Starting Out

Cast of Characters

Me:

Name: Devin
Birthdate: February 5, 1985
Age: 30

My wife:

Name: Bunny
Birthdate: June 13,  1986
Age: 29

My children (the M&Ms):

Name: Monster
Birthdate: May 31, 2007
Age: 8
Grade: 3

Name: Monkey
Birthdate: May 26, 2011
Age: 4
Grade: Pre-K

Setting

Location: Alberta, Canada
Time: Present day

The story so far

In the beginning there was nothing, no time, no space, no matter.  Then suddenly there was something, a whole lot of something.  All of the something, in fact.  Then a little bit of time passed, and eventually I was born.  This has been widely regarded as the entire purpose for which the universe was set in motion, though there is still some small disagreement on this fact.  There may have been some physics, chemistry, biology, and sociology in the intervening time, but that’s not really relevant to this story.  A smaller time later the M&Ms were born.

I have an ex-wife, who is the mother of Monster and Monkey.  We separated in early 2013, when Monster was 5 years old, and Monkey was 1.  We have shared custody: in a typical week, the children are with me from Monday afternoon until Friday morning, and with her for the weekends.  I met and started seeing Bunny a few months after separating from my ex.  I wasn’t looking for anything too serious at the time, but one thing led to another, and we were married earlier this year on May 30.

Monster has been diagnosed with ADHD; and we’ve been told that, while it’s too early to diagnose him, Monkey is likely to be as well.  He struggles greatly to pay attention in school, and to sit still to do his homework, Though he’s an intelligent boy, his inability to do his work has resulted in him falling behind in several areas at school (though in others, he is excelling).  Unfortunately, because of his struggles with schoolwork, he is developing a dislike of school. (Wouldn’t you, if you had a constant struggle to complete tasks that everyone around you finds easy?)

Bunny and I have tried some behavioral interventions, with some limited success:

  • Cub Scouts
    He started Cub Scouts earlier this year, and really enjoys it.  We (Bunny and I) had hoped that this would give him the opportunity to experience some success in his life, and that would in turn help him feel less helpless in other environments.  While I think it has done wonders for his frustration tolerance, I don’t know that it has helped him feel empowered as we had hoped.
  • Flashcards
    I created some digital flashcards to help him with some areas that he was struggling, primarily spelling, reading, and math.  While I think this has been successful in helping remedy some of his difficulties, it’s often a bit of a struggle to get him to complete them in a timely manner.  More recently, I’ve started offering him incentives (one M&M candy for every three questions he doesn’t get distracted) to stay focused on the task, and this has helped quite significantly.  However, the success of the flashcards has been limited, in part due to a lack of buy-in from my ex while Monster is at her house.
  • Routines
    I set up morning and bedtime routines for both Monster and Monkey.  Previously it was a constant struggle to get out the door in the morning, or to get ready for bed.  While Monster knew what the expectations were (get up, get dressed, brush teeth, have breakfast, etc.) it was a constant struggle for him to figure out which he would be doing when.  Once I explained it to him that he now had a routine to complete (and once completed, is allowed to play Minecraft until time to get ready to leave).  These days, all I ever need to do to remind him to keep going is to ask “Are you finished your morning routine?” or “What’s next in your routine?”, and he usually gets back to it pretty well.
  • Notes on his desk
    We asked his teacher to tape notes to his desk reminding him to stay seated and to ask questions when he’s unsure what to do.  Previously, once he’d decided he didn’t know what to do, he’d get distracted by something else and be off disrupting class.  I’m not sure how much this has helped, possibly a little.  I think he’s embarrassed to ask questions so the whole class can hear, so he walks to the teacher’s desk to ask in private.  While she doesn’t mind this in a theoretical sense, he often gets distracted en route and ends up disrupting someone else’s work.
  • Breaking things up
    This was more helpful for Monkey.  It’s often difficult to get Monkey to get ready to leave the house in the morning to walk to school.  I’ve found that by breaking it up into steps, with breaks in between for a bit of play, it makes it much more manageable.  It’s difficult to get your snowsuit on and walk to school, but it’s not so bad if we just get our snowsuit on and then can play.  I separated the jobs of getting dressed to go out and actually going out by about 5 minutes, and it’s helped immensely.
I’m sure there are other things that we’ve done to try to help him, but these are the main ones I can think of right now.  Despite this, Monster is still struggling with school, and still doesn’t enjoy going.  His pediatrician is worried, as are Bunny and I, that if his dislike of school continues, it will translate into a dislike of learning in general, and give him much more significant difficulties later in life. 
Because of this, after much consideration, we’ve decided to start him on ADHD medication.  He’s now (starting as of this morning) taking 18 mg Concerta tablets each morning.  This is the first time in his life that he’s had to swallow a pill whole, so that was a bit of a struggle this morning.  I remember that I struggled with this when I was younger, and the way I eventually taught myself to do it was to set it on my tongue and slide it towards the back of my throat with my finger.  It took him a few tries, and by the time he got it down he had a bad taste in his mouth because the medicine had started to dissolve, but it made it down eventually (we also tried washing it down with water, and sticking it in some yogurt, with no success).

Purpose

I’m starting this blog in part as a journal of my experiences, so I can keep track of how things are progressing.  I’m not going to stop behavioral interventions now that Monster is on medication, I’m going to keep trying to help him acquire the executive skills he’s lacking, in the hope that he can get off the medication as soon as possible.  I’ll keep a record of what’s working and what’s not working, so that I’ll be able to look back and adjust as necessary.  In addition to Monster’s ADHD, I intend to write about my experiences as a single dad who’s responsible for most of the children’s school time.  It’s often difficult because I don’t get very much non-school time with the M&Ms.  I’ve learned some ways to get relationship building and fun activities into the evenings, but it’s not always easy, particularly because of Monster’s difficulties in school.
Another reason is that I hope my adventures can help others.  If you’re a parent struggling to deal with your child’s ADHD, I hope that you can find some suggestions here that help you out.  If you’re a single parent with limited non-school time with your child(ren), I feel your pain and hope you can find some suggestions here that help you.
The final reason is that I would like the input and suggestions from anyone who takes the time to read this.  If you have any thoughts or experiences that you think would help, I welcome your comments.  I’m always on the lookout for suggestions on how to strengthen my relationship with the M&Ms (and with Bunny too), as well as on how to help Monster manage his ADHD.

A final note

One last thing: I intend to write this blog with the expectation that the M&Ms will someday find it and read it.  As such, I’ll do my best to keep things factual and non-judgmental, no matter how frustrated I get with something.  While I don’t plan on complaining about my ex on here, I will discuss her involvement in things where it’s relevant.  Please keep the comment section family friendly and respectful:  “I don’t think that’s effective because reasons” or “Have you tried this instead?” are both helpful comments while “You’re stupid for doing that” is unhelpful and will likely be deleted.  Swear words are out altogether.  Use your judgement (because I’ll use mine): if it’s not something you would say in front of your, or someone else’s children, don’t say it here.

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