Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Herstory II

The following was published in the Minnesota Valley Mothers of Multiples August and September newsletter as a continuation of the first "Herstory" I wrote about 5 years ago.

Herstory II

About 5 years ago, I wrote a ‘Herstory’ for the MVMOM newsletter about life as a mom to identical twin girls. I’ve since re-posted that on my blog if you would like to read it in full here.
Only a few months after writing that, I became pregnant again. We figured that if we could survive twin girls with personalities and quirks as intense as theirs, we could survive just one of any kind of child for another go-around – and maybe even have a chance to enjoy it! We went for an early ultrasound, at the strong suggestion of our doctor. 

We suspected nothing. I had said a prayer that the baby was healthy as we went in. I lay at on the examining table intently watching the TV screen. Mike, my dear hubby, sat faithfully by my side, thumbing through a magazine. The friendly tech doused me in the familiar warm goo and proceeded immediately. She was silent for a moment as she examined the screen, when I broke the silence, “Honey…does that look familiar to you?” I asked. He looked cluelessly up from his reading trying to get his bearing, and completely unaware what he was about to realize. “I see two big black jelly beans on that screen” I told him. The ultrasound tech jumped in to confirm my suspicions, “Two sacs, two heartbeats.” Just four words, cradling more meaning than we could wrap our heads around in that moment. 

Even if you’ve had twins already before, or triplets, or quintuplets, or a single child – or 4 of them, you still don’t know what, or really, who, is coming and just what this will mean for the rest of your life. Let’s just say, we went ‘all in’ and were honored that God would let us have a chance to do this all again - and prayed for His compassion on our health and sanity and to give us the ability not only to survive, but maybe even to remember some of it this time! Though we certainly were a little nervous how that prayer would be answered.

All experienced parents like to claim that subsequent children are easier (after your firstborn(s)), simply because you are more experienced, more at ease and confident. While our little Nora and Stella (# 3 & #4) - were ‘easier’,  I certainly don’t believe it had anything to do with my experience or change in attitude (ok, perhaps, but only a smidge!) In fact, we could tell in the hospital minutes after [a relatively easy and uneventful, yet induced birth at 38 weeks] how at ease they were with the world, happily nursing and sleeping. A ‘far cry’ from our experience the first time! But both times we felt so lucky, and blessed simply in that all our children, babies and mom, were healthy and well, not to mention that I had avoided my fear of having surgery. (All my birth stories are on my blog if you wish to read them, at www.tandemtwinning.com) But the real blessing was getting to do it all over again.

And get a do-over we did! Many things were different. Schedule, who needs that? We have nowhere to go! Instead of crying and fighting them to sleep in their cribs, I threw up the white flag and just brought them to bed with us. I was better rested, and better able to enjoy and remember mom-hood. Nora and Stella were learning some words before they were a year old and even would follow simple instructions I gave them. By the time they were 2, they were better at cleaning up and throwing away trash than their big sisters! They wore shoes for the first time without crying or refusing to walk and they would sit in a stroller or shopping cart happily for the entire trip.  Things were oh-so very different…things were what a person would expect things to be like when you have two babies. We realized then, that the previous four years of life with our older children were certainly not ‘normal’.

When our first set of twins were babies and young kids, well-meaning people, family and friends and teachers told us ‘babies are just fussy’ and ‘it’s just a phase’ and ‘oh, the terrible 2’s!’ Others occasionally looked down their noses at us for not being able to control our 3, 4, and 5 year olds’ tantrums, or for not being able to get them to help during clean up time, or for their frustrated whining when they had to put on winter coats and boots. I changed diapers in public to avoid the loud hand dryers in the restroom. I was always 30 minutes late because that’s how long it took to buckle in that day, or get the sock seams just right. And I even left them in the car while getting milk at the gas station because I dreaded having to buckle back up again if I had brought her in! But the commentators who judged those deeds and attitudes were wrong. Our older girls were not in a phase, or ‘just picky’. They certainly were spirited, but it was more than that alone. They needed special help, attention and lots of patience and love and encouragement –and not a stronger hand that some suggested we were lacking.

Having another set of twins at this point, though that may sound a curse, it was a true blessing from above. I raised them much the same way as their older sisters, and in doing so, I realized that they were made of different dust. Like their sisters, their similar temperaments might be related to their similar genetics or their early environment. Not that they weren’t unique in and of themselves with their own personalities and preference, they certainly were – but they were fiercely more similar to their own twin than to their other siblings.

