Definitions and labels

For pretty much the past eight years, I have raised a child with a different set of needs and abilities than those around him.

Javier was diagnosed with ADHD (inattentive and impulsive type) when he was five years old. At three years old, he was accepted into the local infant/toddler program for a 10-month delay in fine motor skills and a 22-month delay in language and communication skills. Beginning around 18 months, he began demonstrating facial ticks that he couldn't control.

My guy is slightly different from his peers. He is funny and sweet and stubborn and in the clouds and witty and sarcastic and silly. He loves to dance and to draw. He beams under positive encouragment. He is easily upset and filled with anxiety. He takes things personally. He holds grudges and remembers everything.

He is not ADHD.

I see and hear parents, teachers, and others referring to children as ADHD, as if that term tells you what you need to know. As if that limiting label could ever sum up a person. They say, "Well, you know Sam is ADHD" or "My daughter is ADHD" or "He's so ADHD." And it breaks my heart.
ADHD is a disorder. It's a chemical imbalance. It affects a huge portion of the population. It is sometimes overmedicated and other times grossly misdiagnosed. But no child is ADHD. People hem and haw over never saying a child is bad or a child is good, choosing instead to pinpoint specific behavior -- hitting is bad; sharing is good. But when it comes to ADHD, not enough people make the distinction.

I am very careful to never slap the ADHD label on Javi. When I talk about his needs, I say, Javi has ADHD. He was diagnosed with this particular disorder.

I can only hope that children who hear or are told that they are ADHD don't receive the message. I hope they don't internalize it, believe it, set their life goals by it. I hope they continue being the complicated little life-forces that they are.

I know that's what I'm in store for with Javi -- and I'm grateful.

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Common ground

Today I spent four hours painting, cleaning, sweeping, and debugging a building that was given to the local Jaycees chapter back in 1927. The building was constructed way before that date and is in pretty good shape all things considered. However, it has fallen into deep disrepair thanks to a previous chapter's neglect. Our chapter inherited it and we're working hard to restore it.

We scheduled in advance to spend time today working on the building, but we couldn't find much help. Enter a local recovery mission. We donate food and goods to them a couple times a year, so we thought we'd call in a favor. They quickly agreed to send a gaggle of guys over to help us in whatever ways we needed.

Of course we were a little hesitant. It would be three girls and four or five men recovering from drug addictions. We were warned: If they ask for money, tell them you don't have any; if they ask for a ride, tell them you won't have time; if they ask for your phone number, report them to us. You can imagine it was a little intimidating.

But then they showed up, and we were reminded that the guys were just guys. Just people trying to rectify mistakes they've made and chart a new course and be better today than they were yesterday. They were just people who had hurt their families and themselves because they couldn't stop abusing drugs. They weren't bad people; they were people who needed a chance.

So for four hours we talked together, laughed together, sang together (and realized that it's impossible not to sing along to early 90s music), talked about each other's families, about our children, our mamas, ... all the common threads and connections that ran through our lives. We were easy and relaxed and joyful.

And it put us in our places. During those hours, we were no different from those men. One poor choice, one mistake, one path wrongly chosen and any one of us could've been the person working for free because we depend on others' kindness and generosity to survive. And these guys may be the ones who go on to help other addicts recover from their diseases and live meaningful, happy lives.

My father is an addict who no longer abuses his drugs of choice (heroin and crack), but who still drinks and has more pills than a pharmacy. My mother is an addict, though her drug of choice is nicotine and though she quit nearly two years ago, I suspect she's smoking again here and there. So I know good and well that addicts are just people. I am grateful that today was another opportunity for a reminder.

We are all just people, hurting and smiling and struggling side by side. I hope I never forget.

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Getting organized

Know how I've been obsessed with how unobsessed I am with getting and staying organized? I may have found a solution.

Beth at The Plus Size Mommy is giving away a Brother P-Touch labelmaker. I've entered the contest and have my fingers crossed that I'll win.

I guess you could go enter, too. The giveaway ends today and winners will be announced tomorrow. I won't be mad at you if you win ... you just have to let me borrow it!

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Perhaps this is why

Last week, I packed up Javi and we headed over to the library. We went a lot in July when he was participating in their summer program, but August saw us spending lots of time at the park instead. I missed it and he loves it -- well, he loves the endless supply of drawing books, anyway.

While we were there, I used the free wifi to do some layout and proofing. What is usually a struggle here came naturally there. I think the difference was:

a) I was at a desk. Like, a real live one. With a chair and everything.
b) There was room to spread out papers and pens and station my phone so it was away from my fingers.

Back when I worked at a desk, I would jot things down as they came to me and then address those items when I completed the current task. In my current "office," I am often shifting and readjusting and dropping and man is this laptop hot, and hey, wonder what's in the fridge.

This is my current office:

Perhaps that's the reason I feel my motivation has left the building. A beautiful, spacious, well lit home office is at the top of my mom porn list. Perhaps this is why.

In our next home, I will have a room of my own. It will be motivating and pretty and I will look forward to spending time in it. A girl can dream, right?

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On keeping your hands to yourself

It's a lesson we all learn as we make our way in the world. Keep your hands to yourself. Don't hurt others. Turn the other cheek. Walk away.

Yet 1.3 million women are physically assaulted by their intimate partners each year. And if that number is in the millions, can you imagine how many children have watched their mothers get beaten, hit, choked -- or worse?

I can't get this statistic out of my mind thanks to recent news. There's the revelation that Chris Brown has a history of abusing Rhianna. There's Ryan Jenkins stuffing Jasmine Fiore's body into a suitcase. There's that long and growing line of women who are betrayed and hurt by the men in their lives.

And yet. Where's the public outrage? Where are the women standing up and saying: We will not allow this any longer. People like to talk about Chris Brown. His fame. His money. His age. They speculate what Rhianna did to provoke him. People were captivated by the Ryan Jenkins manhunt ... because he was a reality show contestant. Because VHI cut him a check. They wondered, what did Jasmine do to make him so angry?

I've not heard one news outlet or media report or blog call it by name. These are instances of intimate partner violence ... and they aren't 1 in a million. It's happening every day. It could be happening in your home or in your neighbor's home. It could be happening to your sister, your child's teacher, that nasty wench in the check out line.

It's rampant and it's wrong and yet there's a teachable moment in our faces and no one is using it. So I present you with these facts:

1. If you partner hits you once, he will hit you again.

2. You can get out. Make a plan. Open a separate savings account and squirrel away a little money each week. Ask for help -- you will be amazed how many people step up to support you.

3. Your children are watching -- and what you allow them to see and experience has lasting repercussions.

Consider this: Witnessing violence between one’s parents or caretakers is the strongest risk factor of transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next. Boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults. And what happens to the little girls? More than likely, they become adults who enter into abusive relationships.

Imagine the impact if everyone took a minute every day to educate the women in their lives about partner abuse -- and encourage them to break that cycle.

This is my minute. My plea. Women of the world: You are worth so much more. Your children are worth so much more. Start the process of leaving today. And if you need help, ask for it. I, like so many others, am here for you.

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My best girl

Every morning, while walking with Bella up to her school, I say, "Who's my best girl?" And she pats her little chest and says, "My am!" Then I saw, "Who's my main squeeze?" And she hooks her still-chubby arms around me and says "I yo feeze Mama!"

