December 15, 2008

Early Diagnosis

Reading parent blogs, I have been taken aback by how frequently mothers worry that their preschool boy is autistic. I have a naïve question. naive question? I don't want to offend any of you great parents, trying to do what is best for your child. . In all my years around young children(5 brothers, 45 younger cousins, 4 daughters) none were tested for autism as a preschooler. Has autism increased so dramatically or is there now so little tolerance for divergent thinking and unconventional minds?

I am desperately uncomfortable wit psychiatric diagnoses for preschoolers. And some of the softer austic symptoms bother me.
I must say I always wondered why I was different, and being told I was a manic depressive at age 7 when my mom worried about my worrying would have been nightmarish. My dad just told me I was smarter than other people and read much more, and I could live with that:) I wouldn't have dared to have my wonderful children if I knew I was mentally ill. Thank God I was diagnosed until the youngest was 4. If being a scientist happily working all hours in a lab is being a loner, so what? My brother met his life in the lab, and they are happy loners together. I can't imagine anything on earth could have made Stephen less like my dad, and why would anyone want to try. Another brother who is an elementary school teacher is very dubious about special ed for kids within normal limits. He thinks the stigma is far worse than the extra services justify.__What has changed so dramatically that your son is suspected of being autistic now when he wouldn't have been ten years ago? _Are there really effective treatments?

Sorry for the typos in the last comment. Blame it on my daughter's old computer. People who weren't diagnosed who wish they had been haven't been exposed to the stigma and discrimination and mistreatment that accompany diagnoses. They probably exaggerate the wonderfulness of the special services they didn't receive. We are not an enlightened society; stigma is very real. I would have never gone to social work school at age 46 if I had realized that mental health professionals obviously don't believe in the efficacy of their own treatments. __Loners and losers outgrow it, invent software, have TV shows made about them:) Nerds and geeks are the new prince charmings; they make great husbands. Diagnoses are forever.__I wonder if they make chemistry sets for kids Bub's age. I suspect they make microscopes. I recall a kid in Katherine's traditional kindergarten class. The teacher insisted he be tested for developmental disability. He tested at genius level.

With my kids, the educational accommodations they need were not to be insufficiently challenged. The gifted prgram was good in that respect, but their regular public school was totally inadequate. __I let my scientist stay home from school so much because she was obviously learning at a higer level than she could reach at school. Special ed kids are not usually recognized as gifted, which Bub so obviously is.

As I told you in my email, I always thought I could do something.. I admit my dad's legacy was intellectual arrogance. I always figured that I could read the same books and journals as the experts, and I knew my weird kids better. __Certainly that approach was the key to taming my bipolar order ten years ago. I researched psychiatric journals and the net to find the best possible medication and shopped for a psychiatrist who was willing to prescribe it. My psychiatrist has frequently expressed his gratitude for my educating him. That medication, lamictal, is the one he uses most successfully for his bipolar patients. I needed a psychiatrist who was a partner, who would discuss journal articles with me as a peer, who was as willing to learn from me as I was from him, who would admit when he didn't know and when he was wrong. Only then would I feel comfortable enough to be fully honest with him about my medication.

Using what you learn from blogs, books, and journals about autism is brilliant. I am sure they would have helped me cope with my dad, two brothers, two husbands, and two nephews:) I am very curious to read them; I love to think about how different minds work. Learning all you can is different than a formal diagnosis that might convey to a child, his teachers, his peers that there is something wrong with him even though different, original minds can't and shouldn't be fixed. __Do read For Her Own Good: 200 Years of Experts Advice to Women, by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English. Thank God I first read it when it only covered 150 years in 1979, the year after my writer was born. Thank God I never consulted experts about her. Some minds are too mysterious to be meddled with. She probably would have qualified for bipolar disorder, autism, and social anxiety disorder, with a subtle oppositional defiant disorder. __The label "autistic" might be less frightening to your generation, but in 62 years I have never personally known a child so labeled. I have known many children who could have been so labeled, but they found their ideal career niche and the spouse who can translate for them. The more I read about it, the more I suspect it explains so much about men:)__Bub is lucky to have the best mother in the world for him. I would hate to see any specialist shake your confidence in that. I apologize for being so strident and tiresome , and I will shut up and save this for private emal and my blogl. Yesterday I wrote a post on "Experts," Testing, and Misdiagnosis. I might be overly influenced by my experience that being open about my bipolar disorder wasted all the money I spent on my MSW in social work.

