PHEW! That was a close one!

For those of you who are not on my email list and sometimes check in to the blog to see if anything new has come out, you may have been faced with the horribly traumatic experience of finding that the blog was gone recently. Or at least, you couldn't find it at gracefulchicken.com!

You see, apparently when you set up a domain for auto-renewal and then cancel the credit card it renews on and then don't read your emails in order to get the final notices that the domain has not been paid for and therefore will not renew, the registrar takes it away! I know, crazy, right?

So after a week of hair pulling stress, too much reading and rereading (in a failed attempt to understand how it all works and what I need to do to reacquire my domain name), several conversations with different people at the registrar who told me the best they could do was have me transfer the name so that they could charge me for it so that I would have access again, (which still doesn't make sense since I had no access to the domain anymore in order to transfer it) and then a little stroke of luck as the light went on (briefly) in my brain and I put two and two together and figured out a way to get around it......www.gracefulchicken.com is back up and running.


That was on top of a ridiculous week that included (but was not limited to): missing an IEP meeting for Liam, as well as five kids' dentist appointments, sending Solly to school with an ear infection (and apparently "because he wasn't running a fever and needs to suck it up" wasn't a good reason when I spoke to the nurse who calmly replied, "Yes, but he hurts."), missing the bus every. single. day., and then losing a rabbit (seriously, who loses a rabbit?.... Fortunately, it missed us and came back....sucker!), and finally, showing up at the Vet's office to get meds for the dog but forgetting my wallet. (As it turns out, you can run a tab at the Vet's office....they are good like that!) And then, because I forgot my wallet, I couldn't go get the medication at the pharmacy that I needed to pick up for Aidan who also had an ear infection (which he had been complaining about for weeks but I had just finally gotten him to the doctor that week, because SOMETIMES I SUCK AT MOTHERING!)

Apparently, this is what I get for vowing, after the death of another friend the week before, to appreciate each and every day, regardless of what it brings. Serves me right!

But all faith in the world was restored when my bestie showed up at the Pharmacy to bail me out, pay for the meds and even had a Starbucks drink for me to brighten my day. Never a day goes by that I am not thankful for my friends!

Have a great weekend, friends!


More OCD Tales

People ask how Madeline is doing all the time. She is doing fairly well. She is still in school and only begs me maybe once a week to homeschool. This is great progress.

Her intrusive thoughts currently all revolve around cheating, which is not surprising with school in session. (Did you write the answers on my pencils? Are the answers on the tags to my shirt? Am I cheating? Oh no, I need to change into a different outfit because there are answers on this one!)

It is sad and scary and sometimes a bit ridiculous bordering on comical all at the same time. She suffers. She is tormented. But she also recognizes the illogic of it all. She knows her brain is tricking her, that her mechanism for turning off irrational ideas is simply not working, but it is so real to her that she suffers all the same. There are set backs, and there is progress. And she is pushing through.

She was getting out of the car the other day, wearing a tank top and heading in to take a quiz when she stopped and looked at me, that wide-eyed horror stricken look I have come to know so well.

"Did you write the answers on my arms?" she asked.

"What?" I asked, exasperated. "That's silly. Just the OCD talking, Madeline. Move forward."

"You did! You wrote all the answers on my arms!" she exclaimed, emphatically.

"Madeline, do you see answers on your arms?" I calmly asked.


"Do you have a potion to reveal the invisible ink that I must have used to write the answers on your arms?"


"Then I would suggest you just wipe the invisible answers off your arms and get into school," I said, half amused with myself.

"You are so mean," she said as she rolled her eyes and exited the car.

Yes, yes I am.

What's worse is I wrote the WRONG invisible answers, kid!

(I swear, I am the worse mom for this job......or maybe, just maybe exactly what she needs....)


First Day of School

If you know me well, you probably know I have "Time-Management Issues" (which I like to think of as a symptom of being an optimist.....I am just so sure I can get those dozen things done before I have to be wherever it is I am going next.)

