Friday, January 27, 2012

Later, I am going to write a very serious poem. About death. But first a few words about the most alive people I know, Z and G, and about living and laughing with them and the most good crying jag ever.

Last spring, a bantam rooster from the stables next door came over to our yard. He was devastatingly handsome and conceited and all 6” of him vibrated with rooster power.

I called over to the stables to let them know he was at our house. “He’s on his own,” they told me, “He’s a jerk!”

I guess he was just too much man for those bantam hens…G and Z fell totally in love with him and G named him “Erk.” We fed him uncooked 10-grain hot cereal and delighted in him for a couple of days.

On the day that the kiddoes spend with their father, I went on a crazy mountain bike ride with my world-class athlete beau. Just a quarter-mile or so from my house, almost home, I hit a washboard and went over the front of my bike, knocking out both a tooth and myself. Fast-forward through the hospital, the initial grappling with concussion, the first sight of my ravaged face (Figure 1) to the next day, early afternoon.

Figure 1: My Face, May 2011

Picture me, a fairly slim, white, blonde woman. Without ever having been overtly aware of it, a woman imbued with major non-dangerousness (except during my punk rock days – and that’s another story!). I have decided to do some gardening, despite being somewhat physically and mentally depleted. I am still in my pajamas: skin tight red velvet bellbottoms and a concert shirt from my friend’s band. The design on the shirt is one of those ornate heavy metal jobs, with umlauts and gothic script and ram’s horns, but the band itself was a pop/folk band and the design is tongue-in-cheek. Anyway, I have a missing tooth, a black eye, and a cut down the center line of my face. I am carrying a shovel and a hunk of bee balm that I plan to plant just across the dirt road next to my mailbox. Oh, and Erk is by my side, my trusty sidekick awaiting the next sprinkle of grain.

Figure 2: Erk

Suddenly a giant SUV with New York plates comes barreling down the road, windows down. I step back into my driveway, shooing Erk along as well.

“Watch out for the roothter!” I shout to the couple in the SUV, who are looking at me with horror in their eyes. My definitely-compromised mind starts racing: why are they looking at me like that? No one has ever looked at me like that! I’m—well—me! What…the…heck…is…going on???

And then I get it. Or so I think: “Well, it’th not MY roothter!” I loudly inform the couple, as they drive away as quickly as possible under the circumstances.

I have had many a laugh with friends and family over the conversation that might have ensued in that SUV: “Darling, this is why we don’t LIVE in Vermont!”

BOTH children think this is the funniest story ever. They will inevitably ask me to tell it in any social gathering. But I remember this time more because it was the first time Z ever really cried. Not that non-attachment-promoting, angry, demanding cry of the attachment-disordered child, but pure sadness and compassion.

My parents had come up to help (I couldn’t drive) and brought the kids home from school later that same afternoon. I was sitting in the armchair and Z came toward me, slowly. Right there I knew something was going on – she usually zings when she moves. She climbed into my lap, took one look at me, and began to wail. She curled up in my arms and continued to cry for a very long time.

Four years after coming home, at five years old, my daughter was crying for the first time. I was very proud. It felt so good and natural to hold her and keep holding her. I told her how brave she was to feel her feelings, as I petted her and held her as if she really was my baby who really needed me in a way I could innately understand. Some part of me released that day, the scared and angry part of me that had shriveled when my daughter came into our family pissed and stayed that way despite my best efforts.

Sometimes we still reminisce about Erk. We’ll talk about how beautiful he was, how small, how dapper and self-important… I will usually say, “Wasn’t Erk the best rooster ever?” and G – literal to a fault - will say, “Mama! He was our Only rooster! “

Although Erk left our home a day or two later (having gone “back home” – if by “back home” one means “probably eaten by a fox”), he was our one and only rooster of enduring laughter and tears.

Full Spectrum Mama

Monday, January 23, 2012

Full Spectrum Mama - II

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, neurologist or psychiatrist. I am a Ph.D., but in sociology. This is all from my own speculation and observation. So let me explain a bit more about how I think this Full Spectrum makes sense.

One lens through which to observe this spectrum is that of relationships. Those in the “normal” area of this spectrum want to connect and are able to do so, more or less, on a “normal” level and in a more or less “normal” fashion. Those closer to the ends of this spectrum I have devised can seem less interested in connecting, while those somewhat closer to the “normal” center, such as those with mild attachment disorders or Asperger’s syndrome (please note: such labels are only acceptable and useful insofar they serve as tools for us, NEVER weapons) may connect in less-effective ways. Both of my children want very much to connect, but face major challenges in doing so in a healthy and successful fashion.

Z sees and knows everything. Within an instant. She is the ultimate skilled observer. She can read people better than anyone I know and determine pretty quickly what she can get out of them and how far she can push them. She is compelling, convincing...profoundly, brilliantly manipulative. She is always, always up to something or making a plan. One of my best friends calls this her “continual boundary-testing.” Being as she is – have I mentioned this? – incredibly cute, her acolytes are legion.

Figure 1: Z’s Art (at age 6)
Observe the precision and focus of this piece: Is there any doubt that this child will one day be the ruler of the known universe? Or at least that in +/- 6 years she will be demanding to know why I dragged her away from China to this third-world, second-rate country?

She connects, for sure– relentlessly! What she wants includes total attention at all times and possession of all potentially desirable, valuable or edible items in her vicinity. She will do whatever it takes to obtain these items. Why? I think partly because she didn’t get to make the connections she needed in the first year of her life. She self-soothes through control. My job is to set firm boundaries for her so that she feels safe – and can spend her energy on other things!

