Today in my son’s science club class, a monthly class held at our local homeschool co-op, we did kitchen science activities. One activity included mixing corn starch with water at a ratio of about 10 to 1. As the corn starch is mixed with the water, it becomes more and more difficult to mix it. When you put your fingers into the final product, it feels solid, yet as you pull your fingers out, two things happen, the solid become more liquid and it also feels like it is sucking you in, like quick sand.
I have been sitting here for over 2 hours, searching the web in an effort to find a topic to write about. I then came to the conclusion that I needed to write about being “stuck”. Because for the past month or so, I have felt stuck. Stuck with life and my efforts to write. I have started over 4 blog posts in the past month that have been left unfinished. I have also found myself dreading my weekly writing time. That has been a tough thought for me to swallow. As a busy mom of three kids who also works outside the home on average 20 hours per week including weekends, writing has always been my outlet and escape.
So here I am with time alone to myself in a favorite coffee shop. My husband is taking care of the kids. I haven’t even had an interrupting phone calls or texts about issues at home. Yet, I am left feeling blank. And so as I wrote out the word stuck in the tile, I then came to the body of the post and the first thing that came to mind was quicksand.
That feeling of being pulled in and every effort to pull myself up and out, leaves me more exhausted and more swallowed in my lost feelings. I feel this in particular as it relates to my youngest child. He has shown signs of anxiety for nearly his entire life. Yet, these signs have become more pronounced over the past six months. A year ago, he was begging me to participate in classes like his older siblings have done. I remember picking my daughter up from her bimonthly girl scout meeting during which time she would want to talk the entire ride home about her experiences in girl scouts that day. My younger son would become mad with her talking and demand that he talk too. Later it became apparent to me that he too wanted to participate in activities like his sister. I found the information for our local nature center which provides preschool age nature classes centered around a story and nature walk. We attended several of these classes. I remember the first day of class. My son, who was 4 at the time, was disappointed that the class did not involve writing things in a notebook. Ironic coming from a child growing up in an unschooling family.
I think the vast age difference between him and his siblings, his sister is 7 years older than him and his brother is 11 years older, has added to his sense of being left out. OVer the summer, I learned that our homeschool group was starting a monthly co-op. I was excited and he too was eager to participate in the classes. We encountered one challenge of him not being old enough for the chess club, something he desperately wanted to participate in. I contacted the parents who were running the class and had an online discussion with them. I learned that there 14-year-old son was the one leading the class and because he had never done anything like this before, they felt that 5 was just too young for the class. I understood and yet also was aggravated by the age limit. My reasons for homeschooling when my oldest was 5 had very much to do with age related learning. My oldest learned to read and write before being of kindergarten age and thus school would not have been a good academic fit for him. Here I was 12 years later dealing with this issues with my youngest in the homeschool community.
Four months have past and we have attended the monthly co-op with my youngest participating in 1oam science club and 11 am art class. There were more kids in science than art but yet he had more issues with art class and would not even go in the room today. He participated in the activity the first three weeks. So much for the idea of him becoming more comfortable with being around other people. His social anxiety seems to have grown worse over these past 4 months rather than diminish as I had hoped. We have known some of the individuals in the co-op for a long time. Both parents in his classes were extremely respectful of his desire to be off by himself and did not push him in any area. They were very accommodating to us both as I attended the classes with him and was the one to participate in the past two months science activities. Again, as I look back, I see his participation lessened in science class as well as art over the 4 weeks.
What is a parent to do?
I grappled with this issue for some time and with the help of a close friend who also has children with anxiety issues, finally made the phone calls necessary to schedule my son for a psychological assessment. I also took him to a well visit which I had not done for some time due to his anxiety around new people. He refused the hearing test after tolerating the headphones on his head for less than a minute, refusing to raise his hand when he heard a beep and then pulled the headphones off. HE then refused to take his clothes off to wear the gown for his check up. I knew the nurse practitioner at the clinic from taking my two older children and was really impressed with how well she handled his anxiety and refusal. I was not impressed with how I handled the experience. I am usually my son’s biggest champion for respecting his space and need to do things at his own pace but sitting there in the doctor’s office, I wanted him to comply and follow the rules. Maybe this is more a testament to my own issues with authority and rule following and may have very little to do with my son. I know I have fears of looking like a “bad parent” because of my children’s behavior.
