Update on Doug November 2013

I haven’t written in quite a while. Honestly it’s not because I have nothing to say, it’s just that I couldn’t remember my password and couldn’t figure out how to find it.   With the help of sweet hubby, Craig, I’m back in the saddle.

Doug is doing pretty well.  I hated the place he was living in in Greensboro.  They were nice enough folks, they just didn’t seem to have any day time activities for their residence. Every time I’d speak to Doug, no matter what time of day, he’d tell me he was sleeping and going back to bed. This concerned me a lot. I brought him home for a week for his birthday in July and noticed he’d gained a lot of weight.  He wanted to sleep and eat, sleep and eat.  Although he was pleasant and the visit was without drama or incident, I was left feeling anxious about his general health and his lack of energy and drive.

Some time in August I called Lake James Lodge, which is where he’d last been evicted. I spoke to the Director there, a nice young man named Rhett.  I just came right to the point. “Rhett, any chance Doug can move back there?”   His response threw me off guard.  “OH HELL NO!!”

“oh’  I said, shrinking.

“And I’ll tell you why.  He wants to call you five, six, up to twenty times a day and if we don’t let him use the phone he throws a tantrum. My staff’s not capable of reeling Doug in when he flips out like that and I’m not going to put them at risk.”

“Well,”  I said “I can certainly understand that.  He’s got his own phone now, so he really wouldn’t need to use….”

“He has his own phone?”

“Yes. We got him one of those government cell phones.”

“Well, heck yeah he can come back here. I like Doug. He’s a good kid and he never really caused us any trouble other than a few fights he was in, but hell, everybody here gets in fights now and then.”

And so it came to pass that Doug was able to go back to Lake James Lodge. I’ve warned him that he doesn’t get 3 strikes. They’ll send him back to the Greensboro place at the slightest sign of trouble.  Doug hated it in Greensboro so he’s being very cautious and trying hard to keep his behavior in check.

I drove up there in early October. He’d lost weight and looked really good. His speech was much clearer and his conversations were intelligent and intelligible. He made sense!!!   We went out to lunch. He was actually able to sit and relax in the restaurant rather than sit there paranoid and ready to leave right away. He seemed almost normal. After lunch we went shopping for a few things he needed.  The entire time I was with him I was amazed at how pleasant and easy he was to be around.  We went back to Lake James Lodge and sat outside talking and laughing together for an hour or so.  I noticed the palms of his hands were broken out terribly with a very read and oozing rash.  I took him inside and had him show his hands to Rhett.  Rhett immediately got the med tech to look at them and told us they were going to take him to see a Doctor.  Rhett said he’d let me know when that appointment was to be.

Doug and I went back outside to sit in the sun and enjoy the garden.  After a while a man came out and introduced himself to me as Doug’s therapist.  He said other than being a therapist he was also an EMT and wanted to look at Doug’s hands. He agreed it was important that Doug see someone as soon as possible.  We both, the therapist and I mentioned the possibility of MRSA.  He told me Doug has been doing well. He’d weaned him off a lot of his medications and was quite pleased with how well he was doing on the clozaril.

When Doug had visited home in July I had to give him his medications each day. It broke my heart at the amount of pills I was handing him four times a day.  He asked me several times “Mom, can we just skip the resperidol?”   I wanted  to agree, but told him that he’d have to take what was prescribed.  I bothered me giving him so much drug.   So I was pleased to be told that most of that has been taken off his list now. The therapist even said that he thought Doug might be completely off the resperidol by the time he comes home for Thanksgiving. He also told me he was off the depacote completely and off his anti seizure medication.

It was a very good visit.  I thanked Rhett again and again for allowing Doug to come back to Lake James. As I was leaving the med tech let us know that they’d decided to take Doug to an emergency care facility that day to have something done about his hands.  I was relieved that that were staying on top of that situation.

A week later Doug and I were talking on the phone. The cablevision was temporarily down at Lake James and he’d wanted to see a Duke football game. I was telling him on the phone what was going on with the game, when I heard a girls voice calling Doug’s name.  I said…. “Doug, answer her honey, see what she needs.”  Doug did not respond.  I kept hearing the girl calling his name louder and louder.  He wouldn’t answer her and he was no longer answering me.  Then I heard her holler, “someone call 911, he’s nonresponsive.”   She did not know that I was on the line and could hear everything.  I heard her explain to, evidently, another staff member, that Doug was sitting on the bench talking to his mom on the phone when she noticed he was having a seizure, so she started across the parking lot towards him when he dropped the phone and collapsed. She said by the time she got to him he was completely out and she could not get him to respond.  I kept listening, shaking, freaking out, yelling at the top of my lungs for someone to pick up the phone and clue me in. Of course, his phone, lying on the sidewalk, was the least of their concerns. I listened to the same voice explain to the EMT’s when the ambulance arrived everything she’d already said.  I hung on the phone until his went dead.  I immediately called Lake James and they said as soon as they knew anything they would call me.

The Doctor at the hospital called and told me they were starting Doug on some anti seizure medication. I then remembered about his therapist telling me they’d weaned him off most of his meds included his anti seizure stuff.  Well, there’s that.  He’s back on the anti seizure meds they’d just taken him off of.

He’s doing very well now.

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God, Family, Friends, Cancer, Schizophrenia, and Facebook

Anytime I sit and talk with my sister in law Denise, our conversation is more than just idle chit chat. We always speak of deep and sometimes painful thoughts. Tonight was no exception, but tonight was one of our toughest because we sat together in the hospital surgery waiting room waiting on word that her husband was ready to be moved from recovery to a regular room. He’d had surgery earlier in the day to remove tumors found on his liver.  The surgeon had already let Denise know that both tumors were cancer, the largest was about the size of a tangerine and was growing dangerously over the blood vessels that brought lifes blood into the liver, making it impossible to remove.  Fortunately he was able to cauterize the large tumor. He told Denise that he believed he’d eradicated 99 if not 100 percent of the cancer.

It was hard to believe that just five short days earlier we’d all sat around my dining room table having what I thought to be one of the best Thanksgiving gatherings I’d had. We, Craig, myself, Doug, Liz, Rusty and his girlfriend Rae, my brother Tom, my friend Jackie, Denise, Dana, and Danielle ate, laughed, played board games, sang and played guitars well into the evening, and ended the night warming our hands over a nice fire in the backyard fire pit. Now Dana lay in recovery from major surgery and his sweet wife, Denise and I are discussing God.

“You just have to wonder sometimes, what God is thinking.”  Denise said.  “I mean, I have an Aunt who is the kindest woman. Not a mean bone in her body. Christian, church going, good, good person, stricken with MS.  And then there is Doug, schizophrenia. Why? He didn’t deserve this? And now, Dana with liver cancer?”

I recalled my feelings about God and why bad things happen to good people and how I dealt with that very question more than 20 years ago when my youngest sister, Beth was killed by a drunk driver. I watched my parents fall apart after losing Beth and ached for them as much as I did for myself. And I asked God so many times “WHY?”

