Oversharing

Folks, my kid has discovered sharing. Elliot always been an incredibly sweet, loving boy–he has been requesting “group hug” since he was about 18 months old, constantly asks Marc and I to kiss, wants everyone to hold hands (even random people who don’t know each other, he will matchmake at the local Walgreens). But like a lot of 2 year-olds, this loving kindness does NOT extend to sharing. Hell no. It’s MY puzzle, MY blanket, MY CHEERIOS. Heaven forbid we share our food.

As kids get closer to 3, though, it’s developmentally typical for them to want to reach out– to give, receive, take turns with a toy, a doll, a favorite snack. Typical kiddos think, “hey, I like this thing, and I like you. So let’s see if YOU like this thing.” They enjoy watching other people enjoy. It’s a gorgeous thing.

That switch doesn’t always flip in children with developmental delays or other issues. I am no expert, but one thing I’ve seen with my friends’ kids is that pretend play is a huge part of early sharing. First we share with our doll. The doll gets a sip of milk, a bite of waffle, gets tucked in for a nap with a favorite blanket. Gradually, that extends to parents, then peers, then 30 years later you’re so brilliant at sharing that you’re a gallon blood donor and you regularly allow people to turn in front of you in traffic.

Allow me to say that I would have been satisfied with Elliot giving his Grover doll a sip of water (which he has done, but rarely). Gracious driving and community service are the last thing on the mind of this mom for now. Pretend play…let’s just say that it’s been conspicuously absent from our lives. That, among other things, is one of those “red flag” behaviors that automatically buys you a zillion concerned developmental evaluations. Admittedly, I was never much of a pretend player myself–does dressing a cat up in a nightgown and putting her in a baby stroller count?– but I understand it’s a huge deal. Dressing up the cat may have also been a huge deal of a different ilk, but I have photographic evidence to prove that she didn’t care.  Also, that cat lived to be 20.

But ok. We’ve always been grateful that Elliot has what the therapy types called “relatedness.” It means he gets people– he looks at you, he connects, bonds, watches your reactions, responds. We do not take this lightly, for we know that this incredibly special human quality is one that every parent in our shoes does not see in their child. But he’s also what the same types call “self-directed”– whatever Elliot does is about Elliot’s interests/wants/needs first. It’s one thing to march to your own drum, but this self-direction is isolating and a no-good thing if you plan to live in a world with rules, boundaries, and other humans. It is a major buzzkill, this self-direction. It is not a path toward sharing.

Much of Elliot’s therapy has been about attempting to engage him in reciprocal play, back and forth, my turn your turn. It’s about  helping him to discover that it is fun and rewarding to be a part of something bigger, to give and take. It’s been the hardest thing for him, and the hardest for us to watch.

Maybe it happened the night we turned the clocks ahead for Daylight Savings Time. Poof! There goes an hour, and while we’re at it, the sharing switch in your child shall be turned ON. These past two weeks we are seeing our little sharer emerge, timidly, like one of those tiny turtles you’re allowed to pet at the aquarium. He’s a long way from the Nobel Peace Prize, but he’s starting to really give, and it’s awesome.

A few weeks ago he decided that it was time to use a spoon and fork most of the time (finally). Seeing our joy made the utensils even more fun. This week, he decided that if it’s this much fun for HIM to eat from a spoon, perhaps Marc and I should try? Well, mealtime now takes twice as long because for every bite he takes, he PRETENDS to give us a bite too. “YUMMY, MOMMY!” he says as he thrusts a totally empty yogurt spoon toward my mouth. Last night, Cookie Monster was given Elliot’s last graham cracker bunny. “A CRACKER, COOKIE MONSTER.” This is major. He is so thrilled with himself.

Today, one of his therapists claimed she was hungry, hoping Elliot would engage with the pretend food she had brought for them to play with. He did, and after feeding her plastic bananas and a wooden apple, he scrounged up 3 Cheerios– his favorite thing ON EARTH– from the floor and fed them to her. Bless her soul, she ate them. She doesn’t get paid enough for this.

Tonight I was changing Elliot’s diaper before bed, and when I was finished, I said, “all done” like I usually do. Elliot reached for a wipe, pulled it from the container, and said “diaper, mommy?” reaching for my pants.

I have eaten far worse things than linty Cheerios at my kid’s request. I have handled every bodily fluid, borne the brunt of every tantrum, swept schools of crushed goldfish crackers off the floor and scrubbed spit-up out of every clothing item I wore for most of 2011. Motherhood is full of indignities, and a gal’s gotta draw the line somewhere. Letting my kid pretend to wipe my behind? Forget it.

