Life Skills 101: Juggling Flaming Bags of Poo

Waaaay back when I was a young thing in a “Frankie Say Relax” t-shirt and neon jelly shoes, we had to take Home Ec in school. One semester we took sewing, and then cooking, and the last was something whose name escapes me: Family Arts? Domestic Bliss? I guess it’s telling that I can’t remember.

I strongly feel Home Ec should make a comeback. Someone in this house, other than me, needs to learn how to cook (Banker Boy made me a bagel once, when I’d returned from having our child surgically removed from my abdomen). And someone should be preparing us critical life skills, like budgeting, career planning, and how to juggle all the shit life throws your way when you’re a reluctant member of the Sandwich Generation.

Let me introduce you to my son. He knows I write about him, but to maintain some modicum of privacy, I’ll call him Puck. That’s a name that captures both his love of hockey, and his resemblance to a mischievous and funny character from my favourite Shakespeare play.

Puck is eleven. He’s always been a funny kid, curious about the world around him. He loves hockey, animals, and airplanes. He wants to be a pilot. He loves to make people laugh, and is very concerned about the well-being of others.

Puck’s problems in school started almost immediately, and got increasingly worse through Grade Two. He’d rip up his work. Knock over chairs. Yell at the teacher, and cry inconsolably. That was not the same kind, funny child we saw at home. We had no clue what to do. We’d get phone calls from the school to come get him, as he was disrupting the class and upsetting the other children. I overheard other parents talking about Puck as a problem who needed to be dealt with. It broke my heart.

There’s a long waiting list for public mental health services for children in Nova Scotia. We tried going that route, but were told Puck would have to wait up to a year for a psycho-educational assessment. I feared that if we waited that long, he’d be lost. Although it was a financial hit for us, we decided to pay for a private assessment.

The assessment he had at age seven revealed some language-based learning disabilities, as well as slow visual processing speed. We were relieved to learn this. It gave us answers, and strategies. We could work with the school to put accommodations in place. “Everything will be okay now”, we thought.

“Hahahahahaha”, said the universe.

Things did improve at school… for a while. And then, the headaches began.

Long story short: I took Puck to the doctor for something else, and mentioned the frequent headaches he was getting. The doctor decided to send him for a CT scan. The CT scan revealed a mysterious “something” on his brain. Thus began a four months journey into hell, as we fought to access the health system, get answers, and worried daily that something was going to explode in his head and kill him.

It turned out that the horrible, threatening “something” on his brain was nothing we needed to be worried about. The neurologist who told us this happy news discovered, however, that Puck has Tourette’s syndrome. His tics are mild, and mostly not noticeable. We were sent home with this diagnosis, and little else. We didn’t really understand how it might affect him, or change, or present itself in the future. But we were relieved to have that stressful episode behind us.

You know that saying, “When one door closes, another opens”? Yeah. It’s meant to be optimistic, about finding opportunity in perceived hopelessness. In my case, I’ve learned that when one door closes – when we get an answer to one question, or get through one crisis – another gate to hell swings wide open.

Fast forward to this year. The school year started off well. Puck loved his teacher, and even said, for the first time, that he loved school. “This is great,” we thought. “Everything is better now”.

“Lol,” said the universe. “Hold my drink.”

The bottom fell out around November. We started seeing the same behaviour we had when Puck was six – the frustration, the emotional outbursts, the dread of school. On top of that, his confidence and self-esteem tanked. He hated himself. He wrote a heartbreaking letter to Santa, telling him he wished his family could have a better kid.

He wished that he wasn’t him, in his life. He wanted not to be.

So many meetings, emails and phone calls with his teachers to try to figure out how to make things better. The calls to come pick him up – because he was upset, because he was disruptive – began coming daily. Eventually, I wondered why I was sending him to school at all, if he would never manage to stay there beyond 10am.

We worked with a fabulous psychologist to have another psycho-educational assessment done. This one found much more serious learning disabilities than we’d previously known. It also found high levels of anxiety that needed to be addressed before any other interventions could even be contemplated.

And that’s where we’ve been, for the past couple of months: he’s been home with me, while we try to get this anxiety under control.

I’m giving everything I can to him, being a scaffold to prop him up until he can stand on his own. But nothing happens in isolation. While I offer up all my strength for Puck, I fight to push back my own out-of-control clinical anxiety, and wonder how I’ll find the strength to keep going. My attention is scattered. I have a job that allows me the flexibility to work from home, but is still relatively new, and fraught with challenges.  I’m neglecting my parents, who need me, too. I still need to be the person who remembers all the appointments, makes the meals, and feeds the cats. And on top of it all, I try so, so hard not to make Puck’s older sister, Daisy, feel she’s pushed to the sidelines in all of this.

I am juggling so many flaming bags of poo. If they drop, I get covered in poo. If I keep juggling, I get burnt and covered in poo. What’s the answer? I think I missed that class in Home Ec.

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