Knife

We knew when we put Martin in public school that socializing would be problem.

It has been.

Academics: Not a problem.

Speech/language: Fading as a problem, except for social/pragmatic usage.

Behavior: Sometimes a problem (the silly, detox-y days), but his teacher handles the behavior masterfully.

Socializing: Problem alert.

Last month, in the post titled, “I’m the Issue,” I wrote about my concerns for Martin’s self-esteem.

At night, when the reading is done and the teeth are brushed and Martin and his stuffed Minions are tucked under organic linens, I sit on his bed to tell him that he’s a great kid and very, very loved. If he’s having anxiety, I make him repeat: “I am safe. My mom is in the house. My dad is in the house. My mom and dad will keep me safe, and I will keep my Minions safe. I can sleep well tonight.” Sometimes we talk about the day he’s had, or the next day he will have.

“Is it okay,” he asked me two weeks ago, during this intimate time, “if people don’t like me?”

I said, “Of course it is. Everyone has some people who don’t like him or her. There are people who don’t like me. There are people who don’t like Daddy. You can’t make everyone like you.”

“But is it okay,” my beautiful eight-year-old son continued, “if no one likes me?”

I am a failure.

Expectations

We went skiing again, two weeks ago. I feel so incredibly fortunate to have had two separate ski weeks this year. This time it wasn’t Park City, but Beaver Creek. Adrian has skied Beaver Creek before; for me and Martin, this time was the first.

When we’re at Park City, Martin takes his lessons through the National Ability Center, which you know I love. The instructors are trained and experienced in giving adaptive lessons, they got Martin skiing for the first time, and I’ve seen them perform miracles when it comes to getting more severely affected children and teens sliding down the mountain.

At Beaver Creek, we booked a full week of half-day lessons through the in-house adaptive program. The Beaver Creek adaptive lessons were discounted from standard one-on-one lessons but still quite expensive.

When Martin was doing skating lessons in the hope—ahem, in my hope—that he could play hockey, his instructor was not trained in working with special-needs kids. He was patient, maybe too patient, and no expert at motivating Martin. This may be my own unnecessary fear, but at some point I was unsure whether the instructor even enjoyed working with Martin enough to push him. Martin may not have got as much from those skating lessons as he should have. I’ve had the same feeling about the music lessons—first his piano lessons and now his trombone lessons, both with “regular” instructors. Sometimes those who don’t work regularly with impaired children seem to have pretty low expectations of what they can accomplish.

So I was uneasy Monday morning when I discovered that Martin’s instructor, Steve—Martin was assigned the same guy for the whole week—was not a full-time adaptive instructor and instead taught mostly standard lessons. Steve had called me the night before, to go over the notes in Martin’s file, and asked questions about what to expect. Nevertheless, I feared he might not know how to handle Martin’s shortcomings like attention, coordination, or frustration tolerance. I worried whether he would value Martin’s strengths, like curiosity, and perseverance when motivated.

Those fears were relieved as soon as I retrieved Martin after Monday’s lesson. Martin was a bundle of enthusiasm as he whispered dramatically about the secret path they’d skied through trees and then demonstrated how they howled like wolves in the woods. Steve talked about Martin as if he were any kid: His parallel stance was improving and he wasn’t wedging to slow anymore, but his hockey stop wasn’t 100%, either. They’d crossed several hillsides to work on keeping skis together. When allowed to ski independently Martin was still straight-lining instead of turning. He’s eight, the instructor said. That’s what eight-year-olds do.

I have a long history of bristling when I hear “all kids do that.” On this occasion, it didn’t bother me. To the contrary, by Wednesday, after three lessons, I was convinced that Martin was improving faster with Steve than with any previous instructor, and if Steve was bothered by Martin’s shortcomings, he wasn’t dwelling on them. On Friday, during his final lesson, Martin skied his first black diamond.