Well, believe it or not, summer went by in a blink of an eye. And as we were nearing the first day of school, trying to keep Madeline's anxiety at bay while the other kids excitedly prepared, I didn't really manage the time like I might have had I really believed school was actually going to start on the 31st.

As it turns out, the school district was not kidding about the start date and so the night before, I scrambled to figure out what the kids would need, and if we even had those things since my one futile attempt at back-to-school shopping was met with a Target that was mostly out of stock on all the essentials. (And then I forgot to get to Staples to finish collecting supplies......because in my mind, there was still plenty of time left, Summer! Way to ruin a perfectly good dream! Sheesh.)

Aidan was the last to go to bed since, like his mom, he struggles with time management issues as well and was trying to finish up his summer reading project. At 10:00 p.m. I told him he needed to pack up his backpack and go to bed. He emptied his backpack (from last year, still full of cookie crumbs and other assorted gross stuff) and asked which folders and binders he needed. I went through the list. I had only managed to find 2 of the right colored folders (for PE and Computers); not exactly a gold-star moment. I did get excited when I saw I had gotten the black binder needed for math but then quickly remembered that, oh yeah, his math class is at the high school so this middle school list does not apply for that class.....(I made him take it anyway because it's better to have something than nothing.....assuming we are not talking about diseases.....then nothing is pretty darn great!)

Anyway, Aidan was up by 5 a.m. working on his assignment and was out the door early to catch the bus. (One down, four to go.)

Madeline was up by 6:15, almost an hour early but was too excited to go back to sleep. (Given her nerves over the past couple of weeks, we were just happy to see her smiling and ready to go.)

Lily awoke, already in her school clothes (that she wore to bed, as is her norm) and quickly got to work making her lunch.

Liam kept an ongoing count down to let us know how much time we had before the bus arrived.....his nerves getting more and more edgy as the clock ticked away. (Think: FOUR ALARM FIRE when there was only 20 minutes left!)

Needless-to-say, with all we have going on, I felt a huge sense of relief when I sent these three off:

And with smiles no less! We were so grateful (even if it was a short lived happiness.....)

Then there was one.....one kid to get to school.

Solly started Kindergarten this year. Our district only offers half day (because they hate us) and so I signed him up for afternoon as it is one less kid to get ready in the wee small hours of morning.

Solly was excited about starting Kindergarten but he definitely had some reservations as the morning went on. (I also had some reservations because they put him in a class with a teacher who used to teach middle school reading lab and has ZERO experience with Kindergartners. She is a grandma and "loves children, loves reading to them, doing puzzles with them, playing games" but when I met her, I got the feeling that, in her rosy colored world, she had no idea what it would be like to have a classroom full of Solomons.....and I put my money on Solomon breaking her.....give it a month.)

After reading a random email from his teacher the night before, I realized she had given out a supply list at the orientation night (that I happened to miss since almost everything that happens in the district is Tuesday or Thursday evenings when I coach.) At any rate, I wrote the teacher, requesting the list and she wrote me this lovely email, apologizing for the unnecessary stress this must have caused me. I chuckled. There are many things that cause me stress but whether or not Solomon has a pencil box on the first day of school is certainly not one of them. (Whether he chooses to keep his clothes on at recess or pee in the bushes instead of using the bathroom, well, those may be on my list.....)

As we were driving home from Staples with his supplies (and his Starbucks lunch of champions: chips, chocolate chip cookie and chocolate milk......because I am mother-of-the century here.....) I got a call from our neighbor whose 5th child (of 7) is also starting Kindergarten. She wanted to know if I knew what time school started for the boys.

"Oh, thank God I am not the only one!" I told her.

I drove Solly to school at what seemed like a reasonable drop off time (12:30) and pulled up in front where there was an enormously LONG LINE of parents and kids waiting to go inside. There was ONE CAR in the actual car line and I hesitated. I must have missed the memo saying we were supposed to walk our kids in and seriously, why are all these parents doing that? I called my neighbor. Is this normal? While I had no intention of parking and walking in, wasting 20 precious minutes of this three hour block of FREEDOM, I felt this slight pang of guilt......She assured me Solly was independent enough to go it alone.

