Monday, June 30, 2008

In memory

Today is (still) June 30. It's on this day 20 years ago that my sister Karen finally died. She had been deeply comatose for 19 months, the result of a combination of diabetic complications of pregnancy, preeclampsia, and a c-section that went wrong when general anesthesia was attempted. My niece was delivered at 32 weeks. She was in the NICU for a month and went on to develop beautifully into the person she is now.

The timing of her death raised complications. There was a lawsuit pending, and this necessitated an autopsy. Between the weekend and the fourth of July holiday her body would not be released to us for several days. So we had to wait until July 5 for her funeral. My father's younger brother found himself playing host to an onslaught of people for many hot southern California days: my parents, my two brothers and I, Karen's husband and daughter, my dad's parents, and my dad's younger sister with her husband and their three daughters, my cousins. The house was really too small to accommodate 14 guests, and my uncle's job was selling RV's, so he parked one on the street in front of his house.

I can fault my family for many things, but we were so very good to each other then, in a time where the strain of waiting could easily have caused flares. I'm very proud of us, how we took care of each other. We rose to the occasion and were able to give the best of our selves.

When I visit my niece in southern Calif my parents are usually there too. We go to the cemetery to visit my sister's grave. It's very bittersweet to see someone so young so at home and at ease in a cemetery. She immediately sets herself to pulling any weeds that have encroached on the marker, casually asks if we mind if she goes and visits some of the other 'residents' with whom she's on a first name basis.

Twenty years.

Swimming Lessons

Today is week 2 of daily swim lessons for Scott.
I think his level of progress at this point in his life as compared with Connor's may highlight the extent to which he is hampered by attention issues. This even in accounting for the normal differences of temperaments and abilities in siblings.

One of the tasks I set myself is to learn more about ADHD, and the nature of the diagnosis. He scored high on a behavior checklist. So is a diagnosis confirmed? I need to consider whether it would be useful to have the consultation of a child psychologist, or perhaps a neuropsychiatrist. Then I need to find out if our medical insurance will cover such a consult. I can't remember, I never can remember, our password for our online account to verify coverage. It's amazing what an obstacle this can be. This means I need to steel myself for a lengthy time on hold. I need to make sure the boys are occupied and don't require my attention. I need refreshments, fortifications. I need to get my ducks in a row for questions to ask once someone comes on the line. When my boys are occupied I'm reluctant to let that window pass doing chores. I want to be blogging, or writing in my journal, catching up on the news. So when there is a good opportunity to take care of phone-calls-for-information, that is in conflict with my good opportunity for some Time For Myself.

Another task I've set for myself is to look into medication. His pediatrician says there are three classes: the "straterra's", the "ritalin's" and the "adderalls". Nice that there are only three. I need to examine the mechanisms of how they work, the positives and drawbacks, the potential side effects. I need to seek out blogs of parents of children with the diagnosis and receive the wisdom of their experience. I need to talk with friends I know who are teachers.

With schools on their summer vacation I've lapsed in my resolve to accumulate this knowledge so I have a footing to base some decisions on. I've given myself a break since the need is less apparent, and less urgent, with him out of school.

Interesting how predictable it is that mentioning Scott having attention issues will elicit the admonition: "Don't medicate him!" My feeling is that it doesn't serve Scott well to oppose medicating out of ideology--it is a requirement that I research it first and see where the information takes me. If I'm persuaded that medication is the best route for Scott, then he shall have it.

When Connor was nearly 7 he was jumping off the high dive at our local pool in St. Louis. He was independent, safe to wander the pool grounds at will. He had had the skills for a year to swim in the deep end of the pool.