December 11, 2008

Blogging and Me

I asked Janet, author of the excellent blog Three and Holding to send me some questions. She asked such thought-provoking ones that answering each one deserves a separate post. I am tackling the easiest one first:

You took a three year break from blogging. What brought you back to the blogosphere?

I am guilty of seriously misleading my readers. My break was from Matriarch. but I worked on several other blogs. After my mom died in 2004, I worried that family history might die with her. So I started a blog called Remembering: Time Travel Through Photos. This was a blog for my daughters and brothers and their spouses as well as my 11 nieces and nephews. I use lots of photos. When I was taking care of my mom, I scanned thousands of slides and family photos and made them into photo websites. I hoped the photos would reawaken my brother's memories. I invited other family members to contribute, but no one has shown much interest. I seem to be the designated family historian and photographer.

Another family blog consists of selected letters my mom and dad wrote from 1942 to 1946. There are thousands of letters, and I have only transcribed a few of the earlier ones. The later ones are less interesting; how many "I love you my darling" letters does anyone else want to read:). I have recently begun transcribing some of the letters my mom wrote to my dad in France when she was pregnant with me and during the first 7 months of my life. I probably will be sharing some of them on this blog, so I can compare and contrast three generations of mothering infants.

I have another blog, Ageless Internet, that I have neglected since my grandson was born. Last year I started a internet tutoring service, aimed specifically at senior citizens. I did lots of volunteer work at Penn South, where my daughter lives. It is a 2800 unit cooperative; seniors made up the majority of cooperators. If I had volunteered full-time, I could have had several hundred students, but I can't afford to do that. I learned that people who so far have not seen the need for the Internet are not willing to pay for private lessons. I might try to revive it on a small scale this fall now that my daughter's part-time work schedule is worked out, and I know when I am committed to care for my grandson.

When Michael was born, I started another blog about him for family and friends. It is far more pictures and video clips than text. But it got me back in the habit of blogging. Being with Michael 25 hours a week in the same place I raised my girls evokes hundreds of memories of their early years. So I am back in early motherhood again and have lots to write about on Matriarch.

I have another blog I don't link to, even though it is available to everyone. Under a pseudonym, I share the sordid details of my experience as a manic depressive. I keep revising this blog, adding or deleting stuff according to my moods. My mood swings are entirely predictable. I am up in the spring and fall, level or slightly down in the summer and winter. I don't truly get depressed anymore, but there are significant fluctuations in my energy levels and motivation. The spring and the fall are times to write; the winter and summer are times to edit. I hope if I get in the habit of blogging here every day and attract some regular readers, I will continue writing this winter.

I suspect you wanted a few sentences on this topic, Janet. Answering the question was helpful; I forget how much blogging I have done when I beat myself up for neglecting Matriarch. In truth, I have more blogs than I can possibly keep up, so I am concentrating on Matriarch and my grandson's blog.

Blogging and Me

I asked Janet, author of the excellent blog Three and Holding to send me some questions. She asked such thought-provoking ones that answering each one deserves a separate post. I am tackling the easiest one first:

You took a three year break from blogging. What brought you back to the blogosphere?

I am guilty of seriously misleading my readers. My break was from Matriarch. but I worked on several other blogs. After my mom died in 2004, I worried that family history might die with her. So I started a blog called Remembering: Time Travel Through Photos. This was a blog for my daughters and brothers and their spouses as well as my 11 nieces and nephews. I use lots of photos. When I was taking care of my mom, I scanned thousands of slides and family photos and made them into photo websites. I hoped the photos would reawaken my brother's memories. I invited other family members to contribute, but no one has shown much interest. I seem to be the designated family historian and photographer.