I watched as the little girl in the car in front of me got out and stood in the back of the line all by herself. I felt another wave of guilt.

"Solly," I said, turning around to look at him square in the eyes. "You are going to go into the school like a big boy, all by yourself, show all those other kids how it is supposed to be done, ok?"

"Got it!" he exclaimed.

"Great. You go on out there then and have a fantastic first day."

He gave me a kiss and got out of the car, heading toward the wrong door. I rolled down my window:
"Solly! You have to get in the line and go through THAT door," I hollered, pointing at the line and then the door.

He took one look at the ridiculous line, looked back at me with a daring glance and then ran through the grass, behind the trees, avoiding the line completely and stealthily snuck in the door behind the teacher who DIDN'T EVEN NOTICE HIM.

I guess he was dressed appropriately:

The little girl on the left is the end of the line.....Solly looked like an old pro cutting through that grass in his camouflage.....

I will admit, I said a little prayer.....for the teacher and the entire school for that matter. They will need it.

(Day two he tried to climb out the truck window at drop off.....I had to explain to him that he really should use the doors at school.....so he pulled his backpack back in the car, opened the door and literally fell out in a heap on the ground....he got up grinning: "I'm ok!" and rushed away. Oh lord help them.....)

What Doesn't Work With OCD

Having a child with a mental health disorder makes life far more challenging. What's worse is that it is really not something I can completely explain to people unless they have seen the symptoms and meltdowns for themselves, which of course, they haven't because children with OCD are very good at hiding their symptoms from people until they burst. From the outside, someone who knows Madeline might just sense a little anxiety or discomfort when really, a war is raging inside her.

This has certainly brought out some of my less than perfect parenting as I try to navigate what sometimes seems like an enormous abyss.

My parents have been privy to some of our more difficult moments; those marked by some of my greatest parental fails (and some successes that were total shots in the dark). And believe me, so much of this walk has felt like darkness......we go along, trying to understand, trying to figure it out, to research, to learn but time and again we stumble, fall flat on our face, shake our fists to the heavens because what the heck is this? AND WHY? There are just so many unknowns.

Nonetheless, here are some of my greatest fails to date, (I do not recommend trying these at home).

1. The therapist told me to have Madeline hold an ice cube to distract her from the intrusive thoughts causing the meltdowns. At one point, when forcing her to hold the ice in her hand was simply not working, I just poured the entire cup of ice on her. (For the record, while it did stop the screaming momentarily, the screeching that followed was probably not worth it.)

2. Madeline had been fighting the need to repeatedly wash her hands for several days. One night, towards the end of our FL trip (she had unfortunately had a relapse and was really struggling again), she went into hysterics and she spent ten full minutes washing with the bar of soap, lathering her hands over and over while in the shower. When I came to see what was going on and stupidly asked why she was doing it, she said her hands were dirty and wouldn't get clean so she had to wash them again and again. I took the bar of soap away (insert hysterical screaming) and she rinsed the soap off, (still screaming) and demanded I give her the soap back because her hands were still dirty and needed to be washed again (screaming, screaming, screaming).

Impatiently I exclaimed, "Madeline, this is your OCD! Your hands are NOT dirty," and then I impulsively grabbed her hands AND STUCK THEM IN MY MOUTH to prove how clean they were. She got quiet, wide eyed yet somehow still glaring.

"Ok, um, well, they might be dirty now," I said, handing the soap back.

3. At one point, we were walking inside and Madeline started walking to and from the door repetitively. Without even thinking, I slapped her on the back, as if that would snap her out of it. Ever try slapping someone out of a diabetes episode or an asthma attack? Yeah, it works about that well! (For the record, pinching does not work either, unless you are just trying to make the kids really mad, then I highly recommend it.)

I am sure there will be more where this came from because if there is one thing this experience has taught me it's that I am far from a perfect parent, maybe not even close to a good parent when you throw in big obstacles......but onward we press because at the end of the day, that's what loving parents do....just keep swimming, just keep swimming, whatcha gonna do you're gonna swim, swim, swim....

(It just might not be a very straight path.....)


