Written on Tuesday, February 15, 2011 - 6:31 AM
As some of you know, while I was in California for three months helping Mom through some tough issues, things in Beaverton with the boys did not go well. It was a very difficult choice deciding whether to stay in California or to come home to Oregon, and after much prayer, meditation, and counsel with others I made the decision that my time was better spent in California. There was more that I could do there to be immediately helpful to Mom than I could do in Oregon to be helpful to Jenna and the boys.
Down there, I was a live-in assistant, up here I could be nothing more than a part-time dad. This is just one of the realities of life since last Summer when Jenna and the boys moved from the complex across the street from me to Beaverton. So even if I had put on my superhero tights and flown home in a frenzy, swooping in to save the day, I would only have been saving two or three days a week and the rest of the time the boys and their Mom would have still been left to their own devices.
And we've done the daddy living on the couch thing before. For about a year, from the Spring of 2009 to the Spring of 2010, I was on the couch across the street most nights, probably about 75% of the time that year. Yes, the boys did pretty well when I was there, but it was crippling to my life and, it is obvious now, no real, long term improvements occurred. The problems Jenna and the boys were having before I took up residence on the couch were still there when I left the couch and, by last fall, things had once again become almost as bad as they ever have been. And I lost a year of my life. I was not able to focus on the things I needed to focus on regarding my own health issues and rebuilding my life in the aftermath of those health issues. Issues such as getting back to work, which is still the next thing on life's agenda for me.
So taking up residence in the Beaverton house is not the solution. We've tried it. It didn't work. While it did have some benefits, and while the boys did better temporarily, no long term changes occurred. It was a band-aid solution to deeper problems that were just put in stasis for the year. It would be foolish to repeat the experiment.
I am spending a few minutes writing about this because a part of me wants to do exactly this: strap on those superhero tights and move in over there for a while. Damn sleeping on the hardwood floor, I could get used to it! I could swoop in and fix everything! Yeah, right. The family in Beaverton is in a tough place, but failed solutions from the past will repair nothing today.
While I was in California, an event occurred in the Beaverton house that led to Jenna getting a lot more support lined up from the state and other social services. For most of the time I was down there, especially during the second leg of my trip, there were councilors and social workers in that house almost every weekday. Also, since I left for California, Jenna's mother has taken up semi-permanent residence in the house helping out with this and that. This has also been very helpful, but I do fear that the long term effects of this will be few, it is the same role I was in for a year and nothing much changed because of that. But, overall, there has been a lot of support out there without me, and mostly from professionals.
And the help is needed. The little one's behavior is out of control and Jenna is unable to handle him, though she is showing signs of improvement with the professional support she is now receiving. At school, his discipline problems have become so severe that he has been removed from his normal classroom and has been placed in a special education program at another school for emotionally disturbed children with severe behavioral issues. This has been a good thing, so far, and Jenna is working with the counselors on providing a more structured, and disciplined, environment at home.
The big one has been out of school since Winter Break due to undiagnosed physical and mental health problems. Both his Primary Care Physician and Psychologist have refused to sign off on any paperwork keeping him out of school at this time, but he's still out. Vague attempts at home schooling are occurring and he is signed up for a class at a local home schooling center one day a week, but he has missed that more than he has attended it. From what I've seen since I've returned from California, there is no real reason for him to not be attending school at least part time, but he pretty much refuses to even try at this point while Jenna is afraid that forcing him to go against his will might create more problems than it will solve. Beyond this, he has just given up on life, only has one friend, and has no interest in anything outside of escaping from life anyway he can, which is sleep and video games right now. He is eleven and in middle school, on paper, at least. I fear that we may lose him quickly if he runs into the wrong crowd who shows him a much more effective and devastating way to escape the world, and we all fear that we have only a short time to get him back on track before potentially losing him for years, or forever, to a very dark path in life. It is a story I've heard many times through my work in the recovery community.
Overall, the Beaverton house is just not a healthy place right now. A lot of resources are focused on the family there, but it is a slow road back to good. From what I've seen over the years, while there are some mild psychiatric issues at play, ADHD and anxiety with the older boy, mild OCD and anxiety with the little one, these are not the root of the problem. From what I've seen, the problem is primarily, fundamentally, the complete breakdown of family roles in that house. Yes, the Psychiatric issues with all three of them, the boys and their mom, are like kerosene on the fire and must be addressed, must be treated, but I believe that some deeper, fundamental behavioral changes need to occur out there before anything else can even be worked on.
