Wednesday, October 22

'Roid Rage

by Ajike Akande

Where I live the temperature has dropped significantly and there is no denying we are deep in the heart of autumn.  It’s either grey and rainy or brisk and sunny.  With the arrival of autumn is also the arrival of flu season.  Don’t worry this is not going to be a post about the flu shot and whether or not you should get it.  In my house some of us get it, and some don’t for a variety of reasons.  Regardless of the flu shot, however, our Mr. Lee will spend many weeks of the next six months hacking, taking his puffers and hanging out in the emergency room at our local children’s hospital.  It’s all good times for him throughout the many months of cold!

Mr. Lee has poorly controlled asthma with a side of 4 anaphylactic allergies.  He is also a buzzing, busy three year old who is otherwise healthy so I rarely shelter him from people who are sick, and therefore he catches every virus his snotty buddies have to offer.  Don’t get me wrong, I encourage frequent hand washing and request that he not lick people as a way to greet them, but he’s wee, and if licking makes him feel closer to his friends, then that’s a risk we’ll have to take!  Truth is, I would be happy if he got sick less and if every cough didn’t turn into a trip to the hospital for heavy doses of Ventolin (airway opener) and inhaled and liquid steroids.  The high doses of steroids are really, really bad for a small body (any body actually) but when it comes to breathing the benefits outweigh the risks.  It’s not just stress on his body that I am concerned about it’s also the monthly experience of spending time with a three year old fountain of energy loaded up with steroids!  I am not exaggerating when I say that my three year old has ‘Roid Rage! 

Do you know Animal from the Muppets?  This is regular Animal.  This is also essentially regular Mr. Lee. 

This is what I imagine Animal looks like full of steroids and Ventolin.  This is a fraction of Mr. Lee’s intensity when full of steroids and Ventolin. 

Last weekend I spent two days hanging out in the emergency unit with Animal aka Mr. Lee. 
I never forget that I’m a lucky mom.  I know that Mr. Lee’s trips to the hospital will last only a day or two.  He has never had to be admitted because we are now experienced and comfortable taking care of our sick, but pretty healthy, guy at home.  We know when to return to the hospital and they’re always open (thanks for that, by the way).  I’m surprisingly not worried about a sick Mr. Lee.  Unfortunately, my chill attitude about our little asthmatic was challenged when I took him in last weekend and his oxygen saturation was low enough that he needed an oxygen mask.  I was informed by the nurse, as she quickly got an oxygen mask on him, that my baby was apparently about to pass out.  I was surprised he usually doesn't get that bad, but he gladly took the oxygen mask and gladly tore it off when he didn’t need it anymore.  Being the weirdo that I am, as soon as I knew that Mr. Lee was okay and in good hands (i.e.: not mine), I stopped worrying about him and turned my attention to my favourite anxious thoughts reserved for when I am with my children’s health care providers: Do they think I’m a bad mother?  Do I seem neglectful or uncaring?  Do I seem totally neurotic?  And my favourite over the top thought: Do I have Munchausen by proxy?  Who thinks these things?  Anyway, Mr. Lee must have noticed that I had hopped on my crazy, anxiety train and it was up to him to get me off.  Fully loaded on liquid steroids and 34 (I kid you not) puffs within an hour of “rescue inhalers” to open up his airway, he got to work on redirecting my attention.  How you ask? 

You know who has an unnatural level of strength and anger?  A three year old on a drug that increases his heart rate.  I am not sure if Mr. Lee wanted to guarantee that I never have any more children (never going to happen) or that I never use the bathroom again without crying, but the swift kicks between my legs were a surefire way to guarantee that I remembered that he was the man of the hour.  And why stop at kicking?  He bit me, scratched me, slapped me and my favourite – he grabbed my face so hard with his razor sharp nails and held on while screaming at the top of his lungs.  I had been trying to quell the screaming (to no avail) but was grateful for it when he wouldn’t let go of my face.  A nurse – not our nurse, but a nurse taking care of a much calmer child, came into the room, wondering if I was removing hairs from my child’s head one at a time, causing him to scream out for help.  She took one look at me and leach-boy and jumped into action to release Mr. Lee’s painful grip around my cheeks.   After I told her that I loved her, as you do, she smiled and suggested that I walk the wild child around the emergency unit until the doctor could see him again.  The walk about was a good idea indeed and grabbing sterile bottles and gauze and pushing dirty linen hampers around is not at all disruptive to the families with truly sick children and the health care professionals trying to care for them!  Sorry hospital friends, I am hoping that the cost of hospital parking will cover the damages.  

