Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What Do Twenty Percent of Today's Parent Readers Have in Common?

Dear Nice People at Today’s Parent (of which I’m an avid reader – yes, this is me sucking up because I really, really want to be your next blogger),

You asked me to tell you what makes my situation unique. Nothing, is my answer.

What? But how could that possibly be? What kind of nut applies for a job and says there’s nothing unique about them? (This one, apparently. But keep reading, OK? There’s a point, I swear.)

My story isn’t unique, but that’s the beauty of it. You see, my son has mental health issues that affect pretty much all aspects of his life, not to mention ours. Sounds unique, right? Except it isn’t.


The reality is that one in five Canadian children will experience mental health issues at some point in their childhood. If we assume, for argument’s sake, that there is a limit of one child with a mental illness per family (totally not the case since there is a genetic component to many of the conditions, so it is extremely common to have more than one child per family with mental health challenges), that would translate to 20 percent of Canadian parents having a child with a childhood mental illness. That would mean that of the 215,709 unique monthly visitors to the Today’s Parent website, roughly 43,141.8 of them have/will have/know someone who does have a child with a mental illness (that .8 person is simply in denial). Granted, those numbers are totally skewed in my favour because my math skills leave a lot to be desired, but you’re looking for a writer, not a mathematician. Regardless, you see what I’m going for. That’s a heck of a lot of parents…readers…your readers.

So if my story isn’t unique, my reality isn’t unique, my daily challenges aren’t unique, what is? Quite honestly, it’s my willingness to talk about it. The symptoms of mental illness in children often manifest the same way regardless of the condition: in “bad” behaviour. Unlike children who show physical signs of their condition, children with mental health issues look totally “normal.” Rather, as a result of their behaviour, they often come across as brats and their parents as lazy or negligent. But what people don’t realize is that parents of mentally ill children often deal with more parenting issues in a week than most deal with in a lifetime. Parenting a child like my beautiful boy can be exhausting, soul-sucking, embarrassing, alienating, frustrating, depressing and maddening. It can also be joyful, silly, uplifting, rewarding and awe-inspiring…and that’s what I blog about.

Rather than hide my son’s issues because of the stigma (oh, yes…lots of stigma), I choose to embrace it and share it. My husband and I spent many years wondering what we were doing wrong, and no parent should have to ask those questions.

Want more? Read on! (Don’t forget to read the comments, because they tell you how awesome I am!)

I'm Not a Bad Mother!
What Makes a Parent Harm their Child? I Think I Know
Code Bear
I'm so Tired of It All (Fine, you said three, but you got four because I love this one.)

Enjoy your tour of my life (and that of 20% of your readers...don't forget that part!).

Laura Wright

Bio: A former Montrealer and Torontonian, I now live in small-town Ontario (pop. 20,000) with my husband, my two sons and my dog. I’m the editor of a local family magazine (distribution 15,000) and am a children’s mental health advocate and public speaker.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Going on an Elf Hunt

If you don't have little kids, you may not be familiar with the latest craze in "Christmas." To be honest, I hadn't heard of it until the other day, but had already managed to successfully block it out of my mind -- until yesterday, that is, when Bear heard about it. Now it's the only thing on my mind.

Elf on the Shelf is the brainchild of a mother and daughter who wrote a best-selling children's book based on their own family tradition. Along with the book comes your very own elf, who you have to name and everything. Here's the fun part, though. Said Elf keeps an eye on your children in the weeks leading up to Christmas and reports back to Santa. Not only does he report to Santa, but he actually flies back to the North Pole every night while your little monsters are in bed and hands in his report in person to the Big Guy himself. No joke! I guess all that flying must make him tired and affect his memory, though, because he never ends up back in the same place come morning. This is the best part for little critters, because it means they have to run around the house looking for him every morning. (Fun!) So Elfie isn't so much an elf-on-the-shelf kind of elf as he is an elf-wherever-the-heck-he-ends-up-in-the-morning-because-Mommy-and-Daddy-were-feeling-kind-of-twisted-the-night-before kind of elf.

Bear came home from his friend's house yesterday full of elf stories. Did we know they had an elf? Where was our elf? Had we seen him? Had we heard him? Bear was ready to launch a full-scale hunt for our lost elf at supper time last night, just as I was trying to get the chicken out of the oven and the vegetables drained. He stood in the middle of the kitchen, tapping his index finger against his cheek, chanting "Where could he be? Where could he be?"

