March 18, 2010

Taming the Wild Things

As I  read Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are to my grandson many times this week, I realized it's important message to those who struggle with the bipolar wild things.

"And when he came to the place where the wild things are, they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws till Max said, "BE STILL!" and tamed them with the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once and they were frightened and called him the most wild thing of all and made him king of all wild things."

If you haven't known about this book since early childhood, you were neglected, if not abused. Sendak has probably been in psychoanalysis longer than any living author. Rush to the nearest library and devour it before watching the movie, which cannot possibly convey the book's wisdom.

March 14, 2010

Diagnosing Children with Bipolar Disorder

I am concerned that gifted, creative children, who march to a different drummer in our regimented society, are being misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder and threatened with a lifetime of dangerous medications and social stigma. Having that dire diagnosis imposed on you at age 6 severely compromises your ability to lead a normal life, marry, have children, go to college, have a career. How would you have reacted at age 6 if you were told you had a broken brain that could not be fixed, only treated with lifelong drugs with dangerous and/or unknown side effects? Having been told that at 40, I know what a sentence of doom such a diagnosis too often is.

Twenty years ago, psychiatry believed that bipolar disorder strikes in the late teens, that it was impossible to diagnose children or adolescents. Now psychiatrists occasionally diagnose bipolar disorder in four year olds, after too brief examination. Is diagnosing kids as bipolar sometimes an unthinking way to squelch kids who are divergent thinkers, who think too fast, talk too fast, question authority, get bored too easily in our increasing test-oriented schools.

Are other countries undergoing the same childhood bipolar epidemic or is this an American phenomena? When and how was the supposed epidemic of childhood bipolar disorder suddenly discovered? How many of the early pioneers were funded by drug companies? Have any longitudinal studies been done, comparing the life trajectory of kids diagnosed and medicated and of kids whose parents refuse medication? Is there any evidence that kids diagnosed as bipolar grow up to be adults with bipolar disorder?

March 10, 2010

NYC, 1974-1976, Nonsexist Childrearing in Action


My oldest daughter Anne belonged to a Chelsea playgroup for two years, from 1974 to 1976. She was 17 months when it began, 3 and ready for nursery school when it disbanded. Playgroup met 5 mornings a week in the basement of the Y on West 23rd Street. Parents had the option of coming 1 to 5 mornings. Scheduling was a nightmare that I had naively accepted. I kept the minutes of playgroup, and I wrote a paper about it for a social work class in group dynamics 20 years later. I thought you might be amused by parenting, Manhattan style, 1974. How absurd we were in so many ways. But we were so cto combatting sexist stereotypes.
Ranging in age from 28 to 40, we all lived in Chelsea and Greenwich Village. With one exception, our playgroup child was our first child. At 28, I was the youngest mother, but the only one from a large family. We all were college educated, with serious careers before we had children. There was an editor of psychiatric books, a writer, a teacher, an artist, an art therapist, two social workers, one vocational counselor, two psychology graduate students, and and a psychiatric nurse.
Most of us were struggling with our decision to stay home with our children. Confirmed apartment dwellers, we saw little relationship between mothering and housework. All of us planned to remain in Manhattan. Dreading winter cooped up with newly mobile, newly negative toddlers in one-bedroom or two-bedroom apartments, several mothers were contemplating returning to work to regain their sanity. Significantly, no one returned to work full-time during the life of the playgroup.
None of us had long-time friends who were staying at home to raise young children. We needed to build a new circle of friends; our friends from work no longer sufficed. We were not traditional wives and mothers. We desperately wanted intellectual colleagues fascinated with child development, determined to raise children without our own inhibitions and neuroses. All of us considered ourselves feminists, committed to nonsexist childrearing.
Playgroup was supposed to give us time off. The first year the ratio was one mother to two children; the second year it was one to three. Many mother who weren't on duty stayed anyway, particularly those with younger children. When we weren't playing with our toddlers, we engaged in ongoing group therapy. All of us had been or were currently in therapy and could talk comfortably and knowledgeably about conflict, repression, projection, and denial. We endlessly analyzed our marriages, our families, our psychological makeups, our childrearing philosophies, and our children's personalities. Six of the 10 core members are now mental health professionals. Remarkably, none of our children are currently in jails, mental hospitals, or rehab centers.
We were an extremely self-conscious group. The simplest decision was carefully scrutinized for its optimal effect on our children's intellectual and emotional development. The latest child development books and theories were eagerly shared and discussed. Husbands' participating in child care and housework was the norm. One couple was not married, and no one made anything of it. Everyone eagerly welcomed fathers' participation.

