Tag Archives: impulse control

Minor Monkey Surgery . . .

Noah’s Sock Monkey…

I held off a really, really long time and had never used the six words I used tonight:

“Your mother’s not here any more.”

I went almost two years without ever having said that – either in sadness or anger – to any of my kids.  But tonight, whether it was a good idea or not, I said them.

Obviously, you need some context for this whole thing.  November is one of the biggest ratings periods for people who work in television.  I know, they talk about those “people meters” – things that count what a select group of people are watching minute by minute.  The reality is, though, that the stations all across the country still use ratings in four months out of the year – February, May, July and November – to count how many people are watching and to set the ad rates for the year.

So as an investigative journalist, obviously November is a biggie.  As a result, I work occasional long hours, and this week has been no exception to that.  I worked late tonight, telling Abbi – my now 18-year-old daughter – what to make the kids for dinner (leftovers) and working to ensure our story aired properly.  All day I’d had what is called a “cluster headache.”  It’s like a migraine, most common in men, and excruciating.  For me, it starts on one side of the forehead or the other and then trickles down behind the eye.  It’s not a horrific, throbbing pain, it’s like an icepick is stabbed into your forehead and twisted around.

So I had this pain all day.  I worked late.  I talked with his siblings.  Then I came home, head splitting open, buzzing, exhausted . . . and Noah walks up in the first 30 seconds I’m home and tells me “I got a yellow card again today.”

That yellow card . . . it’s a discipline card, telling me he’s done something particularly bad today.  This comes a day after a note in his lunchbox telling me he got mad at the teacher and broke his pencil.  This after his pitching a fit in the classroom and tipping over his desk.  I’ve had this discussion with other parents and other adults as to what is going on and how to handle it.  The teachers ask what sets him off?  I can honestly say some days it’s one thing . . . other days it’s something else.  I have no one constant other than the fact that he likes being the center of attention.  He likes getting his way.

The other day, when I got the note in Noah’s lunchbox, my oldest daughter was there and saw my shoulders drop.  Like her mother – in a different way – she wouldn’t let up so I told her what was bothering me.

“Your brother is just like your Mom . . . Andrea had no control over her impulses.  At least at home.  She was able to handle what she did but damn her, she never told me how she did it!”
Abbi looked at me, rather sheepishly, and said “well, no, Dad.  She didn’t.  She got so angry at you and me a lot.  I don’t think she did.”

I realized after that I had to explain to Abbi.  Andrea, you see, wasn’t the angry, shouting person like Noah . . . in public.  She was, though, at home.  When people at work or school or wherever drove her crazy, she came home and took it out on me or the kids.  When she didn’t get her way – like if her birthday went haywire – there was no reasoning with her.

“I loved your Mom for a million different reasons,” I told Abbi, “but I have to be honest . . . when she did that (and she did it a lot) she drove me bat-sh*t crazy!”
That made Abbi laugh.
“But to be honest, Abbi, I’d be fine if I could get Noah to do that.  I’m not married to him, I can tell him to shout all he wants but to do it in his room and not shout at me.  I don’t get that, I get notes because he can’t control his impulses!”

When he told me tonight about his yellow card, I broke into angry, hurt, headache-fueled lecturing.

“You just don’t get what you’ve done here, do you?”
Noah looked, and his eyes were watering.
“You realize that if they kick you out of this school I have to take all of you out…I can’t have four kids in three different schools.  When you get in trouble . . . when you got suspended for a day I had to leave work for a day during ratings.  That’s something that affects my work, which pays for the house, your game boy, your food, your school!”
That’s when the tears started to come.
“It’s not all about you, Noah.  I know you like to get your way.  I know you may not like all the people around you…hell I don’t like everyone around me but you have to deal with them.  Sometimes your boss is someone you don’t like and you still . . . have . . . to behave!  I have had to work a lot of hours and I know I haven’t been home, but really?!  Again?!”
That’s when I said it.
“I know I haven’t been home, and I know you might miss your Mommy, Noah but your Mom’s not here any more!”

I hated saying it as it came out of my mouth, but I didn’t stop.

“She’s not here to help you deal with this, Noah, she’s not here to help any more.  You’ve got a Daddy who loves you, a brother and two sisters who love you and a life that’s, on the whole, not to awful.  God knows I wish your Mommy wasn’t gone, but she is.  She stopped walking our road, Noah.  We have to keep moving forward, hard as it is.  You have to walk with us or we all fall behind.”

It’s a hard thing to know you’re failing your son and you don’t know what to do to fix it.  I regretted having that conversation, but we’d never had it before and it needed to be said.  People tend to be too sympathetic because she’s gone.  They tend to give him too much of a pass because she’s gone.  It’s been almost two years, and while I don’t blame him for missing her it’s just not an excuse any of us can use all the time.

We are living.  It’s actually living well, which I know is hard since at times it’s better than it was when she was around.  But I also have come to embrace the fact that there are a lot of really good things that we wouldn’t be doing had she stuck around.  I wouldn’t be writing new music.  I wouldn’t be in this house.  Relationships I have wouldn’t be so strong – ones that I wouldn’t have seen two years ago.  I wouldn’t be in such a great job.  I wouldn’t be writing.