I attempted to join Dad several Sundays for church service the weeks following Beth’s death, but would get so angry while listening to the preacher that I’d end up leaving during the service and waiting in the car for Dad. One such Sunday the minister came out to car and spoke to me. I cried as I told him that the God that I thought I believed in would not inflict this kind of pain on good people like my mom and my dad.

“Karen,” he gently spoke,  “don’t you know that God is crying over this as well? He’s grieving right along with you and all of your family.”

As Denise and I talked tonight, thoughts and memories of past tragedies and deaths flooded through my mind and I found myself thinking how differently I feel about God now than I did when Beth died.

It’s natural for one to question their faith, or at least shake a fist and ask God “why?” when faced with horrible events. But one must realize that it is not God that causes tragedy or illness, it is mankind.  It is not God that created cigarettes, or alcohol. God did not come up with the fast food concept that poisons our bodies. God did not ask us to pollute his good Earth and cause changes in the atmosphere to create deadly superstorms that kill hundreds of people.  Mankind has done this. We are causing our own tragedies.  God gave us free will. He did not know that we would abuse that free will.  God grieves right along with us.

Finally, Denise and I are allowed back to the recovery area for five minutes to see Dana. He’s sleeping soundly. The nurse tells Denise it’s alright to wake him.  He stirs a bit. Full of anesthesia, he tries hard to focus on our faces and figure out where he is and who we are.  A broad smile comes over his face as he recognizes his wife. He takes her hand and pulls it lovingly to his face and kisses it.  “I love you.” He whispers.    Don’t cry Karen, I think to myself.  He looks over at me and, even though heavily sedated, he asks about Doug. “I worry about that kid” he says.   What a good man.  Here he lay, just out of surgery, and he tells me he’s worried about Doug. Wow.  What a good uncle.

Doug was home for a week long Thanksgiving visit.  This visit seemed much more stressful than I remember his other visits being. I don’t know if he’s getting sicker, or if I just forget between visits just how ill he really is.  This time, his detachment from reality seemed a lot more apparent. Everyday for a week prior to my gong to get him, we spoke on the phone about how excited we were to see each other again. As I pulled into the parking area of the facility he recently moved to I saw him standing out front of the building waiting for me.  I expected him to come running to the car and offer me a big bear hug, but instead, he stood back and waited with an almost angry look on his face.  His clothes were filthy and stained, his hair and overgrown mustache and beard unkempt. He looked awful.   I gave him a hug and held tight, hoping to soften his rigid demeanor. “What’s wrong Doug? I thought you’d be happy to see me.” I asked.

“I am. I just think you really don’t want me to come home with you.”

“Are you crazy? I’ve been looking forward to this forever. Of course you’re coming home with me.”

He showed me his room. Piles of clothes were everywhere.  I began looking through them to find something suitable to pack.  Everything was dirty and nothing was his.  After finding a few items I recognized I took the rest of the clothes to the office and let them know that they belonged to someone else.  I’d learned long ago to write Doug’s name with an indelible marker somewhere on each piece of his clothing. I showed the nurse all of the clothes that were in his room marked with someone name other than Dougs. She said they would be more careful in going through and separating laundry.  It made me wonder who might be wearing Doug’s clothes.

The week was filled with the usual Dougnesses.  He apologized a thousand times for nothing he’d done wrong. He asked for soft drink after soft drink. He visited the refrigerator a dozen times an hour, and the house was filled with Meatloaf music from sun up to sundown.  As tired as I was by the end of his visit, the long drive taking him back was painful, and I cried much of the way home after leaving him.  I promised him a T.V. and a cell phone (they don’t allow him to use the phone to call home at this facility) for Christmas.   I called to tell him good night when I got home.

“Pray for me mom.”

“I do baby, every night.”

Last night, as I prayed I asked God to help me help Doug. I thought to myself that I’d get on Facebook and post a request to my FB friends. It felt funny at first and then I thought to hell with my pride, I need help.  So this morning I posted two ‘status updates’ …or whatever they’re called on facebook these days. One was a request for prayer for Dana with his surgery and the other was a shameful plea for help finding a T.V. for Doug’s room.   Tonight when I got home from the hospital, had a bit of dinner and family time, and signed into Facebook I was completely overwhelmed  by a message from an old high school friend who’d rallied other high school friends together to take up a collection to buy Doug a television. I was moved to the point of tears, which are flowing again as I type this.

Yes, there is tragedy. There is unexpected illness and death. There is sadness. But oh, there is such goodness.  God is good. People are good.  I am blessed to know some wonderful, beautiful people.

 

This entry is dedicated with love and gratitude to David Cameron and all the Greenwave Facebook friends who have filled my night tonight with deep feelings of warmth and hope.  I’m humbled.  I’m truly verklempt.  I love you all.  Thank you.

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A new chapter in Doug’s life.

My son, once again, has been evicted from yet another group home. Lake James was a great place for him, in that 98 percent of it’s residents suffered from mental illness, many were around Doug’s age, and most of them, because of their mental state, seemed accepting of Doug.  All of the places prior to Lake James  were ill-equipped to handle one with such a severe mental illness.  The staff at Lake James took interest in learning more about paranoid schizophrenia through Doug, rather than just waiving him off and sending him to a corner. They talked with him, made notes  about his behavior and his moods.  They got to know him as a person with real needs and real feelings rather than just an annoyance to be dealt with.

 

Hmmm, an annoyance to be dealt with.  Interesting choice of words. I myself, as Doug’s mother, often thought of Doug as just that….  an annoyance to be  dealt with.  The relief that entered my  very being the day I finally found a living facility years ago that would accept him felt like my first drink of cool, cool water after an endless walk in a hot, dry desert.   The relief I felt that day, years ago, was quickly replaced by the smothering guilt that I still carry today.

 

When I got the call from Lake James late one evening a few weeks ago, my first emotion was anger.  I was so mad at Doug for losing control again. He attacked an elderly resident that had been taunting him and calling him names.  I’ve told him over and over again, to just walk away from people like that and to ignore their hurtful words.  Why won’t he listen to me?

Of course, my anger subsided as I answered my own question. He does listen to me, he just can’t control the pain and the rage.  Just as I can’t know how much rage hurtful, taunting words stir up inside him.  He was taunted and picked on, and bullied  all of his childhood. Everyday of his life someone has made him feel bad about himself, if not a classmate, or a family member, or a complete stranger, then someone inside his head has told him how different and strange he is.   I recall, with absolute clarity, his 2nd grade teacher saying to me, right in front of Doug, “He’s different from all the other children. What’s wrong with him?”   If I can remember, and feel the pain of those words 26 years later, I can only imagine the emotions that memory stirs inside him.

So, my anger subsided as the girl from Lake James explained to me what happened and told me that they could either send him to another facility in the same town they are located, or to a place in Greensboro, N.C.  She said they needed to know that evening because he needed to be out of there in the morning.  As my mind raced concerning transportation (my car is on it’s last leg) she explained that the facility in town is not one that she would recommend. She said it housed a lot of criminals. She said the home in Greensboro is actually owned by the same people that own Lake James Lodge and is operated in much the same way and that even though it is further away she would suggest it rather than the nearby place.  My mind still reeling from this bad news I was glad to hear a solution as to where he would go next, because there are not a lot of choices. He’s burned many bridges.   She said they would be happy to drive him there in the morning as long as I give them the go ahead.   I was so relieved to hear that they would take him there that of course I agreed to it.

