PREDICTED not to “pass” but BORN to “succeed!”


It was rainy and kinda yucky outside as I ran from the van to the school. I curled my nose up as the scent of old fish hung in the air, strange since I was running up the walk to an inner-city school and not a lakeshore. It was one of those days that makes you want to turn over and ignore the alarm.

image1In about a month, my middle daughter will graduate from the school she’s attended since she was about six. It’s been a wild ride, one I am insanely proud of. She’s fought back from much. Overcoming shyness and bullying to learning challenges with dyslexia and ADHD, she proved that the little girl who had bounced down my sidewalk with tenacity and spunk never left her. She once was desperate to be like the athletic girls she looked up to who let nothing stand in their way…now SHE is the example of sportsmanship and team spirit with her big heart and encouragement to the girls on her soccer team, on and off the field.

I push the buzzer at the front doors. They’re a large set of glass doors in a nondescript brick building. It’s a public school in reality, though the nature of it is far from the standard. Based in a Montessori style and accredited as such, the school strives to maintain the principles of reaching each student as they need reached while still adhering to all the mandated public school curriculum and state standards. It’s a hard balance to achieve, yet in the eight years we’ve been here (which includes seeing her brother start from age 3 in the accompanying school, which houses two years of preschool and kindergarden) we’ve come to know that each student truly is cared for individually in a way that has been a blessing to our family. Each of our kids have had challenges that are out of the mainstream norms. I couldn’t ask for better.

That said, I always have a tendency to bristle when attending the type of meeting I was headed in for. While today was just a routine follow-up and year-end assessment, it would be attended by the counselor for the high school Alli is entering in the fall. With an IEP, things are planned out a bit different than a typical entering freshman.

The buzzer rang beneath my finger and I waited for the click of the lock to let me into the school. I made my way up the stairs to the offices and was rushed, as the bell rang, by students coming and going from their first class. For the changing of classes it was unusually quiet and except for the occasional conversation, a hurried few “Hi, Alli’s MOM,” and the slamming of lockers, it was far from what you’d expect from teens if standing in the middle of a hallway in any school you’d find yourself in.

With one more kid left to graduate up the stairs before graduating out of here, there wasn’t a reason to be wistful as the year was winding down. I’d be back for a long time yet.

The meeting was normal and predictable. I knew her grades already and she even updated me on her laptop as we waited prior to coming in. This kid who used to cry as we used goldfish crackers as “counters” to learn adding and subtracting was flooring me with her math grades. She hated math entering sixth grade. She struggled so much. Now? She proudly showed me a 103 percent grade in math today. Her science was a B, but she’s closing in on an A. She struggles with reading, but she still has a B- in subjects requiring lots of reading. She has to work ten times harder than she maybe would have if she didn’t struggle, but I always told her that her diagnosis of dyslexia and ADHD just meant she’d have to work harder, but those diagnoses were NEVER an excuse to not be able to do or achieve. I refused to hear them as an excuse. They were a reason, and it was stupid hard for us both at times, with nightly tears in the struggle, but they were never a reason she couldn’t do anything she set her heart on.

“Alli’s scores on the test were blah-blah-blah and XYZ, meaning she is not predicted to pass the ISTEPs.”

My brain jerked awake. We had just finished going over scores, grades, her willingness to work, her attitude, her skill and her classroom disposition, and then we got to the bare bones of what the state reduces my child to. The numbers she will or will not score on an aptitude test that does not test her ability, her true knowledge, nor her gumption and moxie.

More numbers and figures were given, and again, stated, “Alli is not predicted to pass.” I felt my daughter stiffen. I felt her shame. I felt her dejection. The test that TESTS her as to whether or not she will pass the ACTUAL test was telling us bad news. Ummmmm… guess what? I stopped caring. Completely. I know, I know. Somewhere it probably matters. To me? Not a bit.

I put my hand up and halted the meeting.