The Steve situation, i.e., Martin doing better with a standard instructor than an adaptive instructor, engenders where we are now. Martin has improved again since our post-Christmas dip. At times he seems close to typical. And that raises a whole new crop of problems. Back when I couldn’t get Martin to respond to a question and trembled at the constant meltdowns, taking too long to get ready for taekwondo class would not have bothered me, at least not much. When he couldn’t hold a pencil, or when we still worried about cognitive impairment, I probably would have delighted that he was doing math homework, not fretted that he was dallying.

The expectations of Martin have become higher, and sometimes he rises to the occasion, as he did with Steve. On the other hand, I find more reasons to be frustrated when these expectations aren’t met. Which, when you think about it, is unreasonable indeed.

Here we sit, neither typical nor impaired enough to—to make a big deal out of it? I’m friendly with a taekwondo mother whose son has attention issues. Her son’s issues are slight, and always have been. She’s so skilled at rolling with the punches: accounting for her son’s tardiness, giving him “good attention” reminders, supporting him socially, monitoring his after-school activities to make sure they are meeting his needs. I’m not so good at all that, yet. I’ve spent so many years putting Martin’s shoes on for him and helping him eat that I haven’t developed the skill set to empower his independence.

Time to raise other expectations. Of me.

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Adrian and Martin, heading up the mountain.

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Martin, enjoying a fountain view, after a long day of skiing.

I’m the Issue

Back in December, I found myself volunteering at Martin’s class Chanukah party. I read The Runaway Latkes to the class, served latkes—I’d brought Martin’s from home—, and helped Martin’s desk cluster play Chanukah bingo. I also facilitated a dreidl game. Martin played dreidl without incident, but another boy cried or complained every time he had to surrender chips, and finally refused to play any longer, instead yelling, “I’m a sore loser! I’m a sore loser!” I was reminded of when the behaviorist told me, “Martin is not the behavior problem in his classroom.” Overall, the morning went smoothly for Martin, and I felt optimistic.

While I and the other parent volunteers were packing to leave, the teacher called the kids to the rug for another story time. The kids were fussing and settling, and the teacher said above the murmur, “Children! This book is scary! You might want to snuggle up with a good friend!” Everyone squealed and began linking arms into groups of two or three. Tristan immediately grabbed Spencer. Those are two boys I know. Tristan’s mom was born in the same country as Adrian. We have done play dates with Spencer (on a parent-organized, not child-initiated, basis). Martin gravitated to them also, and sat himself very close to Tristan. A second later, Tristan pushed Martin away, and even from the classroom doorway, I heard Martin ask, “Why not? Why can’t I be?” I don’t know exactly what Tristan said to Martin, but given that it followed “. . . snuggle up with a good friend,” I can guess. When I left, Martin was sitting alone, two feet from Tristan and Spencer, listening as the teacher began the scary story.

I worry so much about Martin’s self-esteem. It’s probably what I worry about the most, even more than his attention deficit and immaturity. I wonder how many times per day his self-esteem endures hits like Tristan pushing him away and saying he’s not a friend. The ten or so kids other than Martin at his morning bus stop are all girls, except a boy named Nathan. One of the mothers is pregnant with twins and just found out she’s having a boy and a girl. When she told the bus-stop crowd, Nathan’s mom said, “Oh my gosh, Nathan, are you happy? Finally another boy around the street!” She said this while Martin was standing next to her. Perhaps she confused social challenges with hearing, understanding, inferring.

Seeing the way the world treats Martin has caused me to do some hard reflecting, again, on the way I treat Martin, and how I might also be injuring his self-esteem. Multiple times each day, I become frustrated with Martin for behaviors that are likely outside his control. On any given morning, I might say the following:

-“Martin, why did you spill all the juice? Weren’t you being careful? This is expensive juice.”

-“Martin, I told you to finish eating while I got dressed. You haven’t eaten even one single bite!”

-“Martin, why can’t you just put your shoes on? Feet. Shoes. It isn’t hard.”

-“Martin, we are going to miss the bus! Listen! Pay attention!”

-“Well, that’s it. We’re late. Again.”

