For a little over 2 years now, our family has had one struggle after another. Some were small, some were short lived, some were massive and painful, some were lengthy and tiresome. Every single one of these changes and difficulties changed who we are as a family and as individuals. Some have strengthened us and made us better human beings. As positive as I'd like to be, some of these changes have also changed us for the worse.
All along the way, people would ask, "How is Andy handling this change?" In the beginning, we'd say, "He's taking it great, a really resilient little buddy! We were right. Then, little by little, these little and big changes took its toll on him though. And us. He began to feel unsafe and scared. The highly intelligent little guy that he is, he figured hard and complex aspects of his life out....but not completely... just enough to build a perceived wall that he now has to climb over. His behaviors changed. My once happy, kind, singing, cheerful little buddy that I loved more than anything in the world became a little boy that glared at me, resented nearly anything I said, annoyed me, JJ, and Olivia just to annoy people, he seemingly forgot all the manners he was taught, he began having tantrums that put the cartoons Tasmanian devil and Wild Mike (from Barnyard) to shame. The worse his behaviors became, the worse mother I became: More frustrated, more yelling, more frustration, more fights of willpower and control, and endlessly more tears.
It was painful. And as a mother, I had no idea what to do. I was scared. JJ and I were scared together. I still am scared. Ironically, the more I researched and learned, the more I realized much of Andy's behaviors were founded in fears. Fears of abandonment. Fears of failure. Fears of limits (while simultaneously craving the limits and safety those limits brought). Meltdowns and rages where, when I was calm enough, I could clearly see the fear behind my son's glares. That was the straw that broke the camel's back. That was when I knew that help was needed. I needed help learning how to manage his behaviors constructively. He needed help regulating hormones within his body causing chaos. Our family needed help learning to cope and process changes. Once again, we had to adjust our expectations of what WE wanted out of life and learn to accept our new reality: One with a hurt child that has special needs and considerations. This was in addition to everything else life was shoveling onto our pile of struggles.
We've suspected Andy has ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder for a while now. As parents, we heard many suggestions to "put that kid on medication" and we heard many insist that he's "just a little boy." For the longest time, we did everything within our power to avoid that label, that negatively connotated stigma associated with ADHD. We avoided medication. We told ourselves that amphetamines and psych medications were not the answer to help our son and were dangerously addictive. We told ourselves many things. Many things that have changed as we've changed; hopefully because of the massive education and knowledge we've received. We began Andy's testing for ADHD and ODD in early October. Thursday, during a medical professional visit, we finally decided to try medication. He took his first dose yesterday.
I can't begin to expound the secret hope and unbridled terror this decision gave me. More than anything, I prayed that the medication would work small miracles and bring that sweet boy that I love so much back to me.... even for just three more hours (not even consecutively) a day. More safety, less hurt, less fear of the unknown for us all. I prayed that if that happened, I'd be the patient, kind, fun mother that was able to actually PLAY with her children instead of dragging her overwhelmed, exhausted body from mess to mess, rage to rage, and fight to fight. I prayed that these struggles would slowly, with our hard work and through miracles, be manageable enough that my family would feel "functional" and happy again.
I cried myself to sleep last night after one of the worst days Andy and I have ever had. We ran out of milk and bread. I HAD to go to the store. JJ was at work, so I HAD to take both kids. It was a nightmare; what could have been a 30 minute trip turned into 2 1/2 hours of hell. My FB status, upon arrival back to our home and the miracle return of calmer children, read:
To the jackasses that made snarky comments to me in Walmart while my son screamed for 2 hours straight, pulled his sister's hair, spit at people, and then proceeded to yell "I want a treat" and throw canned soup at people in the checkout line, thank you for your Christ-like example and help as I tried my damnedest NOT to cry in public or drag my child out by his ears. Yes, he does know better, but then again, I'm sure your mothers taught you better than making the type of comment y'all made to me also. Instead of making snarky, rude comments, you could have shown some compassion, maybe even lent a helping hand....and heaven knows, I could have used an extra hand with my son who LOOKS normal but has rather severe emotional and behavioral special needs with triggers to these rages that change daily. It definitely wasn't what I wanted in a grocery trip either. So, thanks, jackasses. You are seriously manly with your open disdain, rude comments, superior attitude, and judgmental condescension.
There was MUCH I left out: Driving to the park to see if he'd calm down through distraction, because, in all honesty, I was afraid to take him home for 2 reasons. First, because I was afraid he'd kick holes in the walls, take the crap out on his sister or me (although I still have some bruises to show for it), and second, because I didn't want to lose my temper and hurt him... yeah, I really just wanted to spank him until he stopped bawling. It made sense in my over-emotional, overwhelmed head. Thankfully, I knew that staying in public would result in NO spankings. I really, really thought "transitioning" him, going to some place he liked and let him run around would help us both "take a breather." Instead, it tacked on another 30 minutes as he hurt his sister, himself, our car, tried to jump out of moving cars, and pulled a nice chunk of my hair out as I tried, for the 5th time (no exaggeration) to buckle him in (while seriously wondering if putting him in the trunk would be safer for all involved).
When he finally fell asleep, I cried for hours.
While I logically understood it was only his first day on medication, I was heartbroken. I had truly hoped for a miracle... for my little buddy back. I'd hoped for a night and day difference.... while logically telling myself, any improvement would be a glimmer of hope. I knelt down and begged for today to go better.... there would be no 3 hour reprieve while he was at kindergarten on a Saturday.
