Last week, Coleman’s school had their annual fall field trip to a farm (or, well, as close as we get to ‘farm’ in NYC, in the outskirts of Queens). While I love the concept of field trips and farms, I was honestly kind of dreading the trip. The previous year, Coleman was terrified of everything — petting or even looking at sheep, going into the ‘butterfly house’, riding ponies, etc. — and it was crowded and stressful. My husband and I tried to encourage Coleman and gently nudge him toward his peers, but that quickly made things worse and he was then hitting us as we tried to help calm him and get his tantrums under control. Normally, we’d say ‘screw this’ and leave the scene the second things got really shitty. But because we’d come on a bus with the school, we were trapped for several hours of this. Not to mention, embarrassing ourselves hugely in front of Coleman’s peers and their parents the whole time.
[As a side note, to make things even more exciting, I was also waiting on another beta call during this time. But that’s neither here nor there… or maybe it does mean a lot.]
While my husband was saying we should just keep him at home for the trip this year (or rather, home with me all day), I felt like I should give it another try. Plus, seeing him at the school’s open house recently kind of left out of his circle of classmates and being called ‘a dreamer’ by his teacher made me think it would be good for me to try to be around these kids up close and maybe befriend their moms. Try to work some playmate-arranging diplomacy. I even baked some damn apple bars to bring along, hoping to break the ice. Plus, I talked to his teacher — telling her about last year and asking if she had any ideas about how to make this year go better (note: his teacher wouldn’t be there, which I think kind of sucks about these field trips — instead a pool of assistant teachers from the other classes was chaperoning along with each child’s parent). She just kind of politely blew off my concerns with a ‘oh, he’s doing much better lately! he’s been playing with the other kids.’
So, well, things started off promising. Coleman loved the ride on the big yellow school bus. But then, the second the kids poured out onto the grounds of the farm and were preparing to leave on the tour, Coleman freaked the fuck out. He was crying and screaming, “NOOOOOOO! The animals are scary!” and was just hysterical. I kindly and patiently tried to nudge him forward slowly — reminding him that a few days before, I couldn’t tear him away from the pig pen at the place where we’d picked apples. He’d loved those pigs! But here… no go. And of course — even among a group of kids from age 18 months to grade 4 — he was the only one freaking out.
I was very grateful for the nice educational director at the farm, who suggested we check out the big, lovely herb garden instead. And we spent like two hours alone together there, inspecting and smelling the cool fragrant plants (though mostly that was me — Coleman was more interested in running back and forth to the big farm-y windmill a million times). I was also grateful I’d had to foresight to pack a few books, so we were also able to sit at a picnic table reading together a lot. That helped me recover a bit of ‘good mom’ feeling, at least. But every time I tried gently suggesting going toward anywhere else, or to catch up with the other kids, Coleman would start freaking out again.
Somehow, I was able to stay pretty calm during this and make the most of the situation — despite my frustration and embarrassment. But inside this voice in my head was screaming, “Oh my god, this kid is so obviously special-needs! Why can’t anyone else acknowledge this and help us get the help we need?!”
And this voice still runs through my head a lot, though there’s a competing voice saying, “Put on your big-girl pants and parent this kid, dammit! You are being so lazy and letting this kid run the show. Get control of things! Stop being a doormat! If your kid turns into a psycho, it’s only because you indulged him too much!” Etc, etc, etc…
I know I’ve mentioned on this blog at least a few times over the past couple of years that I’m kind of worried that there’s something not quite right going on. I don’t think it’s anything super-major — somehow, my son has gotten through two full years of Montessori school with very few complaints ever from his teachers (and that complaint has always been hitting/pinching a peer, but seems to be a short-term issue each time). It’s also seemed pretty obvious to me that he’s been pretty slow to become more verbal in a way you can really communicate back/forth with him, but his teachers always said he was doing just fine when I brought that up.