I did some fast thinking and very matter-of-factly explained that the elf always lets me know when he arrives for the season, but he hadn't checked in with me yet. He usually comes on December 1st (see how I bought myself some time...clever Mommy!) so he wouldn't be here for at least a few more days? How many sleeps? Oh, let me count. Four more sleeps, Sweetie. That blasted elf that Mommy now has to find in a small town comes in four more sleeps. Why does your friend already have her elf? Oh, I guess her elf must have come early. Maybe she and her sisters have been especially naughty this year. (OK, I left that part out because Bear would have been repeating that at school this morning, but you have to agree that it's funny.)

Anyway, now Mommy is on an elf hunt. I have to admit that it's a really cute idea and I'm sure we'll have fun with it for years to come, but right now it's just one more thing I have to do, and I only have three more sleeps.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Feedback Time

Alright Readers (all 10 of you)...it's time for you to do some work. OK, maybe not work. Maybe it's more like a favour that I need from you. Here's the scoop. Today's Parent, one of the leading parenting magazines in Canada, is looking for a new mommy/daddy blogger and I'm going to apply. In keeping with the spirit of things, you have to apply through your blog, so don't be surprised when you see a "Dear Today's Parent" post in the next week or so. In addition to sharing what makes me unique as a blogger and a mommy, and I also have to link back to my three best posts.

Here's where you come in (pretty please???).

#1 -- In your opinion, what makes The ODD Mom unique? Anything? (Oh God...I hope so.) Please feel free to sing my/its praises. Loudly. If you could make sure they hear you in Toronto, that would be great.

#2 -- What are your three favourite posts and, in 100 words or less, why did they resonate with you? Too much? Fine, feel free to just tell me what your favourite posts were.

Thanks, everyone! Every bloggy mommy/daddy and their dog is going to be applying for this, so competition will be stiff. (Did I mention this would be a paid gig? Sigh...money...)

I appreciate your support.

Laura AKA The ODD Mom

Thursday, November 17, 2011

What Makes a Parent Harm Their Child? I Think I Understand

If you think I'm being flippant with my title, think again. There have been too many news stories of late where little ones have been killed by their parents. Parental anger is no joke -- in fact, for many children, it's life or death.

While I know there are bad people out there who do terrible things to children, I also think there are good people out there who don't have the skills needed to deal with challenging children and who, as a result, find themselves doing the unthinkable.

"Not me!" you say? Well, I'm happy for you. Not me either, thank God, but that doesn't mean that raising a child with a mental illness (yes, ADHD and ODD are considered mental illnesses) hasn't given me a glimpse of my darker side, and I don't like it. In fact, it scares me. If I have the skills to cope and yet can still get that lost in my anger, how difficult must it be for a parent/caregiver who doesn't have the skills or who has anger issues of his/her own? I have often said that children with ODD are the poster children for child abuse, and I stand by that.

Let me tell you the true story of the events of one evening, one of many similar evenings I've lived the past few years.

