Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Day in the Life of Executive Processing Difficulties

Executive function can be described as the "boss" functions in our brain; what stands between our thoughts and our actions.  Executive function is divided into 8 major categories, which include areas like knowing how to start a project, having the follow-through to finish a project, working memory, knowing how to control impulsiveness, imagining potential cause and effect from actions, generalizing specific incidents, and understanding when other people are no longer interested in what you are talking about.  The simple definition of executive function is: "not acting like a two year old."

Children with complex backgrounds, such as children who wind up needing to be adopted, often have executive function difficulties.  Their disorganized lives have not taught them the skills they need, and the stress they experience interferes with normal brain development that would, say, help you learn how to not act like you're two.  In the category of "executive function disintegration," Hibiscus came out with gold stars leaping out all over the place.  In fact, after reading a book on the subject, I realized that Hibiscus is basically a walking demonstration of executive disfunction: she has it ALL.  Except a couple of the potential behaviors are conflicting; not knowing how to make decisions can either paralyze a child with confusion and indecision, or result in impulsive and random behavior.  Hibiscus is never paralyzed with anything.

I wrote that this is a day, but come to think of it, there is no way I could record an entire day of executive function difficulties.  So I'll go through some highlights, but I want to clarify that this is not selecting out the dramatic stories of a bad day -- this is her (our) life.  Executive function is so very universal, that it colors everything that happens, and every decision that we make about ourselves.  Also, I hope it is clear that I am not writing this to complain about Hibiscus or describe how "bad" she is, but the exact opposite.  I am writing to explain how these little skips in her brain are affecting her large and small decisions throughout the day, and thus her entire life and family interactions.

The children are doing their chores of taking care of the chicks in the garage.  Emerson pours them more food, and Hibiscus goes to clean out and refill the waterer.  By the time something is a routine, we don't need to use our executive function as much, because we can go through what is a normal habit without making new decisions; therefore, it is fairly easy for the children to get started working peacefully on the baby-chick chores.

But this morning Hibiscus decides to clean out the waterer in the bathroom sink.  The chicks get the water cavity filled with their coconut-coir bedding, which needs to be pulled out before the waterer is cleaned and refilled.  I have instructed them several times to do this in the trash can with a plastic bag in it, not in the sink.  I don't know if Emerson usually does this part, or Hibiscus just decided to try something new, but habit slipped through this morning.
-poor working memory (that I have instructed them how to do this)
-inability to imagine cause and effect of actions (filling the drain with coconut coir)
Emerson comes in to get me because Hibiscus is flooding the sink, as she watches with confusion as the water gets higher and higher.  However, she figures out that if she pushes the mass to the side, the water goes down, and she smiles at me with success.  I am not so impressed and tell her that she has to get ALL the coconut coir out of the sink.  She starts grabbing at it (it's possible she even skipped the step about fussing and whining; she's getting kind of used to my rule that she has to clean up her own messes), and I remind her to get the trash basket with the plastic bag from the kitchen.  I have to repeat this and hold her hands still so she can listen.
-difficulty planning steps to complete a project successfully

After a while she comes back in and reports that everything is clean.  However, I suspect her very first step was pushing things down the sink, so I go and take out the U-joint under the sink to make her make sure it isn't full of coconut coir.  I put a towel under to catch the drips, and show her the pipe she needs to clean out.  As she reaches for the sink, I tell her not to touch it.

"NO-OOO!!  I don't know how to do da-AAAT!" she whines and wails (the gist of which is probably not related to executive disfunction, although the second sentence can describe difficulty understanding how to start projects).  I start to explain, but she jumps to show me that the sink is actually clear and running smoothly.
-when an idea is in her head, it's hard to stop and think about something else
She turns the water on full blast to prove that it is running.
-poor working memory, that I just told her not to touch it.  Or, perhaps:
-inability to generalize; I hadn't told her not to touch that PART of the sink
Water enthusiastically flies out the open pipe into the cabinet under the sink.
-low ability to imagine consequences of actions

I was not there to see how she did in her classroom and her after-school nature program.  There were probably small difficulties, but in many ways these settings are easier.  The routine is stronger and more clear, which allows her to rely on habit instead of decision-making.  There is a tidal wave of other students moving along, so if she pauses for a millisecond and follows along she is likely to make the right choices.

Furthermore, in her particular case, there is less desire to prove herself independent (or smart, or powerful, or who-knows-what) by doing things a little bit differently than how her parents ask.  Plenty of children do this, but some of them are able to use their reasoning to figure out a way to do things creatively without totally ruining the point of the activity.

For instance, when asked to clear things off the table, Emerson might sulk about it, but then pretend that he is a train.  He needs to add "whoo-whoo!" noises to each item that he picks up, and walk in a particularly train-ish manner, but he delivers the proper things from the table to the counter.

In contrast, when I asked Hibiscus to put the milk in the refrigerator, she put it in the freezer.  Which ruins the point of putting milk in the refrigerator.  Actually, it just plain ruins the milk.

Clearing the table took the children 45 minutes tonight, with one adult in almost constant guidance.  How it is even possible to take 45 minutes to clear and set a table is completely beyond me; you will have to ask someone with executive disfunction, I guess.  However, here are a few elements:
-difficulty understanding how to start a task
We actually have lists on the wall, breaking down setting the table into very small jobs, for just this reason.  However, tonight they were:
-easily overwhelmed
and unable to even use the lists as a tool.  (Emerson doesn't have executive disfunction, but he has extreme anxiety over being able to do things the right way, which looks similar when it comes to task completion.)  And furthermore
-lack of being able to generalize
probably meant that they couldn't see that ALL THE STUFF covering the table was actually on a couple of categories: crayons and paper, dishes from lunch, and a few books.  Instead, it looked like a million totally random things.  So, when faced with a million things to do, why not
read every book you encounter, and color with every crayon?

