Friday, December 30, 2011

The Best Christmas Present Ever

The Christmas season has been a little hectic here in the ODD household. If you have a child with ADHD, ODD, or any other mental health challenges, you can probably sympathize. For one thing, everything takes twice as long when you have a child who requires more attention than the average child. Add in the excitement of Christmas, and you have a little boy who is a little crazier than usual, if that's possible. Add in a toddler, and you have two children who require a heck of a lot of attention.

With all the chaos of Christmas, one particular present stood out this year. It wasn't anything under the tree. It wasn't even wrapped. (Well, I guess it was, in one respect. It was wrapped in jeans and a t-shirt and an elf hat with bells on it.) It was, however, the best Christmas present I've ever received.

Last Thursday was the day that parents look forward to all year. You know the one. The day where you go sit in a packed gymnasium on hard plastic chairs with a squirming toddler (well, maybe you've done it sans toddler, but it adds a whole new level of challenge) while for two hours you watch other people's children sing songs to which they've forgotten the words ( hour, but it feels like two) in order to see your child -- your star -- sing his or her little heart out for two minutes. Yes, you guessed it...last Thursday was school-Christmas-concert day.

Being the dutiful mother that I am, I made the requisite phone calls to grandparents to alert them to the fact that their presence had been requested by Bear. Bear's never been much of a performer, so he's never really wanted anyone other than Mommy and Daddy in the audience. This year, however, the family turned out in droves at Bear's insistence. Including Stitch, who provided us with endless entertainment while we were waiting for the star of the show, there were seven family members present to cheer Bear on. OK, that may not constitute droves, but that's a pretty good turnout for one little six year old. (We're growing in numbers. The first year was a pregnant me, the next year was three adults and an baby, and this year was six adults and a toddler. Can't wait to see next year!)

I warned everyone that they shouldn't expect too much from Bear's performance. In the past it has been a little lackluster. Perhaps lackluster isn't the right word. Non-existent is perhaps more accurate. You see, an unmedicated little boy with severe ADHD doesn't have the patience or the attention span to learn a song, especially not a song with hand gestures. (And what good kindergarten performance doesn't include hand gestures?) Put this same little boy on stage and what do you get? Well, let's put it this way. I took a lot of pictures at last year's performance, and he wasn't facing the audience in one of them. But I have great pictures of him bugging the friend beside him, bugging the friend on the other side of him, staring at the ceiling, staring at the floor, checking out what's going on behind him...anything other than what he was supposed to be doing.

This year I anticipated the same thing, despite the fact that he's now on ADHD medication. Given the anxiety issues that he's had this year, I would have been happy just to see him get up on stage. He was really excited about being in the concert, but that doesn't mean anything. He can talk a good talk about something he's excited about doing, but then often backs out when the time comes. We've learned not to let our expectations get ahead of us, because then we're disappointed. Not with him, mind you. He does the best he can, and we know that. But constantly anticipating a good day, a fun day, a big breakthrough...or whatever it is you're anticipating...and then being disappointed is emotionally exhausting.

Despite my cautious pessimism (less exhausting than cautious optimism), I grabbed the camera on my way out the door, thinking to record Bear's performance for TheODDDad. (TheODDDad works an hour away, so being there wasn't an option for him.) Now, I should tell you that I've never recorded one of these before, so why I decided to this time is a mystery -- but I'm glad I did. (Do you see where this is going yet?)

When it was time for Bear's class to perform, I scooted up to the front of the gym to sit on the floor with the other parents who were recording the performance. Out walked the kids, with Bear first in line. He walked to his spot, knelt down, and looked at his teacher for direction. I waited for him to wiggle. He didn't wiggle. The music started. I waited for him to look lost. He didn't look lost. The kids started singing. I waited for him to simply kneel there, not singing. He started to sing. The hand gestures started. I waited for him to get confused and ignore the hand gestures. He made all the hand gestures. And then it sunk it...for the first time in his life, my little boy was able to participate in something just like all the other kids.

The song finished. Bear stood up and bowed with all the other kids.