“I understand you have to say all this. Understand I have to say this too: I know this should make me care, but it doesn’t. See, I don’t care about what some test says my daughter will or won’t pass. It’s not even THE TEST, but a test for a test. No part of that test shows that my daughter has an A+ in math. It says she will fail math. It’s wrong. It doesn’t show how good her overall grades are, or her newfound knowledge she clearly knows. When my daughter steps outside into the real world, she is NOT going to fail. She is gonna fly. She is gonna soar. She is gonna make it. All of this is important, I get that, but frankly, that test doesn’t tell me a thing. This is not a kid who is failing. This is a kid who is flying. And I am proud of her. Period.”

There were glances and it was quiet. Carefully, the IEP director, flanked by a teacher, a counselor and the new high school guidance counselor, looked around and said, “I have to say these things, as it’s my job to report the findings, and I cannot comment on what you have said or agree with it,” she stated while nodding her full approval, knowing my daughter intimately and being as proud of her as I am, and the others following suit with their nods in my direction.

What a shame that we can’t build kids up, but must report the findings, so those kids feel about an inch high, like a failure, to hurry back to class and do more of the same. My kid? She will never be held to a grade or a score in order for me to know if she is doing what it’s “going to take” for her to get somewhere in the world when she leaves home. As long as she is doing her 100 percent best, that is all I require.

I refused to let her walk back into her day without my two cents added, knowing full well that it was going into her record, as they typed away as I spoke my mind. Go for it.

Let the record show that I am always my kid’s #1 supporter. I’ve got her back and have been on her side from the day and moment they laid her at mine.

As I pushed open the doors, I let the rain fall on my forehead and drench my curls. I just stood there and let that fishy rain run off my nose. I realized that truly, though I may not have a glorious job title, I may not make more than a few bucks, and I will never have awards presented in my honor for the job I do on a daily basis, but seeing how tall and straight my daughter walked out of the room today headed back to class, I couldn’t be doing a more important job than I was doing. Heck, I’ll take it a step further. You couldn’t pay me to do a job that would make me sacrifice this one.

Being her MOM is enough payment.

One day that girl will walk into a room and she will command attention. She will fulfill her dreams. She will make a difference in the lives of the people she plans to serve and help. I have no doubt my reward will be richer than gold just seeing her get that first job, that first paycheck, with confidence to believe that she is worth more than what a test predicts she will be.

She already IS more. And darlin, your mamma is poppin’ proud.

Hard things are ALWAYS worth doing


We sat in the car at a stop light and my daughter let out a nervous, “UUUGH!” I smiled at her and said, “Hey, you can do this. It’s gonna be okay.” She was headed in to the orthodontist, about to be fitted with braces for the first time.

Ortho appointments are nothing new for me, as we’ve just gotten kid No. 1 out of braces just a few short months ago. Finances dictate we do kids one at a time. Kid No. 2 had to wait a while longer for hers to begin than her sister did. Long before senior pictures are taken they will be off, and that is all that matters. At least in her book. It’s gonna be a long and painful road till then.

I must be a cool mom. My kid wants to take a selfie with ME! Whoa...

I must be a cool mom. My kid wants to take a selfie with ME! Whoa…

We park and I look over at her. She’s this tough, defensive soccer player. One who just plowed her way through some intensive physical therapy to recover from a soft tissue injury, so she could get back on the field and be the immovable force at the goal. Yet she looks like my little Alli-girl all of a sudden, scared and nervous, unsure of what’s to come. I reassure her. She can do this. Really.

I drop her off and run errands. I can’t wait to see her flash her winning smile that will now be lit with bling. (She’s worth every single penny of that bling too.)

I come in and she shyly waits for me and it’s impossible for her not to smile. There it is. Bright blue bands that match her eyes. She’s a beautiful mess of feisty fire and blue bling. I’m so proud of her I could pop. I could see the pain in her eyes. It wasn’t an easy appointment. I know not just from her sister’s years in braces, but from my own five years of orthodontics. It’s a tough road.