When she gets home in the afternoon, she bursts through the door calling out, "Here I am! I home now!" We all fawn over her and beg for hugs and ask her about her day. We've missed her, acutely aware of how quiet things are without her. She's missed us, too, and wants to chirp excitedly about the minutia of her day.

These are the little things that we would've missed had I not decided to get pregnant. I didn't really want another child, but I agreed to it. During the pregnancy, I didn't get invested in the little baby growing inside of me (for many reasons, including a paranoia that if I cared too much, something horrible would happen). But now? Now, I can't imagine life without this little monkey with her crazy Lou Ferrigno hair and her stubbornness and her mean streak.

She's my best girl, my main squeeze. I pray every day that we never have to know what life is like without her.

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My mom porn

I'm wading through work stuff this morning, but my mind is elsewhere (which makes it really hard to write five whole stories and way too many news bits). This is what's taking up my genius-space:

1. I'd be so much more productive in an office like this than I am in my current workspace (my living room):

Isn't it gorgeous? I would need a different chair so I can sit cross legged, but woah. So nice.

2. I would take my act on the road if my ride looked like this:

Now with 2 more miles per gallon than other minivans in its class!

3. I'd be so much thinner if I had this:

Yes. It's a lap band. And yes. I totally want one.

Maybe now that I have this out of my system, I can power through my writing work and squeeze in a refreshing nap before the kiddo is home from school. Genius space cleared!

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WFMW: Gift tags

If you're like me, you hate buying cards (a. because no one reads them and b. they are a waste of valuable resources [like trees!]) -- but I also hate either having to be the one who reluctantly raises her hand when at a gift-giving event and the recipient is looking around trying to figure out who brought the gift she's holding (or the mom who doesn't put her son's name on a birthday gift -- you know those looks are the worst).

So I came up with an easy solution: Reuse the cards we get. I know what you're thinking: We all reuse unsigned cards. But that's not the kind of use I'm talking about. I cut the cards down into smaller squares, punch a hole in the corner, and use funky ribbon to tie the "gift tags" to bags. For wrapped gifts (who does that anymore?), I cut the cards into rectangles and fold them in half long ways. Then I use double-sided tape to stick the tag to the package.

For a few pennies (just the cost of your ribbon or tape, really), you can have some of the cutest and most decorative gift tags your gift recipient has ever seen. I hope you'll try it!

This works for me. What works for you?

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First Morning

Javi had a fantastic morning, despite his fitful sleep. He woke up with a smile on his face and some pep in his step. Dad made him an egg and cheese quesadilla, Mom helped him get dressed, and Javi was excited to get through his morning routine so that he could get on to school.

He was slightly antsy waiting for the bus, but lots of dancing and jumping helped him work it out. Here's my big third grader on his first day:

I hope he has a fantastic first day back!

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Do we need a 504?

Several parents of children with ADHD or other sensory and attention disorders have urged me to get a Section 504 plan for Javi.

If you're not "in the know," the Americans with Disabilities Act contains a provision (Section 504) which requires schools that receive federal funds to create special provisions for children with disabilities so to ensure that they have equal access to an education. If I pursued a 504 for Javi, he would be guaranteed preferential seating in the classroom, smaller testing groups, and more time to complete his work. He'd also get help with his planning and organizational skills.

But does he really need one? Javi is highly distractible and really can't tolerate sitting next to a chatty or fidgety classmate, but I usually discuss his seating with his teacher at the end of the second week of class (which gives him time to settle into the rhythm of things). His teachers have always been willing to work with me to place him next to a child less likely to distract him.

Javi also hyperfocuses on those around him. When he's reading in groups, he can't focus on the text because he's worried about what page his peers are on or whether he's reading the fastest. He'll skip whole sections just to make sure he stays ahead. This comes back to bite him on comprehension tests.

The same problem occurs during testing. He wants to be the first one finished so he watches the other children to guage who's moving fastest -- and then he beats that child's pace. But, I try to alert the teachers to his tendencies and they work with him on slowing down. (I'm hopeful that he's grown out of this problem because his art teacher was very proud of his ability to hone in on his projects in camp this summer and take his time despite what the kids around him were doing.)

These are his two main classroom problems. With close coordination between his teachers and us, as well as some well-implemented management strategies, Javi seems to do just fine in a regular classroom following standard rules. In fact, he consistently scores at the top of his class in both reading and math. He is -- by all measures and metrics -- a high achiever.

So do we need a 504? I think we have a tendency to push Javi to be "the best he can be." That means we push him to excel at every task, which taxes his little system. If we allowed him to be a middle-of-the-road child, I doubt he'd need any special management strategies at all. Of course, that isn't an option for a child like Javi who craves information, loves to learn, and gets quickly bored with that middle-of-the-road path.

I think I'm going to consider the 504 as an option that's out there if (when?) we determine that we need it. Yes, we expect his teacher to channel more of her resources his way than she does for other children, but I don't think we're asking too much from a person tasked with teaching him. I'll definitely be watching him closely this year since third grade is so much more intense than the grades leading up to it, but I'm confident that -- with our help -- Javi will do just fine.

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Things that work my nerves

I enjoy my job. I mean, it is what it is. But one of my favorite components is layout. Unfortunately, there are people paid better than me who don't seem to grasp even the basics of layout. Maybe I'm OCD, but really, I just can't stand clutter and redundancy and all of the above create them both. I also hate extra work. It should only take about 30 minutes to lay out an 8-page publication.

Fixing these amateur errors sucks up time I could spend elsewhere (like farming on Facebook :P):

1. Snap-to guides. Do people really use these? So annoying!

2. Text boxes set to 100% white. Set the boxes to no fill. Seriously. There's no reason for 100% white in any text box unless you're printing on black. And that 1% isn't worth a default setting.

3. Lack of style sheets. If you're working with a multi-page document that demands consistency, you should use style sheets. End of discussion.

4. Ignoring master pages. Just like with style sheets, the point is to make things easier. Ever try to automate a table of contents without style sheets or master pages? It's a waste of time.

5. Using spaces instead of tabs and using tabs instead of graph formats. If you want a table or a checklist? Use tabs. You want idented paragraphs? Use formats. The only time to use the space bar is for separating words. Trust me. I'm right.

I'm just sayin.

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The Night Before

Javier returns to school tomorrow. I am filled with the kind of giddiness and joy usually reserved for amazing vacations and dream purchases (like how I'll feel when I my mom-porn dreams come true and I drive home a minivan).

However, as with the night before any big event in his life, Javi didn't handle the nervous excitement very well. Anyone who is parenting a child with ADHD or anxiety issues knows from what I speak. To ward off any major meltdowns, I decided to skip our normal routine and let him decide how he'd spend his day. Not surprisingly, he wanted to be everywhere I was -- if I was working in the living room, he was playing with his guys on the living room; if I was straightening up in the kitchen, he was staging mock battles on the oven; if I was using the bathroom, he was laying outside the door talking to me.

Some may find this hard to believe, but I can handle this needy, clingy child with much more patience and understanding than I can the kid who cackles like crazed hyena and bounces off the walls. Rather than feel like I was being stalked, I would ruffle his hair when he passed by me and allow him to kiss me as many times as he wanted. I didn't even call him a pervert for wanting to come into the bathroom with me (though I did lock the door).