I had almost said to her that I would just bring him home, because going down this road again of looking for a place for him was just to daunting a task.  He has a pattern of getting himself kicked out of a facility so that hopefully his family will bring him back home.  That’s all he’s wanted for such a long time…. just to come home again.  My anger had turned to pity and empathy. Of course he wants to come home. Why wouldn’t he want to? This is where his entire life has been. This is where his Nanna and Pap coddled him and spoiled him, and made him feel really special. This is where the love was.   This was the town where his only boyhood memories reside. This is where his only childhood friend lived. Why shouldn’t come home?  As Nurse April explained the events that took place earlier in the evening that lead to Doug’s eviction, more answers to the questions in my heart began being answered .  She spoke of the rage in Doug’s eyes. She told me that in trying to calm him down, he drew back his fist at her and his nostrils flared and eyes glazed over.  As she spoke, clear memories of such nights came into my head. So many times when he’d go mad for no apparent reason and I wouldn’t be able to reign his anger in. So many holes punched in bedroom walls and doors. So many curse words screamed at the top of his lungs. So many visits from the police.

“Kill me!  Go ahead and kill me you pigs! My fucking mother would love to see you shoot me. It’s what she wants. It’s what her husband wants. They all want me DEAD! Shoot me mother fuckers. I don’t give a shit!”

In the next instant he would be sobbing and begging me to forgive him. “Are you still my mom? I can’t lose you.”

 

Memories of the toll all the many altercations took on the family, particularly my younger children who were hiding in closets and crying fearfully came rushing to the surface of my brain with all to vivid images that I tried so long ago to bury.

“Yes April, Greensboro sounds fine. Let him know that  I’ll give him time to get settled in there and call him tomorrow.  April, thank you for everything you guys have done for him.””

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Home for the Holidays.

I think that no matter how old, we never quit learning.  Sometimes the things we find out about ourselves or about life hit us square in the face, unexpectedly.  I call these Ah-Ha moments. In the past month I have had an unusual amount of Ah-has, for which I am grateful.  I hope I never get to the point in life that I quit figuring things out.

When Doug was home Thanksgiving I figured out that he responds to kindness and understanding much more than to lectures and redirection.  He shuts down when you begin to tell him to do something differently.  I finally quit fussing at him about the amount of soft drinks he was drinking and about those soft drinks causing him to wet the bed.  I simply told him that I was concerned about his blood sugar levels, explained that since his family has had so many diabetics, there is a good chance he too will become diabetic.  Then I left the decision entirely up to him about how many soft drinks he wanted to consume in a day.  He didn’t really cut down on the amount while here, but he did think about it before he’d ask for another. Since then, he has told me that he’s drinking more water and less sweet drinks, and that he’s trying to watch what he eats.  I’m not sure he is really making a huge effort, but just the fact that he’s keeping the conversation alive about his dietary habits is a good sign to me that he ‘gets it’ and that perhaps, just perhaps, he’ll take a little bit better care of himself.

My relationship with my siblings is complex. As with a lot of families, maybe most, we each harbor some sort of resentment, or animosity, or maybe jealousy toward one another.  I’m not sure why. I know that when my father was alive my sister and I competed, either consciously or subconsciously, for his attention and approval.  I can only speak for myself in this matter I suppose, but I’m guessing it is true with my sister.   Anyway… so my ah-ha moment in this relationship came to me this month when I realized that the same competitiveness I felt vying for my dad’s attention and approval, I carried forth, hoping for the approval of my oldest brother.  I’ve always felt a certain jealousy towards Katherine , that she and Clarence are so close, and he and I are not.  My other brother, Tom, called me one evening and spoke of a phone conversation he’d just had with Clarence.  As I listened to him speak about how he felt Clarence was judging him and he’d wished he’d not called I realized that Tom, like me, needed affirmation and acceptance from Clarence, almost as we had so longed for from our father.  Long after Tom and I had ended our conversation I sat and thought about our family dynamics.  Why is it that although I feel accepted and loved by my friends, my husband, my children…. I still feel such a strong need to feel accepted and loved by my siblings? I am a good person.  I believe I am a smart woman. Yes, I’ve made many mistakes and bad choices in my life but believe I have learned from them and grown.  So, why do I allow myself to feel so insecure around my sister and my brothers? I have childhood flash backs…. going back to sitting around the dining room table, dad trying to keep conversation going during a Sunday meal with the family. He’d look to each of his children and ask “So, Clarence, tell me about your week at school.” Or,  “Thomas what are you studying in history class now.”  Or he’d simply have each of us tell about our day.  I remember hating these question and answer sessions.  Each of my siblings seemed at ease talking about what was going on in their lives and they always made interesting conversation.  I sat there hoping like crazy that Dad would not get around to me, because I never thought I had anything to say that would sound as intelligent as anyone else at the table. I always felt like my older siblings were rolling their eyes when I spoke.   I do remember my sister Beth one time questioning something I said during a meal.   I’d been on a ski trip with some friends from school. Dad asked me about the trip.  I told him that Bobby had fallen on the slope and broken his leg in two different places.  It was the first time I felt like I was bringing up something cool to talk about.  Just as Dad was about to ask how Bobby was doing, my sister Beth said,  “Wait a minute!  How did he break his leg in two different places? If he broke his leg, how did he get up and ski anymore and break his leg somewhere else?”  She thought I’d meant he’d broken his leg in two different locations on the slope.  Everyone at the table loved and laughed at Beth’s naivete’.  She was such a joy. Although I laughed along with everyone, and truly did think that her misunderstanding was quite funny… I felt a little disappointed that my one thing that I was finally bringing to the table, was diminished as the attention turned to Beth.

It was sometime after that that I began making stories up to tell Dad at the dinner table, just so I could get his attention. I could often feel my sibling’s doubting eyes watching me as I wove my fantastic stories. I knew that they knew I was making things up. But I didn’t care.  I had found a voice, and although some things were out and out lies, I was the center of the attention at the table, at least for the moment.  A liar was born, all for the sake of approval and acceptance.

It took a long time for me to realize that I did not need fabricate stories in order to be interesting.  What mattered was the telling of the real life stories.  My spin on or perception of what my real experiences were was far more important and interesting than anything I could make up.  My friends have always loved my stories and been wonderful audience to my narratives, and to my reparte. But it’s always been my siblings that I’ve been unable to interest, and I’ve wanted to for so long.

Now, finally, at 55 years of age, it has finally dawned on me that it doesn’t matter.  I do not need their approval or their acceptance in order to be or feel like a valid person.  But the realization that for so many years I have yearned for the said acceptance by my family, made me see more clearly how my son Doug feels. He needs, more than anything, to feel accepted by his family.

