Friday, October 23, 2020

This Is Eleven

 "Eleven is hard," my friend said as we sat across from each other at a picnic table at the park. "Nobody talks about eleven."

We both gazed thoughtfully at our boys playing. Except they weren't playing, not really. They were walking and talking, the previously coveted play structures forgotten. Occasionally, they would take a seat on the swings to continue their conversation.

Meanwhile, my friend and I continued our own conversation. This is my first time having an eleven-year-old. Her son is her fourth and youngest, so she's definitely a veteran to my naivete. We were discussing the recent changes in our boys, who've been friends since first grade and were going into sixth together. The conversation reassured me. I'm not alone. It was also a good reminder that the changes in my eleven-year-old, some amusing, some bewildering, and some down right irritating, are a normal part of development. She was right, though. We don't really talk about eleven as being a transitional year. Oh, sure, it's a big deal to start middle school, although our boys are homeschooled and attend a k-12 coop twice per week, making the transition less arduous. But while everyone shares the drama and ups and downs of the teenage years, eleven gets lost in the shuffle. Even talk about preteen years is more general, focusing on a wide period of time in which many changes happen. Then there's the topic of puberty. But, eleven itself? Nobody talks about eleven.

Let's talk about eleven. Eleven is shrugged off hugs and slammed doors. Eleven is holing up in a bedroom and shunning family time. Eleven is deep philosophical conversations one minute and stomping and whining the next. Eleven is a preference for friends over parents and siblings, and often in our current climate, a preference for online interaction. Elven is still needing Mom to snuggle you to sleep, but finding her utterly annoying by day. Eleven is the internal struggle between childhood and young adulthood. It's a desire to shed immaturity but also a longing for the simpler days of early childhood. Eleven is vacillating on whether or not to dress up for Halloween, and wanting to make sure the potential costume is cool and not babyish. 

My eleven-year-old still enjoys building with blocks and pretend play, but he probably won't tell you that. He used to ask me to play with him constantly (see: I want to Murder Mrs. Antbottom ). I thought those days would never end, and they haven't entirely. We still play Mrs. Antbottom, but not every day, and not even every week. When we do play, it's less than an hour before he wants to head back to his room and see if his friends are online. Mere months ago he enjoyed and even asked to play family board games. Now board games involve much eye rolling. Family movie night is now boring. He spends a lot more time in his room and often responds to a knock with a dramatic sigh and an annoyed, "WHAT?" He has taken to staying up way too late and sleeping the morning away.

Yet, when night comes we say prayers and do our devotional together. I think he values this quiet time together as much as I do. I still read to him and sometimes he does not want me to leave his room until he's asleep. Eleven is nothing if not a paradox. At night, we have our talks and he shares whatever is bothering him. A disagreement with friends can have him down for weeks. Yet he also jokes a lot. Laughter and  happy screaming flows from his room when he plays games with friends. He can teach himself coding and video editing, yet he acts helpless when he's asked to write a paper about a topic that doesn't interest him. When it comes to matters of politics, controversy, and what's going on in the world, he has informed opinions and he doesn't care who disagrees with him. Unlike some middle schoolers, he feels no need to fit in. He's also become more aware of his body. He feels showers are optional, yet he will exercise and make healthy food choices without prompting. 

This new stage is a little confusing, inconsistent, and bittersweet. I love watching him grow and explore, and find his own identity and independence. I feel a little bit of loss, though. I miss that chubby little hand always searching for mine. I miss the unprompted hugs and sticky kisses. I even miss the endless sometimes exhausting chorus of, "Mom, can you play with me?" But I know these changes are all necessary for his development. We've entered uncharted territory. In many places - friendships, for example - I used to be a moderator where I am now an observer. Still, he asks for my advice. I think he values at least some of my opinions. He's still my little boy, though I can't say that to him without his face turning crimson. This is new. This is scary. This is exciting. This is eleven.

Monday, June 22, 2020

An Open Letter To Everyone Else's Mom

On this wild parenting journey, I'm all for us parents, and especially us moms, sticking together. I'm also all for staying in your own parenting lane and respecting that we all parent differently. However, there is one woman whose parenting I have to question. I've never met her, but my eleven-year-old son has a lot to say about her. I have a giant bone to pick with her. I usually find open letters kind of melodramatic, no offence to their writers, but I feel like I can't let this go any longer. So, here it goes.

