Thank you so much for your support on my blog post the other day. You make me feel very comforted and contained. And relatively normal, which is always a good thing.
It’s funny. I used to share everything about my life and about my babies on this blog. But as they get older, I blog about them less. Because I don’t ever want anything I write to come back and embarrass them or disadvantage them one day. (Telling people that one of them pooped in the Agapanthus will probably embarrass them one day, but so will my taste in music and the way I dance and practically everything else about me. As I tell my kids, it is my job to embarrass them about things like that ;) ) Plus as life goes on, I get busier, I have less time to blog. But every now and then I need my 'village' and so I thought I would write about Max. Your help, support and advice has been so amazing in the past and I could do with some help with this. This is going to be long. Probably without any structure or flow. I hope it comes out ok.
I am going to talk about some of the issues Max and I are facing, but know that this is not a prediction on his future. This is not conceding to any limitations for him. We are not limited by how we are made up. We are all different – good at some things, we have to work harder at others. At the end of the day, it matters not what you can’t do, it only matters what you want to do and what you love doing. There is so much about this child that is wonderful and amazing and I really do believe that there is something special about him. That he will achieve great things in his life. In this post I don’t talk much about all the wonderful, awesome, admirable qualities Max does have. I am not sure there is enough space on this blog to list them all :)
Max is my special child. My baby. My heart. I am still amazed by his presence every single day. For so long, I knew that I couldn’t make babies without enormous amounts of assistance and perseverance and medication and money and the help of experts. And blood, sweat and tears. As you know, the twins came after 9 IVFs and many losses and 3 months of bed rest. I feel like I made those twins through sheer, raw determination and perseverance. It was as if I put my head down, gritted my teeth and fought my way upstream through the strongest of currents in order to get them. I fought with everything I had not to let go and get swept back down stream again. Time and time again, I gathered my strength, dug really deep and started the trek back up again, only to get knocked off my feet and washed back down to the bottom. Pick myself up, get knocked down again. After 4 years and 9 IVFs, many heart breaking moments and almost losing my mind, I made it. And then, while I was floating peacefully in the pool of motherhood, thanking my lucky stars that I never, ever had to make that harrowing trip upstream again, Max arrived*. Through no hard work or pain or effort. Easy conception, easy pregnancy, easy birth. No bed rest, no NICU. ONE full term baby!!! How is that even possible? One can have a baby without even trying? HUH?? Ok, other people can, but not me. I am broken remember. So it must be him then. He must have made this happen by himself. He found me. I am amazed and in awe that he is here. There is a sense of wonder that still hasn’t left me.
*What many people don’t know is that Max was actually my third pregnancy after the twins. I lost the other two. By the second loss (my 5th loss in total throughout the previous few years), I gave up hope of ever being able to hold on to a pregnancy like ‘normal’ people.
And so maybe because he is my special ‘miracle’, my youngest, my last, my baby, I baby him a lot. We have a very special bond that is perhaps more often seen between a mother and a new baby. We love each other so intensely. I love all my children equally, but some I love with fierce pride, others with fierce nurturing, this little boy I love with fierce intensity. And he loves me back the same way. He tells me about 30 times a day how much he loves me. There is an unbelievable bond between the two of us.
Max was an easy baby. Chilled. But as he has gotten older, he became less ‘easy’. For want of a better word, he became quite ‘naughty’ (although I know now that he wasn’t being ‘naughty’ in the traditional sense of the word). The twins (and everyone else) called him ‘naughty Max’. He would get overly excited and hit them, break their toys, tease them. And they of course didn’t hold back with their retribution. (And then of course, they learnt how to tease him back, which is VERY annoying). He hit, he threw things, he broke things. And he wasn’t scared of anyone or anything.
He started play school at 2 years and 8 months and the first year was ok’ish. He refused to sit at the table and do any fine motor stuff and was mostly allowed to do his own thing. He would wonder around and play outside or with the toys. And then last year he started acting out at school. He started hitting the other children. Without any provocation. I started dreading going to fetch him each day at midday. I would hunch my shoulders and brace myself when I walked in and asked “how was Max today”. 9 out of 10 times the answer would be “not great. He hit XX and XX today”. Or he refused to sit at the table. Sometimes I just didn’t have it in me to hear about yet another thing Max had done wrong and I used to slip in and take him home without making eye contact with any of the teachers, hurrying as fast as I can to avoid having to hear how Max behaved that day.
