This was posted by my wife on her blog. If you are not following her, you should. She’s awesome (if I do say so myself).

crazyantelope

Today was Colin’s birthday party. We did what every mother dreams of doing for Mothers Day and went to Chuck E Cheese!

Oh, wait, that’s not what most moms want to do on Mothers Day? Must be why the place was basically empty!

(I should say my Mothers Day started in the “normal” fashion – sleeping in, breakfast in bed from my awesome husband and kiddos, and wonderful presents!)

For months now, Colin’s been determined that he would get the new “magic ticket” from the ticket blaster – this one ticket is worth 1000 tickets! Pretty sure that’s the biggest number he’s able to fathom. He kept telling us he was going to get the magic ticket so he could get “all the prizes.” We’ve been trying to explain that wasn’t really how it worked, but he didn’t want to hear any of that.

When it came time for a…

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Don’t wait until it’s too late…

I lost a dear friend yesterday. Someone I’ve known for close to 30 years. We literally grew up together, and I loved her more than I can say. She had a terrible, random, and tragic accident. She was almost a week from her 41st birthday.

Tracey and her ex-husband, Steve, were my two best friends for about 25 years. They were high school sweethearts who married after they graduated college, and stayed married until less than 3 years ago. The last time I talked with Tracey was via email not long after her divorce was final, about 2 years ago.

I tried a couple of times to reach out to her since that time, but to no avail. I assumed talking to me brought up bad memories of her ex husband, with whom I was still very close. I should have tried harder.

Her birthday was a week from this Sunday, and I had already composed half of the email I was going to send her in my head. So many things I wanted to tell her.  About how much my life had changed over the last two years, how much I missed talking to her, how much I wanted us to be close again, but now I won’t get the chance to tell her. Ever.

I know there is someone out there you love that, for one reason or another, you have lost contact with. Call them. Email them. Write them a hand written letter. Something. Anything. TODAY. Before it’s too late.

Being a foster parent

As I’ve mentioned a time or two, my first wife and I adopted Colin and Ryan from foster care. The journey we took to become foster parents, and the roller coaster ride we took before we were done fostering, was a life defining experience for me. To tell the story properly, I have to go back to 1998; when I first met Wendy.

We met through a then relatively new and novel way: a dating web site: Match.com. Very soon after we met, Wendy told me that she was diabetic, and that she was also having some health issues related to fibroid cysts that included pain and bleeding. Her doctor had recommended she have a complete hysterectomy. So, about 6 weeks after we met, she went in for surgery, and our hope of ever having biological children together vanished.

At the time we met, Wendy was a nanny, and had been so for about 3 or 4 years. She loved children, and the only thing she ever really wanted to be in life was to be a mother. We knew right away that we would look into adoption after we got married.

Two years after we met, we were married. We had already begun looking at options for adoption and/or surrogates. We even had one of Wendy’s cousins offer to be a surrogate, but that turned out to be an empty promise. So, after looking at overseas adoption, and domestic adoption, and every other option you could think of, we decided we would be foster-to-adopt parents. We decided it would be a great way to help at-risk children in our own community while also being a way to possibly adopt kids that really needed the love we had to give.

We were “all-in” immediately. We asked to be placed on the “emergency foster” list, which meant we could (and often did) get phone calls looking to place children with us at 1 or 2 in the morning. We got children that were literally taken directly from their abusive home and placed in our home. We had children placed with us directly from the hospital a day or two after being born. We took any and all children Child Protective Services was willing to place with us. The only restriction we had was that we wanted children under the age of 5 since we knew that our ultimate goal was adoption.

Our first placement came less than 48 hours after being licensed. We went through the training classes in the spring of 2001. We had to move from a one bedroom to a two bedroom apartment before being licensed, so we did that in May of that year. CPS, moving with the glacier like speed they are known for, finally sent our case worker to do our home study at the beginning of September of that year. About a week after the case worker came out, 9/11 happened. That set us back even further. We should have known then how frustrating CPS could be, but we soldiered on.

