Monday, October 27, 2008

More Woo-woo

Firmly embedded in late 50's and early 60's traditional-values Americana, I developed my own Calvinistic conception of Belief.

The notion was tinged with intimations of moral character. Belief was an exercise in will power, an allegiance to an idea. In the United States the idea was God-and-country. You were a good, upright, moral human being to the extent that you hewed to Belief.

I thought I was the only person who had this experience: I have a Belief, but thoughts and doubts arise; believing that I am good to the extent that I Believe, I have to defend Belief from thoughts, ideas, doubts that might 'threaten' Belief. In fact, doubts and countering ideas/thoughts are a Sign of Sin and must be resisted. To the extent that I can resist them I am a good person.

I thought I was the only person who noticed that the stronger the resistance I mounted to any threats, the stronger they became. Belief became an act of Will Power: the ability to resist ("overcome") assaults to Belief. I prayed for forgiveness for my lapses in Belief; I prayed for strength to overcome this evil in myself (I attributed this evil to the concept of Original Sin.). I got good at screening my mind to prevent disturbing doubts and thoughts from getting through. It took an awful lot of energy, but that seemed like something I was Supposed to Do.

I assumed that other people were also involved in protecting their Belief, and I assumed they were better at it than me: why else would I keep having heretical thoughts? So I never thought to ask anyone what it was like inside of them.

As I inched away from the Christianity of my youth, the notion of Faith and Belief was reincarnated in other forms. Christianity was replaced by a Belief in positivity, which meant that "negative" thoughts caused negative outcomes. "Good" thoughts would invite positive experiences into my life, negative thoughts the opposite. The battle for control over my thoughts continued. I tried to screen out negative emotions (fear, anger, jealousy) before they would become negative thoughts.

Some form of this has persisted to this day. It often goes like this: I want something; it looks like I might get it and I'm glad; I feel fear that I might not get it; I feel fear that I feel fear and I try to screen it out, fearful that I'm poisoning the well. It's nearly reflexive, the default to putting up a shield to screen out negative thoughts--try to prevent one side of my mind from knowing what the other side is doing, I suppose.

Today I saw Belief from a completely new perspective. It was like Magic Eyes, staring at a random pattern on a page, and suddenly a hologram emerges--a 3-D experience springs from a two dimensional page.

I've been musing over the hierarchy of levels, a sort of spiral of development that Ken Wilbur talks about (A Theory of Everything). It makes sense to me that there are 'levels' that transcend themselves by combining and becoming something else, something greater. At the purely physical level this manifests as atoms becoming molecules becoming substance becoming object becoming system supporting something greater yet (yeah, yeah, I didn't include subatomic particles, but they're part of the assumption and have their place at the deconstructed end of atoms).

It occurs to me today that Belief is the bridge between atoms and molecules, molecules and substance, and so on. It's not about willpower at all--it's already there. When we 'believe', we're merely allowing ourselves to rest into that bedrock. Belief is what sustains us when we are between 'stages'.

The child who wants something he's denied is stuck in that moment, or atoms. It is not so much the object she craves, but the satisfaction that the object will bring. Desire torments him, and he longs for release. At that moment, she fully believes that this state will be permanent--she'll always suffer so. Perhaps on other levels he is reminded of other times when raw desire for nourishment, comfort, presence was denied or delayed. A child with a more sensitive temperament will likely suffer denial more acutely...a child who has a persistent temperament may be capable of wailing for an hour or longer. Atoms. The child is stuck in a moment and needs help, empathy, and understanding.

Molecules is the ability to sustain oneself through that stressful situation. Molecules is the ability to self-soothe--And Belief is the bridge between. The most basic lesson in Faith is the caring adult stepping in to provide, however imperfectly, the comfort the child had longed to get from the toy. The caring adult has the job of helping the child through the difficult moment, abiding with her in that moment (thank you, Mrs. Spit) and thereby teaching her that she can sustain herself when moments get hard. Belief is what connects fragments of a whole, to the Whole, and it is already there. We don't have to manufacture it, our willpower isn't needed to maintain it.

So now when I read, or hear, "Only Believe", it will have another meaning for me.


Dang it! Blogger won't let me link "abiding" to Mrs. Spit's eloquent post. Please go see it here:

Sunday, October 26, 2008


August 20, 2006 Sunday 1240.

I’ve been waiting for this moment, where I could talk to myself for a while. Do some writing instead of transcribing, and that makes me realize what it was that made the entry so short on the night Gary took the boys golfing. I was transcribing [old diaries].

Gary took the boys to the “Dew” competition, a sort of extreme thrill-rider’s show. So I have some time, though sadly it’s not unlimited. Reality tells me I need to do the grocery shopping, but I’m trying to cut it close to when they’re expected home, so that I’ll have used most of this time doing something I really want to do and not squander it on chores.

So a few thoughts have come my way recently and I wanted to explore them a bit. Brief conceptions that seem to tie in with other concepts. The idea of the quantum mechanic world—that at the essences of our atoms is mostly empty space, and in that space the electrons are, or might be. (And that’s not even considering the nucleus, which itself is composed of smaller particles). It’s very strange to think then, that the atoms that make me are mostly empty space, and therefore I am too. And that makes me wonder about the interfaces at the atomic and subatomic level, blood vessels made of mostly empty space containing blood cells that are mostly empty space. Muscle interfacing with bone, yet distinct—at the level of empty space what does that look like? Organs clearly delineated, yet at the level of empty space what do the boundaries look like?