Another family blog consists of selected letters my mom and dad wrote from 1942 to 1946. There are thousands of letters, and I have only transcribed a few of the earlier ones. The later ones are less interesting; how many "I love you my darling" letters does anyone else want to read:). I have recently begun transcribing some of the letters my mom wrote to my dad in France when she was pregnant with me and during the first 7 months of my life. I probably will be sharing some of them on this blog, so I can compare and contrast three generations of mothering infants.

I have another blog, Ageless Internet, that I have neglected since my grandson was born. Last year I started a internet tutoring service, aimed specifically at senior citizens. I did lots of volunteer work at Penn South, where my daughter lives. It is a 2800 unit cooperative; seniors made up the majority of cooperators. If I had volunteered full-time, I could have had several hundred students, but I can't afford to do that. I learned that people who so far have not seen the need for the Internet are not willing to pay for private lessons. I might try to revive it on a small scale this fall now that my daughter's part-time work schedule is worked out, and I know when I am committed to care for my grandson.

When Michael was born, I started another blog about him for family and friends. It is far more pictures and video clips than text. But it got me back in the habit of blogging. Being with Michael 25 hours a week in the same place I raised my girls evokes hundreds of memories of their early years. So I am back in early motherhood again and have lots to write about on Matriarch.

I have another blog I don't link to, even though it is available to everyone. Under a pseudonym, I share the sordid details of my experience as a manic depressive. I keep revising this blog, adding or deleting stuff according to my moods. My mood swings are entirely predictable. I am up in the spring and fall, level or slightly down in the summer and winter. I don't truly get depressed anymore, but there are significant fluctuations in my energy levels and motivation. The spring and the fall are times to write; the winter and summer are times to edit. I hope if I get in the habit of blogging here every day and attract some regular readers, I will continue writing this winter.


December 9, 2008

Importance of Birth Order



In the first picture, I am two and one half; Joe is one. In the second I am four, Andrew is six months. In the third picture, I am seven; Bob is newborn. In the fourth picture, I am 12; Gerard is 1. Next I am 13; Brian is one month. The last picture was taken when I was 14.

Studying the pictures, I understand family dynamics much better. It has always seemed that sibling relationships matter more to me, that I try harder to keep the family connected. Being both the oldest and the only girl seems central. I was my adult height when my two younger brothers were born; they were only 5 and 7 when I left home for college. I must have seemed a quasi-maternal figure to them. In some pictures I look like their young mother.
We did not grow up in the same family. My mother returned to school full-time when Brian was 5; when he was 7, she started teaching high school. Joe, Andrew, and I had had a stay-at-home mother until we went to college. Brian doesn't remember my mom staying at home full-time. My father retired before Brian finished college.

We have very different perceptions of our parents. Joe, Andrew, and I remember our dad as a brilliant intellectual and mathematician; Gerard and Brian remember an old man who disappeared into Alzheimer's Disease. The three oldest remember our childhood perceptions of my mom as "just a housewife" who never went to college. My younger brothers remember her the way her obituary describes her: "teacher, activist, trailblazer."

With the death of my mom, Joe, 18 months younger, is my collaborator in family history. Unfortunately Joe was too busy climbing on top of the roof as a kid to remember very much. I realize I could write family fiction and convince everyone it is family history.

I struggled not to favor my first daughter Anne in sibling squabbles, because she, like me, was the oldest of several siblings. Both my first husband John and I were the oldest children of oldest children of oldest children--not the best recipe for marital harmony. Certainly Anne shows the same sense of responsibility for her younger siblings that I felt. John, Anne, and I thought younger siblings owe considerable gratitude to the oldest, who has fought all the battles necessary to whip parents into shape.

In my constant discussions with friends about baby spacing when my kids were young, I noticed that adult relationships with your siblings greatly influence you. If you love your sibs, you might think a brother or sister is the best gift you will give your kids. If you don't talk to each other, you will feel guilty about the trauma you are inflicting on the oldest. As people only have two children, there will only be younger and older older. Middle children seem to have special gifts society will sorely lack. When I told 6 year old Michelle, I was pregnant with Carolyn, she rejoiced, "Now I won't be the only middle child."

December 8, 2008

Penguins

This picture brings back many memories, whether fond or not I have to puzzle out. From first grade through high school graduation, I was taught by the Dominican Sisters of Amityville, Long Island.