We spent a while figuring out how to count by 5's, which Hibiscus's class is also working on.  It's difficult for her to figure out, because as soon as she hears something that gives her an idea, she's saying and acting upon her idea.  But since an idea usually comes to her by the third word of the first sentence, this means that she misses most of the explanation.

Then the conversation took a turn like this:
Hibiscus: I am taking some more potatoes.  I like potatoes.  Look, this is a little potato!  What a cute potato, I want to eat this potato.  Now I am cutting it.  I am cut, cut, cutting it, and now the potato is cut.  I'm going to put butter on my potato.  I like butter!

At this point I said her name in a warning tone.  We have had many discussions about what constitutes a conversation; how, for instance, people take turns talking, and the thing that you talk about is the thing that the previous person was talking about.  No one else had been having an in-depth discussion about Hibiscus's potato, surprisingly enough.  In fact, I am trying to add to our understanding of conversation, that monologues about what you are eating are actually not interesting at all to the other conversationalists.  But even though she clearly hasn't grasped that, this fell under the previous rules of other people not getting turns, and not being germane to the conversation that everyone else was having.

Hibiscus apparently didn't remember those concepts about conversation.
-poor working memory needs lots and lots and lots and LOTS of repetition
"What?!" she protested.  "What's the matter with butter?"
I tried to say something succinct about that being enough talk about her potato, and then model moving on in conversation.  Hibiscus was not moving on.
"I wasn't talking about my potato!" she protested.  "I was talking about butter!"
-inability to generalize, since her last phrase was indeed about the butter
"Can't I have butter?  I like butter!  I like butter on my potato!  Butter is really nummy on my potato!  My potato is good with butter --"
-extreme difficulty in realizing when other people are no longer interested in what she is talking about

After dinner, Daddy was dealing with washing hair and getting kids in and out of the bath, and I was doing their physical therapy routine with each of them in turn in the bedroom.  (Wilbarger brushing and joint compressions, plus some reflex-integration exercises.)  While each child was not being either bathed or brushed, he or she was expected to be cleaning up the bedroom.

We have even made a song about it.  Before leaving the table, we sing:
"Clear your plate,
Potty and wash-hands,
Clothes in hamper,
Clean your room, till the grown-ups come."  
Each line repeats one note of the scale, until by the last line it's reached the dominant and does a simple arpeggio up and down, which is the most musically compelling part so the kids love to sing that line.  Now whenever I remind them to tidy, someone always sings "clean your room, till the grown-ups come!"

Having a song aims to help poor working memory, and general mental disorganization.  The tune gives the memory a boost, and if we repeat the song and tick steps off on our fingers every time a child says "what do I do now?" (or goes scooting past at 60 mph with a naked bum), they can usually figure out what step they're on.

First of all, as for actually tidying the room, there was a lot of similar behavior as I described about the table, with discussions like "I don't know what to DOOO-oooo.  I don't know HOOO-oooow to clean my room" said in the most whiney voice possible, to which I would reply "pick up that kleenex right there and put it in the trash," or something along those lines.  This is an outside influence providing some executive function.  However, they were gradually getting to the point where we could vacuum.

I finished Buttercup and took her to brush teeth.  Daddy was getting the vacuum.  Emerson started screaming at Hibiscus to stop something, and ran desperately away.  She was laughing; he was not.
-gets carried away with emotion and misses social cues

Most of the time, I try not to get involved in their little altercations, but sometimes something is pretty clear.  In this case, they hadn't been upset and there wasn't time for an altercation.  However, there was a dead fly waiting to be vacuumed up, and upon seeing it, it had clearly popped into Hibiscus's mind that it would be interesting to put it on Emerson's chin.  When he startled and shrieked, she responded to the heightened emotion by chasing him.
-lack of impulse control
-difficulty to imagine consequences to actions

The words burst out of him so spontaneously the story seemed clear.  I looked at Hibiscus is surprise and asked "wait a minute, did you put a DEAD FLY on his FACE??!!"  Just to make sure I had both sides of the story.  Hibiscus looked even more horrified than I did, and then she made a miserable sound, flung her arms over her head and crept out of the room.  Obviously, that's exactly what she DID do (or she would have denied it), and obviously, as soon as she thought about the situation for 1.2 seconds, she realized that it was a REALLY BAD IDEA.
-no pause between thinking of something and just doing it.

Actually, Hibiscus really hates bugs herself, and was probably at least as upset about the idea of a bug on someone's face as anyone else.  It just hadn't occurred to her that that was what she was doing.  Because she didn't take that 1.2 seconds to think before she acted, nor did the social cues indicate to her that something was wrong.

I told her that I could see that she felt bad, and that she didn't mean to do it, and now she just needed to make her brother feel better.  After wailing that she didn't know what to do (this has been a theme lately, apparently), she stomped back into the room, said "SOR-REE, Em'son" in her most affronted voice, and stomped out.
-human nature does not like apologies, I am hypothesizing

In our family, we are not required to say sorry.  We are required to make the other person feel better, and not move on with fun things in our own lives until we are ready to do that.  Hibiscus said she didn't know how, but Emerson and I agreed that for an offense like this, she could help him with a chore.  His laundry needed folding, and I suggested she could help him with that.
"She has to do the whole thing!" he demanded.  I was going to say that that was a little out of proportion to something that wasn't actually mean-hearted, but he had reconsidered himself.  "Maybe she can do part of it," he reasoned. "We can sit and fold it together." Upon further contemplation, he agreed that that would make him feel better, like she was helping him and not hurting him.

Hibiscus had been horrified about the fly, but she was even more horrified that she was going to get another chore.
-difficulty imagining consequences to actions
-poor working memory for household rules
She had been asked but hadn't chosen to participate in the discussion about what chore it would be, but since Emerson himself had argued her point and offered to help her, I felt like it was pretty reasonable.

