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Protecting The Innocent

I don’t remember when reporting of suspected abuse and threat assessments (e.g., suicide risk identifications) became mandatory for educators and counselors. It was before I became a parent, I know that much, and it dawned on me a long time ago that there were probably plenty of reports that resulted from misunderstandings.

About a month ago, while we were in the middle of Princess’ most troubling days, while we struggled to identify and treat her emerging bipolar tendencies, our son, Hoss, ran away from his school and was brought back by the county police. It’s been a long time since he ran away like that, but it brought back memories of the tough times before he was diagnosed with his mood disorder.

One of these elopement incidents was the final thing that sent him to the psychiatric hospital back in the day, and that he’d gone all of last school year without ever feeling the need to escape like that made me feel like we’d made serious progress. Last month’s bolting was not as serious as what we used to see, but he did leave the property.

When the police officer brought him back to the school, they said he’d expressed that he’d wanted to die. As a result, despite the assurances of the school staff with whom Hoss has a history (principal, counselor, psychologist) that he was not actually a danger to himself or others, the police informed us that they would be taking him to the ER for a psychiatric consult. I was told that I would not be allowed to go along until I had spoken with the Mobile Crisis Team.

I spent time with the MCT explaining all of the steps I go through to care for my children and myself (outpatient therapies for the children, family therapy with a social worker with whom all of the family members are comfortable, open lines of communication with the schools, medication monitoring all around) with a response that roughly translated to:

“Okay. That’s exactly what we were going to recommend, so keep on keeping on.”

My husband went to the ER to stay with Hoss, and the evaluation indicated that Hoss’ “I wish someone would just kill me,” was not actually a cry for help, but rather a misstated outburst that is not all that unusual for a nine-year-old boy with ADHD. During the next therapy session, Hoss got an opportunity to talk about how upset he was that he’d been forced to go to the ER when he’d wanted to stay with his sister and I.

While Princess was in the day hospital program a few weeks ago in preparation for the transition back to school (now that we’ve gotten her medication properly titrated), she spoke of her brother’s boundary issues, and how he’s gotten in trouble the weekend before for not keeping his hands to himself.

Part of that boundary crossing included trying to tickle her all over, and missing her stomach by hitting a bit further south. Because we are working with Hoss on respecting personal space as well as just plain leaving his sister alone sometimes, he had to process what he’d done and he had consequences for not acting as he was supposed to.

Princess accepted his apology, since he’d properly identified what he’d done wrong and what he should have done instead. I didn’t hear about the incident until days later, since it happened while I was out of the house and it was no longer on everyone’s mind by the time I got home that evening.

However, the hospital reported the incident to the county, who interviewed all three of my children.

The end result of the interviews (from the point of view of the police and social worker) was that there was no criminal activity or additional cause for concern.

The end result from the point of view of my children was slightly different- Princess feels bad that she got her brother in trouble, Hoss is irritated and slightly grossed out that he “…had to look at pictures of private parts! Even girl ones!” and Little Joe doesn’t understand why he had to answer a whole bunch of questions about body parts and our family and stuff.

I know that mandatory reporting has resulted in abuse being caught before more damage can be done. I know that conducting threat assessments in elementary school may mean that we have fewer young children reacting to their stress by harming or killing themselves.

I understand this, and of course I want those bad things prevented.

I’m just struggling with how this has put me under a microscope when, according to the mental health and educational professionals who know me and my family, I’m one of the good guys

The Fear Of Parenting While Struggling

Most mothers struggle with the balance between taking care of their families and taking care of themselves.  What do you do when your own issues start to take over your ability to care for others?  This is one mother’s story:

 

This is my first post. I found this site while doing a search for Mom’s Mental Health; I am at a low point and need some perspective, some support, something.

I’ve had problems with depression and anxiety since my late teens/early 20’s. Becoming a mom has at least given me a good, unavoidable reason to get out of bed every day. However, when a mother is struggling with her mental health, who can she turn to?

I feel like a woman with mental health issues fears the risk of losing her children if anyone were to really know how bad it is sometimes. How does one know when they’ve crossed the line into not being able to do enough to meet their child’s needs? And to resolve it, do mothers normally turn to their support network to help pick up the slack, until she can get back on her feet, or do she and her kids just go without their needs being met for that time?