I didn’t know why Max was hitting. It wasn’t because someone took something away from him. It wasn’t because he didn’t like them. They weren’t fighting with him. He seemed to do it impulsively, randomly, without any provocation. Which made it even scarier. I scolded him, I begged him to behave. Nothing worked. I think what made it worse is that he is not a bad child. He is not a bully. He is a friendly, happy chap who would act out impulsively and unpredictably.
After 6 months of this, and after a particularly bad day when Max hit three children and the teacher phoned me to say that she didn’t know what to do with him anymore (not in a horrible way, in a “not sure how to make it better for Max so that he doesn’t hit”), I decided that I couldn’t cope with this anymore and I took him out of school. A little school that I loved and that the twins had thrived in for two years.
It was at the moment that I realized that Max wasn’t the same as most kids. He was a little different and it broke my heart that unwittingly, unintentionally etc, he had been found wanting. He didn’t fit in. He was rejected. I cried and cried. And I worried. If he is not coping at a play school that is kind and caring and small, how on earth was he going to cope in the big, scary, tough world? Would the world reject him? Would he never fit it?
I took him out of school and I enrolled him in a speech lessons and in OT. And I kept him home for about 5 months. The OT and the speech have made a big difference. There is progress, but there is still plenty of work to do. I sent him back to school two mornings a week this term and it went ok. There was less hitting, but I don't think either of our hearts was in it anymore. He never did really find his groove.
My big worry is that this year he goes to big school (where Adam and Kate are). To grade RR. And life is very different in big school than it is in play school. I am hoping that this difference will be good for him (the rules and formality). Max needs a very firm hand. He needs to be reminded all the time about what the rules are.
The speech lessons and the OT sessions have helped a lot. I can see improvements in him all the time. In my gut, I believe that he will catch up and that he will find his groove but I worry terribly about at what cost. I, we, need to help him through these early years to ensure that while he is catching up he doesn’t get ostracized by his peers and his teachers. That he doesn’t get labelled – we don’t want him to be known as the problem child, the naughty child. That he doesn’t develop negative self-images about his own abilities. That he doesn’t hit or hurt the other children!!
Max’s speech has been assessed at 2 years and 10 months. He is 4 years and 7 months old. The fact of the matter is that he is significantly speech delayed, which of course has added to his frustration and his acting out. But he is showing enormous improvement (in both speech and behaviour) and next year we will up the speech lessons to twice a week.
The OT believes Max has dyspraxia (which could be a cause of the speech delay) and SPD. And anxiety related to the two things above. I am taking him to a paediatric neurologist and specialist psychologist this quarter for a formal assessment.
When we had a sit down session with the OT to discuss her observations I was devastated. Obviously. I knew he had 'stuff', that he was a bit delayed but when you hear it stated in black and white, it hits you. As I said before, no parent wants extra challenges for their child. I had already seen what Max’s behaviour was doing to him. He was already facing rejection, I don’t want that for my child. Most people tell me not to worry. That I worry too much. I know I do. I am the world's biggest worrier. I know he is ok, I know he will catch up, I know that I worry too much, but there are facts that we can't ignore: Right now, at this present moment, Max is significantly behind his peers in terms of speech and fine motor ability. Those are the facts. And it is those facts that we need to deal with.
Aside: I took Max to his first birthday party recently. No one had invited him to a party before. I guess that what happens when you (a) can’t talk as well as the other boys and (b) you hit the other boys!!. The mother was a friend of mine, hence the invite. All the other kids were running and shouting and screaming and playing with each other, but Max wants to stay with me. He is not shy (at all!), but he preferred not to play with the others. He wanted me to push him on the swing and climb on the jungle gym with him. (Not easy when you are as old as I am!). Then the two of us sat under the tree for a bit, on our own, away from the noise. Another little boy arrived at the party and saw Max. He said “Oh no, not Max!” Max didn’t hear. My heart broke. After about 45 minutes, Max said “Let’s go home Mama”. I tried to encourage him to stay but he wanted to go home. He always wants to go home. And so we went home. My heart was sore. At that party I saw clearly how different Max is to the other 4 year olds and it hurts. Not for me. For him. For all the possible rejection he might face. All the “Oh no, not Max.”