For the entire rest of bedtime she kept forgetting that she needed to fold laundry for Emerson.
-poor working memory, or possibly just finagling to get out of something moderately unpleasant

So, she ended up having to fold laundry while the rest of us started books, but even though it took us more time to get into bed with the pillows in order than it would have taken her to just fold the clothes (Emerson moved clothes into two piles and made sure that his pile, for the morning, was bigger, so it wasn't unfair), she was so busy throwing a giant fit that she didn't have a chance to fold.  To make a long story short, when she finally came back from the other room where she and the laundry had been placed, she complained of a headache.  I said it was probably from screaming so much.  She wailed and wailed that her head hurt, which was more crying.
-inability to see past the immediate moment

I suggested that she get a drink of water.  She yelled "NO," and resumed complaining and crying.  I said that when I have a headache I get a drink of water, and got another "NO."  Then "it hurts, it hurts, it hurts!" as she bangs her head against the floor.  (Really?)  I finally told her to go get a drink of water, and to stop crying so her head could have a rest.  She went into the bathroom, but came back saying she didn't want a drink.  She kept complaining that her head hurt, and really the only solution that I could think of was having some water -- and I knew she would be thirsty after all that screaming -- so I kept gently insisting.  Besides, when you are drinking water, by definition you can't be screaming and banging your head against things.  She skulked back from the bathroom a minute later, trying to explain that something was in the cup, and she wasn't thirsty anyways.  I explained how she could remove the object from the cup and then drink, but she wasn't having any of it.  Since she calmed down and climbed into bed to listen to the rest of the story, I left it alone.

Fast forward ten or fifteen minutes.  I have finished books and blessings and left the room.  Emerson gets out of bed and asks politely for some water, so I fill a sippy cup and give it to him.  As I do that, he politely tells me that Buttercup wants some too, can I get her one?  From the upper bunk, Hibiscus demands sulkily that I get her water too.  First of all, she has a shelf by her bed that always has a water cup on it, and when I glanced up it was there.
-poor working memory
-inability to put details in context/generalize: i.e., it was reasonable for Emerson and Buttercup to ask for water, because they didn't have a shelf with a cup on it.  She thought it wasn't nice that I didn't bring her water, without realizing that the detail that she already HAD a water cup changed the situation.

But furthermore, I told her with some exasperation that I wasn't getting water for her, when she had refused over and over to get water for herself, and protested over and over that she wasn't thirsty and wouldn't drink.
"You didn't tell me to get water!" she complained.
I did, I said, I had told her to get water over and over, and she wouldn't do it.
"You never told me to get water!" she yelled.
We repeated this a couple of times.  I finally appealed to Emerson, and he agreed with me, obviously completely confused about how someone who had just refused to drink water 17 times in a row could say that she had never been invited to drink water.  Finally one of us said some kind of word that cued Hibiscus in to the conversation we were talking about.
"Ooooh, THAT telling me to get a drink," she replied.  She was equally confused about how being asked to take a drink from the sink had anything to do with the current issue of filling her water cup.
-inability to generalize.  Generalization is a really useful skill, isn't it?

And those are some small but very typical incidents, in the day of a life with very few executive function skill.

Thursday, March 6, 2014


We just got back from gymnastics.  We have to attend at six o'clock so that all three children have their classes at the same time, since despite how close they are in age, they are each in a separate mixed-age class.

Emerson has gone to gymnastics since he was 14 months old, and I figured since he was climbing everything in sight, I might as well put some climbing equipment under his little feet.  He is full of enthusiasm to be back again.

Buttercup is having her first experience with a real teacher and a real class of her own peers.  Her enthusiasm translates into trying really hard to follow all the directions, and very little physical capability of doing just that.  This could not be more opposite of the last time I parenting through the toddler class!  When she gets to the frog area, she is precise in remembering that she should ribbit, but it is only sheer statistical probability that some of her many, many jumps actually propel her in a forward direction.  The balance beams are accomplished mostly because she's holding my hand, and as soon as she has that anchor she starts looking around the gymnasium to see what her brother and sister are doing!  Today she was supposed to "drive a car" (hold a circle like a steering wheel) which occupied both her hands while she balanced.  She moved exactly one inch with each step, and then she very very carefully matched her color of steering wheel with the color of cone at the end of the balance beam, which it took her several moments to gather her feet together and step off of.  Buttercup is the child who is the bane of every toddler boy, having fun doing all the obstacles at top speed and energy!

Hibiscus has energy.  She has energy, and she has a great deal of strength in her long legs and wiry frame.  She also has flexibility, that makes it look like all her limbs can go in their own directions.  What she lacks, is any kind of planning or mental control.  So basically, she is like a giant rag doll, sprung out from a huge slingshot, and aimed at the trampolines or parallel bars.

Then this was the conversation that ensued on the way home.

I don't remember how the conversation in the back seat got to this point, but Hibiscus laughed that she was going to throw wraps at me when I died.  Emerson replied that that wasn't very funny.  And that when I died, he was going to make a bed with glass sides, so he could go and look at me every day.  And he was going to keep the bed in his house so he could look at me every day because he would miss me so much.  Hibiscus said she would cry if I was dead and she looked at me.  Emerson said he would not ever, ever cut me open and take out my heart and things, and Hibiscus agreed that she wouldn't cut me open either.  Emerson was going to look at me every day.  They agreed that in order to get a skeleton, you have to cut the dead body up and take the bones out, and they weren't going to do that.

Emerson said, in a loving and secretive manner, that if Hibiscus didn't get married, she could come in his house and look at me in the glass box every day too.  Hibiscus said she would cry and cry if she looked at me because she never wanted me to die.  Emerson said he would look in the glass box and see how beautiful I was and how much he loved me.

Hibiscus suggested that possibily she did want to get married.  Emerson said if she married someone else, some other person, someone else, then she couldn't come in his house every day.  Hibiscus started to get annoyed, and replied that when she birthed a baby, she wasn't going to let Emerson come see either.  Emerson said if she married someone else, she could come to his house to see me in the glass box maybe one time.

