August SBL

August is a super busy month around here but last weekend we crossed off TWO big items on our summer bucket list! Most importantly, Bailey turned THREE and we actually skipped the big birthday (this is a huge step in my life to simplify for sanity) and just had cake (another amazing from scratch and sculpted creation by my wife) at home with us, after a fun afternoon at a local (massive) Dinosaur Extreme Exhibit! There were bones, animatronics, full skeletons, interactives, and huge moving Dino’s. It was pretty damn cool and exactly what Bailey wanted to do for her birthday.

This next weekend, two more HUGE items are crossed off our list and we will be almost done with our summer bucket list for 2018!

Next up….a long weekend in DC with my big kid! And HAMILTON at the KENNEDY CENTER!

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July SBL recap!

Summer is charging along and somehow it is already August.  We have had a summer full of work and school, but we are still trying to have some fun!  The next two weekends are jammed pack with Bailey’s birthday this weekend, and then my trip to DC next weekend with Stout, with lots of work and a summer camp, and a house guest, in between.  To say our lives are busy is an understatement.  But, the small things that have made a huge difference? Having a highschooler mow our lawn this summer, and having our house cleaned once a month helps save my sanity and deals with our reality that we don’t have time for. We have also started a chore chart for Stout in order to earn a weekly allowance, and it gives him some responsibility in terms of his screen time and choices.  (He now pays a rate to play the XBox, after a MAJOR issue of charging over $400 in game upgrades and booster purchases in damn Fortnight and Star Wars.  Video games….they aren’t the games of our childhood.)

          • Weekly local ice cream or tropical snow family dates
          • family swimming
          • Visit Science City (local Science Museum)
          • Get Stout matched with a Big Brother for the Big Brother Big Sisters program
          • Sign-up for our local milk and dairy delivery service
          • Get Stout started in 3rd grade!
          • Have Bailey transition to the 3 year old room in her Montessori school
          • See Incredibles 2–Stout saw it at school, does that count? (since Stout saw Incredibles 2 with school, we saw Jurassic World and Mamma Mia 2 instead!
          • Mommy & Stout trip to DC!—NEXT WEEKEND!!!!!
          • See HAMILTON –try not to bawl or faint
          • Bailey’s first outdoor movie (at my work event)
          • Take stout to our local zoo’s summer camp (late July when summer session is over)
          • Participate in a Title 1 summer enrichment program at the big school
          • celebrate Bailey’s 3rd Birthday!—THIS WEEKEND!!!!!
          • Apple Technology Class
          • Finish our new screened-in porch–IN PROGRESS
          • Visit the national/touring Dinosaurs Revealed Exhibit
          • Backyard water balloon fight
          • Get Stout off the training wheels
          • Potty train Bailey
          • Complete summer reading list and reports by August 15–IN PROGRESS

June: SBL recap

It feels like we haven’t done much this summer, until I check off the list, which is another reason I do a list! We have been busy with work, school and mundane life, but we will continue to make memories and small moments when we can!

  • Weekly local ice cream or tropical snow family dates–IN PROGRESS
  • family swimming
  • Visit Science City (local Science Museum)
  • Get Stout matched with a Big Brother for the Big Brother Big Sisters program
  • Sign-up for our local milk and dairy delivery service
  • Get Stout started in 3rd grade!
  • Have Bailey transition to the 3 year old room in her Montessori school
  • See Incredibles 2–Stout saw it at school, does that count?
  • Mommy & Stout trip to DC!
  • See HAMILTON –try not to bawl or faint
  • Bailey’s first outdoor movie (at my work event)
  • Take stout to our local zoo’s summer camp (late July when summer session is over)
  • Participate in a Title 1 summer enrichment program at the big school
  • celebrate Bailey’s 3rd Birthday!
  • Visit National WWI Museum
  • Finish our new screened-in porch–IN PROGRESS
  • Visit the national/touring Dinosaurs Revealed Exhibit
  • Backyard water balloon fight
  • Get Stout off the training wheels
  • Potty train Bailey
  • Complete summer reading list and reports by August 15–IN PROGRESS

Summer Bucket List

In my other blog world, I do an annual summer bucket list with some blogland friends to keep the summer real and trackable. This is the post from my main blog, which I have pretty abandoned since I started this one. 🙂

Every summer I try to make a list of things to do with my family in order to truly LIVE SUMMER.  With our work and school schedules, we don’t have a lot of free time to have unscheduled days, late nights or long weekends.  I try to have goals, and we will see how many get accomplished before Labor Day!

