Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I have a jig-saw puzzle in the middle of the living room floor. Every time I look at it I feel drawn to fill in more pieces, but I'm resisting that siren song right now. I know that if I start easily an hour or two will go by and I risk feeling I haven't accomplished much.

Haven't I though? There is the practical experience of persisting and finding order in chaos. There is the experience of looking for little distinguishing nuances within blandly similar regions, and finding that each gradation has an important contribution to the whole. There's the lesson of feeling overwhelmed, but noticing that little efforts over time reduce the mystery.

Is it worth a few hours with only a few pieces successfully placed? (For someone like me, who does tend to get overwhelmed quickly by details, this puzzle is really hard. Thank goodness it's only 500 pieces.)

It is one of four that I snagged from my neighbor's "Free Or Best Offer" pile out front of their place. Since Scott's learning and understanding remind me of a puzzle--more forest-y than trees--I thought it might be beneficial to him. Beneficial to him, beneficial to Us, since he's the kind of child where meaningful conversation usually slips out in tangent to some other activity. It wasn't long before I realized this puzzle was way beyond him, and by then I had enough investment in it that some stubborn pride has kept me going.

I'll be very cautious before opening any of the others.

I have a veritable box of puzzle pieces spilled around me, and I'm wondering if I'll be able to piece them together.

One of them is Scott. A few days ago I got a phone call from a mother whose child used to be in Scott's classroom at the first elementary school, before I pulled Scott out and took him to Trillium. This is another very active boy. His mother said that Skyline is not working for her child and she's exploring alternatives and so thought of me. Her son's teacher had raised the "M" word, medication, and she firmly said, "I am NOT putting my little boy on Ritalin."

This reminds me of how heated the debate can be over the use of medication to treat attention deficit and hyperactivity in children.

Still, the whole issue reminds me of a puzzle, and I feel overwhelmed. It makes sense to me that if our consciousness is mediated by biochemical processes in our bodies, that the deficiency of a certain molecule may create a gap in a crucial function, such as memory, or the ability to persist in attending over time. I'm not at all ideologically opposed to the use of medication in children, though I sure wish we were further along in refining our understanding so it's not such a blunt instrument. I took Scott's pediatrician's word for it, that ritalin has been subject to years of long-term studies, and that it's safe and effective. I started him on it just about a year ago when it was clear that he wasn't functioning well in the alternative school setting either.

Still, I feel nagged at having 'read the cliff notes' about the medication issue, and not piecing together my own puzzle from the ground up as to its risks and benefits. I'm overwhelmed at the prospects--just now I googled "ritalin use children" and found 1.3 million hits (and top of the list are "ritalin death" results).

I did see an improvement in his ability to attend. He seemed to have more of a solid core, a centralized Presence. He is definitely not a zombie, but he can tolerate periods of stillness longer. His reading has improved.

But with the beginning of school, I'm uncertain. I feel like I need to find another parameter to explore adhd and formulate effective responsiveness to it. I really liked Gabor Mate's book Scattered (Scattered Minds, in Canada), and need some kind of follow-up. I'm at the beginning of seeking another pediatrician, since I've felt this one is not responsive in a timely enough manner to my questions, and does not provide an atmosphere that invites the development of questions and discussion.

I just realize I'm temperamentally unsuited to raising a child with adhd. I tend to be agenda-driven, and have an expectation that when I apply pressure a child moves in that direction. Connor responds fairly compliantly to this--Scott just seems to spread out. If the boys are toothpaste, Connor oozes right out of the tube opening; Scott merely expands in all directions. This impacts everything from getting out of bed in the morning to getting to school to doing homework in the evening. I begin to feel like a drill sergeant, because I need to remind him at every step what the next one is. It's hard to not feel irritated, and outright angry with him. Last night it took a half an hour to read 5 pages from a book, because every word, every picture, reminded him of something else he wanted to talk about. But he was reading beautifully, and far more fluently than he would have a year ago.

It makes me wonder what factors there are to consider in adhd, in the ability to attend. Is there a kind of learning style that is linear, where one idea is foundation for the next, and so on, so that attention is the string of the chain that links the ideas together into learning. This certainly seems to be the style that most schools teach to, and the tests measure--what is going in...what comes out. The picture in the puzzle emerges because the pieces are given in a certain sequence and are adjacent to one another. Perhaps this is where medication has it's most value--to hold one's attention long enough to see the continuity between the pieces. Scott seems to take in and assemble understanding differently. He seems to link a couple of connections at random in one part of the puzzle, then another few in another part, and over time I see that something, some kind of pattern, is emerging. But in the day-to-day, it looks like he's not 'getting it'. Maybe this speaks to a whole different kind of learning style, and medication has much less return for this style. It holds his agitation level down some, and helps him be patience with stillness, but is it really giving bang for its buck in terms of helping him make connections?

I realize I feel really alone in my struggle to comprehend him and find ways to be more effective with him. I need more support, but I'm not sure what kind of support I'm looking for--so that complicates my efforts to find it.

I sympathize with his attention issues. I wonder if making sense of the world is like a big unwieldy puzzle for him too.

There are a lot of tricky issues that have taken a back seat, but they nag at me, and I feel paralyzed. Instead of one big puzzle box spilled all over my floor, there are four or five. The effort to inform myself seems so much. I'm troubled by the tea parties, and their message that Obama is taking our country in a totalitarian direction. My father sent an article from the Investor's Business Daily publication that he gets. Its basic premise is that Obama wants to set up a 'Democratic Dictatorship' (now how's that for an oxy-moron?). Death-panels, Smeath-panels--the Democrats want to hold power to make life-or-death decisions over all of us!