The Friday before the week of Thanksgiving, we were out-of-town visiting relatives. That afternoon, we got a voice mail message from our case worker that our license had been approved! We were so excited, we cut our trip short, and rushed home. We knew things could happen quickly once we were licensed, and we weren’t disappointed.

We received a call for an emergency placement the next day; Saturday afternoon. The case worker told us that she had a child that was about to be removed from a home because of physical abuse, and she wanted to line up a home to place him in before she removed him. We gladly accepted, thinking our first placement would be in our home soon. Well, after about 16 hours, and after several phone calls all promising he would be there “soon”, Nicholas was brought to our home, complete with several bruises on his cheek and forehead, and a black eye. He wasn’t a happy camper, but the kid was tough (we soon came to realize that was a common trait among foster children), and he quickly was a very happy and healthy 6 month old baby boy.

We were sure we were going to adopt Nicholas. How could CPS send him back to live with that family? How could they think they were a better fit for him than us? Well, about a month after celebrating his first birthday, CPS sent him to live with his grandmother (who, by the way, tried to help her daughter escape from the police when they came to remove Nicholas from her custody).

That is when we discovered some things about CPS. They have certain belief systems that they hold dear, one of which, is that “blood relatives” always take priority over foster families.  That policy probably works for about 90-95% of families (MAYBE), but we felt in this case it was ridiculous. We also found out that most caseworkers are VERY over worked and under paid. This causes them sometimes to worry more about getting the case off their desk, instead of worrying more about what is in the best interest of the child.

Don’t get me wrong, I think CPS workers, by a LARGE majority, are wonderful people, who do a job that I don’t think I could do. But, some are just burnt out, and in over their heads. It’s a real shame when you run into those workers.

But, despite wanting to quit several times, we carried on. In just over 5 years, Wendy and I fostered 23 children ranging in ages newborn to 4 years old. We fostered Caucasian, African American, and Hispanic children, with almost an equal number of boys and girls. We had children in our home that had been born addicted to heroin, alcohol, methamphetamine, marijuana, etc.

The most heart breaking experience we had was one little girl who came to us at 6 months old, and she had over 20 different fractures. Her jaw was broken in two places, and she was in so much pain, we had to feed her with an NG Tube for over a week. Her wrist was so badly broken, that she didn’t crawl until she was 10 months old. She was also given back to her grandmother (who was letting the girl and her parents live with her during the time of the abuse).

We saw so many things that almost made us give up. It almost ruined my faith in humanity, as a matter of fact. But, we carried on. In June of 2004, a 5 week old little boy came to live with us named Jessie. A year and 4 months later, we adopted him, and changed his name to Colin. A little over a year after that, we adopted Ryan, and our family was complete. So was our journey of being foster parents.

I can say, without a doubt, the experience changed me forever. I like to think it changed me for the better.

Ryan’s sisters…

As I mentioned in this post, Ryan has a bit of a complicated back story that includes having two half-sisters that were adopted by another family. We don’t get together with them nearly enough, but we do meet with them once or twice a year. This past weekend, Ryan was having his last soccer game of the season, so his younger sister (she just turned 12), and her parents (Don and Laura) came to watch. The oldest sister is 21, and she has moved out of her parents’ house and did not make it, but Sara and I are both friends with her on Facebook.

Don and Laura live about 45 mins away from us, and they had some difficulties getting to the game on time, so they were not able to catch any of the game itself, but we did all go for ice cream afterwards. It was really nice to be able to sit and talk with them, and let Ryan spend some time with his sister (although I’m still not really sure if he completely understands the whole situation). Sara and I both (not to mention Don and Laura) think it is incredibly important for Ryan to get to know, and have a strong bond with, his sisters. Both of them really seem to enjoy seeing and talking with him, too.