No one wanted to push early academics on our kids. Creativity and exploration were the predominant values. No child was ever pressured to participate in any activity. If he didn't want to draw, paste, paint, sing, snack, his autonomy was respected. We had reasonable expectations about toddlers' capacity to share. A great deal of mess was tolerated, and children were not pressured to clean up. "No" was a word seldom heard--from the adults.
We were enlightened Manhattan intellectuals, very influenced by the ferment of the late 1960's. All the children addressed all the adults by their first names. Zealous attempts to enforce good manners were frowned upon. By 24 months, all children knew and used the words, penis, testicles, vulva, vagina. Toilet training was a continuous show-and-tell entertainment. The potty was in a prominent place in the room. I vividly recall two-year-old Anne saying, "I see your penis, Michael. Would you like to see my vulva?"
At any one time at least two mothers were pregnant or breastfeeding, and all the children's questions were freely answered. My second daughter Michelle started attending playgroup when she was 1 week old. Playing with baby Michelle was a surefire activity. Surrounded by 2 year olds every day, Michelle developed prodigious social skills.
Most of us belonged to a babysitting cooperative as well. We were an amazing source of support to each other. When one of us had a baby, all the others turn turns bringing the new parents an elaborate evening meal. I have never again experienced such a caring community of parents, committed to mutual aid.
Such a playgroup probably possibly could not have existed in the two other places I raised children--Bangor, Maine, and Long Island. I know it could not exist now in Manhattan. I spend three days a week in the same housing development, cavorting with my grandson in the same playroom, the same playground. Now I talk to nannies, not parents.
The Chelsea playgroup was one of the most fascinating, frustrating, turbulent, nurturing experiences of my life. After two years we were all very different people from the self-conscious, judgmental twits we were at the beginning. Comfortable in our mothering, we no longer had to criticize each other to bolster our wavering self-confidence. Watching very different children develop helped us to understand our own children's unique personalities.

March 9, 2010

March 9, 2010

I am not going what I resolved to do. Does that make me depressed? Do I have totally unrealistic ambitions for myself.

For example, is tsolving to go to the gym unrealistic when I am so achy and painy. Wuldn't doing 1/2 hour of chair exercises and exercises for older people make more sense? Isn't biking more important than the gym? Isn't gardening better for me than the gym? It is sad I haven't been outside when we have had three days of over 50 weather.

More realistic goals

Get up with Andy
Make his lunch
Open blinds
Empty dishwasher

Decide on tonight's dinner. Don't let Andy's uncertain schedule be an excuse.

Rate and comment on OS. Write posts about three times a week.

Get outside about a half hour--garden, walk, sit in backyard
30 minutes houswirj

20 minutes simple exercise

Ice cream once a day. If I eat it in the afternoon, no ice cream with Andy.

March 8, 2010

December 2, 1982--4 Children

I have had my happy ending. My four darlings have grown up into strong, loving wives and mothers with challenging careers, supportive feminist husbands,  and brilliant children. Parents in the trenches often are comforted by how many mistakes I was making. 

My kids are 9, 7, 4, 7 months. We had impulsively moved to Bangor, Maine from Manhattan in March 1981; I almost immediately got pregnant. We are snowbound November through April. My husband insisted on heating our 4-bedroom house entirely with our wood stove and six cords of wood. We had a three-sided metal gate attached to the living room wall with carabiners to keep the girls away from the stove. I had never before had to cope with stairs and kids. My ability to write in full sentences has collapsed. I am trying to decide whether we should try to move back to New York. I am very active in the Nuclear Freeze movement. Being a political activist and the mother of 4 isn't working. I remember the good times so vividly and totally forget the hard times. No wonder why younger mothers reject the saccharine advice of older mothers.

I have not edited my journal entry.

I let the kids stay home today because Michelle was hoarse and Emma was hard to rouse. Their being home busy with their projects makes it harder to keep Molly (the baby) safe. Molly has a scratch near her eye, and I don't even know how she got it--perhaps the kitten? Made apple crisp, made bread. No oven timer, so I kept losing track, worried about the stove door being so loose--will it fall off? Reading Lifton-Falk book about nuclear war, will give me nightmares. Kids bickering; baby eating pieces of paper. All my careful preparation for naught, no time to sit down and relax. Molly hardly napped. Papers all over living room floor. Snapped and yelled.

Do I want to go back? Something always make me stop at the brink. Fear of admitting we made a mistake? Or are these growing pains? Half-conscious of my tendency to romanticize my life in New York. I didn't share my political interests. We probably know more people in Bangor who share my interests than we did in New York. I glanced back over my journals. A bracing perspective. Mothering has always been hard. So much for my fantasies about how much better a mother I was in New York. I am so hard on myself. Go to the library and look up book on depression.