It's been years since I visited this site. Many, many years. But, after a conversation with a dear friend earlier today, I realized that perhaps there's a parent out there who might benefit...even just a little...from hearing our story. After all of the support, encouragement, and down-right sanity-saving I got from the wonderful parents here, it's probably long overdue that I give back what was given to me. Many years ago, I came to this site because I was exhausted, stressed to the point of breaking, and desperate for answers. Back then, I was known on the boards by another name...a name now associated with our family business. I doubt there's anyone left who would remember me, my difficult children, or the trials and tribulations that were an everyday part of my life back then. But, that doesn't change the fact that this place saved me from drowning in a sea of despair and feelings of failure, and for that...I owe a little something in return to parents who are, right now, where we were a decade ago. My conversation today reminded me of where we were just a few short years ago...what life was like then...and how very different life is today. A decade ago, I had 4 children - 3 of whom were challenging in varying levels. My oldest was my easy child. My 2nd was a supreme challenge, my 3rd even more challenging, and my 4th was (in comparison) a much easier "difficult" child. Kid #1 was the epitome of an "easy" child. If I had stopped with her, I would have thought til the end of my days that parenting was easy peasy. She never got in trouble. She never really went through a rebellious stage. Luckily, she was spared most of the insanity that was the pre-teen/teen years with her siblings. She was still young when she went to live with her father, my 1st husband. I thank Heaven for that every day - no matter how painful and soul-shattering it was at the time. She was, for the most part, spared any mental/emotional damage from living our nightmare. Kid #2 was diagnosed with ADHD and ODD. She had a mouth like a sailor and hated the world before she ever hit puberty. In 5th grade, the last year we dealt with public schools and the educational "system," she threw her desk at a teacher, threatened other students, was expelled from 3 daycares in 6 months, and even, at one point, had such a fit in the middle of class that the teacher had to call the police and clear the children from the classroom to get her under control. At the ripe old age of 16, she got pregnant with my first grandchild. Her world spiraled out of control from that point on. Kid #3 had an alphabet soup of diagnoses before he was 8. Everything from ADHD and ODD, to Intermittent Explosive Disorder and Mood Disorder-not otherwise specified. At 8, he was hospitalized for the first time and diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD)-not otherwise specified, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Sensory Integration Disorder (SID), and rule out Bipolar. His meltdowns were unreal, and downright dangerous - he threatened to kill all of us on a regular basis - even trying to strangle myself and Kid #2 on two separate occasions. When my husband (the 3 youngest's father) died in 2006 (Kid #3 was 13), we had 9 hospitalizations in 18months. By 15, he was facing felony charges of assault against a police officer (it took 3 grown men to restrain him during a meltdown wherein he sent his 14 year old brother to the ER for a suspected broken nose/cheekbone/jawbone, kicked out the windshield of my car with his bare foot, and broke down my daughter (kid #2's) bedroom door trying to "kill us all" - he bit one of the officers to the point the man needed stitches.) I begged the juvenile court judge to charge him so we could get him into a secure residential treatment program, but it didn't work. The judge felt he needed medical help, not involvement with criminal court. At the time, Kid #2 was pregnant and I was terrified that Kid #3 would actually try to kill her, or worse yet, the baby. We lived in constant fear. I couldn't even leave him alone long enough to go to the bathroom. We had to build a safe room in our house to protect me and my children from him and his meltdowns. Kid #4, compared to his siblings, was an "easy" difficult child. He was simply ADHD - emphasis on the H. He was the Energizer Bunny - never able to sit still, never able to stop talking - even if that meant rambling to himself through class. I got as many calls about him from the school as I did his siblings, but mostly because he needed help remembering calming techniques for when his medications didn't work so well and he just couldn't focus. Our lives back then were nothing short of a nightmare. In a single day, I quit my Corporate America job, pulled the kids out of public school, and set out on a blind course with only enough money in the bank to cover a month's worth of bills. I begged professionals for help. I begged state agencies. I begged judges. I almost went to jail because I refused to come get Kid #3 from the hospital when they were ready to discharge him - probably his 5th or 6th hospitalization, at that point. I dug in my heels and just refused to come get him - they needed to find him a bed in a locked facility. I didn't care if I had to go to jail for it...until our lawyer explained that child services would take the other children from my home if I held my ground. On another occasion, I refused to leave child services' office until someone helped me get help for him. I was escorted out by a sheriff's deputy and given the number to a county-run family therapy clinic. (At that point, we already had almost a dozen "professionals" involved in