We got thrown a bit of a curveball this time, though. I mentioned to Don and Laura that Sara and I were friends with the oldest daughter on FB, and that it seems she was doing well. She is set to graduate with a four-year degree from a pretty good university, she has a steady boyfriend, and a steady job. We also knew that she had moved out of their house.

Don and Laura started telling us, though, about how the last few months had been “a living hell”, and that things were “not good” with Sharon. Sara and I were stunned. We both looked at each other and I could tell that all sorts of things were running through both of our minds. Ryan and his sisters all have the same mom, but different dads (as far as we know). So we were thinking, maybe Sharon was taking drugs, or was sleeping around. Or maybe she was stealing things, or had gotten pregnant. Considering her background and the fact that Sharon and her sister had been removed from their mom’s custody about the time Sharon was 10 or 11, the things that could cause her parents to say they were going through “a living hell” could have been anything.

Sara and I were bracing for the worst. I asked what was going on, and Don starts talking about Sharon having a boyfriend, and that she had been “drinking” and “smoking”. He explained that she was also living with her boyfriend. A friend of  Sharon’s and her boyfriend were living there as well. She also had been pretty much lying about all those things for a few years.

Don and Laura are an “older” couple, and they are both very religious. Now, I don’t want to belittle the things that Sharon did. Underage drinking, and smoking, are not “good” things. They are also not, in my and Sara’s opinion, “a living hell”. I think Sara and I both were stunned just because we were expecting “more”. Sara even said at one point, “What else has she done?” Don just looked at her like he didn’t understand the question. Sara went on to say (half-jokingly), “I guess I was lucky that I lived in a different state than my parents when I was doing all those things.”

I know different parents have different expectations for their children.  I also know that Don and Laura grew up in a different time and place than their daughters, but if the occasional drink of alcohol and the occasional cigarette, are the WORST things that Ryan (or any of our boys) do, I will consider our parenting to be exceptional. Especially if our boys are about to graduate with a bachelor’s degree (a year early) and planning on going to grad school. In fact, to me, the worst thing Sharon did was that she lied about what was she was doing. Under the circumstances though, and seeing how Don and Laura reacted, I can understand her hiding those things from her parents.

I don’t ever want my boys to think of me as their “friend” before thinking of  me as their parent, but I also want them to understand that my love for them will not change because of the things they do, or the choices they make. I want them to always know that they can tell me ANYTHING and my love will always be truly unconditional. That doesn’t mean I will always like or agree with their choices, but their choices are theirs to make. I can only raise them the best I can and help them make the best choices possible. Everything else is out of my hands.

Meds or no meds Part 2: change is always hard…

Colin is 100% a creature of habit and routine. He craves it; needs it, really. If his routine (or what he EXPECTS to be his routine) is changed in any way, a meltdown can, and often does, occur. Something as simple as taking a different route home than he’s used to can cause heightened anxiety, and a load of questions. 

Over the last 4 months or so, Sara and I have noticed that Colin’s meds were not having the same effect they once were. When we first went to our developmental pediatrician, he gave Colin a “booster” dose of Ritalin in the afternoon to help with the “crash” he was having after school, plus he put him on, Abilify (as a mood stabilizer). For the first year or so, it worked wonderfully. He was having fewer meltdowns, he was nicer to his brothers (most of the time), and he was doing well in school.

At the beginning of this year, though, things started going down hill. We went back to our pediatrician, and he upped the dosage of Abilify. That did not help. In fact, it made things much worse. He would cry and meltdown at the drop of a hat, and was mean and violent more and more towards his brothers. We stopped the Abilify within about 2 days.

We have gone through a couple different combinations of meds, including trying Risperidone, but nothing has really worked so far. Our pediatrician recommended we try a psychiatrist that specializes in kids like Colin, so we started seeing him about a month ago.