Our kids have so much to do in order to grow up. They have to learn, to grow physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually; then they have to mix it all together and figure out who they are, what they want to be, and begin to walk toward that goal, all while doing hard things like braces. It’s easy to blow it off. As an adult we forget how hard the day-to-day growing up years are. We can say, “been there, done that.” But hey, they are here now, doing that. It’s hard work. And I want to remember each day that it’s not easy to be a kid, choosing to do the right thing is hard, and doing so while having added things that just plain hurt can make a hard day more like brutal.

IMG_3443I tell my kids, weekly, this one simple fact: “Hard things are worth doing.” I don’t want them to shy away from things because they are hard. In fact, if it’s hard to do, it’s a good bet it is probably worth it. Easy things are exactly that. Easy, and everyday. Hard things? Only the ones who really want it go after it and achieve it. Those are the people that do great things. That’s who I want them to NOT be afraid of being. Don’t be afraid of failing, getting back up, and continuing to run hard after a goal. It’s worth the finish line.

At the end of the years in braces, this hard thing will have been worth doing too. In the meantime, flash that blue bling and let the world know you are going after your goal. There ain’t nothin stopping you, baby! You go girl!

This blog first appeared on my parenting blog over at http://moms.fortwayne.com/?q=blogs/post/hard-things-are-worth-doing

Raising future adults — one chore and life skill at a time


So, here I am over at 123 Parenting Lane and thought I would share what’s up. I’ve begun to change how I am doing this parenting thing and I think it’s because my kids are growing up so danged fast.

It hit me a while back that I am not raising kids anymore. I don’t have babies, toddlers or little kids. I have one preteen boy and two teenage girls. Frankly the last thing I want to do is raise kids anymore. Why do I say that? Well I don’t WANT to have grown KIDS when I’m done with the official parenting thing and become an empty nester. I want to have grown adult offspring.
IMG_2233I’ve changed gears: I am now “raising future adults.” This change in mindset has completely overhauled how I do things, how I parent, how I work at parenting and how I see the day-to-day struggles and challenges. I found it actually takes a lot of stress out of the things that we once fought over. With a mindset change, it’s become easier to distance my self personally and see the end game for what it is: a practice game, dress rehearsal, a run-through before the big shindig.

Take cooking, for example. I used to cook all the meals, clean up all the mess, do all the dishes and work hard to make everyone happy. Now? Yeah, I don’t do most of that anymore. Oh, I still have dishes that I do here and there, I still cook some and plan meals, but I’m not the main source of all of it.

We have a weekly rotation of chores. One main chore for each kid, one empties the dishwasher, one fills, one cleans up the bathroom. At the end of the night, everyone takes their own stuff to their rooms and doing this keeps the house relatively sane. They do this daily. Then they each are assigned two nights to create a meal they know how to make or want to learn. Three kids + two meals each = six nights off and only one night for me to cook. My husband helps my son cook his meals. One day he will be on his own for that too.

The kids cooking not only teaches them how to make a meal but also the work involved in prep and getting it done and served. They pick meals they like, but they also respect the efforts of their siblings and that the sibling likes the meal. I rarely hear “I hate this,” or “I want something else to eat.” It’s not an option to eat anything else, and no one will die from eating something that isn’t their favorite. On a positive note here, they also know they have at least two meals a week they like, because they get to pick them.

I sit in the kitchen and work on my laptop. If they need help, I am available to answer questions, give pointers or give a hand. Often they will use the crock pot and even stick the dish in before school. Then there is precious little to do that night. They love that, and we all eat well.

