Alpha Mom » Mir Kamin parenting and pregnancy opinions and information Thu, 07 May 2015 14:54:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Helping Your Student Manage Year-End School Stress Tue, 05 May 2015 14:47:06 +0000

This morning I went looking for the post I wrote when planning to transition my autistic homeschooler back to public school, and once I found it, I read it feeling something akin to amazement. It feels like I wrote it a decade ago. I mean, I remember the thought process, the logistics of it all, the excitement, the trepidation—all of it—so clearly, and yet it feels like something that happened in the distant past. Reality check: That was only about a year and a half ago.

My son’s reentry into the public school system was not without hiccups, but that first, half-time semester served its purpose. When August rolled around and it was time for him to be a regular, full-time sophomore, he was ready. Again, there were some hiccups—we practically forced him into marching band, kicking and screaming, and it took a good month or two before he realized he loved it; there was an adjustment to having to sit in classrooms all day long after the relative freedom and faster pace of homeschooling; and although he’s come a long way, there is still a routine “airing of grievances” via text messages when he is displeased (which my husband and I jokingly refer to as his daily mini-therapy). School is hard for him in ways it probably wouldn’t be for a neurotypical kid. We know this. We’ve all adjusted. Now that it’s May, it all feels routine… sort of.

School’s out in just a few weeks. Right now the normal schedule of classes has been upended for AP exams, End of Course Tests, and various other “end of the year” things. No biggie, right? Except for him, it’s like death by a thousand paper cuts, because:

1) change in routine (stressful!)
2) frequent shunting to a doubled-up classroom for busywork (stressful and infuriating!) while the regular room is used for exams
3) exams (super stressful, particularly for a kid who is still struggling to develop good study habits).

With just a few weeks left in the semester, it feels a little like my son has hit the wall.

Now, let’s be clear: I think that’s a normal feeling for most kids at the end of the year. Heck, I’m not even in school, and I am completely over this school year, thankyouverymuch. I’m ready to bid the early alarm good-bye, I’m tired of concerts and competitions and practices and events and “do you have your homework” and “shouldn’t you be studying” and “how did you lose your textbook?” and just all of it. I sympathize with the feeling of being done. That’s par for the course.

The (potential) problem here for my son is that there is a certain level of overwhelm from which he has a lot of difficulty trying to recover, and it’s hard to know when we’re approaching it (though once we hit it, don’t worry, that’s plenty clear… usually because he collapses in a heap of anxiety and sadness while my heart shatters). His IEP is structured to give him as much support as possible, but during these last few weeks where everything is different, it’s hard to even figure out when/how to help him with the things that throw him off. Learning to deal with the fact that sometimes things change from the norm and you just have to roll with it for a while is a crucial skill set he’s going to need in life. And as I keep telling him, I know he can manage. Still, I see his anxiety level creeping up, and I worry.

Yesterday was his first AP exam, and as luck would have it, it was for the class he and his big sister share. I knew that could be wonderful or catastrophic, and though I won’t pretend to take an iota of credit for it, somehow the kids all on their own figured out that they could study together and quiz each other and, I don’t know, use each other as support instead of bickering about who took whose pencil. It was magical! (Let’s pause a moment here so I can point out that my daughter really stepped up in terms of both organizing herself and assisting her brother, which was amazing to see on about half a dozen different levels.) They headed off in good spirits yesterday, and when I picked them up after the exam, they both said they thought it went okay.

But last night, I tried to get him to study for another upcoming exam, and that’s when things started falling apart. He’d already studied (for five minutes), and he’d been working all day and just wanted to talk with his friends (who probably also should’ve been studying). I tried to give him a “the year is almost over, the finish line is in sight but you have to find that last burst of energy to get there” pep talk, but it fell on deaf ears. Eventually he declared that he was just really tired and went to bed early.

This morning he woke up convinced that he failed yesterday’s exam and everyone hates him and the sky is falling. His first class got routed to another (doubled-up, crowded) room and I fielded a litany of text messages about the unfairness of the world and the stupidity of everyone in it. I know this is him blowing off steam, and I would much rather he text me than mouth off in class, but still, I worry. There’s weeks left and many more exams to get through, and I can see he’s having a hard time keeping it together.

My plan is to sit down with him tonight and map out a schedule for the remainder of the semester. He’ll agree to a certain amount of studying every night, I think, but dislikes the generic “well, go study more” exhortation. If I ask him to do an hour a night, he’ll set a timer and do it. I can’t do anything about the chaos at school right now, but I can help him make his time at home predictable, and that should help. I’m doing a lot of baking and making sure we have plenty of ice cream in the house; sure, good snacks never solved the problem of stress, but they certainly don’t hurt. We’ll mark the days off on the family calendar, and mark off each exam with an extra flourish.

In the final balance, sure, he still needs some extra support and encouragement, but this first full year back in public school has been a huge success for my son. I keep reminding myself of that, because it’s easy to forget when he’s struggling. He’s learned a ton, gotten great grades, made new friends, found new activities, and managed to find his way in what can be a really stressful environment for him. He’s managed to find the positives most of the time, which is huge. In a few weeks, he’ll turn in his textbooks and have the whole summer to relax, unwind, and get ready to do it all again next year. And I know that even though there will be hard parts, he’ll rock it, because he’s amazing.

]]> 8
How (Not To) Family Vacation Tue, 28 Apr 2015 18:35:24 +0000

Every now and then someone makes a comment about my “blended family” and I do a lot of blinking because… I forget. I mean, not entirely, I suppose, but I’ve been remarried for coming up on eight years, now, and this doesn’t feel like my new family or my second family; it’s just my family.

Some of the toughest transitioning we did as a familial unit had to do not with the day-to-day stuff, but differences in how we perceived the Big Stuff (and that’s less of a “blended family” and more of a “distinctly different people finding middle ground” sort of thing). In the beginning, I think it was harder. My husband had his views and I had mine and no matter how much we love each other, we both viewed the other’s staunch positioning as a little silly. Our childhoods were distinctly different from one another’s, and both were very different from my own kids’ experience. My children have their own particular set of foibles and needs, and I know that sometimes (often?) my husband feels like it’s three against one when it comes to something he thinks should be a certain way and we all are just confused.

This is all preamble to say: I’ve reached the conclusion that we, as a family, are terrible at going on vacation.