Or take this very afternoon, a Monday. I’m going to be honest here, entirely honest, even if doing so brings me to tears while I’m writing: I have been frustrated with Martin since the minute he returned from school. Everything was wrong: Last night I slept only three hours, because I was working on a memo. This afternoon I ended up doing more office tasks than I planned, and my lunch date was more than half an hour late, so I still had to make dinner once Martin was at home. Let me add—Martin had a fantastic weekend. He chatted conversationally, he had no meltdowns, he focused at taekwondo class. So I expected a fantastic today. I knew today would rock. And then it didn’t. Martin cried and complained his way through 40 minutes of homework (worksheets that should have taken no more than 10 minutes), and he still wasn’t done, not even close, when I called him to get ready for taekwondo. I reserved 20 minutes to get us out the door. Twenty minutes to put on a taekwondo uniform and sneakers. And yet we were late. Like junk expands to fill a basement, Martin’s needs expand to overflow whatever time he’s allotted.

My role in all this? I’ve spent the entire afternoon being unreasonable. I’ve told Martin to stop complaining, I’ve grown frustrated, I’ve blamed him for our lateness. I’ve told him to act like an eight-year-old instead of a baby. Once or twice I’ve raised my voice. Constantly I’ve thought, “I would like a glass of wine,” and responded to myself, “A glass of wine will not solve anything,” and then argued with myself, “I think it would.”

My attitude, this afternoon and many mornings, is problematic for two reasons. First, it is unfair unfair to Martin. It’s not that Martin “isn’t being careful”—it’s that his ADHD and lingering coordination issues make him clumsy and distracted. It’s not that Martin “isn’t hurrying”—he lacks the ability to focus. It’s not that Martin is “ignoring me”—listening and paying attention go to the very heart of his disorder. To be sure, some of his conduct may be behavioral. But most of it is not, and it upsets him to be reminded of his shortcomings.

Second, my attitude pretends like I’m not the issue.

If Martin is spilling juice, I am the issue. The juice should be in a safer spot, and in a spill-proof cup.

If Martin isn’t finishing breakfast while I’m getting dressed, I am the issue. I need to get dressed before Martin eats so that I can supervise him.

If we are not getting out of the house on time, I am the issue. If 20 minutes is insufficient time to prepare, then somehow I need (1) to find more time and (2) to organize so that I have nothing to do except shepherd Martin’s preparation. One might argue that Martin needs to be developing more independence; clearly, however, the “independent Martin” strategy is failing at this time. Maybe I can leave one, and only one, task for solo performance: teeth brushing, or bag packing, or sneaker tying. For now, I need to “scaffold” massively (think “build extrastructure”) and withdraw support as Martin’s attending improves.

The truth is—and I think most biomed parents will agree with this—it is very frustrating to spend almost every waking moment working toward recovery and still get hit with waves of perseveration. Still never get out of the house on time. Still wonder why the child never listens. Still endure moments of hopelessness.

But that truth doesn’t excuse me from acting like the grown-up in this relationship.

Epilogue

I wrote this post yesterday, Monday. When Adrian arrived home, I said, “It’s been an afternoon. Will you pour me a glass of white wine?” He noted that the only white wine in the house was a bottle of questionable quality that the pool company had dropped off before Christmas. I told him to proceed. I drank two glasses. I woke at 3:30 am with a headache. I took ibuprofen and went back to sleep, propped on pillows, then managed to oversleep until 6:00 am.

Despite being rushed, I worked swiftly and organized the morning well. Martin cooperated more than yesterday. I was so proud of us when we were ready for the school bus three minutes early.

After Martin departed, I realized I’d forgotten his after-breakfast supplements.

He arrived home with a report saying he’d needed an unusual amount of prompting during the school day, and had refused to participate in Valentine’s activities. Now he’s in taekwondo again, and instead of participating, he’s jumping.

Still, the grown-up in the relationship feels okay. Must be a sleep thing.

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Martin, at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium. He’s not the issue.