therapy, treatment plans, etc.) In 5 years, we went through 9 psychologists of varying specialties, 34 medication combinations, 12 hospitalizations, 6 psychiatrists, an occupational therapist, a speech pathologist, a geneticist, a psychopharmacologist, 4 behavior modification specialists, and 3 family therapists. While I'm dealing with all of this for Difficult Kid #3, Difficult Kid #2 ran amok. She got in with some bad kids in the neighborhood, ran away from home, and did who-knows-what to require a police escort home on several occasions. And to further her aims, she would deliberately trigger Kid #3's meltdowns, just so she could leave the house and go to a friend's "for her own safety." That's how I wound up a Grandma at 37. At one point, I was so incredibly desperate, so incredibly alone, I just gave up. I had reems of documentation showing I had asked every possible source of help...notified every possible anybody that my child was a danger to his family...and still we were left to fend for ourselves. (Example: the night Kid #3 bit the cop? The police refused to transport him. The ambulance refused to transport him. SEVEN adults, looking at my busted windshield, my youngest's face bloodied and swollen, with possible broken bones, and they all told me they did not have to legally transport Kid #3 to the hospital if they felt he was dangerous and they were not equipped to restrain him. They said *I* would have to transport him to the hospital...sitting next to family members he had literally just tried to kill.) I have never felt so incredibly desperate...so absolutely terrified in my entire life. I gave up. I fired every medical "professional." I stopped every single medication. (Some had sent him into mania, one gave him metabolic syndrome, another slurred his speech, one even gave him such a bad allergic reaction the doctors actually took pictures to document it for the pharmaceutical company!!) I stopped all of the therapy. I stopped the entire world and resigned myself to staying with him every waking moment. I woke at 3am so I could shower, pre-prepare meals to be microwaved by the kids whenever they got hungry, did laundry, and anything else that might take my attention away or my eyes of Kid #3 for a second. We spent DAYS at a time, just me and Kid #3, sitting in my room, watching TV, doing school work, letting him play video games for hours on end...anything that would keep him separated from his siblings and minimize his meltdowns. My other children were nothing short of neglected in an effort to keep them safe from Kid #3. At night, he slept in his own room while the other kids and I slept in my room...behind a solid core steel door, a deadbolt, and metal bar wedged under the doorknob...just in case I overslept and he woke up in one of "those" moods. We learned to butter bread with spoons because we couldn't have knives in the house, or scissors, or glass/ceramic anything - all of our dishes/glasses/etc were plastic. We were literally just waiting...waiting for 'the worst' to happen - whatever that might be. I carried a file box everywhere I went, so I could be prepared at a moments notice to defend myself and my other children, should Kid #3 finally really hurt someone and the State tried to say I didn't do everything in my power to protect my other children. (I found meltdowns in Wally World parking lots often resulted in a deputy arriving, and that box of documents was often the difference in whether or not we'd be dealing with a DFCS investigation and months of headaches, without the benefit of help/services otherwise.) I still carry scars - on my legs, my arms, and my back - from bites, kicks so hard they broke skin, and cuts from trying to take away scissors, knives, broken glass, or whatever weapon he managed to get ahold of. I still have bald spots behind my ears from him grabbing fists full of hair and jerking them out by the roots to the point of bleeding before I could get him restrained. Reading over what I have written so far, thinking back on those days, I am utterly amazed that we are all still here...still alive...and that *I* didn't wind up in a cotton I-love-me-jacket, sitting in a corner somewhere, babbling and drooling on myself. Today's conversation with my friend somehow brought up all the days and nights she and I spent at my kitchen table, making phone calls, searching the Internet, trying to find solutions in between bouts of crying on my part. We talked about how those days are so different, so far from where we are today. She's one of the few friends who stuck by us through it all. She's one of the few who can look at Kid #3 now and know just how far he's come. Here we are today, and my world and the world of my children is a much, MUCH different place. When Kid #2 reached the height of her rebellion, I moved us to a farm 45 minutes away from everything and everyone any of us had ever known. Kid #1 was already living in another state with my 1st husband (her father.) It was just me and the kids on acres and acres of wilderness. I wanted to get Kid #2 away from the delinquents, the drugs, and the trouble she found daily. I wanted to get the rest of us away from neighbors who had started calling the cops over all of Kid #3's screaming, broken windows, ambulances in the middle of the night, etc (not to mention the rumors floating around the neighborhood about us.) I hoped that with 180 acres surrounding us, with nothing but peace and quiet, we could at least deal with Kid #3 without neighbors (or their kids) whispering about us as we walked by. Just a few weeks after Kid #2 had my granddaughter, not even a month after we moved to the farm, she staged a coup. On Christmas Day, she threw one of her notorious fits because she didn't like her presents. (She was only given things for the baby - nothing she could trade, sell, pawn, or otherwise use for a purpose other than what it was intended.) She deliberately set off one of Kid #3's meltdowns by pushing all of his buttons at once. She then announced that she was leaving and taking the baby with her. She stormed off to her room, coming back not even a minute later with a duffle bag and a suitcase packed. 