OCD or That Moment When I Realized I Do NOT Have the Patience of a Saint!

It has been a while. For that, I am truly sorry. I miss the days when writing was fluid and consistent, when I had the time to sit down and put to paper, er, the computer screen all that had happened that day or week, sharing the laughs and the challenges and the sorrows that came our way.

But somehow, as if I never expected it to happen, life has been so full and overflowing that I have not had a second to spare. Or perhaps, I have not chosen to spare it on writing.

I wish I could report that the last few weeks had been all fun and games. I wish the only story I had to share was the one where Kurt and I were discussing what sport the little boys should participate in and Solomon, having walked in to the middle of the discussion, chimed in, in complete seriousness, "I want to be on a SWAT team."

 Later, when I came up to tuck him in and say goodnight, I found him like this, ready:

I wish I could bottle up his youthful innocence. I wish his 5 year old self could somehow remain close by as he grew up into the man he will become. (And I swear that room was clean and tidy earlier that day!) Sigh.

At any rate, these last few months have made me realize just how flawed I am as a mom. I used to think, 'wow, I must be a pretty patient person to deal with all that gets thrown my way with 5 kids, a husband, and over 50 animals.' But no. No, I am not. 

You see, several months back, we took our oldest daughter, Madeline, to England. She had been invited to train with the Wolverhampton Soccer Academy and we gladly took her. It was an incredible trip. We were so pleased. But upon our return, our world turned upside down. 

Madeline, the child we have never worried too much about because she is a hard worker, a straight A student, a kind and caring person, a talented athlete, (and the list goes on and on), broke.

That sounds harsh, so let me explain. We returned to PA the week before the PSSA testing took place in the schools. This state testing for Pennsylvania takes place over a two week period and the school places a HUGE emphasis on the tests, telling students that they need to do their best because not only is their knowledge being assessed but their teacher's lives are at stake! (Ok, ok, not exactly but the kids are led to believe that they are personally responsible for the assessment of their teachers....they were even told that this test was so serious and important that if they were to vomit all over their test, the school would have to send the test to the state to prove that the child had gotten sick......no pressure or anything.)

Anyway, the Friday before the testing, I got a call from the school. Madeline had broken down in the classroom, would I please come in because she wouldn't talk to the nurse or the guidance counselor. 

I was there in less than 10 minutes and Madeline and I sat in a private office as she told me that she had a problem. She told me that she knew it didn't make sense, that it was really silly but that she couldn't stop rereading questions, even after she knew the answer, she had to loop around and read and reread over and over to make sure she got every word correct. She broke down in the class because after 45 minutes, she had only gotten through two questions on the classroom work. And to make matters worse, if she breathed in through her nose, not her mouth, she had to reread it again. And to prevent herself from erasing and rewriting all her answers, she had to make tally marks on the corners of her papers and in order to get through certain things, she had to tap her thigh and click her fingers just right and......

The list went on and on. She cried and cried. I cried for her as I embraced her and told her that what she was dealing with was called OCD, that it was something we could get her help for and that she would get through it. Feeling slightly better, she went back to class and I explained to the counselor what she had told me.

The next two weeks were increasingly worse. Each day, it took her longer and longer to get through the tests. She panicked every morning when I dropped her off, often going into hysterics and begging to stay home. Each day, I encouraged her to get back into the classroom, to not worry about the tests, scribble on them for all we cared, they just don't matter at all so just guess and move on, or just put all C's for every answer, it simply doesn't matter. But, she is a perfectionist and would die before guessing or answering without fully knowing the answer.....

We found a therapist who used to work in the schools with high-achieving kids like our daughter and we got to work. However, after two sessions, the state testing now over and Madeline now unable to get out of bed, clothe herself or even eat, the therapist referred us to the OCD clinic in Pittsburgh. Our child was essentially paralyzed. She could not get through a morning, much less school or life. We were scared and sad and full of questions. What had happened to our incredible little girl?