Six years ago we purchased a small camping trailer after listening to countless stories of how magical my husband’s childhood was, spending a large portion of every summer camping with his family. The kids were excited. Heck, I was excited. The truth is that I’d hang out almost anywhere with my husband, because he’s my favorite. This seemed like a reasonable way to both ready our family for the travel my husband craved but the familiarity which the kids tend to need. We would become campers! And we did—sort of. We took trips as a foursome and on various occasions when one child would be off doing something else, we’d take the remaining child and a friend. We camped here in Georgia and found a favorite campground in South Carolina and went new places and even towed all the way up to New York one year to camp with my folks. We hiked and swam and made s’mores and played cards and board games and threw a ball for the dog inside the camper on rainy days and had a bunch of adventures over the years. My late mother-in-law, whose counterpoint to my husband’s “those were the good old days” view of his camping past was that it was a terrible slog she’d barely survived, would always call and ask to talk to me and then “coach” me that I could tell him if I didn’t want to go. It tickled me that she was so convinced I was just putting up with it. No matter how I reassured her that I enjoyed our trips, she was always very worried that I didn’t. I did, though.

But… life kept going, and often the weather didn’t cooperate, and living in close quarters in a small fiberglass and metal box—even just for a few days at a time—wasn’t as idyllic as we’d hoped. The kids’ schedules and needs became more complicated for various reasons. We take an extended family trip every couple of years and that’s great fun but also stressful (let’s pack up two autistic teenagers and take them to sensory overload-land for a week!), and we both tend to have business travel in the summer, and my husband started doing a “boys’ trip” each summer with my son, which then led to a similar “Hey, why don’t I get a trip?” trip with my daughter, and sometimes I am strongly encouraged to go visit a friend to take a break from the chaos here before I murder everyone, and and and and (etc.). The “adventure” of camping started feeling less appealing than just flopping on the couch or the porch because some (lots of) days we didn’t have the energy for more than that. Two summers ago we only camped once. Last summer, somehow we didn’t go at all. No one complained, though I do think my husband was sad about it.

We talked about it recently, and it looks like we’re going to sell the camper. To me, this is something of a logistical relief: Even a small trailer is a large item to store, and requires money to maintain, and although our non-camping summer last year was unavoidable, I felt a lot of guilt about it. To my husband—despite the fact that he’s the one who suggested we sell—I fear this is the symbol of broken dreams. We were supposed to replicate the carefree fun of his youth. Camping was supposed to be a time of family togetherness and new discoveries, and while we did have some of that, we also had a lot of complaining and electronic devices and mishaps. My husband admits to a bit of rose-colored-glasses filtering of his childhood, and also, to be fair, their camping days were not when he was a teenager; but a small, irrational part of my brain does feel like we failed him, somehow. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go.

When we told the kids, they were vaguely disappointed, but neither could pinpoint our last trip, either, so I think it was more habit than anything else. Trying to put a good spin on matters, I pointed out that after we sell, we’ll have some money for different kind of trip, if they’d like. Where would they like to go? (I didn’t mention that our time as a foursome is winding down, as my oldest will theoretically be off to college in about a year.) My son frowned and named our favorite campground. (He certainly showed us.) My daughter said “Disneyworld!” then grinned and said, “Just kidding. Too many people.”

The kids and I are happy to putter around here at home. My garden’s here! And my dogs! (We never did take our second dog camping, but given his arthritis and the fact that he’s blind, I don’t know that he would adapt the way Licorice did.) I don’t feel the need to go somewhere else, really. Neither do the kids. We’re homebodies. My husband says he gets it, but I find myself saying things like, “They’ll be in college soon, and then we can go somewhere, just the two of us.” He chuckles and says okay. He says he’s not upset.

On the one hand, I feel like my family has flunked when it comes to vacationing. On the other, it feels like a very bourgeois concern to have. Maybe I just need to start planning a just-the-two-of-us trip for after my youngest starts college. I think I’ll call it the Victory Trip.

]]> 15
Mother/Daughter Communication By Any Other Name Tue, 21 Apr 2015 15:08:38 +0000

Every now and then I experience some guilt over the “bonding” activities I do with my daughter but not with my son. Sure, I’m quick to remind the kids that fair isn’t equal, but it’s still hard not to compare, sometimes.

At 15, due to a combination of his age, personality, and maybe even his gender, my son’s needs in terms of attention from me are straightforward and easy to fulfill. Although I am not a gamer, if I will listen attentively and ask appropriate questions while he tells me about his latest adventures in D&D or Minecraft or the most recent Homestuck (do not ask me anything about Homestuck; I do not understand it at all), he is happy. A good 10 minutes of my undivided attention is enough to fill his tank for the day. (That sounds… awful… when I say it that way. I mean that if I give him 10 minutes when he gets home from school, he will then happily wander off to do homework and read and game and whatever, after.) Should I ask him to help me cook or assist with chores, he is cheerful and eager to oblige, and so he is my most frequent helper as I putter around in the kitchen before dinner. If anything is bothering him, he tells me then, straight out, leaving no question as to his issue. In the evening before bed, he has no problem with finding me wherever I happen to be and folding his ever-lengthening frame into my lap. “I fit!” he giggles, as I make a point of complaining that he is all knees and elbows and clearly far too big for this. “It’s fine!” he assures me, as I poke him and protest. “I fit right here! Perfect!” A couple of minutes of laughing snuggling and he’s off to bed.

At 17, my daughter is more complicated, though that’s always been the case. She wants me to leave her alone, unless she wants me to treat her like my one and only. I should stay out of her business, but I should be at her beck and call. She doesn’t need me. She always needs me. It’s Moms & Teenage Daughters 101, I suspect, though the particular constellation of needs/personality here puts the whole thing on steroids. There are days when I feel like I can’t reach her at all, and days when I feel like I’ve been with her every second, yet at bedtime she becomes tearful because she “needs more time” with me. Either this game has no rules, or there are rules, but no one will tell me what they are.

So that’s fun.

I try to meet her where she is, as best I can. So far I’ve managed three solid hits in a sea of misses, so let’s just focus on how great that is instead of what that makes my overall batting average.

Tube Time
Vegging out in front of the television together is unlikely to win me any sort of creative parenting award, but it is a great way to learn a lot about my kid and also slip in some useful conversation bits when she’s distracted. Her current program addictions include Gray’s Anatomy (great opportunities to talk about relationships), Law & Order: SVU (great opportunities to talk about when bad things happen to good people), and Girl Code (great opportunity to laugh until you have to pee, but also to discuss everything under the sun, no holds barred). Watching TV together is a low-pressure situation, a good excuse to cuddle up, and she tends to say yes to it even when she’s mad at me. Score!

Digital Discourse
Face-to-face conversations can be hard. Know what’s not? Texting, or sending each other stickers on Facebook. When she turned 17 this weekend, I let her install Snapchat, and I installed it as well, and wow do I feel old now that I have this app. But! She sends me a ton of messages, and responds well to the ones I send back. We’re not solving world hunger, or anything, but I’m getting another window into her life and I’m able to let her know I’m thinking about her with a non-sappy delivery. (I mean, a super-close-up photo of my scrunched-up face with a scrawled “GET TO CLASS!” across it is all about love in a backward sort of way, right?) Basically anything I can make go through her phone at this point is a better guarantee of “reaching” her than anything else.