  • Weekly local ice cream or tropical snow family dates
  • family swimming
  • Visit Science City (local Science Museum)
  • Get Alphabet Kid matched with a Big Brother for the Big Brother Big Sisters program
  • Sign-up for our local milk and dairy delivery service
  • Get Alphabet Kid started in 3rd grade!
  • Have little sis transition to the 3 year old room in her Montessori school
  • See Incredibles 2
  • Mommy & Alphabet Kid trip to DC!
  • See HAMILTON –try not to bawl or faint
  • Little Sis’ first outdoor movie (at my work event)
  • Take Alphabet Kid to our local zoo’s summer camp (late July when summer session is over)
  • Participate in a Title 1 summer enrichment program at the big school
  • celebrate Little Sis’ 3rd Birthday!
  • Visit National WWI Museum
  • Finish our new screened-in porch
  • Visit the national/touring Dinosaurs Revealed Exhibit
  • Backyard water balloon fight
  • Get Alphabet Kid off the training wheels
  • Potty train Little Sis
  • Complete summer reading list and reports by August 15

Summer start-up and over

How has it almost been 2 months since my last post? Time flies when the shit hits the fan.

Since my last post, the big kid has received a total IEP reboot, got a med increase for both his ADHD meds and his bipolar antipsychotic, finished 2nd grade, gained about 6 more pounds, won the Principal’s Perseverance Award (yes, I cried) and has already started 3rd grade!

Yes, our school is year-round.

He completed 2nd grade last Wednesday and started 3rd grade today. For a kid who needs routine, parents who can’t afford an entire summer of expensive camps while we work (2 week-long camps at the end of summer when he has a break before the fall session cost $550. For 2 weeks) and let’s face it, we all do better with structure, year-round school is a complete blessing. Our school is so fantastic because summer is like a public school, Parks & Rec camp and French-speaking Au Pair all rolled into one! He gets daily French immersion while going swimming weekly, golfing, learning to ice skate (in 90′ temps!), learning to play basketball with some college players and a junior achievement course in finance and business. What?! I’m jealous of my kid and the opportunities he gets but I am constantly thankful for the gift of winning the school lottery. Literally. For both kids. Even though there are days he still wants to go to a English school, it is just too good of an environment and education to throw away. His IEP for 3rd grade is so generous that I doubt most regular public schools would cater to his quirks. He gets TWO desks to choose from in the back of the class–one seated for when he is calm and focused and one standing desk for when he needs to move and groove. He also gets personalized daily journals, 2x a week social intervention/skills and a team who adores him.

I am so thankful for this community that I’m being courted into serving on the PSTO. And I have started a Parent Support Group for SPED kids. If I can’t afford their expensive tickets to the annual fundraiser, or give a monthly donation for their annual giving drive, I can donate my talents and skills. And if I’m anything, I’m driven and passionate and a good advocate for the things I believe in, including our school and our small SPED department.

Between all of this, and my demanding and oh-how-I-wish-I-only-had 40 hr weeks job, I somehow managed to balance our family while my wife had a semi-nervous breakdown in April/May. Yep. It was bad. I was afraid she was going to leave. Or harm herself. Or push me to the point of no return. We came close but I’m a fighter, loyal and stubborn. She got help in an intensive outpatient program at a local hospital and yes, in 2018, my wife was in an outpatient mental health program and my young son was in an inpatient mental health program. WTAF. How does that happen? How does one survive? How do people go forward? I’ll tell you how….one foot in front of the other, processing and talking, and dealing with all of it head on. That is the only way I know how to cope and survive. She also went on medical leave, then quit her job, then found another job, and oh my god, what a rollercoaster the last 6 weeks have been. Through all of this, I’ve only missed 3 days of work this entire year (although I wanted to bury myself under my blanket and sleep for days) that were unplanned. I’m honestly glad I have a job where I can’t call in sick easily, play hookie or make up an excuse of why I’m late or leaving early.

Oh yeah, and my uncle died two weeks ago and I spent an entire day (my regular day off) with my mom at the ER. I missed 1 day of work for his funeral and the City Clerk filled in for me at work because that’s what happens when you are a staff of one. It’s a blessing, and a curse. I’m tired. But I’m good at my job and even though I don’t make nearly what I’m worth or deserve because oh, the plight of the non-profit world, I’m the “breadwinner” of the family. I don’t have a choice and oddly enough, I love going to work. It has been my saving grace and quiet space when everything else was chaotic and exploding.

So, that is where I have been since the end of April. Our plate of alphabet soup was overflowing but I’m taking a giant bite out of it on a daily basis and we are finding a new normal. Where I work, the sassy toddler continues to get smarter (and taller) at her Montessori school, the big kid has good days and bad days and my wife is working hard to manage her demons. We nearly drowned, but now we are floating into summer!