As time for open house at his school got closer, I noticed the anxiety setting in. Javi is definitely a "negative nelly" who has to be coaxed and pushed into trying new things or entering a new situation with a smile. Tonight was no exception. He got quieter and quieter as we approached his school. From the moment our shoes hit the pavement, friends, parents, and teachers were calling out hellos to him and trying to engage him about his summer.

The first few times he made eye contact and did a quick, brisk wave. After that, though, he went silent. We always stop by and visit with his kindergarten teacher, but even she got no response from him. By the time we got to his new classroom, he was shuffling, eyes downcast, hands in his pockets, and shoulders drooped. I tried to give him prompts for talking to his teacher, but he just kept asking if we could go home.

We could tell he needed a big SHAKE IT OFF, so we let the kids play for about 10 minutes on the school's playground before heading home for dinner. He got louder and louder on the way home. By dinner time, he was bouncing off the walls, getting in and out of his seat, laughing like a maniac, and talking way too loudly. It took about an hour for him to take a shower and brush his teeth -- a routine we'd whittled down to 30 minutes over the summer. I think he spent 20 minutes alone wrestling with stuffed animals on his bed when he was supposed to gathering up his pajamas.

Then it was time to pack his backpack. Everything was going fine until he couldn't find the color pencils that I knew were in the back-to-school box that Nana (Billy's mom) brought us. When he couldn't find them, he first frantically tore everything out of the box and then broke out in tears. I had to sit with him and squeeze him tight to help him calm down so that we could search for the pencils again. Unfortunately the "the world won't fall apart if you don't have ____" doesn't work for Javi.

Luckily, I quickly found the pencils and the bag got packed and placed by the door. We chose a back-to-school outfit (thank the heavens for dress code -- we have zero issues with choosing an outfit!) and then headed off to bed. After I got Bella tucked in, I laid down with Javi in his bed to help him settle down.

We talked about how much fun he'll have tomorrow, how many old friends he'll see and new friends he'll make, and how third grade will be different from second grade. Then we just snuggled for a while until I told him he had to go on to sleep -- which brought on a quick, but manageable crying jag about not wanting me to close the door ... however, an open door means way too much stimuli for him. I think he would've cried at that point no matter what I did, so I assured him I'd see him in the morning (our nightly promise to each other) and that I loved him, and then I shut the door.

You'd think that after doing this for the past three years, I'd be an expert at The Night Before, but I feel so helpless tonight. Of course he's been up three times since I shut his door and I'm a bundle of nerves so there's no telling how he feels and how deeply he'll sleep tonight.

All in all, a very emotionally exhausting day for us. I hate the ADHD/anxiety roller coaster, but I think treading gently and with kindness and patience is the best medicine. Please pray for us to get through tomorrow morning without any major meltdowns!

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QOTD: High butt

Javi just walked by working on a wedgie.

Me: I love that butt!

Javi: What?

Me: Your high butt. I love it.

Javi: So? Your butt is higher because you're taller.

Me: But I still love your butt.

Javi: What about Ade's butt? He has a really, really high butt. I like his butt more than your butt.

Me: Hm... makes sense. But I still love your butt.

Javi: Can we talk about something else?

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20 thoughts of an insomniac

1. Why am I still awake?

2. I think I drink too much caffeine. I should drink more water ... and exercise.

3. If I drank more water and exercised, I'd probably lose weight.

4. If I lost weight, I bet I could get my shit together.

5. Why do I think losing weight will help? I know many fat and organized people.

6. But I've always been disorganized as shit and I've always been fat. Surely there's a connection.

7. I wonder if Billy knows I'm dealing with insomnia?

8. I wonder why I can't use insomnia to get work done?

9. I bet if I could get work done, I'd have time to be organized and exercise.

10. I wish I would just go ahead and bake that cake that's been hanging out in the cabinet.

11. See? That's why you're fat. You're laying up at 1 am and you'd eat cake if you had it.

12. I should just go to bed.

13. I bet if I went to bed, I'd eventually fall asleep.

14. I bet if I got more sleep, I'd get my shit together and get work done and be less fat.

15. I'm so tired. And fat. And f'ing disorganized.

16. Lord. Those children will be awake soon. And they'll be hungry. And moody. And I'll be exhausted.

17. I bet if I lost weight and got my shit together and was less fat, I'd be a better parent.

18. If I were a better parent, I wouldn't worry that I'm ruining Javi's life and that Bella loves her daddy more than she does me and that Billy is going to leave me because we don't have sex often enough.

19. I would eat the shit out of that damned cake if I'd baked it.

20. Why am I still awake?

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Grab the tissues!

Some days, you need a reminder that you just don't have any to complain about. Your husband loves you, your children love you, and your family is healthy and financially secure.

I've decided to begin making a gratitude list. I won't necessarily blog about it, but I've "organized" myself (yes, I mean that loosely) and I'll have a notepad handy. I encourage everyone to take a little time each day to pinpoint and savor the little things that make life so amazing.

To get you started, watch this (but be careful, it'll fill you with happy tears):

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WFMW: Preserving your tomatoes

I thought canning tomatoes was going to be hard. Like, too hard hard. But I found a simple trick that lets you preserve your tomatoes without worrying about air pockets or water levels or whether a boil is roiling: Don't cook them!

I thought you had to "can" to preserve, but you can simply and efficiently store your tomatoes in the freezer for a good six months. Just blanch them (dunk in boiling water for about a minute) and then drop them in a big bowl of ice water. The skin will fall off. Then throw them in a blender or food processor and give 'em a spin.

Here's the awesome part. You just dump the contents into a big freezer bag, label it, and throw it in the freezer. (Okay, lay. You'll want to store it flat.) I didn't know it could be so easy! You should leave about an inch of space at the top and make sure you get out the extra air ... but that's it.

From this state, you can easily make sauce, add tomatoes to soups or dishes, or throw the tomatoes into salsa.

Bonus tip: I've also learned to clean and slice peppers (banana, jalepeno, bell) and lay them flat on a cookie sheet. Freeze them, give'em a bonk against the countertop to release them from the pan, and toss 'em into another freezer bag. When they're frozen individually like this, you can grab a handful for cooking or just toss them into a salad. They thaw so quickly that they're table-ready in just a few minutes!

Easy-peasy preservation works for me. What works for you?

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My dancer bugs

I think every child goes through a phase where he or she wants to be a professional dancer. In our home, the desire is a little different. B-boy to be exact.

Both Javi and Bella try to break, spin on their hands, do handstands, and drops. Bella can actually hold a handstand move and Javi is perfecting his popping and locking.

I am not at all surprised considering how many times we've watched So You Think You Can Dance and America's Best Dance Crew (and, yes, we call it ABDC in our house). But what I find hilarious is this:

When the music cues up, Bella bebops on the sidelines while Javi breaks it down. Then Javi maneuvers himself out of the spotlight and Bella dances her way in. They are the cutest, whitest, least trained dance crew I've ever seen. And they make my heart soar.

I promise to get it on video. However, when either of them hear the dang thing whir on, they immediately stop and hide. As evidenced by this attempt at undercover video footage (sorry it's wrongly oriented, I was being sneaky):

Stay tuned!

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Sunshine and rainbows

Reading back through my past few posts, someone could easily decide that my days are foul and unhappy.

But they aren't. For every time Javi sucks his teeth or slams into the things he passes so as to show me his disproval, there is a moment of hilarity or kindness or joy.