Her doctors tested her for PANDAS because of the quick onset of the symptoms but really, when thinking back, she had already been struggling with OCD for quite some time. (If you remember the part of Nemo when Dory suddenly remembers Marlin and everything they have been through, that is like me, when I recognize that we have been missing the signals for a while....) Her second grade teacher had once asked if she was a bit perfectionistic because she erased and rewrote every word on a spelling test at least four times, even though they were all spelled correctly the first time. She had bloody hands every winter from the obsessive hand washing which we thought we had gotten somewhat under control. She had tantrums we just chalked up to hormones. She had freaked out several times this year because of questions like: "What if I cheated on that homework? I don't think I did but I saw someone hand in theirs before I was done and what if I saw the answer and then just used their answers?"

In retrospect, there were already signs but we missed them. 

The Intensive Outpatient OCD clinic referred us to a private therapist whom we began working with. For over a month, Madeline sat quiet, unable to participate and then broke down into full temper tantrums and hysterics the entire 30 minutes home, and for hours thereafter. She could not get out of bed in the morning without my help, could not get dressed, could not pick anything up, touch doorknobs, buckle or unbuckle her seatbelt, or go to the bathroom without staring for long periods of time at the toilet paper and then the hand soap as she washed and rewashed her hands. She couldn't turn on a shower, or bathe herself without me talking her through it, handing her scrub brushes, soap and shampoo, in just the right order. She could not put on shoes without me tying and retying them dozens of time, until they felt just right. And don't get me started on soccer cleats and socks and shin guards. 

For months, we lived this private hell. She would awake screaming in the middle of the night, every hour on the hour. She could not even get to sleep without me holding her down and then sitting in her room for hours. And as Madeline suffered, we all suffered. 

There were moments when I felt like our world was caving in, like we were losing our child. I worried that this was her end, that her brain was literally breaking down and she would be lost forever, like in the movies when the main character sinks deeper and deeper into insanity.

I immersed myself in books, trying to understand this battle we were facing. I spoke to the therapist via email and text, and scoured the internet, trying to understand. This wasn't the funny, "OMG, I am sooooo OCD" type of thing; you know, how we throw the term around when we like things symmetrical, in order or "just right" but really, we just have a strong preference. 

What we were facing seemed more like a monster. What we were experiencing seemed more like hell. 

And this is when I realized, I am not a saint! I know, I know, shocking. (Those of you who have known me for a long time, just go with it.....) Because the more and more I went without proper sleep, being awakened by screaming at all hours of the night, sleeping on my child's floor or draped over her to keep her still and calm, the less well I managed. 

At one point, I recall cursing at her, actually telling her "I F'ing needed to sleep, so please stop the screaming already because I can't do it anymore and I will have to admit you to a hospital if you keep it up." 

(In case you are wondering, threatening a kid who is struggling with a mental health disorder DOES NOT CALM THEM DOWN.)

It has been almost four months since this all began. It has not been an easy ride and I am not as good of a person as I had once thought and am fully aware of areas I need some major growth. (And seriously guys, don't mess with me when I am lacking in sleep!)

That said, I am so happy to report that not only is Madeline functioning again, doing all things for herself that had been temporarily suspended, but she is currently finishing up a residential soccer camp here in Georgia with her sister. She has spent the last few nights on her own in a dorm, training with a professional academy, participating fully in an experience we weren't sure she was capable of only weeks ago. 

And clearly she is enjoying herself!

She is not cured. She is still struggling with intrusive thoughts, "what if" questions about not being able to breathe, about choking, about death, about contamination. She still gets stressed and starts washing hands and repeating things and seeking reassurance. She still calls and asks these crazy questions that she knows are completely irrational but she has to ask anyway, because OCD requires it. But......BUT! 


She still soars......the heights just vary, depending on the moment, and with each passing day, with the proper medication, the therapy sessions that are now productive and making sense, the work we are doing as a family, Madeline is fighting back and is showing us that she will survive this and yes, even thrive. This hardship she is facing will make her stronger, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually....and perhaps the rest of us will grow a little, too. 

