Monday, January 26, 2009

Adoption Thoughts: The Middle Man

Imagine for a moment you are 13, or there-abouts. You are a pretty great kid with a beautiful smile and a family that loves you alot and most of the time you believe it. You are doing pretty good in school, even if you have to work really hard for it, and you are proud of that. You are a solid member of your hockey team, and even though you aren't a super star, you do your job and do it well. You have lots of friends that think you are really cool. You have your own room and parents that provide most of what you want and all of what you need. Life is good most days and GREAT others.

Sounds easy, doesn't it?

Now imagine you are 13, or there-abouts. You have learning issues that make school really tough and emotional special needs that make impulse control a challenge, oppositional impulses that create conflict with those around you continually and an attitude that gets you into trouble way more than you would like. You know you have special needs, but you hate them. You hate with a passion that you have food allergies that mean you cant drink pop, or eat cake or have chocolate bars like all the other kids. You hate with a passion that you have to take medications and you hate even more that you know you NEED to take medications. You resent that you can't handle freedom the same way as kids around you. You hate that you are different. You hate that you look different. You hate that anyone notices ANY of this stuff. Ever.

Add to that, you have an older brother who is bigger and stronger than you. His grades come fairly easy and he is a super star on his hockey team. He is cool and popular and you have always, always idolized him. No matter what you do, you feel like you can never measure up to him. His wall full of MVP trophies taunt you. You adore him, but resent his maturity that you seem to be unable to match. You will never be HIM, and that's all you want to be.

Makes things tougher, doesn't it? Now imagine your are that same 13 year old so there-abouts child with the older brother AND a younger brother.

In your books this younger brother has always been a threat. Maybe your parents like him more? Maybe your older brother likes him more? Maybe the world likes him more? Everything about him annoys you, and even though you know its not really his fault, it still ticks you off and you want to make him pay, and that in turn just gets you into more trouble. He is smart. Too smart and although younger than you, he has passed you academically and you know it. Then, even more offensively, he grew taller than you too. He is supposed to be a geek, and yet he has found a sport he is good at and he too has started bringing home MVP trophies. He is gentle and compliant and sensitive and doesn't seem to have the same sort of worries you do. He rarely gets into trouble. You hate all that about him. You love him, but you fear him too. You fear he is what you will never be - confident in ok with just being himself.

You are sandwiched and worse, your parents went and had a BABY. A, in your opinion, spoilt baby brother who gets away with EVERYTHING, who screams at you and won't let you beat him up. A baby brother who was "ok" to have around until you realized that he figures some things out faster than you can. A brother who can now point out your faults and lacks quite clearly as only an annoying 7 year old can. And he screams and shouts and raises a fuss in a way that your other brothers never have when you try anything with him. You'd like him more if he would just give in to your bullying and let you feel like you are better than SOMEONE in the family. But he won't and because you are "twice his age" your parents expect you to act older, more capable of restraint, when really you can't alot of the time.

And then you have a dog. A dog you had to earn. A dog that is yours. A dog you love. YOUR dog. YOUR responsibility. A dog who loves your mom. A dog who thinks she is your MOM'S dog.

And you are the same kid in the first paragraph as you are in the rest, and your name is Eric. You have a beautiful smile and gentle spirit and are easy to love. You are prickly and pokey and sometimes hard to like. You are often rude and oppositional and resent any sort of redirection. You love to snuggle with your mom and laugh at silly jokes. Your fuse is short and emotional outbursts overwhelm you at times, and you tend to be too rough with your brothers, and sometimes with your friends. You work very hard in school to get the marks you do, but refuse to accept or admit that you need any help. You struggle with the concept of time but know most of the names of players in the NHL. You scream, yell, throw things when angry, and act like nothing happened when you calm down. You crave boundaries and will push until you find them, and yet hate the person that enforces them. You trust few, manipulate many and very few really know who you are, what you fear and whom you love. You feign disinterest with great skill but feel everything deeply. You are who you are.

And you are stuck in the middle of us.

I was the oldest of two, my husband the youngest of four. Raising a child so clearly "in the middle" is new ground for us. If you have any insight, I would appreciate it.


Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh, Jen. My heart just broke again for that little boy whom you know I have a soft spot for (yes, I'm sorry again for the sugar incident!).

Eric is so blessed to have you and Shel for parents and yes, even to have the brothers he has...

I am the middle child in my family and I remember struggling, too; I think Graham stuggles with things Eric stuggles with, being the middle child. But I have absolutely no insight, except to say that I grew out of it and eventually learned that my sister and brothers were always envious of me for some reason or other, that I never in a million years would have imagined.

Maybe there's nothing you can do for him, but encourage him and keep raising him the way you are and eventually, he will learn what his brothers wished they had that he always had.

You could ask them if there's something about Eric that they wished they had... but perhaps it is something they don't even know they know yet...

Anonymous said...

Don't know too much about it, but maybe he feels he has to compete, and so maybe try another sport that the others don't participate in, (like soccer, or curling) then it eliminates the need to be better than them. I know this would only help in that area, but it may be a start. Tyler (my brother is much like Eric) we found that different sports, and Slyvan learning centre was able to help.

