focus, part 1

focus, part 1

When Boone was three, he had some awful bedtimes. During that three year old summer, he would be OK during the day, but as soon as the first hint of nighttime was in the air, it was like a switch would flip. His eyes got wide, his body went tense, and it was like he wasn’t in control of himself anymore.

It was rough. But, I theorized, he was THREE. And adjusting to a new baby brother. And one day, he’d grow out of it.

When Boone was four, the awful bedtimes continued. The same wide eyes and tense muscles, the same nightly stress for his mama. “He just needs to be in school full time,” I thought. “He’ll do much better when he gets worn out from learning all day.”

When Boone was five and started kindergarten, we had some bedtime peace. After school each day, I’d ask “what did you do?” And he would mumble something like “I don’t know” and shrug when I’d ask him where he left his lunch box. Or jacket. Or shoes.

But, clearly, this was an adjustment. He was still adapting, right? Adapting to a full time school day, to school rules, to… everything. I was noticing that other kids were telling their parents everything that happened throughout their day. Boone still wasn’t… but that was hardly anything to worry about, I decided. He was excelling at academics; one of his class’s top readers, top spellers, top workers.

When Boone was six and in first grade, his teacher said to me, “he’s clearly very smart, but his focus is not there.”

Umm… what?

WHOA.

WHOA.

My smart angel precious baby child wasn’t focusing well? At first I dove into some heavy denial (maybe she’s just remembering days he was kind of sick, maybe she’s confusing him with someone else?), but then I thought about the bedtimes. Then I thought about the times he couldn’t tell me what he did during a day of school. Then I thought about all of the lost lunch boxes and clothing items. Then I remembered when my husband Jason, the pediatrician, said, “you know, I think Boone has ADHD.”

I’m very open about my own mental health. Depression, anxiety, and meds are not topics I’ll shy away from.

When they’re about me.

But with Boone… I didn’t want him to bear labels and stigmas so young. He wasn’t at an age where he could “own a diagnosis,” or so I thought, and I did not want to push that on him. And besides, didn’t ADHD give kids unbridled energy? And if he had ADHD, could he do all of the things he does, like speed through novellas and ace spelling tests? In first grade he was doing multiplication worksheets, for crying out loud!

Too cool for school (and focus issues…)?

So, like any reasonable person would do, I cried and stressed out and ate chocolate and avoided making decisions for as long as possible.

But then I realized the problems weren’t going away, despite every “focus hack” I found online or in books. While Boone could sit and read an entire book, if he were told to do something he didn’t want to do, it was an epic battle of wills. It didn’t matter if he was capable of, say, practicing piano, or writing a short journal entry, if he didn’t want to do it, it was a struggle. And not just a little, tiny, let’s talk about it struggle. Nope. It was three year old bedtimes all over again.

So I made an appointment with our pediatrician (who is not Boone’s father, by the way, going for unbiased opinions here) and after some surveys with Boone’s teacher, Jason, and myself, it was clear: Boone’s focus needed help. We had an official diagnosis of ADHD and a plan to trial some low dose medication.

My questions still lingered. Where was all of his energy? Oh yeah… at bedtimes. How could he read so fast? Oh yeah… he was choosing the books he wanted to read. What about the multiplication?! Oh yeah… even though he could solve the problems, getting him to sit down to work on it was a chore, to put it mildly.

I had a little more research to do, but I was ready to help my son reach his full potential in any way I could. I filled a prescription for Concerta, said a prayer, and began to watch and wait.

For part two of this post, come back to this blog NEXT WEEK, Wednesday, September 27.

the but

I’m doing something a little differently this week, so bear with me, will you?

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If you’re thinking about running a race in July with bangs in your face, don’t do that thing. (Here to help.)

A month or so after I had the miscarriage, I needed to take back some control. I had been a distance runner prior to that pregnancy, and although I had read countless studies calling running in pregnancy “safe,” I had “played it extra safe” last time and totally abstained. Of course, that didn’t matter, in the end. Anyway, I decided to start training for a half marathon. I started running through my depression, looking for peace, looking for strength. I found at least a small amount of both. After I finished my 12 mile run, the longest run before the big race, I had a funny feeling. Not a bad feeling, just a funny feeling. This feeling would be explained a few days later when a pregnancy test gave me a surprise: pregnant.

I panicked.

