Month: February 2009

I’m Torn

People generally don’t believe me when I say I have A.D.D. They think I’m using a trendy shortcut to explain a mood or a circumstance. Maybe I am, because I’ve never taken the time out to go get an official opinion. I’m functional, I’m smart, and when it’s absolutely necessary I can kick my ass into fifth gear even though I only feel truly whole and like myself when stopped, or even stranded, by the side of some road.

Many people probably feel that way, but I wonder if they feel as debilitated as I do when their brain has to split between the internal and the external. My brain has a 24-hour theater built right into its gray matter. I don’t see a lot of movies or watch television because, really, the shows in my head are much more custom-tailored, and they don’t stop — not when I’m sleeping, not when I’m writing, not when I’m sitting face-to-face with someone over a cup of coffee. They. Never. Stop.

And I’ve grown so comfortable, maybe even in love, with this theater of mind that I resent being pulled away from it for any length of time. I get fidgety and anxious when I’m forced to focus on things that aren’t naturally included in my loop. My children are in that loop — my friends, my writing, my blog, and other people and things I care about are in there — but so many things are not, and they are often considered necessary. Like drudgery or to-do lists. Like ambition, or concentrating on the future.

I wonder if my mother and teachers weren’t right — maybe I am just lazy. Except that I’m not, at least not in ways that matter to me. I can spend hours researching and writing a story I think is important, and even during the most frustrating part of that process I feel intact and happy. But I’m more than unhappy when I have to focus on something outside my loop, I’m miserable. Like screeching chalk — high-pitched scream — intrusively getting touched in a way I don’t like to be touched — miserable. Many of my work experiences have been like that, and I have spent most of my career years trying to, 1) look for work that would intrigue me for longer than five minutes, or 2) look for work that required as little brainpower and interaction as possible. Can you guess which was easier to find?

Yes, I’m getting to the point which is that I’m torn. I’m torn in lots of ways, between lots of things, but since I’m sharing this with my readers, you might guess that it’s this blog I’m talking about. This March will mark my 3rd anniversary of blogging. In that time, the site has recycled readers at least three times, moving from coverage of a celebrity’s death, to an unsolved murder, to its current incarnation as . . . what? Stories, Essays, Opinions. A hodgepodge of writing which more popular people have told me is way too serious or too analytical to ever gain a substantial audience.

For what it’s worth, they are right! My friend Neil can rewrite a Billy Joel song and get 33 comments in the blink of an eye. Jenny, otherwise known as TheBloggess, can write one paragraph about the evil queen from Snow White and have 127 readers feel compelled to respond. And while I don’t understand the whole “mommy blogger” phenomenon, I would guess that Miss-Britt is one, since she’s looking for corporate sponsors — a topic on which 44 of her readers commented.

It’s not all about comments, but about regular readers, of which I have relatively few. And since I hate networking and self-promotion, and that whole “look at me! look at me!” Twitter mode of marketing, I’m not likely to gain many more. Blogging, too, I think is becoming somewhat passe. There are literally millions of blogs out there. Attention spans are short, readers dissipate on a whim — because they didn’t like one story, or because their feelings got hurt in some way, or because they felt awkward after writing you an email that said they had a crush on you, or you forgot to respond to an email, or you found out they were unstable, weird personalities — or whatever. It doesn’t take much to lose a reader, but it does take a lot to keep one, especially if the shit you write generally isn’t funny, and doesn’t make people laugh. Humor is way more popular than politics and child abuse. Just ask Neil’s penis, which is so popular that it sometimes writes its own blog posts.

So torn, yes. I feel kind of stupid for keeping this blog, and ugh – when I’ve actually asked people to comment. Do I have no dignity at all? I feel dumb. And unpopular. I’ve even caught myself trying to be funny lately, which is kind of like the fat kid wearing baggy clothes to look thinner. It doesn’t work. Maybe my vagina should have written this post. That might be funny, except that my vagina is very very serious. If it could dress itself, it would wear button-down shirts, sensible shoes, and glasses. It would speak some obscure language like Faroese, and play the clarinet. It would lay on a black leather couch three times a week for psychoanalysis, and attend Scrabble tournaments on Friday nights. It would lust after wilder, more carefree, less uptight vaginas, but in a respectful, unrequited way.

My vagina would think that this blog looks somewhat gaudy, and I can’t help but agree. So when I’m not like the fat kid with baggy clothes, I’m like the owner of an ugly house that keeps slapping paint on the shingles. I’ve never been good with color or design, which is something I blame on a childhood spent surrounded by gloss orange and silver-veined mirror tiles, but I can recognize good design when I see it, and this isn’t it. Plus, my eyes get bored easily — I have to change things up once in awhile. So I look at really flexible themes that promise to solve most of my technical problems, like Thesis, and I think, Yes! That’s it! This thing will totally make my blog better! Then I think – $87. On a blog that earns nada. For someone who’s presently without a real job. And again, I feel just a twinge of stupid.

I hate when stupid gets in my loop. I like the reel that shows me being a decent writer — passionate about causes, productive, sensible, and engaging. That reel is motivating. This other one, where I feel like I’m adding layers of paint to a shabby house while wondering if my vagina wouldn’t be a better speaker, forces me to focus on raw, disconcerting truths I’d rather ignore. Like how many people have left and never come back. Like how many hours I spend on an unpopular blog. Like why I’m doing this instead of putting all my efforts towards something more productive.