It's 4 a.m and I haven't been to bed yet. Bear woke up at 11 p.m., just as TheODDDad and I were heading to bed ourselves. Given that I work from home and can nap if I need to and he has to get up at 5 a.m. to go to work, I'm on evening Bear duty. Bear's ADHD meds wore off about eight hours ago, so not only is he wide awake, he's wired. He's running up and down the hall yelling (we're in a 1000 ft bungalow, so he's running and yelling right in front of the bedrooms) and jumping off furniture. I've tried everything to get him to be quiet. I've played with him, cooked him a hotdog and made him a sandwich, watched him play video games and put on a movie, but as usual, nothing works. I say as usual because this is the third time in 10 days this has happened. I've tried to lie down on the couch to nap, but he runs in and jumps on me every time. For whatever reason, he needs to be with me at all times when he's up during the night. For the record, I need 10 hours of sleep to function properly and I don't do well with children bugging the hell out of me when I'm tired. I'm now at the end of my rope and am desperately trying not to scream at him. He's now decided that I'm the worst mother in the world because I won't play hockey with him or make him the hamburger he now wants. His aggression kicks in (for the umpteenth time tonight night) and he screams at me (again) that he's going to throw something at me and that he hopes he hurts me -- then he picks up the nearest toy and hurls it at my head. Neither my patience nor my reflexes are at their best at 4 a.m., so the toy hits me in the shoulder. I lose it. I scoop him up and storm down to his room where I literally drop him on his bed, screaming at him to stay in his room and how I don't want to hear a sound out of him, blah, blah, blah. He's up in a flash, screaming back at me, telling me I'm a stupid idiot, that he hates me, and that he's going to yell and scream til he wakes up Daddy and Stitch. But that's it...I'm done. I can't take it any more. What feels like torment and abuse at the hands of a pint-size bully has been going on for five hours, and I'm barely functioning in a haze of exhaustion. I raise my hand to hit him, but somewhere deep inside it registers that I haven't swung my hand back to catch him on his behind, I've raised it to slap him. Where, I don't know because I manage to stop myself despite how good it sounds at that very moment, but I can only imagine it would be across the face. Instead I storm out of his room, slamming the door as hard as I can behind me, fist balled in my mouth, teeth biting into my knuckles to stop myself from screaming my anger. Too many four-letter words are swirling through my mind, but I can't bring myself to tell my son to shut-the-f-up any more than I can bring myself to slap him across the face. But the slap was a close one, and so is the screaming. Instead I run into my bedroom and climb into bed fully dressed, telling TheODDDad that I just can't do it and that he has to take over before I do or say something I'll regret and how I don't give a damn if he has to call in sick but he has to take over. He knows I mean it, so he quickly takes over. Bear comes into the room to see where I've gone (because now he needs me to comfort him), but I don't trust myself to open my mouth, so instead I lay there with tears streaming down my face from the effort of not saying anything and feeling like the worst mother in the world. Now exhausted from the evening's events, a crying Bear allows himself to be ushered out of the room and back into bed by TheODDDad, where he finally falls asleep. It's now 5 a.m. and time for TheODDDad to get up anyway, so he comes back into our bedroom, turns off the alarm that's about to go off, asks me if I'm OK (knowing I'm not but that I will be, just like I've been OK every other time this has happened), wipes away my tears, tucks me in, kisses me softly, tells me he loves me and that he's sorry I've had such a hard night, gathers up his clothes and tiptoes out to get ready for work, closing the door softly behind him so as not to disturb the now quiet household. Bear wakes up four hours later and comes bouncing into the bedroom, once again my happy little Bear and having completely forgotten about the night's events.

I shudder to think how this story would have ended if I didn't have the skills to cope with Bear. I don't have a temper, I don't have impulse control issues, I understand that he has a mental illness and that there's a reason why he does the things he does. For the most part, these things help me to remain cool, calm and collected regardless of what he's throwing at me (literally). But what if that wasn't the case? ADHD is genetic, so what if I, too, suffered from the temper and the lack of impulse control that can come with it? What if I had ODD that I had never learned to control and got violent when I got angry? What if I, too, had been raised by a parent with ADHD who hadn't been able to control either me or their reactions and had been beaten myself? How, then, would I cope with Bear? Would I be able to?

Make no mistake -- I am in no way condoning child abuse or making excuses for people who hurt children. But am I saying that I can see how a parent who loves their child but doesn't have the skills to cope can be pushed to the point where they might hurt their child? Unfortunately, I am.

There but for the grace of God, go I.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Because I don't trust you..."

Today I found myself saying words I now regret. At least I think I regret them.

"Why Mommy?" he had asked.

"Because I don't trust you," I answered.

But as I walked away I wondered what on earth had possessed me to use those words. What kind of a mother says that to her six-year-old? The kind who doesn't trust her six-year-old, apparently. But is that any excuse? Should those thoughts ever be shared with a young child, even if he's proven time and time again that he can't be trusted? Or should the sentiment be framed in gentler terms, like "because I'm not comfortable with you doing that" or "because I want to know where you are and what you're doing"?

On the other hand, he's six years old -- old enough to learn that there are consequences to his actions. One of the consequences of stealing four granola bars out of the cupboard (tomorrow's going to be a bbbbaaadddd day), eating them and trying to hide the evidence is that when you want to play downstairs (where you hide your stash) Mommy says "no...because I don't trust you." Or when later that day you ask if you can play in the backyard while Mommy takes a shower, she says "no...because I don't trust you." (This is the same child who was found 10 blocks away without his shoes on the last time he promised to stay in the backyard.)

So which is it? Am I scarring him for life or teaching him a life lesson? Am I a bad mom for making him feel bad about himself or a good mom for teaching him accountability?

