Potty training and post-traumatic stress

“Scripture says, ‘Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good.’ This doesn’t mean all things are good, but for the meek and faithful, things—both positive and negative—work together for good, and the timing is the Lord’s.” – Neall F. Marriott, Yielding Our Hearts to God

I thought that having Patrick back in school would open up much more free time for things like blogging than it has. However, life is just as busy now as it was before. If not more.

At first it wasn’t. At first, I kind of wandered aimlessly through the days that Patrick was away. I didn’t recognize at first what was happening. I was watching an awful lot of Netflix and I was trying to catch up on things around the house. But I was pretty darn tired and pretty darn disorganized and wasn’t getting through nearly as much as I hoped I would each day. Looking back, I realize that I needed a chance to just reclaim my life a little bit after being a full-time caregiver for a year. I also had to trust that I had enough control over my own life to dare try to do more than these things.

Looking back, it took a lot to teach myself to slow down after transplant. To be ok with days spent sitting in a hospital room or in the Ronald McDonald House just taking care of Patrick. And now that I have the ability to do more, it took a lot to teach myself again that it was ok to NOT just pass the day with as little on my personal to-do list as possible.

That isn’t to say that I’m back to working on my personal to-do list. No, Patrick still commands my schedule right now.

A couple of weeks ago, we went to Parent Teacher Conferences at the school. Patrick is doing great with school overall. I’ve never seen him so well-behaved and engaged in a class. He is making friends. He sits in his seat and he raises his hand. He is making progress in reading, in math (where it turns out that going back and teaching the fundamentals is helping him to be less frustrated), and even in writing despite his severely limited fine motor skills.

However, his qualms about the school bathroom were just getting worse. He went from holding it all day to having accidents. Every day. And then to beginning to have accidents on the weekend at home because he forgot that he was wearing underwear and supposed to make it to the potty.

So, at parent teacher conference, I told the teacher I’d like to take away his pull-ups. However, the district has made the very sucky decision to save money by making special education class sizes almost as big as regular classes. There are 16 kids now in the class that was 9 students when Patrick joined it. Only instead of 16 typical kids, these are 16 kids with learning disabilities and behavioral and medical needs that have to be attended to. I can’t even imagine trying to manage 16 IEP’s.  Thanks Granite School District.

And the message I was getting about potty training was: we’d love to help, but what can we do? We can’t afford to send adults out of the classroom.

And so, if I was going to ask to take pull-ups away, I also needed to offer help. Ok. You’re right. I’m under no legal obligation to help. But if I want to do this the right way, to have Patrick succeed, etc.. then I do.

So, for the past 2 weeks I have been meeting Patrick and his class immediately following their lunch recess to help to take Patrick to the potty. At first it went great. Patrick tried when I helped him and, even though it took a lot for him to get the courage, even went with his aide in the room (and me holding his hand.) I set up a super awesome “potty steps” reward system where I put pictures of each of the steps of going to the bathroom on a pill box and put rewards inside for him to earn.

Meanwhile, I helped in the classroom a little. I assisted at recess so lunches could happen on a field trip day.  I organized a bookshelf. I helped some kids who stayed in from recess to finish up homework.

The second week, though, I think he figured out that I’d end up staying longer if I was still waiting to help take him to the bathroom. And so he waits longer to go. He waits until a moment where his aide is either gone or busy so I end up taking him alone. And so now we’re reinventing things again. It’s very frustrating. There was one particular day where I kind of just sat in the corner and waited for him for several hours. Finally recess rolled around and he still wouldn’t go so I didn’t go with him. I went and sat at the office and waited. And tears started to come and I had to step outside to calm down. He didn’t go at school that day at all. I ended up putting him back in a pull-up and leaving.

But as I sat in my car reading my scriptures, I ended up reading about patience in weakness. And I realized that that is what this is. Just weakness. Just a human struggle. Just and example of the purpose of mortality. And a temporary one at that. And the Savior’s love kind of healed my heart and gave me a great big dose of long-suffering to go along with this struggle. And we’re still at it.

There are some good things about this plan. It’s snapped me out of my Netflix daze. I only have 3 hours in the morning to get things done before I have to eat lunch and get to the school. So I’m actually working in my time at home instead of puttering around. Also, because I’m trying to leave the school by 2:30 most days even though school isn’t over till 3:30, it has given me a dedicated hour for scripture study and for a daily walk. Both of these goals are easier when I know what time of day I’m doing them. Sure, once weather gets bad, it won’t be as pleasant to leave the school and go find a spot to walk and read.. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Seeing this is going to be a long-term process, I asked and asked if I could be more useful at the school. And starting next week, I’m going to start helping with a reading group in a different classroom. This frees me up so I’m not hovering over Patrick but keeps me nearby for the daily “do you need to go yet?” standoff.

