Thursday, October 13, 2011

It's All Up To Me!

Hey!  I’m over at the a mom's view of ADHD today, with my first post trying to give a little view into parenting ADHD as a single mom.  Click on over and after you've checked out my latest post, feel free to explore a little.  It's a great place with some awesome ADHD mommas (and a dad!).  Show me some love and leave a comment - it helps to go back and read the love when I'm having one of those hard days.

Friday, September 9, 2011

I Remember...

You would think that after 10 years, my emotions would not still be so raw when I think back to that time.  But for me, and for my little man, that time is bound by work, motherhood, jet lag, boxes, exhaustion, and yes, pure, raw emotion. 

I stepped off the plane having not yet made the biggest decision I would make in my life. Five of the most beautiful little baby boys had left their mark on my life but one in particular had stolen my heart.  But he had been diagnosed with Hep C and I just did not know if I could be the mom he needed. So I put that thought aside and I rushed home to a house full of boxes and several rooms left to pack. No time to sort, sift, toss – just throw into more boxes. Friends arrived early a day later and loaded the truck, followed by unloading again one town over.  After the long flight from Russia and staying up all of the previous night to finish packing, all I could do was sleep through the next day.  Fortunately I had labeled the box with toilet paper and the clothes were scattered on the bed.  That meant I could make it through at least a couple of days before tackling the boxes for real.

It was Tuesday.  Away from work for about two weeks, I was not looking forward to the backlog awaiting me – but in I went. We had a new CIO and I had a new Senior Director and my job was to make sure my internal customers in Communications were introduced and set up to form a good working relationship.  The conference room on the 18th floor in a non-descript brown brick building in Roslyn was directly across the street from the USA Today building and a block from the building I normally worked in.  Feeling successful as I watched the new connections forming – and then, uncharacteristic on such a sunny day, we heard this incredible thunder.  It caused each of us to pause, just for a second, before the chatter continued. And then it came again and this time the building shook, ever so slightly.  We looked out the bank of windows spanning the room and could see just the tiniest bit of smoke. The sound was coming from the direction of the Pentagon. 

Before we could even ponder what we were seeing and hearing, every cell phone in the room began to ring as co-workers started calling, pulling us back to the work we were hired and trained to do.  One friend ran outside, looking for the quickest way to get back into DC. I rushed to my office down the street, where several friends were already glued to the TV.  My boss was new so I had to fill him in on what our job would entail should the requests start to pour in.  But they didn’t pour yet, not for my team, not for a few hours – instead there was urgent calling of co-workers and family members to make sure the ones we loved were fine. I told everyone to go home with the caveat that we would likely all need to dial in and work from there as the night progressed.  And then I spent the next three plus hours trying to make it a couple of miles to my house of boxes, all the while trying to call my mom and dad to let them know I was ok.

The rest of that night is pretty much a blur.  I still did not unpack – but I also did not could not watch TV.  For the next three days, I worked around the clock, going home only long enough to sleep a couple of hours, shower, change and drive back to our office in Falls Church.  It was intense, emotional and exhausting.  The work came in faster than we could develop, the money poured in almost faster than we could catch it, and the blood donations dripped in faster than we could use it.  I was managing my team, soothing my internal customers, and training my new management on what it meant to be in IT at the Red Cross during a disaster.  In between meetings with Microsoft and Yahoo! and brainstorming with engineering and operations teams, I would think of that little Buddha still living in Russia.  Calls to doctors in NY and emails to doctors in Russia were fit into tiny moments between developing new applications and building up additional infrastructure to handle the onslaught of public donations of money and blood.  I literally did not have time to breathe.  Daycare said they could handle the potential diagnosis without any problem, the NY doc said the reality of Hep C after 12 mos was only 7%, and the Russian doc said he thought the baby was really quite healthy.  While all of the information was good, none of it really mattered because my heart had already made the decision that my head didn’t have time to make.
Orphanage #1, Nizhny Tagil, Sverdlovsk Oblast, Russia