So, dear readers, I am sorry I have not written, but life has been full. It has been crazy and hectic, at times hilarious and fun, but sadly, full of scary and painfully challenging moments. Truth be told, it has challenged us to our core and made us reconsider everything we once thought to be true. But it has been real. Even in the midst of despair, as we have wrestled with the unknown, it has been real. And, today, we are thankful.


The Piano Lesson

When our oldest son, Aidan, was just 9 months old, we noticed he could match pitches. He would repeat back to me whatever note I sang and would easily finish the musical phrase I left undone. My parents were so sure of his excellent rhythmical abilities that they bought him a drum set when he was two (a gift I am still pretty certain was some sort of revenge present....) It proved to be a hit (buh-dunt-dum) and he has since become quite the drummer. 

Fast forward several cellos, violins, pianos, and guitars later, all of which he or his siblings are currently studying, and you get to Solomon. 

Solomon has had a major propensity toward music, especially singing. For years, we have often heard him humming the main theme to Star Wars while immersed in his legos or singing along to whatever tune happens to be on. He, too, has very good pitch and around his 5th birthday he started asking when it was his turn for piano lessons. While I have sat with him a couple of times at the piano, teaching him some VERY basic things in effort to appease him, I decided last week that maybe he should get a trial run with the girls' teacher. After all, he is kind of needed to complete our "Family Band" ....(move over Jackson 5!)

Last week, I asked her to just try him out for about ten minutes at the end of Madeline's lesson and so into the practice room the three of us ventured. He hesitantly slid onto the end of the bench, as far away from the teacher as he could muster without falling off.  

"So, what do you know about the piano?" she asked, in her pretty thick Korean accent.


"So, let me tell you something about the keys that is pretty interesting," she went on. "You see, the keys come in two color: These are the white keys and these are the black keys," she said, pointing them out.

Solomon turned and looked her square in the face. 

"Um, that's not actually very interesting," he said in all earnest.

And so ended his first lesson. The end.

No, no, actually, she continued to try and grab his attention for nine more excruciating minutes until he finally told her:

"You know, I don't really want to take piano lessons after all."

And THAT was when she came out to tell me, "Maybe we should try again in a few more months.... or never...."

(Ok, ok, she is too kind to add the "or never" part but you could tell by her body language that she meant every word of it!)

Happy Father's Day to all you dads out there. (And happiest returns on the day to Lily, whose birthday not only trumps Father's Day this year, but also adds her to our double digit kids!)


Extended Stay in Wonderland

Kurt and I were watching the hockey game last night when we heard noise from upstairs.

"Why did we have kids again?" I asked in jest.

"I don't know," he answered.

"I mean, we would be having much more fun without them," I joked.

Just as I finished saying it, we heard footsteps tumbling down the stairs and into the room popped Solomon, completely and utterly naked.

"Mom! Mom," he energetically exclaimed, half out of breath.

"Uh, Solly, why are you naked?" I asked, stifling my laughter.

He ignored me and continued. "Mom, you know those things that hold clothes?"

"You mean, drawers?"

"Yeah, drawers. Well, I accidentally pulled off one of the handles. But, in a way, it's like fixing it because now it is easier to get to my clothes," he explained. I could hear Emeril in my head going BAM!

And by "pulled off one of the handles" he meant "completely demolished the entire drawer."

And that is when I realized that my life is not like a series of short adventures into Wonderland as I had once imagined but more like an extended stay at the Mad Hatter's tea party. And what's more, today, as I sat down to write an email to our neighbor and ended up shopping on Thirve Market, while editing my iPhone's playlist because WHY IS THIS HORRIBLE MUSIC ON MY PHONE?! before unloading half the dishes, writing a partial grocery list, gathering together a dozen eggs to sell, peeking through the mail, and oh what's this? My kid's homework pile and school news......probably need to glance through that....while planning out my garden, checking the calendar, thinking about how to hang the kids' art for their "Home Art Show" that our in-house docent, Solomon, is hosting, (and not finishing a single one of those things!), I realized, not only did we check into this party without an ending date in sight, but yours truly IS THE MAD HATTER!

A Mad Hatter with a team of demolition minions to supervise......who in their right mind thought that this was a good idea?!