I hope someday that Patrick will forgive me for blogging about it.

I’ve mentioned before that I have started to go to therapy. And we’ve been talking a lot lately about PTSD. Our whole family struggles with this to some degree.

The thing about living with a trauma is that words can’t capture it for anyone else. But it becomes a part of who you are on a very deep level. I know that there are some people who don’t like to hear me say that Patrick’s transplant was traumatic. How can a miracle be traumatic? But in a very real way, it was.

One little phone call. We left home. We left friends and family. We left work and school. We left everything routine in our lives. We lived for months under constant threat, never knowing what new life-threatening medical issue might arise. Patrick suffered intense ongoing pain. For a child, that is impossible to comprehend. As a parent, that is one of the worst experiences you can live through. It was temporary.. but that doesn’t diminish how hard it was.

And transplant was only the worst of it. We’ve been living with a miniaturized version of it for years.

Facebook has launched a new “memories” feature that shows me, daily, my previous posts from the past 6 years. For two weeks in September, my daily “memories” were of Patrick in the hospital recovering from surgeries or fighting off infections or praying we’d get one more central line in. No wonder I was an anxious, depressed basket case at the start of September. My body has been taught to brace for a fight when that month rolls around.

I’ve also been working this past few weeks on Patrick’s annual birthday video. I sift through a year’s worth of photos and try to pick the ones that tell the story of his last year best.

Last year, I was 6 months late completing this project as I couldn’t stand to look at pictures of the life that we had left behind when we went for transplant. I had to wait till we were starting to see hints of that life coming back.

But this time around. Oh golly. Looking at these pictures has brought back a flood of memories that I had, quite literally, blocked from my memory. Your mind does that. It compartmentalizes the hard stuff so you only pull it out and look at it when you need it.

I have found myself for the past 2 weeks waking up in the middle of the night with vivid memories of the months following transplant. At first, just our hotel room. The carpet. The sink. Then I could remember the ICU. It really shook me. To remember how afraid I was. How much pain Patrick was in. But as I’ve worked, I have also remembered the amazing support we received from friends and family and strangers alike. The feelings of love. And the sweet comfort from the Holy Ghost telling us this was all in God’s plan and would be ok. And it’s brought me peace again.

I’ll apologize now. When I publish this video. It’s long because I didn’t know what parts of the story to leave out. And it makes me cry every time I look at it.

Anyway – all of this. Where am I going with it? Well, it’s much easier to be patient with Patrick when I look back and realize what he’s come through this year. Not just offering it as an excuse as I started out doing.. but genuinely seeing what he’s been through.

In just one year, he’s learned to walk again. He has learned to eat for the first time. He has learned to go to the potty. He has learned to read. He has learned to do basic math. He has learned to speak in clear sentences. He has learned how to strike up a conversation with an adult (usually about their car). He has learned to not be afraid in the water. He has learned to live without a line. How to drink enough water in the day. He is learning how to be safe while being independent, how to play with other children in the front yard, how to play in a different room than me. He has learned how to wash his own hair and get out of the tub when he is done bathing. If he’s a little bit shy and a little bit afraid doing only one of those new things without his mommy (who he was with 24/7 for most of the past year).. that’s really pretty darn good. And he is really pretty darn amazing.

One other thing. Patrick had a doctor cancel an appointment a month ago when she had to go for an emergency appendectomy. It hadn’t occurred to him before that grown-ups might have had surgeries too. In fact, he’s discovering that many grown-ups have been through surgeries. So if he strikes up a conversation by asking you where you had your surgery, know that he is trying to put his experience into context with other people. Trying to find some common ground with his very uncommon experience.

The conversation usually goes like this: “Where you have your surgery?” You answer with whatever general body part and little more explanation required. He might ask “Did it hurt? Did you cry?” You probably will say it hurt. Then he might tell you, “Mommy have hers in her belly button.” I had a laproscopy to diagnose and treat my endometriosis. You give some affirmation. Eventually he’ll say. “I have my surgery on my WHOLE body.” I usually answer with something like, “Yes you did. You were brave and it helped to make you strong.” Something like that.

In another variant, he might tell you it’s ok to be different. To be mad. To be sad. To talk about your feelings. To be missing teeth. (He’s got two missing and a third wiggy right now.) To be a different color. To be bald. To be “indopted.” And he might tell you it’s ok to eat mac and cheese in the bathtub. That’s all a reference to a book by Todd Parr that he’s been reading about why it’s ok to be different. Just laugh along. It’s also ok to have a pet worm.

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