Joint Journaling
On a whim, I purchased this Just Between Us: A No-Stress, No-Rules Journal for Girls and Their Moms one day when it was on sale, and gave it to my girl wondering if she would think it was stupid or maybe too babyish for her. So far, so good—it’s a mix of prompts and free-responses, and we’ve worked out our rules for passing it back and forth. I won’t presume to speak for her, but I am really loving it. I’m learning more about her and telling her things about me and it’s like this whole new secret channel of communication (it’s just us, and we are not to discuss what we write in there with others or even each other) giving me clues to who she is and what she needs. I suspect it’s humanizing me to her, too, in a way that’s more digestible than listening to me talk. (“Ugh, Mom. Stop talking.“)

I feel like the clock is ticking; we’ve only got about a year left together before my firstborn flies the coop. It’s hard for me not to badger her to talk to me (I am a words person; I would gab forever if she was up for it), but I’m learning to restrain myself and treasure the glimpses as they present themselves.

]]> 5
Blue Apron and Getting Your Teens Cooking Dinner Thu, 16 Apr 2015 12:45:28 +0000

This post is sponsored by Blue Apron. As always, all opinions are my own.

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I got the brilliant idea that my kids would take turns cooking for the family one night a week. It was a brilliant plan, and it worked… until life got busy and we stopped. Between school, activities, lack of planning ahead, and just life, eventually we were back to the status quo—I do 99% of the cooking, because 1) I work from home and so can do prep or crock pot stuff during the day and 2) I’m that perfect blend of lazy (the kids always need “help”) and nutrition-conscious topped with a dollop of control freak, which means doing the cooking myself is, in many ways, just simpler.

But the reality is that I hope someday (maybe even someday soonish…) my teens will leave me and be able to feed themselves more than just ramen. So when the opportunity to try out Blue Apron came up, sure, some people would’ve said yes for the chef-designed recipes and the ease of having a refrigerated box of fresh ingredients in precise portions delivered to their doorstep, but not me. I said yes because I knew it meant a meal my teens could prepare with zero assistance from me, and it would be balanced, nutritious, and would not result in a crime scene of wasted food in my kitchen. Sign me up! (Also—read on, because we have a special offer for Alpha Mom readers if you want to sign up, too!)

[Okay, I lied a little. I did help them tie their aprons.]

Blue Apron Reviewed by Mir Kamin for

Blue Apron offers a wide variety of recipes (and they’re adding to their menu all the time), but their accommodations for special diets are still somewhat limited; because my daughter is a vegetarian and I can’t have gluten, I was worried it might be difficult to provide us with appropriate meals. (I did offer that I can always leave anything gluten-containing off my plate, provided it’s not a gluten-centric dish like pasta or something, and that a fish recipe with hearty sides would work for my daughter to just skip the entree.) To my delight, our test box arrived with directions and ingredients for a vegetable tortilla soup (and the tortillas were corn, so it was a full-on vegetarian, gluten-free meal that worked for all of us!) and a panko-crusted salmon with fingerling potatoes and a crunchy Waldorf-esque salad. The kids opted to prepare the soup so that they could test it out on a meal that needed no adjustments. (I later made the salmon and just didn’t put panko on my piece, but more on that later.)

Blue Apron Reviewed by Mir Kamin for

The kids pulled out the soup ingredients and the recipe card and fell to dividing up the prep and chopping ingredients. While the soup itself was simple—a can of chopped tomatoes and water added to onions, garlic, and the included spices, plus a can of hominy making it more hearty—the stars of this creation are really the bevy of garnishes. My daughter sliced up and toasted tortilla strips while my son chopped cilantro, broke up the queso fresco, sliced radishes (“Mmmm, I didn’t know I liked radishes! Crunchy!”), and quartered limes and scooped out an avocado. There may have been a small scuffle over who got to use the garlic press. Jokes were made about how there’s “no crying in soup” during the dicing of the onion.

Blue Apron Reviewed by Mir Kamin for

“That took forever,” my daughter huffed, once a quick consultation of the directions confirmed they were finally ready to get the soup going. (Forever, by the way, was approximately 10 minutes.)

“Welcome to what I do for you guys pretty much every single day,” I said. “It’s called cooking!” They love it when I’m supportive like that.

Together they managed to get the aromatics fragrant in the pot, then added the tomatoes and water and hominy. Now all that was left to do was some simmering and stirring, so of course my oldest shooed away her brother and told him to go set the table. He obliged, eventually. There may have been some shenanigans along the way.

Blue Apron Reviewed by Mir Kamin for

Blue Apron Reviewed by Mir Kamin for

Blue Apron Reviewed by Mir Kamin for

Once the soup was ready, we filled bowls and everyone garnished them the way they liked. My daughter and I hogged the avocado (because the guys don’t care for it), and she skipped the radishes while her brother took a big pile of them. The toasted tortilla strips and crumbled queso were enjoyed by all.

Blue Apron Reviewed by Mir Kamin for

I’m not going to lie, here—during the cooking, with little dishes and cans spread out on the counter, I was skeptical that this was going to be enough food to feed “four adults or two adults and up to four children,” as the Family Plan purports to do. It just didn’t look like that much food, or even like the 500-700 calories/serving the Blue Apron meals are all supposed to be. But as I peeked at the kids prepping all of the soup garnishes, I realized I was probably just confused by all of the exact proportions, because if I was cooking from my own grocery shopping, I’d have extra of everything. The only thing that arrived in the box which was more than called for was the garlic; we were sent an entire head when the recipe called for 3 cloves. (Fine by me; we’ll always use garlic.) Everything else got used, and in the end we ate four pretty large bowls of soup and had a serving left over, even. Everyone was full and satisfied. And I didn’t have to cook!

A few days later, I made the salmon meal. I was not only impressed by the pieces of salmon themselves (let’s face it, that’d be an easy place to cut corners a little, but it was really beautiful fish, vacuum-packed), my children ate a salad dressed with a homemade Greek yogurt-lemon dressing and didn’t complain. Magic. Again, portion sizes were more than sufficient, so my daughter was able to make a complete meal of the salad and roasted potatoes.

The Good:

  • The only things not included are salt, pepper and olive oil. No scrambling for ingredients.
  • My teens were able to cook a meal from start to finish completely on their own. Both commented (at different times) that they felt the recipe card was easy to follow and they appreciated the pictures showing them what to do, too.
  • The ingredients were fresh (hooray for refrigerated shipping containers) and flavorful; the spice mix for the soup was much more complex than I expected (definitely not just “chili powder” or whatever).
  • Despite what my impatient kids may have said, it didn’t take very long.
  • When they say it feeds 4 adults, it really does. Portion sizes are generous.
  • If you want to cook without having to do planning/shopping, this is the service for you.