Dear EveryoneElse's Mom,

We don't know each other. I'm not sure what you look like or if I've spotted you in the school drop off lane. Probably not, since I'm usually skating in just under the bell while you're always early. Or so I've heard. I've heard a lot about you, actually. My eleven-year old loves to sing your praises, and I've  gotta say, EveryoneElse's mom, you're wreaking it for the rest of us.

I tell my son to empty the dishwasher and take the garbage out before playing with his friends online, and what does he tell me?

*Dramatic tween sigh. "EveryoneElse'sMom lets them play on the computer without doing chores. In fact EveryoneElse'sMom doesn't even make their kids do any chores at all."

Oh, and about the computer, according to A, you  don't implement any screen time limits. Not only that, you let your kids stay up until 2 A.M. playing video games. Oh, but that's not all. A. tells me that EveryoneElse'sMom gives them a cell phone.

Listen, EveryoneElse's mom, this is your business, okay? I'm just really sick of hearing from my son how great you are, how you are so much less strict than myself, and how you don't have so many rules. You let your kids watch whatever they want on YouTube, you dole out limitless snacks, and you always say yes to playdates no matter how tired you are. You're the perfect mom, aren't you?

Apparently, your child, EveryoneElse, gets more allowance than my kids. You're call, EveryoneElse's mom. But, your making me look bad.

I wonder about you late at night when insomnia comes to call. Then I start comparing myself to you. I think to myself, EveryoneElse's mom keeps their house clean, works out everyday, and still has sufficient time to spend with their children. EveryoneElse's mom follows through with summer learning, weaving fun through lesson plans so her children hardly know they're working. 

EveryoneElse's mom, you cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner from scratch seven days a week, don't you? You serve fruit and veggies with every meal, and your kids eat them. In fact, I bet your entire family eats the same meal. You have infinite patience. You never yell. You save all of your kids' school papers and keep them organized in a chronological filing system. You're always put together. The floor of your mini van is visible. You have a group of equally polished mom friends and you maintain a social life and self-care regimen without taking any time away from your children.

Look, EveryoneElse's Mom, the truth is I wish I could be more like you. I compare myself to you. I wonder how you do it. How you make it look so easy. I just wish sometimes you could be a little bit more like NooneElse's mom.

I've heard a lot about her, too. Apparently, NooneElse's mom makes them do so many chores around the house. NooneElse's mom nags them every day to clean their room. I mean, maybe if he'd just do it, she wouldn't have to keep reminding him to transfer his 87 cups from his dresser to the kitchen sink, or even better, the dishwasher. I feel you, sister.

NooneElse's mom is late frequently. Her house is messy. She makes her children read every day. Except on the days when she just can't have one more argument. NooneElse's mom serves too much mac and cheese. NooneElse's mom limits screen time. Except for the days when she's struggling with depression and can't even with her kids. On those days, she wallows in guilt while her kids slay zombies in Minecraft.

NoonElse's mom keeps a running list of parenting mistakes in her head. She can rattle them off for you, but she avoids focusing on her successes. Her kids have meltdowns in public. NooneElse's mom sweats her way through grocery shopping and still forgets several items. NooneElse's mom is late more often than she's on time. She forgets to return important papers to school. She makes her kids write thank you cards but then forgets to send them. NoneElse's mom lets her laundry pile up. Her house is well lived-in. She'd do anything for her kids, but sometimes she puts headphones in so she can escape. NooneElse's mom hides from her kids. NooneElse's mom gets weary of playing cars. NooneElse's mom has days when she yells too often. NooneElse's mom loses her patience. NooneElse's mom needs a break.

I mean, that's a lady I can relate to. Some days, I'm like you, EveryoneElse's mom. Some days I have make up on, I schedule appointments and keep them, and I spend endless hours engaged in creative play. Sometimes, like you, I let my kids have too much screen time.

