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Posts tagged ‘flexibility’

Let’s See If I Can Remember How This Works

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Roasted veggies pureed into sauce for lasagna with brown rice pasta

I haven’t blogged in so long that I’m struggling to remember what it was about it that I liked so much.

I took a break that I didn’t plan. I just didn’t feel like it. Or rather, I felt like doing other things. Like playing Ruzzle. Work kicks my mental butt most days. By the time I get home and get through dinner and homework and preparing for the next day, my brain is not good for much other than Ruzzle.

I’m expert at giving myself permission to not do things that I genuinely don’t want to do. My elders mistakenly and repeatedly labeled this as “stubborn” throughout my childhood. I didn’t have the correct term for it then either. Today, I’m calling it self-care.

So, this brings me to a recent commitment I made to myself. My attachment to sweets and junk food had gotten out of hand. I eat a lot of healthy stuff and I was probably eating an equal amount or more of unhealthy stuff. For the 28 days of February, I modified my food intake to eliminate white flour, white sugar, and fried foods. In other words, I broke up with cookies and cake and french fries. We’ll get back together at some point, but it’ll be a healthier relationship. No more abusing my waistline.

I cut out meats too with the exception of a roasted chicken drummette one day because I’d tried a different seasoning mix for the kids, and I wanted to see how it turned out. Watching Hubby and Dem Kids enjoy pizza, burgers, etc and especially preparing such foods for them was less difficult than I expected. I survived lunch with coworkers who were enjoying all kinds of deliciousness. I made it through birthday and going-away celebrations with more strength than I thought I had.

There were many, many times when I felt I was eating food accessories (grains, vegetables, nuts, beans) instead of food. I allowed myself a small amount of cheese and eggs to have some sense of indulgence. On several days, I made simple, meatless dishes that I enjoyed and would be willing to have again.

My mantras for this year have been “find a way” (thanks, Diana Nyad) and take care of yourself. This experiment gave me the opportunity to practice and internalize both. I’m confident that I’ll have more self-control when it comes to food. As a reminder and to refresh the commitment, I plan to make this a tradition and try some version of a modified diet every February.

Now, if I could apply this to Ruzzle, I’d really be doing something.

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National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

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This post is in support of National Minority Mental Health Month and No Shame Day, a day of awareness promoted by The Siwe Project, a non-profit that promotes mental health awareness and education among people of African descent throughout the world.

I debated with myself on whether to participate. I am woefully underqualified to offer any creditable information or guidance in this area, and my support is generic at best. Though my daughter, Mae, was diagnosed last year with Asperger’s syndrome, I have still many unanswered questions and gray areas. My focus has been on better understanding, accepting, and working to her strengths and weaknesses, and less no on the label itself and larger questions about mental health.

Is Asperger’s a mental illness?

Yes . . . no . . . maybe.

There is considerable debate about the exact classification of Asperger’s, a disorder on the autism spectrum that is evidenced by high intelligence, poor social skills, impulsiveness, and inflexibility, among other traits. The characteristics are somewhat easy to identify; however, you’ll find differing professional and personal opinions on whether or the degree to which it is a mental illness.

What I do know is that Mae had been presenting my husband and I and her school teachers and administrators a host of behaviorial challenges that seemed beyond average for a child her age. At the start of first grade, she was still having emotional meltdowns that one would expect of a toddler, though her verbal skills were phenomonal. She would lose control of her emotions, especially during play, and cry for 20-30 minutes. The thing that scared me the most was her tendency to declare that nobody wanted or loved her. It would take a lot of coaxing to bring her out of that place. I didn’t think she suffered from depression; however, I feared that she would or could one day.

She is an incredibly social creature. She would introduce herself to complete strangers, children and adults, and invite them to our house to play within minutes of meeting them (including grown men). She would run off and leave us in public places if there was something interesting within viewing distance that caught her attention. Her impulsivity and strong desire to touch soft things like skin, hair, and ears made us fearful that she was vulnerable to abuse or kidnapping or both.

When she was six, we took her to a pediatric neuropscyhologist for an evaluation. Among other interventions, he recommended cognitive behaviorial therapy to help Mae learn skills to manage her emotions, control her impulses, and be more flexible.

I don’t know if Asperger’s is a mental illness. I do know that the therapy, which I view as a mental health solution, and additional supports given by her teachers and school administrators have been helpful to me and her. Mae knows that there has been a ring of support around her and safe places for her to express herself. At eight, she is more mellow and flexible. I believe that better, more informed parenting skills on my and my husband’s part and just plain old maturity have played a role and will continue to be important factors.