It was Friday.  I called the adoption agency to let them know that they should submit the paperwork stating that Buddha was my son.  We were meant to be together as mother and son and then I waited for the call back letting me know that the Dept of Education in Russia accepted my application, starting the process to bring my boy home.  The rest of the day was spent in a conference room, monitoring systems and building new ones.  Finally, early Friday evening, my phone rang and I got the news I needed to hear.  And that was it – I was done. I continued working until around 11pm and then I left the meeting.  My boss running behind me as I walked out of the building, I explained that I had to go.  The whole world had changed.  People were scared and scarred. Everything just came crashing down, literally, and I couldn’t stop crying. My joy in becoming a mom was being drowned in the pain of Tuesday and all the days that followed and I needed some time to take care of me.

In my house, I rummaged through boxes and found a bathing suit and some shorts.  Climbing through the piles, I found a suitcase and in the kitchen I found the tequila.  I threw it all in the car and I headed to the beach. For the next three days, I still did not watch TV and I did not work.  For three days, I lounged in a hot tub, margarita in hand, and I talked and laughed with friends, and I slept, slept, and slept some more.  I plowed through the emotions and let my friends take care of me.  I cried.  And I finally rejoiced. Despite all the evil in the world, no one could take from me the fact that I was on my way to becoming a mom.  To the most beautiful Buddha-bellied, Russian born, curly brown haired, brown eyed, eight month old baby boy.

This week, my beautiful, brown haired, brown eyed ten year old boy was asked to write about that day using the prompt “Where I Was”.  It was great to share with him the work I accomplished during that time, the people we were able to help, the pride and healing that came from being an integral part of what was good during those awful days.  It was also hard to talk through why he was in an orphanage in Russia and not here with me like he thought. As with most things, he quickly got bored, or thinking about not being with me caused his anxiety to emerge, and little man moved on to happier things, like playing Wii.

I have worked on many disasters since that time.  But that one, that one, has always been the hardest to talk about, to remember, to re-live.  I still cannot watch footage of the horrors that occurred that day.  The emotions are still raw and still a mix of my own personal joy and a deep profound sorrow.  I remember… 
Home, Virginia, USA

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Will I always be this way?

I have been listening to and reading the online responses to last night’s episode of Parenthood which caused the special needs communities to be all a twitter today.  Whether or not it was a perfect representation of what it’s like for a child to learn he has Asperger’s I leave to others to decide – but it spoke to me.  I saw felt our journey in their story. And I was flooded with memories of our own discussions about this journey.

Despite the comments from pediatricians and well-meaning family and friends about boys having more energy, boys being boys, and how developmentally it was too early to diagnose, I knew at age 3 that my little man had ADHD. I KNEW. But part of me wanted to believe the outside voices, the part that was uncertain of what that meant for us and the part that was fearful of the ‘ADHD is not real, it’s just poor parenting’ judgments. It made me want to live in denial but my inside voice told me I was right. Moms just know.

And little N knew. He did not know it had a name but he knew he was different. It was drilled into him daily by caregivers and teachers, and yes, by me. He knew because the pre-school teacher inappropriately physically restrained him to control his movement and impulses. And he knew because his friends in first grade teased him because he could not draw or write but was only capable of ‘scibble-scrabble.’  He knew because the constant barrage of sarcasm and negative feedback in second grade sent him under a table to hide from what he was feeling inside.  And he knew because his friends in third grade called him a trouble-maker and one of his teachers humiliated him weekly in front of those friends. He KNEW. 

I find that I can easily discuss almost anything with my little man; I have no problems giving him intimate details about his adoption or even talking about sex education.  But for some reason, I was totally shying away from talking to him about his ADHD.  Throughout his time in school, he day by day began to notice how different he was from his classmates and looked so defeated when he was teased because of something he could not control.  While I had been fighting the daily battles with school to ensure his needs were accommodated in the classroom, I had not done enough to keep the different-ness from chipping away at his self-esteem.  It was time for the talk.  He was seven years old when I finally took this next step in our journey.  We read Eukee, the Jumpy, Jumpy Elephant together one Saturday night and it was like a light bulb for both of us. His eyes got really big and he said ‘We have something in common, Eukee and me!  It is hard for ME to sit still and I feel jumpy inside.”  Albeit through tears, I was finally able to openly talk to him about what it feels like to BE little N. He could not wait to take the book to school and show his teacher. It was a big milestone – for us both.

