"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Monday, October 18, 2010

preschool diaries: an update

It's been some time since my last entry in the preschool diaries. It's not because I no longer need the therapy. Ooooooh, no no no no no. It's not that. It's because things with Evan have been spiraling in so many different directions that I didn't know where to start. So here goes....

Several weeks ago, we ran out of Evan's Zyrtec. We had been relying on the allergy med. for decent sleep. I had read about "allergic insomnia," where insomnia actually IS the symptom for an allergic reaction. Well, Evan is allergic and Evan has insomnia. Seemed like it made sense to medicate him so we did. And it helped! Nights weren't perfect, but they were better. We kept waiting for his behavior to improve (a decrease in tantrums, less anger, fewer screaming episodes, etc.) now that he was getting better sleep....but it wasn't quite a clear correlation. So, maybe the Zyrtec wasn't our best fit? When we ran out of the medicine several weeks ago, I bought Claritin to replace it. The two days that Evan had Claritin coursing through his system were two of the absolutely hardest days of my life. Evan was a different child. He was scary. He had no self-control. He was up in the middle of the night crying for "school to be closed for weeks and weeks and weeks." He was anxious (even more so than usual). He was jittery and couldn't make eye-contact. He was miserable. We were miserable.

So we stopped all medication (except for the nasal spray that we have to use to keep his chronic congestion at bay). We crossed our fingers that his sleep wouldn't be thrown totally off-course without the drugs, but the alternative--keeping him on the drugs--was out of the question.

That was just over two and a half weeks ago. Since that time, we are seeing at least one night-waking per night, but we don't think he is spending that much time awake after we tuck him back in. His behavior has been a roller coaster.....we have really, really good days and really, really bad days...but I don't think it's allergy- or sleep-related. He's just a very anxious, very controlling, very stubborn child.

No offense, kiddo.

His hardest moments follow the most stressful-for-Evan situations: having playgroup at our house is really hard for him. School, of course, causes anxiety. A change in schedule or routine can throw him into a tailspin, etc. It's all very clear in hindsight--after every Very Difficult Time, I can trace back to the event that acted as the catalyst. I need to be better about anticipating what is going to be difficult for him...and help him deal before, during, and after the event to keep the resulting tantrums to a minimum.

We have put several different Incentive Programs into effect. There is a sticker chart to record daily behavior. Stickers can be earned when he remembers to: Use nice words; Use nice hands; Be a good listener; Have a happy dinner (yup, this was a major meltdown time); and Keep pants dry (yup, we're dealing with this now, too). If he earns a a certain number of stickers during the week, he'll earn Special Time on the weekend. His choice of activity, his choice of parent "date."

There's also a "Happy Bath" sticker chart. If he comes to the bath the first time he's called, he earns a sticker. Three stickers earn a chance to read extra books in the playroom before bedtime.

And finally: "Okay, Mommy Chocolate Chips." Every time I give him a direction, as in, "Evan, it's time to go upstairs and get dressed," if he says, "Okay, Mommy" and Just Does It, he gets a chocolate chip. Can't say, "no," can't say, "in a minute," can't freak out, can't feign hearing loss.

I think these "programs" are working. And it's definitely helping me to focus more on the positive points of our day than the negatives. He either earns a sticker/chip/special time or he doesn't. I can keep my emotions out of it....I'm trying really hard not to take everything so personally. It's hard, though.

So that's where we stand. Preschool is....well....no real change there. He has played a few times, I hear. When I picked him up from school last week, he took me into the Rainy Day room where they had spent their recess time. He walked me around the room, showing me the things he had used. This is a really positive step. He's still not talking to the other kids and he's not interacting with anyone in any sort of structured activity, but he's taking baby steps toward involvement. And, and! He talked about school. He told us all about the Helpers Chart. He told us what the different jobs were and who had done which job that day. He told us what job he would like to do someday (Napkin Helper, Chair Stacker, and Garbage Man) and which one he wouldn't (Weather Man).

Lesson Learned:
I think we're on the right track. It's been a long six months. For me, and I'm sure for him, too. It's got to be tough to be so little and to not know what to do with the stress and anxiety that I know he feels. It's my job to help him learn how to deal, though, and I'm not sure that I'm doing a good enough job of that. But we're getting there. One day at a time.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Happy 1st Birthday, Max!

I waited for him for over a year...15 months, actually. I know that, in the grand scheme of my life, 15 months is just a sigh. And I know that many, many mothers would give anything to have to wait ONLY 15 months. But I was waiting for My Baby....so 15 months (the first 6 in particular) felt like an eternity.

And then, one dreary, rainy day in October of 2009, we had a yard sale.

My OB had warned against it. She was pretty sure that scheduling a yard sale for the Saturday of my 39th week of pregnancy was a surefire way of having my baby on the Friday of my 39th week of pregnancy, and she wasn't going to be in the office that day. Don't worry, I assured her: I'm not having this baby until I rid myself of this unnecessary clutter.