Mae hasn’t seen the therapist in over two months. However, she will if I think it would be helpful again. I’d like to set her up for success in every aspect of her life, and if there are solutions within the mental health community, then that’s where I’ll be.

Does Mae even have Asperger’s syndrome?

Yes . . . no . . . maybe.

At the appointment to discuss his findings, the neuropsychologist said that Mae is “borderline” Asperger’s. He could have gone either way with the diagnosis. She could just be intellectually gifted, social and “quirky.” Other professionals had offered a similar opinion.

Here’s where I have to acknowledge an immense privilege I know many others lack in treating mental (and other) illness. Rejecting or declining a diagnosis would have meant losing the opportunity for insurance coverage for therapy and legally required accommodations if we switched from private to public school. The mere fact that we could have walked away with a “no thanks” belies the advocacy that so many individuals and organizations engage in to de-stigmatize and promote greater attention to and support for mental health issues.

The other aspect of privilege here is that we were able to pay out-of-pocket for therapy visits, $150 each, which were weekly, then bi-monthly, and then monthly. Fortunately, our insurance company reimbursed us for most of the cost. It is no surprise to me that even folks with awareness or a diagnosis are untreated.

My family has been fortunate in so many ways. I know that others struggle with more complex and pervasive mental health issues and fewer resources to address them. I do believe, though, that I can share in a common resolve to better understand and support those who have or love someone who has a diagnosed or undiagnosed mental illness.

Namaste.

Spiderman and the Last Sip Save the Day

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Peep the little trash can in the alley.

It was a winning weekend.  I will pay for it tomorrow a.m. when the alarm goes off at 5:15.  Still, I’m grateful for it all.

We celebrated Jay’s 5th birthday on Saturday.  He and about 12 of his closest friends ran and bounced and slid their way around an inflatables place before settling down to pizza, brownies, and ice cream.  Jay enjoyed himself thoroughly.  He rewarded me with big eyes and a resounding “wow” when he saw his Spiderman brownie towers.  I have to say that the result was better than I expected.  I baked and froze three batches of chocolate brownies and two of red velvet over the course of two weekends.  I didn’t start “building” the scene until Friday night at around 10 pm.  I was nervous, and I had a Plan B that would have involved an early morning, shame-faced trip to the bakery section of the neighborhood grocery store.  Then, I told myself that if it looked crappy, I could say that Spiderman visits the Projects too.  All in all, I’m pleased with the outcome, and so was Jay, which is what matters most.

This morning, we enjoyed french toast and bacon, two of Hubby’s favorite breakfast items, before the kids and I went off to Dharma.  In the afternoon, as a Father’s Day gift, my sister came over to babysit while Hubby and I went to lunch.  We drove over an hour to get to a riverfront seafood dive on the Potomac.  There are many other seafood restaurants closer to us, but it’s an easy, straight drive and one of my favorite things to do with the Mr. is have alone time in the car.  It’s nice to be sheltered from the outside world, whether we’re having uninterrupted conversation or just listening to each other’s silence.

Today’s lunch was actually our second date this weekend because Grandma (Hubby’s mom) volunteered to babysit for us last night.  So, we saw Prometheus.  Or rather, Hubby saw Prometheus while I napped on his shoulder off and on.  I did see enough to know that Idris Elba, love him like I do, is no good at a Southern accent.  He was going from Southern to generic American to British.  The other characters represented a multi-national mix, so Elba’s British accent would have fit perfectly.  Perhaps he wanted to stretch himself, which is admirable.  At any rate, Hubby liked the movie, and I needed the rest anyway.

Tomorrow begins the second week of summer camp, and Mae and Jay will return to their regular school’s camp.  They were at the Y last week, and it went very well.  Mae and Jay adjusted well and had fun.  So, I expect more of the same or better since they will be in a more familiar environment starting next week.   Mae at home has been another story.  She thinks she should have more freedom now that school is out.  The last two weeks have been a battle of wills when it comes to bath and bed time, in addition to a general attitude of teenage-quality snarkiness.  Her insistence on challenging or questioning almost every instruction, including routine stuff, is remarkable.  I frankly do not know where she finds the energy.  The time and effort that she puts into explaining why she should be allowed to do what she wants to do or trying to negotiate some middle ground exhaust me.  This morning, she wanted to take a toy into Dharma, which I told her would be a distraction.  She told me that it would help her focus and keep her from rubbing my arm or the Dharma teacher’s arm.  Clever girl that she is, she knows those are matters of importance to me.  I reminded myself that there will be days when her persistence will pay off, and there will come a time when she will make extraordinary contributions to her community or the world because she won’t give up when someone told her no.