I’d been running! So much! I had a race in two weeks! I called my OB office immediately, and in a rush of words and breath, said something like “I had a miscarriage three months ago and I’m pregnant again and I run a lot and I have a half marathon and WHAT DO I DO?!” The poor phone nurse must have taken pity on me, because I received a call from my OB a couple of hours later. I don’t remember the conversation word for word, but I remember this:

“Jennie. You didn’t cause the miscarriage before. Running this race or not won’t cause another now. I don’t mean to be blunt, but — if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen, and you can’t really help it.”

These words joined words from my mom, who read to me from the Bible, from the third chapter of Daniel, the night before the race I had ultimately decided to run. This chapter tells the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, three Jewish men who stood by their faith and refused to worship the Idol King Nebuchadnezzar created. Despite his official command that everyone worship this idol, the three men refused, and were sentenced to be burned alive in a fire. Upon hearing this, they replied:

If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.
Daniel 3:17,18

But even if he does not – this became my mantra while I ran that race two and a half years ago. We pray for answers, we pray for miracles, not because God will fix everything, but because we believe He can. But even if He does not – we are still protected in other ways, we are still loved.

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Hello, tiny running buddy. You slowed me down, but it’s OK.

Ev was the tiny jumble of cells that ran with me during that half marathon. He remained safe that day, and everyday that has followed. And since that time, “but if not” has becoming my parental rallying cry. I cannot control every aspect of my children’s lives. I pray daily and nightly for their safety, but I simply cannot predict the future. Despite my best efforts, I can’t know if they will one day be the subject of a national news article with the word “tragedy” in the title. I pray they won’t, but we know that we live in a world where this happens to the children of some. I have complete faith that God can protect my children from all harm, and I know I will always protect them to the best of my ability, but, ultimately, “if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen, and you can’t really help it.”

This is, of course, a broad generalization, but in parenting? I kind of like it. If you are a parent who struggles with anxiety, hear this: do your best. Trust God. Realize you aren’t in control. Realize sometimes bad things happen.

Sometimes they are miscarriages or broken bones, sometimes they are hurt feelings or overwhelming stress. Sometimes they are mornings you wake up late, pray “please God, let us get to the bus stop on time!” and you don’t get to the bus stop on time, but it isn’t because God couldn’t slow time for you. He chose not to; maybe you needed a few extra minutes in the car with your kiddo that day.

Mamas, I pray for you. I want to pray prayers that simply state “keep ____ and her family from all harm,” BUT… I don’t. I pray God will keep you strong in faith no matter what fires come your way. If you could pray the same for me, I’d appreciate it.

a love letter to my second son

It took me longer to love you.

I want to say we connected the moment the oxygen rushed into your lungs, the second the nurse laid you on my chest, the first time your tiny fingers wrapped around mine.

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Hi.

But we didn’t. Or rather, I didn’t. I can’t speak for you.

You nursed well and often. You slept well. You cooed appropriately. You rolled on time, early even. The facebook pictures were great. “He’s a good baby,” I’d tell well-wishers, “Our family is complete.”

But this wasn’t the truth.

I had planned for the baby we lost before you. The baby who immediately lit up the home pregnancy test and was then observed as a tiny, wriggling bean on an ultrasound screen. The baby who died a few days later.

Postpartum depression affected the start of our relationship. I felt a lot of guilt about this, because this isn’t something I had with your older brother. He and I were thick as thieves from the very beginning. But you — we took longer, little boy.

You see, I wasn’t expecting you. I was expecting the baby we did not have. When that baby left, my heart shattered. When you came along, I wasn’t sure I could trust you to stick around, even though by all accounts you were perfectly healthy.

And so, the best way my hurting heart could cope, was keep you at a distance. To take care of you fully — to feed, to bathe, to clothe  — but as an outsider.

Here is what time, and medication, and you have taught me.

I don’t know the number of anyone’s days, but I know that you’ve been with us for nearing 22 months and you are healthy and whole. In that time you have changed and grown; we’ve had scary moments in the ER and happily tearful moments when you finally took those first steps.

And you’re still here.

Medication is a godsend that helped me see you. It helped me love you. I can never thank enough the scientists and doctors who made help in the form of something easily accessible. It might not work or be necessary for everyone, but I’m incredibly grateful it works for me. It helps me love you.

And you’re still here.

You, you, you, tiny boy… you are full of spirit and humor. I watch you take in the world with an attitude of discovery and experience. I hear you sing songs and use the time after you are put to bed to wind down alone, away from the noise of other people. You are like me, so much.

You are here. You are here. You are here.

