* Close call

I almost forgot! I had a Hercules story for you today. But since I rarely blog on weekends, I nearly forgot to share it. It goes like this:

I went to Herc’s school on Friday afternoon to pick him up for his appointment with his counselor. I signed him out in the office, and as I was leaving Mr. Z offered to walk with me. In the hallway, he informed that he had done Hercules a favor. He confiscated some fireworks from him and did not tell the principal. But he wanted me to know about it.

I thanked him profusely. Mr. Z must really love Hercules, because he almost certainly would have at least been suspended for bringing fireworks to school. And scheming with his friends (everyone’s your friend when you’re the boy with the fireworks) as to how they could set them off during recess. Christ almighty. At least he didn’t have any matches with him, too. Luckily, forethought is not one of Hercules’ strengths.

Thank you, Mr. Z. I know who Herc’s real friend is!

Btw, those fireworks were some that Hercules and the neighborhood kids fished out of someone’s trash. I had thought that he had turned them all over to me, but obviously I was mistaken. For this offense, I didn’t think taking away his computer and TV privileges was sufficient, so I took away his bicycle for the weekend, too. I hated to do it. But damn, fireworks! At school!

The weekend is over, now, and he gets his privileges back. First thing after school, he’s on his bike. Now I only have to worry about him getting crushed by speeding vehicles, or disappearing out of sight in our thug-ridden neighborhood. Thank goodness everything’s back to normal.

* Looking in

Abandoned building 2

Not much to say right now. Tomorrow is the big day - Herc's psych evaluation with Dr. Y. Everyone tells me she's the best. I'm not nervous so much as anxious to get it over with. I just want answers.

* New music and other ramblings

I’ve been meaning to post for days but I got hit with the flu on Monday and I’m just beginning to feel human again. Still cruddy, but not so cruddy that I can’t type.

Hercules has had some great days at school since Friday, which is spectacular. But of course it triggers those doubts in my mind: Am I jumping the gun on this medication stuff? Am I taking the easy way out at his expense?

But then his teacher sent some homework home. This is the beginning of a weekly assignment for his class in which she sends a short book home and he is expected to read it and then answer some short, simple questions about what he read. It’s great practice and I think it’s good for Hercules. We worked on it this morning, because he is supposed to spend this evening with The Diva and I’ve been too sick to help him. It’s due tomorrow.

Anyway, getting Hercules to complete his homework was exasperating. Since I didn’t have to be at work today, we had plenty of time and there was no hurry (he wakes up at 6 am). But he still struggles with reading more than he should, it seems to me. I have to constantly remind him to slow down and look at the letters and make those sounds, because he will guess at a word and his guess doesn’t remotely resemble the actual word, even simple words that sound exactly the way they are spelled (which is somewhat rare in the English language). When I ask him to try again, he gets extremely agitated and wants to give up.

Writing is only slightly better. Mostly he’s just careless and sloppy, and I know this is normal for a lot of boys his age, but it still frustrates me, especially when I’m right next to him, coaching him, and he ignores me.

Maybe I’m too pushy, I don’t know. I know that reading and writing came easy to me. I don’t remember learning to read, I just remember doing it and once I started I never stopped. I do give Hercules lots of encouragement and praise as he reads, but I also make sure I correct him if he misreads a word.

Sometimes I wonder if he may be a little dyslexic, too. He can’t seem to distinguish his b’s and d’s, and he often reverses the spelling of simple words like “it.” It’s too soon to tell, yet. I figure we’ll see how things work out once we’ve figured out his diagnosis and treatment, and then if this reading problem persists we can look into it more. But I suspect that if he were just able to slow down and focus on the words on the paper he would do fine.

Now I think it’s time we featured some more songs from the Hercules Soundtrack. Here are some selections from Southern Culture on the Skids (SCOTS):

Camel Walk
Greenback Fly

FYI: Just so you know, we listen to a lot of music that isn’t exactly appropriate for all ages, so we have to be careful what Hercules has access to. SCOTS has several songs that are not kid-friendly, but we think these two (and a few others) are pretty safe. We may not all agree on that, so use your own judgment. In other words, if you don’t want Junior to repeat the lines “Baby, will you eat that there snack cracker in your special outfit?” then don’t share these with the kiddies! We tend to be rather, okay VERY liberal with our taste in music, and I relish any opportunity to share my favorite music with our kids (I am married to a musician, remember?). The key is that we are selective as to which songs we share with them, but maybe not as selective as you are. Proceed at your own risk!