The Blue Rocking Chair

The life I’ve been living for over eight months now is an ugly one. A lonely one. A dangerous one.
Night after night, after my son is in bed – sometimes earlier, if his father is home – I pour my first drink. A strong one. I recoil from the sharp taste of vodka or whiskey, both of which I’ve grown to hate. Sometimes it makes me gag, almost comes back up. But I never allow that to happen. I suck the drink down through a straw. Make another. Then another. My body relaxes and my mind becomes fuzzy. I grow sociable and talkative. Rarely do I become an angry or depressed drunk. Rather, I become the person I feel is the best version of myself, the one I used to be while sober – cheerful, fun, laid-back, interesting. My social anxiety dissipates. Things become less irritating to me. My frustrations, fears, and that unnamable empty sadness I carry around are buried – or more accurately, soaked – in a poison that is killing me.
I sit in a blue rocking chair where I tried and failed to breastfeed my son less than a year ago. It emits a maddening repetitive squeak as I rock and drink, but I don’t care. I don’t care about anything. I just want to get to that far-away, mellow state where life seems good, hope still exists, and I can tell myself that tomorrow, I will give up the bottle and make a fresh start. Lately, more often that not, I pass out in that chair, sleeping so deeply I cannot be shaken awake.
In the morning, I’m shaky and nauseated and dehydrated. My partner – I’ll call him Steven – is the one who gets up with our baby, feeds him breakfast, plays with him while I sleep off hangovers. I groan in protest when Steven wants to make it to his very flexible job by earlier than ten o’clock. We might have had whiskey-soaked sex the previous night, but now I want nothing to do with him. Together on-and-off for more than ten years, we’ve ceased to become a romantic couple. Now he is merely my co-parent, my roommate, my financial support, and my enabler.
I muddle through the day trying to be the best mother I can even though my hands shake as I guide spoons towards my son’s mouth and I have to listen to him wail in protest when I must run to the bathroom again with digestive issues. When you don’t have a gallbladder, and your liver is constantly busy trying to process toxins, the bile needs somewhere to go. Forgive the unpleasant image, but it’s something I’ve dealt with every single day for nearly a year.
I never vomit, and I rarely have headaches. But my body temperature is irregular; I have hot flashes at thirty-three. I can’t eat regular-sized meals anymore, and I’m very particular about what foods I can tolerate during the day – often chicken soup or broth is all I can manage. I’m always tired; I don’t sleep so much as become unconscious for five or six hours a night. My body is worn down. I lose my breath easily. I have coughing fits from the permanent lodge of mucus in my chest. I’m overweight, not from eating but from liquid calories. My muscles ache, and I struggle to heave my 25-pound child into my arms.
I say a few things on Facebook, read aloud and talk cheerily to my son, and spend the day lonely, wanting a drink, aching for something better. I don’t know how to regain the joy I used to have.
When I was twenty-one, I rarely drank. I wasn’t a partier. I was beautiful, thin, and blonde. I worked, and went to classes, and danced, and sang, and laughed, and threw Frisbees and footballs, and rollerbladed, and painted my fingernails, and flirted, and kissed, and was always surrounded by friends. I didn’t need to drink. Life itself was enough.
At twenty-two, I met Steven. It wasn’t his fault. I didn’t become an alcoholic because of him. The shitty fact is, it was likely always in my brain chemistry to become an addict. They run rampant on both sides of my family. It was always there, waiting. All it took was a relationship with a “social drinker” to change my attitude about alcohol. I saw that it made me freer, bolder, less shy and anxious, relaxed, witty, more fun. And from that point on, it took over my life.
By twenty-five, I was doing shots before going in to work my job as a jewelry seller at K-mart. By twenty-seven, a counselor told me to go to AA. By twenty-eight, I was drinking at every family gathering, every social function, every holiday, and often alone. By twenty-nine, I was living back at home with my parents, drinking secretly up in my childhood bedroom every single night.
I’m not even sure how my body was even healthy enough, at age thirty-one, to conceive a child. And here I have to apologize to the infertile couples who are hating me – I know I didn’t deserve him. I didn’t deserve a beautiful, full-term, perfectly healthy son. I did not drink after discovering I was going to be a mother, but I drank during the first weeks before I knew he existed and worried throughout the pregnancy, turning to Google countless times trying to determine how much damage I might have done. The answers were frightening. I almost expected a miscarriage throughout the first trimester, but my son was a strong one from the start. I felt him astonishingly early for a first-timer. Later, he kicked me with such force I almost expected him to emerge alien-style from my belly. He kicked until he broke the amniotic sac, forcing his birth five days before my scheduled induction.
He was pink, and wailing, and alert, and utterly perfect. The only issue was that he had breathed in some of the amniotic fluid and needed to be suctioned. I was stunned at my new role, but I loved my boy and wanted to protect him with a fierceness I’d never known before.
I had hoped motherhood would be enough motivation to keep me sober.
It wasn’t. By the time he was three months old, I was back to nightly drinking.
When I’m sober, my brain is my worst enemy. It prevents me from sleeping peacefully. It tells me what a failure I am, what a mess I’ve made of my life. It regrets everything I missed out on when I was younger. It berates me for being fat, ugly, socially awkward, useless. It panics about the future. It worries about money, my health, my wasted potential.
To quiet it, I drink.
Nobody but Steven knows. It’s my secret. We live hundreds of miles from our families. We have no friends in our current location. It’s just us, estranged partners struggling to raise an energetic, happy, rambunctious almost-toddler. He works long hours, and after the baby goes to bed, I’m alone. In my rocking chair, with a drink at my side.