Tonight, I'm crying again. Today was the second day Andy was medicated. We didn't have even one tantrum OR meltdown. He was markedly calmer. He interrupted and spoke over conversations less. He was still bored, but he didn't become so restless and annoyingly hyperactive when he was bored that he climbed walls and picked on his sister "just for something to do." He was able to focus for 15 full minutes to find the watercolors he'd stolen and hidden under his bed. He recognized he'd made a mistake by stealing, admitted it to me BEFORE I found out, and sought to correct the behavior. When we shut the TV off, there was no meltdown. He was able to sit still and eat ALL THREE MEALS in under 30 minutes.
And, here's the biggest miracle:
We had a deal that I'd take him to the park, out to dinner, and watch a movie if he'd keep his room clean, eat his meals, and be kind consistently today. Because he did steal the watercolors, we discussed an acceptable consequence: No park. He came up with that consequence; no meltdown with completely rational thinking. We went to Kneaders, he ate, he focused, he was out in public with me and I didn't even NEED to get after him even once in my "firm" voice. I only reminded him twice to focus on eating his food. We went to Walgreens to search for treats for our Primary lesson tomorrow. Andy didn't meltdown when I told him no to candy, a new movie, and again finally for a toy.
HEDIDN'T HAVE ONE MELTDOWN OR TANTRUM and I didn't yell even once today. Our day ended with us renting a movie (Monster's University), eating Cadbury Christmas candy, tucking him in bed, and he told me he loved me and thanked me for the great day. What a difference one day makes. One comment in the store. One small, little pill. One act of service. One person showing love and compassion. One day that seemed like a glimmer of hope. One bag of Cadbury Christmas balls (although, when it comes to chocolate, one is never enough!) One is a very, very powerful number!
It wasn't perfect, he still pestered a bit, he still glared a few times, he still picked on his sister, he still stole and lied. But it was noticeably, significantly better. It was a tender mercy, a small (and yet SO LARGE) victory. It was nothing and everything. He was the little buddy I remembered and I got to be the Mom I remembered. Logically, I know there are still going to be difficult behaviors, yelling, and willpower fights. There will be impulsive actions and difficulty focusing. There will be meltdowns still. Reality will still prevail, but today felt like a rainbow... a promise from Heavenly Father that He is with us, promising hope. Something President Eyring said during Conference has been in my mind often. Each time I think I can't stand another day feeling like a broken, horrible mother with a hurting child that just can't seem to be reached, be connected with, or somedays... even loved wholeheartedly amidst the turmoil, I remember. Just as my heart seems to want to close off, feeling overwhelmed with resentment or bitterness over the meltdowns, hitting, kicking, and harsh words from my beloved son, something whispers a phrase that renews my hope and endurance. I'd like to share it now:
Life in families will test us. That is one of God's purposes in giving us the gift of mortality--to strengthen us by passing through tests. That will be especially true in family life, where we will find great joy and great sorrow and challenges which may at times seem beyond our power to endure them....
God has devised means to save each of His children. For many, that involves being placed with a brother or a sister or a grandparent who loves them no matter what they do.Years ago a friend of mine spoke of his grandmother. She had lived a full life, always faithful to the Lord and to His Church. Yet one of her grandsons chose a life of crime. He was finally sentenced to prison. My friend recalled that his grandmother, as she drove along a highway to visit her grandson in prison, had tears in her eyes as she prayed with anguish, "I've tried to live a good life. Why, why do I have this tragedy of a grandson who seems to have destroyed his life?"
The answer came to her mind in these words: "I gave him to you because I knew you could and would love him no matter what he did."~Henry B. EyringIt's true. I still love him no matter how hard it gets and it's also true that family life definitely tests us. But, oh! How I am thankful for this day, where life seemed hopeful, manageable, and better with the little boy that is kind, happy, loving, calm, and stable emotionally! Family is the greatest joy and the greatest sorrows with challenges which at times seem beyond our power to endure them.
In honor of October, which is National Mental Health Awareness month and November, which is National Adoption Awareness month, I'd ask you to read these beautiful articles.
I also have some challenges for y'all! As President Monson of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stated:
"We can strengthen one another; we have the capacity to notice the unnoticed. When we have eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that know and feel, we can reach out and rescue those for whom we have responsibility."
"None of us lives alone--in our city, our nation, or our world. There is no dividing line between our prosperity and our neighbor's poverty."
"There are feet to steady, hands to grasp, minds to encourage, hearts to inspire, and souls to save."
"Perhaps when we face our Maker, we will not be asked, 'How many positions did you hold,' but rather, 'How many people did you help?'"
One is a powerful number. Each "one" that chooses to be gentle with the woman and child in obvious difficulties at the store makes a difference. Each "one" that chooses to love another no matter what makes a profound, powerful change.
To honor October and Mental Health Awareness month, I urge you to find one day to show a little extra compassion for those struggling with mental health difficulties. Serve them. Serve their family. For November and the complex, bittersweetness that is adoption, please, take even one day to learn a little more about adoption. It is complex and unique for each person involved. Start dialogues about adoption! Despite drastic changes in adoption practices and ethics over the past century, there is still much to learn, discover, and change! And love. Much to love about adoption, including my beautiful children and the opportunity I was given to be a mother. I highly recommend following the series, both the past year's articles and current years. Here is the FB page: