Saturday, January 6, 2018

Life on the Spectrum Snapshot: Pre-Diagnosis

He heaved between sobs, opening the car door and vomiting right there in the car line. I prayed that no one had noticed.

“Okay, okay,” I soothed him, patting his back. “It’s okay. Put your seat belt back on, we’ll go home.”

He was so hysterical that my words didn’t, couldn’t penetrate. He cried into his hands, rocking back and forth. “I can’t. I can’t. I can’t,” he cried.

I pulled out of the car line and into the parking lot.

“Mommy, I want breakfast,” a little voice peeped from backseat. “You said breakfast after Buddy go to school.”

“I know,” I said, getting out of the car and walking around to Buddy’s side. I opened the door to buckle him in and he kicked at me.

“NO!” he screamed. “No. No. No.” He thrashed in his seat trying to keep me from forcing him out of the car. His small fist makes contact with my cheek.

“Buddy. Buddy. Buddy! Stop!” I yelled.

Sniffles and sobs started in the back seat. “Buddy in trouble,” Thing 2 cried. “I hungry,” Thing 1 whined. And the baby began crying in earnest, wailing her feelings too.

I tried not to look around me. I tried not to care if anyone saw the chaos happening in my car. I tried. I tried.

I took a deep breath. “Buddy isn’t in trouble. Mommy is trying to help him,” I said as gently as I could muster. “It’s okay. We’re all okay. We’re going to get breakfast. Doesn’t that sound good Buddy?”

Buddy continued to cry and protest, but he stopped physically fighting me.

“You don’t have to go, Buddy. Not right now,” I whispered. “Please, please let mommy put your seatbelt on?”

I pushed down on his shoulders. Sometimes the compression worked and helped him calm down.

“I’m going to count to five, Buddy, and then we’re going to put your seatbelt on. Okay? One. Two. Three…”

He reached up and yanked the seatbelt across his body. He was so quick, it clicked in place almost before I could process his compliance.

“Okay. We’re okay,” I said as I shut his door and ran around the van. The car line had all but dissipated, but the one remaining teacher outside letting kids out of cars was staring at me. Staring at us. Eying and judging all that was wrong with us, with me as a mother, with my unruly children.

“We’re okay,” I whispered as I got into the van and buckled my seatbelt. A tight, suffocating heat spread throughout my chest. Tears pricked at my eyes. “We’re okay. We’re okay.” I continued to whisper that mantra all the way to Burger King for the promised (though not necessary deserved) breakfast. Another thing to beat myself up about: rewarding my children for crying all morning.

One hour later, I walked Buddy into school like everything was fine. As if none of it had happened. On the sign-in sheet, I wrote “woke up late” as our excuse for his tardiness. I had no idea how to explain what had really happened. I didn’t know what had happened. Not that it hadn’t happened before, but I didn’t understand why some mornings my beautifully brilliant son who loved to learn turned into a sobbing Hulk in the car line. And I certainly didn’t understand why most days he didn’t.

I was a failure as a mother. And, on that day, I was also a liar, hiding our real struggles from the world. I left the office, cried all the way home, and hid behind a book the rest of the day, pretending we were all okay as my three littler little ones destroyed the house around me.

The thing is, I was positive that once he got to school he was fine. So what did it matter if he was late some days? What did it matter if he missed a day every other month? I saw no no reason to bring it up to his teachers. First, because it wasn’t solely a school issue; he’d had similar fits at other random times: going to church, visiting family, sometimes even at Walmart. This wasn’t a school issue. Secondly, it wasn’t like it was happening every day; it wasn’t interrupting his learning. My boy was brilliant and was mostly bored in kindergarten, already knowing most of what he was being taught. Missing a day of school here or there, or an hour or two occasionally in the mornings, wasn’t threatening his academic progress. It wasn’t a big deal. Really? I mean, what were his teachers going to do about it anyway? It’s not like they knew something about my child that I didn’t. If anyone was going to fix this, it was going to be me. I knew him best. It’s not like there was something necessarily wrong with him anyway. He just struggled on occasion. Don’t we all?

We’re okay. We're okay. We're okay.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Being Dismissed from Services

I heard those dreaded words today. "I'm afraid that most likely your child doesn't qualify for services anymore." I paused afraid that if I responded too soon I'd yell or cry. I asked a few clarifying questions, blinking back tears of panic. I held my own for nearly the entire conversation. And then the therapist said, "You should be so proud, Mom. He's made so much progress." Then, I cried.