In the meanwhile though, many of these conversations have been ending with Mae being disappointed, if not crying herself to sleep.  Yet, she will take just as strong a position next time.  Someone told me on Friday that I have a “patient spirit.”  I laughed.  My paid job does require extreme patience; however, compared to parenting this eight-year old, work is a breeze.  Mae thinks I’m mean and unfair, and those are her nice words for me.  Usually, these transitions after a change in routine take 2-3 weeks to take hold.  Hopefully, we’re not far off from settling down.

Challenging as it is some days, I am grateful for this family.  On our way home from Dharma, Mae and Jay were sharing a juice box.  She gave him the box and said, “You can have the last sip because I want to honor you on Father’s Day since you’ll be a dad one day.”  Her spirit, I know, is good, and I’m glad she showed it to me (and Jay) today.  I needed that.

Public School, Here We Come

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Mae was a lottery pick for a public talented and gifted (TAG) school. This is the school she tested into and for which she was wait-listed last year. It has a good reputation and I’ve heard nothing but good things about its gifted program. Hubby and I toured last week. The enrichment programs sound fun and challenging, and there is advanced, differentiated instruction within the classroom.

I am concerned, though, about the average class size for third grade. Twenty-five students per teacher with no assistant sounds like a lot of fish for Mae to swim with and then, I think, she was with 18-19 classmates for 1st and 2nd grade. What’s a few more kids?

I’m also concerned, of course, about the transition. When Hubby and I told her that she may be going to a new school in the fall, Mae said, in short, “no.” We told her it’ll be more challenging and she’s less likely to get bored. She has warmed up to the idea since we received the lottery results two weeks ago. She thinks 25 kids in a class is a good thing because, in her words, even if some kids don’t want to play with her, there are enough kids that it’s likely she’ll still have friends.

I asked Mae’s 1st grade teacher for her opinion on moving Mae from the small private school to a public school. She recommended a class size of 10, no more than 15. Well . . . . She also warned that new teachers often “get stuck” with the gifted classes because experienced teachers get worn out by high-maintenance, demanding parents. (I hope she shared that opinion with me because she doesn’t see me as such). During the school tour, we visited two of the three 3rd grade classrooms. The teachers were older, if not seasoned educators, at least mature in age, which is a relief.

I went to a PTO meeting at the TAG school also. There was a small group of committed parents voting for next year’s officers. I was impressed that there were folks happy, or at least willing, to take on the responsibility. At the last PTA meeting for the kids’ current school, it took some teeth-pulling and arm-wringing to get parents to accept nominations. (That’s not a judgment, just an observation. I didn’t volunteer for anything and declined a nomination. My new job is already spilling over into evenings and weekends, which I had not anticipated and I’m trying to get a handle on it.)

I introduced myself to the school principal after the PTO meeting. She seems like a nice lady, and the TAG Coordinator seems like he’ll be a pleasure to work with. Hubby is certain, and I’m also there, in thinking this is the right move for Mae. I want to give it a try so that we don’t wonder “what if.” The teachers’ and administrators’ demeanor and flexibility will determine if we stay.

Trick or Treat, Smell My Feet . . .

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Mae taught her little brother this old rhyme today in preparation for trick-or-treating.  It’s as funny to them as it must have been to me at one point in time.  I remember loving Halloween, just for the candy, which is about how my kids see it too.  Thank goodness.  I’m a holiday minimalist; I try to do as little as l can get away with doing.  There will be no inflatable anythings in the yard and no lights hanging from the eaves ever if I can help it.  So, I’m grateful that the kids were ok with their gently used costumes from Goodwill and our simple decorations.  Jay didn’t even wear his costume; he wanted to keep on the Spiderman t-shirt he wore to school today .  So, we put it on over his coat and he was good to go.  Easy peasy.

One huge mistake I’ll have to correct next year is explaining that trick-or-treating playtime.  I expected the Mae and Jay to return home a little hyped and ready to eat some candy.  So, they ate dinner and Mae did her homework before they hit the streets.  Back at home, I let them have two pieces of candy each, and then I announced that it was bath time.  You would have thought I tried to take their candy, given the protest they unleashed.  They claimed that they hadn’t had any playtime.  Really?  Any reasonable person should know that joining other kids to skip through the neighborhood in dress-up while singing a rhyme is indeed playtime.  Jay didn’t have much fight in him tonight.  Mae, on the other hand, asked repeatedly for some computer time and, ignoring my “no’s,” went to the computer and started typing.  After I started transferring some of her Halloween candy to my lunchbag (for my co-workers, of course), she left the computer and went upstairs for bath, still crying, of course.  I’m sure the whole episode could have been averted had I explained in advance that they would have to go upstairs for bath shortly after returning home.  Next year, I’ll know.  It’s too much candy for one kid anyway.