Scott, at nearly 7 is repeating his second level of swim classes. No matter how many times he is reminded he is not able to bring his arms out of the water in a full circle for more than about 3 cycles. He can't remember to keep his tummy up and his chin back when on his back. He is fascinated with how well he can see underwater when he has the goggles on, and so often when the teacher is talking he has his head underwater, looking around. Given the person that he is, it seems he requires a narrow set of circumstances where he can learn, and these are not present in this class. His teacher is excellent, easy-going and flexible, which is a huge plus. However, there is a child who requires much hand-holding and nurturing or she will dissolve into tears. A good deal of class time was spent on day 2 in such hand-holding. Another circumstance that isn't favorable is the proximity of another active, impulsive boy. Scott gravitates toward these children, and they toward him. Then they form a volatile combination because their attention becomes fixed on each other. Their priority is not to learn from the teacher: it is to best each other. So while the teacher is talking they are jockeying for position. Rather than swim across the pool, they watch the other's progress. If the other is pulling ahead, they will stand and leap forward in order to pass the other, leapfrogging across the pool in this way. It is all about winning. If one is behind he will claim he is 'not playing' as the other gloats over his 'victory.' If the teacher reprimands one, the other will taunt, "HA-ha!" When the teacher is holding the needy child's hand, reassuring, cajoling, the boys are splashing water at each other, jostling, getting reprimanded.

I can see where other children in the group (the rest are girls) have made the connection between what they do with their bodies and how that propels them across the water. I can see they are beginning to build on this and refine it; how they are gaining mastery. I can see how Scott has not yet made that connection of how to make his body engage with the water and pull him through, and how he can enhance this.

That was my reminder today that I need to follow through on my goals to get the information I need to make some decisions in the attention arena. Back to the Harrison Bergeron analogy--assuming that what for most of us would be easily ignorable extraneous input is equivalent to the jarring alarms and interruptions for a person with ADHD, reducing or removing such alarms would be very welcome for a person trying to think. Perhaps medication does just that. Perhaps the greater wrong would be in withholding something that can mute the strength of distraction.

I also recommended to Lizzie, his teacher, that she put as many girls between these boys as possible.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

As long as I'm sitting here idling...

Something about Mrs. Spit's latest post has inspired me to do some taking stock. I suppose that's a useful action to take when stalled, take inventory of what has happened to get me to the point where I'm stuck. Maybe a consolidated perspective can make some sort of jump-starting possible. At the very least it can help pass the time.

It was only upon further reflection last week that Gary's mom taking his picture against his will became remarkable. I've had a lifetime of people imposing their wills, and wondering if there was something wrong with me for my feelings of objection: "Don't take things so seriously", "it was nothing", "it's such a little thing", "you're selfish". Her behavior at Connor's birthday dinner once would have been well within the range of 'normal' for me--the only thing I would have considered was if I was wrong for being critical of her for it.

Though the act of taking the picture was seemingly minor (and the social contract is that Gary's obligated to dismiss it as such), at its core the message was, "it's not about what you want, it's about what I want."

It occurred to me that this fits into the bigger picture I've been working about differentiation and narcissism, and a new word (courtesy of Sharon), "perspective".

I see the parallel between what Gary's mom did to him, and what Gary does to me: if Gary, from Darlene's perspective is only an extension of her will and she therefore is free to overrule his objections, then I too have been seen as an extension of Gary's.

There are consequences to this. First, any conflict is an affront, as if a part of his own body has mutinied, when I disagree. Resentment and a sense of betrayal makes perfect sense from Gary's perspective. The idea of negotiation doesn't make sense in this context because 'conflict resolution' presupposes a party of at least two, and in this perspective there is only one.

What this has looked like from my perspective is that we are not good partners in accomplishing something, from carrying a table through a doorway, to planning a trip, to raising children. From my perspective I see many points where consensus, and thus discussion, and if necessary, negotiation are needed...Gary has no patience with this; he just wants it DONE. From my perspective it looks as if he's expecting me to know his mind without his having to state it; from his, I am an extension of his mind, so he shouldn't have to state it. What's remarkable is through countless encounters that end badly, he has never examined this.

My own background made me susceptible, so that I held my own objections in suspicion (the fact that I had objections seemed evidence of my own character flaws). I suppose in a way it felt normal to live like that.

And, this is what I've been coming to realize is the reason I've been considering ending this marriage. Because we're rendered unable to function as a couple in using the most important tool: communication to resolve misunderstanding, negotiate differences of opinion, and healing rifts. And so we're choking in the accumulation of years of unresolved resentment which lowers the threshold for causes of fresh incoming nearly every day.