And I didn't! We had the yard sale, made a few hundred bucks, and I went into labor that night.

My baby was proving himself to be a very considerate and convenient baby and I was basking in my good fortune as my contractions came, every hour on the hour, all night long. The next day, Sunday, October 11, 2009, my labor continued very evenly and comfortably. We were at home, enjoying an unseasonably warm day with the Big-Brother-to-Be and a bunch of the neighbors who were getting a kick out of timing my contractions.

Finally, at about 5 pm, Sam and I decided to mosey on into Labor and Delivery for a long night of laboring and delivering.

Oh, no we didn't.

By 5:15 I was out of my mind in labor. By the time we reached the hospital at 5:30 I was 5 cm. My contractions were coming so close together and were so intense that baby's heartrate was plummeting. There were too many nurses in the room and the doctor didn't leave my side. I didn't know what was going on, but I knew it wasn't good. I was given an oxygen mask and told to relax and breathe. Then I heard the words "emergency cesarean" and something bigger than me erupted: "DON'T TALK ABOUT A C-SECTION," I roared, "I'm having this baby HERE." I was given an injection of an asthma medication....something that relaxes the lungs during an asthma attack. It had the same effect on my uterus and was able to slow down the labor to allow the baby to make the progress he needed to.

That was all it took. Calm once again came over me and Maxwell Keenan Harris was born at 9:15 pm...blood in his lungs, partial placental abruption and all. It was fast, furious, chaotic, and frantic....and I was thisclose to emergency surgery. I thought, with an entrance into the world like THAT, we were in for a doozy of a time with this kid.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

Max is calm. Max is even. Max is strong-willed and persistent yet flexible and changing. Max is my eyes-sparkling, tight-hugging, belly-laughing, ever-contented little Buddha Baby. He is my brick. He has the fattest feet I've ever seen. His ears have these perfect little imperfect folds in the tops. He lights up when he sees his brother and melts into me when he's sleepy. He is leading us along the way towards becoming a Big Boy....but still lets me rock him to sleep. When he's happy he's ear-to-ear grinning and shrieking with delight. When he's sad, he's absolutely perfected the Offended Baby Sob.

Max is a talker. He was an early babbler...trying to get a word in edgewise with his brother. Now he talks for communication, for self-amusement, and for the comedy. If ever there's a lull in the conversation, you can be sure that a hearty "GOMP GOMP GOMP" is on the tip of his tongue. Max is an artist. Give him a crayon, a piece of chalk, spaghetti sauce on his tray, anything.....and he'll create something beautiful....even if it's just the look of pride and satisfaction on his face as he admires his own work. Max is the kind of baby that turns heads. I'm not just saying that he's gorgeous because he's mine--this baby is the Uncontested Kind of Gorgeous. But it's not just his features: Max is charming. If he catches your glance, he'll reel you in with a Just-Try-to-Look-Away Stare. He looks at you with just the hint of a smile....so you'll work to get that smile to spread, but you won't have to work hard. He had you at Hello.

Max has made me a more relaxed Mommy. He's a laid-back, easy-going, it's-all-alright kind of kid. I want to be just like him when I grow up.....only, not quite so bald.

Max had the ability, in his very first millisecond of existence on this earth, to stretch my heart to twice it's size. I had worried during my pregnancy about Loving Two....how could I possibly love another with the strength and ferocity that I love my One at home? And then I touched him, saw him, and heard him in that first moment of life and the question became: How could I not? The amazing thing to me remains the fact that my love for my two is equal in that I love them both with every ounce of my being....but I love them differently. I am a different Mommy to Max than I am to Evan. That could be because they are of different ages...or in different ranks in the birth order sequence (I'm an "experienced" Mommy this time around)...or maybe it's because they could not BE more different from one another. Whatever the reason: it feels right....and it feels as if it's always been this way. Was there really a time in my life before Max? Maybe not...maybe he was always with me....I just hadn't met him yet.

In hindsight, I still feel like waiting those 15 months to meet my Max felt like an eternity. And, of course, the 12 months he's been with me have passed as quickly as a blink. SLOW DOWN, TIME! Thank goodness for digital photography and the ability to capture those 12 months of memories on film....and set it to music:

Lesson Learned:

Happy, Happy First Birthday to my sweet baby Max. I love you, my little fat Buddha Baby!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

preschool diaries: The Talk

It was inevitable.

I knew, at some point, on some distant day, the time would come to have The Talk with Evan. I just didn't think it would be so soon--he's only three and a half! I assumed that he'd hear something on the playground or on the bus and that he'd have questions for his dad and me. And on that distant day, we'd be ready to talk to him about it. I should have known, though, that the time was near. We are, after all, sending him to preschool at a Baptist Church.....

And so, the other night after dinner, we had our first Family Talk about God.