Fast forward a year or so when I realize that he needs more to hold onto, he needs more of this journey explained, this time a little deeper. So we talk and we read and we meet new doctors. But it’s hard and it does not change the reality of his journey.  We read All Dogs Have ADHD and I focus on the page that calls out the great people of the past who have shared this journey – Henry Ford, Alexander Graham-Bell, and Leonardo da Vinci. I want him to see his greatness too. “Aren’t all those people dead?” Um, ok, how about Robin Williams, Ty Pennington and Michael Phelps. “OK, that’s better.”

Fast forward again to a couple of months ago, the now ten-year-old boy is still grappling with who he is. After months of new teachers in a new school making him feel like a complete failure because of his differences, he tells me he wishes he could open his head and take out his brain. I grieve with him. When Max from Parenthood asks the question ‘will I always be this way’, I feel the sob catch in my throat. Because I don’t hear Max – I hear my guy, in a fit of rage, scream out ‘why does MY brain have to be different?!’ I feel his pain and I experience the judgments and lack of understanding he faces every single day. How many times will he have to endure being accused by adults and peers that he purposefully makes bad choices for things that are out of his control? When will the rest of the world learn that different does not equal bad? All I can do is hold him tight and make him believe that I believe in him.

And we keep talking. Because with this label comes many strengths that make him who he is – and he is awesome. The inattention is sometimes really attention to everything and he sees and feels things that many around him never even notice. His difficulty writing has led him to become a whiz on the computer. He can create a PowerPoint presentation faster and with more bells and whistles than many of my peers. His impulsivity brings with it a fearlessness that allows him to scale rock climbing walls with ease and grace and sing a cappella in front of crowds of people. His brain working at a speed that most of us wish we could master gives him a creativity that leaves me in awe on a regular basis. And being different has helped him become compassionate. It is not his different-ness I feel, but his heart when he asks for updates on the homeless man who spends his time in front of my office building ("what did he do today when it rained, is he ok?") or when the summer camp counselor tells me that little N is the only child who consistently each day spends time playing with the little boy who cannot walk and relies on a wheel chair while all the other children shy away from him in fear.

Yes, little N, you will most likely always be this way – but can’t you see, as I do, that is a good thing?!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Another of life's little lessons...

Little man N played guitar in a school concert for the first time today – and I missed it.  In the world of twice exceptional, ADHD, co-morbid alphabet soup of diagnoses, missing the fun moments makes me really sad because the not-so-fun moments tend to take center stage.  But as is often the case, N taught me yet another of life’s little lessons.

As some of you know, he re-joined public school at the end of January after 5 disastrous months of what was supposed to be private school nirvana.  HA! (But that’s a different story!)  One of the musical offerings for 4th grade is the chance to take guitar.  N, much to my dismay, actually wanted to play strings (all I could think was, my poor ears) and I have to admit I was much happier than he to learn that class was full leaving guitar as a welcome alternative.  After snow days and a delay in purchasing a new, full-sized acoustic folk guitar, he really only had a few days of class and a couple of days for home practice before today’s big concert.

To N’s credit, he practiced with a vengeance, learning the chords and memorizing the pieces in about an hour and then working to perfect the performance without hesitation.  And to be honest, he sounded pretty good.  He was supposed to show the teacher on Monday that he had learned the pieces well enough to take part in the concert.  But he forgot (thank you very much executive function deficit!)  I decided to check with the teacher so that I could help set expectations, literally expecting a meltdown of tsunami proportions if he arrived this morning, guitar in hand, only to be told that he could not play.  The teacher’s email back to me was very nice, and very clear, stating that since he had not had a chance to assess readiness, N would not be playing in the concert.  Great…

I am certain that if you have any imagination at all, you can picture the scenario as I explained this reality to N last night.  Let’s just say it was not pretty.  There was much gnashing of teeth, expletives, declarations of hate for the teacher, the guitar, the class, me, etc.  Really, it was not pretty.  But by god, I practiced my calm parenting skills and I ignored the fall out until he was quiet.  And then I sat down next to him and told him how very sorry I was because he felt so sad.  At which point he crawled into my lap and just sobbed at the unfairness of it all.  I suspect his sense of unfairness applied to the previous five months and all the turmoil leading up to this moment and I felt the same way.  So we cried together.  And here’s where the lesson really begins.

