Deliberation

On Fridays, a babysitter comes at noon.  She hangs out with the kids for about an hour and a half and then she takes them to their father.  The idea was that I’d spend this time working.  And then when I quickly realized that it wouldn’t be possible for me to continue working, the idea was that I’d spend this time being me, maintaining some kind of outside interest so I didn’t wither into a shell of a human being.

What I actually do is I head to the library, and I sit surrounded by books and lists, and I plan our next week of homeschooling. When I’m done with that, I check the internet for craft projects that relate to our current unit.  When I’m done with that, I plan out our meals for the week.  When I’m done with that, I head to the grocery store, buy the things we need and head home to cook.  While I cook, I research various learning disabilities.  I make appointments.  I read research on education and parenting.

When I was a kid, all I wanted was to become a professional.  I wanted to be a doctor.  For a brief second, I wanted to be a lawyer.  I wanted to write.  I wanted to heal.  I wanted to travel and learn and grow wild and free in my downtime while becoming increasingly more educated and disciplined in my work.  I never planned for a husband.  I never considered children too seriously.

My husband first told me he loved me when I was seventeen.  That night is burned into my memory, because I didn’t ask for it.  I didn’t expect it.  If we’re being honest, I didn’t even want it.  He was supposed to be a fun project.  Never was he meant to be an eternity.  But once it was there, well, there it was.  Once it was said, it was real, and I’ve spent the last eighteen years protecting it and cultivating it.

I thought good families were a luck thing.  I thought you either got one or you didn’t.  You either wound up in one or not.  It’s true as a child.  You get what you get, and you don’t get to choose.  You cannot, despite all of your efforts, control the direction your family flies.  You’re at their mercy.  I guess I thought that was true of an adult family, too.

It’s not.

I didn’t dream about this husband until I got him.  I didn’t think I’d give up everything to raise good children, but here I am.  I came into it haltingly, questioning, even resentful.  I’m only recently relaxing into it, paying it its dues.

I used to equate being a good mom with being a shell of a human being.

My kids are good people.  They’re really, really good people.  They hold hands, they share secrets, they have long conversations using big words to describe the love they have for the world around them.  My kids are not always wholesome and sweet, but I get a lot of compliments on them.  I used to think it was an accident that I got those good kids.  I get now that it’s true I’m lucky to have them, but I also traded in just about everything else to make them.

When my son was 2 and my daughter was 1, I started filling out applications for post-graduate study that one would day, I’d hoped, light the path towards me becoming a nurse practitioner.  I thought I could have it all.  I thought I could keep up with the cloth diapering and the organic pureed baby foods in my down time.  I thought I’d done the baby thing, now I could do the professional thing.

And then I read something that opened my eyes and hit me hard.  It was that quote about how you can have anything you want, so long as you’re prepared to sacrifice everything you have.  And I knew then that, even before I’d ever read that quote, I’d already made my choice.  I absolutely could have gone to school to become that one-step-from-a-doctor that I wanted so desperately to be.  But I couldn’t have done it and raised my kids the way I wanted to.

And I wanted to raise my kids more.

I had some Dr. Phil show on in the background today as I was fixing dinner, and I heard him say something about how everyone has kids for different reasons.  Some have them to tick the box.  Some have them to fill a need.  Some have them because they want to change the world.

I don’t know why I had kids.  I think I had them because of hormones, if I’m honest.  My ovaries screamed at me each month until I finally gave my uterus what it wanted.  That’s the nitty gritty.  But if I can go back now and retroactively give myself another reason for having kids, I suppose I’ll take the ‘change the world’ reason.

There’s no right or wrong, and I don’t mean to make it sound black and white.  I don’t mean this to be a “I have good kids because I don’t work.”  I don’t think that’s true.  I’m just saying that a few years back, I realized I was at a fork in the road.  I knew I wanted two really, really big things, and I got the sense that it wouldn’t be possible for me to do both of them as big as I wanted to.  So I chose.  And I invested.  And it’s starting to feel like the right choice.

On Fridays, I spend my free time planning for the week I have ahead.  And I do it because, for the most part, it brings me joy to teach my kids.  It might not always work out, but for now, I do believe that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.

I don’t know where I got the idea that women who give all of themselves to their children are doing it wrong.  I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to celebrate that this might actually be the thing that I’m good at.


Mesopotamia

Before Christmas, I managed to gather a small group of homeschooling friends to meet and drink and let our kids run wild.  This probably doesn’t sound difficult to you, but in Hong Kong, homeschooling is technically illegal.  There aren’t a ton of us.  Anyway, it was interesting.  Basically, the only thing we all have in common is that our kids don’t attend a traditional school.

