Tuesday, January 12, 2010

When My Boys Were Screaming Banshees

I have two very smart sons, but raising them had a very bumpy beginning. Robert was diagnosed with an extreme case of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. David has ADD and is Learning Disabled. Being LD is not Forest Gump stupid, far from it, simply stated, it is a different way that that the mind learns; an oval peg for a round hole. It fits after some fancy manouvering.

Our first born son was a beautiful little maniac that was cheerfully taking our house and our lives apart. It was as if the “terrible twos” started early and never ended. Bright blue eyes would dart about and then roll back, his arms would flap, and he would go into a wild loudly vocal trance, “iiieee, iiieee, iiieee,” swirling in circles and knocking anything down in his path. He was always so happy and acted as crazy as a loon, with possibly a seizure disorder! My friends would tell me that if they didn't know how very strict and structured I was with him, they would have assumed that I let my child run wild! My son was expelled from three preschools before I gave up and, out of shame, just kept him home. Our pediatrition would suggest books about how to improve my child-rearing techniques. I read everything and it just got to the point that I remained quiet, lest once again pointing out my lack of parenting skills.

My husband had begun a new job, and using the ruse of work as his escape, he could pretty much stay out of the range of fire as much as he wanted. Mark was the “fun guy” and didn’t want to deal with behavior problems (housewife’s job), but constantly questioned what I had done to make our son so wild every evening when he got home. Was I hepping him up with too much excitement? Red food coloring? Sugar? (No, no, and no!) It is amazing our marriage survived, as my husband admits that he really didn’t believe me at the time, and thought I was just a lousy mother.

Friends and family didn't want to be around me with such a crazy child, but I was too exhausted to be lonely. During the quiet times, I taught my three-year old how to read my first grade John and Jane reader, so I knew there was a spark of intelligence buried in him somewhere. That, and he spoke in complete sentences at age one. During his wild moments, in desperation, I would imagine throwing my little boy against the wall and he would slide to the floor, unconscious. It sounds terrible, but this kept me sane and kept him from being abused. Remember, the first pediatrition gave me books (I read every one, nothing worked!) when I complained about his behavior, my friends avoided me, and I had no support system.

We moved to Central Florida when Robert was 3 years old, and his new pediatrician, a wise old man named McPherson, saw my child in action. He secretly watched as I protected his infant brother David from sure death, while Robbie squealed and laughed as he went through whirling trances and running and singing six different songs at once, as he instantaneously dismantled the waiting room. It was as if we walked into a room and books and toys flew off bookshelves, possessed. Everywhere we went, mothers of normal children would self-righteously comment, “She can’t make that child behave!”

I was horrified when the new doctor placed a call that went like this: “You gotta see this one…” Dr. McPherson told me that I was doing everything right and there were drugs that could make my son normal. I broke down in tears and asked for drugs for me too. Every day was a battle. We were invited to drive straight over, and so I packed my baby and my wildchild up, leaving quite a mess behind in the waiting room.

The year was 1987, and Robert was the youngest child that the head of Child Psychiatry in Orlando had ever put on Ritalin. My son was quite a find for this doctor! He rhapsodized that Robert's IQ was beyond genius, his singing was in perfect pitch, and he was quite enthusiastic about how extremely ADHD Robbie was. “On a 1 to 10 scale, this young man is a 20!” A magic little pill (and a lot of psychological consults) was the cure. What a gift to learn that my son was not crazy and that I was not a horrible mother, but I must admit that raising him was not without a lot of heavy-duty challenge. School was fun for Robert, who made straight A's and attended gifted enrichment classes. He is now 25, a law student, and still takes magic little pills.

Our younger son David did not like being an infant. He didn’t like being handled and screamed for seven months straight. I fed him and dried him, swaddled him and placed him in the swing, where he rocked back and forth, the screams coming and going. He was not sick, didn’t have colic or a rash. He just was totally unhappy. He screamed from the time he woke up until he passed out. Sure, there were some moments that David was quiet, but then he’d realized he was trapped in an infant’s body and the screaming would once again commence. As soon as David could sit himself up and reach for a toy, he was a very happy camper!

David was such a sweet natured boy, quite a relief after his whirling dirvish big brother. If David spoke at all, it was in a whisper, totally enjoyable. He was such a tender hearted boy, and was easily hurt if you scolded him. David disliked eye contact and was extremely slow to warm up enough to talk to people, so we took him to phychologists. He wouldn’t respond to his (very kind) kindergarten teacher for nearly a half a year. He was diagnosed with ADD in first grade, incredulous to me, as it was like comparing a still candle to a raging forest fire. Without Adderall, David is in a cloud. Although his disorder appears milder than his brother's, David does not function well without medication.

Thinking he was behind because of his silent/control issues, it wasn’t until second grade when we learned that although David has an above-average IQ, he had some pretty severe learning disorders. Oh how I wish we caught them earlier, and wonder if this would have made a difference. He always has to work twice as hard to earn only average grades. Understandably, David hated school and college. He finally found his niche in technical school. David is 22 and will soon have all the certifications needed to get a plum IT job. Computers suit him in a hands-on, no chit-chat required sort of way. David’s friends adore him (who doesn’t love a listener?) and girls find his silence mysterious and attractive, like a good spy novel that never ends.

I cannot fathom how some people pick a favorite child.  It changes by the moment!  Robert has book sense and charm, David oozes common sense and steady sensibility. David is a hands-on learner and Robert absorbs knowledge through the miracle of osmosis. Robert has an outgoing personality, a comedian that entices loud belly-laughs from his always-present posse of friends. David is calm, quiet and private, and has an amazing dry/wry wit that makes you wrinkle your eyes in wonder at his quick sideways glances. Robert chooses his clothes for style and color and texture. David pulls on a comfortable t-shirt that makes a statement. Raised the same way by the same doting parents, isn't it funny how differenly these two boys turned out? I like their individuality. What they do share is the same blindingly glamourous smile and they love each other. *little hearts floating around me*

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