I was and am extremely worried about this year. This year is a big deal. This year he goes to big school. All new children. Children who will be able to speak a whole lot better than him. Children who might not want to play with him because he is less mature than them. Because he might hurt them. Because he can’t speak well. I worry. But there is also a lot to take comfort from. Firstly, I love the school. The classes are small, the teachers and other staff are excellent. His speech teacher already consults at the school so there is continuity there. I know his teacher well as she taught the twins. I have already been to see the school psychologist and she is going to get all the teachers and therapists in to have a meeting to discuss Max and how we can help him.
My gut says that he will be ok. That he just needs more time to mature and develop. He might always have issues with focus and concentration due to the SPD or the dyspraxia but I believe that he will be able to manage it once he matures. (Concentration issues I can deal with, I am used to those!) I just wish we had a bit more time for him to catch up (having said that, he is only 4!!) I just worry about the cost of getting there. I worry that his teacher will try to get him to do what the other kids do, but he will refuse or tell her to “just shut up” and she will give up on him. The school will give up on him. His school mates will give up trying to understand him. And then he will get left behind and left out.
You know, reading this, I realize my biggest fear is that Max will get rejected. By his peers, by his teachers. When he is having a therapy session and I am sitting in the waiting room and I hear him start to act out (refuse to do something), I cringe. It’s like hearing the screeching of car tyres outside. You cringe and wait for the loud bang of the impact. You hold your breath for a few seconds waiting for the big collision. When I hear the screeching of Max’s tyres I cringe. I am so scared there is going to be a collision that is going to result in the therapist giving up and walking away. Or shouting at him. Which is the same as giving up. I keep reminding myself that they are used to this. That they deal with children who are in far worse positions than Max, with far greater issues. They won’t reject him, they won’t freak out. I keep trying to tell myself that.
On the bright side, Max is an incredible boy. He is intelligent, enquiring, extremely loving and lovable, attractive, sweet, confident, funny and happy. In fact, his OT says that it is exactly his charm and attractiveness that makes everyone want to do things for him. Which he often uses to avoid having to do tasks that he finds difficult. He is such a clever, charming little boy.
I had a great conversation with one of his future therapists. I phoned her in a panic a while ago to make an appointment for an assessment. I said to her that I am so worried about him and she asked “Is he happy?” and I said yes, he is a very happy child. He really is, he is happy and confident and he knows he is very loved. She said “well then he is exactly as he should be. He is only four. We have lots of time to work on the other stuff”. That made me feel so much better. He is fine. He is a bit behind where he should be, but with time and help, he WILL catch up.
When I am alone with Max, I see a happy, healthy, confident, intelligent boy. Who is improving all the time with speech and other things. But when I see other four year olds, I realize how behind he is. With speech, drawing, socializing etc. And then I panic. And I worry. And worryworryworry. People say don't compare. Impossible. Life compares. Life makes judgments. Life accepts or rejects. I don't want my child to be 'just like everyone else', but I do want him to feel accepted. He needn't win, but I want him to have the opportunity to be in the game
I know I am doing all I can for him right now. He is getting great help. He is going to a great school next year. He hasn’t even officially been diagnosed with anything. He will be fine. He is a clever, charming little boy. With the right guidance he can do anything.
So there you have it. I swing between feeling totally anxious about how he will cope with ‘big school’, whether it will all go pear shaped and he will get rejected, and feeling confident that he will find his groove and catch up.
(I know you are going to tell me not to let my anxiety spill over to him about school, and I really think I haven’t let it. He is super excited about big school, we he tells everyone that is going to big school, with a new teacher and new friends and a GINORMOUS jungle gym. He knows the school well, as we go there to fetch Adam and Kate.)
Two weeks to go to big school. Dear universe, please let him find his groove there.
PS what was so interesting is that on the day that the OT had the feedback session with us and discussed her concerns re Dyspraxia, I connected with my long standing good friend in the computer Tess (who started blogging again after a break of a few years) and I found out her son has Dyspraxia – what a coincidence. Tess is a very clever, resourceful woman and I am glad to be able to learn from her).