There’s this one guy who is really outspoken about his disdain of traditional education.  He refers to schools as ‘sausage factories’ and he has resisted all pressure to buy into a homeschooling curriculum.  He says he educates his kid through every day activity–counting change and writing thank you notes.  In the States, this is a radical unschooling approach, and it seems to work well for some families.  I love this family because they’re really into the outdoors, and so are we.  He has never once turned me down when I call him last minute and am all, “Hey, pack your bag.  We’re going hiking.”  As an added bonus, he’s local Hong Kong Chinese, which means he knows a hell of a lot more than I do about all things Hong Kong.  He also reminds me regularly that there is more than one way to skin a cat.

There’s this one woman who hails from not so far from where I hail from.  Like, really not far.  Like, almost the same zip code.  Her reasons for wanting to homeschool are many and they include a desire to educate her kids in a religious environment.  She uses a classical approach to homeschooling, which means her kids study classic literature, ancient history, and Latin.  I love this family because this woman stresses out about homeschooling almost as much as I do.  It doesn’t come easily or naturally to her, and she sees it as a personal sacrifice that she is willing to make for her kids.  She’s honest about her struggles and limitations, completely disarming.  She also has a strong set of morals and values which she’s handing down to her lovely children.  Obviously, my family is not religious, but morality is a huge part of why we homeschool too.

And then there are two women (Dutch and British) who pulled their kids out of an alternative school when they realized that the school was bankrupt despite the ridiculously high tuition they paid.  These families have managed to hire one of the defected teachers to come to their houses and teach their kids.  It’s homeschooling farmed out, and it seems to be working really well for them.  I love these families because they’re good people.  Home education was not their first choice, and they are constantly trying to find the right fit for their kids.  I admire their willingness to go against the grain in favor of what they think is best for their families.

It’s a small group, but it’s full of good people.  By talking with them, I was finally able to pinpoint what wasn’t working about our old curriculum.  We’ve started changing over to a more classical approach.  I started this homeschool journey thinking that I didn’t want to drill a bunch of facts into my kids’ brains.  I kinda wanted to just take them hiking a lot, if I’m honest.  Bake some cookies.  Maybe read some poetry.  But as we progressed, I realized that, actually, that wasn’t fulfilling to any of us.  My kiddos are smarter than I gave them credit for.  As it turns out, I’m also more motivated than I thought.  Plus, all the research seems to say that actually, kids do need all those facts.  If they want to get into college.  Or get a job.  Or hold their own at a swanky cocktail party.

Now, I’m going to say this quietly, so I’m not judged too harshly for my optimism.  Y’all, even though my kids wear me the hell out, it is exhilarating to teach them.  I don’t know what they would’ve learned had they gotten on the bus this year.  Maybe more, maybe less.  But I feel incredibly lucky that I was able to watch all of those lightbulb moments this year, and I know, without a doubt, that I’m leaving a lasting impression on them that learning is cool, exciting, and real high up on our list of priorities.

Plus, I had completely forgotten about Mesopotamia, so it’s a good refresher.


May As Well Be in a Field

When I was a kid, I was sad.  And I would hurt myself because I was sad.  So isn’t it interesting that instead of blaming shitty genetics for my kid’s problems, I’m instead looking under pretty much every other rock out there?

My new favorite way of blaming myself for my son’s problems dates all the way back to his birth.  I gave birth to him in Nairobi, Kenya.  The hospital was good.  It wasn’t like I popped a squat in a muddy field and hoped for the best.  I gave birth in modern facilities.  My son spent the night in the only NICU in the country, thank you very much.  But although the hospital was good quality, the physician was a bit of a wingnut.  I don’t know.  Maybe they all are.  I’ve never given birth in the States, so I can’t really compare it to much.  Estelah was delivered by a midwife in Abu Dhabi, so again, not much to compare it to.

I was adamant that the birth process be as natural as possible (well, as natural as possible outside of the muddy field).  I read everything I could get my hands on.  I took classes.  I did research.  I knew my shit.  I knew my rights.  I knew what I wanted.  And his birth was basically a giant clusterfuck.  It was natural; I got that.  But as they wheeled me into the general ward after his birth, I watched the cleaners come in with mops.  There was blood on the wall; the floor was soaked with it.  At one point, the doctor put his foot on the freaking bed to pull that child from my body.  If you were looking, and I’d hope that you weren’t, at my crotch while I had a bikini on, you can see the episiotomy scar, because it extends that fucking far out.