The Caveats:

  • If you have dietary restrictions in your family beyond “vegetarian” or “prefers fish,” you could run into some issues making sure everyone can eat the same meal. (I did go through their menu and found a bunch of gluten-free vegetarian options, actually… Quinoa & Tofu “Fried Rice,” anyone?)
  • Quick is good, but it’s not the same. To wit: Had I been making the tortilla soup on my own, I would’ve roasted and milled fresh tomatoes (we grow our own and use fresh whenever possible) and/or probably used my slow cooker to let the soup go all day. Although the soup was very good, canned tomatoes have a distinct taste that requires time to mellow. There were a couple of comments about how fresh tomatoes would’ve been better. (If you don’t usually cook from scratch, no biggie. Also, this is a very specific nitpick. The salmon meal was absolutely perfect and it’s possible I am just a snob about canned tomatoes.)
  • At roughly $8.74/serving on the family plan, there are certainly cheaper ways to feed your family. On the other hand, you’re paying for the convenience of perfectly-portioned home delivery of delicious, easy-to-prepare recipes and zero food waste. I would definitely consider this service a splurge, but if you can afford it, I do think it’s money well spent.

Thanks to the generous folks at Blue Apron, the first 50 Alpha Mom readers who sign up through this link will get two meals free on their first order after sign-up! I cannot guarantee you’ll be able to sucker your kids into making dinner for you, but it’s worth a shot.

]]> 6
When “Sick” Isn’t Straightforward Wed, 15 Apr 2015 13:03:27 +0000

A few days ago I stumbled across this piece by Eilene Zimmerman about how she nursed her college freshman daughter through a bad illness. Although I know better than to read the comments, I clicked to read them with some trepidation—after a lovely story about a mother and daughter finding their footing again after a fraught separation post-high-school, surely someone would be there to ruin it and accuse her of babying her grown child. But on the whole, the author was congratulated for following her gut and being loving.

I understand that the early years of kids-who-are-technically-no-longer-kids-but-hey-they’re-still-teens bring a kind of push-pull dynamic to even the most normal and stable of relationships. And although Zimmerman’s tale was lovely—and I hope I would behave with as much grace as she did in a similar situation, and that my child would be as grateful for it—when I finished reading I was mostly filled with a sense of dread. As I sat in a doctor’s office with my son this morning, my first thought after “Here we go again,” was “ugh, that article.”

I’ll try to explain: There was a time when we didn’t know if one or both kids would be capable of living away from home for college on the traditional timetable. At this point we’re just about a year from high school graduation for my oldest, and her brother will follow the next year, and it looks like both of them are leaning towards not venturing too far away, but yes, going to college and not living at home. Due to their various special needs, there’s all kinds of additional worries we’re wrestling, but most of the time I’m able to convince myself that it’ll all work out just fine. This morning, though, my son came downstairs for breakfast and he just looked… off.

“You okay?” I asked, narrowing my eyes at him. I tried to remember how many days ago his allergies started acting up. “Are you still feeling congested?”

“Yeah. But I’m fine,” he said, pouring himself some milk and grabbing a banana. He sat down at his spot at the table. “I’m just tired, I think.” He peeled the banana and took a bite. “Also,” he added, “my ear feels a little weird. Probably nothing.”

I felt his head. I asked him if he wanted to stay home. He didn’t want to miss school, so I made him a deal: I would send him to school and call the doctor for an appointment, then come pick him up. He agreed. I refrained from shaking him and saying, “You are sick! You are very, very sick!” Even though I knew that was true, because the most fascinating (to me) facet of my son’s autism is that he almost never seems to realize he’s unwell until he’s right on death’s doorstep. He’s 15, and saying “my ear feels a little weird” is actually a huge triumph in our world. When he was a toddler, I would figure out he was sick either because he was burning up with fever or vomiting, and either way, he would insist he was fine.

A few hours later, his long, hairy legs dangling off the edge of the exam table in a room with Disney decals on the walls, he answered the pediatrician’s questions as best he could, identifying his right ear as the one that was affected. I can only guess what the ped sees on a daily basis, but the first remark upon peering through the otoscope was “Ohhhh, gross!” So, yes, infection in the right ear: confirmed. Then a quick check of the left ear… which was also infected. Because of course it was. “But it’s not as bad as the right!” Consolation, I guess.

So we fetched antibiotics and snacks and I convinced him to come home and rest a while. And I can’t help wondering what this scenario would look like if he was operating without someone who’s known him all his life to say, “Hey, dude, you’re sick.” If he was away at college, would he take himself to the health center if his ear “felt a little weird?” Would he even text me to mention it? I don’t know.

On the other side of the spectrum (pun intended), we have my other child, whose every ache and pain is imminent death. A cold is debilitating. She suffers from migraines, which can be legitimately debilitating, but even then, she doesn’t always possess the common sense to tend to her needs in a reasonable way mid-headache. I mean, I suppose simply going to sleep on the floor of the classroom rather than telling anyone you’re getting a migraine could be a reasonable choice in some situations… but… ummmm… yeah. Sussing out which of her issues require immediate medical attention and which do not is a not-so-fun game of roulette, complicated by the number of times we’ve either overestimated or underestimated the severity of her ailments.

If she was away at college and had a medical issue, would she take herself to the health center? Or would she just lie down somewhere? Or would she always be there, for every ache and pain, until a true crisis might end up overlooked because, hey, you only get to cry wolf so many times before people start to wonder.

I remember going to college and being amused by kids who didn’t know how to do their own laundry or cook. That basically just made for a lot of freshmen wearing a lot of shrunken, pink clothes and spending a lot of time in the dining halls. I don’t remember anyone not being able to figure out what to do when they got sick. And while my teens can both launder and prepare food, I have no idea how to teach them to tend to their physical health without me right there to either point out that they’re sicker than they think or not actually dying. Is this a teachable skill? Can I make them sign an oath that they understand they have to take care of themselves??

Whose idea was it that helpless humans possessing not-yet-fully-formed-frontal-lobes would be able to navigate the world without their parents, anyway? I find it highly suspect.

]]> 16
The Dance Of Disclosure Tue, 07 Apr 2015 14:18:22 +0000

the action of making new or secret information known.

In a perfect world, everyone gets to be whoever they are, and no one judges them for it. Right? That’s the fantasy? Because the reality is that everyone is constantly in danger of being judged for… well… everything. And there is no stickier time for the judgment of others than during the teenage years. This is when kids either want to “be like everyone else” or be exactly unlike everyone else, but on their own terms. They want to control the narrative, and this is no time for anything which (they feel) may make them look weak or lacking.

