8 things to consider about preschool

Recently I went through the difficult process of withdrawing my son from preschool.  There had been red flags all along but I told myself that I was being neurotic, over-protective and crazy.  I went against my gut.  I think that because I was a first time mom I didn’t trust myself.  Now, a year and a half after he started he is out of that awful preschool and I have gained a good bit of knowledge about the whole process.  I would like to share these *red flags* that you may notice with your own children.

Potty Training
Perhaps one of the first situations I found to be very strange was this preschool’s potty training policy.  When signing my son up for school I was told that the preschool would work with my son on potty training and that most kids were potty trained within a few months!  I was excited about this.  As the months went by he was no closer to our potty training goal, in fact, he was more removed from it.  It was concerning.  I decided to try to send him to school in underwear since Pull-ups were confusing (they are just diapers) and he was actually allergic.  I was told that he couldn’t come to school in underwear because it was a health hazard.  A health hazard?  I’m not sending him to school with violent diarrhea.  He wasn’t going to go poop on people.  Sigh.  I strongly believe that his hiccups with potty training (at almost 4 years old) are in large part due to the way potty training was handled at preschool.  Make sure the potty training policy is clear at the school that you choose.  Make sure the teachers and staff are willing to work with you and your son or daughter.   Make sure they are encouraging as potty training can be a very difficult time!

Closed for every (no good) reason.
I believe my son was not in school more than he was in it.  Every time I turned around the school was closed for some reason.  Mostly this was due to weather.  This is understandable… however, they would drag it out as much as possible.  They wanted to go by the local school system, which is generally a pretty good rule, except public school students HAVE to go to school and they live all over the county.  We pay for preschool.  Even this I can get behind I guess… but the early dismissals.  If the school system dismissed early (even for just an hour!) …preschool would close at lunch.  Same with delayed openings.  They didn’t even start until 9:45!  If the local school system delayed (they start at 7:30/8), preschool would delay the same amount of time.  I’m sorry but your start time IS a delay!! Who starts at 9:45?!  ::eye roll::  Make sure, when looking for a school, that the school wants to be open!  The staff should love what they do, and shouldn’t look for excuses to shut down for the day.

Won’t let you observe
Listen to me.  If you get nothing else from this, please understand that if a preschool denies your request to observe… or just ignores it- as if you didn’t even ask… GET OUT.  There is a reason they don’t want you in the school.  You should ALWAYS be able to observe your own child, especially if there are problems.

Change in behavior
If there is a change in behavior in your child the preschool could be to blame.  Sure, kids grow and change and they go through different spells and tantrums, but if things get worse and the teachers seem discouraged or even mean… there could be more going on than is easily noticed.  For my son, he was a great kid the first year.  I always got a great report.  When he went to the next class with a different teacher, he was criticized from the very beginning.  Each day resulted in more troubling behavior from both my son and the teacher.  Our little ones don’t always know how to tell us something is going on… sometimes we just have to read between the lines.

What your kids DO tell you
Every once in a while your kid will pop up with a statement that makes total sense.  I hear my son tell me all sorts of stuff in a day.  “Preschool was fine and good.”  “Gigi’s house is far away.”  “I’m going to poop out of my head.”  “My paci’s name is Harold.”  Some things make sense, others don’t make a whole lot of sense and its easy to just say “oh okay… great… sure… that’s awesome,” at the ramblings and go about your day.  However, every once in a while if you really talk to your kid and listen, they’ll say something that you can’t just ignore.  I asked my son, for example, if he liked his teacher and he told me that he did.  I asked if his teacher ever got mad at him and he said that she did… when I asked him why… he replied, “Because she is pissed.”  I don’t know if she said those words to him or not… but I know that he felt that anger and disappointment and that was enough for me.  If you ask your child a question and they reply with “things are fine,” “it is good,” “I like it,” — dig a little deeper.  See if you can ask your questions in a different way.  Sometimes the answers are worth the extra work.

Discipline
The way a school handles misbehavior is very telling.  The first time my son was scolded at school he was removed from the playground and had to spend the remainder of play time in the director’s office.  He was 2 years old.  He ran out of the gate during recess and wouldn’t come back after being asked to.  I found out later that he was taken into the director’s office where they shut the door and had a conversation with him.  I spoke up at the time and have no regrets about the fact that I informed them that they would NO longer be having any closed-door conversations with my 2 year old.  It is always inappropriate.  As time went on my son was removed from more activities.  He was taken out of chapel, music class.  Eventually he quit making art.  I was paying for him to be removed from situations constantly, rather than redirected.  When searching for a preschool, please pay attention to how the school handles discipline.