My new post-World War II community did not yet have a Catholic school. My mother carpooled, so I could go to Holy Redeemer in Freeport for first and second grade morning classes. With so many Catholics eager to send their kids to Catholic schools, they offered split sessions. Then I took a bus to the closer Queen of the Most Holy Rosary in Roosevelt for third through eighth grade. I was in the Queen's first graduating class. I then went to St. Agnes Cathedral High School in Rockville Centre.

My first grade teacher taught two classes of 60 children, one in the morning, one in the afternoon. All of us learned how to read and write, both printing and cursive. She recognized better students and gave them additional challenges. I craved gold stars on both my papers and my forehead. Regularly, I was sent to the second grade teacher, Sister Paula Anne, to report my latest accomplishment. I was her teacher's pet before I started second grade.

The tall nun on the right is Sister Miriam Francis; she was the principal at both Holy Redeember and the Queen. She died 3 years ago at age 93, having worked well into her 80's. I wasn't surprised; in retrospect she was an amazing educator. A tall, elegant, brilliant woman, she effortlessly ruled her 800 students with a clicker; she never had to raise her voice. One click, and we were instantly silent and attentive. She knew the name and the history of every student in the school. We all respected and admired her, were willing to work hard for her praise.

I was a very good girl. In seventh grade Sister Miriam Francis told me I could not have had a more perfect record. So I was never the victim of a nun's wrath, never had an eraser hurled at me, never was hit by a pointer, never had to stay after school to clean the blackboards, never was ordered to put my gum on my nose, never was compelled to bring my embarrassing private note up to the front, so Sister could read it to the entire class. Destructively, my innate shyness was reinforced, however. Good students only answered questions; they never asked them. Class discussion only occurred in high school history and English courses.

Most of the nuns were very young. Many had not yet been to college but were expected to teach classes of over sixty students. My young, beautiful physics teacher, who used to flirt with the boys, was one chapter ahead of us in the regents review book. None of my classes were chaotic; I simply can't remember how they did it. The nun's habit must have disguised a superman costume. I loved grade school, but was critical of high school. I resolved never to send my daughters to strict Catholic school that prized obedience over creativity.

As the negative memories fade, I can appreciate the excellence and rigor of my education. Writing this post has been a revelation. I have never publicly appreciated the penguins. For 8 years I edited books on the basis of my grade school English grammar classes. I always enjoyed diagramming thousands of sentences, especially at the blackboard. We had fantastic geography lessons. Every classroom had many world maps, rolled up in front of the blackboard. I loved drawing maps. A test would be a continent map with the outline of each country. We had to fill in the names. We were given a US map outline and had to fill in the state and its capital. We would never have been allowed to graduate from eighth grade if we could not fully explain Social Security.

The nuns were the only professional women I knew. As a group they were amazingly hard working and dedicated; most of them were warm, kind women. I remember only one mean nun in high school, Sister Jean Paul, who taught eighth grade, the nun on the left of the picture. She loathed FDR and made no pretense of being objective. The class wore black armbands the anniversary of his death and sniffed audibly whenever Sister mentioned his name. Too pull off such a massive group effort, we had to have learned lots of American history.

The high school curriculum was rigorous--4 years of English, Social Studies, Math, Science (Earth Science, Physics, Biology, Chemistry), Religion, Art, Music, Gym, and Two Languages, including Latin. As freshman, we had a half year library science course, mastering the card catalogue and the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature.

In English class, we loved reading aloud all of Shakespeare's major plays. We were expected to memorize the major soliloquies and sonnets as well as many English and American poems. We read Dickens, Austen, Elliot, Conrad, Dostoevsky, Hardy, Shaw, Ibsen, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Steinbeck.

Sister Grace Florian was the best teacher I ever had in my 20 years of education. She taught first year Latin and senior year English literature. A tiny woman, she was brilliant, erudite, funny, and demanding. I still have the Jane Austen paper I wrote for her. It is rather good, but Sister Grace Florian incisively criticized the content, the typing, the organization, the grammar, the footnotes, the bibliography. My best friend recalls: "I also remember Sr. Grace Florian describing some Greek play to us in English -- she was just telling us the story, prior to our starting to study it (maybe Antigone?) and the bell rang. No one moved. She stopped, but then realized that we all wanted to hear the end of the story, so she continued. Don't know if we were late to the next class."