And so, my friends, my family has arrived at yet another chapter conspicuously absent from the parenting manual: Disclosure of special needs.

Many, many years ago, before any diagnoses or labels or the in-your-face realities of raising kids with special needs, my youngest was clearly different, and struggling, and we were on a mission to figure out what he needed. I met some amazing and helpful people during that journey, but for every one of them, I also met (or already knew) someone who wanted to caution me against having him formally diagnosed. “People will judge,” I was told (over and over). “The label is all anyone will see,” someone told me. This point of view was—and remains—baffling to me, because it turns out that you can’t be, I don’t know, less autistic if you simply refuse the label out of fear of stigma. And from where I’m sitting, the label has gotten us services, accommodations, and often patience and understanding we might not have otherwise had. The label isn’t everything, but I see it as a useful tool. Being afraid or ashamed of it has never made any sense to me.

[And as a quick aside, which will have every fellow autism parent nodding, I bet: My son started occupational and social therapies when he was 5. My daughter—like many autistic girls/women who manage to fly under the radar—wasn’t diagnosed until she was 14. Go on, guess who’s arguably “better-adjusted” at this point. Guess who’s more comfortable with the label. Yeah.]

When the kids were little, disclosure was up to me, and I disclosed all over the darn place. “He’s autistic!” I would volunteer, the moment his behavior strayed from the norm or I noticed someone side-eyeing him. “It’s not an excuse but it is an explanation,” I drilled into both kids, hoping they understood the nuances of explanation vs. still understanding (and trying to work within) societal norms when expected. “I’m autistic so you might find me a little weird, or I might not look at you while you’re talking, but that’s okay. Just tell me if I do something that’s bothering you,” I would overhear my son offer by way of introduction. We’ve always been proud of who he is, and I’ve always loved those moments where it’s clear he’s comfortable in his own skin. My daughter has always been much (much much) less comfortable with disclosure, due, I’m sure, to a combination of later diagnoses, her inherent personality, being a girl (and much more attuned to social stigma), and the fact that at nearly 17, she is still working on that whole “comfortable in her own skin” thing.

High school means I show up for IEP meetings and advocate for the kids at school, but I let them take the lead in terms of what they’re willing to tell their teachers and peers. My son is still fine with letting his teachers know he’s autistic. I notice he doesn’t volunteer it to other kids as often as he used to, and he’s also better at “passing” than he used to be, so maybe he doesn’t feel the need (and that’s fine). My daughter is more complicated, in every possible way. She has multiple diagnoses and she has allowed them onto her IEP bit by bit, but I know a lot of what’s on there she has chosen not to share with her peers.

Now we are entering the realm of interviews—for special programs, for jobs, for college—and maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I find both of my teens resisting any encouragement to disclose where their special needs may be impacting them. “I just don’t think it’s relevant,” my son said to me with a completely straight face, which made me laugh (which made him mad; oops). “It’s going to sound like an excuse,” my daughter said, her mouth set in that hard line I’ve become all-too-familiar with, the one that means “I hate that this is hard for me.” They don’t want special treatment, either of them. And yet, they have different needs and challenges, and sometimes just making the other people in the room aware of them is enough.

“It’s not an excuse, it’s an explanation,” I repeat, the words automatic, but my tone belying the frustration I feel on their behalf. How do you walk that fine line between demonstrating self-awareness and perhaps being taken as making lame excuses, when you’re not even old enough to vote? I know full-grown adults who are still terrible at this. Is it too much to expect my teenagers to advocate for themselves in productive ways when it means disclosing the parts of themselves about which they feel the most insecure?

There have been some crushing disappointments, lately… some which, I’d argue, might’ve been avoided or at least somewhat alleviated if the kid in question had been willing to disclose a bit more. But that’s Monday morning quarterbacking, so I could be wrong (and even if I’m not, what’s done is done). In the spirit of hope, though, here’s two recent real-world victories:

1) Getting the College Board to grant any sort of SAT testing accommodations appears to require an act of Congress, and my daughter has applied through the school and been turned down several times, already. After her last scores came back (not terrible, but more reflective of her learning disability rather than her capabilities), she did her own research and decided to take the ACT (and apply for testing accommodations there), instead. She got herself registered, rounded up her 50-page accommodations packet entirely on her own—which included basically sharing her entire diagnostic history, which I know was scary for her—and got everything in order well ahead of deadline. Her extended time accommodation was granted (woohoo!) and she is feeling relieved and ready to test. She disclosed and got what she needed.

2) My son recently attended a new-to-him club at school and at his first meeting he misunderstood something that was being discussed; he thought the advisor was asking existing members to weigh in on something when in fact she wanted everyone to chime in. He lost himself in a book while the discussion went on around him, much to the consternation of the advisor (who, understandably, thought he didn’t want to be there). With some gentle encouragement at home, he returned to apologize the next day. And even though he’d argued with me that disclosing was unnecessary, he ended up explaining that sometimes he misses social cues because of his autism, and he hadn’t meant to be rude. It turns out that the teacher has two autistic sons of her own; the apology was accepted and a rapport was formed.

What I tell my kids is this: Disclosing is always going to make you feel vulnerable, but it’s also the only way to make sure you’re being taken for who you really are. I’ll keep encouraging them to disclose and be comfortable with who they are, and I’ll also keep hoping that others can appreciate them, challenges and all.

]]> 22
Dieting In The Wake Of Anorexia Tue, 31 Mar 2015 15:35:06 +0000

Five years ago I banded together with a group of friends for a fitness challenge. This was new, for me, as I’ve always been naturally slender and only run when chased (and don’t feel terribly enthused about other forms of exercise, either). But… age and early menopause are harsh mistresses, and I found myself not fitting into my favorite clothes and just generally feeling blah. We launched our project at the beginning of 2010, referring to it among ourselves as “10-10-10″ (lose 10 pounds in 10 weeks in 2010), and for a while we maintained a group blog to chronicle our journeys. In the end, we’d all achieved varying levels of success in diet, exercise, decluttering, and other sorts of “personal growth and organization” sorts of goals.

It was awesome.

I lost the ten extra pounds I was carrying, developed a regular exercise habit (something I wasn’t sure I’d ever manage), cleaned out my closet, and felt amazing for, I don’t know, about two years.