I cried.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

If a Mommy Were in Charge of the Elf Brigade

You know, the Elf on the Shelf is a cute idea, but it's really pretty useless. Granted, it's fun to watch the boys go looking for the elf in the morning. Even Stitch gets in on it. Every time the Elf catches his eye during the day he gleefully screeches "Ebbie!" which is toddler for "Elfie!" I haven't yet tired of that little piece of cuteness, but even that has its limits.

I think the main problem with Elfie is that he can only do one thing: He watches the boys and then he reports back to Santa. A multi-tasker he is not. Now, put a mom in charge of the elf brigade, and you'd see some changes. (cue the cool music as we transition to my vision)

1. No more hiding. Mommies, especially Mommies of little boys who tend to wander off, don't like little people who hide. I really couldn't care less that you're a magical elf and you're playing a game -- no more hiding!

2. No more good boy/bad boy (or girl, I guess) thing. That stopped working ages ago. Kids these days are smart -- they know darned well that Santa's going to bring them presents regardless of how they act. Have you ever heard of a child who didn't get toys from Santa for behavioural reasons? Santa either needs to improve his follow-through (Read a parenting book, Santa!) or stop with the threats.

3. No more flying to the North Pole every night. Come on Santa...that's what e-mail is for! That time could be much better spent doing something productive.

And speaking of productivity, Elfie's job description would expand. In my world, all elves would receive remedial training in the following areas:

- floor washing
- child bathing
- dish doing
- present wrapping
- cookie baking
- fudge making
- tree decorating
- card writing
- party planning
- back rubbing (I know...a back-rubbing elf...sigh...bliss...)
- furniture dusting

I figure if an elf is going to hang around my house for a month, he'd better be useful. Otherwise, back to the North Pole with you, Elfie. I don't need another thing to dust.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Angry Elf

I have to admit...Bear's been a bit of a pain in my behind lately. (Hhhhmmmm...if I lose weight and my butt gets smaller, will he be less of a pain?) His behaviour has definitely improved since we upped his meds, but bed time has once again turned into a battle. Things had been going really well for a while, and then BHAM...a regression. I guess that's to be expected to a certain extent, but it's still frustrating. You start to wonder what you're doing wrong or what you're doing differently to bring about this change, but the answer is normally nothing. Most kids go through fazes, right? Well, I guess so do kids with ADHD and ODD. At least that's what we're telling ourselves.

Anyway, the last couple of nights have been a little rough, so tonight I don't really feel like wrapping Bear's Christmas presents, which was my plan for the evening. Instead, I informed TheODDDad, I was going to wrap Stitchie's presents and tomorrow I was going to return Bear's. Not that I ever would, but sometimes it just feels good to be mean. Well, not really be mean. Just talk about being mean.

TheODDDad, being the more warped of the two of us (something I really love about him), suggested that it would be way more fun to draw angry eyebrows on Elfie (our Elf on the Shelf who has so far sat everywhere except on a shelf) and tape his hands to his hips (the way an angry Mom stands). That would freak him out, TheODDDad gleefully declared.

Yes. Yes, it would.

Sometimes being mean just sounds like so much fun.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Let There Be Magic

Once upon a time I believed in magic -- and then I grew up. Why does that happen? When do we become so jaded that we stop believing in all things wondrous and magical? Is it when we find out there really is no Santa Claus? (Sorry if I ruined for you.) Is it when we realize that despite how many pennies we throw into the fountain, our wishes don't come true? Or is it simply a result of growing up?

And then the big question...can you get it back?

I think you can, if you open your heart big enough and spend a little bit of time with a six-year-old. That was my lesson this week -- that lucky pennies really do work and that magic really does exist, so long as you know where to look for it.

Bear and I were shopping the other day and he found a penny on the floor right beside the checkout counter. Being the practical mom that I am, I suggested he pick it up so he could put it in his piggy bank when he got home. The cashier, who is apparently way more in touch with her inner six-year-old than I am, commented to him that he was a lucky boy to find a lucky penny. A lucky penny? What on earth was a lucky penny, Bear wanted to know. ( I that jaded that I've never told him about lucky pennies? Or maybe it's because I haven't been able to take him into a store in years, so we've never had the chance to find one. Ya, let's go with that.)

