September 7, 2011

One Flew Right Into the Cuckoo's Nest

Have I ever told you that I once drove myself to a "Mental Health Facility" and wasn't entirely sure that I would be allowed to leave? If you've never heard about that whole incident, you're out of luck--it's a story for another time.

But lately I've been thinking about mental hospitals. Specifically, I've been considering checking into one. Seriously. I think they've gotten a bad rap over the years. I've been doing a little research and I've decided the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. Don't believe me? Read on.

1. You get to stay in your very own padded room. You mean I don't have to share a room with my 3 kids, my husband, and all our belongings? Hello, privacy! And the padded walls and floor? For a girl who consistently runs into walls and furniture (while stone cold sober) that's a major bonus.

2. You are given clean, matching clothes. OK, so the whole white-on-white look isn't real appealing but the clothes are clean. And you wouldn't have to go tearing through the pile of laundry that you still haven't gotten around to folding to find anything. You wouldn't even have to mate the socks to have a matching pair. You would have to give up pretty shoes but in exchange, you would get to wear comfy slippers everywhere. Spending all day in jammies? Sign me up.

3. You are fed 3 square meals a day. And you NEVER. HAVE. TO. COOK. Someone else has to do the planning, shopping, prep work and cooking. It even gets brought to you on a tray. And you're in your very own room so no one will say anything if you eat dinner IN BED. And when you're done someone cleans up after you. There's no leftovers to put away, no dishes to wash, no kitchen to put back together. Heck, if you dribble on yourself they sort of expect it. They'll just bring you clean jammies and help you change.

4. Nap time is mandatory. That macrame project getting a little too stressful? TV time wearing you out? No problem! Nap time is on the schedule. And if you have trouble sleeping, they will even provide you a little pill to knock you out ensuring that you will catch some zzzzz's.

5. They have a counselor on staff. Do you know what this means? It means that someone is actually paid to listen to you whine and complain about how horrible your life is and how much better it would be if your little minions would just pick up the slack and take over all the domestic chores leaving you with plenty of time to watch trashy TV and drown in a gallon of Ben & Jerry's. For an hour, you get to scream and wail and blame everyone else for your problems and they HAVE. TO. LISTEN. Now they will probably then tell you that you weren't held enough as a baby and may even have the orderlies bring you in a wide array of colored pills that will make you 7 kinds of happy but hey, it's a trade off.

6. They have tight security. This isn't like a regular hospital that allows Joe Blow off the street to just walk in and visit patients. No, you have to show ID, get verified, pass through a security scan and then wait in the designated visiting room. It's like prison without the cavity search. And the little minions? They have to stay at home--wouldn't want them to be traumatized by what they might view in the loony bin. So that means you can watch The Real Housewives of New Jersey and eat your tapioca pudding in peace without someone climbing into your lap and yelling right into your face with fishy cracker breath, "Whatcha doin'?" In fact, if you're not up to visitors at all, you can just fake a psychotic episode. Start screaming at the voices in your head, eat the crayons before they eat you or just start dancing around in your underwear and I guarantee you'll get a bonus nap time.

7. They have ZERO expectations. As far as they're concerned, you're a nut job. They just want to keep you medicated and numbed out so they don't have to pull out the UFC moves to take you down. They won't take a look around your cell suite and ask why you haven't made your bed or why your clothes are on the floor. They won't interrupt your Play Doh time to ask, "So what did you do all day?" In fact, if you finish that 8 piece puzzle that someone chewed the corners off of, they will probably reward you with an extra jello.

Yes, you have to deal with patients with questionable hygiene habits who (surprisingly) seem to have more voices in their heads than even you, and you may have to guard your salisbury steak with your life lest someone tries to feed it to their pet bedpan, but it's all a small price to pay for a little bit of R&R.

September 1, 2011

Stripping is NOT a Subject Taught in Public School

Boring is definitely not a word that comes up when thinking about my children. How could it with Bubba in the house?

School is back up and running and my kids went back after homeschooling the last 3 years. I knew going into this that Bubba was going to have a longer and more challenging adjustment period than "typical" kids. (Duh, the kid has Autism. When are things ever easier?) So I was quite excited about him having a great first day of school. And a great second day. And even a great third.

And then Day 4 hit. And I got The Call.

I was at work, scrambling around making phone calls to try to find someone who could pick up my kids from school since I had just found out that I would be working past 3pm and wouldn't be able to get there in time. Cue guilt about not being there for my kids and being a burden to someone else and I now had a headache. Then my phone rang. It was the school.

"Mrs. Slacker? This is Mary Poppins from the elementary school. Bubba's had an episode here at school."