While he was here for Thanksgiving I tried hard to explain this to Craig, Liz, and Rusty.  I think they got it.  Craig was very kind to Doug, asking him questions and making him feel important in the family unit.  Rusty has always done his best to make Doug feel like a normal part of the family, rather than someone with problems and differences.  Liz, bless her heart, has always had a tendency to ‘police’ Doug, calling out to me anytime she’d see Doug doing something he shouldn’t be doing.  She fell into this role a long time ago, because she’s watched me treat Doug the same way all of her life.  So I cannot find fault in how she speaks to him and corrects him, and makes him feel inadequate… I raised her this way. So, during our Thanksgiving visit, I not only had to retrain myself, but Liz as well.

I’m proud of my family for being open to change in the way we treat Doug, and each other.  We need to treat him as a valid human being rather than someone with special needs. We need to talk to him with respect and love rather than judgment and admonishment. Family should be the one safe place you can go to get away from fear and rejection.  I never again want to make him feel a stranger in his own home.  This is home.  This is where love is. This is where you can be you , and you will be loved for who you are.

When Doug was home for Thanksgiving he asked if he could come back at Christmas.  I explained to him that we might be going to Iowa to visit Craig’s parents this year.  He asked if he could please go along.  I had to tell him that he could not.  I don’t think he would handle the stress of a large family gathering.  Last time he went with us, he had a few emotional outbursts.  So I told him, if we did not go to Iowa, I would certainly come get him and bring him home for Christmas, but that if we did go to Iowa, I would come visit him as soon as we got home.    I hate this.  I hate not being with him for Christmas. It makes me heartsick.

Years ago, I asked a group of online friends if they would mind sending Doug Christmas cards.  The response was overwhelming.  He received over 100 greeting cards in the mail.  He was thrilled. I’m asking again.  If you have a moment and the money to do so, could you please drop a card to : Stephen Myers @ Lake James Lodge /  63 Lakeview Drive North  Marion, NC 28752-8896.  It would help make his Christmas a little brighter.   Thanks.

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Thanksgiving 2011, thus far.

I’ve been a bit uptight lately, anticipating a week long Thanksgiving visit from Doug.  I journeyed Saturday to his group home up in Marion, N.C.

My car has not been running well so I asked a friend if I could possibly borrow her car for the trip.  She happily agreed, but asked if she could ride along.  I was happy to have the company.

My friend had never met my son, so during our ride up to Marion I spent the two hours filling her in on his past and on his condition.  I wanted her to have some background, not only to help her understand him better, but also to help her better understand me, when I am around him.  My entire demeanor changes when Doug is with me.  I try not to let things bother me. I try not to let his constant “I’m sorry Mom.” or  “Are you still my mom?” statements get to me, but they are so constant that I sometimes lose my temper having to tell him… “Of course I’m still your mom”… or ask him “sorry for what?”.    My tolerance level drops quickly once the initial hellos and hugs are out of the way.

Saturday, we arrived right before noon.  He greeted me with big outstretched arms begging for a hug that he has needed for a long time.  I held him tight. I then introduced him to my friend Mary and he gave her the same bear hug he’d given me and thanked her for letting us ride in her nice car.

I was surprised at how much weight he’d gained and relieved that he was apparently over his anorexic tendencies. For a while I was worried that he would starve himself to death, or cause his body irreparable damage from throwing up after an eating binge.  He had, at one time, lost down to 140 pounds, which is extremely unhealthy for a man that stand 6’4″. He looked like a skeleton yet still felt as if he was very fat.  Clearly, he is over that body dysmorphia, I hope.

We stopped for lunch on the way home. He ate everything on his plate and half of mine and then asked if he could order more chicken.

His right hand shook violently as he lifted his fork to his mouth, tossing food on his lap and on the floor around us. He kept apologizing for being messy. Mary and I both assured him that he was fine and he needn’t apologize.  Doug has had severe shaking since he started on medication years ago. Although we have tried to find something to counteract that side effect, nothing has helped.

The ride home was pleasant enough. Mary was great with Doug. Talking to him on his level and being kind when he’d apologized for talking to much.  “Doug” she would say, “there is nothing you need to apologize for to me. You are a nice young man and I’m enjoying our conversation. Just relax and enjoy it with me.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Okay, I will.” he replied.

Later in the day, about an hour after we’d parted ways with Mary and arrived home, she called me.  “Karen, I just want to tell you that I think you are a remarkable woman.”

“Ha, well thanks Mary, where the heck is that coming from, are you drunk?”

“Most moms get stressed out raising normal kids. You kept your calm with Doug. You answered his same questions over and over again without ever raising your voice. You speak to him in a way that is direct, but you never lectured him or fussed at him. He really is a nice kid, Karen. Clearly he has a lot of problems, and I think he seems to be more like eleven years old rather than thirty, but you take it all in stride.”

“Well, yeah, the doctors have told me that mentally and emotionally he’ll never be more than around fourteen.  Mary, I’m only taking it in stride because if I take it any other way I’ll go insane. And if I fuss at him, his apologizing increases like a hundred times over. Anyway… talk to me nearer the end of the week, you might just change your mind about me being so remarkable.  I’ll be very stressed by then and you’ll see an entirely different side to me. Ever see Mommy Dearest?  Mary, I am far from remarkable.  I sent him off to live somewhere else, didn’t I?”

We talked a bit more, wished each other Happy Thanksgiving and said our good-byes.

I hung up the phone and thought to myself how glad I was that I’d taken a class the previous week about behavioral health and coping with the mentally ill.  The class had really given me fresh perspective and I was ready to try communicating with Doug on a different level.  I replayed the phone conversation with Mary.  As long as I’ve known her, about 40 years, I’ve never known her to be the type to dish out compliments.  This felt good. She thinks I’m a remarkable woman.  Wow.  Me? Well, damn.  Maybe, just maybe, I am a bit remarkable.  Or not.

The clothes Doug had on when we picked him up were horrible. He wore sweat pants that were clearly  more than a few sizes to small. They kept pulling down well below his waist and the legs rose up well above the calf of his legs. So as soon as we got home and got settled I took him to buy some clothes. Last time he was home he wore a size 32 jeans.  Now he is wearing a size 40 and 42.  At one time I was worried that he refused to eat.  Now I am concerned that he eats entirely to much.  As I am typing this he just came in and begged for some pizza. We just had a large breakfast less than two hours ago.  I am a diabetic and worry that he is destined to take on this illness as well.

Another new problem I am concerned about is that he has become a bed wetter. I’ve never had a problem with him doing that before, but he has wet the bed each night of his visit thus far.  It is time I call and line up doctor appointments and get him a complete physical.

Meanwhile, my ‘remarkable’ is fading and my tolerance dropping as I keep trying to smile and reply to my son “Of course I’m still your mom, I’ll always be your mom.”  and “No honey, I am not mad at you, you’re fine, quit apologizing.”