Also, I can’t keep hosting these mp3 files on my server forever, so once this post falls off the main page I will remove the songs. That way I can add new selections over time, and that's a good thing!

* Biking

Still getting acquainted with my new Holga. This was first roll of color film. Each roll improves slightly from the last, but I've still some kinks to work out:)

* Pleasant surprise

Once again, I got a phone call from Herc's teacher today, but this one was different. She must realize how I cringe when the phone rings at my desk, since it is almost always bad news from the school. So today, the wonderful Mrs. B called me with good news - Hercules wrote a two-page story during writing time! She read it to me on the phone, and it was about our dogs, Bongo and Chico. It was hilarious, and I almost wept tears of joy I was so relieved and ecstatic. How cool is that? She really is the most thoughtful teacher Hercules could ever ask for.

After I listened to the story, I got to speak to Hercules. He spoke to me in his babyish voice, which he tends to do when he's not sure how to act. When he does that I usually say "It's much cuter when you use your normal voice." But today I didn't bother, I was too busy showering him with praise.

Now if only he could do that every day! If only.

* New look, new perspective

Check out the new look! You like? I think it's an improvement. Please let me know if it's broken in your browser.

As for Hercules, he's been in all kinds of trouble lately. Yesterday he refused to do his writing work, so he was sent to the ABLE room and shoved his teacher on the way out. Today he was suspended from Adventure Club (his before and after school program) for punching one of the instructors. This is the last time they'll suspend him. Next time he'll be expelled.

I'm ready to put him on meds right now. I've certainly done a complete 180 on this subject. Now I feel like the sooner we can get him on something, anything, the better - hopefully before he gets kicked out of school.

And yet at home things have been pretty tame. Just the usual back-talk and punching tables, but he hasn't been physical towards me or Pa. Mostly he's just tired in the evening and needing lots of affection, which I'm happy to supply. My heart aches for him. I want to make it all better and it's hard to be patient.

* An Explanation

Thank you to everyone who has expressed their sympathy and support over the last few days, it really means a lot to me. Although last week was emotionally taxing, I’m feeling pretty good about the whole situation right now. I had a very good talk with Herc’s counselor on Friday, and it seems that we’re all on the same page. Turns out she was wondering how to broach the topic of medication with me, because she is well aware of my objections to it in general. And while we’re not all jumping on the kiddie-drug bandwagon just yet, we have agreed that it’s time to pursue a formal evaluation and diagnosis for our dear Hercules.

For all you anti-med folks out there, I feel I owe you an explanation. After all, I have been standing on my anti-medication soapbox for some time now, and feeling pretty damn righteous about it, too. But one thing I have learned in my lifelong pursuit of a radical unconventional life is that you have to be careful or your rigid adherence to a certain worldview may turn out to be just as counterproductive as any mainstream worldview if you’re not willing to acknowledge that sometimes the other side has a good point. Rigidity is never a good quality in any belief system, says I. If you recall, my worldview began to flex a little when I read this post.

So while I still believe that ADD/ADHD are overdiagnosed and there are millions of over-medicated kids in our under-funded schools who are victims of our pharmophile culture, I must also concede that there are legitimate cases of ADD/ADHD and perfectly sound reasons to medicate those children and plenty of parents who owe their sanity to the wonders of modern pharmaceuticals.

As for my personal journey with Hercules, I’m having to come to grips with the fact that Hercules has been given every opportunity for success and we’ve reached a plateau. I tried the Nurtured Heart Approach and I think it’s excellent and it certainly helped us manage Hercules’ behavior better. Martial arts has provided him with an opportunity to succeed in an area that comes naturally to him and to reinforce the basics of discipline and self-control that we’ve been trying to teach him. His counselor has helped to rebuild his self-esteem after a disastrous Kindergarten year. This year in first grade Hercules has a fantastic teacher who has been exceptionally diligent in her efforts to accommodate his needs and she goes out of her way to provide him with every opportunity to succeed.