(The idea of the different states of matter. I am here, engaged in all three states, liquid, solid, and gas—thinking of the respiratory system here—that all states are simultaneously at play because each has a different freezing/melting point, and boiling/condensation point, or moving to a gasseous/solid state. So if my skin and bones were warmed enough, they would become liquid as the atoms and molecules accelerate, and if heated further would break their bonds and scatter apart as gas.)

When I think of the interfaces, I’m not able to reconcile this chaotic, probability-driven state with the macro level that I live at. Here at the macro level things seem solid, with distinct boundaries between one thing and another. At the sub-atomic the laws are very different. How do we get to here from there? That’s where I start having imaginings of micro worlds inside at these smaller scales—perhaps an atom IS a solar system with living beings living on the electrons and experiencing THEIR world as a macro-world? Or perhaps WE’RE on an electron compared to something at larger scales that make ours seem sub-atomic. What if we are all only on an electron orbiting a nucleus in a molecule that’s part of the leg of a chair?

I’ve had conceptions like these, even as a child. Perhaps that’s why it’s in us as humans to have our collective stories riddled with “little people’, and giants. A sort of collective acknowledgment of this nature of reality, showing up in stories. Including religion…people who have glimpsed the immensity of the implications that it may be chance our very foundational elements are built on would I think inspire a great awe, and probably fear. My guess is that god springs from this apprehension of the core of complete mystery, and that doesn’t seem to reconcile with the “normal-scale” reality and the nature of matter that we see around us. I’m thinking about a passage from James Clavell in his book Tai-pan, where he described something called “joss”, which he says is god, devil, luck all in one. He ascribes that to Chinese religion, which I have no way of knowing if that’s for real or not, but it seems that comes closer to describing god and sort of the true nature we’re built on, better than other godhead religions.

I think most people in this world are not independent in this world. I believe that most of their thoughts, emotions, loyalties are an unchallenged submission to the authority they grew up in. Like Linda once said, ‘living thru the super-ego’. I think it is so much a background part of them that they don’t perceive it, that they are behaving and thinking in rote ways, in order to ‘be good’. When someone goes to church, it can be from a heartfelt desire to know God, and a belief that this is the vehicle that will take you closer, or it can be in obedience to a long ago message from authority that says, “Good people go to church.” And they “feel guilty” if they don’t, and feel proud of feeling guilty.

It may have been through the church that I began to have these revelations. As I think of it now I get a strong affirmation of the sense that we are truly alone, and we decide. I realized at some point that there was a vast amount of room between a “you should” and the number of possibilities left uncovered by that should. I think it was re-reading [while transcribing my old diary] about my thoughts as Rick [high school sweetheart] and I progressed toward more and more heavy petting that illuminates this: I hadn’t realized there were so many decisions open to make beyond the prohibition on sexual intercourse. In my very private self I noticed, at church, that the prayers and rituals left me with an unpleasant feeling, which I tried to resolve by forcing my emotions to line up. There was the feeling that that was required of me, but this is on so subtle a level that no one actually says it. (This is a part of me I’ve never talked about with anyone else—the place where I meet my experience and decide what to do with it.) Yet I think I assumed that that’s what everyone did, that is the people who chose to be good, and that everyone in their private selves were doing that too. That’s where I see that I’m really alone, and alone can decide my course and behavior from that very powerful place…I don’t know why I wrote powerful. I think it was from a sense of inhabiting and settling deeply into my cells, and more importantly into the empty spaces within those cells. To have my actions grow from that kind of intimacy within myself, and perceiving that intimacy. Thought self and morality on a micro, or atomic/subatomic scale. Anyway, it makes me wonder if that place, that is a mystery inside all matter, and ultimately seems to be a place of pure possibility—a sort of nothing that all we are comes from…is a source of the feeling and impulse that gave rise to the notion of god. I’m reminded of some of my thoughts on anxiety and emotion, and the notion that we all feel anxiety, it’s the force inside our nervous systems that impels us to act, but different temperaments respond or react to it in different ways. Where someone driving a car sees someone on a bicycle, in a flash comes the awareness that the bicyclist has made a decision to be biking whereas my decision was to drive and that difference creates potential energy that’s experienced as anxiety, which in turn can be experienced as hostility toward the cyclist, or guilt for not being on a bicycle (which can also lead to hostility toward the bicyclist), or I suppose even into a positive feeling about the bicyclist. (I’m thinking that may be the same mechanism that gives rise to god: the tension inside when one experiences this emptiness at our core—the force that causes us to personify that empty place, and reverence it, and worship it.) I’m remembering going with my grandmother and my great-aunt Mil for a walk in our Marysville neighborhood and my best friend’s father rode by on a bicycle. They didn’t know that I knew him. I felt a tension increase in the atmosphere between us, me and my two relatives. One of them said, “Looks like he needs to be exercising (referring to his large stomach) and the other one said, “That doesn’t do anything for the stomach. It only works for the legs. It’s his stomach that needs working on.” So they were sharing a criticism of this man they’d never seen before. Something about this man riding by raised the tension, or anxiety level and needed to be discharged with those remarks. I think that potential can be harnessed by charismatic people and it’s the impulse behind mob behavior. The collective orgasm of discharge of potential energy/anxiety—very powerful and usually destructive. That’s why association can be such a liability—just reminding someone of something can be enough to raise their anxious tension that makes them prone to see a neutral act as negative and a provocation. (I wrote ‘preoccupation’ first…guess my mind wandered. I’d replaced it with ‘provocation’ after realizing my mistake, and then felt compelled by my standard of honesty to include it. I wonder if that’s too rigorous a standard. I find myself doing it when transcribing my old diaries too—to try to get them as true to the original as possible including grammatical errors. (I suppose it can be considered as a way to keep myself honest.)