Like yesterday when he and Bella were up at the crack of dawn after we got home late from the lake the night before (which pushed bedtime back an hour or so). It was all I could do get them breakfast and turn on the tv before collapsing on the couch for a cat nap.

When I woke up a bit later, there was this:

And this:

And when the novelty of dressing up in her big brother's clothes wore off, there was this:

Yes, parenthood -- alas, adulthood -- is tough and requires a lot of emotional and physical juggling. But it's worth it. I promise.

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Fighting the good fight

Before I admit to a philosophy that goes against what many modern parents think, let me say that I live in a relatively safe neighborhood and my home is positioned square in the center of a double cul-de-sac. Most people in my neighborhood leave for work by 8 am and don't return until after 5 pm. When a car comes into the double cul-de-sac, I am often startled and slightly surprised.

So don't judge me when I admit that I lock my child outside for a good hour (or two) every week day. Yep. Lock. As in, turn the dead bolt and the knob lock ... and lock the back sliding glass door. As in, the child couldn't get back inside without breaking something ... and you'd better believe he knows better than to try.

I often feel it necessary to explain and defend this action. I hear moms whose children are much older than mine say that they don't allow their kids outside alone, don't want them playing in other people's yards, don't trust that they are safe without constant supervision. And then there's me. When Javi wasn't in camp this summer, I implemented an hour-a-day-outside rule. I'd set the timer and put the child outside. He was allowed to come back in when the timer went off.

I thought the first day would be the toughest. That was the day when he was too bored to survive, so I made him ride his bike. For 20 minutes. Without stopping. He'd come riding back to the house and I'd point back to the road. For 20 minutes. On a different day he had been outside for less than 15 minutes when he started crying and whining about being bored. So I gave him a trash bag and made him walk around the neighborhood picking up trash. You can rest assured he got un-bored very quickly.

All this leads to today. My little brother, Ricky Ricardo (age 10; medicated with Concerta for ADHD), is spending the day with us. Both kids fidgeted and talked over each other on the way to drop Bella off at school. I spent that drive dreaming about the moment I'd put them out.

But even with a buddy, Javi is still banging at the door and begging to come back inside. He's still pressing his face up to the glass and sucking his teeth and yelling to let him in. They went out at 9:30 am. They tried to come in at 9:40 am. I locked the doors. They sat on the stoop outside our door for 20 minutes before deciding to just go play with a friend on the friend's trampoline. They tried to come in again at 10:15, but I pointed to the timer and walked away.

Obviously, this fight is ridiculous. But I'm going to fight it. Not only does outdoor play help burn off extra energy, it also helps calm the mind and body of a child with ADHD and the exposure to sun in the morning (before it's hot and miserable outside) helps boost children's mental health so that they can better control his impulses and make sound decisions.

After Javi's hour is up, he often comes in and plays quietly in his room. He eats his entire lunch without backtalk or negotiation. He is allowed an hour of television in the heat of the afternoon. Then he'll decide to read or draw. He is calm and focused and likely worn slam out. He usually goes out to play with friends in the hour before and after dinner. He then takes a shower, hangs out with the family, and then goes to bed. No arguments, no fighting, no parents wondering how to grow back all the hair they've pulled out.

I'm not giving up on outdoor play. But I would love ideas or suggestions for making it less of a struggle. Any advice?

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When you work from home

I remember back in 2005 and earlier when I would wake up at 5:30 am every day. Shower, get dressed, wake up Javi and get him dressed, grab my packed lunch and some breakfast -- and then hit the road. I'd drop Javi at daycare and then spend the next 45 minutes driving down the quiet backroads that led from home to work.

The day would start when I sat down at my desk and it would end when I left it at 4:30 pm every week day. I'd answer the phone, "Good morning/afternoon, this is Kelly." I'd take lunch. I'd shut my office door when a personal call came in. I'd go on coffee breaks with coworkers or host the occasional gossip fest around my desk.

And it was drudgery, right? That slave-to-the-office thing was drudgery and my since-then schedule of waking up in time to get the kids where they need to be, throwing on something clean, making a to-go mug of cold chai latte, dropping the kids around town, and then returning home to power on the laptop and settle into the couch -- that's freedom, right? That's a "flexible schedule" that allows me to "set my own hours," right?

Confession: Working from home can really suck. Not only are you expected to produce the same amount of work you performed in the office, you have to do it with all the chaos and disruption of home life. And there are no coworkers to commiserate with or to break up the day with. It's just you -- your sense of timing, your ability to stick to a schedule, your commitment to deadlines, your desire to get things done.

But what happens when you have no desire or commitment or ability? What happens when you decide to spend only 10 minutes wading through email yet an hour passes before you know it? What happens when you finally try to plot deadlines on a calendar only to realize you must produce 36 pages of content in four days?

Which one is really drudgery? Which one gives you more real freedom?

I like to tell people that in my ideal world, I'd be an office manager for some company that's secure during recessions. I'd spend the morning making sure the office is happy and then I'd spend the afternoon working on anything I wanted on my cushy little office computer. I'd be well paid and well rested. There would always be a firm boundary between work and home because work can keep.

Instead, I'm living the career other people would love to have. In fact, everytime I tell someone that I work from home, they immediately ask what I do. After I tell them, they stare wistfully off into the horizon and say, "I wish I could find work to do at home."

I feel guilty for a bit and offer up thanks for the many blessings in my life. And then I think about those never-ending deadlines and the brain in my head that always promises me next month will be better. But it isn't. And it's not. So I should probably get started ... I only have four days.

Anyone else out there working from home? How do you make it happen?

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The married life

Marriage is hard.

I know, I know. Who needs to be told that hitching your life and lot to another person is mindblowingly hard. Just when you think you’ve hit smooth seas, a hurricane rolls in and you’re clutching your stomach and heaving its contents over the deck. Or maybe it’s just me.

I know people who profess to never having moments where they question their decision to mate for life. They act like anyone who would doubt their marriage for half a minute is obviously not as “in love” as those in “perfect” marriages.

I say those people are full of it, but then they point out how I refused to change my name and how I talk about my next husband. I don’t happen to believe that taking someone’s name is the nail on which a life-long contract hangs, but apparently my marriage was inherently flawed from the beginning. And I do refer to my next husband. He is deliciously agreeable and always puts the toilet seat down. However, I also talk about my next child — and there really won’t be another of those, so the logic is flawed.

Marriage is hard.

Not hard enough to make me want to throw my hands up and walk out. Not hard enough to make me hate being around him. Not hard enough to make me covet other women’s husbands. But hard in an incessant and uncompromising way that makes me squint down the road into the future and feel something akin to the moments right after you enter a battle zone and realize you’d better start fighting or prepare to get buried.

I think part of the problem for me (and for Billy) is that we have no role models for success. Growing up, every single one of my mother’s friends was divorced. In fact, we lived in subsidized housing where many of the women were actively in hiding from abusive ex-husbands. My father was a deadbeat who ruined not one, but two marriages. Billy’s mother moved from abusive husband to abusive husband.

Where Billy’s mother sought out providers and took whatever beatings came with the territory, my mother made the conscious decision to not re-enter a romantic relationship after a few bouts with heartbreak after my father went away. So not only was their no marriage, there was no romance. No intimacy. No insight to how the whole thing works.

And yet somehow Billy and I landed together in a little house in a little Southern town with our sweet little kids. We have the same struggles and successes as every other parenting couple. Everyone knows it’s hard and everyone has some back story for why they sometimes just need a break from the seeming insurmountableness of it all.