Figure 2: G’s Art (at age 6)
This is entitled, “The Evil Robot.” Note the friendly smile.

G, having had the luxury of having all his needs met from birth, and being of a naturally unacquisitive nature, is deeply uncalculating. He would give someone he just met his most precious possession. And it is surprising how many people (to be fair, more children than adults) are willing to take a precious possession, when offered with a smile and very detailed description (“This is my dual-deck-super-nature-power-booster-deck! I made it for you with grass- and steel-type Pokemon! The top card has multiple moves to take down all opponents! Especially evolved water-types!”). Eager to make friends, he throws himself into every interaction at the top of his voice and with all conversational options – emphasis on Pokemon and Legos -- on the table. He is almost entirely unable to read social cues that are more subtle than a sledgehammer. So boundaries are equally important for G so that he can act within the bounds of “acceptable” human interaction and actually Be safe.

As I have mentioned, these two, being so different, need two completely different parents in one: a Full Spectrum of parenting. At the same time, and parents of all sorts I know you feel me, it often also seems that each needs the entire parenting capacity of at least one parent just to get through the average day. Luckily, Full Spectrum Mama is occasionally up to this mighty task! Though not always.

For example, picture us at the grocery store. If Full Spectrum Mama’s attention lags from her children a little too long, say, while in the produce aisle dreaming of gourmet meals that are probably not going to happen, the scenario might look like this: here is G, extending his hand and introducing himself to some eye-rolling fellow ten-year old, “Hi! My name is [full name]! I like Pokemon and Legos!” And here is dear little Z, stuffing those gross, orange-flavored Tums into her pocket. See, it looks like candy and Z doesn’t yet read, despite being a total genius. Her considerable mental prowess is mostly devoted to her adorable kindergarten domination project.

I keep a vigilant eye on these two…except when I don’t. Then I see the eye-rolling ten-year old turning around and sneering and mimicking G’s slightly-off cadence to his smirking ten-year old companions. Then Full Spectrum Mama marches over, using incredibly good judgment, and tells those kids they are “Cruel and I hope some day someone treats you like that so you can see how it feels!” Meanwhile G – who, thankfully and let’s admit, characteristically, has not noticed any part of this sordid exchange – has gotten lost an aisle away and is calling, very loudly, “Mamaaaaa!!!!!”

Later, at home, I catch Z with the Tums and, after a lengthy exchange (in which the victor is unclear), get her to fess up. I try to handle it in what seems to be the best way by returning to the store and offering to pay for the Tums with Z in hand. Z, with the most sullen, flat expression imaginable, refuses to speak to the clerk – who, of course, thinks she is just the most adorable girl child ever, which she is -- and throws a marathon tantrum that lasts well into the night.

Well, I needed those Tums anyway!

Full Spectrum Mama

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Full Spectrum Mama - I

There is a range of ways of being known intimately to me as a person, woman and mother, a Full Spectrum, if you will. As a mother of two high-needs children, I need to access a Full Spectrum of being in order to parent my children. That seems to me only natural: we as individuals and families manifest so much that is unique - and so much that we share. As well, in the larger picture, human beings embody a vast, diverse ocean of commonalities and divergences.

For some time I have been thinking about the spectrum of human beings and in my mind simultaneously making more connections and broadening what we are offered when we are diagnosed as different…or have children who are diagnosed as such – or we or they are perceived as such…or we or they feel different. Where do we fit in? I see rainbows and oceans of interrelations.

Without – please! -- assigning any value to the various labels, imagine the Autism Spectrum. Let’s say it extends from mild Asperger Syndrome to PDDNOS (pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified) to severe Autism, sometimes presenting with other conditions. And then let’s place Sensory Processing Disorders just outside of this spectrum, to the left. Now let’s imagine that just as this spectrum extends to the right, it also extends to the left, and this hypothetical spectrum runs from so-called “normal” people (more on this later) near the middle, just beyond the “sensory processings,” to mild attachment disorders to severe attachment disorders.
Figure 1.

If I had better computer skills, this would be So much more luscious, but you get the idea. My intention is to show connections, more than distinctions.

In any case, I have two children, and I think of them at fairly opposite ends of this spectrum. My son has Asperger Syndrome and my daughter has an attachment disorder. I don’t want to in any way exploit them, so this blog will remain somewhat anonymous and I will refer to them only by initials (um, the wrong initials). I know there are other people out there who think that the wide range of humanity is fascinating; and I know there are other parents out there stretched thin. You are my people!

Son, G, was born under challenging circumstances in New York City weeks after 9/11. He was on a respirator in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit with severe meconium aspiration for a week. He is now ten years old. He is the kindest and most caring child I have ever known. Generous to a fault...and deeply socially awkward. He talks really, really loud and basically wants to talk about his special interests at all times. He would give you his most treasured possession in a heartbeat.

Daughter, Z, was adopted from China at nine months of age. She is six years old now, and stunningly beautiful, with the most perfect features I have ever seen on any human being. She is incredibly intelligent and observant. She has a terrific sense of humor and exudes glamour. We call her mini-Satan. And by “we,” I mean Me, because, you see, these two children require Two Completely Different Mothers.

So that is what you will find here – stories about my daily multiple-personality life – and how I mother the Full Spectrum. I aim to be inclusive and non-judgmental and never, ever sanctimonious…but you may find me irreverent. I will tell you why we laugh and cry around the house (oh, and in public, for better or worse!) and about our mishaps and triumphs and would love to hear your stories too.

Full Spectrum Mama