It took me longer to love you, precious one, but once I fell, I fell hard. I can’t say what life would have been like if I had not had a miscarriage before you, but I can say with some certainty that YOU, the you that you are, likely wouldn’t be here. And now, after our slow start, that is something I simply cannot imagine. You are mine. I can’t change our past, but I can live in our present. I can plan for our tomorrow. I can trust that God will be with us, you and I, and your brother and your dad, and whatever we face, it will never be faced alone.

This is what you have taught me. What you will continue to teach me.

It took me longer to love you, but I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.

And thanks for not holding it against me.

Love, your mama

easy

When John was about two, Jay and I got the silly idea that having kids is blissfully easy. A few months later, a digital pregnancy test revealed the word I had been hoping and praying for: pregnant. We told a handful of family members and a few other mom friends, very aware of the stigma of the early announcement. We had officially announced with John when we were close to the end of the first trimester, after his heartbeat had been detected with a doppler. I was nauseous, something that I hadn’t experienced with John, and this was a great comfort. I had already had one drama-free pregnancy; I wasn’t (as) worried about this one.

We went in to my OB office, where the policy is to do an early ultrasound to confirm dates. I figured I was about seven weeks, but the ultrasound said six. We saw our tiny little human, and heard his tiny heartbeat, which wasn’t extremely fast, but the tech told us not to worry. It will speed up soon; it probably just started beating. Either way, we scheduled another ultrasound a week later to confirm her suspicions. I was thrilled! I saw my little baby once, and I would get to see him again. I was not prepared to go into that appointment a week later to find that there was no longer a heartbeat; I was no longer pregnant.

But this post isn’t about that.

This is about a journey that started four months later, when that digital test once again read pregnant. This pregnancy ended with an adorable and healthy Ev, but at the time I did not know that. I was excited, but very guarded. Every time I had an appointment, I went in expecting the worst, something I covered with jokes and shrugs. And every appointment, Ev proved my expectations wrong, occasionally so active he would kick the doppler and squirm away. And then, one morning in May, he burst onto the scene, wrinkly and pink and crying. He was healthy, he was strong. As ready as I was to relax, to enjoy not being pregnant, not having to worry… I couldn’t.

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Hi there, new guy.

I had read about postpartum depression. I was convinced I would experience it when John was born. I made Jay promise to watch for signs and tell me the second he noticed anything, but there were never any issues. I knew the extreme signs of PPD, and I never had any harmful feelings about Ev. I fed him, bathed him, clothed him, took a million pictures of him. I smiled when I talked about him, about how complete our family was.

But I think I regretted him.

I worried the whole time I was pregnant with him that he wouldn’t get here. The whole time he was here, I was worried he’d leave. Why did we get pregnant again? Wasn’t John enough? Why did I tempt fate, bring another child into a world filled with such random, frequent darkness? This isn’t a thought I mention lightly, given current events.

I noticed that, even though Ev was a good sleeper early on, I would never feel rested. I was very aware that every time John said “mama!” my shoulders would tense. I wasn’t sad, but I wasn’t happy. I was in a fog. Jay gently encouraged calling the doctor, but I was stubborn. I was fine. I was adjusting.

I prayed daily to feel better. I prayed that the days wouldn’t be so hard. I prayed and prayed and heard nothing. One morning in July, I turned on Barenaked Ladies’ Born on a Pirate Ship album, and the first song I heard was “This is Where it Ends.” Steven Page, one of the lead singers at the time, has always been open about his struggles with depression. He sang the lines, “I have faith in medication/I believe in the prozac nation,” and I stopped.

I prayed, God?

I very clearly heard it’s time to call the doctor.

Fast forward two or three weeks later, and I was back. I had a prescription for anti-depressants that worked. I happily (or at least not grudgingly) answered John’s many questions. I genuinely fell in love with Ev. The most important discovery, however, is that life could be easy again. It wasn’t a struggle to think, to act. I could be present. I wanted to be present.

If your life is harder than it needs to be, I can’t express enough how much I think you should place a call to your doctor. It might end in a prescription, and it might not. It isn’t something you need to fix on your own. Don’t blame the situation, don’t blame the season, don’t blame yourself. Depression is never a result of personal weakness. Ev will be 18 months in a couple of weeks, and I’ve increased the dosage of my meds once since I started taking them. I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again if it ever becomes necessary.

Please realize there are lots of different medications available, and not every one will work for you. Be honest with how you feel. You aren’t a burden to your doctor if you ask for something different. There can be a certain amount of trial and error.

If you are against this kind of medication, I cannot convince you to change your mind with facts and figures. That is not my area of expertise. All I can share are my experiences, and the sweet possibility that life may not have to be so hard after all.