Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Good Stuff

For as many epic battles and utterly frustrating moments as Jacob and I have on a regular basis, lately we have managed to have some pretty nice interactions.  For a long time it felt like we didn't connect AT ALL.  I couldn't even touch him without him pulling away, let alone sneak a hug.  As a mom, having zero physical contact with your not-yet-grown child is hard.  I think it's a natural, primal mom instinct to want to be close to your child, and when that no longer happens it is frustrating and sad.  And for so long, that's just how it was.

Over the past few months in particular, though, I have noticed a shift. I don't know if it coincides with him starting his medication, but that could be part of it.  Of course, that also brought about the era of our evenings from hell when the medicine wears off, so it's not all smiles and rainbows.  Without a doubt, the medicine has definitely made a difference at school.  Not only is his teacher much happier with the student he's become, but his work is better and he actually says he LIKES school now.  That has almost never been the case.  Ironically, I think third grade was when I started liking school a bit less because it became more demanding, but I think he's smart enough that he appreciates the challenge now that he can focus enough to face it.  He also likes his teacher now that she's not yelling at him all the time.  It's made a huge difference.

But at home we've faced even bigger challenges than before as he is nearly out of control when the medicine wears off.  He is impulsive, rude, angry, and a constant thorn in his brother's side--and Carter definitely returns the favor, which repeatedly restarts the cycle.  It makes for a long night, every night.  Still, some nights are worse than others and it's hard to pinpoint why.  It is because he held it together all day at school and needs a release?  Is it something he ate?  Is he overtired?  Is it too much screen time?  Just a bad mood?  Is Carter worse than usual?  We simply don't know.  It does seem like Carter impacts the vast majority of the worst of it, and we're still working through that with the therapist, particularly now that she's (finally) come to her own conclusion that Carter seems to be key to the behaviors we're dealing with at home.  One-on-one, without Carter in the mix, lately I've noticed a much more mature Jacob emerging from behind the wall he'd built up.  Not all the time, by any means (hello, potty talk), but there are moments, no doubt.

So...while these moments are happening, I wanted to take a moment to immortalize them here, just in case I need a refresher some day of things we have been able to bond over. 

1) When we're collaborating on a cake design--be it the one we did last weekend or whatever we do for his birthday--he really gets into it and I love his enthusiasm.  Giving him full ownership over the cake last weekend was a lot of fun because he took such pride in it.  He gets so into the project and you can see his creativity come out in full force.  And since I'm the one with the skills to pull off his ideas, he is willing to work with me.

2) Similarly, whenever I make him some special food or buy him something new or that he loves but rarely gets, I sometimes even get a spontaneous hug.  If it's homemade cinnamon rolls or cookies or some other form of treat, or it's taking him for pizza and cookies (and maybe even donuts) at his favorite place, or if I get the gluten-free half moon cookies from Wegmans, usually I get some sort of positive response and at least a few minutes of happy, respectful treatment.  Then they sort of feel like a bribe, but I know how much it means to him in the moment so I do it anyway.  

3) A while back when we got our elliptical, once in a while Jacob would come downstairs with me when I was on it.  He would play Legos but then he'd start watching my usual choice of TV, which is almost always HGTV.  I used to watch it all the time years ago, but I got out of the habit (probably so I didn't get too fixated on a perfect house).  But when I go down to work out, it's the one channel that almost always has something I will watch.  And for some reason, Jacob got really into those shows.  In fact, the other day he was asking to watch a house show with me.  Funny kid.

4) Jacob's hair is pretty stubborn.  He's got a pretty major cowlick and his hair is pretty thick.  As a result, when he sleeps on it funny, it can end up all over the place.  He's at the stage where he wants it to look good but can't always figure out how to do that, and somewhere along the way, he started letting me do it.  So on days where it looks pretty rough, he will gladly walk with me to the bathroom, let me wet it down, and then style the front a bit so it looks a little spiky.  We really need to use gel a little more often so it stays that way, but it looks good when he leaves the house.  He's always so proud of it when it looks good, which makes me smile.

5) If you recall, last year Jacob wanted to give me my own lacrosse stick for my birthday.  He wanted us to be able to play lacrosse together outside.  And admittedly, we did have fun throwing the ball around last fall, and at that time those were some of the few moments we got along at all.  Hopefully I'll get more use out of it this summer!