Sister Mary Cyrilla, who taught senior religion, was a fervent believer in Vatican II. Questioning traditional Catholic beliefs were encouraged. She later spent 15 years teaching at the seminary, where men study to be priests. Sister Mary Luke was an excellent French teacher; Sister Gloria Marie taught me to love Math so much that I considered it as my college major.

My friends and I ran the high school newspaper, the Agnesian Rock, and were members of the Speech and Debate Clulb. Debate was enormously challenging, requiring countless hours of library research. We had to argue both sides of each years's resolution, always a major political policy controversy. The paper advisor, Sister Veronica Marie, obviously independently wealthy, treated the editors to two nights in the Waldorf with room service while we gave workshops at the Columbia Journalism Conference.

But all was not ideal. Science was very weak. There were no female sports, because the champion boys basketball team needed the gym all year round. We had no choice but to apply to Catholic colleges. Those who wanted to attend non-Catholic colleges were refused recommendations. We were regularly taken to Church service; we had to go to confession once a month. In grade school, we had to report our attendance at Mass every Sunday; missing Mass compromised your religion grade.

My mother was an active member of the Women's Ordination Conference. I occasionally attended meetings with her, even though I had not been a committed Catholic after age 18. Many of its members were older nuns; everyone seemed to have a Ph.D. There are very few young women entering the convent. Catholic school kids aren't taught by penguins anymore.

Later:

JS's comment helped me realize that I give my family too much credit and the nuns insufficient credit for making me realize I was smart and education was so much more important than being pretty or having boyfriends. My mother wanted me to have boyfriends and spend less time reading. The nuns always encouraged my writing; they would have been disappointed that the best writer of the class of 1963 years has been burying her talent for 45 years. But with the exception of one shrink, people have been convincing me that too much writing equals mania. Actually letting other people, strangers even, read my writing makes me a candidate for the loony bin.

Did You Keep Your Maiden Name

Mary Nolan
Mary and Joe Koch

Both my parents are buried a Calverton, a military cemetery, on Eastern Long Island. My dad was a World War II veteran. When I was at Calverton for my aunt's funeral, I visited my mom's and dad's graves. I was perturbed to see mom's inscribed as Mary Nolan, because I had misremembered that she wanted Mary Nolan Koch.

I hunted through her correspondence and found the following letter sent to the Veterans Administration in Washington, a year after my father's death.:

Feb. 5, 1988
Dear Sir,

On May 11, 1987, my husband, Joseph J. Koch, an Army veteran of World War II, was buried in the Calverton National Cemetery on Long Island, NY, gravesite 8179.

It is my understanding that gravesite 8180 has been reserved for me, his wife. When I recently visited the cemetery I was disturbed to note that the wives of veterans were only identified by their first name. To me that is sex discrimination.

Although I accepted my husband's name at marriage, I still consider myself as Mary Nolan and would wish to be so identified on a name plaque making my grave. Is there any reason why your policy could not be updated?

Yours truly,
Mary Nolan Koch

Subsequent correspondence showed the VA changed their policy and accepted her wishes. I feel rather sheepish about my first reaction. Bravo, Mary Nolan, a feminist ahead of her time! We were allowed to add an additional line, so we added mother, teacher, activist.

Family decisions on maiden names fascinate me. After much inner turmoil, I took my husband's name when I married in 1968. It was an English name; Koch lent itself to too many embarrassing mispronunciations. When I went back to school and work in 1987, I reverted to my maiden name. My master's degrees in library science and social work are under Koch.

Partly to disassociate myself from my past indiscretions, I took my new husband's name when I remarried in 2001. Two daughters, successful professional women, surprised us by taking their husbands' even more English names when they married. The one whose husband's name was not Waspish kept her original name. Apparently, the Waspish name trumps.

Three of my sisters-in-law kept the maiden names One brother and his former wife made up a new name that combined elements of both their names. I have met people who have used their mother's maiden name, rather than the name of the father who deserted them.

What did you or your spouse decide? What do you anticipate your daughters will do?