When I shop for groceries I shop for two weeks worth at a time to coincide with our pay schedule. So whatever groceries I buy have got to last at least 12 to 14 days. I carefully plan 2 weeks worth of meals and buy accordingly. Nothing more and nothing less, and hopefully within our budget.  With Thanksgiving this week, I had to really stretch that budget. I am proud that I only went over by around $40.00. I was able to get the Turkey, a honey baked ham, a few pies, as well as some snack items to have on hand for the kids.  I was pleased with myself that I was able to stick so close to our normal budget even though there will be two extra mouths to feed this week, having both Doug and Rusty home for the holiday.

It sounds cruel I know, but to protect my food shopping investment, I have put a bicycle lock on my refrigerator.  That may sound extreme, but if you knew how uncontrolled Doug is with his eating you’d understand.  During his Easter visit, I left the house to run some errands. I specifically asked Doug NOT to touch the chocolate pie I’d made. I told him it was for the Easter meal and I didn’t want it eaten before then. He promised that he understood and would stay away from it.

When I arrived home from my errands, he greeted me at the door asking if I’d brought home any lunch.  I looked up at him and saw chocolate all around his lips and on his chin. “Doug, did you eat my chocolate pie?”  “No ma’am.”   He had, in fact, eaten more than half of it and tried to disguise it by using the back of a spoon to smooth over the top.  It was not a good disguise.  By the end of that visit I was at my wits end.   I prepared myself for this visit buy getting the bicycle lock.  I am Thankful however, that at least this visit, he no longer sneaks into the bathroom to throw up after he eats.

I am thankful for many things this Thanksgiving.  I am Thankful my husband who provides the best he can for his family. I am thankful for my children, who keep me laughing and keep me living.  I am thankful for my friends, who see in me someone ‘remarkable’ and let me know it.  I am thankful for God, who blesses me everyday in a knew way, and thankful for the ability to finally recognize all of those blessings.  There was  a time I did not see them. Now, it is hard to keep count.  Thank you God.  You are amazing.

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Voices inside Dougs head.

Doug has an odd way of thinking (to say the least) and sometimes it’s hard to figure out where he comes up with some of the things he says.

I had planned on going to visit him one week-end in mid September but was given the bad news earlier in the week that one of my closest friends had died and her funeral was to be that week-end.  When I told Doug that Virginia had died he was very sympathetic.  “Awww, Mom.  She was so short and cute.”  I told him that I would not be coming to see him that week-end, that I would be traveling the opposite direction to go to Virginia’s funeral.  He asked “Oh? Who’s in it?”   “Who is in what, honey?”   “Who is in the funeral?”   …  I told him I didn’t know but was pretty sure Virginia had the leading role.   “Well, have a good time mom, and give her my love.  Tell her I’m sorry.”

That Sunday evening I gave Doug a call to see how his week-end had been.  He asked me if it was fun.

“Was what fun, hon?”

He replied “Virginia’s field goal.”

“Her field goal?”

“Mom, didn’t you tell me you were going to see Virginia’s field goal?”

“No honey, it was Virginia’s funeral. She died Doug. I went to her funeral.”

“I know she died.  Oh, I’m sorry mom, I thought you were going to see a field goal or something.  I’m sorry she died mom.  I better let you go now.”

 

Whenever Doug gets confused or hasn’t got an answer or explanation for something he has said, he always says “Well, I better let you go.”

He’ll call me sometimes and ask if Rusty is okay. When I assure him that Rusty is fine he’ll say something like, “well, they told me he was kicked out of school” or “I thought they said he was sick”  I’ll say “Who told you this Doug?”  He’ll say “Don’t worry about it mom, I guess I better let you go.”

I sometimes gently remind him that “they” are the voices in his head and that unfortunately “they” are the symptoms of his schizophrenia.

He asked me one time if I’d ever considered the possibility of the “voices” being real, or perhaps spirits. And that “they” let him know things that are going on with the family.   I told him that if the voices actually told him things that were real instead of things that made no sense I would consider it a possibility.

 

Yesterday I drove to Belmont Abbey College to pick up my daughter Liz.  On the way home I took a wrong turn and ended up pulling into a golf course parking area to turn around.  Liz and  I talked about golf and she mentioned she’d like to play some miniature golf because it had been a while.   Ten minutes after she and I talked about golfing, my cell phone rang.  It was Doug.  We talked a bit, and then he said to me “So Liz is golfing today?”

Puzzled I looked at Liz and said to Doug “No, Liz isn’t going golfing. Where did you hear that?”

“Well, I guess I better let you go mom.”

“No honey, you don’t have to hang up, I was just wondering where you heard that Liz was going golfing.”

I didn’t bother to go into detail about how Liz and I had just had a conversation about golfing. I don’t know why I didn’t tell him.  Perhaps I was worried about giving him more power than I wanted him to have. Perhaps I was just in a bit of shock that he somehow knew that Liz and I had just discussed golfing.  Mind you, golf is something that is relatively foreign to our family. Certainly nothing we do or discuss. Maybe once every , um…  ten years.  So the coincidence of him asking this just after Liz and I talked about it, at least a hundred miles away from him, truly had me flustered.

“Don’t worry about it mom.  I’ll talk to you later. I hope I didn’t make you mad.”

Sometimes something happens to make you question what you know to be real and what you know to be not so real.

No matter how old I get, I still have to remind myself to consider ALL of the possibilities.

 

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Happy 33rd Birthday

Doug’s 33rd birthday was Monday, July 18th.  As he does every year he began reminding me three months in an advance that he has a birthday coming up.  Every evening phone call since sometime in April has ended with , “Guess who has a birthday soon.” His hope was that I would drive up to get him and bring him home for the week of his birthday.  I had to let him know right away that I wouldn’t be able to do that, that I just could not afford the gas to make that drive twice in a week. Not to mention my bad tires and the bad running condition of my car.  I did promise him though, that I would certainly be there on his birthday for a good long visit and that I would take him to his choice of restaurant.  Each day he would ask if I was still planning on coming. He asked if I could bring Rusty so they could play basketball. He also asked several times if I could bring his Aunt Denise.  She had been up there with me a few times before.  I realized again how Doug likes everything familiar.  He likes to repeat things that have gone smoothly for him. He mentioned that if Denise came we could go to the lake like we had before and that we could go to the same park we’d been to with her.

When Doug was a child, if something wasn’t exactly as it had been he would become upset.  Each trip we’d take to Iowa to visit family was a test because Doug would expect all of his cousins to look exactly as they had two years prior. We’d always traveled to Iowa every other Christmas to visit family.  It bothered Doug that his cousins were growing up. If we didn’t stop at exactly the same rest stops or stay at the same hotels while on the road he would become upset and remain off kilter the rest of the trip. New, unfamiliar, unchartered ground, and adventure are all things that Doug cannot handle well.

