Melissa and her husband live in Fargo, North Dakota with their three children. Their youngest daughter has Hyposenstitive Sensory Processing Disorder, ADHD, vision issues and is also dealing with grief, trauma and loss associated with foster care and adoption. Melissa blogs at teammadefamily.com and today she’s sharing what a regular day looks like for her family.
My telephone’s vibration signals 5:30 a.m. Morning comes all too early at our house. I lie under the covers a few minutes and then stumble out of bed. I listen closely for noises indicating whether or not my neighbor in the room next door, my six year old daughter, is awake. I hear nothing, which is good.
I take a shower and finish getting ready for the day. My husband brings me coffee. He is a saint. I tiptoe past my daughter’s door on the way downstairs, and she asks to go to the bathroom. She should still be sleeping and this might be a trick to get up for the day. I tell her to stay in bed. If she really needs to go, she will ask again.
I look at the calendar and make my to-do list. We are due at occupational therapy at 8:00 a.m.
While I start on my second cup of coffee, my four foot tall, blond whirlwind arrives. She flies down the stairs lightning fast and lands in the kitchen with a boom. I intend to scold her for running on the stairs, but give her a hug instead.
She asks to eat, but I remind her that chores must be done first. She collapses into a puddle on the floor, refusing to look at or speak to me. I ignore the puddle, and this antagonizes her. She begins saying words that are not polite.
These instantaneous hot and cold mood swings are normal for us. They happen every day, all day long. I leave the kitchen before saying something to worsen the situation. Thirty seconds later, I hear her feet headed toward the stairs, presumably to begin on chores.
We eat breakfast. She wants Lucky Charms. I insist on Cheerios. She pouts, but eats anyway.
We brush her teeth. I give the daily reminder not to chew on the toothbrush, drink the rinse water, or lick the washcloth she uses to wipe her face. When she thinks I am not looking, she disobeys each request. I pretend to ignore the behavior, knowing we need to get out the door without any more incidents.
We comb her hair. She cries and shouts because it hurts. I am fairly certain that most people would not consider my technique painful, but I try to be more gentle anyway.
We put on our coats and shoes. Her occupational therapist insists my daughter do these skills independently, so I impatiently watch her struggle. The more she cries and yells, the harder the task becomes. After a couple minutes of unsuccessful tries, she climbs in the car completely disheveled. We are running late.
Therapy is uneventful. We receive good reports on the vision therapy regimen. Conquering vestibular issues is not going as well. We receive homework for the following week, some of which I already know we will not have time to complete.
We return home, have a snack, and begin school. All of my daughter’s kindergarten subjects, other than physical education and music, are taught at home. Today we are playing games my daughter enjoys, so school is fun and easy.
At 10:30 a.m., my daughter uses the bathroom and successfully ties her shoes. We are out the door in five minutes and head to her elementary school. Once there, we make the long walk to the gymnasium.
We are greeted by the physical education teacher, who reminds me to take my daughter to the bathroom every day before school. I involuntarily sigh and roll my eyes. This is a mistake, as the teacher has taken offense. I apologize and explain that we always make a pit stop in the bathroom before gym class. The teacher looks skeptical and rolls her own eyes. Super.
I head home and squeeze in some teaching time with my older daughters while my six-year old is gone. Thirty minutes after leaving the school, I am back. This time I walk to the music classroom. Most days, music class goes well. Today is not like that. My daughter did something offensive to a friend, which resulted in a physical scuffle. In frustration, I scold my daughter. The music teacher swoops in to my child’s rescue. “She is little. She is learning. They ‘all’ do it.”
There is some truth in those statements, but the reality is that my child is not like “all” the others. Chronologically and intellectually, she is six years old. Behaviorally, socially, and emotionally, though? She acts very much like a kid about half her age.
Socially inappropriate behaviors that she exhibits appear like minor, isolated incidents to those who do not know her well. I know that my daughter learns behavioral and social cues very, very slowly. While harsh, the clear social boundaries I set for her are very important.