Unfortunately, Mae’s school day had a bump in it too.  She spent some time in the office because she cried uncontrollably after the little girl who she wants to be her best friend didn’t want to play with her.  It was Mae’s first trip to the office this year, which means she went 38 days without being taken to the office.  Not bad, especially  since the episode didn’t involve any hitting or pushing (as far as I know based on her version of events, all I have at this point).  She’s learning and growing, and it’s a huge relief.  A lot of the trouble she’s been in so far this year has been within the “normal” range, involving other classmates who were “guilty” along with her.  Last Thursday, she and a group of them lost some recess time for creating a “burrito of doom” with the exercise mat during physical education class.   I struggled to keep the corners of my mouth from twitching while she told me the story, in part because  of the mental image she was creating and in part because I was happy to hear that she was on the same side as her friends in play and not against them, as has so often been the case.  We count all victories big and small.

Mom, Who’s Your Favorite?

Mae and Jay at the corner of the MLK statue

Lately, I’m reminded of how difficult and thankless a job is parenting.  I should say before I go any further that I gave my share of fits as a child.  I was unappreciative and stubborn at times.  I didn’t like being told what to do.  I talked a lot and I talked back.  Somebody or somebodies put up with me.  None of that vindicates the difficulty of raising the kids I have.  When they are not being fun, loving and kind, they are being unreasonable, ungrateful, and plain unfair.  I refuse to believe, and I’m not even going to ask my mother, that I was on this level.  I’ve had to give so many reminders recently to say “May I” and “please” that it feels like we’re going backwards.  The sarcasm of both the seven- and four-year old is so teenagerish that I have no idea what to expect five to ten years from now.   Unless I’m in some kind of denial, I think the scale tips more on their cute/funny/clever/mannered side.  However, I’m starting to think someone is messing with the scale.  Or, maybe I’m not the drum major I thought I was.

This evening, Mae asked me if I liked her shirt or Jay’s shirt better.  I said that I liked my own shirt best, thinking it was a quick (and clever) way to end the conversation.  She then went on to say that it seems that I like Jay better.  I said that wasn’t true.   I should have stopped there.  Noooo.  I asked what made her think that.  The only example she could think of was that he gets more things at Christmas, although, when I pressed, she couldn’t remember how many things she had gotten nor how many things he had gotten.  Truth be told, she probably doesn’t remember what either of them received nor who gave it to them.

Since Saturday, Mae has asked me a few times whether I like her or Jay better.  She has not been satisfied with my answer that they are both my favorite.  Choosing her words carefully, she has been saying basically that I am nicer to Jay because “he does things better.”  What she will not say is that she gets into trouble more than he does.  She says instead that other people get her into trouble, even when she is not doing anything.  We had a version of this conversation on Monday and Mae said that she “never” does anything wrong.  I asked if all her choices are good choices, and she answered, “mostly.”  I could tell by her voice and face that she wasn’t confident in that answer.  She’s good at sticking with the story in her head.

On Tuesday night, she was super tired.  It was a long day for her.  She’d woken at 4:57 am complaining of both hunger and a stomach ache.   I wasn’t surprised after a weekend of fast food and junk.  I offered her a snack, gave her some medicine and sent her back to bed.  However, she didn’t go back to sleep and that was one and a half hours of sleep lost.  To her credit, she was amped about school and dressed herself before Hubby and I were done showering.  It was the first day of school, the first day of the new aftercare program.  By bath time, she was worn out and that precipitated a fight about getting off the computer and going upstairs.  As she cried and screamed on the floor beside the bathtub, she could barely keep her eyes open.  I don’t understand what is so wrong about feeling tired and going to bed.  Why choose a fight over a hot shower and a soft pillow?  I know that she is much more reasonable when she is not exhausted.  I haven’t forgotten that.  But, her unreasonable state is so intense that if a UFO had hovered outside the bathroom window and asked for her, I would have packed a suitcase and a snack.  If she had asked me at that moment if I liked her or Jay better, I’m 95% sure that I would have yelled “JAYYYY!”  She didn’t ask because she was in her “nobody likes me” mode.  Usually, I think to myself and/or I say to her, I like you though sometimes I don’t like something that you said or did.  Tuesday night, though, I had a shift.  I didn’t like being a parent.  It was more about my reaction than her behavior.  As she was yelling and throwing her socks at me, I stood there thinking that that very morning, I’d gotten up at 4:57 am to get her water and grapes and give her a suppository (something that might have been sufficient birth control had I known it would be part of the job), and there she was, having a fit about not having enough time on the computer.  Her behavior may have been typical for an exhausted seven-year 0ld or it may have been the inflexibility of Asperger’s.  I didn’t know and I didn’t care, and I just wished that it wasn’t my job to deal with it right then.