My second stage of labor pretty much refused to progress.  Baby boy was stuck in the birth canal.  Baby girl was too.  Because I had a midwife with her (maybe?) and not a doctor (maybe?) nobody batted an eye when I turned onto all fours and pushed my daughter out with little fanfare.  My doctor with my son though was a big fan of women giving birth on their backs.  Which is nearly impossible for some women to do.  So I just sat there and pushed uselessly through contraction after contraction.  For hours.  Eventually, the vacuum entered the room.  Not too much longer after that, my son did too.

I wanted a drug-free birth, and I got it.  For the most part.  As they were pulling him out, they injected something or other into my ass, in an attempt to relax my muscles and make it easier for him to come out.  The meds didn’t really kick in until he was lying on my chest, and then the next twelve hours were a blur because of it.

He was okay.  He was huge.  And kind of blue.  He spent the night in oxygen, but his Apgars were fine and we went home two days later.

We went to the pediatrician a lot during his first month.  He cried nonstop.  Non.  Stop.  He never slept.  He didn’t sleep at night, which I had heard rumor might happen with an infant human being.  But he also didn’t sleep during the day.  He howled.  My pediatrician gave me the ultimatum that I could check him into the hospital for testing or I could try formula feeding him and see if that helped.  It helped.  So we assumed he wasn’t getting milk from me, and called it a day.  He started sleeping.  I started sleeping.  The world became a brighter place.

But I wonder now.  And what I wouldn’t give to go back with what I know now.  The things I would change.  The opinions I would seek.  The things I would try.  I thought all babies cried all the time.  I didn’t know until the girl came along that they’re kind of supposed to sleep a lot at first.  He didn’t sleep.  Ever.  Was that an early sign?

So I blame myself for the following well-thought-out reasons:

1)  I was the idiot who decided to give birth in a third world country

2)  I was the idiot who insisted on a natural birth when any other woman in the world would’ve insisted on a c-section at that point

3)  I was the idiot who moved so far away from her extended family and all of her friends and therefore had nobody in her immediate world who would say to her, “Sweetheart, that baby never ever ever ever sleeping thing?  That might not be normal.  Here, let’s see what’s going on.”

4)  I was the idiot who gave birth in a country where we didn’t yet have internet at home or on a phone or, ya know, anywhere outside of dodgy cafes.  So I couldn’t Google shit like crazy to get answers.

5)  I was the idiot who so wanted for things to be normal and to get through it intact that I wouldn’t let myself wonder what if there’s something more going on here.

You don’t have to tell me that all of this is irrational.  I know it is.  And the number one reason why I know it is is because I did the exact same thing 18 months later when my daughter was born.  And she’s fine.  I hemorrhaged with her, and she’s fine.

And even if there is something I could’ve done differently, it doesn’t really matter, does it?  Because you don’t get a do-over.

I guess I’m just doing what all parents do–looking for a way to make this my fault so I have someone easy to blame.


Is This Thing On?

It has been so long since I’ve even attempted to try to want to write.  If I’m honest, the desire isn’t even there now.  I’m faking it.  For all the people who said, “Don’t be silly.  You can still write even though you’ve medicated your depression,” I can safely say, “No.  No, I cannot.”  I tried weaning myself off these meds a few weeks ago.  I could feel the urge to write come creeping back in.  Unfortunately, along with that urge was another urge–the urge to stick my head in an oven.  So the meds stay.  The lack of writing stays.  These meds cloud things for me.  They take the edge off and they make the feelings come and go without constant rumination and moderation.  I don’t get depressed.  I also don’t write.

So if I don’t get depressed, why am I drinking my feelings on the regular?  Why does it take three glasses of wine for me to put a smile on my face?  Why am I picking my skin like a dog in a crate?  I’m depressed without feeling depressed, I think.  Phantom depression.

It has been a hard, hard fall.  I haven’t shared it, because it’s not all mine to share.  But the longer I go without writing, the more drinking I seem to be doing.  I’ve got to get on a healthier track, so I’m going to write.

So I started homeschooling in August, and I immediately realized that my son had some issues with doing school work.  He found it impossible to copy from a book to a page, or to reproduce in 3D images that he saw in 2D.  I wrote down a huge list of my concerns and off to the pediatrician I went.  She referred me to a psychologist.  Several thousand dollars and many hours of testing later, we were armed with a full psychological report that indicated that my son is gifted.  He’s bright.  Really bright.  More than the sum of his parts bright.  He also has ADHD, a diagnosis that surprised absolutely nobody.  And he has dysgraphia, which is a learning disability that affects his ability to write, among other things.