He put Colin on a low dose of Clonidine to help him sleep, and that has helped him some. He at least goes to sleep at a decent hour, whereas before he would be up until 10 or 11 pm, then he would wake up any time between 4:30 and 6:00 am. I have always believed that Colin’s lack of sleep is a BIG reason for a lot of his behavioral issues. Even as an infant, Colin never napped.

I believe if we could figure out a way for him to sleep longer, a lot of his behavior problems would at least get better, if not work themselves out. Colin, on the other hand, has different ideas. Sara and I basically thank our lucky stars if he sleeps past 5:45 or 6 am, which can be  especially hard on Sara.

She is with Colin, without help from me, during his most unmedicated times of the day because I work nights (10 pm to 6:30 am). Trying to get herself up and ready for work in the morning, while also making our three boys breakfast and getting them ready for school, all the while having to keep Colin in line, is probably too much to ask of one person. But, she does the very best she can, and fights through the challenges like a champ.

We are hoping that putting Colin on something stronger (and, hopefully, longer lasting) will help put an end to the roller coaster of hyperactivity he goes through on a daily basis. To that end, we have started him on Adderall, with an eye towards moving him to the extended release version once we get the dosage worked out. 

This presents a few challenges. First of all, like I said before, Colin does not deal well with change. Seeing the new pill brought up a bit of anxiety, plus a whole host of questions (What is this pill for? Why is it blue? What happened to my circle pill (that’s what he called one of this other pills)?  Etc…

Secondly, since it is a new med, we have to start on a very low dose and work our way up to the optimal dose. This causes problems dealing with his behaviors both at home and at school. We also have to file paperwork with the school so that they can give him his afternoon dose. I have yet to do that since we are not sure we will stick with this medication, nor are we sure we will even need the school to give him his afternoon dose once all is said and done.

So, for now, I go to the school every day at noon and give him his afternoon dose myself. The one benefit of that is I get a mid-day report on how his behavior is that day. It is not, however, optimal conditions for me resting during the day.

But these are the sacrifices we make for our children. Sara and I just want what’s best for Colin, and we are still not sure if Adderall is going to work for him or us. The first few days were not good, as his behavior at school was terrible (thank goodness we have some wonderful teachers and administrators here). Thursday and Friday were better, but still far from where we want to be.

This weekend, we upped his dosage once more, landing on 20mg/twice a day. This is roughly half of the total dosage of Ritalin he took for the entire day, but spaced out in two doses. His behavior was actually pretty well regulated today. When I left for work at 9:15 pm, however, he was still having trouble going to sleep (insomnia can be a side effect of Adderall). Plus, he was up by 4am Sunday morning. I KNOW that will not work for us in the long run. We’ll just have to see how it goes…

to be continued…

Meds or no meds, Part 1: the how and the why

I want to take a moment (or much longer) and discus ADHD meds, and the choices we’ve made regarding them and our son, Colin. I keep hearing over and over again (both before and after they know my son is on meds) how doctors are “over diagnosing” ADHD, and “over prescribing” stimulant meds like Ritalin, or Adderall, etc. People say doctors just hand those pills out like candy, and what these kids need is a good spanking and some discipline. I’m sure there are some doctors out there who over diagnose and over prescribe for ADHD/ADD. I don’t know any of them.

These drugs are some of the most tightly regulated medications on the market. Prescriptions are not allowed to be called in to the pharmacy. I must obtain new “scripts” for every ADHD med my son takes each month. Until recently, the doctor had to physically see how Colin was doing each and every month he wrote a prescription (the doc is now allowed to write scripts for up to 3 months in advance). I also have to show my driver’s license each time I pick up his meds from the pharmacist due to the fact they are considered “controlled substances”. Obtaining these meds is not the piece of cake some would have you believe.

Let me tell you the story of how and why I came to put Colin on Ritalin. First though, I want to say that I have no problems with someone who decides they do not want to put their child on medication. It is NOT a decision that is to be made lightly, and I respect the decision of each parent in regards to how they want to raise their child. I expect, however, the same consideration from others.