As he readied himself for bed, he asked if he could still wear the black pants and white shirt.  And could he practice a little more before going to bed.  Hmmm…  “Are you concerned that the other kids will know you are not in the concert?”  “No, I just want to wear the outfit (short pause) because I am going to make the teacher let me play.”  I agreed to the outfit and to allowing him to practice, but I told him we needed to respect the teacher’s decision. “Nope, I AM going to play.”

He looked so cute this morning in those dress clothes, his hair still wet from ‘styling’ it himself.  He packed the music folder in his backpack, picked up his guitar and headed for the door.  I’m still picturing the tsunami that’s about to be unleashed on an unsuspecting school so I sit down at the bench by the door and say, “Let’s chat for just a minute.”  “OK, but if this is about the concert, I am not listening.”  OMG, I just love this boy.  He has more determination and is more persistent than literally anyone I know.  On the drive to school, I tried again (I can be a little persistent too.)  He let me know in no uncertain terms that he planned to convince the teacher that he should play.  So I changed tactics asking “What’s the plan if he still says no?”  With tears in his eyes, he said “Will you email Mrs. F and tell her I will need her help if he says no?”  Holy smokes!!

I did just that.  After dropping him off, I pulled to the side of the road and sent a message to his classroom teacher letting her know that he would need her help dealing with the disappointment.  He did not want his friends to see him upset.  While I supported the music teacher’s decision, I also supported N’s desire to plead his case because he felt so strongly that he should be allowed to play.  He practiced, he memorized, and he earned the right to state his case.  And then I drove to work because I knew the answer would still be no.

As I walked into my office, my cell phone rang and seeing the school number, I felt the tsunami heading my way.  “Mrs. Gumm, I just did not want you to worry.  N talked to the music teacher and convinced him that he should be allowed to play.  So he is sitting on the stage with everyone else right now and he is very happy.  He really handled the situation beautifully and the music teacher actually reconsidered for several others who also started late in the year.”  That’s MY boy!!

So what is the life lesson?  That sometimes I need to have more faith and stop looking for the tsunami.  Sometimes, despite how often I explain to the school that N has difficulty self-advocating, the opposite is actually (sometimes) true and he knows exactly what he needs to do to stand up for himself.  Sometimes, I need to let go, and give him the room to show me the new skills he is developing and recognize that I might be the one stuck based on past experiences.  And if I don’t pay attention to these lessons, then there will be times that I miss the fun moments.  I am so very humbled and so very proud.  Yep, that’s my boy!

Experiment of the Day

 This is a re-post from Sunday, July 5, 2009.  It still makes me laugh...

Matching the energy level of an 8 year old is tough to do. But the real challenge is trying to keep up with an 8 year old BOY who also happens to be extremely smart – even gifted in some areas – and who struggles with ADHD, SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder) and a scattering of other special needs, alphabet soup diagnoses. Then throw in a three-day holiday weekend with neighborhood gatherings, cupcakes, sprinkling rain and pool water too cold to dip a toe in and you’ve got a boy low on options and high on sensory overload and a mom who needs a serious break!

I think it is fair to say that I spoil my little man as much as I possibly can while still trying to raise him to be a responsible, compassionate, giving bigger man. Vacation is the best because I literally say yes to almost everything. Then we get home and settle back into reality where I end up saying no far more than I say yes despite the spoiling. A week after vacation and an entire day of requests and ‘no’ answers I realize that we need a new way to approach today.