 

Parenting Is Not A Competition

In kindergarten, my daughter was singled out by her “crazy old lady/about to retire” teacher who said Maddie was “very inattentive and probably needed to be evaluated for ADD.”

I was all, “this women has a whole SEVEN kids to look after with a damn assistant!  She obviously is lacking and totally sucks at life to not be able to handle SEVEN kids and she’s the one who needs to be evaluated. “

Unable to even fathom such a thing for my perfect little princess, I took her out of the expensive private school and started first grade in the public school. The local school a few blocks away is really new and great and shiny!

First grade began, and she seemed to be doing well until our first Parent/Teacher conference. Once again, ADD was brought up by her very young, energetic teacher.

Again, I couldn’t wrap my brain around this possibility. My daughter was so caring and sweet and there was no way in living hell there was something wrong with her!

But I relented, and took her to see the pediatrician armed with a heavy dose of internet literature regarding the scary ADD possibility.  What I didn’t expect was to identify with most of the symptoms listed on the checklist.

So, with a heavy heart, I accepted that yes, my little angel was indeed struggling in school.  She was beginning to show signs of a low self-esteem as a result of her poor behavior.  She was showing the insensitiveness that comes with a child with ADD.  She was unable to see how others may feel. She was pretty self-centered.

I waved my White Flag and tried to stop feeling sorry for myself or guilty for something I could have done to prevent this from happening.  I gave up the idea that my daughter would be a stellar student and be the top of her class.  I mourned (seriously GRIEVED) the possibilities I had built up all through her early years of how magnificent she would surely be.  I shed real tears and experienced a heartbreak that I didn’t think was possible.

I felt extremely defeated until I buckled down and became her advocate. I fought long and hard to get her school to become involved in her special education program that would work for her. I went full speed ahead with every behavior modification the school could provide that might make a sliver of a difference.

Over the years, she was given an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) with in-school modifications for test-taking and a more thorough explanation for her assignments.  Her seat was moved in order to minimize distractions and although she continued to struggle, she was really improving.

Along with the modifications, we began trying medication.  I was overjoyed when we finally found one that really helped her without the harsh side effects.  This process was heartbreaking, but we found the one that works for her and for this I am grateful.

So now, here we are in the fifth grade.  Report card comes home and finally there are mostly B’s on it. There are two C’s, but compared to last year when she was mostly C’s and D’s this was such an amazing moment for me and her to see everything we were doing was paying off!

I was so excited that I wanted to dance around the room; this was not something that I am used to.  This was something that has taken so long. I didn’t even it was possible to see a report card such as the one she got today.