I can't tell you how many times I've had phone calls start like this. I'd been expecting this call since the first day of school and was honestly surprised that it had taken this long. Bubba is going from being home with a pretty relaxed routine and very few expectations of him to being at school with a very rigid routine and a new set of rules for him to follow. He is now in a classroom filled with people he doesn't know and he hasn't learned what's expected of him yet. Hello, anxiety.

Being anxious means that when something sets him off--triggers his anger, frustration, fear--he will react in an even more pronounced manner. That's a nice way of saying the kid will freaking flip out. And because we registered so late and without any records, we don't have an ARD in place (In WA, we call it an IEP. By the way, the district should get an award for the most anagrams used by a public office.) so there was no plan for everyone to follow to know how to deal with Bubba's behavior. They were flying blind, so to speak.

It all started when Bubba's teacher had the gall to ask him to write something. Bubba write? That's tantamount to waving a red flag in front of a herd of bulls in Pamplona. I sort of feel sorry for the ladies at the school who had no idea what they unleashed. But unleash he did. The question was, "What Did You Do Over Summer Vacation?" His answer? "I don't remember what I did over summer vacation. I killed my teacher." Oh yeah. He went there. The teacher handled it fairly well but Bubba threw a bit of a fit in class. His teacher decided it might be a good time for him to meet some of the support staff who will be there to help him out. Once he got into the new classroom, he stuck himself in the far corner of the room. He started yelling. He started throwing books off the shelf. Then he picked up a chair and started advancing toward the teachers.

During this time they were all trying to talk him down, reason with him, distract him. They even had to restrain him. Nothing worked. He must have got to a point where he'd run out of things to throw because then he took off his shoes and threw them at the teachers. And then he threw his socks. And the cherry on this meltdown sundae? He took off his pants and threw those, too. When I was told this over the phone, I couldn't help it--I laughed. Then I apologized for laughing. I mean, I've been there. It's really not funny when you're in the midst of a Bubba storm. But I still found it amusing. Mary Poppins told me they were just glad that nothing else came off after the pants. (Even funnier!)

The problem was, they wanted me to come to school and pick Bubba up. I work an hour away and had appointments booked until 3:30. I called everyone I work with and begged them all to come in and cover for me. I even offered gas money but no one could do it. I might have cried a bit at this point and dumped a bit on the nurses at work but the massive headache I had brewing makes it all a bit fuzzy.

MC was actually able to rework his schedule and drive the hour from his work to get Bubba. Of course, by the time he got there, Bubba was fine. The thing with Bubba is, he will have this massive tantrum, be in full nuclear meltdown and then it's like a switch is flipped and he's fine. He'll even give a sincere apology when prompted and then continue on like nothing happened while everyone who dealt with him is left a boneless puddle of worked up nerves and frayed emotions. The recovery time for Bubba's tantrums is much higher for the grown ups than it is for Bubba. For some reason, this particular day's switch was flipped when someone mentioned lunch. He calmed right down and then sat and ate his lunch. Then they kept him docile by letting him play on an iPad until his dad arrived.

The whole incident was dissected and discussed and Bubba was warned that if he should happen to throw, hit, or threaten anyone again, he would lose his precious computer time at home. Always a harsh punishment as far as he's concerned. Luckily, he managed to make it through a few more days without incident.

Until Day 6. That's the day that he struggled with a Math Pre-Test and immediately after was told it was time for Art class (his least favorite subject). Again, meltdown time. This time it involved telling the teachers that he was going to hit them--and then he did just that. He physically hit and kicked his teachers. Two teachers at a time kept watch over him while he refused to come back inside the class and even had to restrain him again. All he wanted was to come home so, of course, I did NOT come and get him. He missed out on having lunch with his friends but eventually he was able to return to class. The crying and screaming resumed after getting picked up from school by Mommy and learning that he lost his computer time for hitting. However, I'd much rather him throw a fit at home where I can ignore him then at school where he may actually hurt someone.

Since then, he's had some very good days where he's earned 2 computer sessions at school and had positive feedback from his teachers. He's also had some not-so-good days, like the day he slammed his head on the sidewalk during a meltdown and I got a call from the nurse telling me to watch out for symptoms of a concussion.

But during all this, he seems to be making a friend. The kids are encouraged to write notes of thanks or appreciation to fellow students when they have done something kind. Bubba came home with a note one day that said, "Bubba is awesome." He then returned the favor by sending this Kid a note saying "Thanks for the nice note." The next day, Bubba brought home a half sheet of paper with Kid's address and phone number in case Bubba wants to come over sometime for a play date. For this, I am grateful. I know that Bubba will do fine with the academics and the behavior problems will improve. But making friends? That's always a struggle with a kid who acts like he knows everything, is quick to tattle, and is seen yelling and screaming in class. To see him making a friend this early in the school year absolutely warms my heart. Despite his challenges and setbacks, I have hope that Bubba will not only survive his year of 5th grade, but that he will thrive and continue making progress in leaps and bounds.