And yet, in spite of all of these things our beloved Hercules is still struggling to survive, especially in school. Perhaps one could argue that the entire education system is inherently flawed and structured against kids like Hercules and that is probably true. However, I also think that what is being asked of Hercules is not at all unreasonable. His ability to sit still and focus on his schoolwork has been the least of my (and his teacher's) concerns, because I feel as though I can make up the difference at home in terms of his education, so no matter what he’ll learn to read and write. But what Hercules cannot seem to do is to interact and socialize with his peers without becoming angry, defensive, aggressive, and downright violent. This is a problem that is wearing everyone down because there just isn’t a lot of room for compromise when other children are being endangered.

This year is considerably different from last in that I’m dealing with teachers and administrators who genuinely love Hercules. They see him as a very charming, affectionate, funny, articulate and intelligent little boy and they are almost apologetic when they have to call me to report his most recent offense. These people are not out to get him, they are doing everything in their power to help him and he still can’t seem to pull it together, at least not consistently. As a result, Hercules' self-esteem is once again spiraling downward because he is beginning to believe that no matter how hard he tries, he can’t do anything right so he must be stupid.

All of this has forced me to consider the possibility that perhaps no amount of coaching, counseling, discipline, or therapy is going to bring us the breakthrough we’ve been praying for because maybe, just maybe, Hercules can’t help it.

It goes against everything I believe to propose such an idea. I’m a strong believer in personal responsibility and self-empowerment. But it has finally occurred to me that if I continue to deny this possibility, I may also be denying my son the only chance he has to experience normalcy and success. And that is why, dear readers, I am considering medication. And by god if medication can provide him that, then I will thank the universe every day for the wonders of modern pharmaceuticals.

One thing this journey in parenting has taught me is that sometimes the most difficult decisions that we are most resistant to may very well turn out to be the greatest blessings. Such is the beauty of the paradox of life.

I’m sure there will people who are critical of my decision and who may feel as though I have betrayed my principles. I am prepared to defend my position without apology because I have exhausted all the options and I’m in a place where I feel completely comfortable with my decision.

This is only the beginning, mind you. The first step is to get a solid diagnosis, and the testing and evaluation period could take weeks or even months. Herc’s counselor is going to try to help us speed up that process as much as possible, but there’s only so much she can do. But you know how the saying goes – a journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.

Meanwhile, we will keep dancing.

* Happy Endings

Third post today. I’ve been processing a lot. Bear with me.

I had a very helpful talk with one of Herc’s TKD instructors who also happens to be a child psychologist. That calmed me down quite a bit, and once I relaxed it turned out to be a very pleasant evening. Pa had a gig, so Hercules and I ate our dinner together. Then we had a dance party, which is one of our most favorite things to do together. He’s into Queen lately, which is something different and I’m diggin’ it.

Which reminds me, I’ve been meaning for the longest time to serve up some of Hercules' (and my) favorite tunes for your listening pleasure. Because you can’t really have the full Herculean experience without the companion sound track. It’s kinda mandatory. Here you go, try some Queen, you’ll be glad you did:

Killer Queen
Bicycle Race
Fat Bottomed Girls

So after rocking out with Freddy Mercury, we snuggled down to read in Hercules’ bed and then somehow we ended up having a fascinating discussion about the facts of life. I shit you not. It started with me talking about flowers, and how all plants have them because that’s where the seed comes from. It seemed perfectly natural that our discussion about plant reproduction and flowers as genitalia should segue into questions about where babies come from. And somehow we ended our talk by Hercules exclaiming “But Mom, trees don’t pee!” and me laughing my ass off.

Man, what a day. After all that I knew exactly what I needed to do tonight – I jumped back on the meditation wagon. I realized that ever since I fell off that wagon I’ve been slowly winding up tight. I needed to unravel. I cried while I meditated. It felt good. I feel much better already.

Good night and thanks for keeping me company on this journey of mine.

P.S. I got a new Holga camera and I'm not shooting digital much lately, so there'll be less photos than usual. But here's a sample from first roll of film in my new camera, and there will be more to come.

