother’s Day

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Today my 12 year old dyslexic son taught me what it means to be a mother. No, there weren’t any Hallmark moments of mother and son bonding, where he thanked me for all the effort and time I’d invested in him over the last twelve years. In fact, it was just the opposite:  him arguing -bitterly if I might add- that he never got anything I promised him, that I always try and find a way out of getting him what he wants/needs. He finished up his tirade with a promise to do everything that I didn’t allow him to do as soon as he grows up.

Of course, in writing this it sounds laughable; this is teenage behavior at its best. Hardly unusual, perhaps not even remarkable, except in his usual maddeningly persistent fashion I merited hearing his ranting for the better part of an afternoon.

Very briefly I fell into the trap of explaining myself, since he appeared to so intensely want the real answer. Of course I realized quickly that would get me nowhere, and so I resorted to ignoring him. A half hour of that and I began to see why his grandmother, grandfather, aunt, and father, are all lawyers.

Somehow he has a way of mixing a huge slice of baloney with just enough truth, logic, and conviction to introduce just enough doubt into the case. When I began to wonder if I could qualify him for early admissions to law school, I finally decided the time had come to send him to his room. Permanently.

Okay, so he didn’t stay there permanently, but at least when he came out I heard no more of that argument. Of course he did pick up the remnants of a days-old discussion about whether or not I would let him put videos on his music player, but somehow I felt better equipped to deal with that (I confess, I told him to ask his father).

But while he seemingly went on to bigger and better things, I was left reviewing the effects of our little discussion. I didn’t feel guilty about his assertions of never getting what he needs or wants. I generally don’t fall for guilt trips, and don’t plan to start anytime soon. I didn’t even care that he wasn’t thankful for all the time, energy and effort expended on him. A child can never fully appreciate how much effort a parent puts in for them until they themselves are parents.

It bothered me I was seriously considering home-schooling him part-time. Where we live there is really no appropriate educational system for him. After intense discussion, my husband and I were finally at the point that we were able to accept that fact. Unwilling to condemn him to a life of mediocrity, we had finally looked at homeschooling as theoretically possible.

With this on the table, I imagined having arguments like today day after day, week after week. I knew he was fully capable of spending every available moment arguing his position. Having spent several months with him at home until he was accepted into an appropriate school, I knew exactly what he could do. It wasn’t a matter of discipline; since I knew he was reacting to years of failure in a school setting. He has trouble reading, he can’t write for beans-why should he enjoy anything that even remotely smacked of learning?

Of course if the greedy little teacher’s side of me had all the money I wanted at my disposal, I knew I could create a curriculum that would have him begging to get back to school work. But knowing that money is really tight, I knew this wouldn’t happen; I would again be trying to create a fantastic curriculum with very little funds and a lot of imagination.

So, I argued with myself: “Is it worth it to go to all that trouble, knowing from the beginning he would not only be unappreciative, but would actively fight me, at least in the beginning?” I honestly couldn’t see how it was. He not only wants to play all day; he is convinced he was entitled to doing what he wants when he wanted, for however long he wants. To me, that felt harder to be beat than the crowd at the Apollo theater.

It was the next morning , as I took two little ones to the school bus, that it finally hit me: if he had a terminal disease G-d forbid, wouldn’t I do whatever it took to save him? Even if he fought me every step of the way? I knew that even if I felt there was a reasonable chance the treatment would succeed, I would give it all I had.

I realized that this isn’t any different. I have a chance to help him progress in the world, to help him get to a better place than he would otherwise be. The effects of that choice, and the effort I would expend, could have an effect not only on him and his children, but even his children’s children. My great grandchildren. Even if I were no longer living, how could I not try?

That’s when it hit me: this is what motherhood is all about. Beyond the sweet kisses of a toddler and the bear hugs of a preschooler, over and above the moodiness and temporary insanity of the teenager, lies a mother. I was willing to undergo the intense, painful experience of labor and birth, since the benefits –and inevitability- of the process were obvious. Why should now be any different?

I pondered this as I kissed my littlest, waved good-bye and good luck to his older brother, and stood aside to let the bus pass. Turning aside, I headed home.

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On the Home Front

On the Home Front: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back- How to Handle Setbacks

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Sometimes there are days in life when you feel like packing up camp and heading for the hills. Yesterday was one of those days. Just when I think my foster daughter has made so much progress-boom! she does something to remind me we still have some ways to go.

When she first came to us she had a lot of growing up to do, both intellectually and emotionally. One of the hardest things with both her and her sister is that they had no awareness of boundaries, and very little self-control. So if they felt like doing something, they did it. Whether it was a pack of chocolate bars in the store, or a sibling's favorite toy, if they wanted it, they took it.

Of course we vacillated between brief explanations of why they couldn't have that particular object, and convincing said sibling to share the favorite toy, but it was quite a battle. They wanted that toy, and they wanted it now-with a passion. Once, her 3 year old sister had such a hissy fit every single passerby stopped to watch. The other children have long since learned that kind of behavior will get them nowhere, but of course they had yet to learn.