I told Noah he lost privileges . . . no game boy, no computer use, no games . . . all gone until I say he gets them back.  He complied.

I ended telling Noah I loved him, and he said he knew.  He loved me too, and gave me a hug.  We have a therapist ready for him, but the first appointment for this doctor can’t happen until after Thanksgiving.  It’s not because he’s a problem . . . it’s because I know my limitations and I know I’m just not getting him what he needs.  That’s the hardest part.  He followed me into the kitchen . . . I still hadn’t even taken off my jacket yet . . . and he meekly said “Daddy, my sock monkey has a hole in him…” and he couldn’t finish his interrogative.

I looked at him, as he wiped the tears coming off his face, and told him “I’ll fix him, Noah.  Just because you got in trouble doesn’t mean I wouldn’t fix this . . .you know that.”

He walked up and gave me a hug.  Santa gave him this because I call him my little monkey.  It fits him.  Fixing his sock monkey seemed apt, since we need to help fix my monkey as well.  I take solace knowing we’ll both get some help soon, I hope.

Then I sat down to do some minor monkey surgery.

Pre-planning for behavioral analysis

Sam and Noah

I should probably admit, I suppose, that I dreaded today.  I knew I had to meet with the school about Noah’s behavior and the school year beckons.  It’s not that the school or the principal or anyone was being mean or obstinate about it, they wanted to talk about what the school year was bringing and what my observations over the summer might be.  The reality is, I base much of my observations on those of my kids themselves and of my parents who filled me in quite often to how they were doing.

But the day was about as I expected.  After finding out the appointment was at 1pm and I work 40 odd miles away . . . and the fact that the school dismisses at noon on the first day with no Extended Day Program (EDP) I was ready to carry a fire extinguisher because I knew my hair would be on fire.  Add to this having to deal with the fact that my son has his behavioral challenges and the school’s want of trying to help him through those and I could literally hear the Tums fizzing as they hit the excess acid in my stomach.

I don’t want you to get the impression that the school itself has relegated Noah to some sort of emotional brig, either.  He’s been through the ringer himself and they’re very cognizant of everything that’s happened in our lives.  Still, the one saving grace I was able to tell them all is that we’re stable.  I have a job, and a contract, and a new boss who I’ve worked with before.  I have a 2-year lease on the home now and so we’re stable there for that amount of time at least.  The inspection the owner wanted seemed to pass with little issue so I’m happy there.  Where I spent so much time trying to get a routine together, the necessities – home, job, food, life – they’re all in place now.

That was a piece of comfort for the principal as we’re finally able to breathe a little.  No worries the house is being sold or leased to another.  No worry that I’m losing my job, unless I totally screw up. (don’t say anything, it’s still possible)  I have a year before Abbi goes to college, and they’ll worry about that, but it’s on the horizon, not facing us.

The interesting thing is that the people around me at the school marvel at how I prepped for the day.  I had made a triple batch of pancakes over the weekend, so I had those in the toaster and ready for breakfast.  Last night I’d browned meat and put the fixings all in a crock for the slow cooker to have stew when we got home.  Knowing full well I’d not be home to make dinner I told the kids they could eat when they were hungry.

I also try, when I’m home, to make sure we eat together, at the table.  I’ve said this before, I know, but it’s  a necessity.  Time isn’t a luxury I have all the time.  I utilize what I have.  I know what the kids’ school day was like.  I learn about Abbi’s tryout for the play.  I hear what the teacher told the kids they still need for school supplies.  This is an hour or so that would be spent wiling away the hours independently otherwise.  It’s my sneaky way of getting them to tell me things.

The meeting, I have to say, went very well.  Sure, I’m trying to get Noah into counselling, but it’s not because of his Mom. It’s because, just like his Mom – my late wife, Andrea – he has the ability to go from super sweet to insane in the beat of a heart.  He will act on his impulses without thinking.  Andrea had figured out how, much of the time, the stop that.  The problem is, she never told me how she did it.  Now poor Noah has to suffer through the both of us trying to understand how to fix his issues alone.

That’s where the loss hits us most.  It’s not missing her or not having her around.  It’s in the things we needed help because she understood them.  Noah suffers because she left, and it’s not necessarily her fault, but the genetics that are hers swimming around in the nuclei of his cells are affecting him and the only person who could tell us how to deal with it is gone now.

But I’m around.  I’ve managed, through a bout of depression and funk over the summer and a year of struggle, to give us a bedrock to build upon.  I still can’t see past the next few days as I work, but I can at least show them I’m looking forward, not back.

Noah has a parent volunteer who I’ve known since we moved here that is taking him under her wing.  He has me to stand for him when he needs it.  It’s not his fault all the time, the kid’s just 9.  His brother, Sam, has his own issues that get relegated to the back because of Noah’s behavior.

It’s that pre-planning again.  When Noah needs attention, you give it to Sam, too, whether he asks or not.  It makes me laugh occasionally when others marvel at the pre-planning.  No, I’ve never been good at it.

But it’s necessary for us to survive.