Last year, I pressed his pediatrician on the problems of hitting (both his peers sometimes, and my husband and I often at home while in tantrum-mode) and my concern about possibly delayed speech. In terms of the discipline issue, the doctor pointed out that my son seems pretty in-control in most situations, most of the time — and if he had a real ‘disorder’ or whatever, he wouldn’t be able to control himself at all. However, since I had brought it up on two visits, the doctor said I could get him evaluated by a neurologist — that would be a first step. And he gave me a couple names. But he seemed to do it more to shut me up, rather than out of any concern himself. I really adore this pediatrician, and appreciate his laid-backness. Yet sometimes (and I don’t know how to say this without being an asshole) I see how a large portion of his patients are immigrant families with lots of children, many without insurance, and I feel like this neurotic, over-privileged white lady who just needs to shut the fuck up. My kid is just fine. He is healthy. We are lucky. Stop looking for fancy brain-problems when so many parents can barely pay for basic care for their kids.
So I went home with the neurologist names. One was located somewhere far off in Queens that would be hard to get to since we don’t have a car. The other phone number just rang and rang and no one would ever answer it. So I researched, what’s “the place” in NYC for evaluations like this? And what came up again and again was the Child Study Center at NYU. All right, I thought!
Then I found out they don’t take insurance. Of course! But I was in the middle of a glut of freelance work and feeling like, okay, we’ll do this $700/hr neurologist visit and just see. I ducked out of my freelance gig at inconvenient times trying to have a private conversation on the phone with the intake lady, arranging the whole thing, getting the paperwork. There were like 50 pages. Questions that even asked shit like what did I eat while pregnant with Coleman. Meanwhile I was in the shaky early stages of pregnancy with Rosemary, nauseous as hell and praying for no more gushes of red blood.
I had planned to take Coleman. Despite my husband not being on board with the whole thing. Despite the money. Despite the millions of pages of questions to fill out, and needing to hand off more for his teachers to complete, too. But I don’t know — at some point it just seemed like too much. Especially when he’d stopped hitting at school and I was trying to take it easy with the hematoma while also working, and I felt sick as hell, and Hurricane Sandy pretty much destroyed NYU medical center for many months, and…
The thing is, there’s so much about Coleman that’s awesome and amazing. When things are going great, I often forget about the problem-times. He’s a very smiley, bubbly, charming, funny, affectionate kid (and cute as hell — we still get endless compliments about his gorgeous eyes, his handsomeness — maybe that lets him get away with a lot?). He loves wearing costumes, dancing and can improvise a song out of pretty much any topic you toss at him (There have been times when I thought, Maybe he’s got Asperger’s? but then I think of these things). He is extremely imaginative and loves engaging me in all kinds of pretend play — often in really inventive ways that surprise me. He’s awesome at riding his balance bike all over the neighborhood, and always stops on his own at all street corners and seems very careful in general with physical play. He loves looking at books and reading together. He’s come pretty far with sharing toys at the playground and sometimes being social. He sleeps well through the night, in his own room. He has recently started eating all these foods he wouldn’t touch for the longest time — even stuff like salmon, asparagus. He is gradually becoming sweeter and starting to learn to play and help out with his baby sister.
But then when things feel bad, they feel really really bad. Maybe it’s all my fault. Or because he missed a nap again? Or maybe it’s all just in my head?
– Aggression. The great majority of the time it’s directed at me and my husband at home during a big tantrum where he’s not getting his way. Usually over something really silly — he wants to watch the same episode of Daniel Tiger he’s seen 10,000 times instead of the new Daniel Tiger episode that I dared to suggest, so he comes at me hard with his little fists (though often he stops himself mid-air, too). Or he’s angry when his dad’s trying to get him dressed for school and tries kicking him in the face. Lately he’s been more into throwing things and screaming, which I guess is better than hitting or kicking? But it’s still not acceptable. Especially when he almost whacks his poor baby sister (and wakes her up pretty much every time I just get her down for a nap).
– Fear/Freaking Out. I know it is common for little kids to be afraid of stuff. I can remember being very terrified of a statue of a frog with long eyelashes that my grandma had when I was Coleman’s age (we’d still laugh about it until her death a few years ago). But it just seems over the top with Coleman, and it really impacts our lives a lot sometimes. I often feel like I am walking on egg shells trying to work around stuff. The Halloween decorations at our grocery store send him into a shrieking terror, so I can’t shop for food when I’m taking care of him (which is pretty limiting). Same with the drugstore. And there are SO many examples of outings we’ve gone to great lengths to take (museums, playgrounds, kids’ parties, amusement parks, etc.) and he freaked the fuck out and either expressed fear about going inside or an extreme aversion somehow to the whole experience that required us to flee. Sometimes it’s not even a ‘scary’ thing — it’s that he wants to walk a different way home than we’re going and will get absolutely hysterical over it. Perhaps it’s all just a power trip for him, and we’ve fed into it by not fighting him and to stay. I like peace too much (and care too much about looking like assholes in public), I guess.