But you all know I was beaming inside as I let him know that there is such a thing as too much sharing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Always and Never

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, so I’ve had plenty of time to think about what I want to share next about our journey with Elliot. And here’s what it boils down to: I’d like to suggest that we all– not just parents, not just parents of kids with special needs or challenges, EVERYONE– remove the words “always” and “never” from our vocabulary. These words are nothing but trouble. I’ll explain.

As I sit here typing, Elliot is in school. You read it right. He’s in school. This morning, I said “Elliot, let’s go to school!” and he ran to the door, grabbed his backpack, asked for help putting it on, and ran to the car. I wasn’t moving fast enough for him, so he yelled, “NOW, MOMMY!”

And I dropped him off at school. He didn’t cry, there was no epic drama, and he never looked back. I’ve been dropping him off at school every day for 5 weeks now, and after some weepy days the first week or so, this is where we are. My son is the happiest I’ve ever seen him. He sits in a circle with his classmates. They sing “Wheels on the Bus.” He brings home a daily report of what he has accomplished and there’s usually a little crayon drawing included, too. I could burst, I’m that proud.

Last September, when we tried to put Elliot in school for the first time and it was something of a disaster, I had people casually mentioning that Elliot would NEVER SEPARATE EASILY from me. Hear that? NEVER. I was afraid, and I believed that for a time, despite how ridiculous it seems now. The truth is that he wouldn’t separate easily until he was READY, which he clearly is. But pondering the nevers is a no-good pastime, and we all do it. How could we not? The nevers and always are everywhere.

We do it to ourselves too. “Will things ALWAYS feel this hard? Will I NEVER get a break? Will I ALWAYS worry this much?” We do it about way more mundane things too, like “I will NEVER want to wear these boot-cut jeans again,” or “I will ALWAYS think bright orange is an outstanding paint color for a bathroom.” But you know what happens. 3 years later those jeans are back in and your walls give you a headache.

With very few exceptions, these days I believe that never and always are impossibilities when applied to people. Sure, there are some physics and math things that are always and never. Chemistry too. But not people. Always and never isn’t our nature. We are a species of sometimes and maybe, hopefully, not now and not anymore. We evolved and we are still, ostensibly, evolving. How can we be never or always anything?

Children, especially, can’t be those things. If they were, they’d always be in diapers, they’d always want to eat pancakes 3 meals a day, and they’d always hate bedtime and want to watch Sesame Street. They’d never be able to read, they’d never wear shoes that didn’t have Elmo on them, they wouldn’t build friendships or develop independent interests and accomplishments of their own.

So I’m trying to stop nevering all over myself, and to tune it out when others do it. Always can be just as bad, so I’m weeding that one out too. Elliot has taught me that you have to leave the doors open (literally, he likes them open unless it’s bedtime) or you can’t surprise yourself. Worse, nobody else can surprise you.

I don’t mean to focus on Irresponsible Things that Well-Meaning People have said to me, but please understand that like most parents, I received so much advice, heard so many misguided but well-intentioned theories about the difficulties we were having and absorbed dozens of always and nevers that I truly believed were fact. And most were dead wrong. Everyone has stories like this, and I’m sure you do too.

I believed my kid would ALWAYS have a miserable time sleeping (not true! all good!)

I believed he would NEVER stop counting and saying the alphabet over and over (please, 275 new words later we’ve busted that one to bits)

I was terrified that he would NEVER be able to ask for help when needed, because someone told me that kids “like mine” (whatever that means) ALWAYS have trouble with that. (I’m sure some do, but Elliot now asks for help with every single thing under the sun, even when he doesn’t need it because he thinks it’s hilarious when I say “you don’t need help with THAT!”)

I was afraid he’d only give hugs and NEVER kisses. Well, now he gives them all the time, and even blows them at me, at Grover, at his teachers. You get it.

There are so many more hurdles and victories for all of us, kid or adult, so let’s not litter them with the waste of time that always and never can be. When we’re about to die, we can look back and tally up the always and the nevers that ended up being true or false. But man, what a boring way to check out of this great life.

I mentioned there were exceptions to the never and always rule, and I have a short list. Yours probably looks a lot like mine.

1. Elliot will always be my son.

2. I’ll always love him.

3. You never know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plain as the Eleven on My Face

I may have mentioned that my son likes numbers. I mean, he REALLY likes numbers. He sees them everywhere (partly because he’s interested and partly because numbers are actually everywhere!) and rarely passes on an opportunity to identify them. The grocery store is one of his favorite places. The aisles are numbered, the shelves full of price signs. Fun, if that’s your thing.