So anyway, I just feel a disconnect inside when I consider juxtaposing a world that feels so solid, tangible, and real with the conception that it is at its core emptiness and probability. Where does one change into the other? When do the ‘laws’ that apply at one scale stop applying there and different scale laws then apply? I don’t see the connection between “there” and “here”.

But I sense that there is an analogous place to that in me emotionally, and cognitively. And I suppose that’s what accounted for my anxiety when I was writing those diaries earlier—the fear that a possibility that my motives might be less than pure causing me to accuse myself that they weren’t pure. Yet it didn’t feel right, but I wondered if even that doubt could be trusted, since I stood to benefit from it. Anyway, I get a glimpse of some relief from that anxiety when I consider accepting that at its core, anything is possible. It’s possible that my negative feelings toward my MIL are grounded in my own selfishness and immaturity. I have to acknowledge that possibility, as well as the possibility that I’ve been unjust in the ways I’ve regarded her. Just set it on the table as a possibility in a range of possibilities, and don’t feel compelled to assign it to myself just because I fear it might be true…at least wait til the other possibilities have also been considered.

I’ve been watching “The Up Series”—a series of films beginning in 1964 when a group of 14 children at the age of seven (essentially my age) were interviewed by the researcher, and then filmmaker of the project. He said it didn’t start out to be a series, it was only going to be a one time project, a sort of indictment of the class society in Britain. I don’t remember at what point he said it had become “A life work”. As I transcribe my diary and through it have access to the memories from myself at a certain age, and to a certain extent the experiences, as I read some of this stuff I’ve written and then never read later, the term “Life’s work” resonates with me. These individual diaries have already accreted quite a body, and I feel good thinking about it as a life’s work.

Back to the film. I’m surprised at how I’ve been captured by the series. The last one I had was the one that ends at age 42, so filmed in 1999. I went online and saw that 49-Up will be coming out in theaters in October. So I get to see another one before having to wait another 7 years for 56. Anyway, there is something very compelling to me about having before me a span of a middle-aged lifetime, with different stages in development portrayed. It seems to be in harmony with this whole “taking stock” thing I’m doing in closing in on my 50th birthday—transcribing my diaries, and now this series. I suppose part of it is the notion of a life caught on time-lapse photography and then replayed sped up.

A phrase that stands out to me in a parenting book: how can we keep our behavior from making things worse in a frustrating and angering situation with children? And I extend that to the notion of how can I not make a situation with Gary get worse. I think there’s probably something about the insight of living in my cells that might be helpful. It is definitely my reaction to something that he does or a manner that he has that takes it from bad to worse.

One other notion: the idea of an ideal being a very good thing, but if you follow it to its logical conclusion it can lead to some undesirable outcomes and demands. As in religion, when there’s a difference in opinion historically there’s often a schism, and with both sides sticking to the letter of their law, they are compelled to brand each other heretics and fight religious wars. The letter of the law says we can’t accept homosexuals and its ok to harm them; but a higher spirit teaches tolerance and respect for everyone. But most fundamentalist Christians feel that if they are going to be following Jesus and living Christian lives then they must take it to its logical conclusion and bar gays from clergy, enable people to refuse to rent to them—in other words consider it lawful to discriminate which opens the way to many mean-spirited acts. For example, what if gay people have children? What if the birth parent dies and the other’s rights to that child are trumped by “family”—blood relations who may be hostile to a gay parent. If you take an ideal down to it’s nitty gritty, and it’s details, in order to be able to stay with it, you have to do it down to the nth detail. And the nth detail doesn’t work. The nth detail is inhuman, unkind, self-righteous. So is there a way that a law or ideal applies on one scale, but when getting into details it does not?

Maybe there’s no unifying theory. Maybe there are different laws for different scales, and part of the randomness, probability, and ambiguity of that situation applies to the point where one set of laws apply and another do not.

Ok, I’ll get a little more transcribing in before I need to go run my errands. I was at a part that’s interesting to me.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Burning dollars

Nearly from the beginning my own psychological/spiritual awakening process has seemed in parallel with Scott's. The dream I took to Sharon, my counselor, the first time I'd seen her in 13 years had Scott, danger, and indecision at its core.

