Audrey has been officially diagnosed with asthma, which came at the price of three ER visits that included three one hour long breathing treatments, causing her to throw up all over herself and not getting home until 2 am, where on the drive home, she was wide awake and while looking up at the sky said, “MAMA. LOOK AT ALL THOSE AIRPLANES!” They were stars, and yes, she always talks in capital letters. Little girl, loud voice. Also to the tune of a specialist, several PCP visits, and a summer cold that should have been done in a day or two, and we’re going on day 8. Her lungs just can’t recover quite like a normal 3 year old’s and it’s frustrating. So she takes her inhalers, usually without issue, (though I think it works better when she’s crying), and takes her “mmmmm mama it tastes like strawberries!” singulair at night.
Maelie required some stitches and of course, when Matt took her, he let a resident do them. Now, look. I’m a nurse, and I’m all about the advancement of the future doctors of America, but not on my kid’s face. Just no. He texted me when they got there, stating that the staff was going to page the on-call plastic surgeon, and so I calmed down and waited for them to come home. When they got home, Matt said, “Oh, so plastics didn’t do it. It was just the ER doctor.”
Like, no. And it wasn’t just an ER doctor, but it was an intern. You know, the doctors who a few months ago were med students? I’m all for them suturing up my kids in any other place but their face. She is now left with another unnecessary scar on her forehead, the other being from the time I let them glue her forehead shut, when really, it should have been sutured. Lessons learned on Mae’s face.
Claire finally made it to her ENT appointment. I made it three months ago with the same doc who took out Luca’s tonsils. He’s pretty much the best in the city. (He fixes the noses of four pound babies, people. He’s an angel.) So, when they say, “Oh…the next appointment available isn’t until August…” and it’s May, you smile and wait.
She’s had issues with breathing out of her nose since she was probably 4, but the more pressing issue at the time was her vision, so breathing took a backseat. It wasn’t until the past year or so that she started to complain of her awful sleeping habits that I finally took it more seriously. We got her a fitbit, which tracks sleep, and after watching her sleeping habits for about a month, I realized that she wasn’t being dramatic; she was waking every hour. I would go in and listen to her, and the snoring – oh that was awful. But what the worst part was was her startling herself awake when she’d stop breathing.
We had taken her to my PCP and a specialist thinking that it was psych related, her nightmares and poor sleeping. And sure, part of it was, but when I physically saw what was in front of me, I knew that we needed to take action.
Plus, the constant stuffed nose has to be so annoying for her.
So we went, and even before he did a physical exam, he looked at me and said, “Wow, you can hear it in her voice.”
Her exam revealed exactly what I expected to hear, and then some. She needs her adenoids out (figured) and she needs turbinate surgery* (what the crap?) and oh, hey look at those giant tonsils! Those need to go, too. (Dammit.)
He spent a good chunk of time with us in the exam room, mulling over the tonsils. He could see them and that they were enlarged but not so much he thought they’d have to go. But when he looked one more time, Claire was able to drop her tongue down and he went, “WOAH, yup, those are going to have to go, too.”
*Turbinate reduction (also known as turbinoplasty or turbinectomy) is a surgical procedure that reduces the overall size of the turbinatesallowing for airflow which results in symptommatic relief of nasal obstruction and congestion.
So joy of joys, I get to go through another kid’s surgery at the end of next month. Luca is a laid back kid. He handled his surgery fantastically. Claire is a whole other animal. She spent the next morning making herself feel sick with worry to the point where she left taekwondo early. When she got home, and told me why she was home early, we talked it out and I suggested she try to go back. I explained how you can physically manipulate your emotions into making you feel awful or better. Taekwondo would have made her feel better, if she let it. So reluctantly she agreed, and when I picked her up a few hours later she was happy and back to normal.
Last night, while I was making dinner, Matt got the kids ready to take them for a bike ride. He usually runs and they bike along side of him. I was straining the pasta when I heard the door open and Luca screaming, his shirt bloodied and Matt looking frantic. He managed to jam a gear on his bike and super-manned it over the handlebars and took a chunk off of his jawline. If the skin had still been there, I would have bandaided it up and called it a day, but something that large missing was best to be looked at, and Matt was insistent on taking him to the ER. Off they went and I made sure to make my needs known.