Denise, Rusty, and I arrived at Doug’s assisted living home around 11:00 a.m.  He was so excited to see Denise that he walked right by me with his arms stretched out wide to give her a huge hug.  He then hugged his brother Rusty and immediately turned his attention to Denise’s new car.  He raved about it.  “Honey, did you notice that I was here?” I beckoned for his attention.  “Oh Mom, I love you”  he gave me his big bear hug.  As he held me I felt the familiar tremor in his arms.  His shaking is and always has been something that has embarrassed him.  My heart ached for him.  He is on so many medications. Some of them cause him to shake and have tremors. At one point, several years ago, his Doctor put him on a medicine to counter act that side effect. Unfortunately that medication had a severe side effect of it’s own. Doug began having a horrible rash. Rather than realizing the rash was a side effect of the new medicine, the Doctor treated the rash with a topical cream. The rash continued to grow. Then one night Doug had a horrible seizure and ended up in the hospital. While there he had several more seizures.  At home I began doing research on the internet about the medicines he was taking.  The new medicine that the Doctor had put him on to control his shaking had caused not only the rash but seizures.  I went to the hospital with printed information about the medication.  The Doctor at the hospital immediately took him off the medication.    Now Doug not only shakes really bad but must take anti seizure medication the rest of his life.

Anyway, our day went well.  We went out to eat at a not so great restaurant. I noticed that Doug now used his knife and fork, which is something I was never able to get him to do properly. He had fried chicken. I watched as he struggled to cut the chicken as his hands shook violently.  I told him that I thought it would be okay if he picked the chicken up with his hands and ate it.  With quiet determination he continued to cut small pieces and pick small bites out with his fork.  Some bites made it to his mouth, some made it across the table onto one of his dining companions plates. He never noticed where his food would land, he just continued to eat as the rest of us gave sad empathetic glances to one another.

After lunch he thanked us profusely and went on and on about how great the restaurant was. I personally thought it was a horribly over priced place with very little to offer as far as food quality, but kept quiet because he seemed to enjoy it.  We then went to the park so he and Rusty could play basketball. While sitting there watching the two of them play a few games with another couple of guys that were there, Denise mentioned to me how impressed she was with how kind Rusty was to Doug and how well he handled being around Doug in public.  It doesn’t take long for someone in public to realize that Doug has some problems.  He’s constantly apologizing to people for no apparent reason. If one should ask “What are you apologizing for?” He’ll then say something like “For the bad thoughts that were in my head.” Which makes one wonder right away what thoughts those might be. Then sometimes he’ll follow up by saying things like “But I’m not going to hurt anybody, I promise.”  or…  “I don’t wanna go back to jail, so please don’t call the police.”  I told Denise that there was a time I found it to stressful to go out with Doug because of the things he would say and do in public, but that my brother Tom made me realize that I had no reason to feel embarrassed over things that another person says or does.  He said that most people see right away that Doug has mental problems and that is nothing that I can control. Doug’s behavior and the things he says are something I have never had control of. “So, Tom made me realize that I should never be embarrassed over anything Doug does, and Rusty and Liz have learned that as well.” I was explaining to Denise when all the sudden, from out on the basketball court my 33 year old son yells over to me “Hey Mommy!”

“Hi hon.” I reply as I notice the guys he’s on the court with glancing at one another. I look over at Rusty and he shoots me a big smile. “Yep, I’m pretty impressed with Rusty myself.” I say to Denise.  Most kids his age would be horribly embarrassed by their 6’3″ , 33 year old brother yelling the word “Mommy” across a basketball court in the middle of a game. Rusty seemed unphased if not a bit amused.

After the guys finished playing several games, we headed back to Doug’s assisted living facility. Rather than going straight there, we decided to go to the lake that Denise and I had taken him to when he first moved up there. Denise wanted to sit for a while at the end of the dock and dangle our feet in the water. I never realized how afraid Doug was of water.  He clearly was troubled by the walk down the pier and was ready to leave as soon as we got there.  This added to the many things about Doug that I harbor guilt over.  I had taken Liz and Rusty for swimming lessons. Why had I never bothered to do this with Doug?  I cheated him out of so much when he was growing up. Now that he is a low functioning 33 year old man, or manchild, I see more and more how my own shortcomings retarded and ruined his life.

Leaving him there that day, his birthday, was not easy.  Although I tried to rationalize and tell myself that he lives with such a flat affect emotionally that he won’t be sad but for 5 minutes after our departure, I knew in my heart he was yearning to go with us.  I know he hates where he lives and that he wants so badly to be home with his family and to feel included in our daily lives.  He tells me every day “Pray for me mom. I don’t know if I can make it here much longer.”

I do honey.  I pray for you every night. I pray for you to have strength. I pray for you to find happiness.  Thirty three years ago I cried tears because I could not bring you home right away from the hospital. You were premature and had to stay and grow. I blamed myself. I prayed to God to let you come home to me, happy and healthy.  That prayer has never changed.

….”Child of mine, child of mine… oh yes sweet darlin’  I’m so glad you are a child of mine.”

 

 

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The Lighter Side

I suppose it’s the same with many families, that humor is used as a coping mechanism during unbearably sad times.  I’m only supposing this because I am not part of many families. Only my own. My father was the master of this way of coping. Not sure if his humor during the worst of times was to cover up his own despair or was to attempt somehow to make those around him feel better. Probably a bit of both.

The darkest, most unbearable time for the Boshamer family was when my sister Beth was killed in a car wreck. She was only 22. She was the youngest in the family, and the light of all of our lives. I didn’t know how mom and dad were going to survive losing her. Getting through the next several years after Beth’s death clearly took it’s toll on both of them. Getting through just the days after her death was surreal. Dad’s humor colored those days.  The night before the funeral Dad had to go to the emergency room because of kidney stones. He was instructed to take a prescription that would, if I remember correctly, help shrink or break up the stone or stones, and he was to drink plenty of water. They told him to return the next morning for reasons I cannot recall. The next morning, the day of my sisters funeral, my father rose early and dressed for his visit to the doctor. As he walked down the drive to get the morning newspaper, he began picking up small rocks on the pavement.

I drove Dad to the hospital that morning and he let me in on his secret.  Back at the house the rest of the family was beginning to stir. Mom was in the bathroom brushing her teeth. Clarence walked into her bedroom and heard her crying. He walked into the bathroom to comfort her as she stood in front of the sink sobbing. “We’re going to make it through this Mom.” She held up a small sandwich bag and said “Look what your father passed, he must have been in such pain.”

Dad had taken the few small stones he’d found in the driveway, put them in a plastic sandwich bag, poured on top of them a little tobasco sauce and a bit of ketchup (to make them look a bit bloody) and left the bag on the sink as a joke.  As he was telling me what he’d done, during our car ride to the hospital, his shoulders shook up and down, as if they were trying to control his laughter to a minimum.  He was a very funny man.  I don’t think he realized that his joke would make Mom cry over his supposed pain of “passing” those huge stones.  I think Tom was in on the joke and revealed to Mom that the rocks in the bag were, indeed, simply rocks. Anyway, it was that sort of humor that I was raised around. From my father I learned to look for the brighter side of all things. It was a good thing to learn, but, I suppose at times, pushed us into denial of our troubles.

Raising Doug as a young boy was delightful.There were tough times, as with raising any kid. After Doug was diagnosed with schizophrenia I had a better understanding of his quirky personality and at times just had to laugh at some of the things he said or did.