Why am I making my kids cook and do all the kitchen work? Because I already know how to do all that. THEY are the ones who need to know how to do it and how to do it well when they leave home. These future adults need to know how to care for a house and themselves and feeding themselves more than PB&Js. It’s something I want them to leave home with. I remember my friends asking me how to cook stuff when I was in college, and let me tell you they were beyond clueless. When both my brother and I moved out we had cookbooks full of recipes. He’s now an amazing cook and baker on top of being an awesome dad, husband and engineer. We left home knowing things because my mom did this exact same thing with us. She rocked, even if I didn’t appreciate her smarts at the time.

So yeah, I’m done raising kids. They do complain now and again about it. I listen and say, ‘yeah, sorry about that.”  It changes nothing. We are a family and we work together to do what it takes to function and get through this life thing.

It’s important they also know that I don’t love what I have to do daily either, but I do have to do it anyway. Once they leave home, they are going to have to do lots of things they won’t love to do. It’s good practice doing things you don’t want to do and developing a decent attitude about it. After all, they can’t yell back at a boss that they don’t FEEL like doing something, or they hate that job chore, or they don’t like working next to so and so.

Giving them practice doing things they don’t enjoy, but which are needed skills, is just good parenting. It took a while to get it to work like a rusty, badly functioning clock, but, hey, we are plugging away, the hands are moving, and regardless as to if it’s timely or not, we do eventually get it all done and learn things along the way.

Eventually someday, I’ll look back and be glad I had the headaches and stress associated with raising adults, because they will invite me over for dinner and we will have food on the table and their kids will unknowingly thank me with their shrieks of “EWWWWW, I don’t LIKE that!”

I have my answer, and world, you better watch out.


Every now and again, as a mom, you look at your kids, see how big they are, and wonder if you’ve done enough. Have you instilled in them not just the how-to’s and the must-do’s, but have you gotten down to the basics of what really matters? When push comes to shove, have your kids really learned what you wanted to plant in their hearts and their very souls?

Life is busy. It’s full of so many must-get-done lists in a day that it trails off long after the day is over and the hours are since spent and gone. The kids are asleep in their beds and there is still one more thing to put away, wash up, find a match to or set out so it’s not forgotten. How do you make sure you have gotten to the heart of things as you run to and fro? Did the kids notice when you took an extra minute out of the rat race to stop and talk about that “teachable” moment when it floated past the other day? Did they hear any of them over the last few years?

There’s never a good way to know until push comes to shove. Until your kid is square in the face with a choice of doing the right thing over what everyone else is doing, you never really know. Further still, they may know the right thing, they just may not have the gumption, the guts, to take that hard stand.
IMG_2242Alli, my 14 year old, came home from school the other day. She blew through the door in her normal blustery fashion and grabbed food from the pantry and fridge and sprawled in the kitchen and loudly began recounting the day. Suddenly she stopped, got heated, and her eyes went beady and hot. When she is mad, her crystal light blue eyes change into a royal blue, nearly glowing. They flash and dance, bouncing the light. I stopped what I was doing. She commanded attention.

“I was sooooo mad today. In class some of the kids were laughing and holding a group of pencils tight and with a rubber band around them. They waved them and walked around saying,’ WHO am I?’ Mom I was so mad! I stood up and yelled at them and told them what for. I didn’t care if we were in the middle of class. They can’t do that.” She was ticked off. She went on to tell me they were making fun of an autistic kid from class who liked to have his pencils organized just so. Alli has a special place in her heart for him. She has always taken up for him. She gets mad when anyone with a special need or challenge is mocked or bullied. She gets so mad she will physically stand up and confront the bullies till they back off.

Her sixth grade year this particular boy was in class with her and she volunteered to sit with him in class. No one wanted to be partnered with him. He would randomly talk and make noises and gestures. He could not control his vocal tics or some of his movements. But to Alli it was what made him like a little brother. She watched after him like she did her brother on the bus. She got in anyone’s face who would say anything to him.

Summers she works at a non-profit horse ranch where kids come to ride. Her favorite weeks of the summer at the Dare to Dream Youth Ranch are those where they host autism camps. She has always been drawn to kids, but particularly those with special needs. She has a way about her. A sense. She is as protective in the classroom as she is on the soccer field of the goal she defends.