Because of the location, no sutures were able to be used and he got steri-strips instead and a giant bandaid. He’s loving all the extra attention and retelling his tale over and over, each time getting a little more heroic.
And I’m back to thinking, Should I or should I not construct a giant bubble for my kids to live in, just until I build the funds back up in the HSA?
Where’s the wine?
I’m out of wine?
I’ve scheduled your death and I feel just awful. I’m listening to you sleep, which isn’t hard to do because your snoring is much louder than before, and I already miss you.
I’ve watched you slip away from me for about six months, and every passing week it got harder and harder to look you in the eye. You looked tired and sad and even though you tried over and over to make us happy, we could see that you were getting ready to go.
I hate that tumor. I’ve watched it slowly choke you and take the life right out of you. Seen it take away the dog I loved so much for so long. I look at you and I see the same face I’ve looked at for eleven years and I hate that tumor.
You licked my hand the other night when I cried at your paws. I know that you’re telling me to let go but I don’t want to.
I don’t want to.
You have been my constant companion. When Matt first got his job, and travelled three out of the four weeks in a month, you were there for me. Kept me safe. Kept me sane. When kids came, you were surprisingly patient with them. I know you weren’t a fan, and probably would have preferred it if I never had any, but you took it in stride. They put capes on you, Mardi Gras beads, built you forts – and you sat there with your irritated face, while giving me a look that would say, “Seriously, lady? Seriously?”
But every day now, it’s a little worse. Going up stairs leaves you gasping and panting. You sleep more. You’re constantly yawning and licking your lips, giving the universal signs of stress and anxiety. You lay on the floor sometimes, instead of your bed because nothing is comfortable anymore.
But last week you ran like a puppy and while it left you gasping for air, you were so happy to have that ball and chase it, and for a split second I thought maybe we can keep you around, but who would that benefit? I can’t be selfish anymore. I love you too much to keep you suffering.
So on Thursday at 9:30, we will say our final goodbyes. I’ve loved you for eleven years. Eleven. You were the least adoptable dog at the shelter. You were scared of men, scared of cars, scared of yourself. You were covered in cigarette burns and had been starved. You didn’t know how to walk on a leash or sit, but you spoke to us. And you loved us. For eleven years you loved us.
And because you loved us, we will let you go out on your terms. At home, with Matt and me, and your power puff girls blanket. And we will tell you how much we love you and feed you all of the peanut butter and we will let you go.
Because we love you.
We love you.
While in the middle of teaching a class, it dawned on me – I didn’t do your birthday post. But before you think that I forgot about you, I want you to realize that you have been on my mind basically every waking moment for the past 6 months. Since I got that email from your teacher, telling us that you were struggling in ways that the school wasn’t as capable to help fully, you have been my sole focus.
I have taken you from specialist to specialist, on a mission to help you. The thing about it, was that we found that you were struggling with were things that we couldn’t see. We needed to see through your eyes, the daily life issues that you were facing. Why was it that, when at the beginning of the year, 9+3 was simple, but by the end, it caused errors and tantrums and these freak outs that had me wondering what was really going on.
You said to me, one night before bed, that you were angry. And when you weren’t angry, you were scared. Why?
With the help of vision therapy, we’ve nearly fixed the convergence issues. That’s helping you do daily tasks and being able to do things like mental math, for example. We had you tested for learning disabilities, and found that even though you struggle with simple math, you’re actually very smart and have no learning delays. They found that the fact that you do struggle with timed math tests is the timed part. Not the math.
So now we’re working on the sads. And the angry days. And those pesky overwhelming feelings. With the help of our trusty Dr. Dan, we can overcome this.
I’ve told you a million times that there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Your feelings are valid. If you were to ask every kid you go to school with, I bet the most of them would say they feel the same way. Everyone reacts differently, you’re just a sensitive kid, and that’s okay.
You have worked so incredibly hard, and while you may or may not realize it, you’ve grown immensely. Just the other day, you were playing at the playground while Claire and Mae had their softball game, and you ran over to me, super excited, and exclaimed, “I made a new friend!”
