Once Upon A Time…

growing_upOnce upon a time, there was a 10 month old baby boy who took his first assisted steps up and down the aisle of a church during Vacation Bible School week. The hands he held were those of a sweet little girl who would grow up to be one of his favorite baby sitters, as his mother was busy teaching music to the other children.

Once upon a time, there was a not quite 3 year old boy, who splashed in the water left over from VBS games along side the other toddlers of the church and left a permanent dent in his forehead when he collided with a pew.

Once upon a time there was a not quite 4 year old boy who finally got to be with the “big kids” during VBS. He decided he was “too hot” during a music performance for family, and started to strip naked in front of everybody. All while his mother looked on helplessly since she was in the midst of directing the musical efforts of all the other children.

Once upon a time, there was a preschooler, who grew to become a young elementary aged boy. This was a boy who loved VBS and looked forward to the week every year. This was a boy who excitedly waited for the day his parents would add the latest round of VBS music to his iPod.

Once upon a time there was a 9 year old boy, who still loved VBS, but no longer loved being around people. He spent all day every day begging his mother to let him leave, but his mother was in charge and so he was “stuck”.

And now there is no more once upon a time.

Now we are in the here and now. Now there is an almost 11 year old, teetering between childhood and adolescence. Now we are in our current reality, where so many safe places, and loved activities have been stolen and buried under the weight of anxiety, panic & depression. Now we are halfway through a summer where that boy has only been able to attend one week of day camp, because the world is still more than the can handle most days. And now we are halfway through VBS week.

We’re halfway through VBS week, and my son has been there as a helper every day. Three days in and he’s doing great. He’s not the best helper ever, but he’s doing the best he can and the adult he is helping understands his situation and is doing everything she can to help him have a successful week. He is doing such a good job of avoiding the large crowds of kids and adults at the opening and closing times, that one adult I spoke to today didn’t even realize he’d been there all week. But he’s there, and he’s enjoying being there.

I am confident that as recently as two weeks ago, he would not have been managing as well as he is this week. With every day that passes, I am beginning to see that the current combination of medications may actually be doing the job they are supposed to be doing. The hard edges are softer and the things that trigger him are fewer. I have seen glimpses of joy, and laughter, and peace in my boy this week. I have seen glimpses of that that boy who once loved VBS more than any kid I have ever met.

Once upon a time there was a boy who grew up in a church, and loved everything and everybody inside that building. Once upon another time, the darkness of anxiety, panic, and depression made that church and it’s people feel unsafe to that boy. Once upon another time, with the help of his family, that boy fought back and reclaimed the joy the church once gave him. I know we’re not anywhere close to a happily ever after, but seeing my son smile again as I work through VBS has been an amazing blessing.

To the Staff at Horse Camp

We’re halfway through summer break, and my son finally was able to attend and enjoy a day camp this week. He and my daughter both spent the week with my parents and went to a horse camp. It was the one thing he REALLY wanted to do. They attended last summer, and talked about it all year long. Last weekend he was excited, but also anxious about that “what ifs.” He’s doing a little better most days, with the panic attacks coming further and further apart. I was nervous for him, but knew he needed to do this. So he did. And it was great. And he came home full of happy stories of beloved horses and a new friend. And for that I am so, so grateful!  

Fighting Together

July is the least favorite month of the year for my husband and me – the double whammy of it being an extra busy time of year for both of us at work, combined with balancing kids on Summer break means we rarely see each other during daylight hours, and sometimes don’t have conversations that go deeper than “Can you pick up milk on your way home?” In a “normal” year, the month of July is stressful and exhausting. This year – with the added chaos of refinancing our house, a visit to family in NJ, and having our son at work with me because panic disorder and day camp aren’t things that co-exist peacefully – and the stress levels have been astronomical all month. It’s been rough.

In the midst of this rough month, there have been a handful of incidents that made me stop and think about how other people perceive our marriage. At different points in this month, my husband and I both had people essentially ask how our marriage was handling the stress of our son’s current struggles. We both answered, without hesitation, that we are doing just fine, thank you very much.

Do we argue sometimes. Of course. Is there added stress on our marriage? No doubt.Is it easy? Nope. Is it fun? Not always. Is this what we dreamed of for our family. Heck no. But it is our reality, and we work with what we’re given. We work with what we’re given, and we have love and faith and stubborn streaks that win out when the days get hard.

We have love and faith and stubborn streaks that win out when the days get hard. We also have a relationship that predates kids by 13 years and is coming up on 24 years in duration. We’ve been together longer than we haven’t, and even in this this rough season of life there is no doubt we are meant to be walking through life together.

Part of the beauty of such a long, shared history are a handful of long, shared friendships. One such friend, somebody who has known us from the very beginning, was at our home recently. At some point in the evening, my husband and I disagreed about something. Our daughter told us to “stop fighting” and our friend replied, “But that’s what they do. That’s what they’ve always done.”