Opposite Direction

We had that one golden week, immediately after I switched Martin to low-salicylate diet.

The next week wasn’t so good.

This week isn’t so good.

You know what I mean by “not so good”: lots of silliness, little concentration, some meltdowns.

We are still doing low-sal.

I can’t identify any environmental changes since golden week.

What is different is that we are, again, increasing the anti-microbials in Martin’s protocol, trying to reach what his doctor considers full dose.

Martin’s system is sensitive and reactive. I begin to doubt whether we will ever make it to full dose.

I’m going to try an experiment, this week: I’m going to reference Martin’s protocol sheets (I print them at home and keep them all, of course) from our ski week and from the golden week. Whatever dose of each antimicrobial Martin had those weeks, he shall have this week.

I’m writing this at Martin’s taekwondo class. I’m watching him focus on nothing. I’m looking at a kid with half the attention span he had two weeks ago.

And so for a little while, I don’t care whether we are working to reach full dose of antimicrobials.

I just want another golden week.

New Year!: We Zipped by a Whole Foods Market

There are times when I should trust my instincts.

Remember when I thought Martin was having a yeast flare, but went with the plan of his his doctor, who didn’t think yeast was the issue?

I was right. Yeast was the issue, and by not addressing yeast directly and immediately, I let it get worse. By four days into our Utah trip, Martin’s skin was a mess. That’s his “tell,” for candida. He gets a mild rash on his legs and belly, which spreads to his arms and backside as he scratches and scratches until he’s covered with bloody nicks. It’s awful. December 30, though we rubbed balm from head to toe, Martin could not stop scratching, and I was washing little spots of blood off his sheets and clothes.

I messaged his doctor, attaching photos. She agreed that we needed to take immediate anti-yeast measures and suggested Martin go back on Candex. This time, I supplemented her opinion with my own and decided to kickstart the new treatment with two weeks of Candidase.

. . . Which explains why, New Year’s Eve, after getting up late and skiing and meeting Adrian’s colleague for a drink, I insisted on driving to the Park City Whole Foods Market for Candidase and Candex.

As I wrote this, one week after New Year’s Eve, the situation has improved dramatically. Candidase works best on an empty stomach, so each night after 10:00 pm, I slip into Martin’s room and give him two Candidase capsules, which he swallows without waking. I do the same thing before 6:00 am, and he takes a third dose immediately after school. For the time being, I’ve cut the already sparse grains from his diet, and tried to further limit natural sugars. Last Sunday, just after we returned to New York, I baked semisweet spinach brownies, which are nut-free (appropriate for school snacks) and better than they sound.

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Whenever possible, I’ve been substituting those for the Lärabars Martin loves, which are healthy but, because of the dates, high-sugar, at least by my standards. Instead of a (grain-free but still sweet) baked good like banana bread, Martin has been eating vegetable omelets, sometimes with turkey bacon, for breakfast.

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Martin still scratching, though much less. His belly looks good. His arms and legs are beginning to heal again. He is comfortable.

Honestly, I am disappointed that Martin has had yet another yeast flare. I had hoped that, by this time, his system would be healed enough to keep candida in check.

But who’s got time for wallowing? I’m in battle.

 

A&A Part II: Formaldehyde

When we moved to the suburbs, June 4, 2013, we bought Martin a new bedframe, a twin-size rally car frame. Because of wheels, bumper, and built-in shelf, it occupied more space than the plain, unfinished hardwood frame he’d had previously. In the City, his bedroom was too small for a fancy rally frame; the suburbs have some advantages.

We did not, however, replace Martin’s mattress, which was an expensive organic mattress that I’d ordered two years earlier from California. A bedframe is one thing. An organic mattress does not get replaced so willy-nilly.