I suggested that I hoped that when they were grown up, they would still be a loving brother and sister and be welcome in each other's houses.  Just like we went to Gramcy's house sometimes.

Emerson immediately offered that Hibiscus could come and look at me in the glass box every Sunday after church, which coincidentally exactly the same schedule on which we visit Gramcy's house.  Hibiscus said he could see the baby she birthed, too.

And that was our evening at gymnastics!

Monday, March 3, 2014

News Flash: Buttercup is Actually Black

On Saturday, I took Buttercup with me to catch up on all the errands I hadn't been able to get done with Daddy out of town -- or at least some of them!  We went to six or eight different places around town, which I guess is good practice for Being A Trans-racial Family In America.

We were looking for something specific in Toys R Us, so I went up to the main desk to ask if they had it.  She said they did, and could describe the general area but not right where it was, so she said she would call someone to help me within the Imaginarium area.  I didn't hear her on the radio, but when we were in that section someone came up to us, and hesitantly asked if I was looking for what I had mentioned, obviously somewhat confused about whom to help.  I said I was, and she helped us, and that was fine.

When we were done with our shopping, we happened to go back to the same register where I had asked for help.  The clerk cheerily asked if I had found the item, talked about what I was buying, and then started talking about our request for help.

"When you went back to Imaginarium area, I didn't know how to describe you so the associate could find you," she chatted.  "The only thing I could think of, was to say 'look for the lady with a REALLY BEAUTIFUL baby,' but then I realized that could describe just about anyone in the store!  Haha!"  And then she went on in the same vein.

I was absolutely stunned.  Point A: you have GOT to be kidding me; that doesn't even make any sense.  Point B: why on earth are you even telling me this?

Regarding Point A, we had to be the absolutely most distinctive pair in the store.  I had been wandering around for a while; I knew this.  Buttercup was the only Black person in the entire place, and I am one of the few White women with a Black baby in the entire state.  Race is something we humans instinctively recognize, so there is not the slightest chance that describing this characteristic would be misunderstood by any listener.

But even if one felt too squeamish about talking about race to use these words, we are still pretty easy.  One could just say "look for the woman carrying her toddler on her back," and you would have ruled out every single other person in Toys R Us, and probably everyone else to come into Toys R Us that week.  Everyone else had their toddler in the cart, from which they leaned out and grabbed things, or running around, which gave the toddler the opportunity to grab things and the parent the opportunity to say "no, leave that alone! come on!" seven million times in a row.  (I love toddler-wearing!)

Frankly, I think this second characteristic would have occurred immediately to anyone, unless their brain was completely spazzing from trying so hard to ignore what colors we were.

Or, you know, one could say something like "look for the mom in a blue shirt," which would not be as distinctive, but would have clearly been more information than the associate actually received.

Regarding Point B, if for some reason you have a brain freeze and couldn't think of how to perform your basic job of communicating to your co-workers, why would you explain that in great detail to your customer?

One possibility is that she was one of those people who does not have an "edit" function for her mouth, and just talked about whatever came to her mind.  Working with us had made her slightly uncomfortable, so it was on her mind, so she nattered on and on about it.

Another possibility was that she thought she was giving us a compliment, and didn't have the sense to remove the complimentary part from the rest of the nonsense she was saying.

But it was also likely that she was trying to prove how un-racist she was, by going out of her way to bring up an incident to prove that she didn't even SEE race, so she couldn't care less if I didn't match my baby.  As long as the baby is beautiful, I guess.

My friends, I have a public service announcement.  Black people know that they are Black.

Even Black 2-year-olds know that they are Black, and they know that other people are not Black.  And in this case, they know that their mother is not Black.  Toddlers may still be in the developmental stage when they think that if you put lots of white lotion on, your skin color will change color, but they do understand the current situation perfectly well.

Furthermore, mothers know when their children are Black.  I am 100% Northern European in descent, with blond hair and sunburns to prove it.  There are only two ways for me to end up with a Black child.  I could have adopted her, which is an involved enough process that I probably noticed that it happened.  Or her biological father could be very Black, and the child ended up a kind of middling color, favoring that side of her family.  In which case, I would have had sex with the fellow, and I would have noticed THAT at some point too.

What is more, everyone else notices what color everyone else is, too.  (There are a few people who are mixed enough in race, or have unusual characteristics, that it might actually be confusing, but in this case we are all pretty distinct.)  Science has proven that race is one of the things that we notice within milliseconds of seeing someone, and in milliseconds more we have made assumptions about the person as we insert them into a category.  Just like gender, or generation.

And friends, this is NOT a bad thing!  If we had to figure out everything about every person every time we met them, we would be paralyzed with trying to decipher why everyone was acting the way they were, and how to treat them.  One of the reasons that humans are able to have such complex societies is that we are really good at figuring out basic information about other people really quickly, before our conscious brain even starts working.  This gives us the ability to relate to people appropriately: we might use simpler language with a young child; wait to go through a doorway when we see an older person or some struggling to move pass through; speak respectfully to someone in an official uniform; or use business language to someone in a business setting and more informal language to a laughing barista in a coffee shop.  It means that I, as a mother of young children, might make a wry smile to another mother and comment on what a difficult time one of us is having, and we'd both share a laugh; that would come off as inappropriate if I were speaking to an older man in a suit, or be completely insulting to her if *I* were an older man in a suit.  It means that when we are in a familiar environment, we can recognize someone who doesn't "fit" into that environment and offer them extra welcome.  It means that most of us, by adulthood, can move seamlessly from one kind of human interaction to another: with friends, with people of different social status, in a business setting, ordering food, with children, solving a problem, being at work or being at the swimming pool.  This is the exact same part of the brain that tells us whether what race someone is -- except that the "race" identification happens even earlier in our mental process.