“That’s what they’ve always done.” There is absolute truth in that statement, but it isn’t as ominous as it sounds. There is probably more in life we disagree about, than we agree about. And we aren’t afraid to let each other know when we think the other is wrong. We generally agree to disagree on the small stuff – and it’s mostly small stuff – but we always find a way to come together on the big stuff. It’s worked for over two decades, and it works now as we navigate this latest chapter of our story.

And what a story it has been so far.

We met and fell in love as college freshmen. We came into the relationship with distinctly different world views and not much more in common than a mutual love of music and innate sarcasm. Add in the fact that our relationship was a long distance one, and the odds weren’t in our favor to survive the first month, let alone last through college. But we did.

And then we were 20-somethings trying to find our way in our prospective careers, and navigating what a not-long-distance relationship looked like for the first time. By this point we had grown into who we thought we were as a couple, and that didn’t exactly line up with who we needed to become as a couple to make it through the transition into the real world. It was bumpy and ugly, and sometimes frightening. But the one constant was our shared belief that we were worth fighting for.

So we fought for us, and just about the time that common lore would have you believe we “should have” outgrown each other, we were married. Our early married years were easy, compared to the seven years that preceded them. We found our groove in our respective careers, continued to grow together, and settled into a generally happy little life.

Then came the years of struggling with infertility. That could have been enough to tear us apart, but it just made us stronger. And the day we found out I was finally pregnant, was also the day my husband found out he’d been accepted into his first choice of graduate school programs. He started business school 6 weeks before our son was born and by the time he graduated 3 years later, our family had grown from 3 to 4 with the surprise addition of our daughter – a surprise that kept me on bed rest for much of the second half of the pregnancy, with a toddler and a husband traveling for business while also completing grad school. Those years redefined “hard” for us and redefined us once again as a couple. Once again, it was bumpy and ugly and sometimes frightening (and this time also exhausting). But the constant remained our unwavering belief that we were worth fighting for.

So once again, we fought for us. And eventually we settled into a new rhythm and a generally happy little life. We bumped along together. Figured out how to be parents together. We adjusted, and adjusted, and adjusted again as the kids grew up and their needs changed. We worked with what we were given, and when that suddenly included a son struggling under the weight of anxiety and depression, we used all of our energy to fight for him. We fight together to get him the care and support he needs. We fight together to make sure he feels safe and loved always. We fight together to help him find his way in this world. We fight together for our son, and for our daughter, and for ourselves. We fight, it’s what we’ve always done.

So if you were to ask us how we are doing, we will likely tell you we are doing just fine, thank you very much. This is our reality, and all of the difficult times that preceded this truly hard season of life built us up to the people,  and the couple,  and the parents we need to be to meet this challenge. This is our reality, and while I wish for an “easy” day once in a while and for more quality time with my husband, I wouldn’t trade away one second of this life we’ve built together.

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Home…Real, Raw, Broken, Beautiful

14 years ago this month, we bought our first house. It was little, but on a decent sized corner lot. It was not in the “best” neighborhood, but in a really good, quiet neighborhood.   It was a good house, and we planned to be in it for about 5 years. Today we signed the mountain of paperwork to refinance that house. We’re still here.

We’ve talked about moving dozens of times over the years – including as recently as this year –  but for a variety of different reasons we’re still here. We’re still here, and I have actually been resentful of that fact. My top two reasons for wanting to leave are the apartment building we see from the backyard and a desire for all of us to have a little more personal space. I’ve even gone so far as to say that I hate this house.

So after signing my name roughly a million times – while also trying to verbally encourage my son to use a skill to self regulate as a panic attack was brewing  – we refinanced the house I have said I hate. Driving home from the appointment, the song “Home” by Blue October came on the radio. I’ve heard the song before, but I never really listened to it until today. Today I heard loud and clear…

We found
Our home
Something we can build for years

The young
And old
I’ll be there to wipe your tears

We all get to see
Who we grow up to be
And anchor when in doubt
An ocean when in drought

We aim for it all
We lift of these walls
To make this house our home

Dancing in the kitchen in the pale moonlight
Only care in the world is that our kids are all right
Daddy loves momma and momma loves him
Tomorrow we get to do it over again

As I continued to drive toward home, I pondered those words and found my perspective shifting. The first time we walked into this house, we knew we had found a home. Back then it was just me, my husband and two cats. It wasn’t part of our plan to raise a family here, but we could envision the possibility of raising kids in this house. Years passed. Life happened. And over the course of those years, we made the house a home. We filled the rooms  with love and laughter, and became a family here. We have dreamed, argued, cried, and grown together in this home. This home has been a sanctuary for each of us at different times when the world has been too rough. In recent years, I  became so bogged down in the limitations of the physical space, that I lost sight of what is actually important.