After saying all of this, maybe you can understand why, after sharing with you my pure bliss, I would be upset when you complain to me, a whopping two minutes later, about the one B your daughter received on her report card when every other grade was an A.  How I got frustrated, left the room and didn’t want to show you my daughter’s report card.

I do not make this a competition, as you so rudely accused me of.  I would never have those sort of expectations for my daughter after every hurdle we have been through to get her to this point.  That would just be unrealistic.

I know that your daughter is two years younger than mine and is enrolled in all advanced math and reading classes.  I know that she is a very bright little girl and I would never ever try to diminish that!  But I had a happy moment and you just don’t understand how complaining about that one B would make me feel. Here I was rejoicing all the B’s that were on Maddie’s report card and you were looking down on that very same grade; the one flaw on your daughter’s perfect grades.

So, just when I think we know everything about each other I suppose you don’t really know the entire story of the ADD path.  And I don’t even know how to make you understand.

When you told me I was turning it in to a competition, it felt like a slap in my face.  It showed me that your perception of me is way off.  So now what?  How do I make this better?  After three and half years together, I love you.  But I need you to be on my team with this.  Not accuse me of a competition.

I wanted you to jump up and down with me and celebrate this victory.

Water And Strangers

When I was a little boy, only around four or five years old, we lived near a river in Colorado. My brothers and sister would swim in the river, sometimes diving off the bridge that was near our home. In order to keep me away from the river, my mother told me that there were alligators living in the water. Okay ma, there are alligators in the river.

We would take my dad’s work clothing into town to the laundromat. Now, I remember this day very clearly. We pulled up in our old blue truck, my Orange Crush clutched in my little hands. The day was warm and clear. Next to our parking spot was another truck with a very old man in the driver’s seat. As he got out, I noticed that he was missing an arm. I think I asked my mom why the man’s arm was gone. She said, “Well, that’s what happens to people who go swimming in the river.” I was shocked by this.

A few days, perhaps weeks went by, and mom decided that we would go swimming with my brothers and sister. She’d got a float tube for me. I don’t really remember much about the lead up, but as they pushed me out into the river, I remember clearly that I was terrified. I screamed and yelled to be taken back to shore. I remember that they were laughing as they took me back to the bank of the river.

I love the water, but to this day, if I’m in a river or lake, I can only swim for so long before feelings of panic begin to build up.

My mother, to this day, is terrified of strangers. I remember the first trip I went on with my parents to a big city. I was just ten or so. I was excited and curious, peering about at all the people, buildings and busy streets. As we pulled up to an intersection, the car next to us had some Hispanic people inside. My mother noticed that I was looking at them. She said, in all seriousness, “Don’t make eye contact with them! They will shoot us if you do!” This theme is recurrent in my childhood. Strangers are bad. Period.

Years ago, I asked my mom why she told me that story about the alligators. I explained that I couldn’t swim for more than ten or fifteen minutes at a time without anxiety. She laughed, saying that she was just keeping her little boy safe. I really didn’t know what to say about that. I never really asked any more questions about it.

I have been deconstructing my upbringing, trying to find the ‘roots,’ as it were, to my problems. When describing my childhood to people, I would say that my parents left me to my own devices for the most part, making it sound as if I was afforded some kind of special privilege. Shedding the light of my current knowledge onto the events of my childhood, I was rather shocked to find that I was being neglected. I never really thought about it in quite that way, but it was quite the shock when I realized that.

Not that I blame them too much. They did what we all do – the best we know how. Apparently, the best my mother knew was to saddle her children with neuroses. The litany of fright that my mother used as a catechism to ward off harm, simply made it extraordinarily difficult for me to make any friends. After all, making eye contact could be deadly.

I make a conscious effort to not instill irrational fears into my children. Caution and skepticism about strangers, yes. Strangers as a likely source of murder, no. Caution and respect for water, yes. The lurking places of alligators …well, not where I live.

People, please don’t make your kids scared of life. The things that kids get from the adults in their lives, stick with them, right or wrong. We are omnipotent and omniscient to them. Guide them with wisdom, not fear!