I asked if she got in trouble for her outburst in class. Alli is not exactly a quiet girl. When ticked off, she can be quite outspoken and loud. I know she gets it honestly, as her mother might be a little bit like that. Yeah, she may be a chip off the old block here.

“No, she never told me to be quiet, in fact the teacher came over to me after I sat back down and told me thank you for standing up for him. She said she was glad I did that.” Alli tilted her chin in a way that said, “Yeah, and I’d do it again even if she didn’t like it.” She still had a defiant and ticked edge to her. She gets very riled at injustice and disrespect.

So, when it comes right down to it, in the midst of all the to-do’s and the must-get-done’s, have I gotten around to really getting to the heart of what I want my kids to grow up knowing?

Yeah. I think this passes the test. But honestly? It’s not a testament to my parenting. It’s a testament to my daughter’s strength, her determination and her moxie. She has all it takes to get out there in the world and be exactly who she was created to be. She knows what she needs to know, and she has what it takes to do what is right. And when push comes to shove, she’s gonna do it. I’m proud of her for being exactly who she is and not be ashamed of that for a minute. Frankly? I think I’m learning from her.

I may lie akes at night thinking or worrying about something, but this? Nope. This isn’t one of them.

This post is reposted from my parenting blog over at Will Settle for Chocolate 

Sometimes it takes a hug to make life play nice


IMG_2243We’ve had a rough week around here. It’s not really abnormal, in fact it’s pretty standard, but it’s rough nevertheless.

Each kid has their own hard spot. They’ve each had their own struggles and worries. I’ve found myself floating from one kid, one thing, to the next, trying to be flexible and able to meet them where they are. I’m not always sure what I’m doing.

What am I sure of? Hugs. Never underestimate the power of a hug.

There are many different ways to give and get a hug. The standard one is pretty great. My oldest and I were having a conversation. She was upset, in tears, overwhelmed, and ready to just give up. I said, “No way! We don’t do that in our family.”

Giving up is the easy way out, but it’s also much harder than knuckling down and setting your chin. Truly. It’s easy in the moment to just say, “I can’t do this” and allow yourself to stop trying. The only problem with that is you get further and further buried in your mucky pit and find it harder and harder to climb out. It’s not worth that. Just when you think you can’t do another minute, with a little love, you can.

I had no words, no way to change the reality she was dealing with. I did have arms, though, so I just stopped her, put out my arms and invited her to lie with me on her bed, cuddled up, and we squished our cute pup between us. Our furry baby then slathered on kisses and made us giggle. Nothing in the world changed, but cuddling up in a hug made a world of difference.

From the bus, my middle kid texted me this morning. She was stressing out over a presentation she has to give. She has to have it ready by Monday and has tons of stuff to get done beforehand. She has a science fair project due and then the regular stuff. It’s tough being a kid these days.

While it’s easy to say kid stress is nothing like we have as grownups, it’s simply not true. Every single thing they have to do is just as hard as our deadlines, our financial stress, our worries. Helping them deal with theirs in a healthy way, however, will give them the confidence to handle the adult version later.

So I texted her back and first said I was sorry she was stressed. I asked what was up.  I asked about the deadlines and began to break things down into bites. I found that some deadlines were not today, so we will work on stuff together at home.

I’ll drop all I can to help my kids. I regularly will drop my stuff and work on theirs with them, then pick my to-do’s back up after they are in bed. A little less sleep is worth the fact that they CAN sleep. She sent me silly stickers and we back and forth sent ridiculous selfie pics. She was laughing by the time she got off the bus and I knew she’d carry those smiles with her all day.

My youngest has been making some poor choices lately. He doesn’t like the book he has to read for his Lit Circle group. The girls keep picking the books and he is far from impressed in now reading the whole series versus just one book he has zero interest in or tolerance for. In frustration, he began just NOT reading the book. Mad. What resulted is being behind by 170 pages versus being right  on time.