However, Jenna continues to believe that the problems are mostly due to physical and mental health issues, and that when the right diagnosis and medications are found, everyone will suddenly be better and things will quickly become healthy. She does allow that there are no magic bullet solutions and that more work needs to be done than just finding the right medications, but her priorities lie not with changing what can be changed when it comes to healthy roles and routines but with finding out "what is wrong."
Unfortunately, I also see some revisionist history and misinformation being offered to the professional providers. And I've seen some wild goose chases. Diagnoses being found on the internet and offered up as the problem, and then time is wasted disproving them. Chronic fatigue disorder for the big one, Bi-polar disorder for the little one, Asperger's for both (though likely with the big one)… So far, all that has been found medically is some vitamin deficiencies in the big one.
The current theory Jenna and her mom have for the big one's problems is that he, like Jenna, has Wilson's Disease, which is a genetic disorder. It is a real possibility, and much of what has been going on with him seems to fit. However, looking at the other issues in the family over the years, there are other paths that get him to the same place and, considering this, these paths seem statistically more likely than Wilson's. At the very least, they heavily contribute to the problem, even if Wilson's is a factor with the big one. If it is not Wilson's at the root of the problem, then the path forward should seem clear to everyone, but clarity of thought is not always present in a sick household. If it is Wilson's, then I fear that it will be scapegoated for everything, though it does not explain everything that has happened in that house.
A part of me actually hopes Wilson's is wiping out the big one. If it is, then it means that he is a lot less psychologically damaged right now than he seems to be, and that the path back to a healthy life for him is actually an easier one. It is a very treatable problem with a clear solution. I fear that the reality of the situation is that it will be a much more difficult path back to good for everyone. Baby steps are being made, but a lot of this work has been on hold until diagnoses are made and medications are given a chance to kick in… Hopefully, when the results return, one more distraction will be eliminated.
At the end of the day, there are some fundamental issues out there that need to addressed regardless of what disorders are eventually diagnosed. Regardless of what is eventually diagnosed, structure and stability and healing of the broken family roles are critical to any treatment. The fact that both boys are essentially suffering from the same issues when it comes to school, defiance and a refusal to accept any authority whether it is their mother or their teacher, which manifests in slightly different ways due to their different personalities and ages, tells me that the fundamental problem is probably not psychiatric or medical in nature, but probably psychological. They do better when they are with me since I've been the most consistent over the years, but circumstances beyond my control have taken me out of the picture repeatedly since 2007 and present circumstances limit my parenting time.
Since I am limited to being a fairly long distance, part time dad these days, I have been struggling to find my role in this situation. I am trying to find where I can be helpful. It is frustrating, because I cannot fix any of this and I am very limited in how much help I can offer right now. Since I returned from California, I actually feel that my presence in the Beaverton house is largely a distraction from the work Jenna and the boys need to be doing with each other. I am seeing where we need to get back in the zone where the boys come over to Gresham to spend time with me rather than me going to Beaverton. This does not mean staying away from Beaverton when I can help with rides, babysitting, etc. But it means probably not spending too many nights out there. Not staying there.
This is very tough. I want to spend nights out there during the week and have the boys come stay with me on the weekends. I want to spend as much time with them as possible. But so far, this just not look like the best solution for anyone. It keeps me from working on repairing my life, it distracts me from the job hunt and the maintenance of my own health issues that is critical for me being able to provide more for everyone, and it distracts them from the work they need to do on repairing that family unit. A year ago Jenna and I were talking about getting a place together, but circumstances prevented that and it is no longer an option. That would have been, it seems, the best solution, but even if we put that back on the table, it would nine to fifteen months before that would even be possible and change needs to happen now. Besides, I do feel that is a ship that has sailed.
So, we all just trudge on the best we can with through the life we have. We change what we can change and we accept what we must. It is not easy, but it is what it is. And I have to find comfort in faith that things are exactly as God intends them to be, which is a difficult thing for me, a principal that I struggle with daily.