Hercules on Holga

* Something's Got to Give

I just got a call from the assistant principal. Seems Hercules has been raising hell all day. She informed me that if his "physical" behavior persists, he'll be facing suspension. After she finished listing Hercules' offenses, I explained to her that these were the usual charges against him but that I had no idea what to do about it anymore. I asked her for her suggestions. Are there any resources available at the school for kids like Hercules?

She seemed to think Hercules was already utilizing them. Doesn't he already see one of our counselors? No. She was surprised. Hopefully she will pursue that, and if she doesn't I'll make sure of it.

Meanwhile, I'm going to have a long, hard talk with Hercules' counselor tomorrow. Medication is sounding better every day. Too bad it's not that simple. It takes months to get an appointment with an actual psychologist/psychiatrist, and I was wholly unimpressed with the last one we saw. But something's got to give. Either he needs to be medicated or I do.

* Crazy Ideas

It's been one of those up-and-down weeks for Hercules. He went from all-5's to all-1's on his PRIDE report and has grown fond of saying "I wish I could kill someone!" These are the days when I have to work hard to convince myself that my son is not a sociopath. He's just, er, volatile.

That was Tuesday. On the way from school to Tae Kwon Do I was trying to impress upon him the seriousness of killing someone and how it was not something you can threaten lightly. This upsets people, and rightly so. We were having a calm conversation when I asked him how he would feel if someone killed me and he would never, ever see me again. He chuckled and said, "Ha! Now you're just being funny!"

He wasn't laughing when I pulled the car over to the side of the road, slammed it into park, unbuckled my seatbelt and twisted around over the seat of the car and grasped his chin firmly in my hand while I forced him to look at me, and told him in no uncertain terms that I was NOT BEING FUNNY THERE'S NOTHING FUNNY ABOUT KILLING PEOPLE. I'M TIRED OF ASKING YOU NICELY TO JUST BE NICE GODDAMMIT IS THAT SO HARD?? DO YOU WANT TO SPEND YOUR LIFE IN JAIL BECAUSE THAT'S WHERE KILLERS GO AND BY GOD IT'S NOT FUNNY!!

I took a deep breath, got back in my seat and drove him to Tae Kwon Do while he sobbed in the back seat. I dropped him off there and left to run an errand and then I cried all the way there. After TKD we forgave each other already.

Things have been considerably better since then. He got to spend time with The Diva yesterday, based on his performance at school. He's been visiting her every Wednesday on the condition of good behavior, in hopes that this will motivate him. But today and tomorrow he has a substitute teacher and his teacher asked me to prepare him. I told him to pretend that the sub was alone and unloved in the world and all she ever wanted was for one child to be kind to her and wouldn't it be nice if he were that child?

I don't know where I get these ideas!

Seriously, though, I'm running out of ideas. I'm totally at a loss anymore. I'm beginning to come to grips with the fact that Hercules has no concept whatsoever of social norms. No impulse control. No filter between his brain and his mouth. For most kids, this results in many moments of "Awww, kids say the darndest things!" For Hercules, the response is more like "Oh. My. God. Did he really just say that??"

You know it's bad when you start thinking that maybe it would be best if some kid went ahead and beat him up for mouthing off. Now, before they start deploying knives and guns and the kids are much bigger. If he can just learn his lesson now, maybe it will save his life later on. An ass-whooping from a third-grader would be no big deal compared to the high school quarterback, 'cuz you know he ain't gonna take no shit from some wise-ass kid.

Please don't think I want to see my son get beaten up. It's just that I'm beginning to feel as though it is inevitable, and better now than later, and if that's what it takes to teach him to keep his mouth shut for chrissake, then so be it.

This is not what I expected from motherhood. I think I need a buddhist retreat.

* Scrapper

Got another phone call from Herc's teacher yesterday. Seems he was in a fight on the playground. Mrs. B said she received a lot of conflicting stories from both the accused and various witnesses, so she wasn't certain how it started. But from what I could gather from her description and Hercules, it appears that what began as an innocent bit of Power Ranger mimicry turned into a brawl. Seeing as how the other perpetrator is as much, if not more, of a hothead as Hercules, this is no surprise. It doesn't take much for a play-punch or a play-shove to cross the line into Ouch! and then someone gets mad and all hell breaks loose.