If we can't function as a couple then the options diminish. Either I erase myself and find a way to become a more perfect instrument of his will or I leave.

The situation is definitely far more abstract than if he were physically abusive, an alcoholic, or compulsive gambler. Putting aside the inevitable opinions of my parents that there is no valid reason to end a marriage with young children in the absence of overt abuse is the more personal question as to the nature of harm being done to them.

Though both Gary and I love the boys, between us we can't provide an environment that has the conditions necessary for love to be a tangible atmospheric ingredient. It seems analogous to living next to a stagnant pond, as opposed to a flowing river.

Which will do more harm? Stay in chronic but 'stable' unhappiness, or undergo the trauma of radical change.

{Years ago my high school literature teacher read a story to the class by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. It's a short story called "Harrison Bergeron". In the story the goal of an 'equalized' society has been realized. People who are exceptionally beautiful must wear masks; athletes, dancers, or others who move gracefully are encumbered by weights and manacles. Brilliant thinkers must wear headphones that every few minutes emit loud jarring discordant sounds. Since my children have been old enough to locomote and talk I've often thought of the parallel of the thinkers with the headphones. I'm surrounded by children and if I'm not being interrupted I'm anticipating it...I can go no further with this thread}

Monday, June 23, 2008


Mind is blank. Not much to say. Don't know if I'm shell-shocked by kids, dismayed about current events (more talk about war on Iran before this administration quits its office, talk of nuclear proliferation in the form of blueprints on a smuggler group's laptop) and anxiety about food shortage. Sometimes feeling that humankind is on an island that is sinking and we're all scrambling to get closer to the top as more and more submerges. Those of us in rich countries get to breathe a little longer before the top disappears.

Or maybe I'm in one of those empty places between the spokes that helps define the wheel, the empty spot in a poem that gives it meter.

In any of the cases...a great dispirited yuck.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Today is Connor's 11th birthday.

His big gift was "Guitar Hero" for the Wii, which was his present last year. I can hear the strains of 'Slow Ride' from downstairs, and figure I'll probably be drafted into a 'guitar' battle before much time has passed. I actually did try it (to "Slow Ride", the easiest of the pieces) and felt almost as if I was pulled into a dance, or an amusement park ride. I felt like a rock star!

Today was also a day that Gary got a basal cell lesion excised from his cheek. He was gone a few hours this morning and came home sporting a rather bulky bandage on his face. By the time we were going to a local pizza party for a small family celebration Gary was fading a little, tuckered.

We met his mother there.

We had our meal and Connor opened his gift from her (he'd already wheedled us into letting him open his from us earlier in the day.) She realized when his gifts were open that she'd forgotten to take his picture. So she shot one and was getting into position to take one with Gary and Connor.

Gary said, "No pictures." (He tends to be self-conscious about blemishes on his face; asked me to be the one who went to the counter to do the ordering and such.) She said, "why not?" He said, "I don't want to be in any pictures." She said, "I'm going to shoot it from this side and your bandage won't even be in it." He said, "I just don't want to be in a picture."

She said, "It isn't for you. It's for me." She said, "Tough tarts." And, she took the picture. I could not believe it. She really believed that the fact that she wasn't going to give him the photo trumped his wish to not have a picture taken of him. I'll bet she doesn't believe there was anything at all wrong in what she did.

I suppose this sheds some light in what I've recently realized about Gary and differentiation.

Excuse me, I've got a guitar to play...

Monday, June 16, 2008

First day of the first week...

...of the first month of the summer break. (12 weeks of bliss for them, something less for me)

Connor has a friend over. Scott wants to join in. Actually, the older boys are fairly tolerant of him, but I sense this is fragile and could deteriorate. It's a climate I find it hard to let down in to do some exploratory writing and Deep Thinking.

I can't really blame Connor. I think I was less tolerant of my sister who was 2 1/2 years younger than me.