Listen, I am not giving up on our goal to drastically decrease the number of times we visit the ER this school year, but considering that this is the second time since the beginning of September, the odds aren’t looking so good.  Of course the silver lining, because usually if you look hard enough, you can find it, is that nurse Anju and I can catch up every month and talk about our twins and I can watch another set of talented medical residents make it through another year. I am starting to feel a real closeness with the ER staff and let’s face it “sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name”!  

Cheers, (just kidding)

Stay healthy! 
XO Ajike

Thursday, October 16

Infinity Scarves, Panic Attacks & Over-sharing

by Ajike Akande

When I was pregnant with our first set of twins my mother told me that she would pay for me to have a tummy tuck after the babes were born.  Please note she didn’t even qualify this offer with statements like “If you want….” or even the less kind “If you need…”, she just went for the jugular (or tummy, in this case) and assumed that I would both need and want a tummy tuck!  I was offended and shocked and seriously considered calling the feminist police!  This story, by the way, has nothing to do with anything, I just really wanted to share it with you folks because well, an actual person (who I love beyond words), offered to pay for my future tummy tuck.  This kind of thing warrants documentation!   Full stop. 

A few interesting things have been brought to my attention recently:

1.  I over-share on this here blog.  My brother said this.  He’s a nice guy and all, but we have never really seen eye to eye about anything.  This is not only because he’s 6’6 and I am 5’3.

2.  One of my nearest and dearest friends told me that she finds my commitment to the infinity scarf unsettling and annoying.  Something about it being a way that otherwise disheveled parents make themselves look put together.  She declared this truth as though it’s a bad thing.  I thank God every day for infinity scarves and that there is a surefire way to take leggings (yes they are so pants) and runners up a notch!

3.  My unfocussed rambling, out loud and in writing, is charming and adorable.  Nobody said this or probably even thought this but it’s so true, right? 

Okay so before you close your computer and stop reading this nonsense, I’m going to bring this all together.  

Last Saturday I had my first by-definition panic attack.  I actually had my first panic attack after our first baby Isaiah died.  I don’t really count that time because temporarily falling completely apart and shattering like glass is, in my view, not an exceptional response to the loss of a child.  I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, so I could be wrong in saying that what I had after Isaiah died was not a panic attack but I am going with it, therefore making last Saturday’s panic attack my first. 

If you have never had a panic attack, just don’t.  There are a bazillion other, less scary, things to do when you are alone in your house.  I felt like I couldn’t breath.  I couldn’t catch my breath.  My heart was racing; head was spinning.  I thought it would never end.  My mom, who I called on the phone, but could not actually speak to, listened to whole thing.  It was all she could do.  Unbeknownst to me she was getting ready to leave her house while on the phone in case she needed to come over.  I thought I would have to go to the hospital.  But after about 20 minutes the panic attack was done.  I was catching my breath and sipping water.  I was relieved to discover that panic attacks do end and don’t cause actual heart attacks.

I would love to say that my panic attack was caused by some sort of cognitive distortion - that my mind was focusing on something that isn’t real or awful or that I was letting a fear take over.  The truth is, I was trying to solve some very real problems – how to ensure that there is always someone available to be one on one with Miss O, how to approach Z’s teachers about the fact that he is seriously behind in math, how to support Wife in her efforts to spend quality one on one time with G-Dog whose anxiety goes through the roof when she is being separated from her siblings, how on earth to stop Mr. Lee from calling me a Butthead and about a million other things.   With the pressure of family time (nuclear and extended) over Thanksgiving it was all too much.  