Doug only had his drivers license a short time before the state realized they may have made a mistake.  Their first clue was when Doug started pulling police cars over. Sometimes he’d pull up behind a patrol car and flash his lights until the policeman would pull over. Other times, he’d pull up beside them and ask if he could please talk to them for a minute. Then, when the officer would get out of his car Doug would say “I just need to know if you’re looking for me for anything.”  “Should I be?” would be the normal response. Doug would always ask if they could just check their computers and see if he was in trouble with anybody.  It was crazy.  You had to laugh. He actually never got a ticket.  He did have a few fender benders.

My friend Jackie was over visiting one afternoon. She and I sat talking in my den as Doug left to go pick up his girl friend for a date. About five minutes after he left, he came back into the den and asked Jackie is she would mind moving her car. Jackie came right back in the house asking Doug “Why didn’t you ask me to move it BEFORE you hit it?”  He hadn’t just tapped it’s bumper with his, he creamed the entire front drivers panel of her car, trying to push it out of the way. Not funny at all, I know. But what was funny, was that he so calmly came in and asked Jackie (after the fact) if she would mind coming and moving her car.

One of the first Thanksgiving’s we shared with Doug in a while was a few years ago.  His therapist had been working closely with him on his coping skills. She’d taught him that if during a social situation he felt a bit overwhelmed he should excuse himself and step outside for a few minutes and take a few deep breaths to calm himself down.  During our family gathering that pleasant Thanksgiving Day Doug must have excused himself  at least 50 times. Even if he wasn’t in the same room with the rest of us, he’d all the sudden stick his head in the room and say “I’ll be out on the porch.” It was sad to see how many times he was stressing, but became a bit humorous the number of times he visited the porch. We use that line now when we start to stress here at home. “I’ll be on the porch.” It breaks the tension.

I have laughed at so many things Doug has done. Not laughed AT him, but laughed about him. Because it helps me cope. It’s kind of like a tragic comedy. Poor thing, he has no sense of humor himself. He’s used the same tired joke for years, because it’s all he can remember, and I guess because he thinks it’s hilarious.  He’ll ask a stranger on the street… “Why is 6 afraid of 7? Because 7 8 9.”

I started a joke, which started the whole world crying,
but I didn’t see that the joke was on me, oh no.~ The BeeGees

Learn to laugh at yourself. Find humor in life. It helps make the days so much more memorable. Look for the lighter side.

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The Dark Side

When I was young, perhaps around 12 or so, I remember riding in the car with mom and dad. Mom pointed out a house to dad and mentioned that the trial was over.  As I sat in the back seat of dad’s car the house became more and more fascinating to me as I heard mom telling dad that the woman who lived there had been acquitted on the murder charges. A dim light shone from an small window on the second floor of the house.  Mom wondered out loud if she was still living in the house.  The divorced mother had shot and killed her son while he slept in his room.  She never denied shooting him. She never claimed self defense. It was a mercy killing. She claimed her son needed to find peace.  Her son suffered with severe paranoid schizophrenia and after years of not being able to stop the fear and stop the voices and stop the depression, she decided to give him that peace that he begged her for.  I watched that dim light fade as we turned the corner and drove down the road, and I remember thinking, “How can a mother kill her own child?”  It made no sense to me. Nor did it make sense to me  that a jury would let her off, scott free, for such a horrible crime.

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A few months ago I read an article in the paper about a man who lived with his 81 year old mother. He took good care of her, keeping her house clean and making sure she took her medications. He loved her dearly, and it showed. And she in turn, loved him. In fact, as the paper quoted the man’s own daughter. “She may have been the only one left on this earth that loved him or had anything to do with him.” He was on disability and to save money there were times he opted to not buy his anti psychotic medications used for treating his paranoid schizophrenia.  His daughter was quoted as saying “He is a ticking time bomb when he’s off of his meds.”

That time bomb went off about 5a.m. one chilly morning in late February of this year when the man who loved his mother called 911 and told the police that his grandfather, (who has been dead for years) woke him and told him he (the grandfather)had shot his mother.

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After years of dealing with Doug’s schizophrenia, I still think about that house and that conversation mom and dad had about the mother who killed her own son. I understand more now than I did at the age of 12. I empathize with that poor mother who truly believed that she was giving her son the peace he would never have had when she pulled that trigger. She was so sure it was the best thing for him that she was willing to risk spending the rest of her life in prison.

I have seen my son suffer for so many years. Even as a child, he could find no happiness. I am consumed with guilt that I, as his mother, can not take his pain and his fear away.

Through out the years I have often thought about that mother who shot her son, and I’m ashamed to say, I could have been her.

Shortly before Easter this year my husband and I talked about Doug coming home to visit during the holiday. We even discussed turning the covered patio in our backyard into a one bedroom apartment for him. It would get him out of the ‘assisted living’ situation, which we have always hated and it would let him have a little independence, yet he’d be close enough that we could keep an eye on him and help him through his scary times.  I mentioned our idea to my sister-n-law, who has always been very supportive and loving to Doug. She sat silent for a moment and then let me know that she didn’t think it would be a good idea. She reminded me of his outbursts.  I thought about the article I’d read in the paper.  I tried to convince myself that it would be different. That with support of family and the comfort of being near us, he would do fine.

Then I remembered the owner of the very first assisted living center Doug lived at. He and Doug had gotten into a physical fight. This man was in his 70’s and had just had heart surgery. The man could have died from his injuries.  Doug went to jail and then into a mental hospital. I called the owner of the facility, which was about 3 hours north of home, to make sure the man was alright. He told me Doug was a good kid and that he was shocked at his sudden change in personality. He said that Doug talked about me all the time and about how I was the best mom in the world, but that when his personality changed he spoke of getting back to Gastonia and killing me and his step dad.That was around 2003.

I remembered the chills I felt as that man talked about Doug’s personality change. I’d seen it many times myself.  I’d always believed that it was something I was doing to set him off. That I somehow pushed the wrong buttons with him, as he did with me. But I soon realized, others pushed wrong buttons as well. Or maybe the voices in his head pushed the wrong buttons.

Anyway… back to our Easter visit.  It was clear to me within the first 15 minutes of our drive home from Marion for our long Easter week-end, that any plans of Doug moving back home wouldn’t work. By nature, I’m a very laid back person.  I was such a nervous wreck by the time we pulled into our drive way that I had to take a good long hot shower to calm myself down.  Not that I was afraid of him, I was just frustrated and realized that his mind is so far gone that I am not equipped with the tools needed to communicate with him.

I love him dearly. He tries so hard to please. But he does not live in the same reality as the rest of us. I can explain to him very clearly something I ask of him, and he’ll do exactly the opposite. By the end of any given hour spent with him, I’m pulling my hair out.  Again, I’m consumed with guilt.  Guilt for being an  alcoholic when he was a young boy. Guilt for leaving his father and making him a product of a broken home. Guilt for conceiving a child while in a loveless marriage.  Guilt for feeling guilty about conceiving my child.

Guilt for remembering over and over again, the story of the mother that shot and killed her schizophrenic son. Guilt for understanding why she did that. Guilt for marrying Doug’s father and hating him for turning his back on Doug, and guilt for wishing I could do the same.