Members of MVMOM have approached me and tell me that they weren’t going to try for a #3 because they were afraid that they would end up like me, and have twins, again. But my claim is that stress, tears and sleepless nights do not correlate to number of children alone.  Yes, it is true you have twice as many diapers and feeds to tend to. And two to keep an eye on and be sure they don’t tumble down the steps at grandma’s house. Two you have to carry if you are going to see the dolphin show, because strollers aren’t allowed. Two to buckle in and out of the stroller or cart while the other freezes in our -20 Minnesota winters. And it’s very difficult to take them swimming by yourself. But each child bares within her a soul, a soul that has no prototype and a body in which physical or mental handicap may not be readily discernable from personality. Certainly every time you bring a child into this world, you are submitting yourself to a higher power. Some parents are called upon to dedicate their lives to loving very fragile and needy little people through this life.

It was now that I understood why other mothers and teachers had made subtle, but accusing comments. Why some of my ‘friends’ gossiped about how ill-behaved my family was, and how ‘in over our heads’ we were or even tried their own hand at disciplining my kids. But they didn’t understand. They had but one, maybe two children years apart who could talk at age 2, who would respond to incentive and disincentive and who lived for their parents’ praise. They didn’t understand. They believed that if you train a child ‘the right way’, that child will turn out right.  They didn’t understand what it is like to buckle Helen in. They didn’t understand what amazing effort it took to get Ingrid to sit in one place for an entire meal. Yes, it is still my job to teach those things, but it is not as simple as it was for them with their own children. They didn’t understand that the way which is right for their children, is not the way that is right for mine.

Today, my ‘firstborns’ are 8. Helen will still only sit in the rear driver side because she can’t handle the seat belt going the other way over her shoulder, but she buckles herself – and one of her little sisters. Ingrid still can’t sit through a whole meal most days, but she eats enough to get by. We homeschool now too, because some things that are challenging for them are simply easier and better accomplished taking the trouble to teach them at home, than to struggle with at school. They do spelling tests…while swinging. They love to read bedtime stories to and playing pretend with their 4 year old sisters - and teaching them addition. They love to pick beans and berries from the garden and build with legos. They even help with the dishes and laundry every day. We can even take a ride in a car to a restaurant and have a decent meal without too much hoopla. 

Did I mention that we have another baby (yes, just one!), Michelle, who turned one this month?! And for those things, I am so thankful. And I am thankful that I am free from guilt for my kids’ challenges. But neither can I take pride or credit in how great my kids behave or how they ‘turn out’.  Rather, there is a way that is right for each child, and I am merely beating the bushes away, trying to find that path. For some children, the path is well worn, and obvious and easy to navigate. For others, you forge the path yourself because it has never before been done quite like this. You swing the machete through a thick forest, and often end up back-tracking to try a different route. But find the path for your child.  Heck, make it if you have to and don’t feel insufficient because you have to work harder than others you see skipping down the wide path across the stream. Just know that you have been chosen for a special child who needs the patience, the wisdom, and the love that only you can provide.

Friday, July 12, 2013

In Response to my Dear Friend's "ADD" post...

OK, so admittedly my dear friend posted his most recent with this disclaimer, "I post things that are offensive not to offend but to make you think about what and why is it offensive...This is me warning you..."

He then posted a photo of his kid being unruly in church with the caption "ADD: Awaiting Dad's Discipline - Dear single mothers it is a parenting issue not a mental issue." 

Full post is here.

Dearest Micah,

Be glad that I've known you for so long and that I can see your instigating yet open-hearted spirit behind this bold statement. And while I do also get frustrated with our society's propensity to slap a label on every sluggard habit and handicapping sin and call it some kind of disease or disorder that needs some sort of pharmaceutical to heal it - But, I must say that I heartily disagree with the premise of your photo-statement, that such disorders as ADD and the like are merely the results of a lack of fatherly - or any quality per se - of discipline or training. 

I have been uniquely blessed to have at least one child with pretty severe case of this disorder. I have been even more blessed that she has an identical twins sister wihtout the same bondage. They are similar in intensity, spirit, tenacity...you name it. But one child carries a suitcase of ADD, SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder) anxiety disorders and potentially also ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) - though this last diagnoses has been disputed among providers. Oh, and her twin has only SPD. The road has been a challenge with both of them, even though they are only 8 now, but for the one with the more 'labels' it has been much more a challenge.

Before I knew of these diagnoses, I also carried around a suitcase of guilt for 4-5 years that I and my DH must be bad parents, and not have wise enough or firm enough discipline. I had genetically identical 5 year olds that were struggling with tantrums, and fighting and bad moods and all kids of problems - many related to SPD (before I knew what SPD was). Then, I had another set of genetically identical twins - though that may sound a curse, it was a true blessing from above, because in them, and in raising  them in much the same way as their older sisters, I realized, that they were made of different dust, and like their sisters their similar temperaments must be related to their similar genetics. They learned easily what behavior is good or not and craved my approval and affection enough to not wish to displease me. And they trusted me when I warned them of dangers. They were very enjoyable, but I knew I could take no pride in it as if it were a result of my wisdom or doing. It was then I understood why other mothers and teachers would look down their noses at me when struggling with my oldest set of twins, "spirited" and tenacious. Afterall, if you do the right things of course your children will turn out right, right? Bad kids have only one or two problems: bad or altogether absent parents...right?