The year after my first wife passed away, I bought a house in the suburbs and moved myself and my two boys. We were practically the American Dream personified. A couple of days after Christmas that year, I put my boys to bed around 7:30 and decided I’d try to get a little shut-eye before I had to go to work that night. I shut my door and was fast asleep. At the time, I had employed the 18-year-old daughter of one of my coworkers to sit with my boys at night while I was at work.

I got up about an hour and a half later and jumped in the shower to get ready for work. As I was getting out of the shower, I had the most frightening experience of my life. I hear someone from my living room call out, “POLICE OFFICER!”

My first thought was that this had to be a joke. I figured my coworker had come to drop his daughter off early, and had made his way into my house. “Yeah, right, Sam. Whatever”, I yell back.

“SIR! THIS IS THE POLICE DEPARTMENT! PLEASE COME INTO THE LIVING ROOM!”

Now, remember, I am just out of the shower, and am in the middle of drying myself off. I look around the corner from my bathroom (which is in my bedroom), and see two police officers with their hands on their weapons, looking directly at me.

“Uh. Uh. Let me put some clothes on…” I manage to stammer.

As I  begin to get dressed the lead officer is talking to me. “Sir, do you know that your garage door is open, your car doors are open, and your back door is open?” he asks.

“No, sir. I didn’t know”, I say as my mind starts racing. Wondering how my garage door got open, and if someone had burglarized my car, I still had not managed to grasp the full situation.

At this point, the officer says, “We were driving through the neighborhood, and noticed the garage door open, and figured we had better check up it.” Then, he looks at me and says, “Sir, do you have any children?”

Dumbass me still was in such shock, I did not really register what he was asking, or why. “Yeah, I have two boys.”

“Their names? Ages?”

“Colin, age 4, and Ryan, who just turned 4 last week.”

“Do you know where they are?”

“Yeah, they are in the back bedrooms.”

THAT’S when it started to click.

“What’s going on?”, I ask the first officer as the other officer goes towards the back of the house.

“Just a minute” he says, while we wait for the other officer. He comes back and says flatly, “Yeah, they’re not back there. I found this..” and produces the two halves of the door knob covers I had placed on the INSIDE of Colin’s and Ryan’s doors so they, theoretically, couldn’t get out.

“Yeah, I think we found their house,” the officer calls on the radio. So, to make a long story just a little bit shorter (and thank you for reading this far), apparently what happened was this: after I laid down (and shut my door to sleep for the LAST time), Colin managed to peel off the door knob cover from his door. He then got Ryan out of his room, and they decided it was “play time” in the garage. They got into the car, and were playing around when, I guess, they saw the garage door opener on the visor.

Colin pushed the button, and up went the garage door. Both boys, seeing their opportunity to make a break for it, went back inside the house and PUT THEIR SHOES ON, and started walking through the neighborhood. Thank goodness I live in a fairly nice area. They walked two streets up from our house, and walked up to someone’s house and rang the doorbell.

I don’t know if that was the only house they rang, but luckily for all three of us, the lady that answered the door had a child about the same age as my boys, and brought them inside. She then called the police. I thank my lucky stars all the time for that lady. This story could have had such a worse ending.

Anyway, it was at that point that I realized that Colin’s ADHD had reached a point where he basically had little to no impulse control whatsoever. He literally could not stop himself for one second to think, “This might be dangerous, I shouldn’t do this.” If he had an idea, he was going to do it. And Ryan was going to go along with him. I knew then and there, SOMETHING had to be done.

I also want to say that, as scary as this story is, it was not the ONLY reason I wanted to put Colin on meds. He literally, NEVER stops moving (even now, on his meds, he is in constant motion). He’s even restless when he sleeps. He never stops talking (again, even on his meds, he rarely stops talking). If he is off his meds, he has to touch EVERYTHING. Seriously. Every. Thing. Including people, dogs, cats, stuff on the ground, etc. He has a special affinity for switches and buttons, and that makes a trip to the doctor’s office with its light switches, and call buttons, and instruments to look in eyes and ears, especially fun.