The four year spread is a bit of a gulf, though, especially since Scott is a young 6.99, and Connor's an average 10.999999. When Scott has friends over they tend to gravitate toward Connor (which doesn't particularly thrill Connor) and Scott ends up odd-one-out. As someone who can't think much beyond the planning and coordinating of the next meal, coordinating complementary play dates seems like a daunting mental exercise.

In fact, my mind is blank before the enormity of it all.

Hopefully I'll find some sea legs soon so I can string a couple of consecutive thoughts together.


Enough time has passed since writing that last sentence to give me doubt if I ever will again.

Hopefully this gets better.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Be nice now.

I was a driver for the OMSI field trip.

And I hated it. (Good things that came from it: A new invention. A "Loud-o-meter" which can be mounted from the ceilings of mini-vans in dvd position--yeah, just make softwear that an existing dvd can run. It could be instant feedback for 4 kids in the back of a van, an objective visual measure of just how loud too loud is. It's a benefit to the kids as well as the adults, protecting them from being unfairly disciplined if their noise level is in fact below a certain threshold but the adult's has shifted so even a whisper is too loud. Although I will admit that fairness to the kids is not what motivates me here. In fact, as I took refuge in my fantasy of such a device while the waves of sound crashed over me like a rogue sneaker from the ocean, my thoughts imagined darker things that went far beyond visual feedback. How about electrical shocks? Mmmmm, yelps, then silence......) (I've had other inventive ideas while driving children around in vans. I still don't understand why it isn't standard equipment to have a soundproof window that can descend at the touch of a button between the driver's row and the region behind. Why not tender neck massagers that automatically appear when the window goes down. Oh, but that's extreme. What's really necessary are little fur-covered cuffs that would anchor little arms and legs to seats so they can't beat each other up when they realize their screeches are impotent. Those could appear concurrent with the window's descent.)

Oh yeah. Let's see, high points of OMSI trip. There had to be a theme. Teacher Billy passed out a scavenger hunt list of things they were to accomplish while there; things like draw or write about a chemistry experiment they did, or a physics experiment...the name of a dinosaur from Oregon, discoveries they had made. (I hate scavenger hunts.) My group (The Cinnamon Pterodactyls") fragmented nearly immediately: two second grade girls and the Scott/Felix duo. The girls had nothing in common with the boys and never wanted to be doing the same thing at the same time. The boys, as is customary, started off well, but degenerated toward the end into competitions that were fiercely important to them, ludicrous to me. There were several incarnations of this scenario: in the 'earthquake house' where they can push buttons to experience a 5.8 scale earthquake, or a 6.8. All to the tune of Carole King's song "I Feel the Earth Move". Felix wants to push 5.8. Scott wants to push 6.8. I want them to leave and move on to the next thing--I'd already abandoned the scavenger hunt. Both of them have dug in so whoever is the last one to touch the button has 'won'. So neither of them want to move away from the button because that means the other one will get to touch it last. I want to knock their heads together and when I finally have to put my hands on them physically to remove them from the house it's with a conscious effort to not close my hand beyond neutral pressure.

But this is all beside the point. The main point is the questions that arose from my arse-whuppin' yesterday from my cuz. What was the seat of my angst about putting my needs ahead of others? That was kind of the crux of the dilemma both about attending the moving up ceremony and driving (or not) for the field trip.

Is it because I believe I'm not entitled to meet my own needs and because I fear the opinions of others that I even had to think about it? Where is my opinion about my own honorability entwined or entangled with that of others (or, to complicate it even further, with my perception of others' opinions?)?

In the case of the ceremony, though I joked and kind of implied that I went to Felix's dad for 'permission' to not attend, it was actually more nuanced than that. Having not been part of the school last year what wasn't clear to me was the weight the culture of this classroom gives to such rituals. Is this ceremony about giving respect to change and honoring the accomplishment of these young students and thus is something I should seriously consider suspending my personal comfort to add my presence to? Is this something that overall is of benefit to the classroom culture and to Scott? Martin's response told me that indeed, this is that sort of event--not that he was telling me I should attend, but his decision to postpone his other plans told me there was something here to respect. It wasn't the answer I wanted, but it seemed expedient to bow to it, setting aside all consideration of "adequate" parenting.