– Frustration/Tension. I’m not sure what to call this exactly, and maybe it’s the same thing as anger. But another thing he does a lot is grind his teeth together (he’s worn his baby teeth down quite a bit) and seem to have this compulsive need to pinch/squeeze/poke, go “grrrrrarrrrgh!” Sometimes it’s in the middle of him seeming happy/playful, but it always really takes me aback. It’s like he has this energy/anxiety in him that he just doesn’t know what to do with, or is wanting to express something he can’t put words to.
– Peer Problems. We’ve left the playground so many times because he hits, pushes, or is just too aggressive toward another kid (sometimes randomly, but usually over a toy-sharing type dispute). And it seems we hardly have playdates anymore because of these incidents happening — though I’m not sure if it’s the other moms avoiding us, or me avoiding them out of embarrassment. Lately when we go to places with other kids, Coleman just want to sit next to me and watch — and not get involved with the other kids. On one hand this is easier for me, but I know it’s not good and it makes me sad for him.
– The Poop Issue. Yep, my kid is almost 4 1/2, and still poops in a diaper. Granted, he goes and gets the pull-up himself and changes into it. He disappears into his room, says he is going “to the poop store” — it would almost be funny if it weren’t so awful (and smelly). Afterward he is often very reluctant to let you clean him up, and will put up a bit of a kicking-screaming fight. We have tried pretty much all the kind/gentle/bribing/tricky techniques to get him to poop on the potty, but still have not yet just taken the pull-ups away. His pediatrician says that eventually he’ll just poop on the potty on his own and want to, but when? I feel like we should ‘get tough’ on this, but I am not sure that’s right for Coleman.
– Patterns/Repetition/Particular Things. This may just be a thing with kids his age, but he loves — for example — watching a cartoon on the iPad and rewinding a 4-second clip of dialogue and replaying it dozens of times in a row (and note, I do try hard to limit his TV-viewing and watch carefully to make sure he’s sticking with pretty ‘benign’ shows… but mama needs a break sometimes, so I can’t say no TV 100% as much as I wish I could). Or if he finds a playful game I do with two animal figures to be funny, wants me to do it over and over endlessly. Or just HAS to wear his skeleton pajamas again (or else, tantrum). Or likes to do a pattern of things over and over again (run to tree at playground, stop pick up rock, spin around, etc) — will get very bossy about wanting me to do it over and over again, too.
Whew. Are you as exhausted reading this as I am writing this? I am so confused. But SO tired of hungrily trying to read every damn parenting book that I can find, leaping on top of every recommendation desperately trying to figure out what’s normal and what’s not, and how to make things better. I just can’t figure out: is he ‘sensitive’? Is he ‘spirited’? Is it just a chemical/wiring thing (I am not exactly Ms. Awesome Mental Health myself, though I try so hard to do my best)? Ugh.
Anyway, I have been combing through the random list of in-network child psychologists on our insurance plan, but haven’t had much luck yet finding someone to take a kid his age (and was told by one that she couldn’t help if it was ‘developmental’ issues… how do I know if he has those or not?). Which has me looking back into the place that sounded really intriguing at NYU, but costs a fortune (but we may be able to get reimbursement for some)?
Kindergarten is coming up so soon. I recall it being this fun-play place, but apparently now Kindergarten is Serious School and kids learn to read and have homework? I signed Coleman up for the Gifted and Talented test they give 4 year-olds to see if your kid is worthy of a decent (free) public education via the gifted program — it is a huge longshot. But I was imagining him even entering the big scary building where they do the test, and freaking out before he could even get inside — and wow. So instead of all these test-prep books and things I was eyeing, I realize I need to get him emotionally prepared for whatever new things lay ahead with school, wherever he ends up.
Just wish I knew how to do that. Until then, I’m just trying not to eat all those apple bars myself.
“Parenting class” (a.k.a. the rack across from our toilet). I sure would love a real parenting class and am always looking for one, but can’t find anything.