What’s In Your Head?

I commiserated with another mom-at-home-with-littles the other day. Yeah, I sighed, Some days the only reason I continue working on a relationship with my son is so that at some future time I can ask him, “What the *blank* were you even thinking when you…fill in the blank with whatever “Just Add Water” surprise you gave me that day?”

I might get some of those answers sooner than I’d expected.

I’ve known for a couple years that my son struggles with a lot of anxiety. Underneath his sometimes volatile and cranky exterior is a kid who carries some very heavy thoughts in his head. He has personal battles that I won’t share here, but they are affecting his willingness to do schoolwork. He began to get headaches last week, and after filling out a questionnaire about his anxiety, the doctor said he needed a full psychological evaluation.

I felt both relieved and defeated to learn that the indicators I’d seen in him were not all in my head. I thought, “What did I do so wrong that now he needs to get help? Didn’t I become a mother in the home so I could prevent big problems like this? It must be those few times I resorted to spanking. Or all the times I yelled…” But even as the tears started, a comforting thought stemmed them:”He needs help. Because of you, he’s going to get help. What could be more right than that?”

Fortunately, he has more than just a frazzled mother in his corner.

I was at my wits’ end trying to help him with the small assignments he got each week–a couple worksheets of simple counting and writing numbers, some lame “pretend to read what you actually only memorized” books–and the monthly project that we usually completed in the hour before it was due with glue and tears still dripping from all involved parties.

After counseling with his teacher a few times by email and phone, my husband decided to take on the challenge of doing schoolwork with a kindergartner. Though he didn’t struggle with anxiety as a child, he did struggle with structured learning environments and could relate to some of our son’s frustration. I had loved school. My only struggle at his age was falling asleep at night because I was so busy thinking about everything that had happened that day and everything that might happen the next day. But once I was at school, I was happy to be there and doing my best work.

My husband patiently engages our son and makes the experience of completing his work a positive one. This was his third attempt to keep him from running off, hence the restraint.img_4825

I still help with schoolwork, but my contribution is in the “School Incentives +and Initiatives” department. I fill out the reading calendar to prove that I read to my children so that my son can get a free personal pan pizza at Pizza ,Hut. I also keep track of his Healthy Lifestyle Challenge for February. The goal each day is to have kids eat 5 fruit and/or vegetable servings, have no more than 2 hours of screen time, get 1 hour of physical activity, and have zero sugary drinks. If my kids complete the challenge, they get a t-shirt.

My son hasn’t eaten a vegetable since he tried pureed peas as an infant.

Oh, I’ve seen carrots go in his mouth, and then I find them all spit out in the sink or gnawed into replicas of Stonehenge or dried up between couch cushions. He devoured a can of olives the other day. I was so pleased that he had eaten a vegetable. Then my husband piped up, “They’re actually a fruit.” Hey, if it doesn’t go in a fruit salad, you can take a hike! Just take our son and make sure you’re gone for one hour so I can check off this box right here, would you?

Then last week, he drank a banana-berry smoothie with kale in it. And he asked for more. His portion had not been hidden in the freezer as an experiment. It was not smeared across the back of my easy chair. It was getting cozy in his tummy with some olives and a lot of other things that weren’t vegetables.

Imagine my satisfaction! At last I had found something both nutritious and palatable for my picky son. Nearly every day for the past week he has asked if it is time for a smoothie yet, so I have just kept them coming. A little spray whipped cream on top? No problem. Anything for you!

Then today we added his favorite–raspberries. I gave him a cloth for placing the millions of seeds he picked out since even I found them difficult to ignore. Feeling proud, I went and buried my head in the laundry and occasionally called out, “That’s enough whipped cream!” and “I hope you’re actually drinking your smoothie in there!” because he was laughing.

I came into the kitchen to find that he had not been simply giggling with delight over the divine experience of eating pureed vegetables again. He had been using an oral medicine syringe to perform some sort of experiment with his smoothie. I began wiping up puddles and adding smoothies to the list of things we don’t use medicine syringes for, but I froze when he said, “Look at the ceiling.”

Palm to my face.

Our home came with cheap builder’s paint that absorbs all colors applied by children and then dissolves on contact with water.It now looks like we have a thriving blue-green mold on our ceiling. Pureed blueberries and kale are lovin’ that wall texture. Not even a toothbrush could get the fibrous bits of nutrition out.

I am not a room painter. Some people are. My mom, both of my sisters-in-law, even my twin is making forays into painting. I, on the other hand, paid a friend to paint my basement. I guilted my husband into painting our guest room (and fortunately, he persuaded my dad to help him). I talked my brother and his wife into painting my bathroom. If someone asks me what they can do after baby #4 (a boy–heaven help us!) arrives, I now have a ceiling that needs some painting. Oh, and since the ceiling is continuous with every single wall in the house–gotta love that open concept–do you s’pose you could just paint the whole thing?

And then we’ll move out before anyone else tries to feed my son vegetables. I think they’re giving all of us major anxiety and a headache.

[Title is from The Cranberry’s (a fruit!) 1994 hit, Zombie. The video and the song’s background would probably give all 5-year-old boys and their mothers an anxiety disorder. But as the song points out, it’s what’s in your head that becomes the ultimate battle.]

Added on 2 Jan 2020: I used this song today to demonstrate to my children the “wall of sound” development in modern rock music. Apparently I had told my son the tragic backstory for this song because he added details that I didn’t even remember from three long years ago when I wrote this piece. I also learned by exploring the backstory again that Dolores O’Riordan, the singer and songwriter for Zombie, died at age 47 a year after I wrote this. It was one of the last of three songs she performed at a private event one month before her death. Like so many other talented musicians before her, intoxication and drowning in a tub took her too soon. We now keen for you, Dolores. 

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