Driving for the field trip was a more difficult matter because it's about finding that balance between contributing adequately to a community and sponging off the group.

A few weeks ago our NPR station had its quarterly fundraiser. As part of their attempt to awaken the conscience, they used "The Pizza Analogy": A group goes out for pizza regularly. Occasionally someone doesn't have money and the group absorbs that person's expenses. Ideally in a situation of goodwill in that community this situation of short-term inequity works out in the long run--eventually he/she too will carry someone at another time who happens to be short of a little change. But what happens if someone always takes, never contributes? (We wouldn't want to be that person, would we?)

In the classroom I don't think a field trip has ever had to be canceled because there weren't enough drivers. At least this hasn't happened since Scott & I joined the school community in January. I've noticed that the sign-up lists often remain blank until the very day of the trip, and then someone always comes forward. I think of the age-old story of the grasshopper and the ants, the workers and the players. The grasshopper might be vindicated for his playing when the winter comes because 'something comes through' just as he 'knew it would'. But generally the 'something has come through' because some ant had stepped up and done his job. I suppose the story of Mary and Martha and the dinner where Jesus was the guest of honor is a version of the grasshopper/ant story.

I'm still trying to negotiate where that line is where I can rely on the collective work of the community to carry me for a while, and where I need to be a contributer. I think some people deal with that tension by always contributing and never taking...some seem to feel no shame at all in always receiving. It seems there's an act of trust required from everybody to make it all work harmoniously--when giving to give wholeheartedly, when receiving to receive wholeheartedly, and to trust that all are doing their best and it will indeed be evened out in the end.

The 'shame' part was my estimation of myself in trying to get out of driving without having to be asked and without having to face in myself the question of whether it was honorable to say no this time. That involved the skulking behavior in the classroom, avoiding Billy's eye, keeping distance between him and me in an effort to avoid the question.

Still, how much of that is based on my own judgment of what's honorable ("I should be giving Billy a clear, proactive answer") and what I judge his judgment of me is. Part of this is based on a fear that he can see that I am not being my best self in trying to avoid committing myself.

In the end, is it really possible to separate one's self-estimation from that of the judgment of others? Because as I try to dissect this, there seems to be no level where I can separate feeling shame about trying to not deal directly with this request is connected with a sense of how the Other judges it. No matter how deep I go, there does seem to be a reciprocal relationship in matters of honor between Self and Other that I'm not sure can be separated entirely.

I guess I'm going to have to think about it some more.


Returned briefly to update:

Had the stakes been higher I might have leaned more toward outright refusal. I wasn't going to get a full day at home alone anyway. Wednesday ordinarily is a volunteer day with me at the various schools from around 11 all the way until 3 or else driving between. I was going to have to fetch Connor from his friend's house somewhere in there too, so it's not like I was passing on a full-monty-alone day. Had it been a full-monty-alone day I'd be giving up, I may have been more willing to endure whatever it took to preserve it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I forgot to say yesterday...

...that I think it would have been less uncomfortable to have gone ahead and dragged my belly through the mud.

There's a field trip to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry tomorrow, Wednesday. Connor will be out of school, but will be spending Tuesday night with a friend. Wednesday thus will be My Last Day Alone.

With Monday's experience fresh, would it really be intolerable to scrape belly and find a way to avoid being asked to be a driver?

Let's see, I can have a quiet morning at home blogging peacefully or writing in my diary, OR I can drive a vanload of shouting 5--7 year olds through heavily trafficked streets, jockey for a parking space, shepherd the minions through a busy parking lot and then keep track of them in a space crawling with people. The price for option number 1, the shame of avoiding the teacher's eyes, keeping space between us from closing, and slinking out the door before he can talk to me.

I hate these kinds of choices!

Monday, June 9, 2008

More Self Pity

Felix's dad gave me a level look: "Good mom" he said without a trace of irony.

But he's wrong. With the attitude I had I shouldn't have shown up. I was a very Very Bad Mom.