Somedays it's too much for me. I am a woman, not a "wife" and definitely not another adult's "mother." I want things to be balanced and equitable. I to get as much as I give. I want consideration and gratitude and respect and enthusiasm from the person I chose to cleave to. I want more of those things from him than I get from others.

Currently, if I want some combination of those wants (needs?), I must turn to a friend. Is that a married woman's lot in life? Is this an instance of it is what it is and I must learn to accept it? Or can I mold and polish this mountain man who's more worried about looking whipped than making his wife happy?

Knowing that you live a charmed life of a dedicated husband, happy and healthy children, and secure and lucrative employment is one thing, feeling that charm down in your core is quite another. For me, personally, sometimes the best way to exorcise the beast of a thing is to just give voice to it:

Marriage is hard.

And yet we will persevere. We must. There is no other option.

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WFMW: Dry Erase Boards

While most people use dry erase boards to leave notes to each other or keep track of what's needed or when, I like to use them as educational tools.

For instance, we recently purchased Javi's first dictionary. Every morning when he wakes up, he finds a new word on his dry erase board. He must then look up the word in his dictionary and write down the definition. By the end of the day, he must write a sentence of his own using the word. And he loves gathering us around him to present his sentence.

Because Javi's a child who loves to read and tell stories, his sentence often becomes the basis for an action-packed short story. I love that his "words of the day" push him to come up with plots that extend past his stereotypical 8 year old imagination, which is otherwise filled with monsters, soldiers, and wrestlers. (Please tell me that's standard for an 8 year old boy.)

During the school year, his words coincide with the vocabulary lists his teacher sends home from school. And this year he'll be working with multiplication and division, so I imagine the board will start seeing some numbers soon.

So that's what works for me. What works for you?

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Managing the morning

School starts ... way too soon. And while Bella is a go-with-the-flow kind of kid, Javier needs a lot of coaxing. Actually, I often feel like I'm his trainer more than his mom as I coach him from one "station" to the next.

For instance, even though his clothes are laid out the night before, I have to repeat and urge him into them in the morning. Then there's breakfast, which is typically his biggest meal of the day because he eats it before his meds take effect, and which can last 30 minutes or more without me standing over him chanting, "Eat! Be quiet and eat!" After breakfast, it's the hair and teeth dance where I'm trying to get Bella dressed and Javi keeps appearing in the room with his tooth brush or squirt bottle in hand and I have to force him back to the bathroom to finish up. So what should take 30 minutes turns into an hour long affair.

When we started the day camp he's attending this week (and last), I decided to toss out any semblance of independence and just do what has to be done to get us out of the house in good spirits and without a morning full of stress. I wake him up and dress him before he even gets out of bed. When he gets to the kitchen, his breakfast and meds are waiting for him. I set a 10 minute timer so that he can gauge how fast he must eat (and how much he can talk). When the 10 minutes are up, we all go into the bathroom together to do hair and teeth. Magically, our routine now takes less than a half hour and no one wants to pull their hair out (um, so I don't want to pull my hair out).

But as much as this new routine makes for a less stressful morning, I feel as though we're regressing. This kid will be 9 years old in December. He needs to be able to get himself ready for his day. I feel like I've been fighting this battle for so long now that half of me wants to throw my hands up and the other half is tenaciously holding onto what headway I've made. Do I accept that my child needs his hand held or do I lay down the law with him so that he is compelled to do it himself?

I don't know the answer. I suppose I could discuss it with his pediatrician at our appointment next Monday, but I don't know if it's a question that a doc can answer. I know my kid. I know that what he can't do on his own is the same task he can easily accomplish when a timer's involved. I know that we can create a smooth morning routine if I do everything for him. Is it worth it? How old is too old to have your mom pulling your pants up?

What's worse is that I know my struggle with his mornings is nothing compared to his struggle with his mornings. Can you imagine being inside his head? The impulse to touch, talk, jump, push, grab, argue, debate, and kick overrules everything. How can he focus on completing his tasks when there's so much to hear and to say and to do? I imagine it's mass chaos in his head, like 15 people talking to you at once.

So I'm working on my patience this morning, and giving myself two weeks to figure it all out.

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School Pictures

We were having a hard morning back on July 21. We woke up late. Javi thrashed and fought through breakfast, getting dressed, and brushing his hair and teeth. Bella wanted to be doing anything but preparing for her day.

I got her dressed and then she spilled the bowl of milk leftover from Javi's cereal that he left on the edge of the table. So I got her dressed again. I couldn't force her to sit still so I grabbed up a handful of hair and threw a hairtie around it. Then I had to argue with Javi about why he couldn't stay home by himself while I took her to school.

When we finally got in the car and on the way, I just wanted to crawl into a deep, dark hole and hide out there until they were 18 and headed off to somewhere (anywhere) other than my house. You can imagine how horrible I felt, then, when I got to Bella's school and the teachers came running out excited to see how I dressed her for picture day.

Picture day? Really? No one thought to remind me? My solution was to cart her off to the bathroom and use the sink to put some semblance of order into her hair. Then I pulled off the outfit I'd thrown together and pulled out the much cuter one that was hanging out in her cubby as her back up clothes in case of an accident.

But I really needn't have worried. As soon as my baby knew she was getting her picture taken, she was the Belle of the Ball. She primped and prissed and princessed her way to the picture area and then acted like she'd been modelling her entire life. She had everyone's captive attention and we all oohed and ahhed over her. When her session was over, we had to drag her away kicking and screaming.

Since that morning, I've been anxiously awaiting the photos to come in. I knew they'd be fabulous because even if she looked like a kid whose mama doesn't love her, she smiled like a child who knew the world would always fall at her feet. And I was right, the pictures turned out great. I mean, they aren't as amazing as these, but they'll do for school photos:

I couldn't afford the entire package and the digital images cost $60 on their own. This is the best I could do for bloggy purposes, but these are my favorite two poses. Family and friends can expect their pictures soon!

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So Bella and I were just hangin' out on a Saturday afternoon after a full day of tax-free shopping and working in the garden. Bella goes into her playhouse and begins making those sounds that you know will lead to a diaper change.

Me: Bay, are you pooping?

Bella: Yeah. (Sounds more like "yay-yuh" in her Southern drawl.)

Me: Want to go poop on the potty?

Bella: No, fank oo. I want just poopin' in my house, okay?

Who can argue with that?

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Lullaby and goodnight

Usually Billy does bathtime, but the rare times that I wind up doing it, Bella loves to lay down in the tub and ask me to "covah ma op!" (transaltion: cover me up) with a wash cloth. She then pretends to sleep and I must act shocked and excited when she announces, "I waked up!"

But the last few times, she's wanted to me sing as she "sleeps." So, I had to come up with a sleep song. I love the song "Lullaby and Good Night," but who can remember those lyrics? I did the only smart thing and made up my own. The song was such a hit that everyone in the house now knows it and sings it on command -- including Bella:

Want to add it to your pretend play repertoire? The lyrics are easy to remember and you don't have to pay me any royalties for using them. :)

Lullaby and good night
Close your eyes, sweet [insert name]
Go to sleep, go to sleep
I hope you have sweet dreams
(Repeat as many times as your child wants.)

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Bella's new favorite thing

If you haven't fallen in love with Melissa & Doug*, then you obviously don't have children.