For years, even before having children I was fascinated with the neurological processes that result in the behavior we manifest. As I've mentioned before, having children has been an opportunity to see these descriptions come to life, and to see the rather deceptive facade that apparent behavior presents. Books that were very helpful in articulating my understanding were "Listening to Prozac" by Peter Kramer, "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime" by Mark Haddon, and any of the number of books by Temple Grandin.

Observing children, and their development, I see a stage where they have not yet developed a sort of internal narrative in which context to place the moment-by-moment events.

Suppose a child is waiting in line to get on a merry-go-round. This waiting has in itself been a trial for the child's immediate desire to be satisfied. He's been restless, fussy. Some might see that as a discipline problem. Some may see it as inadequate parenting. Some might understand that this little person hasn't yet learned how to manage the anxiety that desire can create. Some understand that some children have a higher tolerance to the anxiety such situations can cause.

So this child is about to get her turn, and then the gate is shut. The merry-go-round is full, and the child will need to wait longer yet. Here's an argument for schadenfreude being inborn. The child immediately ahead in line, the one who was last to go in may find pleasure in the first child's disappointment. The happy child on the ride might stick his tongue out at the other, perhaps every time the circle goes round. This might be nearly unbearable for the child left behind.

An older child, or more tolerant child may have a narrative in place. Waiting may still be difficult, but she has an internal narrative that understands the way the 'story' goes. Each moment is not eternal torment, but does indeed lead to a bigger reality of moving up in line and finally achieving the heart's desire. This narrative can sustain a waiting child so he is not stabbed so cruelly by the pain of frustration.

What I have noticed in Scott is that he doesn't yet have a sense of a bigger narrative in regards to school, and other situations. And this may be a result of his mind racing so quickly that he is unable to take in the features that would sketch in the outlines of the larger narrative so he can perceive it. So he is tortured by the jabs of the moment, the sounds of other children's voices, the hubbub around him. He is unable to contextualize it into a bigger story, and thus sublimate the discomforts. So he is at the mercy of every moment, and every distraction in it.

The extent to which he has controlled his behavior while being in a situation with little reward for him still impresses me. I see what it costs him to govern his behavior in class. I feel urgency for him, that while we have this window of his good will and innocence that we find a way for him to get some intrinsic reward from school. I've been extrinsically rewarding him with treats at the end of 'good' days at school. But ultimately he's going to need more than this to sustain his patience. His use of precious self-control is being squandered in just keeping him at baseline. It's like burning dollar bills for heat.

However, I feel that at this school, the adults he is with see beneath the mask of his adhd. I believe they see through to the person he is inside. They don't see him as Behavior Problem; and now that he has a diagnosis, they don't see him as his diagnosis. They see Him. I'm grateful for this.

I realize I need to slow my brain down too. I need to find a way to hold myself still long enough that I can also see the outlines of a larger narrative to place these events and these questions into. My son needs me to be providing the support of a more encompassing context, and I need it too.

Somehow that seems to involve slowing down something internally.

Something to talk about with Sharon tonight.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Why is it getting so hard to get to my appointment?

This is at least the third Wednesday in a row that it has been a struggle.

Three Wednesdays ago Scott was sick and my babysitter didn't come because he "didn't want to take a chance on missing any school". This resulted in my having to impose on Connor's friend's dad, with no notice at all, to come and take the boys to football practice, on his birthday. I felt so badly about that that I promised to take the boys for the next 2 weeks in a row. Yesterday was to be the final day of my atonement.

Last week I had to impose on the kindness of a neighbor at the last minute to get Scott's care covered when the babysitter in effect canceled again. That time I fired him.

I found a replacement, a girl who lives a couple miles from us to the west. She's also a junior in high school but doesn't have her driver's license yet. So the afternoon looked like this: I'd pick up Scott at 3:15, drive up our hill, home about 3:40, collect my stuff, feed the boys snacks, get Connor and his buddy started getting ready for football, drive over to pick up Jackie at around 4:15, bring her back to the house, show her where all the phone numbers and food and stuff was, leave by 4:30. Tight.

Connor wasn't upstairs when I came in with Scott (his bus drops him about 10 minutes before we arrive from Scott's school). I called out, and heard him say, "Hi, Mom" in a very quiet voice. I went downstairs immediately to see what was wrong. He said they had seen something awful. The bus had been stopped outside of one child's house, a friend of theirs, and the boy was getting off. Their driveway is across the street and his overjoyed yellow lab bounded up to greet him. Around a corner a truck sped and plowed into the dog, before the horrified eyes of all the children on the bus. Connor said, "She was killed instantly. That was good. But it split open her stomach..."

It struck me that it could have been Garrett hit. I absorbed the impact of that thought while tuning back in to Connor:

"I don't feel like going to football."

At first I protested, unsure if this justified missing a practice, thinking it might help clear their minds of that image. And I'm ashamed to say my strategic mind kicked in:

They don't go--I don't have to take them, drive out of the way to that school field and then across town at the heaviest traffic time of the day. That's Good.

That's two more kids for the babysitter. That's Bad.

They'd be amusement for themselves and not be any extra work for the babysitter. That's Good.