So when a human sees another human, they identify their basic characteristics -- including gender, race, and age -- and then the brain puts that information in a box, and spits out the analysis of how to treat the new human in front of oneself.  And THAT is where the danger can come in; not in identifying the race by itself.  The assumptions we make can help us relate to new people appropriately, or they can get in the way of appropriate interaction.

For instance, if a cashier sees that her customer is a child, she might automatically switch into simpler language or praise the child for saving her money.  But if she sees that her customer is a Black person and switches to the same kind of phrasing, that is not going to help their relationship.

In our own personal case, here is an example of an inappropriate mental thought process:
1. This lady has a Black child, but she's not Black ---> I wonder if the child is adopted ----> maybe she couldn't have her own babies ----> I wonder what fertility treatments she went through ----> she probably feels really bad that she ended up with a baby who doesn't look anything like her ---> I'll say how pretty the baby is, to make her feel better.

Here is an example of an appropriate mental thought process:
2. This lady has a Black child, but she's not Black ----> I wonder if the child is adopted ----> people who go through all the trouble of adopting usually really enjoy children ---> I'll ask her something about what the child enjoys doing, because she probably likes to talk about her kid.

Or here's an alternate appropriate example:
3. This lady has a Black child, but she's not Black ----> I wonder if the child is adopted ----> I don't really know anything about their situation, so I'm going to make a conscious effort to treat them just like every other customer, even though I'm kind of curious.

Here is an example of an imaginary mental thought process that is actually impossible:
4. I cannot tell any difference between the mother and child in front of me, compared to other mother-child pairs.

The first example results in an action that is nice on the surface, but other human beings -- equally adept at making instant judgements on very little information -- can sense that there's something "off" or condescending about the comment.  The second example results in an action that would be appropriate for almost everyone.  The last example is going to result in something awkward.

The third example really cannot go wrong.  That is the really great part about being human -- instead of, say, dogs, who often also can gain a lot of information about someone new almost instantly.  We have the mental capability to OVER-RIDE our instinctual information.  We can decide whether the information we have received is actually germane to the situation.  In our case, what was germane to the situation was that I had money to pay for my purchase, and I was acting appropriately for the context.  Usually, in modern America, especially within a business context, what race the person is should have nothing to do with the way we treat them.

Some of us may have so many positive or neutral impressions of a particular race (or people with tattoos, or in wheelchairs, or Down's syndrome, or wearing cowboy hats, or whatever jumps out at us), that their natural thought process will lead them to acting calmly and appropriately.  For instance, after living in a fully Black society as a young child, Emerson will probably have a more neutral impression of Black people than most of us can manage.

But when we do not have enough neutral impressions to create a neutral space for interaction, we each need to find the "over-ride" button until we are able to gather more information.  Denial does not work, and it doesn't fool anyone.

Trying to cut off the information our brain already has given us results in:
5. This lady has a Black child, but she is not Black ---> AGH!! EMERGENCY!!  I just thought about race ---> I must unthink this thought ---> black child! black child!! ---> but the harder I try to unthink it, that now becomes all I can see! ---> maybe I'll do something COMPLETELY RANDOM to fool everyone into thinking I'm not thinking what I'm thinking about ----> black black black black black!!!

There are a lot of possibilities for action after that thought process, but there really is no graceful way out!

I will see what I think after I have had more chance to gather information as a Surprising Person, and I would be interested to hear from other minorities as well.  However, my impression so far, is that if you can't manage the ideal #3 (over-ride), that #4 (ignorance) is impossible and we all know it, it is best to veer in another direction than aim for #5 (pretend I'm not thinking what I'm thinking).  For instance, it will be more graceful to acknowledge the internal debate and say, "oh, is she adopted?" than suddenly start chattering about how we look exactly the same, or stare at a corner of the ceiling and mention how beautiful she is.  Make sure you can manage to stop talking before you come out with something like "how much did she cost?", but a simple acknowledgement of the situation that everyone knows exists is unlikely to offend.

Unless you really aren't sure, and think she might be my biological child with a Black father.

In which case, "is that cash or credit?" and "would you like a bag today?" is a really appropriate conversation for the check-out lane.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Poison Control

Today I got to call poison control.  Luckily, the number was right on the toothpaste tube.

Buttercup is in this awful phase where she gets really really tired and grumpy, but half the time she can't (won't?) nap.  She has been so unpleasant for the last day and a half (since she hit nap time yesterday, and didn't take one) that as soon as she started laying on the table ("more snack please now!") and rubbing her eyes, I put her up on my back.  I really thought she would fall asleep.  She didn't.  I kept her there for an hour and a half anyways, hoping that at least getting some rest for her body would help her find some mental equilibrium.

I finally put her down after everyone was home from school, and they were playing in the bedroom.  I poked my head in a couple of times, and it seemed like a normal, happy game of "we're on an airplane."

Then the older two came out, and we were working on something.  I cannot even remember what it was, but it was something that they needed.  And at first I was thinking "good thing Buttercup isn't in the middle of this, because she would want to do it but just get in the way, and I'm glad that I can explain it at bigger-kid level."  Then I started noticing in the back of my head that it had been quiet on the Buttercup-front for a little bit too long.

I found her in the bathroom, standing on the stool with the water running in the sink.  So far, no surprise; I've caught her making a big, happy mess with pouring water in and around the bathroom sink before.  But what has she got in her hand?  A toothbrush.  In fact, to be specific, her brother's toothbrush.  And what is she doing with it?  Rubbing it on the bar of soap.  Yum!

As I took that away from her, I noticed the tube of toothpaste lying next to the sink.  It's Tom's of Maine kid toothpaste, and it has a flip-up top, but the whole top was kind of loosely screwed on in a suspicious manner.

Buttercup told me, "I go-ed sou-sou.  By MY seff.  And I washed. MY hands!  See, I washing dem." (That emphasis and stop at "my" is her usual phrasing.)
"And you brushed your teeth?" I suggested.
"Yes, an I buss.  MY teef!"

