Gators in a close one

I’m used to UF winning football games, but not by three points, and definitely not with less than 15 seconds left on the clock.

I needed that like I need elective oral surgery.

Why do we do this to ourselves? I tell people I’m not the biggest sports fan, that my life doesn’t wax and wane on the outcome of a game. I prefer to think of it as a half-truth rather than half-lie. Come to think of it, I can’t recall the last time someone said “half-lie.” Why is that? Don’t tell me everyone else is as delusional as I am. In either case, it used to be easy to read my tell – or hear it (down the street). It’s one of the first behaviors Cheryl modified after we got married.

There’s no more shouting, unintentional spitting, or veins popping out of foreheads in the Kauffman household. No sir!

Now I’m more subtle: fist clenching, teeth gnashing, back going rigid, head thrown back – kind of like I’m having a seizure.

I suppose in a way it was good. Make that two ways: the Gators did win. Plus, it was nice to get the ‘ole ticker running again. Or was that sprinting?

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Back to me

Back to you? I wasn’t aware you ever left the subject?

There are people in my life, people I love dearly, who’ve been dealing with issues that don’t revolve around me, and it felt wrong to hold the usual self-hate-fest during their time of loss and sorrow.

So I’ve been holding out on the rest of you.

I’ve been tinkering with a post on depression – what it ultimately means to me – but I’m not happy with it yet. I’ll share it with you soon.

In the mean time I thought I’d give you a little status update.

Single father week ends today. Cheryl and Beth are flying back in from New Hampshire this evening, and I can’t wait to see them. Although they’ve been gone, and a piece of my heart went with them, this last week has been kind of special. This week I got to focus my attention on Adam, and all things considered, we’ve had a great week.

We haven’t done anything special. I didn’t try to buy his affection with regular trips to McDonald’s. We just hung out. When it was time to do chores, he jumped in without asking wanting to help. When spare moments appeared we took advantage with spontaneous acts of fun. Slipper toss was an unexpected blast.

My goal in life is to be this kind of father all the time – to be the kind of father who finds love and joy in the little moments of life. Depression knocks me off the rails at times, but I think this week came at just the right time. I didn’t have to divide my time. Adam got a full dose of his crazy daddy and we were both better for it.

Another piece of encouraging news: my weight seems to have leveled off the last few weeks. For the first time since October my weight plot looks like a flat line rather than a winter olympics event. Wether it’s been the medication, circumstances, or working hard to focus on the important things in my life, my appetite has slowly returned. The unintended weight loss is holding at 50 pounds. Although I wasn’t trying, it’ll probably be good for me in the long run… if I don’t put it right back on.


State of the Kauffmans

The obvious place to start is Cheryl, the recently cut open.

The doctor said she’d have a rough weekend and she did. Hoo-ray for the wisdom granted those who study modern medicine!

It’s supposed to start getting better this week, so maybe we’re almost in the clear. It seems like the end is near. I mean that in a good way, but with every bit of sarcasm mixed in you can muster. In fact, it wouldn’t hurt to check with your neighbors and see if they have any you can borrow.

I’m just naturally moody. You must know that by now. I’m also growing more fond of italics.

Now comes the hard part. Beth has some problems. She’s had a lot of them, and she’s been having them for a long time.

I’ve talked about our kids before. How many people with kids and a blog haven’t? I’ve discussed some of what follows (eventually – meet the amazing master of burying the lede!) before, but I’ve tried to be vague. I’ve slipped up here and there, but I’ve tried. When I haven’t been vague, I’ve been talking to her first – talking about what each post means to me, and how they make her feel. I’m all too aware that words can hurt or embarrass. I thought about writing this post a week ago, so we sat down last week and had a talk. We had another one tonight. Writing by itself can be therapeutic, but something inside felt wrong starting this one, even if it never saw the light of day (or screen), without a pinch of consent. She may be young, and she may have her share of problems, but she can be pretty smart.

So we talked. This post comes from that talk.

Beth has been in some kind of therapy almost as long as she’s been in school; but the “almost” only works in this sentence if you include pre-k. At various points in her life she’s been diagnosed with sensory integration disorder, attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder. (And those are just the psychological ones.) It’s been grand, this pediatric tour of the DSM, but it hasn’t helped much. So far it’s only succeeded in providing labels. It’s led us to play therapy, occupational therapy, behavioral therapy (never been much of a Skinner fan myself), and counseling. Lots of counseling. We didn’t see any benefits, so going against my fears, we tried medication. Lots of different medications. Most had no effect. Some made a small difference. A couple produced psychological states that scared the crap out of us (they quickly disappeared in a watery grave).