He is a fast reader, and so when he was so behind, he knew his teacher would call him out on it. He began fretting and worrying, teary, trying to fib his way into a sick day. The rule at our house is if you’re sick you have no electronics, you just sleep and get well. Or read a book.  Hmmmmmm. Yeah, he wanted to be sick so he could score a read-all-day-on-the-book day and catch up.

My “hug” to him was to say “no.” I pulled him into an embrace and we talked about it. I asked what was going on, we got it down to the bare bones and figured out where all the fiasco started. I had already been in contact with the teacher before this over some issues similar and so I knew more than he knew I did. My extra hug to him was to lay down some new rules. He needed to read 25 pages a day, before he touched any electronic device, and then he would be ready for the next Lit Circle group, all caught up, and no more stress over it.

His big take away? The fact that regardless if you like something or not, you have to do it and be prepared. I told him there were lots of things I didn’t want to do, every day, but choosing NOT to do them was not on the list of OK ways to deal with it. This is gonna come up over and over in life, and if I really want to love on my kids, I’ll help them through it, learn to do things anyway and support them while they learn the lesson.

Hugs can be literal arms around you. Hugs can be notes of encouragement, silly selfies and the promise of help and support. Hugs can be consequences, new rules and life lessons that will stick with them forever. Hugs are love, given however needed, at just the right moment, tailored to fit.

Want to know the best part? My kids are learning all about how to give hugs, not just get them. The other day I was stressed out and worried, sure I was gonna fail, and then I found an “I Love YOU!” note scribbled on the papers I was working on. I find random sticky notes that send me hugs when I least expect them. I find silly drawings in places when I’m trying to get things done. I always smile and feel so much better, stronger, able to push on and through whatever it is I am doing.

Hugs. Need one, give one, take one, receive one.  Hugs make life livable.

This post is reposted from my parenting blog over at Will Settle for Chocolate 

The perks of raising a techno kid


IMG_2244My daughter Alli came home the other day and said she had won some art award and that she was to go to an award ceremony at the Grand Wayne Center and get a certificate. She was all shoulder shrugging “whatevs” about it. I was tickled pink and signed us all up to attend right then and there. What I failed to understand, however, was the scope of the award and the fact it was not just a citywide contest, but a national award. We are a bit new to the whole thing, I guess.

We arrived on Sunday and a guy was yelling, “Students to the right, family to the left.”

In a split second, as we were shuffling along like cattle in a squished line of parents and award winners, a prick of panic welled up in Alli as she realized she would not be waiting to cross that stage sitting beside us, but by herself. “I don’t wanna sit alone,” she hissed at me under her breath as we got closer to the doors. I wanted to change it for her, but I couldn’t. So I did what any mom would do, I said what I knew ultimately would be true, but would not feel true for a very long time… “hon, you’re gonna do fine, it will be OK.”

With that, we went out separate ways.

We found our seats and then noticed Alli was not finding hers. It was by schools. So I went up to her and together we tried to figure it out. She was the only one from her school getting an award and so with only one chair to find it was a bit harder to do. While other kids were sitting with friends, Alli was sitting by strangers. My heart sank. I really hated that for her. I wanted to scoop her up or sit right down in the aisle beside her, but instead I slowly walked away, back to my seat a bazillion rows behind her.

My pocket buzzed. My phone was on silent. It was Alli. She was texting me. “I’m scared,” it said with sad faces beside it. With that we began a conversation and though I was a bazillion rows away, I was also only a second away via text. Technology was now this mama’s best friend. I tried to build her up, to get her to believe she could do this, that she wouldn’t trip crossing that huge stage that loomed in front of her, and I may have almost succeeded until the program began and the over-excited emcee hadn’t just declared the headcount for the afternoon at around 2,000 or so attendees, with 750 awards from 52 surrounding counties. The winners were for Scholastic Art and Writing Achievement awards, all of which were currently being displayed over in the Fort Wayne Museum of Art.