This was obviously a fairly incomplete description of the situation.

I tried to get her to describe if she ate the toothpaste straight out of the tube or put it on her toothbrush (or Emerson's toothbrush, as the case may be) over and over.  She just said yes to both, which might have mean she did both, or she might have just felt agreeable.  She was in a pretty good mood, as she was not only having fun but feeling virtuous for completing all these chores without assistance. When I used gestures, she made it perfectly clear that she thought sucking straight from the tube was a great idea, and yes she would have some more now!

Meanwhile, I was testing the tube to see how much was left.  It was still more than half full, I guessed, but it had been a new tube very recently.  The directions on the back said "call poison control if more than the usual amount used for brushing is swallowed," along with a description of the tiny amount that is supposed to be used for brushing.  Pea-sized, I think; I actually use more like a lentil.  I figured that somewhere around half a tube was more than pea-sized.  I didn't really think she was in grave danger, but I figured that I ought to call the number.  If, of course, I could manage to fight off all the children running around my legs and demanding my immediate attention.  And crying, because someone needed a nap, and instead, had had her beautiful soap-scrubber and water attraction removed.

Did you know Tom's of Maine has it's own, personal, poison control number?  Apparently it does, and that is who I reached.  There were a few preliminary questions about names and ages and so forth.

And that is when Hibiscus got the idea that I was "calling the police on Buttercup!"  At first she was frightened, but I told her I wasn't and to go away, and she kind of believed me but by then thought it was a really exciting idea, so she got all whispery and told her younger siblings about her new theory.

By the time I got off the phone, they were all waiting on tenterhooks for the police car to show up and take Buttercup away.  I explained -- perhaps without a good deal of patience left -- that I didn't call the police, and police don't arrest 3-year-olds anyways, but if you eat toothpaste it can make you very, very sick, so don't anyone do that again.

The poison control woman said that it wasn't that much, and at most Buttercup would have an upset stomach.  But I'm sure that if Hibiscus got the idea in her head to eat toothpaste, she would be much more efficient at it, and probably go through about four tubes in the time it usually takes her to pee.  So I wanted to make it very clear that this was a very bad idea, because generally they are all passionate about trying out each other's bad ideas.  As though, "if it was enough fun to make it worth trying for so-and-so, then I better try it too..."  So I sensed a toothpaste-eating explosion on my hands if not dealt with sternly!

Hibiscus quickly made the switch from police to "am-BOO-lance," and started looking out the window for one of those.  Buttercup started to cry.  Hibiscus danced in circles around her, saying "you're going to get SHOTS, you're going to have to get so many SHO-OTS!!" which quickly turned the crying into downright hysteria.

I picked up Buttercup and said that no one is getting any shots, and an ambulance isn't coming, and Buttercup isn't very sick right now, but no one was EVER to eat ANY toothpaste again.  I don't know about Hibiscus, who was probably enjoying creating drama more than actually believing it all herself, but I think the juxtaposition of "eating toothpaste" and "lots of shots" scared the younger two off of playing with the toothpaste for life!

I said that there were no doctors and no shots today, but Buttercup was supposed to drink a glass of milk.

Buttercup drank that milk with a dedication and singularity of purpose that was admirable to see.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Melatonin and Other Thoughts

I usually give small doses of melatonin to my kids at bedtime.  Yeah, yeah, I know there might be all kinds of mysterious side-effects, and it might not be safe to give every night, or even every week.  But anyone who wants to criticize or worry about this decision is welcome to come along and put my kids to bed, and is especially invited to show up on one of the nights that Hibiscus kneels on the floor and screams at the top of her lungs for ten minutes straight.... or thirty, or forty, and then throws up.  (Which, thank you God, has not happened in several months.)  I can practically guarantee that you will feel much more dismissive about the negative possibilities of melatonin, when faced with the daily realities of my kids at bedtime.

Besides, in the article about how dangerous it is for to use melatonin daily, always ends with some parent saying something about "I know I should have a routine and put the kids to bed at the same time every night, but it's just too hard for me, and that's just not our parenting strength, so we just give them melatonin instead."  Which makes it easy to feel superior to those weak parents who depend on chemical sleep aids.  But I have a routine that is as crystallized as knowing in which order we brush teeth, and who hangs up the towels, and it happens within fifteen minutes of the exact same time every day.  You can't get more precise than that when you have three chaotic children.  And I still start it off with melatonin.

But these poor kids have not yet been farther than a few weeks from changing families, changing houses, changing countries, changing schools, or changing available family members.  Life is rough.  It helps to be able to wake up in the morning well-rested, because you didn't spend two hours traipsing back out to the living room to ask mama if there are any monsters coming in the windows.  And I know that because I've forgotten once or twice.  No more.

Both of the older two children have serious regulatory and sensory issues, and I think that it is very likely that they would be the kind of children for whom doctors would actually prescribe melatonin -- in fact, my son's doctor actually did just that last year.  So I don't have much guilt about giving them a small dose every night, but Buttercup has a fairly balanced system, and I would like to get her out of the habit of needing it.

Today she didn't nap, and she did play outside a lot, so she was plenty tired, so I decided to give it a try.  Although Daddy left for Europe a week ago, so maybe "not in the middle of transitions" doesn't actually apply!

We got ready for bed on time.  We did our routine the usual way.  I turned off the light and started on blessings.  Buttercup was wiggly waiting for her turn, so after her blessing I reminded her to tell her hands to go to sleep, and no more banging and no more talking now.  Then I moved on.

While I was doing Hibiscus's blessing, despite reminders, I heard increasingly more thumping of pillows, chitter-chatter, and eventually the bed started shaking with some sort of gymnastics.  Maybe singing and wiggling oneself to sleep would be acceptable in some households, but all three of my children sleep in the same room, and Buttercup sleeps in the same bed with Emerson, who was already starting to fall asleep.  One singing child is going to set the whole place on fire with energy very quickly.