The more I pushed my son to comply with the required taking off of his clothes in order to be examined by the doctor, the more he dug in his heels and resisted. Like stepping in quick sand, I found myself becoming more stuck, not knowing what to do and then realizing I had pushed too far became angry. I sank further into the quicksand. The nurse practitioner managed to listen to his heart and lungs and look in his ears and eyes and even his throat. Thank goodness she remained very calm. And we talked at the end of my upcoming appointment for a psychology assessment that would not be until February because that was the first available appointment. I can still see the look on her face when I said “February”. A few days later, I got a call stating there was an opening at the clinic later this month. unfortunately on a day and time that would not work for me. There are two appointment times at the clinic, 8:45 am and 1pm. In order for us to successfully arrive at the clinic, I knew we needed an afternoon appointment. My son needs warm up time in the morning. The assessment is a 3-4 hour process and I want us to at least have the chance to take our time in the morning and not be in a rush to get out of the house. I need that so I can remain calm. Taking him to the psychologist feels less threatening to me than to the well visit appointment. Maybe because I know that the psychologists are educated and trained in working with children with psychological issues. And I trust that they can be objective and calm in the face of my son’s defiance and resistance. Yet, I also know without the presence of other children or a noisy environment, some of his issues will not be apparent.
While I wait for his appointment, 2 months away, I find myself sinking further in the quicksand of worry and self-doubt. No matter how many times that I read that parents do not cause their children’s mental illness, there is a perpetual thought that lingers in my mind that somehow this is my fault. I do have the luxury of blaming my son’s anxiety on early child-hood trauma including his sister’s sudden behavior outbursts and personality change when she was 8 and he was merely 1-year-old. The onset of her severe OCD and the resulting years of struggles within our family and between my daughter and us, her parents as well navigated the process of finding help for her. On top of that, at age 2, my son witnessed his father going into cardiac arrest in our living room and the subsequent trauma of me being gone for 10- 15 hours each day over the next 12 days while he was in the hospital. And to top things of, the following year, when he was 3, I was in a car accident and he and his father came to meet me in the emergency room. I went home that same day, but suffered much physical and psychological pain for many months with lingering post traumatic driving anxiety.
Maybe I need to step back in this time and assume a role of observer rather than trying to change his behavior. I know that some regular routines have helped him with bedtime rituals as well as morning wake ups. We have also found removing some foods to have helped some extreme behavior for the most part. And taking an amino acid supplement along with magnesium, thing his sister has been taking for years, also seem to help make our days manageable. I am very attached to my son, this child whom I waited to bring into the world until my husband had full-time salaried employment allowing me to be at home full-time for the first time in my 10 years of parenting. Yet, my husband’s loss of this steady job when I was 3 months pregnant, sent me back to work. I resisted returning to work after he was born for a year because I wanted that experience of being home with my child full-time, something that I had only for weeks with my older two. He is also very attached to me and me alone which has presented many challenges with his father watching him as I have gone to work over the past 4 1/2 years.
Somehow, I need to take a deep breath and step back. I need to accept my son and the struggles he currently has. I also need to acknowledge that his issues do not have to define him. I resisted for many months, almost a year with labelling my daughter’s issues. This time, I know that a label can help us to know the path to receiving help and helping him to understand what he is going through. This is particularly true when child sufferers with OCD. It is important to help the child to see the OCD as separate from himself. Personifying the OCD helps a child to see it for what it is and can help him to overcome the challenges that OCD creates. You would think my experience of having traveled the journey with my daughter, would help me to deal more effectively with my son’s issues. I know there things that I can handle much better this time around and yet, maybe my awareness also creates more dread of what lies ahead. But I must stop myself from projecting into the future and catastrophizing his current issues.