10 minutes later, a strange car pulled in our driveway (keep in mind, we're 45 minutes from anything.) I didn't see or hear from her for almost a year. Once Kid #4 and I got Kid #3 calmed down, we tried to salvage what was left of our Christmas, knowing all the while that Kid #2 had deliberately ruined everyone's holiday so she could feel justified in leaving. She was 17, and her baby was barely a month old. That was also the last meltdown Kid #3 ever had. Moving to the farm didn't work for Kid #2, but for Kid #3 and Kid #4, it was the absolute best decision I ever made. The peace and quiet did WONDERS for Kid #3. For Kid #4, a whole new world of wonder opened up. He could walk out of the back door, with a paperback book in his pocket, a walking stick in his hand, and two dirty little mutts trotting along behind him. Life for him, at least, became something akin to Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. He was in heaven! Kid #3 even seemed calmer without his sister to push his buttons, neighborhood kids staring and pointing at him, and the general noise and commotion of living 'in town.' He could go outside and scream, stomp his feet, or punch a tree when he got frustrated...without worrying who saw or who whispered about it. No one in our new town knew who he was, or anything about his past. In fact, the folks at the local corner store started commenting on what a nice young man he was. (I let him ride his bike the mile or so down to the store to get a soda every day...to help get him out and active, and to give Kid #4 an hour of no brother bothers every day.) As months turned to years, Kid #4 and I enrolled in karate classes - to have something just for he and I for a change. He had been so neglected, so overlooked for so many years - because he was the "good" kid, the challenge who always did his best to try to behave, in spite of his hyperactivity. Both boys started walking the mile and a half to our public library almost daily - but never at the same time. Kid #3 blossomed under all of the compliments from neighbors (who knew NOTHING about his meltdowns or bad days or struggles or anything.) He blossomed under compliments from librarians who knew he and his brother by name. Life without Kid #2 to push his buttons really became something amazing. (Not to mention a little time for maturity to do its thing.) I could go on for days explaining all the pieces of our story I've left out or skimmed over. There are very painful parts - like the loss of granddaughter #1 two years ago to a negligent caretaker (who is now serving time for negligence.) But it boils down to where we are today. Today, my kids are 26, 23, 21, and 20, respectively. I have four beautiful grandchildren from Kid #1 and Kid #2, ranging in age from 6 to newborn. Kid #1 is happily married for seven years now, with two kids (boy and girl) - they just bought a house last year and are doing wonderfully...even after 5 years in the Army, with her husband serving 2 tours in Afghanistan. I am continually amazed by them - especially since they married right out of high school, with everyone foretelling their doom before they even started because they were 'too young.' Boy, have they really shown us 'grown ups' how to do it right. I am grateful beyond measure that my daughter was blessed with such a wonderful person with whom to share her life and raise a family. Kid #2 now also has a little girl and a brand new little boy. Unfortunately, her marriage did not turn out as happy. But I'm proud to say it was her choice - her wish for less drama, more emotional support, and a generally healthier family life that drove her to decide single parenthood was the better option. She is actively taking responsibility for her life and her family - trying to undo years of damage before her children wind up blindly following her same path. That takes a lot of guts - especially when half your family still refuses to speak to you. Still, she is trying to made amends and taking her lumps like an adult...because that's what it will take to get to the life she wants for her and her children. Losing our little ray of sunshine (her first daughter) turned on a lightbulb somewhere and she has slowly started to grow up these last 2 years. Kid #4 graduated with an Associate Degree in Criminal Justice last year and is going back for a bachelor's in Psychology shortly. He is an amazing person - far wiser than his 20 years. And in spite of growing up in a living hell, he is such a kind-hearted, gentle soul (even if he still can't sit still or stop talking.) He plans to continue on to a doctorate in Psychology. He has his life planned out until he's 30...and we haven't seen a girl yet who interested him enough to distract him from those plans. (I doubt one will - he's just *that* kind of focused, determined guy.) Kid #3 - who we doubted would EVER function on his own - graduates college in April. It's been over six years since his last meltdown. It's been almost seven years since his last hospitalization. He still lives at home (the other three have been on their own for some time now.) He has a solid plan for after graduation, which includes a very