Saturday, November 30, 2013

parenting through persistence and pharmacopias

So, what's up with my son?

J-son has had a turbulent semester, so bumpy that it's hard even to summarize.  Here are two snap shots:

  • In early September, he was named captain of his squash team.  Two weeks ago, he was kicked off the team.  Forever.
  • In early September, parent-teacher conferences were glowing.  Early November, the teachers huddled around my recently-returned husband to outdo each other with stories of grave concerns. 
Neither of these snapshots show the most persistent trouble that J-son had this fall, which has been with impulse-stealing things from our home.  We've been through this stealing-jag before; last time we "fixed" it with a combination of behavior modification, with locks and boundaries, and with drugs.

When the stealing resurfaced, we went back to the usual drill.  By "we", actually, I mean "I", because my husband was already off at army.  I reamed the kid out.  I required restitution.  I reinstalled locks on certain closet doors.

The stealing persisted.  

I took additional measures, each one feeling weirdly drastic.   I removed all furniture with drawers from his room -- all clothes must be hung up, not in drawers, to reduce the number of hiding places.  

When that didn't work, I turned to invasion-of-privacy.  I began daily searches of his room (uncovering daily new thefts).  I searched under his mattress, pulled purloined objects out of his pillow case, uncovered contraband from his corners.  We removed his bedroom door.

I turned to professional help.  I begged his pediatrician to increase his meds; she was dubious and kept him at his current levels.  I sent for information from military boarding schools.  We called our adoption agency, who offered to connect me support groups, but didn't have anything directly for J-son;  I declined these.  We entered the insurance/paperwork morass of finding a counsellor, and finally got him signed up.  

Through all this, I was working full time, or maybe more than full time.  So of course, I was also feeling guilty and torn.  If I were home for this kid, would that have made a difference?  Almost certainly.  And yet, I also knew the problem wasn't really me.  There was really something wonky going on with J-son.

The stealing persisted.  

His foster mom told me stories of his early life; how he had grown up hungry, and how his birth mother had hidden the food in her bedroom.  The only way he could get fed was to sneak into her room and take the food.  The habit was formed. But cursing the birth mom doesn't fix the child.

I did something I thought I would never do:  I bought an alarm.  It's not a house alarm -- our dog is alarm enough for the neighborhood we live in; it's an alarm for J-son's door.  Every night I'd make sure he was okay, and then . . . I'd seal him in his room.  On would go the alarm until I wake up in the morning and let him out.  

That didn't completely stop the stealing, because sometimes he nabs things during the day, but at least it let me sleep through the night without fretting.

There is no magic wand, I know this.  Here is my current hope, though:  we finally jumped 6 months ahead in line for a psychiatrist who can prescribe meds, and she's suggested a drug that helps with impulse control.   Given how suddenly this all came on, and how the last time we had trouble it was a med-adjustment that seemed to finally fix the problem, and how every time we ask J-son, "why did you take this?" he says "I don't know" and seems to mean it -- given all that, I keep pinning my hopes on the meds.  Not as  THE answer, but as a crucial PART of the answer.

For me, how do I get through this?

Partly I think it helps to have a PhD in math, not because this is a particularly quantitative situation, but because I can think of it as a problem.  Is there a solution?  Is there a counter-example?  I'm used to spending years banging my head against the wall trying to figure out the answer to something, and I'm used to finding out that the answer is quite different from anything I expected.  It's true that I'm not used to having my math problems hide electronics in their pillowcase, but the persistence part of this whole mess, I got that down.

I also feel like this is a huge lesson in faith.  Jesus, as he was hanging on the cross, invited a thief into his heavenly home, and I follow Him in this example.  Jesus in his sermon on the mount, winds up the beatitudes by blessing those "who are persecuted for righteousness' sake", and I'm feeling peculiarly blessed right now.  Even more, the New Testament is full of descriptions of how we are all of us adopted into God's family, of how God loved us even while we were still sinning.  And so I look at this wreck of a kid, and I think about the wreck that *I* am.  I think about how hard it is to keep loving this kid, and then I think about how amazing it is that God keeps loving me.  It sounds all gooey, but J-son's troubles remind me of how much I have to be grateful for.

J-son has managed to burn a lot of bridges this year.  If we can get the impulsivity under control, there's still a lot of restitution ahead.  Several of the people living in this house don't like living here with J-son, for fairly understandable reasons, and so there needs to be a lot of reconciliation.  Fifteen year old boys aren't particularly good at apologizing or admitting culpability, and I'm guessing J-son will need a lot of help with mending fences.  

As of today, it's been 9 days since he last took something.  That's our latest record.  We'll keep slogging forward.



  1. Replies
    1. Thanks! Hugs are always appreciated. Humor, too. What a crazy life I seem to have chosen for myself!

  2. I think I've said it before, but it needs repeating: You are earning your crown in heaven for taking in one of God's "broken" children and loving him. Kudos to you, and many hugs.

  3. Hugs from me too. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. As a teacher who has worked with similar kids, I really appreciate parents who work hard to help their kids.