It's peculiar when the right wing wears the cloak of liberty, because it seems at heart they are loyal to a kind of authoritarian mindset. It seems this group was silent in the face of surveillance over Americans, mining our data, authorizing torture, using the material witness act in unprecedented ways to lock people up without recourse, sometimes for years. The only outcry this group gave was against those who revealed and questioned these practices.

Their assertions have a peculiar internal logic that I feel I can't quite just turn my back on. I'd like to follow them up, and see how much is based on fact, how much on distortion of fact. But I just don't have time.

A couple other issues I yearn to make sense of are: Iran's nuclear program: in just the past year I've learned that Iran had a weapons program, but suspended it years ago...Iran is years away from having a bomb; Iran could have a bomb within a year. Iran has a facility that was undeclared until last Monday. Proof of further deceptiveness, or well within the rules? Has Obama painted himself into a corner in his efforts to engage Iran? How about Afghanistan? Has he painted himself into a corner there? Which really does make sense--get serious about protecting the population from the insurgency--or give it back to the Taliban? Isn't that what got us into trouble years ago and culminated in 9/11?

The part of me that loves order wants to put the puzzles together. But I'm daunted by the prospect of where to start, what sources to use, and the spectre of hours going by while trying to find the pieces that match.


Shortly after publishing I was waiting for another program in my laptop to open and was staring at the photo of the puzzle on my blog page. I noticed a gap that had been bothering me, and I also noticed a piece lying right next to it that looked like it was a match. I'd stared at them for a long time yesterday. I got up, and sure enough, Bingo. That piece happened to be a watershed; at least 10 others easily found their homes. Of course, this was in the course of a half hour. I guess the lesson is I need to take a picture of a problem and post a blog about it, and it will "all fall into place".


PaleMother said...

Just a couple of quick bits (puzzle pieces?) for you:

Saw this yesterday. Ever heard anything about it?

I have to google it some more myself, but I did find a local practioner in the directory to keep in my hip pocket in case the "M" word comes up here this year.

As far as support goes, ever been here?

I've been off message boards for the most part since I started blogging (not enough time for both) ... and I haven't explored that particular one yet (I should). Sometimes they can be helpful (usually a mixed bag).

I will have to look for Scattered. Thanks for mentioning it.

As for the political puzzles, I used to be a political junkie. Now I just don't have the time/energy to tease all of it apart in detail. We get the Economist (so great for the outside-the-frame/overseas perspective) and I used to read most of the American stuff in each issue. I just can't face it these days. I am a bit of a bird dog, chasing topics and articles as the fall from the sky as time permits.

"It's peculiar when the right wing wears the cloak of liberty, because it seems at heart they are loyal to a kind of authoritarian mindset." I feel that. LOL.

Also this:

"There's the lesson of feeling overwhelmed, but noticing that little efforts over time reduce the mystery."

I am feeling overwhelmed a lot these days. I have to keep reminding myself to take small bites and breathe.



excavator said...

Hi, D!

Thanks for the links. I just came over to post my update and found your message. I haven't been over to visit the neurofeedback reference yet, but will.

I think you'll like "Scattered". It's one of those books that is about one topic, but sheds light on many different levels.

I haven't been to ivillage in a long time, but I used to visit them a lot when I was ttc, and also the Positive Parenting bulletin boards. Like you, I find posting on the boards, and reading blogs, and writing my own blog leaves me with little leftover time (to do things like research whether or not we should be in Afghanistan, say, or if universal healthcare is the bait to the trap of losing our freedoms).

I like the Economist, too.

Your image of the bird dog is pretty funny. I think a more apt metaphor for me is an adult version of adhd. Scott comes by it naturally, I think!

Thanks for stopping by. Very nice to "see" you.

Ailey said...


I love your puzzle metaphor. And the overwhelmed feeling: you describe it so well. There are so many puzzles to make order out of in many people's lives, I'm guessing. Try as we might to line life up in that linear fashion, the same that seems to be the accepted norm for educating our students, it just doesn't work so well. Too many things seem to need our attention simultaneously and few of them are those quick, fit a few pieces in this puzzle, then fit a few in the one over there, type.

Good luck with your search for a pediatrician who is more responsive. It sucks to feel alone in the piecing together of such a precious puzzle. You've put the intent out into the world for support. I intuit that that support is coming.

And, you know...I think you're on to something with the "take a pix of the puzzle/problem, step away from it and then look at it again from a distance and a different angle" approach that you took earlier.

That's how I found my wallet,that i thought i'd dropped at the library, at home and how I found a missing book on cd overdue from the library.

Another piece of that puzzle called: "how to create an environment conducive to solving puzzles", is that one can't be in a state of stress or strain when viewing puzzle/problem from the new angle. Like Sherri's advice from last week that stated:"Try Easy"

Well I've monopolized your comment space for long enough. I resonated with this post and the part to which I don't have similar experience you made so accessible by your description.

Warm Blessings...

Sheri said...

Excavator -- I thought of our long nights at the family reunion last summer as I saw the photo and read your analogy of the puzzle. Great memories.

I also loved your metaphor of toothpaste and how different kids respond differently.

I see it in my own kids. Each one is different and needs different things from me in the way of parenting.

It truly is a puzzle...