The psychologist suggested an occupational therapist.  So, several thousand dollars and many hours of testing later, we were armed with a full OT assessment that indicated that my son has dysgraphia and a type of sensory processing disorder.  His controls are cranked up too high.  He doesn’t register motion the way other children do.  He doesn’t register touch the same way other children do.  He sees geometric shapes as parts of a whole, missing the whole entirely.  His aim with a ball is spectacular.  He scores higher than 97% of kids his age.  He does not miss a pitch.  On the other hand, he cannot play sports because he is incapable of weeding out unnecessary information.  He will play soccer happily for hours by himself, kicking the ball against the wall.  But if you put another player in, the variables that accompany that player overwhelm his senses and he quite literally cannot find the ball on the field.

Now apply that to a textbook.  To writing down and then solving a math problem.  Add ADHD into it.  And now add giftedness into it.  That is what we have been up against all autumn.

He also has something called a midline jerk, which means that if you hold an object in front of him and ask him to focus on it while bringing it gradually closer to his face, his eyes don’t cross the way yours or mine do.  They do, to a certain point, and then when they reach that point, they jump off to the left.  He’s missing an entire field of vision.

He also has really low muscle tone, which makes writing excruciatingly painful for him.  He tenses his entire body when he writes.  He sweats during his spelling test from the exertion.

He also has difficulty crossing his midline–using his left hand to accomplish tasks on the right side of his body and vice versa.  Which means that, during a task that requires bilateral coordination, he has to stop in the middle of his body and switch hands.  The neural pathways in his brain are not formed in such a way that he can comfortably cross his hand over his body.

He made it to seven without us knowing about any of these diagnoses, although we had lots of hints along the way.

When we originally got the results back, we had a few days of, “Holy shit, now what.”  And then we accepted them as just more descriptors for behaviors with which we were already comfortable.  So, whatever, right?  We picked and chose from the myriad options of therapies and didn’t stress out.

But in the past month, things have taken a turn towards shitfest.  Part of his sensory issues means that he is extremely sensitive.  He’s a bit of a mess socially, because he interprets every social interaction as a hostile one.  If he’s playing tag in a group and the other kids run too quickly, he kind of forgets that they’re playing a game that requires running quickly and thinks, “These jerks don’t want to play with me.”

He gets sad for no reason.  He gets really, really, really sad for no reason.  I don’t know why.  Part of it, I think, is boredom.  He requires pretty much constant attention and action.  When he has a few minutes without it, I think he gets bored and then interprets that feeling as sadness.

When he gets frustrated, he describes it as a fire inside of him.  He’s been known to extinguish said fire with clawing at his face and slamming his head against concrete.

My heart has been broken ten thousand times in the past few months.  The effects of it all are absolutely debilitating.  By the end of the day, my own sensory system is shot.  I’ve given everything I have and more so many times throughout the day that I have absolutely nothing left to give by bedtime.  My marriage is suffering.  He’s working more than ever, and I resent it.  I resent his ability to socialize with his peers, his access to solvable problems.  I wish that some of my problems felt more solvable.  I wish that I could hang up my jacket at the end of the day and be something other than what my job requires me to be.  But this is it.  This is what I do.

My son’s problems have escalated to a fever pitch in the past few weeks, and I don’t know why.  And I don’t know how to help more than I am.  I’m reading everything I can.  I’m employing techniques that sound fucking ridiculous to me, in hopes that they work.  Sometimes they do.  And a lot of time, I’m living in some weird kind of shameful, self-imposed exile.  Part of me wants my friends to know about his struggles, so that they can offer support or at least refrain from judgment.  The other part of me is fairly well versed in how cruel people can be and how easy it is to pigeonhole kids with special needs.  I don’t want people to know that he slams his head against walls, because then what chance do they have of ever knowing how brilliant he is at math or how he’s seven and reading at a sixth grade level?  I don’t want them to not invite him over because they’re afraid he will freak out.  At the same time, it’s becoming more and more likely that he’s probably going to freak out, so I guess I should warn them.

Behavioral health care is not covered on insurance policies in Hong Kong.  If you happen to sever your Achilles, you can stay in a hospital for five days, have surgery under general anesthesia and come out paying less than $10 for the whole thing.  If you are depressed or have a processing disorder, you will be bankrupt inside of a year.  It’s funny that we shelled out so much fucking money to learn how messed up my poor guy is and now we don’t have the money to fix him up.

It’s all overwhelming and lonely as fuck.  I’m sad.  I’m scared.  I’m mostly sad.  I’m frustrated.  Oh my god, I’m so frustrated.  I have shut down the part of me that feels anything about any of this.  It comes out once in awhile, and it comes out ugly and violent.  I know I need a way to turn that tap to a slow dribble, so I don’t explode.  I know we need support.

I thought having babies was the hardest thing in the world.  Wow, I was so hopelessly wrong about that.


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