Just kidding. But we are huge fans of the company and its well-made, safe toys for children. I hadn't heard of the company when Javier was a little one, but luckily I've been able to purchase several items for Bella, including toy food for the kitchen set she adores.

Well, she used to adore it. Just like she used to adore her playhouse and her Thomas trains. All of that was before I brought home Melissa & Doug's Nina Ballerina Magnetic Dress-Up Set. I was hesitant to buy it because there are so many pieces and Bella hasn't really shown interest in dressing up the one baby she owns. But I figured if she didn't like it immediately, we'd put it up for later.

I shouldn't've worried. Not only does she love the set, which she refers to as "my doddy" (my dolly) -- she and Javi love to play with it together! No fighting, no "no touch-a me, Javi!" or "give it back, Bella!" Just pure imagination and comraderie as the two try different clothing combinations or figure out which headpiece looks best.

My only complaint is there is no boy-girl combination in the company's range of dress-up sets. I would've loved to have something less gendered, or at least the opportunity for the kids to play around with gender (you know, a cute dress on the knobby kneed boy or a tuxedo on the ballerina), but that's my own agenda, right?

To be fair, there is a boy (and that set is described as "pretend play" rather than "dress-up" (no gender typing there)). This leads me to believe that not many boys are playing with dress-up dolls. But I am seriously tempted to buy Joey for the kids so that they can have a boy pal for Nina.

So, my point. If you're looking for a made-in-the-USA toy that sparks creative play by children of all ages, you have to try these magnetic sets. Even Billy and I swooned over them!

*Disclaimer: Melissa & Doug have no idea that I'm writing about their product. I just am too impressed with it not to share. Call it yet another great product by a great company!

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Imagination at work

As evidenced by her new-found love of dress up, Bella's imagination is really blossoming. I should probably say exploding, but I prefer to pretend she's a sweet flower than a hurricane with gale-force winds.

Ehem. Anyway, she has gone from a child who renacts real-life scenarios to one that lives in a world inhabited by unseen creatures and surreal rules. For instance, she still loves to play "pic pic" (picnic) and "make-a yo coffee" in the bath tube (you know, filling up her toys with water for us to pretend to drink ... that's how you make coffee, right?). But now she also must talk to people on her banana "phone" before she'll allow me to peel it so that she can eat. And she also likes to text on the remote control. When I ask her what she's doing, she shoots me an annoyed look and says, "I stec you, Mama."

But her burgeoning imagination isn't all sunshine and rainbows. Surprisingly, the child with a mean streak is also the child with a creepy little brain. She sees Swiper the Fox everywhere. He was sneaking into the bed with us this morning and then hiding in the fan this evening. He tiptoes up behind me when I'm changing her diaper and sometimes hangs out in the fridge. I thought Swiper was okay to play around with, so yesterday I said to her, "Here comes Swiper! He's gonna get you!" and my sweet girl about lost her ever-lovin' mind. It took me more than a half-hour to calm her down.

Then there are the snakes and spiders. Bella sees them lurking in the strangest places, like in her drum set and on her toothbrush. When she sees them, she must grab them up and then stomp them to death. When I was playing with her in her room, I told her I spotted one and needed her to stomp it. She ran right over and began Riverdancing on it. Just when I thought I was safe, she saw another one and exterminated it as well.

But I took it too far by taking her to see real snakes. She was cool until I took her too close -- and she tried to climb inside my eyeball ... fingernails first. We won't be doing any more of that real stuff any time soon!

Despite the creepy factor, this imagination thing is pretty fun. I'm really enjoying watching her brain flex and grow. However, I hope the next step isn't monsters underneath her bed -- who knows how she'll decide to slay them!

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A dreamy afternoon

This evening was one of those that parents wish for.

First, Javi played outside the day camp he's attending at a local park:

Then, we picked up Bella and some fresh peaches ... which they promptly devoured:

Before moving on to our standard post-arrival home, pre-dinner routine, there was this:

And before bed, this:

I'm such a lucky gal!

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Fighting for our sanity

I spend a lot of time monitoring and evaluating and recording the way Javi's medication affects him. We spent seven months on Concerta, which worked wonders for the first six months or so. And then Javi's behavior started sliding back into frustration territory, so we upped his dosage from 18 mgs to 27 mgs to 36 mgs (yes, we liked to move in 9 mg increments).

But those increments didn't result in controlled impulses, heightened attention, and emotional understanding. Instead, we had intense meltdowns that included lots of crying and storming off and my child suggesting that he's stupid, ugly, and inherently bad. Obviously, that wasn't going to work.

So we went back to the doctor to figure out a new plan. We have always been careful not to overmedicate him or keep him on a medication that he doesn't need. So we wondered, was his behavior a sign that the medication's not working or was it a sign that he needed a higher dose? I was relieved when his doctor didn't advocate pumping him up another 9 mgs. According to her, those meltdowns and other behaviors were a sign that Concerta was the wrong medicine.

We then moved onto 20 mgs of Vyvanse. That was toward the end of the school year, and his behavior both at home and school improved tremendously. He would sit at his desk and finish his classwork rather than pace the room. He would come home with great reports rather than a laundry list of poor decisions (including once, "Javi tried to climb the bathroom wall today" -- who does that?). And we knew Vyvanse was for us.

We are now at the one-year-on-medication mark and are extremely happy with Vyvanse. Yes, we fight to get Javi to eat and we struggle when the medication wears off, but those are issues we can deal with. More importantly, those are issues he can deal with without considering himself the bad egg.

So imagine my extreme frustration yesterday when the doctor's office tells me that they will not refill our prescription (which runs out tomorrow) until Javi comes in for a physical. Yes, I know they want to make sure his body is responding correctly, that his heart isn't strained, that his blood pressure isn't too high, and that he isn't experiencing elevated anxiety (which I am concerned about).

I get it. But what they seemed to forget is that Javi's medication is what keeps us and him sane. He doesn't like himself when he's out of control and can't relax into an activity. He doesn't like the pacing and the twitching and the inability to not do things that he knows are wrong. While the pediatrician's policy may be to withhold a prescription pending a physical and test results, it's not a policy that works for our family.

So I raised hell. Yep. I argued on the phone with the frontline staff and eventually the doctor. I tried to reason with them. A) I call every month for a refill. If I don't show up with my son for his physical (which is in a week), then don't give me the next refill. B) If you weren't going to give us enough medicine to make it to his physical, then YOU should've scheduled the physical when we were in for a follow up visit last month. C) YOU KNOW WE'RE COMING BACK! So give us the damn prescription already!

That worked for a half-prescription. The office was willing to give us a prescription for nine days and not a pill more. I told them I'd be by to pick it up. So I call the pharmacy and guess what? THE COPAY IS THE SAME. So I'm supposed to pay $30 today and $30 again next Monday. Seriously? With the office visit copay, that's $90 in less than two weeks. Did I miss the money tree growing out back?

So I decided to take matters into my own hands and showed up at the doctor's office with both guns blazing. I used the same line of reasoning, but I did it passionately and in person. Finally, Javi's doctor came out to discuss it with me. I appealed to her basic sense of humanity ... and played a bit on her emotions. I asked her if it were her son whose brain sends him running in circles all day, would she just suck it up? If she had to pay two times the amount for one month's worth of medication, would she just suck it up?