And then… well, life marches on, and not always in the direction you wish it would. First my daughter was mysteriously ill, and then it was less mysterious but still turn-life-upside-down level difficult, and things got worse, and then better, and then worse, and better, etc. (you get the idea). I stopped exercising. I stopped taking care of myself at all, really, for a long time (rookie mistake of weathering a life crisis, by the way). And because part of what we were coping with here was a teenager with an eating disorder, I stopped watching what I ate. Entirely. I’m not blaming her, you understand—that was 100% my choice, and one I’m not even sure I was aware of, at the time—but as we struggled to reinforce the notion that responding to hunger is healthy and smart and restricting food is bad, I ate whenever and whatever I wanted to. I ate with her and I ate alone. I ate when I was hungry. I ate when I was bored. I ate when I was sad, which was more often than I’d like to admit.

I gained back the ten pounds I’d lost, and swapped out all of the new, cute clothing I’d bought after the fitness challenge for my old, larger clothes. Over time, I gained fifteen more pounds on top of that, and had to go shopping for new pants. I stopped looking in the mirror. I told myself I didn’t care; I had more important things to be worried about.

Am I obese? No. I’m not even overweight, really, because the weight I’ve gained has been kind enough to distribute itself fairly evenly and I was pretty small before. But I feel different, I look different, I don’t like the way my clothes fit, and I feel tired all the time. I don’t feel like me. I have arm waddle, now (women my age and older know exactly what I mean by that, right?), and someone has injected my rump and hips with a generous measure of cottage cheese, I’m pretty sure. Summer is coming and the thought of donning a bathing suit makes me want to cry. My husband compliments me and I deflect with a self-deprecating remark. I find myself making “I’m so fat” comments and I want to smack myself for being shallow and for saying stupid things (especially saying that sort of stupid thing in front of a recovering anorexic; please pass the Mother of the Year trophy over here), and finally it became clear that I had to make a change for my mental health, if not for my physical health.

I started exercising again a few months ago. While there are periods of time where I hate exercising less, I am never a “wow I love to exercise!” person. I’ve cycled through various options and have finally made peace with the fact that riding the elliptical is never going to be something I love, but taking a walk or going for a bike ride with my husband is always a good idea because he’s my favorite. So I rope him into going out with me and I get to spend time with him and my body’s moving. Win!

Exercise alone didn’t move the scale, probably because I’m not exactly running marathons, and also because I kept eating with wild abandon. About a month ago I started dieting. Now: diet is a four-letter word, I know. I don’t want to be doing anything crazy or extreme, and I still want to be modeling good choices and habits; the goal is moderation, health, and a sustainable model of eating. I feel a tremendous pressure to do this “right” so as to avoid sending any unhealthy messages about food. At the same time, staring down the barrel of at least 15 pounds to lose (getting back to where I was five years ago isn’t necessary, but I do need to take off some of this weight) is disheartening and let’s be honest, I would love a “quick fix” if one existed.

In short, I needed to figure out how to make healthier choices and get serious about losing some weight while trying to send the message that there’s no such thing as an “ideal” weight and one needn’t be influenced by one’s body size in terms of happiness, blah blah blah. Geez. Having to be all well-adjusted and evolved with this whole setting a good example thing when I only have two pairs of pants that fit is kind of a drag. (Kidding.) (Not kidding at all.)

So I’ve been eating high protein, low carb, and lots and lots of vegetables. Every weekend I take a “day off” and eat whatever I like, which is still pretty moderate, but will include a dessert or a glass of wine as a treat. I’m making a conscious effort to be very careful about what I say, and to talk about what I’m doing in terms of feeling better rather than looking better. And I’m trying to take a walk or a bike ride every day, and sometimes I’m able to convince one or both kids to come along, because it’s fun.

I’ve lost five pounds so far. It’s a good start at a sustainable pace. I’m starting to feel better. I’m not making a big deal about it, and I’m constantly reminding myself that the number on the scale I achieved five years ago may not be practical now, and that’s perfectly okay. I just want to feel healthy and whole. Neglecting myself for years caught up with me and it was easy to look in the mirror and go, “Ugh, so fat,” rather than look inside of myself and say, “Wow, I am really stressed out and not addressing that in a productive way.”

The bottom line is that I set a poor example for a long time. It was inadvertent but that doesn’t make it okay. As much of a minefield as it feels like to rectify both the example and my health, now, I think it’s going to be good for both of us.

]]> 9
Lesson Learned: All Apologies Wed, 25 Mar 2015 16:31:09 +0000

Years ago, Chris Jordan wrote what is perhaps one of my favorite posts here at Alpha Mom. It’s called Seven Rules On How To Apologize and I wish we could make it required reading for the human race. Apologizing is hard for everyone, and near-impossible for some. I don’t know whether admitting wrong-doing is just too uncomfortable for people, or compassion is lacking, or what, but the apology often feels like a lost art, to me.

Alpha Mom Lesson LearnedRecently we had a situation where a teacher behaved in an inappropriate manner towards one of my teenagers, and I am typing this very slowly because when I say, “in an inappropriate manner” what I really mean is “in a harsh, demeaning, and soul-shredding way in front of a room filled with other students,” and we are still dealing with the fallout. No kid wants to be the target of a teacher’s rage, of course. For a sensitive, struggling kid to be dressed down by a beloved teacher 1) for something that, as it turned out, wasn’t even true and 2) in front of others was… well, I got to deal with the sadness and bewilderment in the aftermath, and it wasn’t pretty. Color my kid crushed.

Color this Mama Bear furious.

There’s a delicate dance to be done, here. My kids are in high school. My helicopter only lands on the lawn there in case of emergency, y’know? I felt like this was an emergency. From where I was sitting, not only had a huge injustice been served to my child, it had come at the worst possible time and with a cascade of terrible results—said child not only felt returning to that particular class was impossible, but of course the teacher involved is also the advisor for several other activities which my kid was now willing to give up, rather than have to deal with this teacher ever again. None of these options were practical, of course. And yes, in a perfect world my teenager could self-advocate and work towards a resolution, but in this case it was all too overwhelming, so I did step in… first with email, assuming that the teacher had something else entirely going on and this incident was a “collateral damage” sort of situation, giving the teacher ample opportunity to apologize and backtrack and gracefully recover. My email was initially ignored, then the response came basically assuring me that my child deserved exactly what had happened. Which… yeah, no. No child—no human being—deserved what had happened here, and the information on which this supposed “deserved” incident was predicated was still incorrect. So I escalated up a level, which led to a meeting at school where I was assured the matter would be addressed. [Small factoid that may or may not be relevant: As part of this particular cluster-you-know-what of events, something had happened which is in fact a prosecutable offense, if I should choose to lodge a complaint with the school. Regardless of any he-said/she-said, all involved school staff knew that if this was not resolved, I could make things very difficult for the teacher.]