Martin never adored the rally bed, even though he and Adrian had picked it out together on-line. I think the metal headboard and side rails were cumbersome. Martin still tends to toss and turn at night, and to throw his limbs over the bedside. I would hear him at night, banging his arms and head on metal. Plus, the metal was cold. I didn’t love the rally bed, either. At the time, I still had to pick Martin up, out of bed, while he was sleeping, to take him to the bathroom or help him wake up. As he grew bigger, it was hard to lift him over the rails without straining my back.

What I did know was that the rally bed was safe. I’d researched the materials of which the frame was made, and the manufacturing processes, and I felt comfortable that they posed no particular dangers.

This June, 2015, Martin decided to break up with his rally car bed. The end of their two-year relationship came suddenly. Martin, for a couple weeks, had been having trouble falling asleep. One night, after an hour or two of talking to his stuffed animals, giggling, dancing down the hall to the potty, and calling for drinks of water, Martin asked to sleep in the queen-size bed in the guest room. I can’t remember whether I acted out of frustration, or exasperation, or hope, or some combination; in any event, I let him climb into the guest bed, and he was asleep within minutes.

The next night, the same scenario replayed. Martin stayed awake, busy as a bee, until finally he finagled permission to move to the queen-size bed in the guest room. The night after that, he skipped the rally bed altogether and asked to do bedtime in the guest room. He also stopped having trouble falling asleep. I don’t know why. Maybe the “trouble” was intentional, a ploy to try a different bed. The explanation he gave was, “Now that I’m almost seven, it’s just easier to sleep in a big bed.” That’s exactly what he said: “It’s just easier.” The little cad.

After Martin had been sleeping, without issue, in the guest room for more than a week, Adrian and I devised a plan. I didn’t want Martin to continue sleeping in the guest room. Unlike his bedroom, the guest room isn’t coated in EMF-blocking paint, isn’t right next to my and Adrian’s room, and doesn’t have his name on the wall in wooden block letters. On the other hand, Martin wanted a bigger bed and seemed to be sleeping better in a bigger bed. His own bedroom, though bigger than his City bedroom, is not wide enough to accommodate a queen-size bed. Adrian and I decided the solution was to offer Martin a double bed for his upcoming seventh birthday, and to bill the gift as a “big-boy bed.” In fact, we would give his bedroom a mini-makeover, changing the Curious George theme to an outer-space theme, because he’s into planets and moons.

(Actually, we offered Martin a list of new room themes to choose: music, outer space, books and writing, Big Hero 6, sports generally, or the New York Rangers. I was pulling for the Rangers. I was silently willing him to choose the Rangers. But it wasn’t meant to be. Martin likes planets.)

A big-boy double bed needs a big-boy double-size mattress, and for Martin it has to be an organic mattress. To make our big-boy-bed plan work, I would have to bite the bullet and shell out a lot of money for a new organic mattress. I found an organic mattress showroom not too far from us, drove there one morning, asked questions, compared choices, and ordered a satisfactory option. I also purchased a waterproof organic mattress cover, for the various mishaps that can occur in a seven-year-old’s bed. Then I set about procuring two double-size organic cotton sheet sets.

By the time all that was totaled, I was not in the mood to spend more money, and I suppose I let down my guard. I ordered an inexpensive bedframe, with storage drawers underneath, from wayfair.com. It arrived quickly, and with Samara’s help, I spent three days assembling the thing. (Adrian has myriad talents. The use of tools and hardware is not one of them.) The new organic mattress came just in time for Martin’s birthday. I filled the bed’s drawers with Martin’s stuffed animals, covered the mattress in organic sheets, switched the Curious George wall decals for outer-space wall decals, and hung up posters of the planets and moons. Martin loved his birthday gift. He immediately moved from the guest room back into his own outer-space room, into his new big-boy bed. That was at the end of June.

Martin’s allergy troubles began in earnest over the summer. As part of our search for answers, I asked our environmental consultant to check for mold, mildew, or other triggers to which Martin might be responding. Almost immediately, he found elevated levels of formaldehyde in Martin’s bedroom. Formaldehyde! It seemed to emanate from—did you guess this?—the cheap bedframe I’d bought online after spending so much on the organic mattress and linens. Martin has been exposed to formaldehyde. Way to go, me. Worse still, the consultant theorizes that the expensive mattress may have absorbed enough formaldehyde from the frame to pose an ongoing problem.