I have no idea. But I'm sure he'll tell me in 20 years, once he's in therapy.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Good End to a Bad Week

I have to report that this week ended way better -- and I mean WAY better -- than it started.

First and foremost, it looks as if a happy resolution has been found for the homework wars. On day three of the battle, I decided I needed to call in reinforcements. It was a long shot, but I emailed Bear's teacher and resource teacher to explain the situation. I was pretty frank and told them I was emailing them to beg for their help. For whatever reason, it was taking 3+ hours to get Bear to do 10 minutes of homework, and he wasn't learning anything. All it was doing was pitting us against each other, and TheODDDad and I have always felt that home needs to be Bear's safe place. Some battles obviously have to be fought, but those that aren't mission critical are dropped. Homework is a no-brainer -- it needs to be done -- but when and where are variables that can be negotiated.

After explaining everything, including the fact that homework was causing Bear to become physically aggressive and even turn on his baby brother, I asked if it might be possible for him to complete his work at school. I figured they weren't having the same problems with him at school that I was having at home, or I would have heard about it by now. Sure enough, I was right. The work that he's been fighting me on like a caged animal is the same work he's sailing through at school. The teacher explained that she has an Educational Assistant in the classroom to help in the afternoon, which means that one of them can help him complete his homework.

I confess that I cried from relief.

We are so lucky to be a part of this wonderful school that is so ready to work with us and to accommodate Bear's needs. I know many schools aren't as understanding and that many parents are left to struggle on their own, and it breaks my heart. However, I also know that the school wouldn't have known how much we were struggling at home if I hadn't told them. It's just another example of how important it is to work closely with your child's school and teachers and to be an advocate for your child's needs (and your own).

Is this a long-term solution? No, it isn't, but that's OK. It gives us some breathing room to work with Bear and to get him more comfortable with doing homework at home. As he grows and matures, this is hopefully one more problem that will resolve itself. But in the meantime, after-school is once more a time of snuggles and giggles with my Bear.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

We Don't Need No Education

Despite the fact that he is far too young to know who Pink Floyd is, this song seems to have become Bear's mantra. (If you've been living in a cave for the past 30 years, "we don't need no education" is from one of Pink Floyd's best known songs, Another Brick in the Wall.)

According to Bear, he doesn't need to learn anything, especially to read or spell. (He does, however, seem to enjoy scribbling all over the walls of our bedroom in dry erase marker in retribution for being forced to sit down and do his work.) Not only doesn't he need to do homework, but he actually wants to fail. Granted, he has no idea what "fail" even means, but it's nonetheless what he is aspiring to do, according to him.

When he's throwing things at my head, I can't tell you how tempting it is to give in. Sure, kid, fail grade one. Drop out in grade two. Just don't come crying to Mommy when you're 25 and can't get an apartment, a girlfriend or a job because no one likes a grade two drop-out.

Is that wrong?

For the record, I think I have a bruise from where I was banging my head against that (an)other brick in the wall.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What They Don't Tell You about Homework

Have you ever noticed that when you read a "how to" article or book, they make it sound so easy. Even if they admit that it's harder than it sounds, you still walk away thinking "I can do that!"

Getting children with ADHD to do homework is no different. There are countless -- and I mean countless -- articles on how to help them, how to organize them, how to set up a space for them, when they should do it, when they shouldn't do it, what kind of snack they should eat prior to doing it...you get the drift. These articles are all (OK, maybe not all) extremely helpful, except they all assume one thing: that your child is actually willing to sit down and do the work.

But that's the key part. It doesn't matter how nicely you line up the pencils and how healthy a snack you prepare, if your child refuses to do his part (I'm using the masculine here because you know damn well that I'm talking about Bear), there's nothing you can do about it. Well, maybe there is with most kids, but not with an ODD kid. No siree Bob. Or Bear.

Yesterday was a really bad day with Bear, and it all centered around homework. For three hours Bear and I battled, with him alternating between scribbling all over his homework, apologizing, yelling at me, promising to be good, standing on the dining room table, telling me he's ready to work, throwing things at me, crying in remorse, and hitting his baby brother (just once, and not even hard enough to cause Stitch to blink, but nonetheless). In the end I think we managed to get about 20 minutes done, but we were both exhausted.