The truth is he has made so much progress. The truth is I am very proud of him. Still, the truth is I hate hearing those words. Every time a specialist says to me that one of my children "no longer qualifies" for services, bile-like panic rises in my chest.

"But he still has such anger issues," I said. And, "His impulsiveness gets in his way on a daily basis," I added. Doesn't she know? Can't she see the things I see? "I did tell you that he pulled a knife on his brother last week, didn't I?" Somehow she had to see that despite her folder full of data she was missing something.

We talked some more. I cried the whole time. I heard everything she said and understood it. I work in special education, I'm fully aware of the qualification process for services at school and that the qualification requirements for services at school is very different than the qualification requirements in the medical/professional arena. I get it, but still I was reeling inside, wondering what the effects of this dropped service would be for my son.

At one point, the therapist looked me right in the eyes and asked, "How are you doing? You have a lot on your plate with your job and your kids, are you taking care of you?"

It was a sucker punch to the gut. It's no secret that I'm not the pinnacle of self-care. Nor is it a secret that I have a crazy life. I've had people say we should have a reality TV show because you simply cannot make this stuff--my life--up. I had one dear friend compare my life to Murphy's Law: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. She offered to have a warning sign made for my front door. Warning: Murphy's Law in full effect. Enter at your own risk.

The bruising blow was this: I suddenly realized that my panic wasn't truly for my boy. Or, at least, it wasn't only for my boy. With a blaze of clarity, I realized that I wasn't panicked for him alone; I was panicked for me, too. When my son no longer qualifies for a service and loses that support, I lose it too. It's one less person I have in my corner, cheering on not only my kid, but me as well. One less specialist is one less person I can talk to who understands what my day-to-day life is really like. One less person who sees all that I have to wrestle with everyday and appreciates how hard it can be. One less person who loves my child without judgement. One less person who fights for my son's progress. One less person who sees the good and helps me see it too. It's not just one less person on my son's team. It's one less person on my team.

Of course, I didn't tell the therapist about my revelation when it struck. Perhaps some day I will tell her. But, for today, I was able to stop crying. Awareness can be liberating. My son has made a ton of progress and the truth is we will survive being dismissed from this service because he's in a place, we're in a place, where it's not as critical anymore. And that's okay. That's as it should be. We should all hope and pray for a day when our children no longer qualify for services. But I recognize that's not always the case. It hasn't always been the case for us. Sometimes funding is cut. Sometimes insurance won't pay. Sometimes specialists won't listen. Sometimes doctors and teachers belittle you and dismiss your concerns entirely. Sometimes you don't even know who to go to for the help you need. I have had to fight for my boys since before they were born. And I'll continue to do so when it is truly warranted.

Here's what I want my future-self to remember: Progress is miraculous, every inch of it. Don't ever hold on to things your child no longer needs. Recognize that you'll be okay, too, mama. We don't make progress in a vacuum. Odds are that if your child is progressing and no longer qualifying for services, then you've made a hefty amount of progress, too.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

What I Hope My Children (and Students) Learn from State-Mandated Testing

It’s that time of year again. STAAR is here. We’ve had a lot of complaining, questioning, and even some crying at our house this week. Let me let you in on a little secret, teachers don’t like it either. And, like you, we pray that someday legislation will do away with state-mandated testing. But that day isn’t today, so here’s what I hope my children (and my students) will learn from taking the STAAR test. These state-mandated tests aren’t everything, but I want you to do your best. I promise you can learn a great many things through this experience if you do.

#1. I hope you learn that you can do hard things. These tests are hard y’all! And regardless of the outcome, you do it; you tackle the monstrous challenge again and again and again.  You forge through figurative language, fraction problems, and facts. Armed with only a pencil, you slay the dragon every year. Multiple times. You’re a knight, a ninja, a new-aged rock star! And don’t you forget it! Mom and dad are proud of you!

#2. I hope you learn that no score defines you. These tests do not define you. Nor do they determine your future, regardless of what anyone might say. It’s a snapshot of a few hours of your life. Whether your score is advanced or unsatisfactory does not determine if you will be advanced or unsatisfactory as an adult. You determine that by your willingness to work hard. Numbers on tests like these sometimes feel like they carry a lot of weight, but in truth, your small day-to-day actions weigh more than any paper score ever could.