Too Chatty
When taking my son to school I would chat with the teachers in the mornings.  Usually this was harmless chit chat.  Other times, I was shocked at how much his teachers were willing to share.  I was told in casual conversation about a child’s custody situation.  I was told that his mother had problems, he had behavior problems and he lived with his grandparents.  I was told about several children’s specific situations.  I always thought this was a bit odd as it was not my business…but then I realized that my son was not immune to this gossip.  As I dropped my son off in the mornings I wondered what the parents knew about us.  I wondered if they knew that my son had been struggling in school… or that I struggled with mental illness issues.  I was horrified.  Things I’d told to them in confidence were possibly on display for the whole school to know.  A child or family’s personal business should be just that.. their personal business.  I am sad that these teachers treated these matters as gossip.

Sick kid policy
When taking my son to preschool I was terrified of all of the illnesses he would be exposed to.  I knew this was inevitable and trusted that the school would take proper precautions to make sure illnesses were contained to the best of their ability.  Of course, without fail, my son picked up many illnesses his first year.  He got throat infections, URI’s, stomach bugs, and even mono.  It seemed he was ALWAYS out with something.  It started to become unbelievable.  I got to where I panicked when I saw a kid with a runny nose.  I was very cautious with my son.  I kept him home extra days just to make sure that he was recovering well and not a threat to other children.  I felt guilty thinking that I could send him to school with an illness that could spread to other children and their little siblings! I realized that I was seeing more and more children at school with very runny noses that were lethargic with hacking coughs.  I wondered if the school was abiding by its own stated rules in the handbook.  One child seemed very ill and he was allowed to stay.  Sickness in preschool is inevitable, but there are proper precautions that a school can take. If the school isn’t following their own policies, call them out on it.

Of course there are more things to consider when thinking of taking your child out of a school or choosing the right school for them.  I think the most important thing that I wish I had done was trust my gut.  I knew early on that my son’s preschool was perhaps not the best fit… but I ignored it.  I told myself that I was paranoid and that no school would be the perfect fit.   I should have listened to myself.  Turns out, a “mother’s gut feeling,” is a real thing.  I think it is a God given gift to make sure your babies are safe, happy and healthy.  I pray that I can listen to it more and doubt myself less.

home from the holidays

I’ve been avoiding writing in this thing and the longer I avoid it the more I don’t want to do it.  Sometimes the words are scary.  Sometimes you have no idea where to begin.  I’ll try though.

Prozac is a wonderful drug.  Recently, I’ve been slack about my medication.  I keep forgetting to take it and when I remember I just think “oh it’s too late, i’ll do it tomorrow.”  Then, I don’t.  The level of Prozac in my body was not at a therapeutic level in the past few weeks and with my upcoming cycle… it was a recipe for disaster.

All I needed was one trigger.  That trigger was my son’s Christmas performance at school.  I was so excited to see him perform but also very nervous.  I saw him as he walked in the sanctuary.  He saw everyone and immediately turned to run away.  The teacher nudged him forward and he saw us and became more at ease.  He stood there with the other children and he performed like he was supposed to… however, anxiety set in.  He started to jump up and down, yell things randomly, sit down when he should have been standing, etc.  It wasn’t highly disruptive… but I was sensitive to it because of everything going on this year.  They had a teacher sitting beside him guarding him like a prisoner.  If he looked in the wrong direction she corrected him.  Side note: I haven’t decided if she just has a naturally mean resting face… or if she just really is mean and grumpy all the time.  I am not a fan of his teachers.  Anyway, with each criticism he seemed to act worse.  It was painful to watch.

Last year, his Christmas performance was a dream.  He did a perfect job.  He was so happy.  I cried… I couldn’t believe how grown up he was… how well he did.  It was magical.  This year, that joy was not there.  He was an anxious mess.  I knew in that moment that what my gut had been telling me all year was right.  He needed out of that school.  The teachers are not supportive.  They’re judgmental and critical.  They aren’t providing a nurturing environment for my baby… they’re stressing him out more.

It took some convincing but my husband is finally in agreement with me.  He saw the performance and knew that we should take my son out of preschool as well.  I am now talking with other preschools to find a place that is more understanding, compassionate and supportive.

In therapy one of the main things I talk about is trying to figure out where the line is… between the crazy stories my OCD and anxiety try to tell me… and what my gut is rationally telling me.  It is very hard to know which to listen to all the time.  When your gut is really telling you something… I think you know that feeling when you feel it.  Others can doubt you… disagree or tell you otherwise… but you know. I’ve known since September that this school was not the right fit.  I’ve known since September that is teacher was not the right teacher for him… (or maybe anyone?) and I’ve tried to talk myself out of this…but I haven’t been able to because it is what it is.  I know now that my gut is telling me to take him out of that school and I’m confident in the decision.