Other days, I'm more like NononeElse's mom. But most days? Most days I'm somewhere in between. The point I've reached, EveryoneElse's mom, is that I'm going to stop comparing myself to you, even when my kids do it. I'm not EeryoneElse's mom, I'm their mom, and that's good enough.

Sincerely,

Good Enough Mom

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Are You Social Distancing "Correctly'?

 Apparently, some discrepancies have been floating around on social media. I know, who would've expected such a thing. Questions and even arguments (again, on social media?!) abound on the correct way to social distance. Most of us can agree on the basics. Wash your hands. Don't leave your house except for essentials. Work from home if you can. Keep six feet of distance. These are the rules. But, beyond that, how do you now if your getting an A in social distancing? Don't worry, here at Killing June Cleaver, we've got you covered. Here are the top ways you know you're social distancing correctly.

1. You're husband went to the grocery store and when he walks in you scream, "Do not set those bags down!" as you run at him with disinfecting wipes. You then yell at him to strip off his clothes. He thinks you're being suggestive. You're not. AT ALL.

2. Yesterday, you had an entire conversation with Alexa. You felt bonded to her, until you guys had a big argument this morning. You tried giving her the silent treatment, but only lasted three minutes. Now you two are back on speaking terms.

3. You saw a spider and instead of screaming and killing it, you tried to make friends with it.

4. You find yourself staring out the window for long periods of time, like a dog.

5. Speaking of dogs, your dogs have now become the main part of your social network. Fine. That was always the case.

6. You have clinked glasses and given virtual hugs over Zoom or video chat. You washed your hands afterwards.

7. You've hidden in the bathroom, the bedroom, the closet, and the garage to get a moment away.

8. Your son has developed an unhealthy, codependent, love-hate relationship with the Xbox.

9. Your kids are training for a career in WWF cage fighting.

10. You are obsessed with Tiger King. You find yourself asking your husband, "Do you think Carol fed her husband to the tigers?"

11. You saw your neighbor walking the dog on the other side of the street and you waved longingly.

12. You wonder if Target thinks you broke up with it.

13. You say some combination of the following multiple times a day: "We're stuck in this house together and we WILL make the best of it!" "Stop fighting!" "Turn off the Xbox!" "I'm throwing the Xbox outside!" "I need a minute. Can you give me a minute? ONE MINUTE!"

14. You go through phases of obsessively cleaning and throwing up your hands.

15. You're keeping up on laundry for the first time in... ever.

16. Your April calender consists of a series of X's.

17. A phone scammer called and you asked him all about his wife, his kids, his pets, and how he likes his life as a phone scammer. You wouldn't let him get off the phone. Then you realized it was a recording.

18. E learning is making you pull your hair out.

19. If you hear the words, "I'm bored" one more time you are going run out into the street... no wait... driveway screaming.

20. You've made a recording of yourself saying, "No, you can't see your friends. We're social distancing." You play it on repeat.


If you can relate to any of the above, congratulations! You're social distancing correctly, no matter what Cheryl from the internet says. Please add your own social distancing habits in the comments.


Monday, March 30, 2020

The Voice of Reason Sneak Peak II


Amy stared at him. Everything froze. The air evaporated. “Are you honestly telling me to have your brother locked up in a mental ward?” She shivered.

“No.” Jason took her small hands in his large, calloused ones and squeezed gently. “I’m asking you, begging you as his brother to have him locked up. Right now, it’s the only way to save him.” He dragged a sleeve across his eyes.

Amy turned away from him and cracked Josh’s door open. He remained at the window muttering to himself, or to someone created by his mind.

There in the cold hospital hallway Amy Everett knew a heart could literally shatter, because hers did. “I swear to you,” she whispered, “I’ll find a way to bring you back to me.”

Straightening her spine, she eased the door shut and turned back to Jason. She nodded, not trusting her voice. Somehow, she had to wait to break down. She’d need her strength when she told Caleb Daddy couldn’t come home after all. It was her turn to be the strong one, no matter how impossible.

Jason took her hand and led her back to Dr Jefferson’s office. They didn’t speak. There was nothing more to say. Amy raised her hand to knock but it was shaking too badly. Jason rapped on the door with his free hand.

“Enter.” Dr Jefferson looked up from whatever he was writing, an unmistakable shadow passing over his face.