I told them I'd think about it while I went upstairs to call Maria, Garrett's mom and tell her how sorry I was. It was 10 minutes until 4. I wanted to leave to get the sitter about 4. First I called Gary, to see what he thought about the boys missing practice, and/or to notify him that he wouldn't need to pick them up from the field. Voice mail on the office phone. I left a message, coded "urgent." Called the cell. Left message with voice mail, coded "urgent." Called Maria.

She was shaken, yet strong. Had already moved the badly damaged dog off the road and was preparing to take a bucket down to sluice off the blood "so Garrett doesn't have to look at it as we drive off to football (his dad is one of the coaches)." (They're going anyway. Maybe I should make my two go.)

An image flashed for a moment of having to experience pulling your dead and maimed dog off the road, cover her up, to prepare to bury her later. I said, "I'm so sorry you had to do that."

To my dismay, I felt myself getting anxious. I'd caught the time out of the corner of my eye and realized mine was getting short. Yet, I could feel that this was not the moment to pull away from this conversation. It would be premature and just wrong. Then Scott started pestering me for a toy he was looking for. It even felt wrong to disengage from Maria long enough to tell him it was in the car. Then I glanced out the window and was reminded I'd left the van up on the road at the foot of our driveway in preparation for going to get Jackie. I also noticed a very unusual amount of traffic, so I wasn't comfortable about letting him to up to get it. He's getting impatient and louder, wanting an answer and I'm trying to be as present as possible for Maria and feeling more and more off balance: I wasn't doing anything well. I felt compelled to offer my services, even though I felt terribly hypocritical because I hoped the answer was "no". It was, in fact she offered to help me, by taking Connor to football!

We said goodbye, and I was free to go get Jackie. I asked Scott if he wanted to go. He did not. Since I only anticipated being gone about 10 minutes (queue up the "jaws" theme song) I let him stay.

My route to Jackie's takes me past Maria's house. The road was indeed wet. She must have taken the bucket of water down immediately after we talked. She would have had to carry it down a steep drive. To me there seemed to be plenty of visibility for a car coming around the curve just east of her house, the direction from which the truck had come. He must have been going really fast if he had been unable to stop.

Jackie's house is about another mile further, down one of the few side roads that goes down to a highway by the river. I'd expected her to be waiting in the driveway, but no one was there. I waited a moment, thinking she might be watching for me from the house, and then parked when she didn't come. Her house is up a drive that has an electronic gate across and there was no passage for a walker. So I called up the drive and was answered by two huge dogs, barking furiously. "Where are your people?" I knew they couldn't be there because those dogs could be heard for some distance. My head was ringing. It's 4:20. I decided to give her a little longer, just in case she'd thought I was picking her up at 4:30. I tried the cell, but there was no reception. I tried getting out of the car ("BARK BARK BARK") to find a pocket of connection and there was none. Turned on the news. Waited. Traffic problems all over town. A paving project on the highway below us. The latest emergency measure for the economy. Anticipation of the Debate. 4:27. I found a scrap of paper and wrote a note. Kept it neutral: "Hi, Jackie. It looks like I missed you. I waited a while, but then had to go." Name and phone number. Found a slot next to the number pad by the gate and put it there to be found. Sighing, back in car. Up pulls the school bus.

She got in and told me she was so sorry. Ordinarily the bus drops her at 3:50, but today they'd had to sit for 20 minutes down on the highway: big traffic jam. I remembered the repaving project, and then it made sense why all the traffic was on our road: frustrated drivers trying to bypass the clot. Maybe the man who had hit Garret's dog was one of those drivers, going too fast to make up the time.

Well, I had a babysitter again. But I wasn't out of it yet. When we got home I realized just how unrealistic it would have been to do what I had considered doing. I'd decided to not do the football run and I'd been thinking that maybe I could leave Connor and his friend with Scott for the interval before Gary could get home. Scott greeted me crying and furious. "They're being mean to me." What was I thinking? Two older boys and a younger brother? Conflagrations spring up between them with no notice. It happens so fast; a roll of an older kid's eyes, a disparaging tone, an insult slipped in sideways and they're off. Or, Scott deliberately pesters them to get a rise and it escalates. Each boy's own role in the conflict is invisible to him. It was a big mistake to have left the three of them together. This meant playing more catch-up, because within seconds of Scott embracing me for comfort he's kicked Connor as he was telling me about Scott's sins. So I had to send Scott to my bedroom to cool off. There was a time when Connor would have been driven, driven to retaliate. I'm glad to see he's at least grown past that. Now if he could just keep his tone respectful to Scott. I went in the room to talk with and comfort Scott, brought him out to tell the older kids in his presence that I expected them to treat Scott with respect and I expected Scott to do the same toward them.

Only then could I leave.

Sometimes it takes extraordinary energy to escape the gravitational field of home and kids. I wonder what next Wednesday will be like.

I did get there on time.


Photo of Scott posted below

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Meeting

Monday at 2:30 was the IEP meeting for Scott. Individualized Education Program. Present were the school psychologist, the learning specialist, speech therapist, briefly an occupational therapist, Billy, Gary, and myself.

There will be another meeting, to actually come up with goals and a plan for implementation. For the life of me I can't think of how we filled an hour and a half, but we were talking, listening, discussing the entire duration.