Five minutes later we're in the van on the way home and Bear spots an ambulance. If you've ever spent time with a six-year-old boy, you know that any vehicle with lights on top and a siren is IT. There is nothing better. Period. (For my French friends...point finale!) End of story. So there we are, stopped at a red light, and an ambulance goes by. There is nothing particularly exciting about this ambulance. It isn't going fast. It doesn't have its lights flashing. It doesn't have its sirens blaring. It's just driving along, minding its own business like all the other vehicles on the road. Nonetheless, to Bear an ambulance is an ambulance is an ambulance, and it is thereby worthy of commentary.

"Mommy!!!" shouts Bear, "Look!!! An ambulance!!!" (Yes, all exclamation points are necessary. He's six...he's very emphatic.)

"Yes, Angel," I reply fairly automatically. Needless to say, the sight of an ambulance doesn't engender the same type of excitement in me as it does in him.

"The lady was right, Mommy!" he exclaims. "I found a lucky penny and now I've seen an ambulance. Today is my lucky day!" (I refrain from pointing out that his lucky day is perhaps not so lucky for the ambulance's passenger. That just seems wrong.)

I say nothing, but I smile and think to myself that perhaps finding luck is often the direct result of looking for it.

Two days later Bear and I are sitting at the table in front of the computer having a little Mommy-Bear quality time, as he puts it. He's sitting on my lap and we're creating our very own snowflakes, which will soon fall digitally on the screen in front of us. As we sit mesmerized, staring at the scene we've just created together, I glance out the window.

"Look, Bear! It's snowing!" I point out, thinking it's a fun little coincidence.

"Mommy...we made it snow!!! It's magic!" he exclaims in delight.

Yes, my sweet boy, it is. Life with you is magic.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Punishment for the Sake of...What?

My poor little Bear has been having a bit of a rough time lately. He's getting into a whole heap of trouble at school and at home, which is pretty hard on everyone, especially him. Imagine being six years old and never being able to do anything right? Poor little guy. (Note: We're hoping his meds just need to be increased. He's grown 2 inches and put on 5 lbs since July, which is a fair amount.)

TheODDDad and I have never punished Bear for something that happened at school. The school hands out discipline for infractions, so it seems silly to punish him twice. If they've taken something he really likes away, why would we do the same thing? If he did something here and I punished him, TheODDDad wouldn't then hand out a second punishment, would he? Now, that's not to say we don't talk to Bear about whatever happened, but that's different.

How to discipline Bear has long been a conundrum for us. Convensional wisdom holds that children must be disciplined when they do something wrong in order to learn from their mistakes. I understand that -- really, I do. And for most children, it makes sense. But on the other side, imaging studies (MRIs, etc) have shown that the part of the brain affected by ADHD is the part that regulates emotion and impulse control, which means that a child is often unable to stop the unwanted behaviour despite knowing it's wrong.

Bear is no dummy. In fact, the school tells us he's "scary brilliant." He knows hitting and kicking are wrong and is the first to get upset when someone else is doing it. He's also extremely remorseful once the dust he's disturbed with all his kicking has settled. The fact of the matter is that no matter how many times we punish him and tell him that what he's doing is wrong, he is still unable to stop himself. That's not to say that someday he won't be able to control his actions, but that day is a long way away. For one thing, he's only six. That plays a big part. Secondly, he needs to learn the skills to recognize how he's feeling and to figure out how to react in an appropriate manner to the things that bother him. Did I mention he's only six?

So in the meantime, what do we do about discipline? If he kicks me or throws something at me, how should I react? Is there any point to punishing him, or is that simply punishing him for the sake of punishing him. He knows it's wrong, so I'm not teaching him anything. On the other hand, allowing your child to "get away" with transgressions seems to be the opposite of good parenting. On the other, other hand (trust me, you need three hands minimum when you have a child with behavioural challenges), if he really is lacking the skills necessary to behave in an appropriate manner then I can no more get mad at him than I could get mad at a child who has never been taught to read for not knowing how to read.

See the conundrum? What would you do?