For my quiet, needs his big sister a lot kid, this is huge. I said to dad, “He made a friend!” and dad smiled big. We’ve been waiting for you to find yourself, and just in usual Luca fashion, it was on your time.
We don’t want you to think that we need you to be outgoing like Mae, or super caring like Claire, or sing-songy like Audrey. We want you to be you. Now you’re no longer as afraid to be who you want to be, and I couldn’t be more proud of you.
This birthday was a big deal for me, little dude. You turned 7. Seven! You’re not a little kid anymore. At seven you can ride your bike a little further, you can do more things without my help and you can read chapter books.
And here’s the thing. A lot of people have said to me that the problems you’ve been having are because you’re young and immature, and I’ll agree with that to a point; You are one of the youngest kids in your grade. That said, you are a lot more wise than given credit for. You had the foresight to tell me your feelings. You knew that something wasn’t right and you told me in a way that transcends a seven year old. I don’t know if most kids would have been insightful enough to realize that what you were going through wasn’t normal.
You, good sir, are an amazing kid. I know that most people are amazed by Claire and her kindness and Mae and her candidness and sass, and Audrey’s the baby, but you are my unsung hero. The kid who, despite the fact that it was scary, spoke up for yourself. My quiet, not so chatty kid.
So, to my lego building, book devouring, not so patient – but usually helpful, super imaginative, and the best snuggler in the world kid, happy (belated) birthday. You’re my favorite little dude and nothing will ever change that.
(Plus we always have the best snaps together.)
Last week, an old blog post popped up about how hard it is being a parent to small children. I still stand by that, it was challenging. However, as life tends to go, it evolves, and I find myself longing for the days where I had leaky boobs, sleepless nights, and all the kids at home with me.
Childhood is hard. Raising kids to be good, honest people is hard.
Teaching them how to fly, and shoving them out of the nest to make sure they can, has probably been the hardest thing so far.
I remember the days when I felt so overwhelmed by lack of sleep and taking all four to the doctors for one kid to get a check up, and thinking that that was the absolute worst thing ever. But then they grew up, and one day my kid came home crying because another kid was a jerk to them.
I’ll take those long days where I had nary an adult to interact with, over my kid learning that growing up sometimes sucks. For them to feel what it feels like to be rejected or ignored. To not understand why the walls sometimes feel like they’re closing in when it comes time to take a timed test. Why the person sitting next to you zips through their work and you don’t, so you don’t get to play a computer game as a reward.
I’d take the crying over a nonexistent boo-boo and subsequent tantrums over having to take my kid from appointment after appointment to learn how to deal with growing up with visual and convergence issues and the anxiety that accompanies it.
Learning about which of your kids’ friends are true friends, which friends aren’t really friends and which friends need to just go away is hard. Dealing with the parents at any given function can be fun, but sometimes you can feel so out of your league and purposely pushed out. Wondering if you should have signed your kid up for this sport instead of that sport to keep up with the rest of the kids is never ending. Trying like hell to keep your kids from feeling left out, but at the same time teaching them about how life works leaves me second guessing everything. Trying to stay on the good side of the principal and guidance counselor while also pushing for what’s best for your kid without being ‘that mom,’ is exhausting. Reminding your kids that you love them, even when they’re sassing you and giving you so many eye rolls you hope there isn’t any permanent damage. Knowing when to push and when to back off. Asking yourself if you should save for future therapy sessions or college for them.
The Why did I say that? Are you serious? That’s awful. You probably just broke them. They’re going to remember this awful exchange for the rest of their lives. Good job.
Then going to bed and hoping that tomorrow will be better.
Yes. Gone are the days of baby talk and spit up. Screaming fits at Target and freaking out over getting an arm stuck in a shirt. Now are the days of hoping what you say is helpful and not hurtful, having to remember everything you ever say because it’ll come back and bite you in the butt, and eye rolls.
But with it also comes funny conversations, inside jokes, and solid relationships. I’m no longer just the person who keeps them alive. I’m also the person who helps make them be a person – one that I hope doesn’t suck.
Pass the wine.