Not that long after losing control of my body and thoughts during a panic attack, I was back to mothering as Wife and the kiddos came busting into the house after riding scooters.  We played and got on with the business of being a busy, chaotic pack.  Naturally, I dawned my infinity scarf.  I looked like I had it all together.  I didn’t, but nobody could tell.
On Tuesday I had an appointment with my psychiatrist (This may be what my brother was referring to when he said that I over-share!).  Feeling that feelings of intense anxiety – not full-blown attacks but serious anxiety, were becoming a consistent part of my days, I decided I wanted to ask for a prescription for Ativan.  This seemed like a reasonable thing to help me get through those moments when I couldn’t just breathe through the anxiety.  Unfortunately, the challenges of asking for psychiatric drugs is not lost on me, so I was worried about how “the ask” would go.  I posted this on Facebook:

Because my friends are awesome, I received some hilarious suggestions. 

This is what I chose to wear:
Not seen here: black skinny jeans and colourful canvas shoes (conservative with a touch of cheery)

I considered the look featured below, but with the scarf, I just thought I looked too together, and that she would think I was possibly asking for the drugs to sell not for personal use! 

I guess I passed the imaginary test.  I got me some Ativan.  I have not filled the script.  The yoga breathing, that I have never and likely will never use while doing yoga, seems to be working.  I am aware more aware than ever, how much time I spend on looking like I have it all together.  I needed my Facebook family to help me decide what to wear to the psychiatrist, after all.   The makeup and sparkly jewelry, the scarf and the well-timed sarcastic remarks make my depression and anxiety really palatable to those around me including the people who are in positions of power with the ability to directly impact how I manage my mental health.  I “pass”.  I have access.  I have education and knowledge and money.  I have confidence.  With this power and access, I am able, with far greater ease than most, to care for my babies and myself.  When not in the middle of a panic attack or one of the many frustrating and hard parenting moments I face every day, I remember this privilege. 

My take away from this post?  (I’m pretty sure I write just to find the answers to my own burning questions.) 

1.  Buy more infinity scarves and know that sometimes I wear them because well, fashion, but sometimes they may also double as a mask.  I am not the only parent using this (or another) mask to look like I've got it all together.  The parents that we see at the park, in the grocery store, at work, who look like they’re doing just fine, may not have it together at all.  They may be employing the "fake it ‘til you make it" strategy just like me. 

2.  Be aware of the privileges that I hold that make it never easy, but probably easier to deal with my mental health issues. 

3.  I am doing fine without a tummy tuck.  Thank you very much! 

4.  It is totally reasonable to cut my hair every two weeks, even if I have hardly any hair to begin with, because it makes me look like I have it all together and it makes me feel hot! 

Gotta go.  My barber is calling me to the chair.  Not even making this up.  

XO Ajike

Thursday, October 9

Breaking Up Is Not So Hard To Do

by: Ajike Akande

The Silverman-Akandes have broken up.  Sorta.  On the weekends.  I think we’re onto something.  Let me explain…

Remember back in August, I wrote about how Wife and I decided we were big family parents without considering whether or not we would actually have big family kids.  You can read that post here.  (By the way, I have learned that deciding what kind of parent you are before you are actually a parent, or a parent under specific circumstances, is a waste of time unless you like being totally wrong and caught off guard.  You’ve been warned.  You are welcome.)  At least one person every day tells me that they couldn’t possibly handle raising five kids, or twins, or two sets of twins.  Basically my whole life as a parent is something most people have no problem telling me, they couldn’t handle!  This does not help me on the really bad days because on bad days I don’t think I can’t handle it either but I do handle it because, well the small humans depend on me to handle my s#*t!  

Apparently, I’ve got a parenting situation some (many?) people don’t want.  What about the kids though?  They don’t even know that their family could be different.  They have two moms, a whack of brothers and sisters - one who passed away before they could meet her.  Z has a Tummy Mommy, a mommy and a mama and little sisters and a brother who are twins.   They are mixed race, and not.  They are Jewish with a mommy who is not.  Their family is their family.  They only know that having a family of five kids is a big deal because they hear what people say when they find out!  Wife and I talk about how hard and intense it is to have a larger family, but the kids don’t talk about it.  I think we all know, however, that just because they don’t talk about how hard it is, doesn’t mean that they don’t feel it. 

Assuming that, like us, our children feel a little overwhelmed when all seven of us are together for the less structured weekend, we decided to do something about it.  Without asking the children their opinion (Why would we ask their opinion?) we decided that every weekend the Silverman-Akandes would split up.  Many families use the divide and conquer strategy for an afternoon, or a whole day or occasional weekends.  We like to take extreme measures.  (This nugget of information should not surprise you.)  Friends, until further notice, we will break up every weekend, except holiday weekends when we will grit our teeth and lean in to the tantrums!  After the children finish their 9am dance class on Saturdays, two or three of them head up north with Wife to my family’s farm and the remaining kids, which always includes Z, the tiny and heavily programmed dancer, stay home with me.   