At times folks made us feel guilty. Some media personalities suggested kids are being coddled too much. Supposedly the real problem is they’re not getting enough tough love. Others suggested Beth isn’t that different from other kids. “Aren’t you over-reacting?” Or, “Beth is just gifted. Lots of gifted kids are a little different from other kids.” Testing seemed to bear some of this out. She scored very high on IQ tests (although I’m a bit skeptical of IQ tests in general).

Yet her emotional development lagged. Teachers noticed she wasn’t making friends. Again, that’s not uncommon for gifted children (so everyone says), but they also told us other parents were asking if their kids could sit somewhere else – away from Beth. Some of of the parents apparently weren’t asking. Then there were behaviors we couldn’t ignore: physically harmful behaviors (not to others or serious, but to herself and enough to be concerned).

Over the years my heart broke with every social slight, with every treatment, and with every pill. They were partly my fault, my mother’s family legacy – my genes.

I can’t help but think it all led to more taunting, more bullying – a vicious circle. I know there are no excuses for kids who pick on other kids. But let’s face it – they do, and we understand some of the reasons why – even if we don’t condone the outcome. Again, my genes… partly my fault.

I can’t help but think back to some of those counselors who said Beth was just acting up, challenging our authority. I think about the years of frustrated attempts at behavior modification, about exhausting my limited capacity for creativity thinking up reinforcements, losing my temper, and resorting to punishments (fuck you Skinner). I can blame the counselors, but I can only bring myself to blame them so much. Again, partly my fault.

Some of you have pointed to those big smiles, telling me I get a little credit for those too. I know it’s not all bad, but things have seemed so much worse lately, and I can’t blame it on the stress of Cheryl’s accident. It started long before.

This fall, middle school started out horribly. I don’t know what I said at the time, but if I said it was anything but shaky, I was either high on headache meds, manic, or lying. We might have reacted a bit rashly, but we switched schools a month or so before the accident. It seemed like she wasn’t ready emotionally (or mature enough) for a bigger school, so we figured a well regarded (and smaller) charter school might be the right kind of change. Some things got better, but others got worse.

The staff at both schools worked with us, and Beth’s grades couldn’t be any better, so it’s hard for me to blame the schools. But things are getting bad. Academics are only part of what we learn in school, and Beth’s self esteem is taking a beating. Schools can try to teach acceptance, and punish kids who bully, but they can’t force kids to understand, let alone be friendly. I can see her self esteem and confidence leaching away this year at an alarming rate, and being supportive at home hasn’t been enough. Even Tae Kwon Do has taken a turn for the worse. Instructors are neglecting her. None of the other kids want to pair up with her for drills – some actively protesting. I blame some of this on the school. It may be unconscious – something they’d be more than happy to address if I brought it up, but I think it speaks to their overall approach and philosophy. It doesn’t speak well. One more disappointment.

A couple weeks ago we got another diagnosis. It’s not new, but I’ve been skeptical. Can you blame me? Her last psychiatrist came to this conclusion after two years of visits, and diagnosis by trial and error. That was a year ago. Now we have a second opinion from a psychiatrist who came highly recommended by several independent sources. It’s the same opinion, and I can’t ignore it anymore.

Asperger’s Syndrome.

There’s a part of me that’s relieved by this one. There are some people who see this as something of a gift, rather than curse.

There’s another part of me that’s crushed by the words “autism spectrum.” They are just words, but to a parent they’re almost as scary as cancer – although they may be as meaningful. Many cancers are little more than an inconvenience. In Beth’s case, Asperger’s could be the same – a bump in the road growing up – an inconvenience rather than barricade to long term happiness.

Yet another part of me is horrified many recommend behavioral therapy.

After already switching schools once this year, her psychiatrist is recommending a private school. It specializes in children with particularly bad ADD/ADHD, but they’ve also had a lot of success with Asperger’s kids. The stigma of a “special school” scares the crap out of me. The lower expectations depress me. Part of me wonders if this is nothing but a would-be band-aid, putting off the day when Beth will be forced to deal with the world as it is, not the world as we would like it. But you know what? If she finds someplace that accepts her, that nurtures and grows her self esteem as her emotional development catches up, I wonder if a little bit of stigma won’t be easier to overcome. I wonder if she gets plenty of the world as it is when she’s not in school. If ostracism, self-loathing, and depression are the alternatives, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Maybe what she really needs is acceptance from someone other than family. Maybe all she needs is someplace where she can find a true friend.

I go to church almost every week, but I don’t pray very often. Not really. When I do, it’s often for one thing: that I won’t screw up too badly where my kids are concerned. While I believe God exists, I’m not expecting his call. So what do you* think? Does it sound like I’m screwing up?

*I reserve the right to interpret no reply as a good reply.