Yesterday I had to be in two places nearly at once. It was only by proper planning (dinner before we left and snacks for the second gym) and the kids not being assholes (they all got into the car without yelling at each other!) that I was able to even accomplish it. (Shout out to MC Hammer for being on the radio so we could dance in our seats.) At 6 I finished teaching my regular class and by 6:30 I was ready to teach another class at a gym in another town, with the kids in tow. Usually I ask Matt to grab the kids when I fill in, but daycare was open until 8 at the second gym, and one late night wouldn’t break them. And, frankly, Matt needed a break.
Later he thanked me for going with the flow and taking the kids along with me instead of asking him to help.
And that’s what love is.
We’ll be celebrating 10 years in August. I can say with 100% certainty that when I first got married at the age of 21, I thought I knew what love was. I thought it was flowers and romance and date nights and deep conversations. But when Valentine’s Day would come and it wasn’t some extravagant gesture and I didn’t get flowers thrown at me for no good reason, I got upset and frustrated. I’d look at other peoples’ marriages and wonder what I was doing wrong. What was wrong with our marriage?
But then, finally, somewhere after Luca was born, and I wasn’t handling motherhood that well, I saw it.
Love was watching Matt take the kids to the park so I could have some alone time. Love was coming home to a cooked meal after a long 12 hour shift. Love was sleeping in on a Tuesday just because.
The moment I stopped comparing myself to what I was told I had to believe to be true about love, I realized that Matt and I have our shit together. Matt is who he is, and one thing he is not is a guy who is a romantic. He’s the guy who plans things a day in advance. The guy who sends me youtube clips to cheesy country songs that remind him of me. He’s the one who keeps me from imploding.
Do I like getting flowers just because? Sure. But they die. And Matt knows that that makes me sad. So instead he brings me home donuts.
Do I like date nights? Heck yes! But sometimes it’s just easier waiting until the kids go to bed and have an in home date night. I like to reserve my babysitting needs for things like Luca’s vision therapy, doctor’s appointments and that one time we’re invited to go to a party.
And it’s not all about me. I show Matt I love him by mowing the lawn so it’s one less thing he has to do and more time he can spend with the kids. I even overcame my fear of the attic and stopped nagging at him to get stuff down from there, when I’m perfectly capable of doing it myself. But I still stand by the fact that I swear that’s where all the stink bugs live.
I started taking my car to the shop for maintenance instead of making him waste a day to get it done. I keep the house clean and somewhat organized and I even do the laundry now. (True story, he did all the laundry until we moved it to the second floor about 5 years ago.)
I guess what I’m trying to say is, is that love doesn’t have to be so difficult. Once I stopped trying so hard and took a good look around, I realized that I’m most definitely loved and it shows. I have two dogs and three cats and he’s an asthmatic who is allergic. He just takes his meds, and grumbles at me every now and again, but my roomba Alfred keeps it pretty clean around here so he can’t really complain that much.
Plus, when he comes home and we have a foster kitty or six in the house, he is only mildly irritated. Especially since the cats always love him the best.
And every morning he wakes up before me and gets the kids lunches made and feeds them breakfast and doesn’t laugh at me when I dance around the kitchen to really bad pop music.
Sometimes he even joins in.
It’s been weighing heavily on my mind, what happened two weeks ago. I haven’t really known what to say about it. When people ask me I would answer very clinically, and the second they say, “Oh wow, you saved his life,” I’d look down at the floor and avoid making eye contact.
Audrey had been having a very rough time with, what now has been diagnosed as, asthma. The night before I had spent it at the Children’s ER until just before 2 am. When we got there, and waited in chairs for about 15 minutes, she was starting to have muffled speech, and so I went to the triage nurse who immediately brought us back into the trauma section of the ER, where she then got hour after hour of breathing treatments, which lead her to vomit all over herself, then cry because her hair was wet and messy, then cry because she had to keep the mask on after we got her cleaned, then cry because she was so tired. We couldn’t get her oxygen level to stay above 92% without the use of an oxygen mask, and frankly, it was scary.
But the whole car ride home, at 1:45 am, she was chatting all the way, wide eyed and commenting on the fact that the sun wasn’t very bright (it was the moon) and she couldn’t believe all the planes in the sky (stars.) I was exhausted, but knew I had to be up in the morning to get the kids ready for school and teach my regular 9 am BodyPump class, plus I was filling in for another instructor who taught a 30 minute class prior to mine at 8:30.