Hence the experiment…

I explain this with excruciating detail because I know that if I don’t, he will ask so many questions that I will regret having even suggested this brilliant plan of mine. The deal is that he can make only one request today – that’s it. Every ‘I want’, ‘Can I have’, ‘Will you’ counts and there can only be one. His eyes light up as he’s thinking ‘this could be a great game.’ There is no guarantee that I will say yes so the request needs to be thoroughly and thoughtfully considered. If it is something I always say no to, then it just becomes a wasted request. A little less light in the eyes but he’s still on board… ‘What if I make it the whole day without making any requests?’ I cannot help but laugh and I try not to sound too sarcastic as I explain that is not something we have to worry about.

I know this will be hard so I will even agree to reminders. As soon as I hear the start of a request, I will gently say ‘stop and think’ and then he can decide if it’s worth continuing. ‘I know what I want my one request to be’ It’s only 9am. You might want to wait since the day has just started. You never know what we might be doing or where we might go so if you use it now – it’s going to be a LONG day. After the one request, I will not entertain others. As a matter of fact, I am not even going to say no. I will just not acknowledge that another request has been made. The brow furrows as it sinks in that this might just be a tough game. ‘OK – I can do this. Are we going to do this every weekend?!’ Again, all I can do is laugh.

He wanders off downstairs and I start to blow dry my hair. 10 minutes in… ‘What can I have for breakfast? I ask because I was thinking that I want’ Is this going to be your request? Silence. Let me give you another tip. Do we eat breakfast every day? Shakes head. If it is something that you know is going to happen without a request, it would be wise to be patient and let me offer instead of using your request. ‘Ohhhh – I get it.’ Runs down the stairs and I laugh some more. If nothing else, this could be a very entertaining day!

He is very literal so I also have to add that true emergency requests do not count – I did not want the house to burn down while he was saving his request for a Popsicle. Fortunately there were no emergencies. And he became a master at looking for ways to ask for something without actually asking for something. His miming skills were honed as he pointed and play acted without ever uttering a sound. I held strong with my ‘stop and think’ at each pointed finger.

He went from questions to statements and watched my face to see if I was going to take it as a request and if so, would it be a yes or no. ‘Can I have a snack? Oh wait, I was thinking that I might want a snack. So I think I will make some popcorn. Wait, not popcorn, I was thinking about organic cheese puffs. Yea, I will just take these downstairs.’ I never had to say a word. Seriously – this plan really was brilliant.

As the day wore on, I had to institute another rule in the game. If he did something that he knew I would not let him do then it was an immediate time out. No warnings, no discussion, just time out. Let’s just say he spent a fair amount of time sitting against the dining room wall but he was not asking for something every 5 seconds and he was making decisions and accepting the consequences both good and bad.

We went to a couple of stores and he did not ask for a single thing. There were a couple of pointed fingers and quite a few pointed statements. ‘Hey, did you know they had cool balls like this one?’ Smiled while laughing on the inside. The experiment was going so well that I threw some finger paints into the cart which he later used to paint a beautiful rainbow and is now proudly hung on the fridge. He waited to see if the weather was going to cooperate but he never once mentioned the pool. He made it until 1:30 before finally making a request, the real, only one for the day, request. And it was a good one – I said yes. His friend came over and they played kickball. I am not sure anyone has ever come up with such an incredible plan and I am smiling as I pat myself on the back.

Once the request was used up, the rest of the day was a little more difficult. But we made it through as I ignored requests with only the periodic reminder that he was done for the day. Needless to say I probably gave reminders as often as I would have said no to requests. But it was worth it. As I tucked him in to bed 12 hours after the start of our little experiment we both smiled as we talked about how well it had gone.

‘If we do this again next weekend, can I have two requests? And then can we go up in the number of requests each day we do it?’ But I do not answer this new request – I only laugh.

To Blog or Not To Blog

Art by Story People
I suppose that is the question.  Welcome to life in the ADHD lane - you better strap in because it is quite a ride. I learn so much from my beautiful boy every day.  Some days the stories just fill me up and I need an outlet, somewhere to share. My hope is that our journey will help those traveling a similar path and that at the very least you will get a chuckle out of our experience.