The holidays were especially hard for many reasons.  The performance was disappointing, the kids were sick, I was off my meds, we traveled and we’re exhausted.  We’re feeling better, I’m on my meds and I’m grateful for the newfound confidence in this specific situation.  I hope the New Year brings us some much needed rest, relaxation and clarity.

A Mother’s Love

One of the hardest things about being a parent with anxiety is concealing that anxiety for the benefit of your anxious son.  The past few months have been difficult.  I’ve become obsessed with the possibility that something is wrong with him.  Does he have autism?  Does he have ADHD?  Does he have selective mutism?  Is he just a developing young boy who needs time to adjust and be a kid?  I don’t know.  The not knowing is making me crazy.

Every day that I pick him up from school I have to deal with his teachers telling me that it was another rough day.  He ran from them.  He didn’t engage with other children.  He didn’t listen.  He acted out.  I don’t know what to say to them anymore.  I have no idea what to do.  As much as I hate that they have to deal with his misbehavior… I hate even more that this could be due to anxiety or some other condition and none of us know how to deal with it.  I never want my son to feel anxious.  I don’t want him to act out because he doesn’t know how to express himself. I have such an ache in my heart for him.

Today I put him in his carseat and I kissed his cheeks.  I stared into his beautiful blue eyes and I tried so hard to read them.  I felt myself pleading with him telepathically almost.  I tried to feel what he was feeling.  I wanted to know so badly.  “how was your day love?”  “fine and good.”  Sigh.   I never get a direct answer. I just love him so much.   I want to fix anything and everything for him.

I know he knows something is up.  I’ve tried so hard to get him to talk to other kids.  I’ve scolded him about listening and not touching other children.  I’ve tried so hard to help him… and maybe I’ve done too much.  I know he’s heard me talking about it.  He’s seen me cry.  I know he knows more than we give him credit for.  I feel so guilty.  Each day I struggle with letting my emotions show too much in front of him.  I am desperately trying to keep my thoughts and feelings to myself.  It is so hard.

Why isn’t a mother’s love enough?  It is the strongest emotion I feel.  I feel like it has the strength to fix any problem.  How can it possess so much power yet still not make everything perfect?  No matter what I hope he knows that I love him yesterday, today and forever and ever and ever.  I would do anything for that child.  I will do anything for him.  I don’t want him to suffer… ever.  I’m always here to help him.  I think I’m telling this blog because I don’t know that he understands when I tell him.  I can only hope he does.

If you pray, pray for me and my family.  My head and my heart need the love and support.

 

 

He is perfect.

14502970_10103546233691273_3039335860576599115_n

Last week I took my son to a local organization for a screening of his behavioral issues.  We were to tell him it was a fun special school where he would go play games.  He was excited to go and he did really well– at least in my opinion.  He hopped on one leg and balanced, did vision and hearing tests, identified objects, drew a circle and scribbled other things, answered questions, etc.  I watched my sweet boy having so much fun and a single tear fell down my cheek.  Then another and another.  I felt silly… but I loved watching him be happy.  I also felt so sad because I knew they were just observing him to see if he had developmental delays.

Long story shot, they think he shows signs of being on the autism spectrum.  He has to go for another long observation.  I heard the words come out of the PhD, whatever his official title is  and couldn’t breathe.  I felt such anger.  I was mad at him for labeling my son.  I was mad at him for thinking anything was different about him.  I was mad at him for saying that social skills could be challenging for him.  I was just mad.  My son was and is perfect.  As soon as he said the words I felt the same way I’d felt nearly 11 years before when my friend called to tell me that one of my best friends had passed unexpectedly.  I threw the phone in anger.  I couldn’t bear to hear another word.  The words seared my face.  Then the tears took over.  I thought about that because I was feeling the exact same way — but no one had died.

Thinking about it…I realized that something did die.  The plans I had for my son.  The ones I made when I delivered him.  These words… autism spectrum… suddenly meant that my son couldn’t have everything I wanted for him …or be who I imagined he would be.  I started to grieve.  I was so sad.  I had a panic attack in front of the observers and excused myself to the bathroom.  I felt so much pain.