A better attitude would have gotten me through:

The interminable readings of the 5 children who had published their own works: too-soft reading voices, losing their place, not able to read their own writing, trailing off and starting over. Around me a cacophony of cell phones playing, smaller children's spontaneous spoutings, feet drumming on chairs and floors. Scott's in my lap trying to plaster my face with wet kisses, perpetually sliding down my thighs and needing to be hiked up; kicking my shins as he squirms. The lap dance of the wiggles. And this is in the first 10 minutes. Then Billy passes out graduation hats for the actual moving up ceremony. So now I'm trying to avoid being poked in the eye with the corner of cardboard.

There are 20 kids in the class. 19 were of them out with a bout of chicken pox. Each child had to have something nice said about them. There were 5 kindergartners, then 5 first graders, 10 second graders. Once the younger kids were given their certificates they were at the edge of their attention spans and there were 10 more kids to go.

One of the kindergartners lost it first and the teacher requested one of the parents take him outside. Scott immediately wanted to go too. So I put on my coat to go out and help the parents.

Fortunately it was a wide sidewalk because it's a busy street and they were bursting with pent-up energy. (They'd had to walk a substantial number of blocks to get there, so it's hard to know where that came from.) The store takes up nearly the entire block, and one side is bounded by a street that isn't obviously a street. It looks more like a driveway, or an alleyway, but I noted a stop sign. So I was uneasy when the children would hurtle themselves in that direction. I stationed myself by a doorway and told them that this was their boundary--to not go beyond that. Then I had to enforce it. Setting a boundary, of course inspires children to flirt with it and ultimately I feel a bit foolish at having to get literal about defending it. Here's where I reveal myself as pitbull parent. Of course they managed to get excessive enough outside to be disruptive inside, bending over and pretending to send jets of fart at each other. So back inside we had to go, to 'sit quietly on the couches at the back of the store'. Where they proceeded to torment each other to tears.

So, the ceremony dragged on an eternal half hour after the attention spans stretched, and broke, for the younger kids.

To complete the indignity of surrendering one of my very final days to myself, Gary got home from Asia yesterday and took today off. He wants to 'talk', and I want to be left alone to blog and recover.

If I had a better attitude I'd deserve a medal. If I had a better attitude I'd be happy with a medal. I'd rather have a mojito.

Self Pity

Life, is about to change. It's called Summer Vacation. Connor's last day is tomorrow. Scott's Friday.

Sorrow. For someone who is horribly selfish(cherishes) her time to herself, this is like facing famine. Miles to go before I sleep...

And the schools are trying to whittle the ends off of even these last few days.

Connor's teacher had some sort of 'award' ceremony on Friday. Hoping to be excused I asked Connor if he wanted me to attend. "Yeah, sure" he said off-handedly. Then, "Sure", as an afterthought.

The day was foreshortened anyway since Scott only has half days on Fridays, and there was going to be a potluck afterward and I had to make a dish. So that made it easier to surrender some time to go over to Connor's school for the 'award' only to find that I was a half hour early (Damn! Now I know it said 10:00 on the homework assignment.). I trudged back to the car. At least I'd thought to bring the i-pod and I was listening to an interesting interview with George Lakoff, author of "The Political Mind" (and an extremely long sub-title. The subtitles seem to keep getting longer and longer and longer). Caught in that odd crack between; by the time I'd drive home it would be time to turn around and head back.

I was one of 2 parents who attended that. Good mom.

So then Trillium school is having a 'moving up' ceremony today, Monday. It's at a beastly inconvenient time, 10:30 to 11:45--meaning an hour and a half to hang around if I stay in the area, or drive home for an hour before driving back. It's also a publishing party, held at a local women's bookstore. I'd figured it wasn't essential for me to go since 'moving up' implied to me that the 2nd graders who were 'graduating' to another room were the focus. Still, I couldn't dismiss it entirely, that nagging voice of conscience. So I called one of the parents, hoping for absolution.

Trillium school seems to attract a certain type. Free spirited kids, free-spirited parents. A prevalence of piercings, tattoos that you don't usually see around a school. The person I chose to absolve me of my responsibility is Felix's dad.