When I got to the gym, I was chatting with a member in the parking lot on our way in the building, when a tall, older man burst through the doors and asked if I was a nurse.
“Yes, I am, wh-…”
“We need you right away. By the racketball courts. RUN!”
In the five seconds it took me to get there, I thought to myself, I hope that this is something I can make a quick decision on. Because, let’s get real here. There have been times when someone falls and hurts themselves, and it’s not necessarily an emergency. But when I got there, a member that I’m very, very fond of, was laying on the ground in a small puddle of blood, and he was dead.
Now trust me when I say, I don’t want to be dramatic, but all my nursing education backed me up here. No heartbeat. No breathing. No spontaneous movements. Nothing. I immediately started CPR, and began apologizing for the ribs I cracked. I remember my nursing instructor telling me that good CPR breaks ribs. Another guy there got the defibrillator and while I worked on him, he was able to attach the pads and we were then advised that he needed to be shocked.
This went on, for what felt like an eternity, and three rounds of CPR and two shocks total, he was awake and confused – but he was talking.
Now, working at a gym like this one, well, we’re a small town if you will. Everyone knows everyone. So when I had come back to teach again at 5, I was being stopped left and right, or pointed at from afar and whispered about. It was incredibly overwhelming. I had made a facebook post a few hours after it happened, because that was the only way, in that moment, that I could process it. I wanted everyone to know that being CPR certified isn’t a joke. That it is vital and necessary and you never know when you may need to use it.
But then I was being called a hero. Just today a man whom I have seen at the gym for years, yet we’ve never spoken, stopped me after I taught and said, “You saved his life. If you weren’t here, he’d have been dead,” but all I could do was look down at the ground and mumble thank you.
I’m not a hero. I just happened to be in the right place, at the right time, and I got lucky. The hero is the defibrillator, as he was later found to have an arrhythmia.
And today, two weeks after the incident, he came by the gym to show me that he’s alive and well, and he brought donuts. All I’ve thought about for the past two weeks was him and how he was doing. And today, seeing him standing on his own and looking tall, I couldn’t help but hug him twice. He is one of my very favorite people and he owes me nothing.
But that donut was delicious.
After I had Luca, I went down a really deep, dark, sad hole and stayed there for about six months. It’s a sad but true fact that the postpartum depression I had after him basically blocked out all of my memories of him as a small child.
I constantly feel guilt from that, despite the fact that I know I wasn’t in control of it at all. When asked questions about how he was as a baby, or when he himself asks me to tell him stories about when he was a baby – it tends to leave me with this guilty feeling in the pit of my stomach, because I. don’t. know.
The other day a video popped up on my memories with him walking and clapping his hands. He was 10 months old, wearing a yellow long sleeved shirt and a diaper. I remember that shirt. I remember that brand of diapers. I don’t remember taking the video or anything that happened before or after it. Not a thing.
So imagine my continuing guilt when I sat in a room across from a psychologist, who, after a lengthy Q&A, said that Luca probably has anxiety and depression.
Now, I know that I’m doing the right thing, having him screened early, being an advocate for him, doing what it takes to make it right; but god, I feel so shitty right now. So shitty.
I thought that when I beat the depression that plagued me from 15-20, it was behind me. And then I got beat down again with it after I had Luca, and while I know that I’m mentally in a good place, there’s times where it starts to show it’s ugly face, and I’m aware of it, so I get it in check. I’ve learned over the years how to cope and be and recognize.
I foolishly remember filling out medical history forms, and thinking how I was so thankful that the only family medical issues is depression and anxiety and not cancer or heart problems.
But depression is scary. Especially for boys. They’re always told to man up and get over it. They can’t be emotional or show their true feelings, and I worry. I worry that I won’t be able to reach him or help him heal.
When he had chronic strep throat, we removed his tonsils. He hasn’t been sick since. When he took a header into the bookshelf and got an abscess under his baby tooth, we removed the tooth, and he was fine. Some day, he will probably need braces. We’ll get him that.
But how do you fix something he can’t see?