My kid was called in for an apology, only it violated just about everything on Chris’ excellent list. It was a model of the non-apology. “I am sorry you felt sad,” was repeated several times. “Not that many people heard us,” was, I believe, another part of it. “I was frustrated because…” and so on. I felt my blood pressure rising as it was recounted for me, later. My teen, though, wow, it’s awfully nice to raise people who turn out to be more highly-evolved than yourself, let me tell you. “[Teacher] tried,” my child said, with a shrug. “[He/she] probably got in trouble, so it probably won’t happen again. I can go back to class now, I guess.” But there was a bond and a trust there, before, and it’s been broken. I’m glad my kid is so willing to move on even without the apology that should’ve happened. I choked back my own fury and nodded, congratulating my kiddo on such a pragmatic viewpoint, and trying to convince myself that the slumped shoulders and sadness in my kid’s eyes weren’t really there.

Later that night, one of my teens got upset about something, and while storming around about that, picked a fight with the other one. In very short order everyone was crying and yelling and it was just as delightful as it sounds, I assure you. Finally I snapped at one of them while tending to the other, and yeah, I snapped at the same kid who’d just been through this ordeal at school. Having gotten the other kid calm and situated, I returned to the first kid, who was trying not to cry while saying, “But it’s not fair because I didn’t do anything and you got mad at me!”

It is with shame I must admit that I justified my actions. Even after everything the last few days had wrought, I was That Person. “You did—” and “Why didn’t you—” and the like popped out of my mouth, and I watched as my child got smaller and smaller in response to my words.

I stopped. I tried to catch my breath, which was hard, because my chest hurt.

“Forget everything I just said,” I said, finally. “Listen to me very carefully. I am going to demonstrate what should’ve happened for you at school, and what I should’ve said in the first place. Are you listening?” I took a deep breath and tried to ignore the tear that spilled down my cheek. “Sweetheart, I am so sorry. I behaved badly. I said something I shouldn’t have, and it doesn’t matter why, it only matters that I regret it and I am so, so sorry I hurt you. I hope you can forgive me.”

My teen, my adult-sized child who had been pretending for a few hours that everything was fine, nodded and burst into tears. Finally a choked, “That’s what [Teacher] should’ve said,” came out, and we sat on the floor together, arms around each other, and cried. Because sometimes people you love wound you and don’t make it right again. Because life is hard and often unfair and sometimes it just plain hurts.

Later, we talked about how some people don’t know how to apologize, or how sometimes even people who know how find all kinds of reasons why they don’t need to. It doesn’t necessarily make them bad people. We’re all doing the best we can, and sometimes other people’s best doesn’t feel very good. We keep going, and we forgive as often as we can, even when maybe it’s not “deserved,” because forgiveness is a gift for ourselves in an attempt to let go of what hurts. Did it all sink in? I have no idea; heck, I’m still working on this, myself.

My plea to the world today: Please learn how to apologize properly. It’s far too easy to break someone with your words; the least you can do is try to fix it when it happens. Better still, be gentle with everyone, and then you won’t have to.

]]> 24
Independence For Lunch, One Way Or Another Tue, 17 Mar 2015 15:50:45 +0000

Perhaps my most regrettable failing as a parent (oh, believe you me, there are so very many from which to choose) is my temper. I am not a mellow person. I go from zero to pissed-off in under a second. And it took me years to squelch my knee-jerk hollering when one of my kids was being a complete butthead, because, c’mon, stop being such a butthead! Through more hard work than I should admit, I’ve managed to bring down the volume, but I am still prone to the snap consequence in a moment of pique.

This brings me to my own personal, ongoing internal game of “Would you rather…?” where I’m forever trying to determine whether it’s best to follow through on what I said in the first place or admit that perhaps I was hasty and renege. (Why, yes, it is just super-great being me, why do you ask?)

This is preface to explaining that after a particularly difficult week, my particularly… erm… challenged-in-the-gratitude-department teenager was, I felt, being even more challenging than usual, and I… snapped. The good news is that I didn’t yell. (Yay me!) The bad news is that in my knee-jerk response to undesirable behavior I heard the following pop out of my mouth: “And you need to plan to get up early enough tomorrow to pack your own lunch. This is a service I provide for you out of the kindness of my heart and you’re clearly old enough to handle it yourself and have no appreciation for when I do it, so you’re on your own.”

Um. Whoops?

Because on the one hand: I finally had packing lunches down to a manageable science, plus I am still keeping tabs on my daughter managing adequate nutrition, and it was a very sudden pronouncement. On the other hand: This child is nearly 17, and what I said is true—she can handle it, so why should I continue doing a thankless job she can do herself?

I did the internal debate over going back on what I’d said. I decided the edict would stand, even knowing that might mean biting my tongue through some choices I didn’t love witnessing.

It’s only been two days, but I’d say be hard-pressed to tell you which one of us is struggling with this more.

On the first day, someone (not naming any names here…) was clearly spoiling for a power struggle. I could practically picture the “How inept and oppositional do I need to be before she rescues me…?” thought bubble over her head. I tried to think calming thoughts while I packed lunches for my husband and son. I made sandwiches; I selected fruit; I put treats in tiny containers and cut up veggies while picturing myself relaxing on a sandy beach with a good book. I kept my face neutral as my daughter raced around, running late as she so often does, and paused to stare inside the pantry as if it might suddenly grow sandwiches. I didn’t say anything… until—a minute before the bus was to arrive—she reached into the pantry and grabbed a single protein bar.

“That’s not lunch,” I said, trying to keep my voice light.

“I know,” she said. “I’ll buy lunch today. This is just a snack.”

“I’m not paying for school lunch,” I said, still working to stay very neutral. “If you buy, you pay. There’s plenty of food here. And you don’t even like school lunch.”

She shrugged. “They have pizza. I’ll figure it out,” she said. And she left.

I managed to bite back the question for several hours after she arrived home that day, but finally it escaped: “So, hey, what’d you have for lunch today?”

“I bummed off of A.,” she replied. “She didn’t want the second half of her sandwich so she gave it to me.”

So, lunch, Day 1: Half a sandwich and a protein bar. Fabulous.

I may have suggested she pack the next day’s lunch the night before. You know, just to save time because mornings tend to be hectic. “Nah, why would I do that?” Breezy. Maddening. I let it drop.

The next morning she was in front of the pantry again (seeking the magical sandwich dispenser, one assumes), only this time she was still in her pajamas.

“Please finish getting ready and then deal with your lunch,” I said.

“But if I get ready first I won’t have time to make lunch,” she protested.

“But if you make lunch but miss the bus, that’s not any better.” (Note to self: Don’t try to use logic on a kid with ADHD before the meds kick in.) She considered this, then wandered back upstairs to get ready… but not before watching me pack her brother’s lunch and asking me to just “toss a banana in my bag, too, while you’re right there?” (I obliged.) Two minutes before the bus came, I heard rustling in the pantry.