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The house is walls, windows, doors, floor and roof. Our home is love, laughter, dreams, security and family. I may not like certain things about the house, but I can’t hate our home. I love the home we have have made. Home is where we are family – real, raw, broken and beautiful. And tomorrow we get to do it all over again…

 

Back on Track to Black

My son began training in the martial art of ninjitsu when he was 7 years old. From the very first lesson he loved it and was hooked. By the time he had trained long enough and showed enough mastery of technique to advance to his second belt, he had declared his intent to become a black belt. The Timehop app on my phone was kind enough to remind me this morning that the day he made that statement was exactly 3 years ago today.

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Ordinarily, seeing a reminder like that would have been an “aww, I remember that” sort of moment. This morning, however, that memory was perfectly timed to be a saving grace.

For a long time, the dojo was one of my son’s few “safe places.”  Even when he was having major anxiety and panic attacks most other places in his life, the dojo remained a safe place. That all changed  at the beginning of June when he had the first of several panic attacks at the dojo. The panic attacks were followed by doubts and anxiety about his physical ability to train and worry about what the sensei, instructors and other kids would think of him. The dojo no longer felt safe and he began to have panic attacks just thinking about having to go there. He declared his intention to quit.

Since the very thought of the dojo had become a trigger for him, we decided to let him take a break. He missed most of the month of June and the beginning of July – including a rank test and a belt test that would have advanced him to brown belt (2 belts away from being a black belt).

Over the weekend, my husband and I decided that this was the week we were going to try to get him to return. He’s been on his new medications for almost 3 weeks, and while he still has high levels of anxiety and there are still panic attacks as well as episodes of anger and depression, in general he is steadier than he was back in June. We knew that the longer he stayed away from the dojo, the harder it would be to get him back. We also knew that even if he said he didn’t care anymore about earning a black belt, he didn’t really mean it.

So yesterday there were several conversations about today being the day he would go back. He wasn’t on board. There were tears, mild panic, and anger. He continued to declare his intentions to quit. And right when I thought we might not ever convince him – we went with a minor bribe.

He had been asking for permission to buy a couple of graphic novels for his Kindle, and we had not allowed it. The possibility of purchasing those graphic novels was enough of a carrot last night, that by the time he went to bed his screaming protests had mellowed into quiet sighs. This morning he asked if he could still get the books if he went to class this afternoon. I told him yes, and then I showed him the picture from Timehop. I reminded him about the goal he once set for himself, how much love he has for ninjitsu, and how far he’s already come toward meeting his goal. And then I prayed he would be able to make it to the dojo and through his class without having a panic attack.

He went. He was nervous, but he went. He made it through class, and at one point was even laughing with his training partner. He did it! And he’s talking about the “next class”. And he asked if I had been able to reschedule his missed belt test. He’s back on track to black! (And at this very moment sitting on the couch devouring the 2 graphic novels we purchased as soon as we got home from the dojo!)

To the Kind Woman in the Dallas Airport

We came home last night from a week visiting my husband’s family in NJ. Travel for a kid battling anxiety and panic has the potential for disaster. He did fairly well on the way out (there is beauty in a red eye flight!), but had some really challenging moments on the way home. There were thunderstorms in the Dallas area, so our “quick” connection there turned into 2+ hours of delays. The sudden change of plans and the need to sit around waiting, was enough to send my son over the edge. He had a small panic attack. Lots of people openly stared. One person moved away. One woman smiled and spoke to me….

Two Sides Of The Same Coin

Every once in awhile I am struck by the absolute paradox that is my son. 

Following the rough time he had on the 4th of July, we gave him a completely down day yesterday. He needed a day of quiet and relative solitude to recover. Toward the end of the day I asked him if he felt he could go out in the world today, and he said “depending on how crowded it will be.”

This morning he woke up recharged and willing to be out in the world. So even though it is over 90 degrees and super humid where we are staying in NJ, we decided to venture out to an animatronic dinosaur exhibit about an hour away. 

The car ride was great – no panic even when we were stopped in some traffic. The first couple hours we were there were great – he was happy, engaged and interacting with the rest of us. After lunch we wandered into a scheduled educational talk and were lucky enough to be the only ones attending. 

Both of my kids were super involved in conversation with the educator. My son’s “little professor” tendencies were in full force – dinosaurs were an early and avid obsession so he was able to ask complex questions and answer her questions with intricate detail. The educator giving the talk was clearly impressed. 

When we left there, the kids had a minor disagreement about where to go next. Combined with the heat, that disagreement was enough to “flip the coin”. He quickly became irritable, anxious and disengaged. As we were walking on the “dinosaur trail”, he walked far ahead of the rest of us and snapped in response to even basic questions. 

Had we stayed much longer, I don’t doubt he would have had either a panic attack or an angry outburst. Luckily we were pretty much done, so we were able to get out before that happened – meaning everybody (son, daughter, grandparents & us) will be able to preserve nothing but good memories from the outing. 

Today we were able to make it all work. He was out in the world, engaged and happy. But when the coin flipped and he was close to having a problem, we were able to get him out and head home. And the memory I will hold from the day is the look on the educator’s face when my son looked at an impression of a dinosaur skull and was able to correctly indentify which dinosaur it belonged to!