I tried to not interrupt Hibiscus's prayer time, but as soon as I was done, I snatched up the little firebrand and put her in the guest bedroom.  I plopped her on the bed and told her calmly and firmly it was time to go to sleep.  And I shut the door and left.

A few months ago, she was having sleep trouble, and she would wait quietly, and come out of the bedroom sadly after a while, and I would wrap her to sleep.  But that was when she was going through her "infant regression" sleep phase -- as I thought of it myself; it was also coupled with waking up four to six times a night and needing to be soothed back to sleep.  I didn't want to get into that habit again, as I felt like she was not doing any particular newborn regressing at this moment, she just wanted to stay up and play.  Besides, she will only nap when she is wrapped, which is okay, but she does need to fall asleep sometimes when she is not being worn.

Tonight I was surprised to hear nothing further after shutting the door.  But all parents know that silence can mean "trouble" as easily as it can mean "sleep," and I wanted to kiss her goodnight anyways.  So after five minutes or so I peeked in.

"Look, I do-ed it!" she greeted me cheerfully.  I think she meant getting the entire comforter off the bed, which seemed to be the change.  It's kind of a boring room.  I laid her back down and told her it was time to go to sleep.

"Now do bessings," she chirped.  I said goodnight.  "Now do bessings for me-eee!" she insisted.
"I've already done blessings for you," I reminded her.
"Is okay, do more bessings!' she suggested.
I declined, and continued to leave the room.
"Bad mama!" she yelled at my back, which is her go-to criticism lately.

As I left, she was starting to scream in the familiar toddler-not-getting-her-way sulky tone.  I shut the door.  There is no useful response to "bad mama!"

I did a few more things around the house, but the crying continued.  I was hoping that she would get tired of fussing, which happens sometimes, and either go to sleep, or I would go back in again at that point.  Then I figured that maybe we were trying cry-it-out, toddler version.  I would never, ever use cry-it-out with a baby, but I figure maybe the situation changes when the opening gambit is "bad mama!"

It wasn't more than a minute or two after the screams changed into real, upset cries, and no more than three of four minutes of crying total.  I had taken note before I left, and the room was boring but there was light coming in from outside, so it wasn't dark.  I didn't hear any bumps or sudden increases in volume that would indicate an accident, and no banging on the door.  It was basically long enough for me to gather what I needed to do, sigh, and gird myself for returning to the bedtime fray.

Adopted children can often have abandonment issues, and experts warn that forced isolation isn't the best parenting method for them, because it can awaken their deepest fears -- which does not help improve one's manners.  Just like any, ordinary, special child can have all kinds of fears or thoughts or lonelinesses, and I personally don't think that forced isolation is a good parenting method for any children, who can't explain themselves either.  So we didn't make it long enough to even kind of be a cry-it-out.

I went to check on her.  I could hear the door handle rattling, and I opened it up and found my little girl, totally hysterical.  I picked her up and she clung to my neck.

Then she threw up.  Then there was a giant explosion in her diaper region.  Then she had an asthma attack.

She was doing that sad and adorable little thing where she was trying to hold her vomit in her cupped hands; also while gasping for breath, and burping more vomit up.  I set her on the bathroom counter and cleaned her up and gave her her inhalers, and then I picked her up again.  More toots came cascading out.  I held her and rocked her and patted her back for a while, and she finally said something to me in her tiny little squeaky voice.

"What's that?" I asked.  "What do you want?"
"Me want to go sleepy... your back," she offered, and patted my shoulder suggestively.

After all that, I couldn't resist.  She went "my back," which means getting wrapped up.  She spent a long time snuggling and looking sadly over my shoulder, but finally I peeked up and the big eyes were closed.

So "left alone" is not an option.  I have ruled out "playing enthusiastically on sibling's bed.".  "Crying by self" is definitely a really, really bad choice.

Melatonin is looking better all the time.

Annie's Way in 10 Minutes

I got Annie's Shells and White Cheddar, which is mac and cheese in a box, to help me through the busy nights.  We got back today at only ten minutes until dinner time, which is kind of a disaster for the circadian rhythm of my household.  But luckily, the box promises "Annie's Way in 10 Minutes."  I assume these products are marketed in large part to parents and families, so it is a little confusing that apparently no one at the company has ever actually made mac and cheese and timed the real process.

The ten minutes is the time it takes the pasta to cook, and then make the cheese sauce.  Of course, they don't include the time it takes for the water to boil.  You can try to get around that by putting a pan on to boil while you are still getting children and gear into the house from the car.

The pot starts boiling at some point, and maybe that is the countdown they intended to indicate.  The 10 minutes apparently doesn't include reminding your children to put all their outdoor stuff back in their cubbies, or when they have to get their things from the car but are afraid to go alone, but all the children actually have to go, which should mean mom can be cooking, but somehow the little one is crying about being left behind and mom is helping her put boots on instead of salting the pasta water.  Then they come back, and the water is still boiling, and the 10 minutes do not include the part about the big ones complaining about wet feet, or explaining which chore one child must do, which involves mom being on the other side of the house, and then when you were going to go and actually put the pasta in the water, the little one is crying and getting underfoot, so you might as well wrap her on your back, because you're going to need to do it sooner or later anyways.

Putting the pasta in the water starts the 10 minutes, I believe.  One can add frozen peas and bits of cooked chicken from another night, which makes a more interesting and nutritious meal without actually adding to the 10 minutes, because you can do it while the pasta is cooking.  And with one child on mom's back, one child peacefully putting laundry away in his room (or something, but he was quiet and the laundry vanished), and the other child keeping up a running monologue as she folds paper bags, the pasta can cook in peace.  It is supposed to cook for 8-10 minutes.