As soon as my parents, who are visiting from Texas, depart, Martin is moving back into the guest room and I’m throwing away—yes, throwing away, because although my first choice is to donate, I refuse to pass an unsafe product to any child—the bedframe. The double-size organic mattress will move to the basement in the hopes that it can air our enough to be safe again. (We have a well-ventilated basement with windows.) This time I will do my research and spend the money on a truly safe wooden bedframe, then have the organic mattress retested and hope it has become salvageable.

Remember the organic twin-size mattress that we brought with us from the City, the one that was on the rally bed? I didn’t have the heart to let that mattress go. It was too expensive. In my office I have a daybed with a trundle. I moved the twin-size organic mattress onto the trundle frame, under the main bed, thinking that we might one day put it to another use. Then my cats discovered that they could crawl underneath the daybed cover, onto the trundle mattress, and be tucked into their own flat cave between the trundle and the main bedframe. Before I even pinpointed to where the cats were disappearing hours at a time, they had left so much fur on the twin-size organic mattress that I wonder whether it will ever be suitable for humans again.

Way to go, me.

Martin doodled this on a homework sheet. I can't be sure, but I'm hoping it's some sort of representation of Henrik Lundqvist.

Martin doodled this on a homework sheet. I can’t be sure, but I’m hoping it’s some sort of representation of Henrik Lundqvist.

Leave It. Not the Yes Song That I Love. A Different Kind of “Leave It”

I am compelled to write again on the topic of guilt.

I’ve acknowledged before that I feel guilty for my son’s autism. I know I’m not alone. The Thinking Moms’ Revolution ran a post on this topic last year, titled “How I Gave My Son Autism.” That post exposed a reality: Many mothers, when they find out the health conditions that underlie autism and the environmental factors that may trigger them, feel guilty for not knowing more, for not doing more to prevent autism from invading their children’s lives. I am one of those mothers.

I am also tired of defending my right to feel guilty. Here’s a simplified version of a conversation I had this week:

Friend:

“Why don’t you weigh in publicly on some of these debates, like vaccine safety or antibiotic use?”

Me:

“They are tough issues, and I feel like everyone is so polarized and aggressive. I need my strength to recover my son and don’t want to spend it on defending myself.”

Friend:

“You’ve learned a lot, though. Why not share it?”

Me:

“Someday I will, when Martin doesn’t need me as much. Now is not the time. Understand also—all that I know now figures into the guilt that I feel for what I didn’t know when Martin was a baby. It’s painful for me to share that.”

Friend:

“Wait! You know you shouldn’t feel guilty, right? You know it’s not your fault that Martin has autism? Tell me that you know that.”

This issue arises constantly with well-meaning persons who are not biomed parents. They hear that I experience guilt, and they rush to reassure me that I have nothing to feel guilty about.

While I can’t fault anyone for wanting to make me “feel better,” random reassurances that I bear no guilt don’t make me feel better. They upset me. I know things. These things make me feel guilty. I have this feeling. I have a right to feel it. The emotion is mine to resolve (or not) on my own terms.

Biomed parents get it. When I speak with another biomed parent about feelings of guilt, the response is usually something much closer to, “I get that. How are you coping? Want to brainstorm ways to channel that into positive action?”

We don’t get to walk around telling people what emotions they should or shouldn’t feel. I, personally, become uncomfortable when a mother says that her child’s autism is a “gift.” But I don’t respond, “Wait! You know autism isn’t a gift, right? You know you shouldn’t feel like your child is lucky?” I respond, “Tell me more, if you want to.” And then, if she wants to talk, I listen. If she doesn’t, I leave it alone.

The guilt that I feel is not harmful to my relationship with Martin. To the contrary, it prompts me to do my best for him, however I can.

So, please, leave it alone. That’s a good way to help.