Then please explain to me why my one daughter seems incapable of learning proper behavior from poor consequences. Its as if she likes to smash her head on concrete blocks. Over and over. She may cry in pain every time, yet something about it looks so enticing that she does it again, forgetting that it will still hurt the same next time. I did the 'right' things, I gave them choices with consequences for their actions. At one point, I gave her a sticker chart so that when she got just 10 stickers - not even consecutively, we could go to the restaurant of her choice when she earned them all. All she had to do? Answer when I called her name - not obey, not come running, not even verbalize...just simply acknowledge in sound or gesture or any manner that she heard me call her name. That's all. She failed over and over at this. One day, when I called her name and she did not answer, I brought it to her attention that should would not get a sticker again and she began crying and hitting her head and saying "Why am I so bad!?" It was at that point I realized...she wasn't bad. not at all. She was sick. Her heart desired compliance, but her heart somehow wasn't connected to her brain. She did not need discipline, or consequences or encouragement... she needed healing, love and lots of understanding, compassion and most of all, intense help learning to cope with and conquer her condition, potentially for life.

  Once I realized this, our family was, in a sense, freed. I was freed from the guilt that I somehow was responsible for the poor and challenging behavior my oldest set of twins. She was freed from intense pressure to perform outside her range of ability, even if other kids younger than her were able to do more. But one important thing we were not free from was the directive to train this child up in the way that is right just for her. She still needs to know right from wrong and  needs to find ways to overcome her impulsiveness and obey all that the Lord has commanded. We are still on that road, and now realize that it will be a long one for her, and not easy for any of us. It is the road that has so far lead us to homeschooling and doing my best to handle her gracefully, not angrily and sternly. I know we have and will make more wrong turns and have to back track at times. But with God's grace, we are building the road with love and wisdom, paving it with grace and walking on it in the light of His Word.

ok...so let's move on to your musing about "Why it is offensive" as you seek, because, ahem, it is. It is the occasional case that misbehavior is directly linked to a lack of appropriate discipline which a single mother who can't or won't provide it, IMHO. I don't know how often, because lets face it, until kindergarten and until having the experience of also raising 'normal' kids, I myself couldn't discern if it was my poor parenting or her built-in challenges. I don't think the research or resources to determine the answer to that question exist, in part, because we can, and are often pressured to drug our children rather than heal them and train them - we have in a way, eliminated or blurred the control group. I am not belittling all use of medication for mental illness, but the truth is that these disorders are not caused by a lack of pharmaceuticals in a person's body...there is something at the core which is 'out of order' in them, often in the brain. And the brain is highly resilient and plastic. You don't heal a broken arm with pain medication alone, and I believe every person deserves a chance and true healing the best we can attempt it before resorting terminally to lifelong medication as a crutch. That is the road we have chosen and why we have chosen it anyway.

But back to the single mother...my first question is, why potentially could she not provide the training her child may need? I may not be a single mother, but I can tell you from the time I get up to the time I crash in exhaustion at night, there are several times throughout the day that I  have (of my 5 children) more than one kid at a time crying, fighting, throwing a tantrum or secretly doing some other misdeed simultaneously. There is only 1 of me. I can only speak to or comfort and train 1, perhaps 2, children at a time. I see my middle kids now developing 'middle child syndrome', needing more one on one attention than I can possibly give them and I stay home all day and don't even work outside the home!  I'm afraid that single mother is not going to have a chance at giving her kids the level of attention she wants to, no matter how wise and well-intentioned she is, especially if she has kids with special needs. She is probably carrying around a suitcase of mommy-guilt. So you want to make her already-heavy heart even heavier? Do you love that rowdy child of hers in the pew? For the love of God...go show her some love! Spend a Saturday with your kids doing a project at her house, babysit her kids while she can go get a haircut or have lunch or dinner with a friend or even spend some one on one time with one of her kids, go fold her laundry...every Tuesday. Don't do it once, do it every month, or every week so she has some ongoing support. And take 'single mom' broadly...divorced, separated, widowed, military, husband travels for work alot. How about single guys - do you avoid dating single moms? Maybe you just never thought of it, that God would actually call you to marry someone with "baggage", but all people have "baggage". Their baggage is just cuter, louder and poops more. Single moms need us all. So let's stop blaming them for all the things they can't possibly do themselves, and lets reach out to them instead.

Some books I really, highly recommend on the subject are Dr. Sears "ADD Book" and "Discipline Book" and "Fussy Baby Book" as well as a book called "Nurtureshock" by Bronson and Merryman.

Peace out brother...and I hope no rotten tomatos have given you a bad hair day. :)