Let me back up just a bit. Sam is not religious. I, while not a practicing Anything, have studied quite a bit in an effort to find my path. For some time now, I've been somewhere between Agnostic Theism and the Eastern religions (Buddhism and Taoism, in particular), with one foot now making it's way over to the scientific branch of the tree in Noetics. So, needless to say, when our little one came to us with questions about God, we were without a Good Book to consult with.
So here's how it went down:

Evan began singing "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." I joined in. Evan looked at me, shocked that I would have knowledge of this secretive world of Preschool Sing-a-long Songs. When the song was done, I asked, leading, "Do you know who has the whole world in his hands?"
"God," he said.


"Mommy, who is God?"

[Glance at Sam. I started it, guess I'll take it from here....]

"Well, God is many things to many different people. Some people believe that God is the creator of all of us and of all of the things on Earth. Some people believe that when people die they go to God in Heaven. Some people believe that God is bigger than anything you can imagine and is everywhere around you. Some people believe that God is within each one of us...and we just have to find him there. Some people believe that God is just an idea. People believe different things because of how they were raised or what they were taught. The important thing is to think about what YOU think God is."


Evan: "But does God change color?"

[Glance at Sam.]

Sam: "What do you think about God?"

Evan: "I think God changes color."

And that was that.

Lesson Learned:
"God Changes Color": The chameleon God.....The God that changes as your beliefs/opinions/knowledge base changes? I think this kid is becoming more like me every day. Scary.

Friday, October 1, 2010

preschool diaries: The Note

Let me preface this by saying: The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. And that's why this is so hard.

The note in the communication folder on Tuesday read, "Today was a rough day...." The note was unneccessary. It was clear from the tear-stained cheeks that the day had been difficult. The follow-up phone call with Mrs. D shed some more light on the situation:

For the entirety of the school day on Tuesday....three whole hours....Evan cried. She said it wasn't tantrum/disruptive crying, just sad, quiet crying. The worse kind of crying, in my opinion, because tantrum crying is annoying and you can just ignore it. Sad crying demands attention and is, well, sad.

She said that Tuesday was the worst day of his three weeks of school, but no day had been easy for him. Evan does not do anything in school. Ever. He does not play at centers, he does not sing along, he does not even eat the snack. She says he follows directions; when it's time to clean up, he cleans up. When it's time to come to the carpet, he comes to the carpet. When it's time to listen to a story, he listens to the story. He'll play with one certain truck on the playground and he poured one scoop of rice at the rice table once, but that's the extent of his engagement in preschool. He just wanders around the perimeter of the classroom, keeping a careful eye and a safe distance from the activity the rest of the class is involved in. In addition, she said that she can see the anxiety all over his face all day. He'll watch the kids play at a particular center and she can tell that he wants to go....she'll bring him over and try to get him engaged and he refuses. She tries to bring him to where a quiet friend is playing nicely and he refuses to play. She has tried to let him be and he comes to her asking for help finding something to do.

She said, "He kind of baffles me." To which I replied, "Mrs. D, he has been a mystery to me for all three and a half of his years." And I quickly cleared my throat to choke back the tears. My baby. My sweet, thoughtful, complex, baby.

I know she cares about him and I know, because she's reaching out to me so early on in the school year, that she's a wonderful teacher who is going to help him. Thank goodness. I don't know if I'd be able to continue to send him to a place where this was going on and no one seemed to notice or care...

So what do we do?

What can I do to eliminate this anxiety? And I agree with Mrs. D that that is what this is....he's been prone to social anxiety before (in play group and soccer, in particular). And he's dealing with the repercussions of feeling anxious: his sleep habits, which we had finally gotten under control--not perfect, but not horrible--are back to being pretty rocky. And we're seeing an increase in the tantrums at home that we have been combatting all summer but had been making progress against. Not to mention that he's got the right, or wrong, genes for anxiety issues anyway: I was a mess. I learned to deal with my social and school anxiety over time, but it was hard and took a long time. And I'm still not finished dealing--I'm the one who stresses for months about hosting the neighborhood bunco game at my house. I'm the one who flushes crimson when I find myself addressing a group of people. I'm the one who blogs because the thought of saying all of this to a real live therapist makes me want to throw up.

And I know how it feels to deal with school anxiety and I know it doesn't feel good. So I want to shield my little boy from having to experience this endless stress and fear and uncertainty.

But how?

And of course there's the flip side: Mrs. D assures me that he is not yet, but what about if or when he becomes disruptive in class because of his unwillingness/inability to participate? What then? I know, I know: Don't worry about things you don't need to worry about yet....but that's the other piece of anxiety: Unnecessary, preemptive Worry. We can't help it.

I would say that I'll sleep on it and come up with a game plan once I've had a good night's rest, but between Mr. Up All Night and Mr. Hungry at All Hours, I'm pretty sure that won't happen any time in the near future.

Lesson Learned:
Every child faces difficulties, and some would say that this is a pretty minor difficulty, and in the grand scheme of things I know that I have to agree. But when your child's difficulties are the same as yours, you know how Minor can very quickly feel Major.