6) Ever since Jacob was a very little boy, sporting events have sort of been his happy place.  Even as an otherwise squirmy toddler, he would sit at games completely quiet and transfixed.  Though it might seem like a lot of work to take a toddler to a sporting event (and people were often surprised I did), in reality it was actually a lot less work to go to the game and have him sit there like an angel as compared to staying home and chasing him around the house.  Carter did not inherit that same skill, however, so games now get a little more challenging than I'd like.  But while Carter is squirming and snacking and asking to walk, Jacob and I still get in some pretty good, almost normal conversations during the games.  He's usually in a great mood after spending the day with Craig and with his ball boy buddies, and I often get the benefit of a happy kid who has a lot of stuff to tell me about his day.  It's such a nice change of pace.

7) Similarly, when we're in the car alone--mostly when I have to pick him up for a doctor's appointment, or the rare other case where I pick him up from school before his brother--we are able to have some great conversations.  They usually end once Carter is in the car, since Jacob's attention is immediately turned to picking on his brother in some form, but the quiet, pleasant conversation beforehand is so nice.  He might tell me about his day, or his next big idea, or we'll get on some conversation about some issue that I attempt to explain in detail to him.  I'm not sure many of those details sink in, but it's nice to attempt it without a million interruptions.

8) I mentioned in the point above about his big ideas.  I usually simultaneously smile and shake my head when Jacob's brain starts churning out big plans about one thing or another.  His passion is inspiring, albeit often misguided, but when he's really trying to sell me on something, it's amazing to see how serious and mature he can be.  It's unfortunate that I sometimes have to bring him down to earth--not because I want to squash his dreams, but because when he really gets going it would be setting him up for major disappointment and failure to let it continue and not gently redirect him.  For example, he got really passionate about a lacrosse-based version of Monopoly he was working on, and although he did wonderful with it, he had all of these big plans and payoffs from the Monopoly people in his head.  I couldn't really let that one go unchecked, you know? 

9) Another thing that goes hand-in-hand with this is his Minecraft.  If you recall, I let him start playing it last year right after his surgery since I knew he might be a little bored.  While he's not as into it as he once was, he has amazed me with his ideas and his engineering within the game.  And when he's bouncing ideas off me or showing me his masterpieces, I love seeing his excitement and pride. 

10) This week we started something new at night.  I try to spend a few minutes reading with Jacob before bed.  But unlike when he had a school reading log, it's not him reading--it's me!  I know Jacob reads at school, so I suppose it's probably one of the last things he wants to do at home in the evening.  But I still want to encourage him to like reading, and I think that if we can move up to a slightly higher reading level, he might be more interested in it.  And if I can take the "work" out of it and help him realize there's good reading material out there (in his own bookshelf, no less), I hope it will lead to more interest in reading.  But it's nice to get back to snuggling him (sort of) at bedtime and get some one-on-one time...and see him get a little excited about a book!

11) He is almost always wearing some sort of track pants and a t-shirt.  But lately he's going through a dress-up phase like he did was he was almost five and we bought him a shirt, tie, vest, and pants for Easter and his graduation.  Now he wants a suit.  I don't know what he thinks he's going to do with it, but he's been wanting it for a while.  He also usually jumps at the chance to put on the shirt and pants (All Under Armour) that he wears to church.  While I don't savor the idea of buying him dress clothes, I do appreciate the mature version of him that talks to me when we're discussing it.  He wants to be responsible and all grown up, and anything that brings out that side is a good thing.

12) While it doesn't happen often, Jacob does have moments where he seems like he's trying to be a good big brother.  I think his superiority complex plays into that, and when he can show that he's "older and wiser", he tries to do that.  He'll give Carter advice or try to show him how to do something.  Usually anything with physical contact doesn't turn out well, and the advice often falls on deaf ears.  But at least he tries.  And what cracks me up most is when he repeats verbatim some advice I bestowed on him previously.  For example, when he's refuting something we're trying to tell him, we'll remind him that we have 30+ years of life experience on him, so doesn't that probably mean we've had a lot more experiences than him, and might actually know more?  Well, the other day, merely hours after I said that to him yet again, he was telling that same thing to Carter when he didn't want to listen to me.  It made me laugh to hear him trying to say that when he does the same thing to me, but the good news is that he's apparently listening and maybe some of these things are starting to sink in!

We definitely don't get as many of these moments as I would like, but it's evident to me just by writing this list that we have come a long way in just a few months.  So many of these things weren't happening at all a year ago, and now we usually have at least one of these moments on a daily basis.  We still have a long way to go, but it's nice to know that we finally have something to build on.

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