I don't know if she saw the desperation in my face or heard the cracking in my voice, but she finally relented. So now we have a full month's prescription and we're still on schedule for our physical. Everybody wins, right? Right.

But I just can't help thinking about the moms who don't fight back. Maybe I have an inflated sense of entitlement or maybe I don't get how many people abuse their prescriptions, but when it comes to my child's fragile little self, I'm not going to just suck it up. Would you?

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Want to win a backpack?

I follow @StealsDeals on Twitter and have found the cutest giveaways through the ladies there. And with Javi going back to school at the end of this month, I was super excited to enter one for a Hatley backpack.

Now I want you to do it, too. I mean, even if you don't win, it's free to try, right? And who knows, maybe you'll have one less thing to buy before your kidlets head to school.

Good luck!

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WFMW: Back To School Edition

Javier is back to school in less than a month. (Whew - we made it!)

But with the return of the school year comes the return of the school year routine... and we have one that's been honed to near perfection after three years of early mornings and uneaten lunches. Here are a few of our tried-and-trued tips:

Tip #1: Create a "workflow" for getting dressed. Javi lays his clothes out the night before, but not just in a pile in the kitchen. He puts clean socks on at night (don't ask), strips out of jammies and into his uniform in the living room, and then puts on his belt right after breakfast while heading into the bathroom. It's streamlined and nothing gets forgotten. Shoes are next to the door to throw on as he leaves the house. Backpack is ready and waiting for him by his shoes. Easy peasy.

Tip #2: Hold off on those back-to-school supplies. Everyone loves a great bargain -- and who can beat $.25 glue sticks or $.15 notebooks? But if you have a house teeming with stuff, the last think you need is to add more unnecessary clutter. Unless you have a great place to store all the cheap supplies, don't buy them.

Why not? Invariably, you won't need half of what you buy at those rock-bottom sales. I've learned (in all my infinite wisdom) to ignore the supply sheets schools post online and in stores and just wait for a list to come home from the teacher. Sure, the first grade pod will need tissues and sanitizer, but they won't need tabbed dividers ... despite what that supplies list tells you.

So just wait until the first day of school when you get the real list. Otherwise, you'll find yourself headed right back to the store, and letting all the unused stuff take up valuable storage space. (Until your kid starts filching the paper to draw on. You know, one teeny tiny drawing per page.)

So what works for you when it's time to get the kids (or yourself) ready to go back to school? Head over to WFMW to share your tips!

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QTOD: When I grow up

"When I grow up, I'm going to be tan, Mama. I just can't wait for that!" -- Javier

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Sticky #4

Who needs letters when you have stickies? Please let me never forget these precious details of Bella's toddler years:

* Bella's language has really exploded. I remember a few months ago being so worried (though not admitting it) that she wasn't saying much. She almost seemed embarrassed to attempt copying the things she heard. But not anymore. The child repeats everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) she hears and often remembers what someone said hours or days later. She's the sponge the experts talk about.

But the phrases she says everyday aren't necessarily the ones you want other people to hear. Like: "Dang it!" and "You got gas, Mama?" and "I poopin' in my diaper. NOT YO POTTY!" and "I see yo shessth [chest]?" But there are some that melt my heart. Like: "I lub you either, Mama" and "You wanna lay down wit me, Mama?" and "I need nudder hug, Mama! An nudder kiss!"

* Of course, with language comes the stubborn refusal to allow us to do what needs to be done. Like brushing her hair and teeth, getting her into her seat at the table or in the car, putting on her clothes and shoes, changing her diaper... when it comes time for any of those things and a littany of others, she shrieks at us "Let me do it!" or "No heppin' me! You not!"

And while we can't help you, we'd better move out of the way and allow you to help us -- or else face the wrath. I can't chop a vegetable or mix a glass of chocolate milk without you climbing up my legs crying "let me hep you!" or "I gone do it! Bella do it -- not Mama do it!" She's scrambled eggs, buttered toast, pretended to put chopped cucumber in the bowl (but instead popped it in your mouth), scooped watermelon, and shucked corn. You've carried in groceries, put away clothes, and pushed the vacuum. You've also weeded the garden and the flower beds, picked random trash out of the yard, and brought the recycling bin back inside.

And she loved every second of it.

* I used to spend every day with Bella, and then she was gone three days each week, and then it went to five days each week. And I've got questions. What's she doing? What's she eating? What made her laugh? When did she meltdown?

So I've taken to asking her about her day. The first few days I had to pry it out of her, "What'd you do at school today? Did you see Ms. Beth and Ms. Tammy and Ms. Kim? Did you sing a song? What song was it? Did you play outside? Did you eat your lunch? Was it yummy? Did you take a nap?" and the string of questions continued. This was how deep my desire to know and take pleasure in her little day. So what she's only two years old!

Well, I guess she got a little annoyed with me. Because now when she comes through the door, I get a big hug and then I get something to this effect, "I saw Ms. Beth and Ms. Kim and Ms. Tammy and I eated my food and I played and I cleaned up and I no take a nap!" And then she's off. I can ask her any question I want but she's through with the answering. Which I'm learning to be okay with. :)

* As Bella gets older, she's begun to expect things. Whether we want to or not, there are some routines that we must follow or she'll make us regret it. For instance, Billy must give her a bath directly after dinner. "I takin' a baf NOW Daddy!" And then Billy must wait a while to put her pajamas on her and take her to brush her teeth. If there isn't a lull, you're guaranteed to pay for it. Then there must be another lull before I take her up to bed. And I must hold both her hands and stand behind her and let her jump up the stairs. And I must stand behind her while she climbs into her bed and then cover her up and kiss her forehead and then turn on her music and then leave. Any deviation will make bedtime horrible and hours-long.

Make no mistake. Daddy does bath time and brushing teeth. Mama does bed time. And never the twain shall meet.

* I think the best example of how our Bella is growing up is in her new found love of her friends. Six months ago the child couldn't grasp the concept of a friend, but now she has a multitude of them. She chatters on and on about her "babies" at school -- Jaden and Kirsten who are 12 months and 15 months respectively -- and must hug every child in the room before she can leave.

When Javi's friends come over to play, she jumps up and down and grabs her blocks. She'll say "C'mon, boys! Wan pway wit me?" And then help them build and tear down until they invariably lose interest. Then'll she'll cry, "Don't go! Let's pway, 'kay? I yo fwen, okay boys?" Whether they stay or scamper off, Bella treats them like her most favorite buddies.

Which of course leads me to ask the question: Where does the time go? When did my beaming baby morph into this big girl?

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Sticky #3

Despite the roller coaster he keeps me on, Javi never fails to tickle me. Here's why:

* A few weeks ago, Billy traded our old Power Mac G3 for a small Acer pc that came stocked with anti-virus software and kid-friendly games. Javi almost lost his mind. He immediately wanted to surf the Internet and spent an entire afternoon playing Club Penguin (his favorite). Then he had to have a farm on Facebook and he had to test out all three of his Funkeys. Suffice it to say we had to lay down the computer law early on. But the love hasn't abated. Now he balances gaming with "research," such as finding out how to remove or cure Cherry Tree Syndrome.

As the summer has worn on, my little boy has gained a lot of confidence and maturity. He watches the clock to make sure we leave for all his activities in plenty of time, he gathers his materials and leads the way to whichever room or building his camp is in. He also lets me know if and when he's ready to leave after the camp is over (sigh). But I didn't realize how capable he is until I had to get to a meeting that started at the same time as his 3 pm art camp class.

