Friday, April 1, 2011

M & M's

Last night M really struggled with her homework.  She cried and cried.  Said she didn't understand.  Yelled at me and disagreed with everything I said.  I tried everything.  Jokes.  Encouragement.  Tough talk.  Nothing worked.  She steadily worked herself into a fit complete with rolling on the floor, pounding fists into the carpet (we were working on the floor in my room).  Eventually I had to give myself a timeout or I was going to lose it.  I left her in the room crying and went downstairs to talk to K. I convinced him to handle bedtime with the boys so I could focus on M.  With a stroke of genius, I decided to come upstairs with a bag of M&M's and see if that would help.  When I walked back in the room, she had calmed down and was attempting to do her social studies.  While she worked, I quietly sorted the candies by color in pairs of two on one of her notebooks.  She slowly started eating a few which led to talking, speaking sensibly again and finally getting all of her work done.  Thank God for M&M's.

Today, I drove M to the center where she's getting therapy for an initial evaluation for learning disabilities, ADHD, etc.  She is seriously struggling academically.  She basically missed 4th grade but beyond that, she has fundamental english, math and reading skills that are missing.  M fundamentally does not understand numbers and their functions.  Basic grammar is often beyond her.  Her grades are atrocious.  She is messy, disorganized, and often rushes through her work just to get it done.  I was very proud of her for speaking honestly about how she's doing in school.  She was so nervous about going.  Frankly, I was really nervous about going.  She starts the actual testing at the end of May.  I'm really glad we're doing this.  It's just so hard to know whether or not her struggles are related to the trauma, depression, anxiety or more serious issues.  I know that getting the information one way or the other is what's best for M and we'll be able to make a plan to help her be more successful.  However....I'm dreading having to deal with it, if she has something like ADHD or other learning issues.  My gut feeling is that there is something more serious going on.  She exhibits other behavior beyond academic tasks that make me wonder how her brain is wired.  Dealing with traumatized M is bad enough, now we might have to tackle even more.  I'm hopeful that in the long run, this assessment will make things easier, but in the first months I know it's going to be difficult.  Furthermore, it's going to be all on my shoulders.  I'd be silly to think that K is really going to help.

Then there's my family.  Everyone has their opinion.  None of them would take M, but of course they all have to pronounce about what they think is wrong with M.  My sister C, with whom M lived for 2 months, doesn't really believe anything is wrong, but that it's all the trauma.  Any talk about M's deficiencies she declares, "but she had no problem doing that kind of work with me last year."  This of course is coming from someone without kids in elementary school and with no real experience doing homework, gauging achievement, etc.  Sister S, a kindergarten/ first grade teacher, also denies a problem and immediately starts to talk about how M is like her when she was in school and she was just too young for her grade.  M has been living with us for 7 months now.  Six of those months have been during the school year.  My sisters, however, constantly have to tell me what they think about M and how they somehow know more than us.  Again, both of these opinions are coming from adults without school age children.  It is extremely irritating and it all goes back to the guilt and strange feelings of jealousy that we took in E and M and neither of them were willing or able to do so. What strains my relationships with my sisters is the underlying resentment on my part that neither of them (particularly S) took the girls, and their guilt and need to stress that they know the girls better or even love them more.  Some of that has gotten better, but it's still there in the background.  I constantly feel judged by them which adds to my stress immensely. It's so complicated.

Then there is my father, who has immendiately pronounced that M has ADHD.  He says it with such authority, but also with a dismissive manner like it's no big deal.  He, of course, doesn't have to live with it.  He also has absolutely no idea what he's talking about.  Again, it's members of my family voicing opinions without really knowing what's going on.  It's so frustrating, intrusive, and inappropriate.  They would never do any of this if it was the boys.  I know that the situation with the girls is different, but it's so hard to try to treat all the kids the same and have the mindset that they are ALL our kids now, yet have my family do things that undermind that. 

Sometimes I think we really bit off more than we can chew.  E and M need so much.  We love them, we really do, but I wonder if in the long run it's going to be enough.  I wonder if I'm going to be enough.  Enough for the girls.  Enough for the boys.  M&M's may help get a night's worth of homework done, but I doubt they'll be able to carry us through.


  1. Ugh, family dynamics can add pressure even under the best of circumstances. I can't imagine how complicated all the stress and trauma is making everything in your family's case.

    This may be a silly suggestion, but both times my husband got deployed that put a lot of stress on our family, and people around us said they wanted to help but they really didn't know what to do. I found the best thing was to come up with specific ways people could actually be helpful and tell them directly. I wrote letters explicitly saying we could use A, B or C, and to please not say or do D, E and F. I think most of the time when people who care about you do thoughtless and frustrating things it's because they don't know any better. You have so much to juggle, maybe laying things out clearly and lovingly to everyone might help.

    I have no idea. I feel like I want to offer something, probably because as a mom myself I just want to help solve problems. Please take care, and enjoy some of those M&M's yourself.

  2. I think your family feels as if the girls are EVERYONE'S children now, not just yours. So, that gives them all a sense of ownership, that they can put their oar in as well.

    Unfortunately, you and K are the ones raising these two, NOT everyone. I like Korinthia's suggestion of giving everyone specifics on how they CAN help and what DOESN'T help. It's sort of like establishing boundaries.

    Good luck.

  3. Rach, you totallly nailed it on the head. We tried to express our needs (respect, help without judgement) in a group session with Dr. L but it didn't go very well. That was in October, though, close to the anniversary of the accident when everyone's nerves were on edge. Maybe there's been enough time passed we could revisit the issue. We do get good help for E's swimming from the bro in laws (C and S's husbands). They each do 2 mornings a week. The uncles have gotten much better about communicating to us directly about E's swim rides rather than going through E. The trick is not getting the specific logistical help but getting them to respect our boundaries as a family and respect K and I as their parents/guardians.

    I guess my choice is to either address the emotional stuff with my sisters and risk putting our relationships back to where they were months ago OR learn to understand where they are coming from and just let it go. I'm trying that with my parents and it's helping a bit. I really am starting to realize I can't control what everyone is going to do, BUT I do have control over how I react. I think I'm wasting a lot of energy getting annoyed and frustrated.

    We all lost Jeanne and Mike and are still realing from it. I guess we all deserve a little patience.

  4. And, Peg, I think *you* nailed it with your last paragraph. You can't control them, but you CAN control how you react. It's hard, no doubt about that. I think you'll be happier in the end if you are able to come to terms with that.