Therapy and IEPs

Our lives the last 2 months have been a complete roller coaster.  Most days, I am not sure which of my son’s personalities I will wake up, how my wife will cope with the day, and hope that I can manage my own shit.  Someone on a previous post asked about couple’s therapy and I didn’t want to forget addressing that because believe me, we have so much stuff to wade through to become healthy, as individuals, parents, couple and kids. Here is our typical week:

Monday morning: my own therapy (I work Tuesday-Saturdays)

Tuesday evening: the wife’s individual therapy

Wednesday: the family therapist, which can be any combination of a couples session, a kid session, a parenting session or an attachment session for the wife and big kid.  The practice we are going to does a whole-istic approach of dealing with each entity and each combination.

So.much.therapy.  So.many.copays.

I have hope but I know that life never gives you any guarantees, despite how hard one tries  So, we go to therapy to work on it all because we are worth it.  I was talking to a friend the other day about marriage, broken marriages and parenting.  All of it is hard.  My wife and I love each other greatly and are best friends, but we parent every differently.  That is the biggest point of strife in our lives.  She thinks I give in too easily and I think she is too hard.  We were raised differently and thus come at parenting from every different, and often times debilitating perspectives.  We fell in love with each other so we have to figure out stuff out because we won’t always be in the throws of parenting and we both want to make it to the other side.  Love is hard, parenting is harder.

Parenting a kid with serious mental health issues is a f’ing mountain.  He can do or say anything to me and my heart and soul loves him unconditionally. Biology, whether you believe it or not, is powerful. I am often loyal to a fault but you can bet on a Vegas chip that I will be loyal to my son until my last breath. It may kill me, or isolate me, but it is my truth.  He didn’t ask to be born with certain genetics, or a complicated and near-death prenatal experience.  The moment I saw my ex write down “prenatal exposure to opioids and controlled substances” my heart dropped.  I felt like a total failure, even though those drugs saved both of our lives when  I was 8 weeks pregnant and my ovary and right tube nearly ruptured. The critical time when the brain is starting to form and chemical imbalances can be proven to jolt neuro-atypical development.  Yes, the Catholic guilt is real when I think I had ONE job to do after 18 long months of medical torture to get pregnant, and my body rejected the process and put my baby in jeopardy.  Me, who has never even smoked a cigarette basically had on medical documents and psychological evaluations, a drug-baby.

Yeah, I have stuff to work through.

I also prayed (and I don’t typically pray) that my baby would not be born with autism because I have a cousin who is low-functioning, non-verbal and I know genetics come into play.  I prayed away autism and the universe said, hold my beer—we will give you bipolar, ADHD, OCD, DMDD and ODD instead. This is the first time I have admitted that and that guilt will plague my soul until I’m dead.  Guilt is rarely rational.

Life is funny like that, isn’t it.

When you hold your baby for the first time, you never think of IEPs and learning struggles.  I was a strong student, lettered in Academics, Honor Roll, AP classes, etc and just assumed my offspring would love school, read early and find ease with academics.  Wrong.  My kiddo is in 2nd grade and we are working on IEP number 2 because he is so complicated.  He originally qualified due to a reading disability that was tied into his ADHD and inability to focus long enough to read and sound out the letters, and now we are entering the realm of “other health impairment” (the legal terms for big stuff) for his bipolar diagnosis because there are so many behavioral and emotional factions that come into play as well. Alphabet Kid is being reevaluated this next month to create the new IEP plan and recommendations for 3rd grade.  Due to his “other health impairment,” he will qualify for an IEP until he graduates because SPED laws are pretty concrete and strive to provide protection for the students who qualify.

Many in the public school system find themselves at a fight and we are so lucky to have an amazing team who loves our kid.  The SPED director checks in on his regularly and his SPED instructors are so invested, they even give recommendations to admin for what teacher will best work with his needs.  And, at the last meeting, they asked which specific students work well with AK to allow him to make good choices and feel supported.  We are so damn lucky.

So, May 16 we have our final IEP meeting of the year to finalize the new documents after their upcoming testing and evaluations. Between now and then, we have a lot of therapy, he just had his monthly Psychiatrist appointment, multiple prescriptions to manage and refill and as always, we will take it all day by day.

Blended families.

Blended families are such an interesting concept.  When you blend something, you take two separate ingredients and mix them together, hoping for a smooth consistency.  Sometimes it makes the perfect batter and you can’t distinguish one ingredient from another.  But, sometimes the elements fight against each other no matter how much you shake, stir, love and hope. My oil and water will always bubble and separate no matter how hard I try to stir.