I told the psychologist today that I’m out of my depth here. That, as far as basic parenting skills go, I’m really good. But I don’t know how to help Luca correctly. I’m afraid that everything I’ve done to help him in the past is all wrong, and I’ve only made it worse. That when he has those tantrums, my approach to helping him isn’t giving him what he needs.
I feel so lost.
When we got back to the car, Luca seemed okay, but then again, I always thought he seemed okay. He then said, “Mama, did you know that we’re all made up of stars? That’s pretty neat.”
“That is pretty neat, little buddy. That’s pretty neat.”
Life has become pretty busy. I mean, I guess that’s what’s supposed to happen when you have four kids, and they grow older, and subsequently get busy with their lives. Aside from my growing teaching schedule, the kid’s taekwondo and Luca’s vision therapy, Claire and Mae are starting softball today.
Coordinating life is so hard. I feel like I’m constantly trying to strategize how I can make it through the day. Just two weeks ago I had to figure out how to be three places at once. No lie. I had to teach at 9, a dentist appointment for myself and Audrey at 10:15, Mae finished school at 11, she had her dentist appointment at 11 (same place as me), then Claire and Luca had a half day, so I had to be home before the bus at 11:45, then meet my mother in law in a town 30 minutes away by 12:30. By some bit of magic, I managed to get everywhere on time. All the lights were green for me. But there are days when I hit every red light and I’m sitting in my car, heartbeat racing, and mildly sweating, because if I’m five minutes early, I’m late. So when I’m actually late, I’m super frustrated and borderline insane.
When I take a minute to sit back and actually look at the coordinating that goes on in my daily life, I’m pretty impressed. I’ve sort of gained the motto of, “Eh,” which I don’t think is really helping me much, but it’s better than my old one of, “OMG HOW AM I GOING TO GET ALL OF THIS DONE? I CAN’T DO THIS. HOW DO PEOPLE DO THIS? I WANT TO CRAWL INTO A HOLE AND HIDE.”
Tonight I teach my regular BodyPump class, but at the same time, Claire and Mae have softball practice and Luca has vision therapy. It took me about 5 years, but I finally figured out that it truly takes a village to raise a family, and you can’t be afraid to ask for help.
Since softball is Matt’s thing (he’s one of the assistant coaches) I don’t have to worry about that. He just needs to know where I’ll be so he can grab the girls. Vision therapy has been a bit of a struggle, but my step-dad has been super helpful with taking him on the days Matt or I cannot.
Everything I do, I have to have a fallback plan. If a kid gets sick, and I am scheduled to teach, who sits with them? If heaven forbid I get sick, who helps me? Who watches the kids when I need to go to the doctors? When the girls are napping, but a kid needs to come home early from school, what do I do?
In a few weeks, Matt and I are running the Pittsburgh marathon. (I’m only doing the half. And for charity! If you want to help me reach my 1k goal, donate here! Claire is running the 5k for the ARL as well.) In the past, my sister or mom have come to the house at the crack of dawn to watch the kids, but this year we got smart and asked if Carly could just take them for the night. That way everyone wins. The kids have been begging to go back up to Carly’s house and run around her huge yard, and this way, we can leave when we want to (which for Matt is way earlier than I want to) and not have to worry as much. I used to dread running these races because I’d worry about the kids. Are they okay? Are they giving the adult a hard time? Does the adult watching them hate me for asking? Am I being selfish for running a race and asking someone else to watch my kids? Am I a horrible person for even asking someone to do something for me? I should stop racing.
And then I get home, and everyone’s fine, and the kids are happy, and the adult is probably thankful they’re either done having kids or now never want to have kids, and I did all that rushing and worrying for nothing, and completely missed that I ran a race. I never stay for the post race activities. I never seek out other friends who ran. I usually get in my car and drive home, as if it was just something I had to check off my to-do list.
And that’s basically it. I am constantly checking things off my to-do list. Always. Today, for example. I am subbing a pump class this morning. I keep checking the clock. At 9:15 I will leave the house to go teach. At 11 am, I will get the kids out of the gym daycare and come home immediately. Check, check. Lunch. Nap time at 1. Kids get off bus at 3:25. Homework. Leave the house at 4:25 to beat the traffic. Larry picks up Luca at the gym at 5, Matt picks up the girls at 5:15 for softball. I teach at 5:30. Check, check, check. Get home. Get them fed. Get them in bed. Stare at phone for an hour. Sleep.