I'd received calls ahead of time from the school psychologist requesting that I bring a letter of diagnosis of adhd from the pediatrician. We actually connected on the phone voice-to-voice on Thursday last week. I'd been feeling a bit exasperated because I had some errands to do and Scott had been waiting pretty patiently (teacher planning day, out of school) to go and buy a reward for having behaved well in class that week. (Yeah, I've stooped to bribery. Short term goals and fairly immediate rewards seem to be most effective with him.) I was exasperated because I'd just finished listening to a message from her that went on and on and on. Clearly a long-winded sort that takes a long time to articulate a thought. The gist of the call was the request to bring the letter of diagnosis.

I had one question that I thought could be answered succinctly. Do I have to have the letter physically in my hand on Monday, or can it be in process, in the mail? If I had to have it in hand, this was going to be one of the stops on the errand run, the doctor's office. Friday I was going to the coast for my annual book retreat to choose our next year's reading list, so if the letter was mandatory then Thursday was the only day I could get it.

So that made it worth tracking her down. While on the phone at the Trillium school office with a student worker I concluded that I didn't want the letter faxed to that office. It's a good idea to give students the work experience, but I just didn't have faith that the letter would end up where it was supposed to be. It took a bit of prying to find out which school the psychologist was at that particular day but I finally got a phone number.

She seemed surprised that I'd found her. She couldn't talk long, she said, because she was supposed to be in a classroom doing an observation of an autistic student. She then proceeded to launch into an incredibly roundabout way of saying the letter had to be in hand. My question was answered long before she was finished and I was trying to be as crisp as possible. As we were about to hang up I said that I hoped there would be a lot of tissues at the meeting.

Perhaps that's what opened the way for what came next, which made my (impatient) patience with her worthwhile. She said, "I want you to know that we have six of those meetings scheduled at the school that day, and we intentionally scheduled his for last so that we'd have a full amount of time, and more if necessary to really talk about him."

She told me that as a child she herself had been 'tied to my chair' with a length of jump-rope, she was so hyperactive. I gasped and she said she was nearly 50 and it was a less enlightened time. I told her I remembered that time too. She had specialized in adhd in her career as a psychologist, and wanted to tell me her story as a means of encouragement about Scott's prospects. I told her I appreciated that she would have empathy for him and she said, "Oh! He's an adorable kid."

So that was very kind.

I spent all day Monday preparing for the meeting. I'd had a sort of plan to cry all day so there wouldn't be anything left for the meeting and I could conduct myself with some dignity, but it turns out there was no need. I've crossed a line somewhere from dread of what is to acceptance of what is. I realized the meeting wasn't so much about them giving me bad news about my child; it was about figuring out a plan to get him what he needs.

So, the short story is:

1) We had a meeting
2) It was non-adversarial, I felt solidly that these people were on Scott's side and in agreement that the school system was not serving his needs.
3) With diagnostic letter in hand, supported by various tests and evaluations more services were going to be requested and probably secured.
4) We would meet again in 2 weeks to discuss a plan for implementation
5) Resources are very limited. Welcome to the struggle millions of parents before me have engaged and engage now.

That's the condensed version. The learning specialist asked if we planned to try medication. I said that I wanted to see how he did with the special services first. She then told us that at best she was going to be able to serve him 60 minutes per week. To people who have been-there-done-that maybe that's a huge amount of service, but to me roughly 15 minutes a day in a 7 hour day seems shockingly inadequate. I think she was telling us this to illustrate the impact we could expect from special ed: kind of like trying to turn an ocean cruiser by pushing against it with a canoe and a paddle. The reality of this didn't hit me until yesterday, after the meeting.

I think she may have taken some personal risk in bringing up medications and with as clear a tilt as she did. She said, "I'm not advocating for medications. I'm advocating for him. He should be enjoying school. He should be at the top of his class, he's so smart. He is so consumed with being tortured by his adhd he just can't take in what he needs to engage him."


I'd independently come to a notion that he is not getting the bigger picture, the underlying theme of school. In the same way he didn't get the underlying theme of baseball, was just being hit in the face over and over, neither does he comprehend there's a kind of grand design of school. Most of the other children absorb that by osmosis, that they are participating in something. And it has an underlying structure and meaning for them where they can begin to take satisfaction in mastery within that structure. Scott does not have this. So his behavior is at odds with the other children and with the classroom. In addition he has a serious communication disorder which keeps him from understanding what people are telling him. It really must be torture for him to be at school. It holds none of that secondary pleasure for him. It's an exercise in will power to keep himself reined in.

In a one-on-one setting he does quite well. It seems the chances for getting that are microscopic in the public school system. (Oh, what $10 billion per month going to Iraq could do...) Homeschooling is, and always will be an option. I don't think I am the best teacher for him, and to afford a tutor I would probably have to work full time. And since I'm the primary caregiver, when would I work, and/or who would take care of Scott while I do it? So if I keep him home he's stuck with me as teacher.

I'm beginning to grasp that he may be more profoundly affected than I'd realized. I would not withhold insulin from a child with diabetes. If his well-being is dependent on replacing some chemicals that are missing in his nervous system, then it's somewhat urgent to start soon, before he's entrenched in a negative posture toward school. And set in maladaptive behaviors.