 

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No Free Lunch

After the bullies had moved out of our neighborhood it seemed that Doug’s life became a lot easier. He was enjoying the time he spent after school at the Boys and Girls Club. There was a young volunteer coach that took a particular interest in Doug and worked with him each day on his basketball skills. This helped Doug’s confidence in so many ways.  I was extremely grateful to this coach and let him know I was each time I saw him. Doug was finally starting to grow a little taller. His feet were growing much faster though and this left him more awkward than he had already been. He would trip and fall constantly while running down the basketball court. Laughter would always erupt, knocking his new found confidence down a few notches. But he persisted.

I received a call from the principal at his elementary school one afternoon. He asked that I come in a talk to him about Doug. I told him I’d be glad to come in the next afternoon.

That morning as I was driving Doug to school he begged me not to come see the principal that afternoon.  He was very adamant about it. He began crying. “Please mommy! Please don’t come in my school!”

“Doug, it will be okay honey.  Mr. White just wants to go over some things with us. Why are you so upset?”

As he was getting out of the car he looked at me, tears running down his cheeks, and he said “Because my friends will pick on me about how fat and ugly you are.” He closed the door and ran into the school.

I sat in the school traffic, stunned. I remember looking around at other moms and being envious of their nicer cars, and their stylish hair cuts, and their pretty young faces. A horn blew somewhere behind me and I slumped down in my seat as I put the car in drive and pulled out of the parking lot.

I drove to work sobbing. I didn’t want to be an embarrassment to my little boy. Had the other kids always laughed at him and picked on him because of how fat and ugly his mommy was? I felt a waive of nausea welling in my stomach. I had to pull over and just sit and think. My head was swimming.  Guilt consumed me. This little skinny, clumsy nine year old has struggled all his life, trying so hard to fit in, and I have constantly screwed things up for him. I had left his father, I had become an alcoholic, I had let his favorite Aunt die, I had moved in with a man that was not his daddy, and now, now… on top of all of that, I was some one he was ashamed of.  “Why God? Why am I a parent? What right do I have to mess this poor child up so badly?”

I was nervous as I left work early that afternoon for the meeting with Mr. White at Doug’s school. Should I do as Doug asked and stay away from the school? I thought about calling and canceling our appointment, but decided I best go speak with the man.

Doug was already sitting on a wooden chair facing Mr. White’s desk when I arrived. He looked at me with his big blue eyes. I could tell he was nervous.  I sat down on the chair beside his and reached for his hand. It was wet with sweat and shaking. Mr. White told me that Doug had not brought any lunch money to school in about a month. He suggested that perhaps we were qualified for the free lunch program and started to hand me the application forms.  “Hold on a minute. I’ve given Doug lunch money every single morning. We can certainly afford his lunch. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Doug, don’t you pay the lunch lady with the money I give you?”

Doug took his hand from mine. He pulled his knees up to his chin and covered his head with his arms. He curled up into a tiny ball on that little wooden chair and began to cry.  “Doug honey, look at me. Answer my question sweety. What are you doing with your lunch money?”

After what seemed several painful minutes, Doug finally looked at me and shouted.  “I have to give it to my friends Terry and Bobby!”

“Who are Terry and Bobby honey? And why do you have to give them your lunch money?”

He became angry that I would ask such a stupid question. He glared at me and then, in a tone I’d never heard from him, he almost spewed the words “I give them money, MOM, so they won’t let any body KILL me.”

Ice cold chills ran down my spine.  I was livid that there were two bullies scaring the hell out of my son each day and stealing his money, but I was even more shocked at how my scared little boy just spoke. It was if some one else was inside his frail little body speaking in a mean hateful voice I’d never heard before. I stared at him for a minute, in absolute disbelief.  I heard Mr. Whites voice in the background telling Doug that he needs to always come tell a teacher or any faculty member when ever some one picks on him.

I watched as the monster that had just spewed words at me shriveled away and my pale, sickly looking little child came back to himself.

“Here is what you need to do Doug” I said in a stern voice.  “You need to start taking up for yourself. Every time some one teases you and you let them know it hurts and let them know you’re afraid, then they feel like they can get away with it all the time and they’ll pick on you over and over again.  If you’d just stop being a baby, and sock ’em in the nose next time, I promise you, you won’t have any more problems.”

Mr. White interrupted me.  “No, no, no.  We certainly don’t want to promote that sort of behavior in our school. We can’t have your son hitting some one. He’d have to be suspended if he did that. We don’t tolerate violence.”

“Well, you shouldn’t tolerate blackmail either.  I trust you will find out who Terry and Bobby are, and you will have them pay for the lunch charges in the cafeteria, before you suspend them?”  I asked.

“No mom, NO!  Please, it’s alright. We can pay that mommy, please.”

I could see the terror rising inside Doug.  He was horrified of the thoughts of what Terry and Bobby might do to him if they knew Doug had told on them.  I found myself trying to calm him down, telling him that it was ok. That we wouldn’t let Terry and Bobby know, and that we would take care of the lunch charges ourselves.

I ended up writing a check to the school for the missed lunch payments.  I asked Mr. White to speak with Doug’s teachers and see to it that they keep an eye out for any bullying. “This has got to stop, this is getting very serious and clearly, he (Doug) is to terrified to tell  the teacher anytime something happens.”

Mr. White agreed and reminded me, again, that violence is not the answer and that I should never suggest to my child that he hit someone.  I told him he was right, although I wasn’t sure, at this point that I believed it.

Doug and I left his office, holding hands, not saying a word.

In the car, it was as if nothing had happened. Doug asked if we could go get some ice cream.

We went to Tony’s Ice Cream Shop and sat at our favorite corner booth. As the vanilla ice cream dripped from the cone, down Doug’s chin, I said “You know honey, you can’t give Terry or Bobby any more money because, first of all, mommy can’t afford to pay them AND the lunch lady each day, and second of all they don’t have a right to bully you like this.”

Doug threw his ice cream on the table and insisted that Bobby and Terry weren’t bullying him.  “Mommy, they are my friends. Why don’t you believe me? I give them money so they won’t let the real bullies kill me”

“Who honey?  Who are the real bullies? Tell me Doug, so we can stop this. Let adults help you. Not Bobby or Terry.  I will help you, and your teacher and Mr. White will help keep you safe from the bullies.”

I could see his frustration growing.  He would not or could not tell me any of the names of the ‘real bullies’.

I couldn’t sleep that night.  I lay in bed thinking about all the things that were going on with my son. My stomach ached. I lay there trying to come up with solutions to this bully problem.  Sleep would not come for me, nor did it come for Doug. I could hear him across the hall in his room, talking.   I held my breath for a moment so I could listen. At first I thought he was talking in his sleep. Then I realized he was carrying on a full conversation.  “It’s ok. I’ll get money. I know you guys will keep me safe.  My Pap has a lot of money. He’s a good guy. He’ll help me pay you.”

“Doug, honey, who are you talking to?” I asked as I peeked in his bedroom door.  ‘

“No one mommy, good night, I love you.” he pulled his blanket over his head and rolled over, turning his back to me.

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