#3. I hope you learn to accept that sometimes you have to buckle down and do things you don’t want to do. Whether it’s chores at home, tasks at school, or responsibilities at work, you’ll find there will often be things outside of your comfort zone, things that you detest, things that are exhausting, and, sometimes, things that are disgusting that you simply must do anyway. And that’s okay. It’s part of life. Just as sprouting seeds must push their way through the dirt, we all have to push through unpleasant things to grow.

#4. I hope you learn that your teachers are invested in you. You. They are there to teach you. Not to teach content, not to teach test strategies. More than anything, they want to give you valuable life lessons that will carry you into adulthood and help you become a happy, healthy, productive adult. Your teachers are aware that the results of state-mandated testing do not predict your future. They know these tests don’t define you. *See #2. And they see you. You beyond the test. The kid who comes to class burdened by unnecessary anxiety, hunger, family stress, bullying, financial concerns, identity crises. They see you. They love you. They worry over you, pray for you, dream of ways of helping you while they sleep. You are so loved.

#5. I hope you learn that God is in the little things, even the STAAR test. He cares about you and every detail of your life. He knows that sometimes you have to do hard, unwanted, unfair, daunting tasks that don’t prove anything about your intelligence. He knows that these test cause you a lot of unwanted anxiety. He knows you desperately want to succeed. He knows sometimes you fall short. He’s okay with that. He’s got your back. He hears your prayers and pleas and He will answer you. He will not leave you alone in anything great or small. He’s in the details. He’s with you. Learn to lean into Him… even in, especial in, the big-little things.

Above all else, I pray that you learn to trust in yourself. To trust that you are a wonderfully creative, capable, remarkable person. To trust that you are good enough, smart enough, valuable enough. I hope you grow to learn that you do not need validation from a test designed by someone who doesn't know you and doesn't get to see you progress like I and your teachers do. You are amazing. Never forget that. Trust in who you are. "You is smart... You is important." Don't let anyone or anything take that knowledge from you. Ever.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

To Be Alive

I wrote the following a year and a half ago.

"We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul-We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things." Articles of Faith #13

It's ironic almost to the point of laughter that this is the scripture we have have been focusing on this month in Primary, children's Sunday school. Almost.


"We have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things." It makes me want to laugh... if only to keep from crying.


It's no secret that life in the Marrott household is never dull. In our nearly fifteen years of marriage we've endured: twelve moves (to include those of the international variety), several separations (of the military variety), fifteen surgeries, sixteen hospitalizations, several family deaths, multiple job losses (though one is technically called a retirement), not to mention the rare medical anomalies, financial challenges, mental health crises, homeschooling, public schooling, military schooling, and the regular, run-of-the-mill, daily grind of family life. Yes, we have endured many things.


I have to admit though, I've been pretty sure lately that I'm not able to endure all things.


The thing is, we seem to go from one crisis to another, with little to no recovery time in between. And I am exhausted. Like, marathon runner exhausted. I've never run a marathon, but I've heard that it takes some time to recover. Your legs are all jello-y and things you take for granted, like walking, are suddenly incomprehensible. This I totally get.


This summer, things I took for granted, you know, like getting out of bed each day, were incomprehensible. Too hard. Too much. It was all so overwhelming and my jelly legs couldn't bare the weight of it. I laid in bed for days at a time, reading, escaping, trying to recuperate.


Something a marathon runner will tell you though, is that even though it can be painful to walk the next day after the race, walking is exactly what you need to be doing. Notice, I said walking, not running. You need to be up and moving, but you could very well seriously damage your body if you push it without allowing it to recover.


Since I wrote that I've started a new career (and was a finalist for First Year Teacher of the Year); I've written, not as much as I'd like, but I have written a few short stories (one of which won an honorable mention in the prestigious contest) and I'm in the beginnings of a new novel; I've made new relationship; I'm fostered and deepened existing relationship; I've read too many books, graded too many papers, cooked too many meals to count. I've kissed my loves a thousand times. All proof that I am indeed up and moving.

But there are times, despite how good life is, how much good I have accomplished, that it's still ridiculously hard to get out of bed. Times when the house is filthy, when the kids eat cereal for three meals a day. There are times when papers go ungraded and plans go unexecuted. Not long ago, I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my neck and spine and arthritic joints in various other parts of my body, which has slowed me down. I continually struggle with PTSD triggers, though it is getting better. I am recognizing triggers and set backs sooner and processing and recovering faster. All things considered, time marches on. The world steady turns in its orbit. And, for better or worse, I am making my mark on the world everyday. For that I am grateful. 