Some days, rare joyous days, my family feels like the perfect blend.  Most days though, we feel like a heavy level of separation and a congealed mess.  As often as I have tried to be the stir-stick, I always stick to my boy.  He is apart of me and it is my duty to love him unconditionally, despite his revolts and behavior.  Unconditional love can be toxic because despite the number of times I am yelled at, physically and verbally abused, I gravitate to him–a soul that was created from mine.  On the flip side, I didn’t create our daughter, but I still feel a natural pull.  It isn’t an intense or innate, but it is there.  The fact is, is that I was present during the creation, birth and raising of both of these beings, created out of love in two different unions where I was the only common denominator.  Reality is that Alphabet Kid has two legal guardians who love him plus a bonus mom who does love him, but doesn’t always understand him or face him with empathy.  Its a mixed bag.  And this dynamic has created a natural division within my family of me and AK, and my wife and Little Sister.  We can often be found in our house within these divisions, whether it is playing, baths, reading books, etc.  I am the primary parent to AK and she is the primary parent to LS.  Maybe it is because AK is such a hard kid.  Maybe it has something to do with biology.  Maybe it is just the way the days unfolds.  I have tried to self-correct the division but we tend to fall back on this line.  Every night that AK is home, I put him to bed, I make his lunch, I wash his uniforms and I know what he needs.  I go over his homework, his schedule, his routine.  I attend doctors appts, school meetings, coordinate everything from activities, medication, etc.  He has 3 moms, but 1 primary care giver.  Me.

When your family of 4 is automatically created on divisions, it is hard to remix the dynamics.  But we are trying.  I honestly feel like I am trying a lot harder than my wife, but she is trying and I need to give her credit.  She is one to suffer her own mental health struggles, but isn’t the best patient.  As much as I try to be proactive and utilize every resource, she would rather self-medicate or dig herself a bigger hole.   We are both good at blaming the other though, so I am trying to focus on my own faults and work at controlling the matters that I can actually control, myself.

She put it perfectly within the last week: we are better together when we don’t have to parent AK.  As much as it was a tough pill to swallow because she is talking about the child I created, she is right.  We have less tension, less struggle, less fights and more connection and more sanity.  Even when it is just my wife, Little Sis and me, our house runs far more smoothly, quietly and less toxic.  That IS a hard pill to swallow because I would do anything and everything for AK, but he does make life hard.  He makes my marriage hard.  He makes our household hard.  He pushes my own mental health closer to the cliff.  But he is mine, good and bad.  THAT is unconditional love.

About a month ago, we started family therapy at a group who focuses on the unit, as well as the individuals.  Its a wholistic approach where each session is different.  The first two sessions, it was basically a lengthy intake of WHY were we there.  Most families take one 90 minute session, but of course our complicated family took TWO 90 min sessions to just explain. Explain our history, our problems, our strengths, our struggles, explain our individual mental health struggles and the traumatic experience a couple months ago that led to an inpatient mental health facility for an 8 year old.  No matter how the ball bounces, it bounces toward the shear fact that we are complicated.  The 3rd session was just myself and AK.  The fourth session was just my wife and AK.  Next week, it will be the 3 of us and Little Sis will have a sitter. It will take time but I am hopeful.

One thing I have also noticed is that our marriage hinges on her mood.  When she is stressed, overwhelmed, or even PMS’ing, we are close to divorce.  It is a mind-f for me because one day we can great and two days later, she tells me to call my lawyer.  WHAT? Yes, that has happened.  Then we make-up, literally and physically, and I start to wait for the next ball bounce.  It is exhausting.  We are broken.  We are hurt.  We struggle.  But, we love each other greatly.  We are oddly better as a unit than we are as individuals because we grow together.  We are best friends and I want nothing more than to share a meal, a drink and a tv show with my her, my home.  The fact is, we parent every differently.  We have very different upbringings, which have molded our own approaches toward life.  We have different mental health struggles, and different priorities.  It is a lot to figure out while parenting.  We didn’t get the time before kids to grow up together and figure it out.  We are doing it in the middle of our own chaos.  I honestly have no idea what our next 5 years look like, but we both want to try and figure our shit out.  I hope family therapy can help, and we both see our own therapists.  So.much.therapy.  So damn expensive, but so worth it.

In true to my life, the song ‘Gravity’ just came on.  We are so torn, but our beings gravitate towards each other.  She is my soul-mate and we both want to protect the other, when ironically, we are often the biggest sources of pain for the other.  Why is it that often the most talented and creative souls face the most struggle and angst? I wish life were easy, but it isn’t.  So, we keep working and I just have to hope we can breathe on the other side.