OK, his thing is also to identify a sugary cereal and request to “hold the box “until checkout, at which point there’s no use in trying to wrestle it from him.  The score: Mom, 0. Toddler who wants cinnamon crunchy cavity-causing (but organic, ha!) cereal, 1.

But back to the number deal. We’ve had this fascination for a long, long time. I never taught Elliot the numbers, he just knows them. One day, back when he could only count to 30, I said the number “80” while he was eating lunch. There was no context. I just said “80” the same way you’d say “cracker.” He looked at me. Thought for a minute. Deep breath. “Eighty…..one?” he said slowly, testing his hunch. He spent so much time studying numbers and asking us to write them that recently, he picked up a piece of chalk and wrote a whole bunch of them, legibly. To say he was thrilled would be a ludicrous understatement. Then he made a giant poop and asked for graham crackers. Aren’t kids cute?

Elliot also notices when things look like numbers, even if they’re not. A pretzel stick can easily be labeled as the number 1. Sometimes he covers up one arm of a triangle and tells me it’s the number 7. Because, uhm, it is. He sees this stuff.

He sees other things too. The other day, he asked me to sit down on the floor. “Sit down mama!” He stood in front of me with his face just inches from mine. He studied me for a minute, then cocked his head to one side. Huge smile. “MAMA, ELEVEN!!!” He’s pointing to my forehead. “ELEVEN!!!” he says again, now laughing.

He touches his finger to the space between my eyebrows. You know, the place where frustration and confusion show. Where the brow furrows. Where, if you are not that young anymore, you may have a line. Or two lines.

Eleven.

I’ll be damned if he wasn’t right.

Letters

You’ve heard of the idea of writing letters you never intend to send. You pour out your love, heartache, anguish, anger, admire it on paper, then fold and tuck it away forever. It’s my turn, but since it’s happening here, I guess I’m sort of sending it. I just won’t use names. This is what happens when I’m mad. Indulge me. And no offense to you dear readers who are physicians, librarians or  anything else. Sometimes your colleagues set a bad example. Argh.

Dear Medical Professional, Librarian, Stranger and Others:

I know you some of you mean well. Let’s start there. I have no doubt that some of you are well-intentioned, smart and kind. When you talk to me about my son, I know you may be trying to help me.

But man, I wish you’d watch your mouth.

When you, librarian, look at my frustrated, whining child with disdain and say, “maybe you shouldn’t come back to the library until he’s older” I want to remind you that my tax dollars pay your salary. When you pull me aside and tell me that it’s abnormal for a child who is Elliot’s age to be able to read, it takes everything I have not to remark that if you don’t want to encourage children’s literacy, perhaps you are in the wrong career field. I also notice that you say “abnormal,” and not “unusual”  or “remarkable” or even “interesting!” Funny that a person surrounded by words all day picks the most boring adjective out there. While we have this conversation, two other kids get into a full-blown fight over a set of plastic dinosaurs. They throw and scream. You say nothing, despite the fact that what they’re doing is far less appropriate in a library than what Elliot is doing– expressing very typical frustration, and not even very loudly. I don’t know who ticked you off, book lady, but take it out on someone else.

Drs. Whoever, you have disappointed me. When I tell you that my 12 month-old refuses to take 2 naps and only takes 1, even though he’s very tired, you tell me that he will be brain damaged from lack of sleep. When I tell you that he doesn’t seem brain damaged, you tell me to “just wait and see.” (please note, developmental delays are not brain damage, and I know this without having a medical degree). When I tell you simple things, like that we are going through an “afraid of the bathtub” phase or a “wake up every day at 5am” phase, you look at me as though I’ve just told you that my son has full mastery of a long-extinct Druidic language. You shake your head and say “I’ve NEVER heard of that before!” Because I respect you, I don’t believe you. You are smart and educated. You have had thousands, if not TENS of thousands of office visits. You have NEVER heard of a child who wakes up early, is temporarily afraid of the bath or refuses to nap? REALLY?! I personally know at least 100 people who have heard of that AND experienced it, and none of them have your rigorous training. Please don’t laugh and make a casual remark that my child is the “worst” you’ve ever seen in an exam room. He’s just not. He’s naked, cold, and on an exam table. You’re coming at him with a needle. Damn skippy he’s going to throw a fit. He’s 2.5, and he ain’t dumb. Sister, you and I both know you’ve seen worse. Come on.