So, anyway, I took Colin to an ADHD doctor less than a week after he and Ryan “escaped” from the house, and he gave me all kinds of surveys to fill out, and even had Colin’s pre-K teachers fill one out. The doc said Colin was “0ff-the-charts” ADHD, and prescribed Ritalin. We started him on a small dose, and worked our way up to a pretty heavy dose (80mg every morning) within about 8 or 9 months.

Even on that high of a dosage, it didn’t solve all of his behavioral issues, but it did allow him to go to school and not be a TOTAL distraction. We even had to get him an aide to sit with him for about a year and a half to make sure he stayed on task and didn’t disrupt the class too much every day. He still had his “moments”, but with the help of his incredible aide, his wonderful kindergarten teacher, as well as repeating kindergarten, Colin is now pretty much on grade level and makes mostly A’s and B’s in first grade, and will start 2nd grade in August.

Up next, Part 2 of Meds or No Meds, where I discuss the ongoing challenges of the medications and what happens when we have to switch or modify his dosage and/or the medication itself.

Colin (hopefully) goes to camp…

One of the hardest things Sara and I have to deal with each year, is how to keep our boys occupied when they are not in school. When they were little, it was easier since they were in daycare. Now, with Sara and I having three boys between us, putting them in a “daycare” or leaving them with a sitter all summer is not exactly economically “easy” (though we will figure it out if it comes to that).

We are lucky in one aspect, and that is that I work “3rd shift”. That means, if need be, the boys can stay with me during the day. The main downside is I would get little-to-no sleep, and the boys would not get to do a lot of things outside the home since I would have to get at least SOME sleep during the day.

Last year, with Robbie in daycare full-time, we were very lucky to find a church in our area offering a “day camp” that met every weekday, for 4-5 hours each day. This camp was incredible. First of all, it was free even though we were not members of the church (though we donated several things from snacks, to money, to volunteer time), plus the kids got to do arts and crafts every week,and  the church even took them to a local water park every week. It was a really awesome camp, and the volunteers from this church were wonderful (they were even quite understanding about Colin and his difficulties).

This year, unfortunately, we are not sure if the camp will be done exactly the same way. One of the founders of the camp passed away, and while his wife has told us the camp will continue, we are worried that it will be scaled down quite a bit. We do have a bit of a plan, though, if the camp is not the same.

Sara ran across a wonderful camp called Charis Hills. It is a traditional “sleep away” camp especially for kiddos with ADHD, autism, Aspergers, and other special needs. We are VERY hopeful we will be able to afford to send Colin to this camp. Colin and I got to attend an open house for the camp this weekend, and I came away more impressed than I thought I could be.

This camp offers activities like learning the basics of archery, riflery, fishing, camping, snorkeling (good luck getting Colin in the water, haha), and other traditional “summer camp” type stuff, all for kids just like Colin. At the open house, we got to meet several other families, and I couldn’t believe just how much those other kids were like Colin.

I just know this place would do him a world of good. It’s not inexpensive to send a child there (almost $1200/week), but Sara and I are determined to save the funds required for him to go.

After getting to see the place, Colin hasn’t stopped talking about going. He probably won’t stop talking about it until he goes in July, and probably won’t stop talking about what it was like for quite a while after he comes back.

Ryan got to spend a week with my mom last summer, and that was the first time either of them had been “away” from the other since Ryan was first placed in our home. It made him feel really special. Colin was obviously a bit “jealous” that he didn’t get to go also, but he is far too much for my elderly mother to handle. This year, though, Colin will get to go somewhere special, and they will be well equipped to handle him. Heck, he’ll even be one of the “normal” kids there. Something with which Colin is not very familiar. It will be an interesting summer, that’s for sure.