Anonymous said...

Colleen makes a great point, maybe Eric needs to branch out into something completely different.


Jenny said...

Except for the near-perfect older brother, you just described my Jason. There are times I read your blog and think, how is it that she describes MY son so well. Two boys in different worlds, yet so much alike.

I like the idea of letting Eric find something different that is just his and his alone. We found that Jason does really well with martial arts. It is structured actually helps him learn the control he struggles to achieve. And no matter when (or if) his siblings start, he'll always be better since belts achieved based on skill and time.

Dawn said...

I was a middle child that truly struggled with those feelings too. There is probably a lot I could tell you, but I will stick to these two.

1)Find something that can be his own. Something that he can excel at and DO NOT let your other children participate in that activity. He needs something that he can say is truly his.

2)Do not constantly bring up his brothers in your conversations with him. I'm not sure I'm going to be able to explain this well, but I'll try because my mom still does this, and it still bothers me.

For instance, I'll be talking to her about say, driving on the ice. She'll listen to me (for real she does) but then she'll say something like, "Your sister D just loves driving on this weather. That crazy girl can manage to drive in anything. And her daughter De was here and was so silly".

I admit I have to watch this in myself. I will notice that the minute I bring up my oldest doing something (especially when it is just me and my middle), she will start to close up. I think we do it unintentionally, but from the perspective of the child now, it really bothers the child.

Hope this makes some sense. :) I'd love to talk more on this if you want. You can email me.


Unknown said...

The problem with the "whole other sport" idea is that he doesn't want that. He is EXTREMELY resistant to trying anything new. ANYTHING. and I am talking from the time he started riding a bike, or swimming, or baseball or trampoline, or ?? ANYTHING new freaks him out to the extreme. And the only thing that gets him to try anything is the fact that his brothers already do it and are "ok". And to do something that his brothers don't do? something ALONE? he would rather eat worms.

That's a plan we have already tried ... without success. He wants hockey because that's what his brothers do and its what he loves, he knows he is good at and its "safe".

Anonymous said...

Hi Jen,
After reading the comments I also agree with helping Eric carve a niche of experiences that will be only for him (I have a child who also freaked with anything "new"). How I did it (for what it's worth) was to break each 'new' into baby steps. So, for example with swimming (if that would be something he'd like) send him off with his own friend(s) (no siblings allowed) on a regular basis to public swim. Then go from there.
The struggles Eric has are unique to him (as you've eloquently described) but if he can learn through these teen years how to cope with 'new' (which is a lifelong lesson) and find his confidence through this while still living under your roof with your support so much the better in the long run. Counseling may also help (if you aren't taking him already).
Does he have his own friends? Maybe there is a friend who is doing something other than hockey (which if he loves he should continue in) and who he could buddy up with for that activity.
Gradually replacing the 'freaking out' reaction with other more constructive behaviours (deep breathing, recognition of feelings, etc) will certainly take time (in my child's case a few years) but doing it in baby steps is key. Also, from a brain physiology point of view, his frontal lobe (impulse control) is still developing and you'll likely notice changes (better control) until he is 18-21. He doesn't have the same spatial awareness now that he will have in even one year and seeing consequences is difficult at this age (maybe moreso for him). But, it will also develop! I have to keep reminding myself of this in the teen years :-)
Meanwhile, you've got a terrific young man and with all the challenges will be a tremendous blessing in years to come:-)

Lotsa love, Mari-Ann R.

Unknown said...

Mari-Ann - the problem is that the frontal lobe cortex has been damaged and the impulse control issues are not purely age related, but rather a definite, diagnosed special need. To be clear, comparitively speaking, he is doing AMAZINGLY well and exceeds all expectations, academically, emotionally and physically.

Yes he has his own friends (attends a different school than his brothers for example, to provide THEM their own space from him - and him their own space from them) but his ability to handle freedoms (like skiing with a friend for example) are limited and sometimes results in more negative interactions rather than a positive experience. We can allow a sleep over or something like that, but then as a family we pay for days because he can't emotionally handle the disruption to his schedule and he takes it out on us. He can "hold it together" amazingly well outside the house (at school,church or friend's house for example) but then he falls apart when its safe to do so - at home, where noone other than his family experiences his drama. Its the quandry of a child that for all intents and purposes appears to be doing amazingly well to everyone other than his parents and siblings :)

So in other words, its complicated - but truly at the heart of it is a middle child who may always find life "harder" for him than those around him - due to no fault of his own, but still his responsibility to deal with.

When we pull our heads out of the craziness that his hockey season, I am going to work on finding him his own "spring sport" to get excited about and figuring out the right words to say to help him understand he is truly as valuable, loved and appreciated as his brothers, even though we all realize he is alot more work to parent! :)

An example - he won't even go out to a restaurant unless his brothers go too because that's his measure of whether or

SabrinaT said...