Every moment I am given, I will keep moving on. To struggle is to progress. To struggle is to learn and to love. To struggle is to hone purpose. To struggle is to be alive. Keep calm and carry on, my loves. Every day is a godsend.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

New Year's Staying Power

This time last year, I was salivating for a new year full of opportunity. I was aching for new chances to learn, to grow, to prove myself, to improve myself. And I had this great plan to help me accomplish all these dreams I had: I was going to have a word for my new year. I was going to research my word, dive into my word and let it guide me through my year. This word had to be perfect, had to sum up all the things I wanted to be, to do, to gain. I found the perfect word.


Fixed.


I mean, that word was so many things. I defined how I wanted to feel, what I wanted to become, how I wanted to live. I wanted to be fixed mentally and emotionally, healed from past hurts and freed from those things that had once haunted me. I wanted to be fixed in my course of moving towards financial peace and prosperity. I wanted to be fixed in my ways of believing in myself, allowing myself to dream, allowing myself to achieve. I wanted to be fixed, firmly rooted in my life, present every moment, to give up my tendency to dissociate and wander in my own brain, alienating my family and friends. I wanted to be fixed spiritually to my family and, most especially, to Christ. I wanted those relationships cemented, becoming unbreakably strong.


I spent hours finding quotes and scriptures with my word in them. I compiled pages and pages of beautiful, inspiring, meaningful words. I decided to start the year off with a bang by sharing my quotes, one-a-day, for the month of January.


“My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise.” (Psalms 57:7)


That was my scripture for the year, the first one I shared. I made a art/quote thing out of it, hung it in my kitchen by our family calendar, and knew it was destined to be a great year of being fixed in all things.


January was a good month.


In reality, my whole year was good. As years go, I don’t have anything to complain about. I mean, I know it wasn’t a great year globally, but in my small world, there were no major tribulations, accidents, illnesses or injuries. In fact, 2016 might have been the one of the best years (incidentally, anecdotally) that my little family has had since our inception in 2000. But, as this year comes to a close, I’m realizing my year wasn’t nearly as fixed as I wanted it to be.


I gained an additional 10 pounds. We are no closer to being out of debt… or any closer to our goal of buying a house. My relationships haven’t declined, by any means, but nor have they grown the way I envisioned. I haven’t logged anymore time in my scriptures or on my knees in prayer. I haven’t written my great opus. I haven’t published anything new this year. Honestly, I’ve written less than 10 pages total this year. And, again, though not declining, my mental and emotional health hasn’t made any major strides forward in the last 365 days.


As much as I wanted to remain fixed, a year is a long time to holdfast to such a lofty ideal.

Apparently.


I was initially tempted to fully berate myself at this realization this past week. I mean, let’s be transparent here, I haven’t consciously thought about my word ‘fixed’ for months. But, as part of my small growth this year, I am refusing to be mad at myself. Instead, I’m looking for the learning. Analyzing how to better set myself up for success. This is big. I believe it’s called growth mindset. Perhaps I’ve made some progress this year after all.




At any rate, this is my new plan for 2017:


Since my January 2016 was strong because I was researching and sharing what ‘fixed’ meant to me, and since my focus was so easily shifted after I stopped such a deliberate, intentional process, I am committing to, at least, 12 words in 2017. I’m shooting for, at least, one word a month. We’ll see how it goes. I’ve decided not to pre-compile a total list, but rather to find new words as I go. I’m hoping a more consistent focus, coupled with having to find new words each month, will give me the staying power I need to see my goals, dreams and aspirations for 2017 through to the end by seeing me through this year little by little.

“For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.” (2 Nephi 28:30)


For now, my first word(s) for 2017 is STAYING POWER. And this is where I will start:


“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Gal. 6:7–9).
“If we sow seeds of decency and goodness, the fruits of our honest labors will be blessings in heaven.
“Hold fast to those basic principles that are tried and true. Consistently develop your talents, protect and preserve your honesty and integrity, and build a sound character. This is the secret of real staying power, for these are principles that will not depreciate with time. Why? Because they are God-given principles founded on eternal truths.” (excerpt from “Staying Power” by Elder L. Tom Perry, 2003)