“Okay,” Amy said. “I’ll do it. I’ll sign Josh into the . . . into the mental ward. Please help him.”

She sank into the chair facing the desk before her legs gave out. Jason sat next to her. His hand made circles on her back. She wished he’d stop. It was taking everything she had not to dissolve into a heaping pile of sobs.

Dr Jefferson’s face softened. “You’re doing the right thing. We’ll take good care of him.” He pushed his chair back to a beige filing cabinet against the back wall and fumbled with his key ring. Everything was locked up. They might as well lock her up too. She didn’t want to go back out into the world without Josh.

But she had to think of Caleb. How would she stay together for him? How could they survive without their family’s foundation? Josh was the one who made her world make sense. If his world didn’t make sense, hers didn’t either.

“Can I still come and see him?”

Dr Jefferson pulled out a thick file folder. “Yes, of course. This isn’t a prison, Amy.”

Prison.

The doctor slid a pen and paper across the desk to her.

The words “involuntary commitment” blurred as tears, just as involuntary, filled her eyes and dripped onto the paper. Amy picked up the pen and scrawled her signature.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Voice of Reason Sneak Peak


Chapter 1


June 25, 1979



J

osh Everett was twenty-one years old the first time the voices spoke to him.

That ordinary summer morning, he ran a comb through his shaggy, almost shoulder-length black hair as he checked his reflection in the small bathroom mirror. Later, he’d wish he’d looked harder; stared into the pool of his own eyes, attempting to see straight into his brain. Maybe if he’d watched closely enough he would’ve seen it happen; something misfiring deep within the recesses of his brain, an almost imperceptible ripple in the calm waters, a subtle precursor to the storm.

He hurried downstairs toward the aroma of coffee floating up to greet him. At the threshold of the tiny kitchen, he paused to take in the scene. Amy stood at the stove with her back to him. His wife’s long brown hair was secured behind her in a messy ponytail and one of his t-shirts almost swallowed her small frame.  He watched her  frying eggs, humming along with the sizzling of the oil in the pan. She scooped an egg onto a plate with a pancake and turned to slide it onto Caleb’s highchair tray. The baby pounded the tray with squeals of excitement, his thick dark curls bouncing on his head. At one and a half he still hadn’t uttered a discernable word, but he was always making noise and smiling.

Amy caught sight of Josh and broke into a grin. She made him feel ten feet tall just by the way she lit up when he entered a room. “Good morning, handsome,” she said. “Have a seat. I hope Mrs Crofsky’s hens next door keep the eggs coming.”

Instead, he walked up to her and snaked his arms around her from behind, kissing her slender neck.

She gasped. “Stop that! You’ll make me burn the eggs. I’m trying to actually cook them right this time.”

“It’d be worth it.” He inhaled her strawberry scent before turning to greet his son, bending down to his level and ruffling his hair. “Morning, Caleb. High five.” Josh held up his large hand. Caleb giggled and instead reached up with a sticky hand to tug Josh’s hair.

“Oww.” Josh pulled back making Caleb giggle harder. The baby lifted a piece of pancake as a peace offering and Josh bent his head and let him feed it to him. “Mmm,” he said wiggling his eyebrows in exaggeration. “Mama’s such a good cook it tastes delicious even with slobber on it.”

Amy laughed and swatted him with a dish towel. “Sit down and you’ll get your own. Slobber free.”

Taking a seat at the narrow breakfast bar next to Caleb’s highchair, he ran his hand over the distressed wood that he’d constructed with his own hands.

“Smells great,” he told Amy as he picked up the knife and fork and began meticulously cutting his meal. Amy always laughed at his quirk of cutting up all his food before he ate it.

“It’s like you’ve been practicing for fatherhood your whole life,” she’d tell him, and as silly as it was, he liked the thought that somewhere in his subconscious he’d spent his life getting ready for Caleb. He poked one of the egg yolks, letting the yellow bleed across the red plate. Then it happened. A low, unfamiliar voice spoke.


Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Mental Health and COVID-19

Where do I start? Words like "pandemic", "quarantine", and "social distancing" have become part of everyday language, especially within the last week. I'm not here to talk about statistics, lecture you about staying inside, or discuss the physical symptoms of the coronavirus ad nauseum - not because it's not a big deal, but because literally everyone is talking about it. The conversations are important - and overwhelming.