I’ve thought about this every second since that day and in my gut, I still don’t feel like he has autism.  I don’t think I’m in denial.  I can see there are certainly things that stand out as interesting.  He can talk to adults but isn’t great at talking to other children.  He hand flaps.  He’s smart.  My husband thinks he has selective mutism.  I have no idea if he does or doesn’t.  I know that social anxiety and generalized anxiety are VERY prominent in my family.  My father never talked to other children when he was a child.  When he did start talking he stuttered.  So the biological component is there.

No matter what happens, I love him so much and feel so blessed to have him exactly as he is.  He is healthy… he is happy. He loves school.  He loves us.  He loves his sister.  He loves to sing and make up stories.  He loves playing outside and loves his extended family.   He is so incredibly precious.  I feel almost guilty for having the emotional reaction that I had.   I am not perfect.  I react to things like anyone else and then I have to step back and think about them.  After this week I know this…

I know my kid.  He is the epitome of love.  He is hilarious.  He is precious.  Every single day that I’ve been his mom has been a day better than all of the days before it.  He is perfect whether he is on the spectrum or not.

To the parents who bring their sick kids to school…

school-bus-1525654-1279x844

Dear parents with the sick kid at preschool,

Hello.  It’s me.  Your worst nightmare.  No, I’m not being dramatic.  After you feel my wrath you will know that I am exactly as I claim to be.  I will haunt you.  When my kid is up at 2 am throwing up his dinner, I will be there to remind you that this is YOUR fault.  When my kid starts coughing, crying and screaming at me for trying to give him medicine, you will know about it.  When I am the one losing work time, sleep and my sanity– I will find the time to remind you that this all could have been prevented.  I may seem neurotic and crazy but I don’t care anymore.  When your kid goes to the hospital with a 105 fever you realize that its perfectly okay to be a little neurotic.  A little crazy.  It is perfectly okay to blame you if you send your sick child to school.  Your actions are selfish.  I get not wanting to miss work.  I get that it can be inconvenient.  However, look at your kid.  Your kid needs sleep!   You kid’s body needs a fighting chance to get rid of this illness.  You shouldn’t want to send them to school.  But, if you do decide to send your sweet, sickly baby to school knowing that they will spread whatever illness they have– you should know that you’re infecting every other little kid in that room.  You’re infecting them, their siblings, their parents.  Your actions are effecting everyone.  You’re causing another parent to lose sleep, miss work and potentially get sick themselves.  And if that parent is a little sensitive to their baby’s illnesses to begin with, you’re causing them to lose their minds!  No one wants to watch their kids sniffle, cough, sneeze or deal with a high fever.  No one wants their babies to spend the night over the toilet vomiting.  Especially the nervous-Nelly mom’s of the world.  Watching you tell the teacher that your child is “just tired,” and “warm because it was warm in the car,” gives me rage.  You know your child is sick.  Own up to your poor decision, turn your child around and walk them back out to the car, drive home and put them in bed.  Do it for your kid.  Do it for the other kids and for goodness sake DO it for your fellow moms.  I promise we will do the same for you. If you don’t, you can expect me to call you out on it.  I’m up to my ears in medicine, thermometers, hand sanitizer, tissues, vitamins and essential oils.  What I need is for you to do your job as a parent so we can all get through this season together.

Sincerely,
That crazy mom whose kid was out multiple weeks his first year of preschool due to random illnesses that could have been prevented.  (insert middle finger emoji.)

evening thoughts.

I’m not going to worry about sounding poetic… I’m just going to write because I’m sitting here crying and I feel so alone with my feelings.

My son is struggling at preschool. He doesn’t interact well with other children. He has trouble expressing himself. He is hyperactive. Nearly everyday I get a negative report from his teacher. I feel anxiety when going to pick him up from school. I don’t know how to help him. I know that as a child I was painfully shy. I often felt that I couldn’t talk to certain people, go in certain stores, etc. I felt that I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t know how to start conversations. I was nervous. I know that some of my issues will inevitably trickle down. He’s also experienced environmental hardships in dealing with my problems. Maybe he has social anxiety issues. I’m thinking out loud. I don’t know what to do. I feel so helpless.

Today at the park, two little boys were playing together. One tried to reach out to my son. The other little boy said “don’t bother, he doesn’t play.” I didn’t hear it but my husband did and told me about it this evening. I immediately started crying and haven’t stopped.

My son is bright, brilliant, funny, sweet, tender-hearted, joyful, beautiful, perfect. I never want anyone to see him as anything other than those things. Parenting is hard.

There is hope in the fact that today at the park he saw the other boys in one area.  He watched them.  He walked over to them.  He didn’t speak… but he noticed.  He was interested.  He smiled.  He tried to approach them.  I hovered and when I saw he was going too far away called him back.  Maybe my helicopter parenting has contributed.  Maybe I try so hard to help him that I’m not helping him at all.