I've paused, for quite a little while, wasting precious battery time, because I've just realized that it appears I'm about to admit that because Felix's dad is heavily tattooed that he would have been the one to help me feel ok about skipping the 'ceremony'. Is that really what it is? I don't feel ok about that.

I called him, trying to gauge the temperature of this thing. Is this something that's kind of a big deal, part of the culture of the classroom that gives it more weight than what's apparent? He answered, "Well, no, it's not really mandatory so much...but I know that Felix would really dig it if I was there. I was going to go to Seattle, but then this thing kind of got sprung on me on Friday and I realized there weren't any trains that would get me back on I had to change my plans. Especially since I don't have Felix on Mondays..."

Awwwww, well the bar is definitely a lot lower now for me to crawl under to skip this. I'd be scraping my belly through the mud. Felix's dad is definitely a far better dad than I am a mom. Hopefully he will keep my guilty secret.

So here I am in a wifi place, with a soggy scone and lousy coffee and no electrical outlets for my dwindling battery, in fact it just went into red. And I have an hour to go.


Thursday, June 5, 2008


I'm six, and we just moved to Tempe, Arizona. It's June, with a few weeks left in the school year, so my parents enrolled me in Mrs. Miller's first grade class at Rural School.

I'm coloring at my desk, and a child has been called on. The teacher told me to stop coloring, saying, "We need to listen to x speak, not to your coloring." I thought she meant that I was coloring too loudly, and that I should be quieter. So I tried coloring more softly. A few minutes later the teacher swooped down and took my crayons away, and I was left humiliated and publicly disciplined.

If she's still alive and still remembers the incident she probably sees my behavior as an act of defiance and insubordination. I realized that then too, that she saw me as disobedient. I also knew then that she had misunderstood me, just as I had misunderstood her. But I had to wear the crown of shame: there wasn't an avenue for me to explain to her that she had made a mistake, just as I had.

Language is the medium through which humans interact and participate with one another. It is the means through which we take in what the Other has to offer. It's our means of expression, and our means of receiving.

When I was a child I believed I was stupid. I remember gazing in a mirror at age seven and singing my own version of "If I Only Had a Brain" from "The Wizard of Oz" (my favorite movie): "I already have a brain, I already have a heart...if I only was smart."

I couldn't understand math, and I often had misunderstandings with people like the story above.

I've noticed with Scott that he seems to not understand what is expected from him in school...not just from the teacher, but from his peers. He's been receiving speech and language services since before he turned 3. Speech delay and articulation were the identified issues. At his IEP meeting in April the speech therapist said that goals for intelligibility had largely been met, but there was an area he wanted to investigate further, his language skills, the ability to receive and communicate meaning.

I think elsewhere in this blog I've mentioned that Scott's classroom behavior has been problematic. It was what I'd hoped would be resolved by moving him to a school and classroom that was more flexible and age-appropriate in its expectations of 5 and 6 year old behavior. I was dismayed to realize that this was not something that a friendlier venue would resolve and his behavior continued to be a problem. I was glad to see that the adults around him didn't dismiss his behavior as a moral-character/defiance issue but looked deeper and understood its roots seemed to be in his not engaging with either the culture of classroom or the material. Hence the language evaluation by the speech therapist. I got the results Tuesday.

And I'm stunned.

First, there's an irony in that his classroom demeanor has improved a great deal over the past month. Disruption is occurring in isolated incidents now rather than defining his days. I suppose that's largely a function of settling into this new and different setting and finding a comfort level with the teacher.

The irony is that from the results of the testing, it looks like his skills at language are so low that he must be taking in very little to engage him within this format. He's like a member of a litter who is feeding beside his littermates, but he lacks an enzyme that allows him to digest, or to absorb what he has digested. So while the other children gain 'weight', a large amount of knowledge is passing through and out of him without being usable--he's just not assimilating it.
He scored in the 2nd percentile for overall language skills for his age group.