You, total stranger who works at Target who asked me to leave the store because my son was crying, I hope someone sneaks a laxative into your coffee right before a long car ride. I have seen hundreds of kids throw FAR bigger fits in stores and I have yet to see an employee ask a parent remove their child from the store. My son, who wasn’t feeling well, cried for about 60 seconds and that was too much for your sensibilities. Someday when you are a tired working parent who needs a few household essentials and your cranky kid is pissed about being dragged on an errand, this deed of yours will come home to roost. Unless the laxative thing happens first, that’s karma enough.

There are others who deserve a different kind of letter– far too many others to count, men and women both. They open doors and hold them for me, they give me a knowing smile in the grocery store. They tell me my son is gorgeous and swoon when he shoots a flirty look their way. They walk past Elliot in the bagel store as he dances to “Blurred Lines” and ask “hey, buddy, can you teach me those moves?” One of them joked that we should leave the kids at the playground and go find an open bar.  Love letters to you all coming someday soon.

I know it takes a village– I just wish ours had a few less idiots sometimes.

Cheerfully,

Hallie

Progress, it’s a Bitch

I’m getting a lot of inquiries about progress. Friends and co-workers ask if Elliot’s therapies are helping, if things are improving. Yes yes, they’re working. We have leaps and bounds of growth, especially in speech.

Last week, we came home from a local playspace and kicked off our shoes in the mudroom. A gross shower of dirt, sand and residual salt from the recent snowpocalypse/polar vortex/wintergasm flew off my boots and onto the floor.

“Eeew, Elliot, what is all this shit?” I said. Without thinking.

A few hours later, we were getting ready to leave again. Elliot walked to the door and said, “Mama, sit.” He gestured at the floor.

I should tell you that we have a routine called “sit for shoes” where we do just that– we sit by the door and put on our shoes. But his shoes were already on. We already sat for shoes.

Mama, SIT! Big smile. More pointing.

He wasn’t saying “sit.” But you knew that. He was saying SHIT, of course. It was the word of the day.

A note about cursing.

Like a lot of parents, I made a concerted effort when Elliot was about a year old to stop cursing in front of him. He was already saying a few things at that point, and heaven forbid his little rosebud mouth form the shape of unbecoming words. Like a lot of parents, I slacked a bit. The frustrations of life, work, having a toddler and the fact that sometimes nothing is as effective at conveying annoyance than a good F-bomb won out over decorum.

Side rant: once you have a kid, the classic F word is replaced by a new one: FREE. As in, “sure, I’m free to get a manicure with you!” or “Yes, I’m free for the next 3 hours if you want to call me” or even, “We’re free for dinner that night.”

You’re not free, silly parent. You come at the price of babysitters, time constraints, bedtimes, guilt.

And while I’m ranting, may I just note this inherent cruelty: at the exact time in life when you need to curse the most– when your kid is 2!–it suddenly becomes irresponsible to do so.

As I was saying, I swore on as needed, and especially as it became obvious to us that Elliot had a speech delay and other challenges and we began to appreciate the extent of the help he needed, swearing became a kind of fucking important release.

Fast forward many months, many hours of therapy. Freeze frame on a sunny winter afternoon. Here was my little peach, smiling up at me, gesturing in the vicinity of the “shit” I so clearly taught him about on the floor.

He’s got words– at least one new one every day or two, and with apologies to ZZ Top, he knows how to use ’em. He loves big, multi-syllabic words. Conductor (orchestra or train, no matter), puppeteer (thanks, Sesame Street), clementine (think winter citrus, not my darlin’). We’re adding our fair share of utilitarian words too, and they make life easier for us all.

With all of you as my witness, it’s time to start watching my language as closely as I watch Elliot grow and change. I’m pretty sure you can’t kiss progress with a potty mouth.

The Not Knowing

Oh you nice, nice people.

Since I started writing this blog barely a week ago, I’ve gotten so many emails.

I’m so sorry to hear what’s happening 

We had no idea 

We feel awful for not knowing 

I wish we’d known 

Friends, you bowl me over. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the kind notes and the support, but take it from me: you couldn’t have known. 

If you knew me “before” all of this, you know that I had a normal-seeming kid who was a very wacky sleeper but otherwise charming and a total smarty pants. The challenges we face today were blindsiding. There were seeds all along, but they bloomed, freakishly, overnight. If you’ve ever moved into a house in the winter and woken one late spring day to find peonies in your yard, you know what I’m talking about. But this is way less cool.

