Thursday, April 3, 2014

My Little Mirror

For most of Jacob's life, people have remarked how he looks just like me.  I definitely see the resemblance, but I do think there is some Craig mixed in there, too.  Carter, incidentally, is just the opposite.  He looks a lot like Craig's baby pictures, at the very least, but if I'm lucky once in a while I will see a face that vaguely resembles something on my side.  One of these days I hope to do a post on the differences and similarities between the boys, but for today I'm putting myself on the spot instead.

Whenever one of the boys has come up against some sort of challenge, be it the food sensitivities or Jacob's respiratory issues early on or his behavioral issues now, as a parent it's hard not to wonder why.  What caused it? 

Is it genetic?  From whose side?  

Is it something I did while I was pregnant?  Did I eat too much of something or not enough of something else?  Did I spend too much time near electronic devices or did the jostle during my car accidents actually do something?  Was it too much stress, too much movement, or not enough vitamins?

Was it just a random freak-of-nature thing?  An unlucky mutation?

Did we make parenting mistakes?  Did we start early enough teaching proper behaviors?  Or did we start too early?  Should we have spanked?  Have we yelled too much?  Was there a better way to do this?  Should we have pushed for screening earlier when some of his behavior problems first started?

I think in most cases there just isn't a good answer.  If it is something we did, there's probably something else we could have done that would have created a different but equally challenging situation.  But in most cases it just is what it is.  Most likely it's just how the genes fell in, with possibly a little assistance from each side and a bit of bad luck thrown in.  And, of course, for every bad gene/bad luck scenario, there are so many others that turned out fine...so there's that.  Ultimately I know that there's no reason to play the blame game (unless we were having a third and wanted to do things differently), because this is the hand we were dealt and we just have to deal with it, no matter how we got here. 

Still, when I watch Jacob, in particular, there are moments where I see myself...and it isn't pretty.  I'll sit there thinking, "Why on earth is he doing that?" and then I'll think back to my own childhood or even look at myself now and go, "Oh.  Yeah.  That's why." 

For example, since his issues have gotten worse, he's had a terrible habit of sucking/chewing on his clothes.  He's done it to his winter coat for a couple years now, but his shirt is more of a recent thing.  Some days the neckband on his shirt is totally stretched out and water-stained.  It's gross.  As I was thinking to myself one day about why he does that, I remembered that when I was a kid I used to crew quite a bit on the drawstrings for my hood on at least one coat, and I also recall doing some damage to the vinyl seat trim in one of our cars.  Random, I know.  I have less of a memory of what age that was at, and no recollection about why I was doing it, but once I remembered those things, I guess I could relate a little more...even if it still drives me nuts that he does it.

I was on the phone with his teacher the other day because he'd come home saying that he got "red" on Friday (the lowest color on the behavior chart), which is usually accompanied by a note or call home.  We got neither, and he couldn't tell us why he'd ended up on red, so I emailed her Friday night to see what was up.  Incidentally, I don't think he was trying to be evasive when we asked.  I honestly think he just doesn't understand the consequences, or at least the direct correlation between the two.  He knows he's not supposed to be doing something, and I think that when he stops doing it once when he's asked, he thinks he did what he was supposed to.  But what I think he doesn't realize is that he does things over and over again, and each time he's expected to comply.  When he didn't consistently do what he was supposed to, he moved down.  I know we can't expect the teacher to constantly re-explain things to him, but it's hard when he doesn't seem to have the full picture in his head.  Sometimes he complains that he doesn't get a second chance before he gets moved down, but in reality his teacher definitely doesn't hold him to the same standard as the other kids.  She knows he's operating on a different set of parameters and tries to keep that in mind.  Some days he's done fantastically, and other days, not so much.  But what I think he doesn't realize is that she is giving him chances but that he's ignoring them--either he doesn't realize she's telling him something, or he blocks it out, or doesn't realize that not listening will involve a consequence.  By the time he understands, he's on his last chance and down he goes.  Of course, I'm not there to confirm this, but based on everything we've heard, that's what I'm gathering might be happening.

Anyway...she was going over how things had been more difficult recently, that his focus was terrible and his distracting behaviors were worse than usual.  It was pretty disheartening to hear, even though the issues in general are no surprise at this point.  But as I sat there trying to understand why he can't just pay attention even when they do everything they can to remove distractions, I realized that I myself was absentmindedly clicking between Facebook and my email as I sat at my desk with plenty of work to do.  I've noticed that a lot more in the past couple years, that I am very easily distracted.  I know there is such a thing as adult-onset ADD, but more likely I'm just a product sleep deprivation and of the short-attention-span, bits-of-media era we're in right now.  Even still, it gave me food for thought.

Watching Jacob do his school work also reminds me a little of me.  I always did very well in school, but I didn't really love school (at least not past a certain point) and as I got older I had a hard time deciding what I wanted to do with my life.  Even though I was good at math, I didn't really like it.  Same with science.  I finally fell in love with languages in high school, but once that got to a point where it wasn't fun anymore, I was back to square one.  I ended up defaulting to the one thing that truly interested me, which was sports.  Fortunately that worked out for me.  Jacob is really good at math, and it amazes me to watch him do it.  But I know he's not really into it.  He'd rather play sports, or with Legos or Playmobil, or draw.  He loves to draw and does the most creative stuff.  I see in him that he will give up on something when it gets hard, and move on to something else.  Sounds familiar.  I also see that when he's really into something, he will pursue that passion wholeheartedly.  Again, sounds familiar.  He's obviously got some additional challenges facing him as he gets older and has to start focusing on a career, but at this point I'd really like him to get through Kindergarten first.  There are moments I worry that they'll want to keep him back because he's so unfocused and disruptive, but he's so smart that I think they know that's not an option. 

On a side note, we finally got to make a couple appointments with the behavioral specialist today.  All of the paperwork is in, so we make one appointment for the end of the month--two hours for all of us--and then another in May for just Craig and me.  I'm looking forward to working with people who specialize in this sort of stuff, and I'm hoping we can get some insight into how to help him embrace his strengths and work around the weaknesses.  I truly think he's a unique case, between his inconsistencies, attention issues, high intelligence, and slightly awkward but normal enough social interactions.

Anyway, as much as we know that a lot of Jacob's quirks follow right in line with Craig as a kid, it's apparent that the apple didn't fall too far on my side of the tree either.  Having kids can really make you stop and think about yourself as you see bits and pieces of yourself show up in your kids, for better or for worse.  You may not even see it at first, but when you put yourself in your child's shoes and think back to that same era in your own life, certain things come back to you...and can haunt you, too.  It's an experience, for sure, and it's one of the things that makes having biological children so fascinating.  The good news, I guess, is that if we survived ourselves, hopefully we have the experience to help him do the same.

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