I’ve been a bit overwhelmed lately by family issues. It is quite interesting to me how we, as people, adapt our behavior to our environment. In 10 short years, I have transformed from a person who couldn’t stand the sound of a child’s voice to one whose world revolves around her children. I have two biological children and three more whom I’ve met through my university job . All five call me Mom (or “Mama Bear”) and there is little difference between the love that I feel for each of them.
Each of the five presents a different set of challenges. The older ones are self-sufficient and my interaction with them simply provides them with emotional support and guidance as they navigate the uncertainties of life that all young people must face. My youngest (“the baby”) is all boy. He is bright and entertaining and is not much different than a typical five-year-old. He gets into mischief at school a bit more than we would like, but it is typically harmless and occasionally comical. For example, last week he got into trouble for dancing during ‘rest time’. When I asked him about it he exclaimed “Mommy, the music just GOT to me!” What do you say to that?
It is the elder of the two little ones that presents the most challenges. Ever since he was two-years-old we knew there was something different about him. When it came to discipline, he responded only to logic. That is, “Because I said so” never worked, spanking never worked, and “find out for yourself what will happen” certainly never worked. We had to explain why one behavior was better than another and the consequences of the bad behavior. He has never (as far as I can remember) engaged in make-believe play. He never made up stories about characters or had an imaginary friend. Creativity and imagination has never been his strong suit. If you ask him about his Halloween costume, he would tell you that he is a REAL football player – or even name a specific player – because football players are real and not made up. He needs order and routine and needs help breaking tasks into smaller pieces so that they aren’t so overwhelming. He is a walking encyclopedia. He can recite facts and figures about sports and animals that will make your head spin. He becomes quite agitated when those around him do not follow rules and is beside himself if those rule-breakers are not swiftly and severely reprimanded for their actions. He loves it when I blog about him because he needs concrete reminders of how much I love him. Those things are all quite manageable, but when he started having difficulty in school only in certain areas, we wondered if there was something more going on. Thanks to wonderful readers of my blog, we were able to connect with a school psychologist who tested him for Attention Deficit Disorder and the presence of a learning disability. There was no evidence of either, but his test results did show that something was amiss. While he excels in areas based on rote memorization and use of vocabulary, he struggles with issues of sequential processing or really any type of processing that requires manipulatives of any type (blocks, writing, etc.). The psychologist explained it as a “brain hiccup” that is affecting his ability to process information in any way that requires the use of motor skills. This makes math a nightmare these days. There are many more therapists and pathologists in his future and because we are told that his problem relates to the unique way his brain functions and that problem manifests itself in very specific ways, I have begun to think that he might suffer from Asperger’s Syndrome – a disorder related to autism.
If I Could Do Anything . . .
If I could do anything, I would fix my little boy. I would turn on the ‘lightbulb’ that suddenly demystifies mathematics and helps him to see the beauty and wonder of the world of numbers. I would snap my fingers so that he could see every action as a series of sequential processes and that by focusing on just one process at a time, he can accomplish great things. I would empower him with the social skills to manage even the trickiest of social settings so that everyone can see him the way I see him — as a sweet and truly special little boy. Because I do not have ‘magical mom powers’ these things are not possible. Instead, all I can do is love him unconditionally, guide him unwaveringly and teach him how to navigate a world that doesn’t always operate in ways that make sense to him. The trouble is that all of this takes a tremendous amount of time, patience and planning. It seems that nearly every time I fail to show him enough of any of these, we experience a ‘meltdown’ that leaves us both saddened and exhausted. I wonder sometimes if I should just chuck the whole ‘career thing’ and stay at home to focus on him. Surely there is something that I could do just between the hours of 8 AM and 3 PM when he is at school, right? Could we afford to do that? As I mentioned in an interview for this article, this is a question that many families have struggled to answer for reasons like mine or due to job loss. In our case, that would take some major budget cuts and downsizing that I’m not sure any of us want to endure right now. I guess that means that we will continue to juggle our competing responsibilities. Fortunately, I am blessed with a wonderful partner in all of this. We work while the children are at school and then again when they sleep. How lucky we are to have such flexibility! If I could do anything, I would be the best mom I can to all of my children given the budget constraints that I face and hope for the best for them. Isn’t that all any of us can do?