I can’t be alone in this, can I?
When Luca was born, he was a quiet boy. He was always taking the world in from his big blue eyes, and never asking for much.
I was always warned, “Oh, boys. They’re such a handful. They’re so boisterous, they’re so crazy!” But it never happened. He was always my relaxed, chill boy. Loved to snuggle. Was empathetic.
But when he entered kindergarten, it sort of defeated him in a way. He had always been shy, but this was different. He was struggling, but it seemed that I was the only one who saw it.
His teachers and basically everyone else brushed it off, stating he’s very immature. He’s the youngest one in the class. He’s a boy. Boys always develop later than girls. Blah blah blah. But no. I can read my kid. I saw in him similar struggles that I went through in school, but getting any information out of him was a struggle. He wouldn’t open up to me whatsoever, and, again, it was brushed off as, he’s young.
When April came around, I needed to sit down with his teacher. She gave me the same BS about how he’s immature and is just adapting to a new way of life. I then mentioned to her that I have dyslexia and I see him struggling as I had, and while she listened to me, she still brushed it off.
About a week later, I got a note from his teacher stating she wanted to meet with me again. That seeing Luca through new eyes, the eyes of just maybe I could be right, she’s witnessed some things that had her agreeing with me.
We met, and she agreed, but then Luca’s tonsils took priority and so the summer was spent having surgery and getting better.
When first grade began, I told his teacher right away to please keep an eye out for him. That he’s so quiet that he can easily be left behind. His teacher has been amazing. She kept up on him and let him move at his pace, but despite all of this, when the new year began, she sent an email saying that he had gotten increasingly worse in the matter of a few weeks and was there something she could do to help? He spent 75% of his day daydreaming, and when he was one on one with his teacher he would cry because he physically couldn’t focus on the work she was having him do. He would never cry in school before this. He was noticing it, too.
I immediately got him into his pediatrician and she said that it could totally be ADD, but she’s not going to blanket diagnose him, and referred us to a doctor who would administer neuropsych evaluation.
I know I’ve said this a million times, but the elementary school my kids go to is amazing. The principal stopped me when I was volunteering for an after school program and asked permission to give my number to the district’s social worker who can help guide me through the process, help with the stress. The social worker was amazing. She gave me a list of things that could also help him, one of them would be to see a behavioral optometrist.
We went to see Dr. Hans Lessmann, who you can google, is a very accomplished man. He is also very good at what he does. He ran Luca through a battery of tests, many of which were incredibly eye-opening. For example, in one test he had Luca draw a line down a piece of paper, and on the right side he had to start with the letter A and on the left side he went to B, so on and so forth until he got to Z. On the right side, all the letters that could be backwards – C, E, G, were backwards. When he was asked to copy a series of dots and lines just as he saw them, they were usually upside-down or on an odd angle.
He was diagnosed with Non-Malingering Syndrome or Streff Syndrome. It’s pretty amazing. Basically, his vision is 20/20, that is, until he’s under stress, and then his vision is 20/40. His eyes see, but his brain does not. It was described to me that Luca is in a constant state of fight or flight. That he is always in tunnel vision. That he cannot see except for the one thing he’s focusing on because he’s so overwhelmed that he is just working for survival. Dr. Lessmann said he’s up a creek, with no paddle, but everyone is telling him to row anyhow.
When he gave the diagnosis I was elated and defeated all at the same time. Finally someone had believed me, but my poor kid was so stressed at the age of 6. I was heartbroken.
He began light and vision therapy and within three weeks, I started to see my Luca again. He was coming back. Where he had lost all empathy, because he couldn’t even care for himself, let alone about others, he was giving me hugs on his own again. When he used to freak out and yell about things, he now stops himself and asks me to work it out with him. He’s also focusing a little better in school.
It didn’t come easily. Not by a long shot. The light therapy has side effects of tantrums and major melt downs, and we had those. He would have full-blown attacks of …. I don’t even know what to call it. Anxiety? He would sit on the floor screaming and rocking and holding himself. You couldn’t touch him, you couldn’t reason with him, and it would last for what felt like an eternity. But I would grab him anyway and hold him tight and whisper in his ear that I’m here and I wasn’t letting go.
