Thursday, November 19, 2009

Change, in a Year

One year ago I was looking at apartments.

I was not quite paralyzed at the thought of moving, but dreaded it. I had told my then-husband that by the end of the month of November, one of us was moving out. That was a clear statement with a deadline, something I had finally learned to use in communication. I knew I could not force him to leave. As difficult as it would be, if he did not go I would go. Somehow, I would come up with a deposit and rent money, so he could either leave or take on the expenses of our house.

He was stunned, though there were enough indicators that the split was inevitable. We both had a gift for living in denial of anything we couldn't or didn't want to see.

He was hurt, understandably, and angry. He said he would be the one to move. Based on a history in which either of us might say “I’ll do this” but might or might not actually do it, I looked at apartments and started to bring home boxes from work. He started to gather his things, and found a place he could stay. The entire time, he told me later, he expected me to back down and to allow things to slip back into the status quo. It had happened so many times, with other boundaries I had set. Watching him go through the shock, I was tempted more than once to take it back but I just could not, could not go on with our life the way it had been.

By December 1, he had moved out. At that point, I am not sure which one of us was more surprised. I had expected a lot more drama, and was continuously braced for bigger arguments than we had; I was even prepared for physical violence, but it never happened. Learning to be clear about what I want and about how I communicate it was a big part of that.

I had no picture of how divorce goes, and found it very difficult to navigate without a mental map. Especially as a younger sibling in a large family, I have too often relied on “how everyone else has done it.” School, college, getting a job – these were all a matter of course, of what everyone else had done before me. The downside is that I did not learn earlier how to consider options and make choices according to my own strengths and goals.
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. -- Helen Keller
No one else in my immediate family has been divorced, so the entire process was foreign, and frightening, to me. The dissolution of the marriage was more or less de facto by the time I embarked on the mechanics of separating our residences and eventually filing the paperwork with an attorney. At every step I almost expected to fail, to be unable to effect the changes I wanted. With every argument, I felt stuck in the same dysfunctional pattern in which we had been relating to each other. I wondered if the past three years of counseling had done nothing for me, but my counselor at Women in Transition reminded me that change can be like making a slow ascent up a mountain: you don't realize you've made progress until you reach a point where you can turn and look back and see how high you have climbed.

It's been one year. I am divorced, and have taken back my birth name. The kids are all right, not without some issues, but all right. Their dad hangs out with them at least two or three times a week, and we are getting along. We agreed to get along well enough to do the best job possible in raising the boys, and we are sticking to it. Working out a new relationship has been awkward and uncomfortable, but it seems like we will make it.

Goals for myself right now revolve around achieving some financial stability, writing and more writing. Everything was recently put on hold while my younger son has gone through a period of crisis, but I have long accepted that other goals come after the goal of being the best mom I can be for my kids. Who knows where I might be a year from now?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Where, O Where Have I Been?

I am wondering myself where I have been. I have not been blogging, although I started on a series of poems. I have been caught up in a tumult, but has it really been enough to keep me from writing for so long?

There's been an escalation to the difficulty that my third grader has in school. This is the Peanut, my son who has Asperger's Syndrome. It seems that the year began a bit bumpy, though I wasn't getting much feedback in the beginning. There was a new TSS ("wraparound") whose schedule availability didn't meet the Peanut's needs, which was for help in the afternoons. Then there was a different, new TSS, whose schedule was better, but Peanut was still struggling to get through his assignments for various reasons: the writing content is more challenging than last year and he has become very particular about his penmanship; the room is noisy and distracting; there was a period of a couple of weeks when I think we all had bad colds and he was just too sleepy. That's about where I left off.

We were excited and happy to find, when the 2nd TSS staff of the year wasn't working out, the fabulous "Mr. Mike" of last year, whose loss was a source of grief to my little guy, was coming back for the afternoons. Then we were all - myself, the teachers and administrators and the behavioral specialist - concerned when things didn't get much better, then continued to get worse.

In the second half of October, I was called at work at least 4 different days to come pick up the child from school because there was just no helping him to regroup. In addition, he has been out of school for 5 days (again, just since October 15). We went to the Developmental Pediatrics specialist at the Children's Hospital and tried increasing his very low dose of ADHD meds, thinking it was probably about time to do so. Peanut became more anxious and showed OCD symptoms. We lowered the dose again. He missed three days of school. I took him to the pediatrician and had bloodwork done, to rule out possible causes of the fatigue, like anemia or mono (he was a champ for the blood draw & and I took him to Friendly's for a milkshake). That same afternoon, I took him to a psychiatrist at the human services agency which provides the wraparound services, as there had been a cancellation allowing us to get in quickly.

I sent Peanut back to school one day last week, only to have to pick him up early again as he was in a complete meltdown. When I arrived at school, he was lying under a chair in the principal's office and growling at her when she tried to talk to him. Every time, it is so clear that he himself is suffering, that he does not want to find it so difficult to cope, that he is even afraid of himself.

This summary doesn't touch on the panic I was beginning to feel. Possible clinical depression in my child? School just says "come and get him" without having a single referral or suggestion - it was the behavioral specialist who went to her supervisor and got some leads for me. At the same time, I suddenly had the clarity of hindsight, that in his interactions with his brother, Peanut has been getting increasingly sensitive and angry. And in the summer, he was so sad at the end of his week at camp, and when Mr. Mike took a different assignment away from him. I should have known sooner. That crippling thought that moms use to punish ourselves.

But there's no time for that. Tomorrow, again at the suggestion of the BSE, I am taking my almost-9-year-old son for an assessment, that will get him into a partial hospitalization program at a psychiatric facility. The key things we are watching are his anxiety levels and possible depression. It is painful to see in him the manifestation of something very like depression: it is something I have had for most of my life, so I recognize that sense of helplessness and hopelessness, the lack of energy to cope with the smallest setbacks, like stubbing his toe. Then again, he seems to be himself at his weekly drum lesson, so I make certain we don't miss it, as Peanut needs every positive experience possible right now.

There will be school work to catch up on, but we can't worry about anything until we can get him to be himself again. Over this past weekend, he was so upset, so resistant to calming down that I seriously contemplated taking him to an ER. It is fortunate that his dad was able to help him. I took the older brother out for a much needed break - he, too, is showing the strain of his brother's tantrums - and one-on-one time with his mom. The evening was much better.

Not writing has been the result of riding out this storm, also not being certain I have any right to publicize my child's problems. But, I always think to myself, there must be other parents out there who are seeing something they have never seen and for which they have no idea what to do. If we can share it, won't that help others?

Instead of blogging, I have had a steady report going out via email to concerned family and friends. I've asked everyone I know who has any kind of experience with the issues for their suggestions. Fortunately, I work for a human services agency so I have some good resources. I've advised school of doctor's appointments and doctors' offices of what's going on at school, and advised work of the time I need to take off. I am grateful for the days my sister has been able to spend with the Peanut, plus spending a little time with Bunny, the older child, who feels cheated of the time and attention that his brother is getting, for what appears to be mere bad behavior.

Okay, I guess I know where I have been, even if it has been a blur. In the midst of all of this, I am working with my exhusband to keep him informed and to share the need for child care while still being vigilant over the new boundaries in our relationship. I am too tired to think; somehow I am still getting enough work done at the office to keep my job. I am not sure how, but I am doing it.