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  • Tell Me About Your Child

    For the past few days, Kate has been rapid cycling. For those of you who are fortunate enough not to know what this means, think about a light switch run by a small person who thinks it's cute to turn on and off the lights in rapid succession.

    Except in this case, "On" is manic, with thoughts racing a mile a minute and exaggeration flowing at all times. "Off" is horrifically sad and angry — adolescence on steroids.

    It's exhausting, not just for us and for Emma, but for Kate as well.

    So, in our ongoing search for life's little ironies, we discovered one tonight. Digging through our daughter's book bag, Jill found a letter from Kate's creative writing teacher: "In a Million Words or Less … Tell Me About Your Child!"

    The assignment was handed out last week; the due date, of course, is tomorrow.


    Below is what I came up with and attached, along with the essay I posted earlier this evening.I hope each provides you with some insight into parenting a bipolar child.

    Kate’s highlight reel reads like this:

    Born two days after Christmas. Always restless and difficult to soothe as an infant and toddler. Walked at nine months. Twin siblings born before she turns a year. Diagnosed with ADHD at 5. Accepted into GT program between 2nd and 3rd grade. Diagnosed as bipolar at age 10. Hits an academic wall in 5th grade. Mood disorder never goes away. Sixth grade hits a major wall and pulls out of GT. Enters middle school and has to be in basic skills.

    Starting over. Struggling to find letters B through Y in the alphabet; prefers to go straight from A to Z instead. Always has enjoyed art. Finds comfort in drawing and sketching. Wants to be a fashion designer, but has no patience to sew. Loves to run and does so like a gazelle. Loves to dance; ironically ballet calms her. Has many ideas racing through her mind at all times; the mind never shuts down. Never. Until it overloads.

    Wants to have and make friends. Doesn’t know what the give and take of friendship really means. Anything can be solved by giving someone a present, usually used and/or created. Doesn’t matter what it is; it’s the thought that counts.

    Has anxiety. Sometimes so severe that it’s almost crippling; other times it’s like sending the space shuttle into orbit.

    Like any adolescent, both loves and loathes her siblings. When she’s rapid cycling, the two emotions overlap, causing confusion.

    It’s hard, this life. No one understands me. And no one tries, even though that’s what we’ve spent her entire lifetime trying to do.

    From an intelligence standpoint, she should not be in special ed. She — and her parents — are alternately saddened and proud that she has the label. This year, she knows that she’s been labeled, and she — like all teens — is both ambivalent and cares too much. Kate’s dual exceptionalities represent a conundrum that school systems are ill-equipped to face, and we say this both having worked as educators in various capacities.

    Kate is someone who is almost incapacitated in her search for emotional equalibrium. She is beautiful and talented and so incredibly creative. She just hasn’t found the true outlet that she can hold on to that allows her to express her thoughts and emotions adequately.

    This week she’s trying creative writing, something that should — and can — be a natural outlet for her, especially given her parents’ backgrounds. The struggle will be in harnessing her innate creativity and not allowing herself to get bogged down and overwhelmed by the mechanics.


    Here's what I didn't tell the teacher: I love my daughter with all of my heart and soul, but her illness doesn't make it easy. My wife and I desperately want to do everything we can to make a difference in her life, and we're trying as hard as we can without getting bogged down and overwhelmed as well.

    Wish us luck. We need it.

  • Phases and Stages

    It’s hard for me to believe that all four kids are teenagers, although I have the gray hair — especially in my beard — to prove that they have been part of almost one-third of my life.

    Reflecting on this — and seeing my reflection in the mirror — made me realize that parenting can be broken down into phases. For us, with three kids in 11½ months, it was the “Lift, tuck, and separate” phase of diapers, bottles, and all of the other assembly line tasks that new moms and dads face. At that point, parenting often feels like a series of inputs and outputs, with a few giggles and tears in between.

    The elementary school years are another phase that, with occasional hiccups and surprises, tend to follow a familiar pattern. (You learn, for example, that “project” is actually a four-letter word.) Parents and children go through this wonderful evolution from discovery (everything has “first” attached to it) to exploration (dance classes, sports, hobbies), and eventually — you hope — start narrowing it down into career interests that match their abilities.

    We are fortunate. Our kids found things they loved reasonably early and we have had the means and opportunities to help them pursue their passions. Of course, that meant we evolved early into the A1 Taxi Service phase, a virtual ballet of pickup and drop off that requires “Swan Lake”-style precision and the cooperation of the traffic gods on an almost-daily basis. And for the past three years, we added the “Planes, Buses, Trains, and Automobiles” value pack to our parenting.

    Now, the kids officially have moved to the “all you can eat activity buffet” phase. Given where we live, the offerings are plentiful. Parenting, in between the pickups and drop offs, becomes a revolving checklist of “do you have this?” and “did you get that?”

    The evolution is moving along — sometimes lurching — at a somewhat natural pace. As teens, they are at that familiar, restless place where they wish life would just hurry up. They want to drive. They want to spread their wings. They want economic freedom.

    Don’t we all?

    I try, like most parents, to remind them of this absolute truth: You spend the first 25 years of your life hoping it will speed up, and the rest wishing it would slow down. Enjoy where you are now, and make progress toward tomorrow.

    As you move from one phase to the next, parenting doesn’t really become harder or easier, just different. Each brings new challenges, new obstacles, and new opportunities.

    Sounds a lot like the rest of our lives, doesn’t it?