He told me, several hours after he’d calm, that he liked that.
As a mother, watching my kid go through this, it has been incredibly challenging. I’ve had to bite my tongue more times than I care to mention, and I’ve had to walk out of rooms to keep myself from saying something that I’d come to regret. I’d have to remind myself that he’s doing his very best, and right now he’s going though something rough.
But oh man it hasn’t been easy.
When Dr. Lessmann had Luca doing an activity in another room, he asked me, “If I could snap my fingers and make everything better, what would be the one thing you’d want to see improve for him?” I said, “His emotions. I want him to not be so sad and frustrated all of the time anymore.”
After Luca had finished his activity, he came into the room with us, and Dr. Lessmann asked him the same thing. He said, “I don’t want to be so sad anymore. And scared.”
He’s improving. He’s more aware. He’s more kind. He’s more Luca. It’s going to be a long journey, but to see him already feeling more confident and acting more ‘like a boy’ and being silly and rough and tumble…well I’d pay a million dollars for that.
At this point in my life I would have been almost done. Mae is going to kindergarten in the fall and I would have made it. All that free time to teach and do things and watch Netflix all day if I wanted to, but then you came along and now freedom has been pushed back by two years.
And three and a half years ago, when I knew that was my new reality, I took pause.
Okay, I totally freaked out.
But it wasn’t you I was freaking out about it was me. Seriously. I didn’t even know how I had managed to birth and partially raise three kids, let alone throwing in a fourth.
But I did.
And here’s the thing: you were the easiest to add in.
Now, Luca still gets the prize of best baby ever because he didn’t peep, he slept, he snuggled, and he got teeth without making my life hell.
But adding him in was another story. Claire was miserable at first about it. She wanted him shipped back. And while it took about three months for her to get over the fact that he wasn’t going anywhere, the second we showed you to your big siblings, they all melted for you. Especially your big brother. You have been the most loved child ever. So while I was super upset in the beginning about the thought of another baby, knowing YOU and seeing YOU changed my whole life for the better.
Now you’re three. You proudly announced that to the hostess when we went out for lunch today. You were bouncing up and down holding up five fingers screaming, “I FREE!”
You have two volumes: loud and louder. You also have two settings: happy and go away. When you go into your sound making go away mode, dad calls you AB, because the sounds you make rival that of the characters from Angry Birds. But you look him square in the eye and say, “I’m not AB, daddy! I’m Aud-ee.”
Sorry it’s a hard name to pronounce. Not to mention the fact that we hardly call you that, rather, you’re mostly called Podge, Audgie, and AB. It’s okay if you end up with a little bit of an identity crisis because we’re already saving up for future therapy bills.
So in your short, yet very long three years, you have most definitely completed our family. Aside from possibly adding in new animals down the road, we’ve reached our limit. That’s not to say you’ve been awful, quite the contrary; why would we add in another when we ended on a high note?
And I’m okay with the fact that I have another two years before I can do some serious Netflix binges or whatever else I’ll be doing during the day, because we have a lot of adventures coming our way. You’re very lucky to be the last kid. I now see what life is like to have most of my kids away at school and I miss them, so we have to make sure to end your toddler years with a bang. I’m seeing hikes and day trips in our future complete with a single jogger so we can fly.
I never imagined in all my wildest dreams that I’d ever be a mother to four kids, but here we are. And we’ve got our stuff together. You are by and far the greatest surprise I have ever received. Even more than the Skip-It I got for Easter when I was 8. That thing was awesome.
If I could wish anything for you, it would be to continue to look up to your siblings. While you do in fact have large steps to follow, that’s not what I’m getting at. Let them teach you and show you and help you – But don’t let them do for you. You, at three years old, are already more capable than I had ever imagined. The world is yours, anything you want to be or do, you can. How do I know this? Because, dear daughter, you are half me and half your dad, and we work hard and have overcome some big stuff, so we know that there’s no stopping you.
Go out there and smile, and be brave, and be kind, because by just doing those things you could possibly change the world for someone. It may just be you.