realistic, very sound plan for building his own house here on the farm and opening his own mechanic shop - without any debt. He may still, owing to his limitations, never get to a point where he doesn't need, at least, a little help/supervision...but he is far more independent than I ever expected. And luckily, he will always have family willing to help him keep up on grown up responsibilities - even if it's just a text to say "Hey man, have you checked your mail/your calendar to see if any bills are due this week?" Today we own a family farm. Late last year, I started having health problems that we're still dealing with now, trying to find the root cause. It has had a profound affect on me and all 4 kids. My oldest, Kid #1, has taken on a lot of the administrative side of the business - things she can do from 2,000 miles away - that take some work off of me. She wants to be as much a part of the family business as she can, in spite of the distance. Kids #2 and #4 are in the process of moving back to the farm to help out. Kid #4 misses country life too much - after a year of living "in town," he has decided city living just ain't the place for him. He misses wandering the property to clear his head (and he wants to help run the farm and grow stuff when he's not in school.) He's already eyeing a section on the back property to eventually build a house on, after he finishes school. Kid #2, who hasn't lived at home since she was 17, wants to convert the garage into an apartment for herself and the kids until she can afford to build her own house somewhere else on the property. She wants the kids to grow up on Grandma's farm, surrounded by people who love them. She genuinely wants to have the time and space to rebuild some of the bridges she broke so many years ago. She loves the idea of working in the gardens, teaching her children how to be self-sufficient. (She's actually gone quite 'crunchy' over the last year or so - which fits perfectly with our organic farming operation.) Kid #3 will, as I said, graduate in April. He plans to get his CDL and drive over the road for the next 3-5 years to save up for building his house, his shop, and buying his tow truck. He's listened to me preach about the evils of debt and the freedom that comes from a more simple life, saving up to pay cash for things, making do with a perfectly good older truck (that doesn't come with payments) etc. Now, the benefits of him being on the Autism spectrum are becoming clear. Debt is against the rules as he sees it, and we all know how much spectrum kids thrive on sameness. My life has come to be one of joy, peace, and pride in my children and grandchildren - even in light of my current health concerns. I am excited by the prospect of having everyone here on the farm, working it like a REAL family farm. These days, I day dream about building a 'summer kitchen,' with a rough-hewn farm table big enough to fit everyone when we all want to eat together, as a family. I imagine the girls and I, with grandbabies playing in the courtyard, putting up part of our harvest in a winter larder. I see all of the guys (and me) coming in from the fields for lunch, self-satisfied in the knowledge that WE raised everything on the table. I look forward to having a playpen in my office for grandbaby naps - like one of our dear friends (who also have a family farm.) I cannot express the joy and the warm tingly in my toes to realize it's not just some fantasy I'm day dreaming about. It really IS happening. (We are heavily involved in the local foods/sustainable farming community here - there are lots of multi-generational families already doing exactly what I dream about, many of whom we're proud to call our friends.) We rode through one hell of a storm to get here. But the point is, we're here. There is light and love and a healthy family life for us - all of us - in spite of years and years where our home was more battlefield that home. I realize our story sounds almost like a fairy tale, and largely unbelievable to a parent still deep in the trenches of challenging kids. Thinking back on where my life was a decade ago, I wouldn't have believed we would ever be here. I would have scoffed at reading this post...and questioned the reality of it. But I'm here to tell you...it can happen. It does happen. There CAN BE happy endings. Families CAN survive challenging children, even when it seems like there's no hope. I would have NEVER believed how our story turned out. It's not perfect. It's not all rainbow unicorn farts and pots of gold, but grown up life is like that - it doesn't mean we aren't happy. And I would have never, ever, in a million years, survived to get to this wonderful place, if it weren't for other parents who understood, who supported me in my darkest hours, who helped me remember I love my children (even if I don't always like them.) For that, I am eternally grateful. And for that, I owe it to parents just starting out on this journey, to come here and say...it will get better. You WILL survive this...no matter how bad it gets. There IS light at the end of the tunnel. It won't always be hopeless despair, endless frustration, and seemingly insurmountable challenges. Things can, do, and will change - hopefully, for the better more often than not. I wish I could go back to the 10 years ago me and give her a glimpse of where we are now. Maybe I could have given her a little hope. But I can't do that. What I can do is tell our story and hope it gives a glimmer of hope to someone walking the path we once walked. I pray, think good thoughts, and rattle beads every day thinking about parents going through what we did. I only wish I could do more.