We are raising a middle child who sounds a lot like this. His older brother doesn't have the same issues in school, is the QB of his football team, and friends always come easy for him. On the other end of the spectrum there is the baby. Who get's EVERYTHING! Or so to my middle son it seems.
Ian and I started to notice things about a year ago. Noah is sweet, shy, imaginative, and quick tempered. His Dysgraphia is hard, and he is often frustrated..So, we sat down and came up with a game plan. Once a week Ian and I have Noah time. Ian will take him on a bike ride, or bowling. Just the 2 of them. Ian makes sure to spend a few extra minutes with him reading at night, or just talking together. Noah and I have time 3 days a week when the baby is at play school, and the oldest is taking Japanese class.
Most of the time I am hyper aware of Noah being the middle child.

Jenny said...

Well, my middle child, Hannah, is a bit different that Eric who is far more like my oldest, Jason. The biggest struggle we have with Hannah her feeling left out because the attention her brother's get. And she has definite ways of letting me know when she is feeling slighted. I as an oldest and Andy was the baby, so we are at a loss too. I wish I had another idea for you besides the "give Eric his own activity" one, but that's the best I can come up with. My middle child is a girl so her stuff by nature is a bit different from the boys.

Jen said...

Aww Jen, I feel bad for Eric, it must be really hard for him to deal with all he does. I like everyone else would just suggest doing something he could excel at alone. I taught martial arts for a long time and really really recommend it. We had all sorts of kids come through our doors, and my greatest joy was seeing those kids that I knew struggled, in school, with their confidence, with short attention spans or impulse control issues succeed. It really is a huge way to build confidence and would give Eric something he can succeed at by himself. I know you said he doesn't like to try new things but if there is any way to entice him into trying it, I would definitely reccommend it. I hope you find something that helps him out.

votemom said...

is he getting one-on-one time with you or your husband? that is something that has helped with our kids over the years. put it on the calendar and stick to it. let him know he can count on that time every two weeks or whatever you decide. make sure nothing interrupts of delays it.

you sound like a really great mom. and i'm sure he believes that deep down.

on top of it all, 13 is just a yucky age.

Unknown said...

Of all the kids, Eric probably gets the most alone time. I work in his classroom all day, everyday so he gets TONS more "mom" time than the other kids. PLUS, his older brother travels with his hockey team on a bus, but on Eric's team, a parent must drive him so he gets SEVERAL weekends away alone with daddy every year as well.

As far as extra "fun" times - he is extremely resistant to doing anything that identifies him as :different" so if we suggest a dinner out or lunch or a treat, he isn't interested. He DOES come along on shopping trips or grocery shopping alone, but he doesn't want to do something that is about him, unless his brothers are there too.

LOL he is a COMPLICATED kiddo!

abebech said...

I just rediscovered you through another blogger, used to read you on a forum a long time ago, I think!
Your post is beautiful, and it shows that you are already doing what matters most -- recognizing in and through all of that his unique and beautiful self and also his pain.
I did not face the challenges he faced, to be sure, and neither (so far) have my children. But I coped in the middle and feeling overwhelmed by becoming a photographer. I would totally recommend something like that to him: I'm always in the space of whomever I want to be around, but at a remove of sorts; it requires focus and teaches focus and benefits from me seeing things 'differently' than the people around me. A person with faster impulses than me might catch things someone else might have missed . . . Handling a camera is a responsibility (but not an impossible or frustrating responsibility) -- I knew my first "real" camera was an expensive gift -- and so on.
And -- When I take a picture of the family dog, she smiles :) just for me, even if she is supposed to be LittleBun's dog but is actually Dh's dog.

ness said...

Firstly, Jenn, I love that first picture of him. He is beautiful...errr handsome and definitely has the dance in his eyes that says, "I'm loved!" That is number one HUUUUGE for any kid let alone someone who is really trying to find their way. Your perceptions of the situation and even how he feels about others show that you are so desperately trying to help...and understand. I hope you know just how amazing a mom you are. Floored by the fact you spend all day in the classroom let alone the many other things you do. Kudos Momma! I was just gunna comment on the alone time until you explained that that gives him the impression of feeling "different" and prefers the others to be there. That's a tricky one. He feels security in the WHOLE family unit. Interesting. And I very much understand the whole thing of change of routine being hard to handle. My middle son is having quite a bit of difficulty in school. They just sent me back a psych assessment and my heart dropped to the floor feeling like a failure. I spent the day blaming myself...that I hadn't done enough.... It's a difficult thing when there are variables we just don't understand. Why can't there be that magical answer to these things. It's overwhelming trying to find ALL the answers. That would be easier. So I hope for wisdom and strength one day at a time. We work with what we've been given, love them lavishly, BELIEVE, and hope for a good turn-out. On a side note, I was spending so much of my time with this middle child and my oldest who is the most responsible one who is a breeze started showing some over neediness and resenting her younger brother. She said, "mom isn't he supposed to be in bed by 8:00 pm. He's stealing from my alone time. Eeeek.... Being a mom truly is a juggling act. I think the biggest thing I'm focusing on these days is not gluing my kids to a role, to realize that each one has their own expression of greatness and to hopefully help them find that. But I can tell you are on that journey.
You'll do just fine.