It doesn’t help that I moved to a new town and that none of my old friends saw me for months. Or that I was working a ton and up to my ears getting settled in a new place and learning a new way of life.

It doesn’t help that I hardly talked about it.

It’s not because I was ashamed or embarrassed, but I know so many families who don’t talk about their children’s struggles because they don’t want to be judged. I get it. I didn’t share because I didn’t know what was going on either.

Background. When I’m not chasing a 2.5 year-old, I write about science. Mostly biomedical research and engineering. I work on a contract basis with some of the best research universities in the country, and I love every mind-bending minute of it. How lucky am I to be surrounded by visionaries? By geniuses! Don’t ask how I got here, but I am a lucky woman.

My husband, Elliot’s dad, is a physician. He’s a specialist. He diagnoses and treats, likes protocols and standards of care. He’s a physics dude, a math person, a wannabe finance guy on the side.

I tell you this because you should know that we are empirical people. We like answers. We really, really like to know.

And we didn’t. We still don’t. It’s torture for any parent to not understand what’s going on with their kid, but if you’re a go-with-the-flow kind of family, perhaps you cope better. We see the flow and ask about its velocity. About the viscosity of the liquid. We talk concentration gradients and other bullshit and we do NOT, in short, go with it.

Early Intervention therapy is a godsend. I won’t bore you with the intricacies, but suffice it to say that if your child qualifies, your life is instantly flush with magical assistance and people who adore your kid and pay tons of attention to helping him be his best. It is not a silver bullet, though, and it’s not an exact science. It’s a one-day-at-a-time process that looks not unlike the research I write about. There are hypotheses, and there are ways to test them. We watch for reactions, record and learn from them. But at no point do we know anything other than that this is today and this is what is happening now.

At this age, there are few diagnoses. They happen, sure. Toddlers are found to be afflicted with one or several of many developmental or behavioral issues. In our case, like so many others, we treat based on what we see, and we live without labels.

In many ways, it’s freeing. Things change. There are breakthroughs. A neurobiologist I worked with recently told me that the best thing about her job is that she comes to the lab every day with no idea what to expect. She finds it positively thrilling.

With a developing brain, we can’t know what’s next to bloom.  Could be better than peonies.

The Mommies on the Bus

Admit it: you’ve been all alone in the car/on the subway/in your kitchen/shower. Your kid is asleep/at school/out with a sitter or spouse. You are luxuriating in time spent without a small human clinging to your leg, demanding Cheerios or more Dora. You have almost recovered from the mortifying tantrum thrown by your beloved spawn in a most inappropriate place in the past 24 hours.

Just as the quiet sets in, it starts. With a hum. Then the words slip out. “B-I-N-G-O and Bingo was his name-O.”

The ultimate curse of kids is their music. Cloying, saccharine, downright goofy and nonsensical. Contagious as the flu, but they love it, so we listen. The syllables without meaning, the endless streams of “E-I-E-I-Os” and “woof woofs there” kind of make me want to puke here and there and everywhere.

So that’s how I feel about most kids’ music. I try to mix it up with Barenaked Ladies and They Might be Giants, hefty doses of Motown and those compilations of pop stars singing lullabies, bless them (and Adam Levine, if you’re reading, you can sing any bedtime song you want and I’ll listen.)

On the flip side, what’s cuter than watching your kid dance to the Wiggles or hearing them piece together the words of “Row Your Boat?” Here’s what:

Last night, Elliot was throwing his blankie around the kitchen and family room. It’s a repetitive behavior that he finds fascinating and calming, and I sort of understand why. It’s a muslin blanket, the one we swaddled him in when he was a newborn. It’s soft and light, and when you throw it up it drifts to the floor with silent grace. But it’s a weird behavior and not altogether healthy, and we try not to let it go on for too long. We can usually distract him after a few minutes. Music is particularly effective.

So I sang.

The wheels on the bus went round and round. No response.

The horn on the bus went beep beep beep. Nothing.

The wipers on the bus went swish swish swish. Nope.

Enter the mommies on the bus. You know what they say, right?

“The mommies on the bus say I love you, I love you…”

Elliot turns. Drops the blanket.

“I LOVE YOU!” he shouts. And runs to me for a hug.

Again: “I LOVE YOU!”

He’s never said it before.

“I love you too, buddy!” (swoon)

Despite myself, I’m raising a glass to the mommies on the bus. Couldn’t have had that fabulous moment without them.