I’m torn between fifth gear and stranded. Between the theater of the mind, and the bright lights of necessity — between dignity and humility. And the truly funny thing is — it’s not that big of a deal. It’s not like I’m the fastest runner pulling out of a relay race, or the only cake-jumping stripper scheduled for a party. The only life that would change if I quit blogging is my own, so why the angst? (Rhetorical question). Pride, a sense of defeat, constant hope, the leaving of a habit, the loss of an outlet, and of friends who were loyal and did stay.

Fuck. I hate decisions like this almost as much as I hate boring meetings. I’m going to work it out as I do almost everything else, by writing until the answer comes to me. So there will be lots of blog posts until I decide. Probably at least one a day until something clicks. I can’t promise that any of them will be good, but then I think — I’ve done too much thinking today. I’ll save those thoughts for some other post.

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Delusional Parents or Cops in the Wrong?

A seven year-old boy throws a temper tantrum in his second grade classroom, stomping on a teacher’s foot, battering a school administrator, and tearing the room apart.  The class had to be evacuated by school officials to ensure the safety of the other children, and police and the boy’s mother were called.

So why are the parents of the boy now shopping around for an attorney?  According to them, their child is “sensitive and shy”.  He has, according to his father Richard Smith,  “no mental health problems.  He’s never hurt himself. He’s never hurt anyone else.”  While mother Barbara Smith admits that her son has thrown such tantrums before, and was once suspended for knocking over a desk, she believes she should have been allowed to “defuse” the situation without police intervention.

However, police in Largo, Florida did intervene and after speaking with the boy and other parties involved, decided to implement the Baker Act and send the boy to a mental health hospital for evaluation.  The boy stayed overnight, against the will of his parents, and now the parents are outraged and looking to sue.

The police find themselves in the position of having to defend their decision to use the Baker Act — which gives them the authority to hospitalize people against their will if they believe there’s a likelihood of them injuring themselves or others — against a seven year-old.

Anyone familiar with my work knows how I feel about automatic hero status being conferred upon those in fields like education and law enforcement.  I don’t believe that a certificate or a badge makes a hero, any more than I believe that every parent does what’s best for their child.  So when I read stories like this, I’m not automatically given to one side or the other.

In this case, it’s particularly difficult because there’s a third party involved that has been rendered near-powerless by policies meant to ensure equal access to education.  School districts have little long-term authority over troubled and disruptive students, and what authority they do have is often granted by the parents in the form of an IEP (Individual Education Plan) or other cooperative program.  Parents will often resist their child being placed in “special education” due to the stigma attached, which places an extra burden on non-Special Ed teachers and their students.

So while this child’s behavior issues might have been earlier and better addressed between the parents and the school, it’s understandable to me why the police were called and why they decided to use the Baker Act.  Ideal?  No.   Absolutely necessary?  Probably not.  Logical, needs-based, and an attempt to be preventative?  Yes.

I’m not going to jump on the bandwagon of  “they must be terrible parents” because children with behavior problems can happen to the best-intentioned and most loving parents.  However, a failure to recognize recurring tantrums — especially those that involve things like upturning desks and throwing books — as problematic and unacceptable is dangerous.  It’s dangerous for the child in question, for his future, and for others in his vicinity.

What we call a temper tantrum in a young child is a fit of rage as they grow older.  The lack of impulse and emotional control shown by a screaming, desk spilling, seven year-old is not something he’s likely to grow out of on his own.

I know how easy it is for parents to disbelieve, though.  Children come to them after their bath, sweetly snuggle next to them on the couch, smile and giggle as they tell their stories, and they think there’s just no way. . . no way there’s something wrong with this child.  They hear reports, as the Smiths did from the hospital psychologist, that their child was “polite and friendly” during an evaluation and they think “See?  It was just a moment, just a bad day, something that this or that person provoked”.  They begin to believe that the incident was blown out of proportion — they find fault with others — they begin shopping for an attorney.

What they don’t do is comprehend that their child — the one whose eyes are wide with excitement on Christmas morning, the one who sits on their laps, and loves to ride his bike — is in need of help.  That while he may be sensitive and shy, he may also be unable to control his impulses or his emotions.  That while it’s unlikely any psychologist would categorize a seven year-old  as “mentally ill”,  most would believe that the child could benefit from therapy and behavior modification, and there should be no stigma, for either parents or child,  attached to that.

The worst action that could be taken is action that doesn’t address the needs of the child — such as downplaying his behavior, or attempting to sue the police for trying to get him professionally evaluated — when it was obvious that his own parents believed no such evaluation was necessary.  At what point in a troubled child’s life should a more objective authority than his parents be able to intervene?  At what point is it not enough that the mother can “defuse” the situation — when the situation shouldn’t be occurring in the first place?  Don’t teachers, (particularly those who don’t specialize in special education),  and their  students have a right to teach and learn in a safe, non-threatening environment?

This child needs help.  The police, instead of turning their backs and saying “not our problem”  did what they could to get him some.  Instead of the parents looking to cash in on what they believe was  “a total abuse of police power”, they might better serve themselves, their child, and society by getting their son the help he needs.  Before his childhood tantrums become teen or adult rage.


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