Over time they learned to share, and to accept comfort from others. They realized that food came three times a day, with snacks, and so they didn't have to ask for thirds and fourths if they really weren't hungry. They even learned that sometimes it's more fun to give than take, and that some things are better if you wait for them.

All this progress must have given me a false sense of security, so I was astounded on Wednesday-referred from here on as Red Letter Day-to see the same sorts of behaviors I thought had pretty much been eliminated. Okay, not eliminated, but at least greatly reduced.

Suddenly C. was begging food from a sibling. Her sister was grabbing all the packets of tissue she could find and distributing it freely around the house; when I confiscated the tissue packets, I found her with several rolls of toilet paper instead. Then I turned around to see that her sister had ripped up the special holiday worksheets from kindergarten. To make it worse, no one was exhibiting any signs of remorse.

It's days like this that keep you humble. Had I thought I was Superwoman because C. knew all her colors, could count to 10, and was learning her letters? HAH! Did I think I was someone special because I toilet-trained two toddlers in one week? DOUBLE HAH!I felt like somewhere in some alternate dimension an evil little leprechaun was rolling around hysterically on the floor in a fit of laughter.

In between time-outs and other clever diversions, I took a call from a client. I stood in my room, one hand on the phone and the other on the door, trying to hold back the sounds of revolt on the other side. My client, who has a 7 -year old son who is learning disabled,was feeling kind of worn out from all the work having such a child entails. She was feeling discouraged, since all the progress made the previous year seemed to have dissipated over the summer.

I slipped easily into professional speak, explaining to her how often this occurs, even with typically developing children. I even managed to convince her how this period of disintegration was actually necessary in order for more growth to occur. I gave her some real-life examples from her son's history, and we ended the conversation on a positive note.

As I leaned against the door, preparing myself mentally for the onslaught to come. Suddenly I realized that everything I had said so easily applied to me as well. I too needed to remember that real progress is slow, and, as the saying goes, is two steps forward and one step back. I was so focused on the future that I had forgotten the past refuses to be forgotten so easily.

I needed to remember that setbacks are not a sign of failure, or of incompetency: they are simply quaint signposts on the road to the future, that remind us how far we've come. I took a deep breath, and opened the door, ready to set out on the road again.

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On the Home Front

Seeing the Potential

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I thought I got used to having a learning disabled child and all that it entails. Everyone out there with a learning disabled child, especially one who is in the mainstream system, knows what I mean: explaining to the new teacher that your child really isn't lazy, even though his performance is erratic. Trying to convince your child to tackle that last chunk of work even though he is sick and tired of trying and failing. Trying to explain some bit of knowledge that everyone else his age already knows.

I think the worse thing is thinking that you've made a lot of progress, and then finding out one tiny thing that seems to mar all the progress you've made so far.

This happened today with my son. I asked him to pick up his little sister from nursery school, since I was running late. We moved just last week, so I was prepared to give him really good directions, even though he is quite talented spatially.

So I tell him to step out of the house, and make a left. The key word there folks is left. I suppose even without the Jeopardy theme music you can probably guess that my 12 year old son turned right.

How frustrating. Over the years we have worked on all kinds of things, and I remember once tackling this many years ago. I guess I didn't get back to it, or thought he had it down pat. And no, it didn't t help me at the time this happened to remember that it is common for kids like him to reverse things.

At the time I was thinking, "So has it come to this? Thousands of dollars of therapy, thousands of hours of my time and his, bit after bit of progress painstakingly pieced together with teeth gritted and hands crossed behind my back-and it all comes down to left or right, right or left.

I had a similar moment a few weeks back with my foster daughter. She and her sister came to us about a year ago, after severe neglect, and let me tell you, there was a lot of work to be done there.

It's nearly a year later, and I'm finally thinking that maybe we've reached a big milestone, maybe things are not so bad after all. Of course immediately after that thought, she got upset and started to bite herself.

Well, so much for that. I realized that there was a lot more work to be done than I thought.

Truth be told, that's just how it goes. You know the old

one step forward, two-steps back deal. Sometimes though it's hard to really internalize that you're in for the long haul, lock, stock, and barrel.

Sure, I'm long past the point where I expect a miracle cure. I know that being learning disabled is something that permeates that child's life-and the life of everyone around them.

I can live with that.

But I get tired of having to tell everybody else that. I know my children will do something great some day-heck, every day they get up and face the discrimination and impatience of others who don't understand, yet keep going, is an act of greatness.

Funny, despite everything, when I look at these children-anybody's, not just mine- I just see the potential. Every child can progress forward, no matter how far behind they are when they start off. Every step, no matter how small, follows the next, until you see that the long journey you took wasn't so much a matter of miles covered, but steps taken.

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