We are about five weeks into The Great Weekend Divide aaaaaand, it’s working.  It’s not perfect, but it’s working.  The kids are happier and calmer.  So are we.  I miss Wife and Saturday night take-out in front of Netflix.  Neither of us gets a break, because we are always with at least two children.  The kids miss each other and the mom that they are not with.  But, going up north with mama means a slow, quiet weekend with no chores to be done.  Staying in the city with me means a chance to hang out with friends (if I get my butt in gear to make that happen) and definitely some kind of sweet treat while being schlepped between dance studios with the tiny dancer.  Splitting up also means that we can switch it up so that the twin sets can bond with someone other than their regular partner in crime.  The opportunity for our children to develop stronger connections with each other is the sweetest bonus of the weekend break-up. 

As it turns out friends, the Silverman-Akandes are not better - good, but not better, together.  Together we are loud love, non-stop giggles, frequent fights, high highs and the lowest of the lows.  Together we are shoulders up around our ears and kitchen dance parties.  We are extreme – the same way we are all week.  These separate weekends, the 30 hours under different roofs, provides everyone with the same good times but just enough calm to stalk up on cuddles and attention to survive another busy school week. 

Not surprisingly, every weekend, G-Dog whines to us that “we are a family and we’re supposed to be together.”  I love that she feels this way.  I also suspect that somewhere she knows that together is not always better. 

XO Ajike

P.S. I don’t want to beg (at least not in a totally obvious way) but if my peeps showed up at my house on a Saturday night with or without (preferably with) a bottle of wine, I would totally let you in! 

Wednesday, October 1

Me: Tree, You: Apple

by: Ajike Akande

We have all heard the expression “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”  Have you noticed that the expression is rarely used in a positive way?  It’s never like “Wow, your kid is so funny and brilliant.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!”  It’s more like “Your child talks a lot (read: too much) and is super stubborn.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!”  What is “wrong” with the tree is sometimes “wrong” with the apple.  Nature, nurture or combo of the two - doesn’t matter, sometimes the apple just falls right next to the tree.  We often reap what we sew.  Sometimes we could stand to cut a new pattern before getting our stitch on.    

Our marvelous and “extra” G-dog was recently diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) (why be specific about anxiety, always go for a catch-all) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).  We could have a debate about the problems with diagnosing and labelling kids as well as the degree to which the people who do the diagnosing actually know our kiddos, but that’s a conversation, not a blog post.   Wife and I have chosen to let “the people” assess and diagnose our kiddos because the process and the information gathered may be helpful.  It may also be a waste of time, but hope springs eternal that it will help us, and most importantly, them. 

Assessment and diagnosis doesn’t change our kids or their behaviours except maybe
G-Dog’s. During a public tantrum (the best kind of tantrum), days after meeting with the psychiatrists at our local children’s hospital, when I asked her to speak kindly to me and not hit me, she yelled, with a familiar scrunched up, gritted teeth face, “Didn’t you hear the doctors?  I’m not like you!  I’m a different person!  I’m not like everyone else.  I hit and scream! I’m not like you!”  First of all, G-Dog you are sooooo like me!  Secondly, this scene serves as a reminder of what can happen when assessing, diagnosing and labelling kids – they start to believe their diagnosis is who they are not something that makes life, in many cases, harder and hopefully what provides them with some unique gifts.   

Fortunately, after we received the diagnosis or what I like to think of as the black and white documented reminder that G-Dog is not doing this - the tantrums, the hitting, the rigidity on purpose, she was offered a space in a therapy group for wee ones with anxiety & and difficult behaviour.  By the way, the reminder that she is not doing this on purpose is the most important part of the whole assessment and diagnosis process for me.  Anyway, for 10 weeks anxious kids get together and teach each other new things to be anxious about.  Could you imagine?  In reality the kiddos get together and learn how to manage their anxious thoughts and subsequent behaviour, while the parents learn how to support their kids who just feel things “extra”. 

