Saturday, September 14, 2013

On This Date in 1998

I woke up at 4:30 this morning to the sound of rain, which has continued unabated throughout the day. It’s not a drizzle, but a steady, drenching rain that has plenty of dry earth to soak into. Up until yesterday evening, the texture of our back yard resembled concrete. I could have cut a two-inch-square chunk of soil out of the ground, thrown it against a hard surface, and watched it shatter into a million pieces. The hardness of the soil and the lack of precipitation – it’s been very dry here during the past month – has resulted in a slowdown of the lawn repair I initiated earlier this year. I’m still trying to get the grass to bounce back from the trampling it received during our Bastille Day party. Only a couple additional efforts at reseeding and a daily watering has kept a section of the back yard from returning to the big, ugly patch of bare earth that taunted me at the beginning of spring.

After a call from Eddie’s teacher and a visit to his pediatrician last Friday, JoAnna and I decided to have Eddie take the drug Ritalin as a way to control his behavior. He’s already been sent to the principal’s office twice this year, and I’ve had two phone conversations with Mrs. Magnuson, his teacher, about how things have been going in the classroom. She reports that Eddie has had good days and bad days, occurring in no predictable pattern. On bad days, he cannot control his impulses. On Friday during recess he hit someone with a stick. Rom her perspective, Mrs. Magnuson did not think it was deliberately malicious. His teacher is also concerned about Eddie missing a lot of work at school due to his inability to focus. He finds, as she phrased it, a lot of things stimulating in the environment. In other words, he’s easily distracted.

JoAnna and I are starting to see more frequent examples of Eddie’s impulsiveness, his ability to become easily frustrated, and his contrariness at home. At soccer practice, too. When I picked him up Sunday evening, I learned that he had refused to run a lap with the rest of his team at the conclusion of the practice.

If you recall, Eddie and his teachers (not just classroom but art, gym, music, as well as his special reading class) participated in a 4-week-long Ritalin blind test this past May. One week he took the drug, the following week a placebo. Only the doctor knew which was which. Based on his review of the results, he said that Ritalin had a very obvious stabilizing effect on Eddie’s behavior. When the doctor asked Eddie is he would mind taking the drug, he answered, “No, ‘cause I won’t get in so much trouble.”

Eddie will start taking Ritalin next week. His teachers will start to keep a record of his behavior this week, which will be used as a base line for measuring any changes that take place during the drug therapy. I hope that this will not turn out to be the long-term solution for Eddie’s difficulties in school. One of the fulltime staff members at the library told me that her son was on Ritalin for 9 years, from 4th grade through high school. I’m hoping that’s not the path that Eddie will have to take. Yesterday I placed a hold on a book that might offer some alternatives to Ritalin: The Myth of the A.D.D. Child: 50 ways to improve your child’s behavior and attention span without drugs, labels, or coercion. It’s not that I’m questioning our pediatrician’s diagnosis. He certainly hasn’t pushed us into taking this route, but I’d still like to investigate the options that might be available to us. At the same time, I won’t be accepting at face value everything I read about the alternatives to drug therapy. A lot of nonsense manages to worm its way into print. It is obvious to the doctor, as well as to JoAnna and me, that Eddie has some ongoing problems that are not related to (or cannot be blamed on) the different personalities of his teachers. The impulsive and other behaviors that Eddie has demonstrated consistently throughout kindergarten, first, and now second grade point to a deeper problem. We’re just thankful that Eddie has been able to maintain a very positive attitude about school. It would be an especially onerous situation if we had to struggle to get Eddie out of the house each morning, if attending school was an activity he was determined to eliminate from his life like a bad dream. Yesterday after I dropped the boys off – rainy day taxi service – I parked the car in the school lot and walked to Eddie’s class to deliver the behavior monitoring form to his teacher. When I returned to the car, I found a mother standing between her van and my car gently coaxing her distraught daughter, who looked to be a first- or second-grader, to leave the passenger’s seat. I caught a glimpse of the girl’s face and saw a mask of sorrow, eyes reddened by crying. The open door of the van was position in such a way that I was unable to get into the driver’s seat of the Saturn. The women immediately noticed this and, closing her door slightly to give me access, said almost apologetically, “We might be here for awhile.” Both Andy and Eddie have always been enthusiastic about attending school. It has sometimes been a struggle getting them off in the morning, but that’s never been a ploy to avoid school.

We celebrated Andy’s birthday yesterday. Meaghan joined us for dinner: lasagna, tossed salad, garlic bread, and a white cake (with those little rainbow color bursts in the batter) with cherry (!) frosting for dessert, a menu selected by the birth boys himself. Andy loves the basketball pants. In fact, he tried on a pair on Saturday afternoon when I took him shopping for new jeans. He was disappointed when I vetoed the purchase, but he was very mature about hearing the word “No” for a change of pace. No whining. No pleading. If he had persisted, I might have blurted out something like, “You can’t get them because that’s what Grandma and Grandpa got you!” But I was able to preserve the element of surprise. We got him a Packer jersey (Antonio Freeman) with a white turtleneck and a long-sleeve navy blue shirt that JoAnna thought would look especially good on him.

In spite of the relentless rain today, Andy’s football practice wasn’t cancelled. I picked up the boys a little bit earlier than usual, their coach not being a sadist. I covered the upholstery of the Saturn with blankets and towels, which was good planning on my part. Otherwise, the interior of the car would have become a disaster area. The boys – Andy, Drew, Cole, and Riley – were thoroughly drenched, a bit muddy (not as much as I expected, fortunately), and slightly chilled, but were in surprisingly high spirits. In spite of the weather, they seemed to have enjoyed themselves. It was a chance to slop around with compunction.

On Saturday evening, JoAnna and I attended a reception at Music Hall on the UW campus, which was followed by a preview of an opera-in-progress, based on a controversial 1954 film that was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. (Neither JoAnna nor I have seen it, but I did place a reserve on the video version that the Madison Public Library owns.) The story deals with the anti-Hispanic racial strife that occurs in a New Mexico zinc mine when union workers organize a strike. Most of the singing is in English, although some of the lyrics are in Spanish. The program was made up of selected scenes from the opera, so the story the audience heard was quite disjointed. The voices of the UW students who made up the cast were outstanding and made the evening worthwhile.

And what about the boys when we were gone? Andy is now our designated babysitter. JoAnna and I were gone from 6:45 until nearly 10:00. When we returned home, everything was as we left it. We told Andy that if everything goes smoothly we would pay him $3 an hour, below the market rate for a regular sitter but not a bad starting rate for someone just shy of his 11th birthday.

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