I sad for him. How he is able to spend 6 hours a day in a setting that is providing him with so little to meaningfully engage him without totally acting out and misbehaving is beyond me. I suppose it's a measure of how nurturing this environment really is and how accepting it is of diverse learning styles...but it's also a measure of his own ability to adapt himself and sustain himself even when there's not a lot to interest him that's interesting the majority of children around him. He's finding something to keep himself calm and largely centered, but he's not getting the really nutrient-rich content. It's right there, but there's something wrong in his 'up-take mechanism' and that's keeping him from accessing the rich stuff.

So now I have all of these questions to consider.

Is the AD/HD that Scott has been diagnosed with a symptom of his language issues, or is it a cause? If it's a cause, it makes a case for using medication; if it's a symptom it's less clear whether medication is indicated. But that depends on whether the language problem is a disability/impairment, or if it's an issue of maturation of the areas of the brain where language develops. If it's an issue of maturation, would medicating be akin to trying to hurry the final maturation of a butterfly's wings by blowing on them?

I'm keeping Scott at this school for at least another year because he will continue to be in Billy's classroom through 2nd grade. If he needs medication he shall have it, and to determine if he needs it I will use the following benchmarks: his learning, and his self esteem. If he is making gains in his learning at an appropriate pace and his self-regard remains high I think we'll hold off on medication. I think his teacher will be a good partner for me in assessing this.

To reference my own story again, I thought I was stupid when I was a kid. I managed to bump along as a fairly average student, and then one day I started to understand things. It was nearly that dramatic. All at once complex concepts were in my grasp. It happened in 7th grade, around the time I turned 12. It was noticeable enough that I was moved to an accelerated classroom.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


When I answered the question about kindness for the book tour last week, I told the story of women who had reached out to me after my miscarriage. The fall-out from that was to to pull out that diary to read.

Gary left on Friday for a business trip; Connor had a 2 night campout with his school. After some hesitation I took a gamble and gave in to Scott's pleas to have his buddy Felix spend the night Saturday.

{It could go either very well, with the two of them thoroughly occupying each other, or it could be a nightmare with my presence required moment-by-moment to negotiate their differences. Felix is a very complex child. He has an unfortunate combination of middle-aged seriousness and age-appropriate egocentrism. It can make him a bit of a prig; when children push back there's a world of hurt feelings to disappear into. And he feels things so strongly.

What was arguing for favorable conditions is that Connor would be away. When Connor gets self-righteous in his big brother way on Scott, Felix is known to pile on. Scott feels ganged up on and the ensuing fireworks are wearying.

The gamble paid off. When it's just Scott and Felix, Scott is quite flexible and Felix largely gets to pursue his vision of How Things Should Be unchallenged.}

While they played well I could occupy myself with my project. The year I was turning 50 what had been a vague idea turned into action: transcribe my diaries from age 14 to present. It was only later that I realized that this was a 'taking stock' project. I'd been working in sequence and had gone from the summer of 1971 through fall of 1980 when I decided to read from the period of my miscarriage. So I jumped out of sequence in the transcribing.

The miscarriage took place in a context, and the context was the deep unhappiness of the marriage I was in. It was 4 years old then, and I was thinking about divorce. In reading my writing from that period, I see that I could be writing it today. In other words, there has been no movement since then, 12 years later.

What's really odd is how thoroughly I'd forgotten I'd written that stuff. I suppose what accounts for that is that we signed up for a couples relationship class (PAIRS) that went for 5 months. It was an effort to enhance, or save our relationship. In the meantime I got pregnant again, with Connor.

I was looking at a type of blindness in my "Fish In the Sea" post. There's the blindness of undifferentiation, the blindness of not knowing what we don't know. And now I see there's also the blindness of distraction, and/or forgetting. Things must have improved with the PAIRS course, or I had reason to believe they were improving. In the meantime pregnancy and then early parenthood shook me from my moorings and in the context of my 'new normal' I didn't recognize the Same Old Problems. Or I didn't experience them the same way. Two years after Connor was born we moved to St. Louis, another distraction.

So when I read this old journal, I see that we've been walking in circles for the past 12 years emotionally. This feels like a dull ache.

Putting myself in my sons' place, I have an inkling what it would feel like to read this...the questions I might have about my very existence to know the 'field' between the male and female poles that created me.

Like fish in the sea.