By then, the children have finished their chores and are supposed to set the table.  If your pasta took 8 minutes, now you can spend two more minutes melting butter and milk and adding the cheese powder.  It does not include telling your daughter to stop playing with a yoyo and put out the plates, or your son to stop flapping his arms like a bird.  The table didn't need wiping, but the daughter insists on wiping it because she usually does, which means she needs to yell at her brother for trying to put something on the table, because now he's decided to stop flapping his wings and set the table.  The cheese sauce doesn't take very long, but by now the pasta is getting cold, so you put it all in the pan on low heat.  The 10 minutes apparently doesn't include telling the mid-table-wipe child four more times to stop playing with the yoyo.  Or unwrapping the small child to take her to the potty, which you can't do quickly because she yells "I'm not done!  I'm POOO-oooping!"  So you have to go back out, tell the children to put the yoyo down, stop playing, and possibly some of these instructions are delivered in a louder-than-average voice.  And stir the pasta which is sitting on the stove.  The argument about who is supposed to put the plates on the table does not actually take any of the cook's time, although possibly her energy.  The time it takes to wipe a poopy bottom is not included in the 10 minutes, except by now one of the children has become dedicated to the task at hand and has followed you into the bathroom saying "but what do I dooo-ooo! how do I set the taaaa-ble! what do I doo-ooo!" and you keep telling him to do what he does every night.  And when you go to pull up the little one's pants, it turns out she wasn't really standing up, and the sudden change in waistband elevation pulls her flat over onto her nose, and she starts screaming.

The 10 minutes does not include checking for bloody noses, while trying to answer "what do I dooo-ooo!" and tell someone else to put the yoyo down.  The yoyo-ing child's usual jobs are all things that are waiting on the yoyo-er, while the dedicated-to-working-or-yelling child has to wait for something else to happen (like: setting out cups; serving everyone water), so the cook has to spend her time telling the yoyo-er that she is forfeiting the chance to do her job if she doesn't actually do it, which she doesn't, so her brother eagerly dives at the plates with great earnestness, and the smugness that comes from being the one who is being better behaved at that moment.  The cook needs to stir the pasta again, but she can't serve it because she's still comforting the non-bloody nose, and hoping that being buckled in her booster seat will get the cryer thinking about something besides her nose.  The 10 minutes do not include the amount of time for a post-yoyo-ing child to throw a giant fit because she did not get to put the plates out, and the warming pasta needs stirring again.

The 10 minutes do not include the time necessary to locate everyone cups and lids, which invariably fall under everything else.  And the middle-of-the-table-setter is now really busy doing all his sister's jobs as fast as possible while she sulks, so it takes a while to get a coaster for the pasta pot, which is pretty hot by now.

I am not sure whether the 10 minutes are supposed to include the time while the cook slowly serves out pasta, and tries to keep it away from the littlest one, while the two older ones elbow each other out of the way to do the remaining chores as fast as possible, which includes delays like one child opening the silverware drawer, running off to something else, and the other child banging it shut again.  And debates whether it is meant to be a personal insult to be given the less attractive fork.

And in this secular country, they probably did not include the singing of grace as part of the 10 minutes, although it keeps food out of the children's bellies for a little while longer.

Come to think of it, maybe boxed mac and cheese is supposed to be marketed to college students.

Monday, February 17, 2014

In Non-Tropical Weather, I am a Very Mean Mama

The kids were playing crazily inside all morning, so after lunch I sent them outside instead of straight to quiet time.  By the time Buttercup got her outdoor gear on, the other two were ready to come in.  I told them that sorry, it was still outside time.  I put the visual timer in the window so they could see the rest of their half hour.

With ten minutes left, Hibiscus came in the door.  She had been well dressed for the cold, mostly because she got a new snow suit for her birthday, so she was wearing it.

"It's raining," she complained.
"Then put your hood up," I replied.
She came in the door and started to take her coat off, which is kind of the opposite of preparing for the rain.
"Hibiscus, your outside time is not over yet," I warned her.
"I know, but it's raining!" she exclaimed.
"I heard you the first time.  And did I answer, 'go ahead and come in,' or did I say 'then put your hood up'?"

She has experimented approximately every day about coming inside because she has taken off appropriate outdoor clothes, and discovered that I don't actually let her in.  Yesterday I found her sitting in the patio doorway, which was open around her.  We discussed outdoor time being over, which it wasn't, so I told her to go back outside so I could close the door.  She didn't.  She wanted to comb her doll's hair.  I told her to do it outside.  She still waited.  I told her I needed to shut the door.
"So say that thing that you say, and I'll do it," she said.
"Please sit outside to comb your doll's hair," I repeated.
"No, when you say, go in or go out, so I can shut the door," she suggested.  "Then I'll do that."

Yeah, nice try, kiddo, but that's one more choice than I'm prepared to offer!

So today she guessed that more arguing about coming inside might not get her very far, and she slinked outside again.  Immediately afterword, Emerson came up to the door, not dressed very properly for the weather.  I tell them to put on the right clothes, and I insist that they take the clothes with them, but I don't choose to make a fight about whether they actually put them on their bodies.  They can choose to be cold if they really want to.
"It's still outdoor time, so please go back outside," I warned him as he came in.
"It's raining," he announced sulkily.
"So put your hood up, and you'll be fine," I advised.
"But I'm too cold!" he wailed.
"Then put your coat on," I suggested.  Not exactly for the first time.
"It's too cold even WITH the coat!" he yelled.
Which is a little difficult to ascertain, given that he had not tried that method yet.
"I KNOW I'm going to be cold if I put my coat on," he sulked.  Which is possibly true, since he hadn't been wearing a coat for the last half hour or so already.
"Well, you're going to be less cold with your coat on than with your coat off," I reasoned.
"But I'm coming IN!!!" he yelled.  As he kicked off his boots and snowpants.
"No, you're not," I announced.  And I put him and his boots and his snowpants outside.  And his coat.

Last I saw, he was wearing them all.  And do you know what?  All the kids were having fun, too.