We go home for lunch. We have ramen soup. She picks her noodles out of the bowl with her fingers. I remind her to use a spoon and appropriate table manners. We use occupational therapy techniques in an attempt to minimize inappropriate table behaviors, but they are mostly ineffective. Instead, I have resorted to constantly reminding my way through most meals.
After lunch, she wants candy from her Halloween stash. I give her something small and take a piece of chocolate for myself as commission. For the next three minutes, I am the coolest mom on the planet.
My daughter completes the last of her school tasks and is free to do as she wants. I ask her to find some toys to play with in the living room or her bedroom so I can finish teaching her sisters. She is upset and wants to continue sitting at the table.I point out that most of my daughter’s day has been spent at a table. It would do her body good to move around a bit. She knows this, but her preference is to sit around, just watching what other people do. I insist that she leave the table or “do blocks.”
“Doing blocks” is our version of time-out. It involves filling bags with large, wooden building blocks. My daughter then drags them from her bedroom to the living room and arranges them in a long line. We tried traditional time-outs with our daughter. Her psychologist even walked us through weeks of therapy so we could administer them correctly. Unfortunately, time-outs are ineffective for us and aggravate my daughter’s tempter like almost nothing else.
By accident, we realized that one of our occupational therapist’s heavy work techniques actually worked to calm our daughter and encourage obedience. In addition, building a train of blocks takes about as much time as a traditional time-out. My daughter opts to play with dolls, rather than “do blocks.”
My daughter alternates between truly playing with her toys like other children do, and just staring at her sisters, mouth agape, while they do their schoolwork. I remind her that she should play independently for a little while. She reluctantly complies.
My daughter asks that I give her my constant, undivided attention. That is not my real life. I have two other kids, volunteer work, a marriage, a blog, a household, pets, and my own sanity that also vie for my attention. I cannot be 100% for her, 100% of the time. I feel guilty for pushing her away when I ask for some space. Just for a little while.
Afternoon comes to a close and we eat supper. It is rather uneventful. My daughter works to negotiate the social rules of taking turns when talking, speaking when her mouth is empty of food, and not finger paint in her salad dressing.
She enthusiastically tells her dad about her day—the therapy, the trip to school, the games she played at home, and all the fun she had. In her mind, the day was perfect. The difficulties and challenges did not happen. Only the positive, exciting experiences remain.
After supper, she brings dad to the living room for a round of Candyland. She wins. After Candyland, they play Legos. I am out the door again, shuffling older sisters to dance lessons. I appreciate my husband’s understanding of my need to spend time in the car, away from the chaos. My time negotiating traffic and rushing older kids back and forth to activities is my “down” time. During dance, I quickly dive into the grocery store for a few items.
Once I return home, it is my daughter’s bedtime. I give her a quick bath, brush her teeth, and help her choose pajamas. We read two stories. Book negotiations take a long while.
Once the stories are done, I turn out the lights. My daughter is reminded of the bedtime rules: stay in bed, lie still, please be quiet, stop asking what we are doing tomorrow, do not worry about what will be served for breakfast. Hugs and kisses are doled out. Promises of something fun tomorrow are made.
My husband and I tiptoe out of the bedroom. She quietly stays in bed, presumably asleep. I still listen closely. Bedtime has only been successful for about two months now.
My husband and I wash the dishes. We discuss our day, uninterrupted, for ten minutes before the older children arrive and join in the conversation.
After all the kids are in bed, my husband and I turn on the television for an hour. We mostly zone out. Truthfully, this time is our only opportunity to unwind and reset. Books would be a better choice, but we are tired.
Around 10:00 p.m., the TV is off and we head for bed. I am exhausted, but happy. Many rough days are behind us, and certainly more are ahead. We have, however, managed to live successfully with the challenges we face today.
ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Dyslexia, and the host of physical and emotional challenges my daughter faces do not define her as a person. And they do not define me. We are learning to adapt to our “normal.” We are working to give our little girl a childhood filled with normalcy and joy. We may never overcome her acronyms, disabilities, and diagnoses, but we will meet them head on. And we will not do it through a small list of major events and milestones. Instead, it will happen through a series of regular days. We will reinforce everyday skills on a daily basis. We will provide her the opportunities she needs to live the fullest life possible.