I see that Jay is trying to make sense of Mae’s meltdowns and figure out how to respond.  Sometimes, he makes a point to distinguish himself by saying that he is listening or being cooperative.  Or, he’ll ask why Mae is crying so.  Recently, he’ll say that he had cried at some time during the day or someone had been mean to him.  These are things that he hears Mae talking to me and Hubby about and I fear that he sees those topics as attention-getters, even if the incidents are not very serious.  So, now we have to work on nipping that.

Last night, Wednesday, was much better.  Mae had lost computer time because of her behavior the night before, and she whined only for a second when I reminded her.  She was cooperative at bath time, even with a new rule of TV off at 7:30.  She and Jay played well together — not a single fight.  She earned a couple of mickeys for being helpful to him.  They gave me a break, a much-needed break.

“I COMMAND You!”

I have to say, it wasn’t a bad weekend considering that I canceled my “freedom trip” to NY, as one reader put it in a comment on my last post.  Healthwise, I felt fine for the most part, except for some heartburn and more numbness.  The biggest scare of the weekend actually came from arriving to our neighborhood on Friday afternoon to find our street blocked at both ends by police cars and a huge bomb squad vehicle in the middle of the block.  We made ourselves scarce while they investigated and detonated a suspicious package.  So, living near a judge has its benefits when it comes to snow removal.  Not so much if there is some disgruntled former defendant who knows the judge’s address (actually, that’s pure speculation.  I don’t know the full story on the package).

On Saturday, Hubby and I took Mae and Jay to the Maryland Zoo at Baltimore.  I am not much of a zoo fan; however, for the kids . . . .  After we paid $56 to enter (as compared to $0 to visit the National Zoo in DC), I was hoping that I would at least find it to be worth the money.   I was pleasantly surprised.  There was a lot of shade and the exhibits were closer together it seemed than those in DC.  The animals were closer and easier to spot than I recall in DC, and I believe more of them were active.  I have to say that it was an enjoyable visit.

It’s hard to say whether the kids enjoyed it.  As we headed for the exit after a few hours, I asked Jay if he liked the zoo.  He said, “Not that much.”  I asked what was wrong.  He said, “I didn’t know we were going to stay so long.”  It’s a no-win.  If Hubby or I had suggested leaving before he could see the elephants and lions, I know we would have had a problem.  I think he was enjoying the zoo before he became tired near the end.

As we neared the exit gate, Mae decided that she had to have a water bottle/fan thingy that I’d said “no” to on the way in as part of my “we’re not here to shop” spiel.  Oh, but tired Mae is irrational Mae.  A meltdown ensued, which included at one point, her telling Hubby, “Turn this car around now!!  I COMMAND you.”  He and I couldn’t help but laugh.  I didn’t laugh for long and turned around to tell her that she was being rude and disrespectful, and that she cannot command anyone, especially her parents, to do something.  She yelled back, “You’re not the boss of me!”  I corrected her that, actually, we are the bosses of her.  She apologized after a few minutes, though she wasn’t done crying and pleading for the fan for a few more miles.  She went to sleep, which Jay had done already, and Hubby carried her and Jay into the house when we arrived home.  They finished their naps; thank goodness for a little window of peace.  When Mae awoke a couple of hours later, you would not have known at all that she had had a conniption.

The rest of the evening felt like a breeze.  The hi-light came when Mae and Jay helped me make red velvet brownies.  I pre-measured everything; they poured and mixed.  I’m so proud of them for following instructions and working together well.  They stayed with me all the way through making the frosting and waiting for the pan to cool, long after Hubby had passed out somewhere.  I thought for sure Mae and Jay would become tired and irritable, and I’d have to put them to bed.  At 12:30 am, they had the first bites and declared success.  We all went to bed shortly after that.

Today, Sunday, was a day of laundry, cooking, cleaning, more baking (another batch of brownies for my co-workers, with my star helpers at my side again), and playing.  I feel something like a star myself.  First, Jay let me be the fire chief when we played rescue, which is huge because he usually has to be the leader in every game we play.  Second, Mae told me that I am “one of the best mommies ever” (I know — kids tend to think that they have the best mommy or daddy in the world.  I’m not mad at Mae, though.  Truth be told, I love my mom, but if Paula Deen would take me, I’d follow her home in a hot minute.)

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