Yep, that's pretty much what happened. And from the sounds of it, the other boy got mad first and from there Hercules may well have had a valid self-defense alibi. But who can be sure? In any case, he lost his TV and computer privileges until Saturday. Not that he's watching TV anymore since we disconnected the cable, but it never hurts to be explicit, because he likes to think that movies don't count as TV, especially if you watch them on the computer! I am so on to him. And of course we had a good discussion about how to handle a similar problem in the future that doesn't involve bodily harm to either party. The big lesson that I (and his teacher) wanted him to learn from this is that that sort of play isn't appropriate for the playground. You just can't have two volatile boy-warriors play-fighting without someone getting carried away and someone else getting hurt.

He accepted the consequences pretty well, although he was in a shitty mood when I picked him up from school. It was Tae Kwon Do day and he informed me that he wasn't going.

"Mom, don't you know I got hit in the FACE and my nose was BLEEDING???"

"All the more reason for you to go to class tonight. Let's go."

Lest you think I'm a cold heartless bitch, you must realize that Hercules has a real flair for the dramatic. He did not have a bloody nose, but according to his teacher there was a tiny show of blood at the edge of one nostril. Didn't even require a kleenex. Hardly a cause for alarm. There were no bruises, black eyes, scrapes, or scratches. I was sure he would be fine. This is the child who runs into walls for fun, remember?

He did fine in class but afterwards he was still a bit cranky, so I put him to bed earlier than usual. Tonight after school he'll finally redeem his reward for his All-5 day on Monday - we're going to bake chocolate chip cookies together! I think that's better than some cheap plastic junk toy, but Hercules would probably disagree.

I'm also going to try something new with Hercules to help him get over his writing struggles. Writing time in school has been problematic for him lately, much like reading used to be. He's slow to overcome the initial frustrations that come with learning a new skill, and he prefers to abstain from the effort completely rather than persevere and struggle through it until he gets past that initial frustration. Plus, writing is a slow and painstaking process for a hyperactive boy-warrior, and he loses interest quickly. Since we've been reading A Series of Unfortunate Events, I asked him if he'd like to have a commonplace book (a phrase which here means "a notebook for jotting down ideas, information, and other things worth remembering") like Quigley Quagmire and Klaus Baudelaire. He said yes and could it be purple?

So on my walk to work today I stopped into Walgreens and picked up two purple pocket-sized notebooks, one slightly larger than the other. One will be solely for his use to jot down whatever he likes. The other I plan to use as a sort of note-swapping book for him and me, so I can send him to school every day with a little love note and he can reply on the next page. Or something. He may have more ideas of his own, and as long as it gets him writing it's all good.

* Things to do in 2006

1. Finish my web design portfolio.
2. Fix up my little sailboat.
3. Write at least one short story.
4. Finish painting the rooms in my house.
5. Write and produce a play starring the whole family.
6. Pay off our credit card debt.
7. Exercise regularly.
8. Meditate regularly.
9. Write more letters.
10. Read more books.
11. Have prints made of my photos for display.
12. Exhibit my photos locally.
13. Send more thank you cards.
14. Complain less.
15. Release my judgments.
16. Eat more organic food.
17. Visit my family in NH.
18. Throw a party at my house.
19. Seek out new friends, especially those with children.
20. Relax.

* Belated Happy New Year

Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.
Ernest Hemingway

I'm a little late to wish everyone a happy new year, since I've been spending a lot less time online lately. Pa and I were both on vacation with Hercules last week and it was glorious! I did some more painting in my house and was generally quite productive. We spent New Year's Eve with all the kids at our local First Night celebration in downtown Columbia. It was loads of fun and I would share my photos with you but I haven't uploaded them to my flickr account yet. Soon!

But Hercules went back to school yesterday and although the transition from vacation to school is usually a doozy, he had an All-5 day! You see, 5 is the highest score he can get on his P.R.I.D.E. report. He's never had an all-5 day before, not even close, so I was quite impressed. I high-fived him and praised him lots and lots. On the way to his Tae Kwon Do class we discussed some rewards. After all, an all-5 day is quite a rarity and his first ever deserves something special, right?