When it comes right down to it, there's really not a damn thing I can do if Bear refuses to do his homework. Like most kids with ODD, he can't be externally motivated (stickers, charts, etc.) or punished. If he doesn't want to do something, he honestly couldn't care less what we're promising or threatening (the school has noticed this as well). There are all kinds of great programs to help kids with ODD become less...well...ODD...but they can take months and even years to show results. So what are we supposed to do in the meantime? I have no idea.

And on an amusing note, when I tried to explain to Bear today why it was so important to me that he do his homework, he looked me straight in the eye and asked "Do I look like I care?" Where the heck did he pick that one up???? And for the record, no, he didn't.

Monday, November 7, 2011

I'm So Tired of It All

It's been a bad day with Bear, and tonight I’m tired.

So tired.

Bone tired.

Physically tired.

Emotionally tired.

I’m tired of being abused by my son.

I’m tired of feeling like I have to tiptoe around my own house for fear of setting him off.

I’m tired of always feeling like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I’m tired of being afraid of my six-year-old.

I'm tired of not knowing what's going to set him off next.

I’m tired of feeling like a prisoner in my own home.

I’m tired of feeling like my life isn’t my own.

I’m tired of not being able to plan anything.

I’m tired of not being able to do anything.

I’m tired of making excuses.

I’m tired of feeling like I have to make excuses.

I’m tired of feeling like I just don’t have it in me to discipline him anymore because I don’t want to take the abuse.

I’m tired of feeling like I’m a bad mother.

I’m just so damn tired.

Mommy Has Superpowers

One of the things I love best about six-year-olds, and my six-year-old in particular, is they have absolutely no idea how transparent they are. As a parent, that really comes in handy, especially when you have a child who thinks he's smarter than you. (Fine, he is, but for the moment his transparency gives us an advantage.)

Bear is always surprised when I know what he's up to. He hasn't yet figured out how I can tell when he's jumping on the bed (the squeaking gives him away) or hasn't washed his hands (the lack of running water is pretty indicative). "Mommies know these things" is the answer I give him when he questions what gave him away. I could tell him how I know, but that would just be stupid. He'll figure out things like running the water and other cover-ups soon enough, but I'm sure as heck not going to point them out to him.

The other day I caught him at something, and he was really ticked off.

"How did you get your Mommy superpowers?" he yelled at me.

"God gives mommies superpowers," I told him. How I managed to say it with a straight face, I'm not sure, but I did.

That stopped him in his tracks. He looked at me for a minute as if to figure out whether I was telling the truth, nodded his head, and walked away.

So here's my prayer for today.
Thank you, God, for my Mommy superpowers. Would it be too much to ask if they can evolve as Bear does? I'd like to keep my advantage for a few more years, if possible.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Team Bear

Tonight was teacher-parent interviews at Bear's school, which is a bit of a joke for us since I communicate with the school just about daily. I don't normally have high expectations of gleaning any new info at these things, but I think it's important for me and TheODDDad to put in an appearance to make sure we look like involved parents. You know, just in case they missed that part.

When we arrived, TheODDDad and I started chatting to the resource teacher who works very closely with Bear. She was telling me yesterday (see, told you I speak to them daily) that Bear is "brilliant...scary brilliant," which was nice to hear. (TheODDDad thinks "evil genius" is the term she was looking for.) She always has great Bear stories to share since she normally deals with him when he's up to no good. Fortunately, she thinks he's hysterical, and she's right. His impulse control issues may cause some major problems for him, but they also make him a really funny kid. Today, for example, he walked past his teacher as she was teaching his class, slapped her on the arm and said "Good job! Keep it up!" (or something to that effect). Sounds like she had a hard time maintaining her composure, which I can see.

Anyway, back to tonight. When it was our turn to meet with Bear's teacher, the resource teacher joined us. (Don't worry, she asked.) About 10 minutes into our alloted 10-minute interview, the principal pulled up a chair and joined the party. We were the last interview, so our 10 minutes managed to stretch into about 30 minutes. You know you have a complicated child on your hands when your intimate teacher-parent interview turns into a team meeting. I think I'm going to get us all hats that say "Team Bear."

The upshot is that Bear is doing really well in school. His teacher has him on a program where he works for 15 minutes and then gets to take a 15 minute break to colour or read, but he often rejoins the group before his break is over, telling her that what they're doing looks interesting. Curiousity may have killed the cat, but I think it will take a Bear far.

Our evening ended with the principal thanking us for supporting them in what they're doing. Really? You think we're supporting you? Cause we thought you were supporting us. I guess that's why we make such a good team.

Go Team Bear!