More to think about. Waiting for a call from his pediatrician.

Sigh. My poor little boy.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

More babysitter woes

D didn't babysit last week on account of Scott being sick (frantic scrambling ensued). I called him yesterday to confirm about babysitting last night; since there had been a break in the routine I thought there was a risk that maybe he'd forget. I left a message.

The phone rang at ten til one. I was in another part of the house and so didn't pick up, but when I checked caller ID I saw that it was him. He didn't leave a message. Ten minutes later when he rang I picked up and he said he had a school project and wasn't going to be able to make it that night. This was 3 and a half hour's notice.

I spluttered. I told him there was no way I could possibly get a sitter so quickly; the kids I'd ordinarily use are in football (along with Connor which is why I needed D in the first place), and the others are in school, which means I wouldn't be able to try to make arrangements til very close to my departure time. He said he'd been trying to reach me all morning. (However, caller ID and phone records say those were his only calls)

I don't like situations where I have to insist that my will prevail, and I can't say I did it gracefully, but insist I did. So we agreed that he would come at our usual time. When I hung up I saw that I had a message. It was his mother, my dear friend. She said that D had been trying to reach me and he'd asked her to leave a message that a school project had suddenly come up and he wasn't going to be able to do it on Thurs since Fri was a school holiday, and she was sorry it was such short notice and that she hoped I got this message before I left.

Oh yeah. There's this delicate issue of my friendship with his mother, and now I'm gun-shy about what happened last month.

I emailed her and told her that I didn't think I'd be able to find another sitter and I was going to have to pay for my appointment when canceling on such short notice, and so I'd insisted and D had agreed he'd come. I asked her if she wanted me to keep her in the loop in these things, or if she'd rather I just handle them between D & me.

I went to pick up Scott at school. I got home about 3:45 and Connor's downstairs with his school friend: I'm the ride to football this week, on the way to my appointment. Connor said as I came in the door, "D called. He thinks he might not be able to babysit" What!!!

I toyed with the idea of not calling, thinking that would force him to honor his commitment. Then I thought that probably wasn't the smartest thing to do. I called, but got his cell's voice mail. I called my neighbors to ask them if they could watch Scott (with 20 minute's notice) on an emergency basis because I thought my sitter was going to cancel. They are wonderful, gracious people, sort of a linchpin that our little group of homes revolves around, but I really hate to make this kind of frantic request. I called Gary to tell him of the change in plans and D called my cell. It was 4:15. I needed to leave at 4:30.

He said his mother had had to go into work and had the car, and so could I come and get him?

It would take me 10-15 minutes to get to his house to pick him up, the same coming back with him. It was right on the border of barely do-able, and I just did not want to be on that frantic edge. I hesitated while I tried to calculate it, then tried re-calculating (I think so poorly on my feet in rushed conditions) (otherwise maybe I'd have thought to ask if I could just bring Scott to his house). Then I just reached a point inside where I felt convinced this whole thing of having my friend's son babysit for me was a. very. bad. idea. I could not think through that conviction and so told him that I didn't think the whole babysitting thing was working and that he didn't need to babysit for me any more.

Then the second-guessing. For some reason this issue that had just happened seemed emblematic of the whole experience, and was why I felt so done with it. But was it fair to generalize this with the whole experience? Yeah, I'd been frantic last week too when he'd not come, but (even though even his mother was dubious at his stated reason of not wanting to get sick and take a chance on missing school--he's been an indifferent student) it was a legitimate cancellation. And, it was possible that he'd only just learned that his mother had had to take the car in to work, and he had tried to call at 3:45 when I could have more easily gone and gotten him (though, he called the home number and didn't call my cell until 4:15). Again, he said he'd been trying and trying to call me, but my caller ID's both cellular and home said he'd only called those 2 times.

So perhaps I was premature in giving up in disgust.

But ultimately, though I could have been more gracious about it, and I was telling him this in the heat of a compressed moment, I do think my instinct is correct: that it's just not a good idea for my friend's son to have this job.

Later, after my appointment I emailed my friend and told her what I'd done: I told her that I was afraid I'd been unfair to D. I told her that I just had an intuitive sense that the arrangement wasn't working out, and I still felt that way, even with some distance from the heat of the moment. I told her I thought D had overstated the degree to which he tried to get hold of me. I told her that I really hoped this wouldn't interfere in our friendship which I hold most dear.

I haven't heard from her yet.

And, I don't have a babysitter for Wednesdays, either.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Minutiae and tedium

A behind-the-scene look at what's behind the "Fine" when queried, "How was your day?"

Connor is in football, and has practice 3 nights a week. This continues until the end of October (unless they get to play in championship rounds). There aren't a lot of kids in our neighborhood participating and we're kind of in the hinterlands. Connor's school chum River lives even farther out than we do, so his dad and I arranged a driving schedule.

One of the practices is on Wednesday nights, which is the evening I see my counselor. To protect that time I agreed to take the boys on Tuesdays, James would take them on Wed, and we'd switch-off the Fridays. Since Connor would be away I would need someone to watch Scott, and so I set up the babysitting gig with D (of broken-skateboard fame. In fact, this job was the context that the issue of whether he was working off a debt or serving time came up.).