All week we saw kids in the class coming and going through the building that houses the art studio (a collection of shops by crafters). So I took a gamble. I walked Javi to the elevator (the studio's on the third floor), but didn't accompany him up. At first, he was stressed. He pushed the button for himself and then talked through what to do once he got in the elevator (wait for the doors to close, push the 3 button, get off, walk into the room). He was nervous, but he took a deep breath and went for it. When I returned an hour later to pick him up, he was trying to convince the camp teacher that he was supposed to wait for me downstairs ... because he's "a pro at the elevator."

We put a stop to that line of thinking, but I definitely became his tagalong at drop off and pick up as he deftly and assuredly worked the elevator while rolling his eyes that I insisted on coming with him. I did warm his heart by not walking him into class though. For that, I got a big squeeze every afternoon.

* Because Javi is a bit taller and bigger than many children his age and because he likes to act like he's 25, Billy and I have a habit of treating him like the third parent or the teenaged older brother. We've been trying to dial it back, but some damage is already done. For instance, Javi can often be found putting Bella in timeout for some horrible misstep (such as touching his lego creations) or lecturing us on letting the milk run out or pulling things out of the garbage that we should've put in the recycling.

But I literally guffawed when I overheard him playing with his little neighborhood friend. The boy was strowing clothes and toys around Javi's room, and Javi was definitely exasperated. He yelled out, "Listen! If you want to act like a baby, I'll treat you like a baby! So snap out of it before you aren't allowed to play with me anymore!" Whoa, buddy. Good thing I broke it up and got everyone in line before Javi had to ground him.

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Glimmers of grace

This summer has been stuffed with fun activities that you simply can't do during the school year. Mornings spent harvesting vegetables in the garden, sleepaway camp, educational and fun day camps, trips out for lunch, afternoons playing in the town fountain, and lazy days hanging around the house.

But when your child has attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, those activities can be bookended with frustration and meltdowns like twin mountains that seem insurmountable. You want your child to have a fantastic summer that he'll remember forever. Instead, you feel like the biggest failure for pushing him out of his comfort zone and not being able to find your zen space when he pushes back at you.

You want him to look forward to meeting new kids and experiencing the types of things you never had the chance to. You make plans and sign paperwork and make 18 copies of his medical record. You fill carts with flash lights, ponchos, sunscreen, water shoes, heavy drawing paper, watercolors, craft kits, sun hats, disposable cameras, and portable snacks. You lay ground work. You talk about the day's plans as though they include a rocket trip to the moon because they are just that fabulous.

But inevitably, your child's brain is working against you. His chemical makeup is running the show and you can only shuck and jive for so long before those chemicals catch on to your ruse and slam shut any possibility that your child will walk into new situations willingly and with a good attitude.

What you want: Bright eyes and a hopeful smile.

What you get: Slammed doors, sucked teeth, tooth brushing that takes 10 minutes, hair brushing that takes longer, constant back talk, pillow fights with invisible enemies in place of getting dressed, streams of negative commentary from the back seat of the car, screwed and scrunched up faces, tears, jerking shoulders, stomping feet, arms and hands that wrench away from you.

My son's attention disorder is somewhat controlled with 30 mg of Vyvanse every morning. Before that it was 30 mg of Concerta. But the behaviors above will never completely fade away. They are the good end of the spectrum. They are often the result of my poor planning as much as they are misfiring synapses.

Because I know. I KNOW. Some of that could be avoided with careful orchestration. Rather than say we're going to the fountain and then find out the fountain is closed for some type of repair and face the resulting meltdown, I could say we're going for a drive and quietly shove a towel and swim trunks in my bag with my son never the wiser. Rather than say that today is the last day of camp and brave the inevitable tears and stomping when another day of camp rolls around on Monday (albeit for a whole new camp), I could say that today is the last day of THIS camp and Monday starts another.

It's just ... hard. It's so incredibly hard to be "on" at all times and constantly weighing my words and actions and anticipating how a statement uttered on Wednesday can rip my morning apart by Monday. It's hard to take those deep breaths and stay calm in the face of an 8 year old storm of watery, angry brown eyes and too-thin lanky limbs.

And it shreds us both when I wind up bellowing to the rafters: That's enough! Brush your teeth! Brush your hair! Put your clothes on! Eat your breakfast! WHY ARE YOU CRYING?

Or when we're sitting in the rental car office and realize there's no way I can swing us by McDonald's for pancakes and get to camp by 9 am when it's 8:36 am and the rental staff is walking in circles. And I run through my arsenal of negotiations trying to convince him to eat something from his lunch bag and I promise (I promise!) to make it up to him tomorrow morning.

But there is "You said!" and "I want pancakes!" and "I'm not eating if it's not pancakes!" and you know the child keeps losing weight and you'd strangle the rental staff if it wouldn't set a bad example and he has to eat something and maybe you can be late to camp but then he'll whimper and fret and worry himself to death over what time it is and why are we always late, Mama and this wouldn't be happening if you didn't make me go to camp, why can't I just stay home with you?! And everyone's watching and you're trying to whisper but it's not working and finally you have to be the bad mother who says: FINE! If you don't eat at least your granola, you won't get pancakes at all this week and you'll NEVER see a McDonald's pancake when I'm around.

You know it's out of proportion. You know the people around you are giving each other The Look and shaking their heads because this woman clearly is allowing the tail to wag the dog.

But you also know there are really good days. And that when it's over, when all is said and done, he'll emerge from the summer shining and happy. He'll boast to his friends about the time he went all week wearing the same pair of boxers at sleepaway camp, that he can identify compound and simple leaves, that he debuted in his first stage production, that he prefers watercolors to oils, and that king snakes aren't venomous but coral snakes are. He'll be condescending and authoritarian. He'll be decided and proud. He'll be grateful.

So most days I just hold on, white knuckled, to that last day of summer when we look back and catch our breath. When we evaluate the past 90 days and wonder where the time went. When we reminisce about what we had and what we wanted and what we got. Most days I just hang in and pray for serenity, pray for tomorrow to be another chance to get it right.

And then I have glimmers of grace. I have the precious rare comment, given lightly and likely then forgotten. I have the glimpse of what other parents hear more often. From his art teacher, with rain pouring down outside and my body steaming from trying to be in multiple places at once: He is a joy. He has tremendous talent. I am so impressed by him. You are so lucky.

And so I blink back the tears and smile tightly and murmur thanks as I close my eyes and appreciate it. When I open them again, I try to fight back the doubt, the crushing, overwhelming doubt that I am not good enough for him. That I took him from a family who could handle him better and I was wrong. That things would be better for him without me as his mom.

But I love him fiercely. And that has to be enough. I did take him. Willingly and with full understanding that our road would be rocky. I don't regret that decision for a minute. I pray for more grace. I pray that I will finally and for good get my shit together so that we have fewer meltdowns. I pray that we will soon learn to move frustration out of the way and allow the fear or nervous energy or excitement to present itself clearly so that we can welcome and work through it.

Yes, I packed our summer. And most days our frolicking good time was clouded and marred by poor impulse control, inability to focus, inability to process and deal with a gamut of emotions, and the natural inclination of an extremely smart child to question and push and know. But those glimmers of hope and moments when someone sees past all of that straight into the heart of my child? They are what I'll remember.

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