Immediately, Alli began freaking out via text at that info tirade. “2,000???” she texted. I told her the truth. It was gonna feel AWESOME when it was over, she’d get a rush, she’d be filled and over flowing with adrenaline and she’d be on cloud nine. She just had to get up there and cross that stage first. And I KNEW she could do it. (What I didn’t say was what she already knew, that it was gonna stink waiting until her school was called, and since it was alphabetical, “Towles New Tech” was gonna be a while down the line.)

I know there was no way for my mom or dad to virtually hold my  hand when I wished they could, back when I was a kid. I know it had to be hard for them to have to simply let go. I can honestly say, letting my kids go, grow up, to do hard things and to go be amazing is far easier when they can check in with me a bit here and there when the going gets tough. Yeah, it’s easier on me and them both.

For that little bit of time, when we were a bazillion rows away, she and I were only a few fingertip pushes away from each other. A few goofy faces sent from me to her and she was laughing in spite of herself. As much as growing up techno kids is scary, it also has its perks. Sometimes I don’t hate it at all.

And I have to say, “way to go Alli — you make me busting-my-buttons proud, girl!”

 

This post is reposted from my parenting blog over at Will Settle for Chocolate 

Mama DOES know best!


IMG_2234You know that old saying, “Mama knows best”? Never, EVER let anyone tell you that you don’t know something. You are with your child day in and day out, and if you feel something is off, wrong or isn’t going the way that seems natural or normal or right in any way, draw your claws and demand to get answers. “Let’s wait and see how this goes,” is not an answer I take kindly to. I’ll do the try and wait game for a small time, but be prepared to hear from me, a lot, and never go away until you are ready to move forward to the next step. I’m not going away. Oh, and forget to get back to me about tests or setting up appointments? Yeah, that does NOT go well in my book; you just entered my hit-list side of the notebook.

Moms DO know best. They know when their kid is being dramatic or attention seeking and when it crosses the line into seriously real. And, whatever you do, don’t tell a mom (me) to parent something that is your (the doctor’s) medical turf. If I say a medicine is screwing with my kid, I know it because I know my kid. I also will have done a lot of legwork on the home front to document and try to figure out which meds are likely the culprit. The changes in personality or behavior are not because I am slacking in parenting.

Let me direct you to some notable paperwork, dear sirs. It might be one of those drastic side effects they have listed at the bottom of the sheets that say something like, “Some individuals may have more severe effects, including: rapid mood changes, abnormal anxiety, heightened anger and aggression, suicidal thoughts, impulsiveness, restlessness and trouble sleeping.”

In our case? We had all those along with nearly every one of the others listed in the “not so drastic” side effects column. Was the medicine doing the job we began taking it for. Yes, actually it was. Frustratingly so.

It worked nearly perfectly. It was like a dream at first and I was amazed that it did so much good. It was because it WORKED that I beat my head against a wall and tried to decide if it was ME or really the medicine. I tried to decide if I was somehow screwing up with my kid. Do I REALLY want to muck around with meds AGAIN when they are actually doing the job they are being taken for?

Am I willing to trade the quality of life the “cure” offers versus the problem we were treating? Wow. I want to scream NOOOOOO! from the top of my lungs. And truly, it’s NOT worth it. But the battle we have here? It’s not as simple as that makes it sound. It’s hellish. I can’t describe it, and I can’t give words to the number of times we’ve traveled this valley of desperate and dark times.

The battle between body and medicine — specifically here it’s the body’s ability to regulate the chemistry of the brain with medical help — is complicated stuff. It is. Still, the fact remains, growing up a teen, while regulating medicines, can be daunting. Hormones and puberty clash with pills and prescriptions. The theories and ideas all make sense, how meds will increase or decrease this or that, how it will help alleviate one thing so another doesn’t elevate. I’m not anti-meds. But it’s hard as heck to ride this storm out.