It seems simple, but in practice for 2 50-something parents new to the sport and the culture, juggling this and remembering just what we've agreed to requires some mental exertion. To add to the complexity, the practice schedules were different before school started than after school started; there were field rotations to not overuse the practice field, and their teams have yet a different field for practice on Fridays. I clutch at details the way I grab for groceries falling from a split bag.

Gary had bought tickets to see Alison Krause and Robert Plant on Tuesday night, the evening I'd ordinarily drive. He called James and arranged that we'd swap this week: I drive Wednesday and James drive Tuesday. James said fine, said he could even drive on Wednesday too if I'd like. Since driving them Wednesday meant facing the uncertainties of rush-hour traffic --because of course the practice and my appointment are at opposite ends of town-- I said maybe I'd consider that. But I thought it was doable--might make for a little suspense about making my appointment, but chances are it would be ok.

Tuesday Scott woke sick and didn't go to school. I decided to not go to the concert (there's a backstory to that, too, that I won't go into.). When Connor and River got off the schoolbus River wasn't feeling well either. He wasn't going to practice, so his dad came to get him and I drove Connor to practice. I forgot to ask him if maybe he could drive the next day after all, since Scott being sick might mean no babysitter. I called and left a message on his home phone asking if that might be possible.

Moving parts: will Scott need to stay home another day, or not? If he does, is he recovering-from-being-sick or actively-sick-sick? Will D be willing to babysit if he's still sick, or would his mother prefer that he not? Do I disclose that he is sick? Is River still sick? Did he go to school? Could James do the driving if River's not sick? Could Gary get off work in time to be home at my usual departure time if the babysitter couldn't come?

Scott woke up sick.

Trying to solve for the variable meant a lot of calls. Another call to James. Left message. Call to his cell. Left message. Call to Gary's office, left message: could he be home by 4:30? Call to Gary's cell. Left message. Call to D's mom: did she mind if Scott was sick when D babysat? She said she didn't mind, but was going to be talking to him at noon and she would ask him then. Several calls and messages hanging out there with several hours before I'd need to leave. Each shrouding an important piece of information that would guide my next steps:

If D can't babysit and James can't drive: fall-back on whether or not Gary can be home when I need to leave. If he could I could either take the boys myself on my way to my appointment, or he could take them but he'd have to take a sick Scott along for the ride.

If D CAN babysit, then all proceeds as normal. I take the boys to practice, Gary picks them up after work and brings them back here, D's here with Scott for the interim.

If D can't babysit and Gary can't be home I call James in on his offer to take the boys and I wait home with Scott, hoping Gary will get home in time for me to make at least part of my appointment.

If D can't babysit, Gary can't be home and James can't drive I take the boys to practice with Scott in the car, and I cancel my appointment.

I took Scott down to the video store to get him a movie. I checked messages upon return and no one had returned my calls. It's 2:30 and I'm starting to get nervous.

Call to James. Left message. Call to James' cell. Left message. Call to Gary's office. Left message. Call to Gary's cell. Left message. Call to M, who was very apologetic about having forgotten to call me back. D said he "didn't want to take a chance on missing any school", which was very surprising to her. So now I know at least one variable. No babysitter.

I notice I have an email. It's from Gary, saying he'd be home no later than 5:15. I usually leave for my appointment at 4:30, and the boys need to leave for practice by 4:30 too. I call him again. Leave message. Tell him I have no babysitter and that 5:15 is too late.

This calls to mind the issue of people's timesense. People who have a fairly reliable and measured sense of time passage always seem to find people with a Salvador Dali clock. And marry them. I've been disappointed by Gary's overestimating how much time he has and underestimating how long it takes to do something before. Relying on him being on time is not a safe bet.

Still no word from James. I've tried his phones a few times and didn't bother to leave messages. It's 3:30. The school bus arrives. River's with Connor. I ask River if his dad had said anything about taking them that night and he said, "I thought you were."

I'm actually starting to get teary. I left another message for Gary, telling him that he'd said he would take care of Scott next time he was sick. I told him I was calling in favors on the slack I'd cut him over the past 3 weeks: rafting trip one week, gone to Asia the next, working late on Monday night and gone for the concert on Tues and that asking him to be home by 4:30 didn't seem too much to ask.

At ten to four I got hold of James. He'd not heard any of my messages and so was flat-footed being pressed into service. I felt horrible when I realized I was asking him to go from 0 to 60 from a dead stop. So I hesitated. At this point I could still take the boys, IF Gary was home by 4:30. James lives at least 20 minutes west of us, so even getting to our house is a hike. He would need to leave now if he was going to be driving in order to get the boys to the field on time. Hesitation. Do I count on Gary getting home in time, or do I go with the sure bet? I placed my needs above James' and asked him to come. It's really difficult for me to ask a favor of someone when that favor is A. Real. Imposition. as this one was. I guess I wanted my appointment more than I wanted to avoid that shame.

About 10 minutes later Gary called. I told him James was coming and he wanted to know what I'd done that for. I told him it was too late to call back: James was already on his way. Gary arrived 3 minutes ahead of James, rendering James' favor a little unnecessary.


it was his birthday.