At our parenting group last week, we were introduced to a temperament rating scale.  We looked at different areas such as sensitivity, adaptability, and approach to new things and had to plot ourselves, our partners and our kids on the scale.  Not surprisingly, we were asked to examine the scale after to see if we could notice any patterns.  You know where I’m going with this don’t you?  In front of me, was a temperament scale confirming that Grace’s behaviour was not her fault; it was mine!  Nurture is powerful but it seems to be that I, through nature, have passed on some of the special traits that make me totally “extra”!

Wife and Grace, are on opposite ends of the scale in every category.  They do not share genetics.  Based on the temperament scale, Grace and I share ALL the genetics!  Me: tree, Grace: apple.  She feels too deeply, I take 295mg of psychiatric drugs a day so I don’t feel too deeply!  She screams with such intensity and volume that it can be very scary.  I’ve worked hard (and succeeded) at not dealing with my anger in that way.  She is good at understanding how others feel and when she feels love, everybody hears about it.  Me too.  I “get” my baby G-Dog and maybe when she’s older she’ll get her mommy too.

Now that it has been brought to my attention that my little apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, I want to write something that one day I will share with her. 

To my G-Dog,

First we have to get something out of the way.  Do you know how much I love you?  You will probably never really know, it’s just so, so, SO much. 

I know you don’t always feel my love for you because you see my angry face, even when I’m not making one.   You don’t always feel my love because you hear my deep sigh, that is about how tired I am or overwhelmed I feel or annoyed I am with the driver in front of me, and think it’s about you.  You don’t feel my love because you listen carefully to every syllable of every word that comes out of my mouth seemingly listening for frustration or anger or flippancy directed towards you.  You do all of these things, so you may not always feel my love.  I used to do the same to my mommy, your nanny.  In fact I sometimes still listen and look for Nanny’s unspoken feelings about me but now I don’t mention it to her, I tell Mama instead!  Mama loves having to debrief my conversations with Nanny; it may be her most favourite thing about living with me! 

The point is, G-Dog, I understand the worry you feel about how much Mama and I love you.  My sweet, you are one of my five favourite imperfect people on this earth.  (The other four are your brothers and sisters.)  I know how much you hate to be wrong, but when it comes to you thinking that I don’t love you as much as I love all the Silverman-Akande small humans, you are wrong kiddo.  Really, really wrong.  I adore you girl.  That’s just the way it is.  Aaannnnd you are imperfect (so am I) so sometimes I gots to lay it down and let you know ‘cuz that’s my job as your mommy.  But I never stop loving you even when I’m angry.

And when you complain about having to leave the house to go anywhere new, especially a party, I know how you’re feeling. I have to fight my urge to just say, “Don’t worry baby, we can stay home and cuddle up on the couch and watch our favourite shows and eat the same things we always we eat, 'cuz we hate change.”  I never want to go to parties and meet new people and eat new food.  When Mama makes me go, or even better, when I make myself go, I often have a really good time. I’ve had to learn to push past the “I don’t want to leave the house” feelings.  I hope I do a good job at showing you that I understand your fear while encouraging you to do what’s hard because I want you to know that you can do hard things. 

Here’s the thing, you are a whole lot of “extra”.  You feel deep, deep, deep.  It’s so wonderful, it can also be hard and exhausting.  You come from a long line of deep feelers.  When feeling so much is hard, know that I am sorry to have given you this burden.  When feeling so much is wonderful, know that I am honoured to have given you this gift. 

We are so much alike, but we are not the same.  You will do with your “extra” self, what you wish to and what you need to.  I hope you do better than I have with all your big feelings because you are learning about them and how they work inside of you as a little one.  Mommy had to grow up and become a lesbian and subsequently go through years of therapy before I started understanding my big feelings. (Seriously G-Dog coming out as a lesbian and then enrolling in therapy was a “thing” in my day.)

G-Dog you are extra.  Extra sweet, extra intense, extra funny, extra stubborn, extra clever, extra curious, extra sensitive and extra, extra special.  As your little sister would say, “I love you twice.”  And as your little brother would say, “I love you this, big much!”

Carry on lil’ warrior.  You can do hard things. 
xo Mommy

* “Carry on warrior” the name of Glennon Melton’s book