I was reading the news this morning and came across the article about little Russian twin boys. They were adopted by a couple in Alaska who have four biological children. The mom wrote to Dr. Phil asking for help with one of the twins. She was at her wit’s end with him and sent in a video of how she disciplined him. When he acted inappropriately or lied he got hot sauce in the mouth and cold showers. The video showed it all. It was not a good depiction of this mother or her disciplinary techniques. It made me sad for her and sad for the child who was on the receiving end of her wrath.
I feel sadness for the mother because being a mother can be one of the most isolating times in a woman’s life. Can be, not always. It can be isolating when there is a child in the family who presents challenges. We live in a world where are more transient in nature. Our natural family “village” is not necessarily there in our daily lives. In some instances this can be a good or even great thing. In other instances it is lucky to have that family “village” there to help mamas out with challenging children.
The video brought me back to the frustrations I had with my two boys when they were little. Zach was terror on two legs from the minute he came into the world. As an infant he screamed and fussed more than I could ever imagine. As he got older he became this rambunctious toddler who zoomed everywhere and was the best at being whatever bad attribute was associated with a particular age. I always felt I had to apologize for him because he was a BIG kid and people expected him to behave so much differently than he could. He had very little impulse control. I know most little kids don’t have much impulse control to begin with, that’s one of our jobs to teach them but he had virtually none. I remember my mounting frustration with him and my deep, burning desire to have an easier child.
On morning we were having a particularly rough time, Zach was about three and a half at the time. I kept yelling at him and yelling at him and yelling at him. The more I yelled the more he rebelled but I saw something that day I had never seen before. I watched in disbelief and horror as his shoulders slumped further and further every time I yelled at him. I don’t know what made me do it, but the next time he misbehaved I picked him up, sat him on my lap, wrapped my arms around his arms and pinned him to me. I talked to him in a soothing voice and I said I wasn’t letting him go until he calmed down. I called it a “big hug.” He had to find a way to calm down or I wouldn’t let him go. He kicked, he screamed, he fussed. And then he sobbed big, giant sobs like his heart was broken. I think it was. I kept my cool. I told him to take deep breaths with me, in and out. It worked! I think it took him about twenty minutes to calm down that first time. I was finally able to let him go. I turned him around and said “Zach, I love you but I can’t let you behave like you were all morning. When you start behaving like that again I will put you in another ‘big hug.'” We had many more “big hugs” and to this day Zach remembers them. He remembers the safety of the “big hug.” There was no yelling on my part, no belitting, just a safe place to calm himself down.
Lucas was a sweet little baby who rarely fussed and was a true delight to be around until he turned two and a half. Then he became this wild, whirling dervish who could find trouble in places where I thought he was safe. He would also find ways to make himself unsafe. He would unlock the front door wander out side when I was upstairs nursing the baby. In his wanderings he would find unlocked cars in our cul-de-sac, climb in and pretend to drive. My neighbors would bring him home, ring my doorbell and let me know exactly what Lucas was doing. It was not safe, they would say. I knew it wasn’t safe, it was Lucas. He lost all fear in the year he went from two to three. He was just plain fearless. A fearless child is a scary child. He was hard to control, but not in a mean-spirited way, just in the ability to control his impulses. There is the impulsivity rearing up again in a different, albeit sweet, child.
It was when Lucas went to school things got dramatically worse for him. At home, I knew his strengths and weaknesses. I knew how to work within his parameters and I knew how to work with him. We had a very structured life at the time. The schedule never varied. It was how I handled things, with structure. School was different. There was too much flexibility and variety for Lucas. It was the first time I heard the term ADHD mentioned in the same sentence with Lucas’ name. I thought the school staff was crazy! Lucas is just a boy being a boy, I thought. He would come home after school, almost daily, with a report of getting his car moved from green to yellow and sometimes red. His teacher kept on me about having Lucas tested for ADHD. I wouldn’t do it. Instead, I devised a reward plan. I put a “penny jar” into effect for Lucas. Everytime he came home with a good report for the day, he got to put pennies into the jar. When he reached 20 pennies he could go to the Dollar Store and pick out a treat for himself. It worked fairly well until the end of kindergarten. And then the boom fell. He couldn’t control himself anymore and ended up failing 14 areas of social development. He still advanced to first grade.
It was during the summer in between kindergarten and first grade we found out he couldn’t see, at all. We also found out his hearing was affected by all of his ear infections. I thought the combination of not hearing and not seeing would be the culprit for his impulsive behavior. His behavior did not improve much in first grade, even after glasses. I decided to have Lucas tested for ADHD. Failing 14 areas of social development was a red flad and I needed to rule it out. Stan and I filled out all of the forms and as we were filling them out we both had the same thought. “This isn’t Lucas, this is Zach!” The child psychologist treating Lucas wasn’t worried about Zach. He had friends and he was doing well in school. Lucas didn’t have friends and wasn’t doing well in school. The psychologist said, in all of his 13 years administering this test, he had never seen a child test off the charts in every area of the ADHD scale as he saw with Lucas. It was confirmed. Lucas had ADHD. The reason we could control things at home is because of the intensely structured environment we had. The school didn’t have the ability to structure things like I did at home.
This was a very tough and isolating time for me. I looked around at all of my friends with “perfect” kids. My child had a “disability” he would have to work through for his entire life. I didn’t tell anyone. I felt I failed my child. Stan and I went back and forth about medication. Sometimes he was for medicating Lucas and sometimes I was for medicating Lucas. But we were never on the same page when it came to medication so we just continued to bumble along. Finally, we reached a breaking point. The school and the teacher were calling for meetings regarding Lucas’ behavior. I called the pediatrician and he gave me an hour of his time going through the good, the bad and the ugly of medicating a child with ADHD. I cried big, ol’ mama tears. I didn’t want my child to have a “disability.” It was a minor disability but to me it was still a disability for him. I didn’t want him labeled. The labeling of children seems so cruel. I didn’t want the school to know any of this. I didn’t want anyone to know. I felt alone.
This is a long tale and there is still more to tell. I will come back tomorrow. This long tale is told for all mothers with challenging children and for the love of my own challenging children…