“What’re you packing?” I called, from my office. I heard giggling and the zip of her lunch bag. I couldn’t help it; I went into the kitchen and as soon as I appeared, she burst into full-pealed laughter. “Please show me what’s in your bag.” She rolled her eyes and unzipped to reveal her banana had been joined by… the remaining half a loaf of bread, the jar of sunbutter, our honey-filled bear bottle, and a butter knife.

So many words fought among themselves to pop out of my mouth. SO VERY MANY WORDS. I looked at her. She looked at me. In my head, I reminded myself that experience is the best teacher and problem solving is a skill cultivated by doing. I sighed. “Please don’t lose that knife,” I said, finally. She grinned, triumphant.

“I won’t,” she said.

I know it’s wrong, but I kind of can’t wait to see what she packs tomorrow.

]]> 49
To Sleep, Perchance To Teen Tue, 10 Mar 2015 15:38:06 +0000

There are very few things I know for sure about this life, but here’s one of them: Sleep doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Sure, when we’re raising babies, nap-time is practically a cult (consider: “We can’t go out then, that’s the baby’s nap time,” signs on doorbells imploring people not to ring, and a multi-billion dollar industry built on bedding, clothing, and various other devices designed to woo little ones into slumber), and even with small children we’re still comfortable chuckling, “Someone’s cranky! I think you’re tired!” (And every parent in the world knows that the response to that, 99 times out of 100, will be a stamped foot and an indignant, “But I ‘m NOT TIRED!“)

Once our kids hit their teens, though, most of us figure they’re “basically adults” (pro tip: nope!) and also that if they get tired, they’ll go to bed. Most teenagers are chronically sleep-deprived and their parents don’t even realize it. Start here if you want some science: This is a good read on the importance of sleep for physical and mental health, and if you’d rather see some statistics on what, specifically, too little sleep does to teenagers, check out this piece. If you already know your teen is likely not sleeping enough but you’re not sure how to handle it, well… come sit by me.

I am, perhaps, hyper-attuned to this issue because sleep is near and dear to my heart. Rather—more accurately—sleep is key to my mental wellbeing in a way I simply cannot ignore. Everyone is healthier when they get the proper amount of sleep, but due to my particular genetics or my chronic struggle with depression, a little bit of sleep deprivation is enough to throw me into an emotional tailspin. I know, for example, that my husband can function just fine on about 7 hours of sleep each night. I can survive on that (though I’ll sleep longer on the weekends), but in a perfect world, I’d sleep more like 9 hours each night, instead. Throw me into a situation where I’m getting less than 6 hours/night several nights in a row? Look out. Put me in a predicament like I had last week, where for four nights in a row I averaged only 2-3 hours of rest? Take cover. On the fourth day I felt like I was losing my mind, and I knew it was because I was tired, but that didn’t make it any easier. “I am just so tired,” I sobbed, while my husband made worried eyebrows and patted me. Even during a lesser crisis, the first thing that my brain does is refuse to stay asleep—I’ll go to bed and wake up in the middle of the night, unable to get back to sleep. The lack of sleep worsens the very emotions that beget the lack of sleep and thus a vicious cycle is born. Moral of the story: Give me my sleep, and no one gets hurt.

Both of my teenagers will say that sleep is no big deal, but that’s where their similarities end.

My firstborn fought sleep from the moment she was born. She was the baby who cried when you put her in the crib, napped only under perfect circumstances and only for 15 minutes at a time, woke up just as cranky as she went down, and if there were lawyers who specialize in negotiating later bedtimes, well, she’d be set for her future career. She’s a night owl who wants to read “just one more chapter, then I’ll turn the light off, I promise.” Melatonin is her friend, as sleep never comes easily for her (at least not at the hours we suggest she avail herself of it). Now a junior in high school and theoretically a short step away from moving out and holding the helm of her own life, her room currently contains three separate alarm clocks. She is capable of sleeping through all of them, even the one that rolls away and gets louder the longer you let it go. To say she’s not a morning person is like saying that active volcanos tend to be warm. She is the picture of chronic sleep deprivation despite our best efforts, and although she no longer stamps her foot when she says it, she still insists she’s “not tired” if it is mentioned at any time other than when she’s supposed to be getting up for the day. And yes, she may claim to be “not tired” just before falling asleep on the floor in the middle of the day.

My youngest, on the other hand, went from a colicky babyhood right into being the world’s easiest toddler, the main feature of which was his innate and peaceful sense of when he was tired. “Night night?” he’d ask, gathering up his favorite blanket and pointing to his crib. He’d do this at night, if we weren’t hustling the bedtime routine along fast enough for his liking, or midday, to let us know he needed a nap. After those years of believing that depositing a child in a crib meant a symphony of wailing, I scarcely knew how to react to his sigh of relief and immediate relaxation when he was tucked in. Now a sophomore in high school, my son pops out of bed when his alarm goes off and heads straight to the shower. Much to his sister’s chagrin, he doesn’t have a bedtime—because he announces he’s tired and going to turn in each night well ahead of when I’d feel like he must be in bed in order to be well-rested. He sleeps late on the weekends, now, but that’s a relatively new development (one that coincides with a recent growth spurt).

Both of my children (and me!) have issues with emotional regulation. When sleep deprivation is part of the mix, things can get ugly pretty quickly. I know for myself, getting back to a place of equilibrium after a run of disrupted or otherwise lacking sleep can take days, sometimes even weeks. My daughter, however, never seems willing to recognize sleep as a culprit in her poor mood, and while my son is always happy to hit the hay, school and activities sometimes make that difficult.

So what do we do? I don’t have a perfect solution, unfortunately (though if you do, please share), but we do have a few rules we follow in times of Sleep Deprivation And Other Calamities:

1) Do as I say, not as I do. I’ll admit it: when I’m dealing with sleep deprivation, I drink more coffee. It’s a workable strategy but not a great one, and thankfully neither of my teens have picked up the caffeine habit. I’m trying to keep it that way—for them, I encourage good hydration (drink your water!) and extra protein for energy-boosting, instead. And sometimes I even try that, myself.

2) Build in down days. Science shows that so-called “sleep debt” is hard to erase, and it’s not as straightforward as sleeping late on Saturday, but every little bit does help. Whenever possible, I try to make sure we have at least one day each week where nothing is scheduled. The kids often opt to stay in their pajamas all day, and that’s fine with me.

3) Make evenings boring. No electronics, no excitement around bedtime as much as possible. I may not be able to force them to sleep, but I can make sure the last hour or so before they should be turning in is calm and non-stimulating.

I wish I had a way to make sure we all get the amount of sleep we need, all the time, but my magic wand is on the fritz.

]]> 9