He’s 3 and a half years old and that is exactly how long I’ve been a parent.  I’ve never done this before.  I’m trying, but this is hard.

When it becomes too much

I’ve spent the past few blog posts talking specifically about how my OCD and anxiety intensified when I was pregnant.  Several years ago one of my psychiatrists determined that my mood issues were highly effected by hormones.  I believe they said I had an estrogen sensitivity.  Maybe this explains why I was more balanced when pregnant with Jack and more unstable when pregnant with Claire?  I don’t know if that is possible or if it has anything to do with it at all but …all I know is that emotionally, pregnancy number 2 was much harder.

I got pregnant with Claire a few months before Jack was to start his first year in preschool.  As I’ve mentioned before, it made it SO hard to take him to school each day and leave him.  The emotions were high, especially being so hormonal.  In a way I felt guilt.  I told myself that I was “shipping him off” while I stayed at home with the baby (obviously, as I was pregnant).  When I look back on my feelings at the time I know this sounds completely insane but I think that I started to feel a little guilt the minute the stick showed two lines.

I think that this is somewhat normal?  I know that all mothers feel a little guilt when realizing that their only child won’t be their only child anymore.  I think you feel emotion for your child and know it will be an adjustment.  I think that when you have anxiety that is intensifying by the day, you feel this so much more intensely and irrationally.

Several months into preschool Jack got hit with one illness after another.  It is truly unbelieveable.  He went from never getting sick to catching EVERY single illness anyone thought about getting.  He had an upper respiratory infection that made him cough to the point of throwing up.  He had a crazy throat infection that made his nodes swell, gave him a fever and just generally made me lethargic and not himself for days.  He then got a stomach virus, etc.  The list goes on.  With each illness he got, I lost myself a little more.  I wish I had a better way of writing this …or explaining this but I don’t know that I can in a way that will accurately convey the fear.  The paralyzing fear I felt with each new symptom.

When Jack got the stomach virus I witnessed him throw up for the first time.  I witnessed his fear.  He stood there.. pale, shaking, crying.  He didn’t know what was happening. I was 34 weeks pregnant and I didn’t know what to do.  I was torn between trying to protect the little one inside of me and the little one standing in front of me, so sick.  I had a panic attack.  I stood there, covered in his throw up and sat down on the edge of the shower.   I started shaking uncontrollably.  I started crying.   I couldn’t talk.  Thank God my husband was there to comfort our baby while I got myself together.  When he had the throat infection I stayed up all night several nights monitoring his temperature.  Recording his medications.  Inspecting him for new symptoms.  Each day I prayed that he got better but feeling let down when he wasn’t.  It was so hard to see him sick… and the hardest part was knowing it was my fault.  Or so I thought.

My anxiety decided to tell me that this all could have been prevented had I not been pregnant and distracted.  If I hadn’t made the selfish decision to have another baby…I could have made sure Jack avoided more germs.  I could have paid more attention.  I could have caught these illnesses earlier and prevented them.  I could have done something.  This was my fault.  This was my reality and this made me feel like a horrible, selfish mother.  I was scared.  I was depressed.  I felt like I had to make up for my mistakes.  My OCD went into overdrive.  I took his temperature a million times a day.  I felt his head.  I took him to the doctor a million times.  I felt his lymph nodes.  I looked at this throat.  I couldn’t stop.  I flashed back to my parents illness and the guilt intensified.  I was becoming my parents.  I was going to make my child fearful.  I was going to make him a checker.  I sobbed every night. The guilt was too much.

I look back to this period of several months when Jack was so sick and I feel like I was a shell of myself.  I feel like my emotions were so intense and out of control that they left me in a sense.  I felt like it was too much to deal with so I merely existed while they floated off somewhere to get away from everything.  I woke each day dreading each moment, fearing that it would be filled with something terrible.  I feared sleeping at night because I felt like I needed to monitor Jack, or myself and my pregnancy.  If I wasn’t ALWAYS on guard, everything would come crashing down.  I would lose everything that I loved.

Living your life on guard is not living at all.  It is existing.  It is running a race that you are never going to win..mainly because there is no finish line.  You must always be on guard.  Around this time, my third trimester of pregnancy, I accepted that this was my life.  I’d accepted this many times before.  I became numb because I had to.  Each day was about making it to the next while hoping I didn’t collapse in the process.  Each day was filled with terror and fear and checks and tears that I was doing my BEST to hide from my husband and my son.  I didn’t want to be this person.  I didn’t want to fall apart.  Inevitably, I would.