I offered to pick up something for him from the thrift store, where I would be headed while he went to class, but he declined. He wanted to pick out his own toy. Then I offered to bring him to Target with me later this week and he could choose anything under $10. He agreed to this and I thought it was a good plan. However, when his class was over and I had returned from the thrift store he wanted to know if I got anything for him. I reminded him of our agreement and he burst into tears. I was dumbfounded. I explained our arrangement again but he was inconsolable. He asked if I would take him out to dinner, and again I reminded him of our agreement, which did not include eating out. He cried even more. I was annoyed.

He was still crying when we pulled into the driveway. He continued crying and wailing dramatically, so I told him to stay in his room until he could stop. This made him wail even more. This made me furious.

I was incredibly exasperated with him at this point. I had wanted so badly to shower him with praise and attention, and here he was having a fit because I didn't buy something for him immediately. I felt he was being extremely greedy, and the more I tried to reason with him, the more he cried and the more aggravated I became. It was not good. I reminded him rather harshly that most kids don't get anything at all for simply behaving properly at school. I also declared loudly that I would never buy him anything ever again if he didn't learn to show some appreciation for the things he already owns.

That's when Pa stepped in and shooed me away, thank goodness. I went into the bathroom and cried my eyes out while he managed to calm Hercules down enough for him to stop crying and tend to the mess in his room.

In the end Hercules and I regained our composure and we all ate dinner together peacefully. But I couldn't shake my disappointment. Not just because Hercules' first all-5 day had been rather anti-climactic, but also because lately I've been deeply troubled by Hercules' (and my stepkids') insatiable material appetite and sense of entitlement. Which is particularly incredible considering that we're at the bottom of the income range for most families of any size, let alone a family of eight. I can't figure out how the hell they came to have such delusions of affluence, but even if I were wealthy I'm sorry but I would not shower my children with useless toys that are broken and forgotten in a week or two. Christmas, of course, brought all this to the forefront and that holiday has always irked me. A few weeks ago I disconnected the cable TV because I was tired of Hercules getting sucked into the idiot box every time I turned my back. But it seems no matter what I do, this consumer culture of ours is getting the best of our children and it horrifies me. One thing I've been trying to impress upon Hercules lately is that you will never, ever be happy if you focus on the things you don't have or the things you can't do. You will only find happiness by learning to appreciate all that you DO have. Clearly this hasn't sunk in yet.

My inability to fend off the corruption of the anti-culture that surrounds us really sets off my control issues, ironically enough. I feel like all my efforts are in vain, and in spite of all my preaching my son will grow up to shop faithfully at Wal-mart, watch prime-time TV with a religious fervor, believe everything they say on Fox News, and basically kiss The Man's ass for the rest of his miserable life. The horror!

All this makes me want to do something radical like start up an intentional community or move to Europe. When I graduated from college and I had to fill in a space for my occupation while I had none, I called myself a "Paradigm Dismantler." Lately I've begun to feel as though I have failed a promise to myself.

I know that dismantling the dominant paradigm requires considerable risk-taking, but I feel woefully ill-equipped. We're deeply in debt and living paycheck to paycheck. We're working like dogs to better our circumstances, but it will be years before we see the fruits of our labor. By then our children will be nearly all grown and any hope we ever had to assemble a new paradigm for them will be lost.

Can you tell I haven't been meditating enough lately? So much for mindful awareness and being in the present moment! I'm always coming back to that and it's not easy for me.

The Diva seems to think that if I just divorce my husband and ditch the stepkids, I'll be better off and free to chose the radical, magical life I've always wanted. She has no concept of what it means to be a single mother and no grasp of the word commitment whatsoever, so I take her advice with a grain of salt. Sure, I could find myself a wealthy sugar daddy and be a stay-home parent while we lived off the devil's money, but I did something really radical instead - I married for love. God help me.

Eh, that's enough whining for now. I'm PMSing so I should be over it in a week or so. Welcome to my monthly cycle of despair!