Look, we’ve done the “no meds” route for years. Tried so many things I could still cry now from those frustrating days we ALL had. But by the time my child was 12 it was brutally and painfully obvious that we needed to seriously consider more help. Childhood onset of Bipolar Disorder is not something easily regulated. She also is OCD with anxiety disorders and Borderline Personality Disorder. The brain chemicals in this kid’s body just are not lined up. Her ducks don’t walk in a row like they are supposed to. Life is hard for her.

In order for her to stop the increasingly painful confusion of her mind’s fragmented reality, which was growing more the further she entered into puberty, we needed to help her regulate the chemicals a bit. It was just time to try something new. (Side note: I now understand why there are so many different medications out there. No two people are the same. No two are going to be chemically fixed by the same pill.)

Enter into today, where my daughter has been running in and out of the house all day—LOUDLY, breathlessly giggling, obsessing about her hair and clothes, talking to a boy and acting like a complete nut. She’s been wrestling with her sister, harassing her brother and chatting online with her friends. She’s 16. I expect nothing less than this. In fact this is exactly why I am teary. This is what we’ve been working towards; an active, loud, healthy, happy teen.

We’ve been working on her meds for more than four years now and it is a constant rollercoaster. We’ve just come off a 14-week stint where we have been weaning her on and off meds, searching for answers, trying new things, doing “wait and sees” and scratching whole ideas because I simply said “NO way in HELL we are doing that.”

The end result is this: I was RIGHT. I knew my kid.

Yes, she has significant trouble, and she is anxious and worried often. Has she ever been suicidal before, scared the crap out of me, harmed herself, done things that made me fear for her life, her very survival? Ummm, yeah, she has. In ways that lay me flat out, face down on my bed, fully-giving-my-kid-to-God kind of scared.

Want to know why I could go to a doctor and say, “Sorry, YOU are wrong. The meds are NOT right,” and do it with confidence? Because I know what those “down in the mucky pit days” look like. I know what the triggers are. I know what sets those wheels in motion. I know when to begin to watch her and I can hear warning bells going off just by looking in her eyes. I KNOW HER! When my kid starts doing things with no trigger, no warning signs, goes from 0-180 in a flat three seconds? It’s not me. It’s not her. It’s meds. Period.

We have routine. That no-trigger trip-out? It’s not the way we spiral here. We have a cycle, a system, a formula for our madness, if you please. THIS was something I wasn’t willing to let go, or to wait it out, or do a try and see. I demanded to be heard. Frankly, not being this proactive can land a kid in a hospital. Or dare I say it out loud? Yeah, I’ll say it. It’s my reality. It can land them in a grave. Everyone will say, “if only we had known,” and I will sit and beat myself to a pulp because I let myself be silenced, judged or second-guessed.

Medicine mixing for the brain’s chemistry is a hellish battle. I wish it on no one. It takes forever to get the right balance and when you do, especially in puberty, it can change before you know it and it needs to be adjusted again. I’d say it’s not for the faint of heart, but you don’t get to pick your heart. I had to learn how to buck up and become a bull in a china shop. I started out a bunny in a barn.

Today I stood in my kitchen looking out the window. I watched my daughter. She, for all the world, looked like every other 16 year old. She does not wear the battle scars on her face. The scars are there, make no mistake, but today her face radiated. It was brilliantly lit with a smile full of pure white teeth and NO BRACES! She was still celebrating today by not having popcorn hulls stuck in those old things. Laffy Taffy was chasing closely on its heels and she was grinning ear to ear.

The battle is long, the cost is high, but the rewards of the little victories we are winning along the way are truly worth it.  Even though getting to the answer is tiring and time-consuming, we ARE getting to the answers.

There is no greater victory than one won for your child.

 

This post is reposted from my parenting blog over at Will Settle for Chocolate