We live in a world where we're one scroll a way from scary headlines and latest news. On the upside, it's never been easier to stay informed and connected. The downside is wide spread - yet understandable - fixation. As a parent of a kiddo on the spectrum, I know fixation, though somewhat inevitable, is not healthy. So am I saying we should hide our heads in the sand and avoid what's going on? No, it's essential to be informed, especially where health and safety are concerned. But now that we're all stuck inside with exponentially inflating numbers buzzing around our heads like flies and every phone conversation circling back to one topic, let's not forget mental health. It's okay to extend social distancing to social media and to limit how much you allow into your brain. It's okay to take a break, read a book, focus on your work, and talk about literally anything else. It doesn't mean your not taking this seriously. Sometimes social media makes us feel guilty for disconnecting. I have to constantly remind myself not to take the bait - for my own sanity.

This pandemic is affecting all of us in some way - those in vulnerable groups the most. But it's not just affecting us physically. No matter who you are, you're likely experiencing isolation, cabin fever, anxiety, and disruption in your normal routine. This is an adjustment for anyone. For those with underlying mental health conditions, current circumstances exacerbate already pervasive struggles. Anxiety sufferers, particularly those with germ-focused phobia, must deal with increased worry over getting sick, getting someone else sick, or a vulnerable loved one. Again, we are all dealing with these very appropriate worries. But, already present anxiety is that much more amplified. Although, if you prefer to be at home like me, certain anxieties (social) may actually be alleviated. On the other hand, if you're a small business owner or otherwise out of work, you are likely faced with financial uncertainty, especially given that none of us know how long we're in for.

Social distancing equals social isolation, especially for individuals like my mom, who live alone. Social isolation is depression's best friend. If you don't suffer from depression, this is a time to watch for it in yourself and those around you. Especially check in on those who live alone. Signs like lack of motivation, sleeping ore than usual, changes in appetite, and irritability (especially in children) can all be warning signs of depression. If you're a fellow depression warrior, now is the time to take extra care of yourself. If you rely on a routine that has been subsequently interrupted, create a new or modified routine. It might sound simple, but getting up and dressed and showered even when you won't be stepping foot outside your door may help retain some normalcy. While it's healthy to distance from social media, it's also important to keep connected. I've done this by participating in the live streaming of my church services, spending time coming up with new activities to do with my kids, enjoying rare moments to talk with my husband with fewer distractions (sports, a long commute to and from the office), and maintaining regular phone contact with my mom.

This isn't the time to put extra pressure on yourself. If you have a family and even if you don't extra chores will be created y people being home all day using dishes, taking things out, etcetera. If you have restless kids at home like I do, you may see an entirely new level of clutter. My ten year old was recently looking for his GoPro charger. He asked me where it was. I can't even keep track of my own stuff, so I told him to look in his room. Apparently, this ultimately fruitless search necessitated taking every book off his shelf and leaving it stranded on the floor. Well, at least he can keep himself busy cleaning his room. Spoiler alert: hasn't happened yet.

I got some great advice from my son's therapist. She encouraged me to avoid putting too much pressure on academics, instead focusing on mental health right now. I feel like this is good advice anyway, but with a first grader on the autism spectrum, I have to check my expectations. Though my older son is used to homeschooling, E is used to the structured environment of school. His day to day has changed - not ideal for someone on the spectrum. Fortunately, we have access to e learning and his teacher and aids have been great about filling his virtual subject folders. I've been employing the use of our visual schedule to intersperse school with free time, but I have to remember not to push it. In general, we all have this fear of falling behind. Maybe we can put that aside for now. Maybe we can take a lesson from all the chaos and learn to slow down, prioritizing our health and well-being. Now is not the time to introduce new material or stress about extra screen time.

As we navigate this new, uncertain terrain, we are inundated with reminders to practice proper hygiene and safeguard our physical health. let's remind ourselves to also focus on and safeguard our mental health too.

Please feel free to leave your own tips for mental healthcare, as well as ideas for helping those living alone feel connected, in the comments