I thought I would share this essay I wrote a couple of years ago on the trial of raising my difficult child son. I know many will be able to relate to what I have written. I am so glad I have finally found a group of people that really understand. ______________________ In our nature, there is a provision, alike marvelous and miserable, that the sufferer should never know the intensity of what he endures by its present torture, but chiefly by the pain that rankles after it. Nathaniel Hawthorne-The Scarlet Letter As a look upon my life, it is with great anguish that I recognize what the mark of judgment can do to 2 peoples soul. As I reflect on this reality, I am reminded of Nathaniel Hawthornes story, The Scarlet Letter. I can recognize and relate to this deeply moving story about judgment and its own wayward path because that same yolk has been placed upon me. Hester, forced by the Puritan townspeople to wear a scarlet letter because of her sin of adultery, had emblazoned into her soul the wrath of judgment. It is with relief that I realize that perhaps someone else, although hundreds of years ago, has traveled this lonely journey, and understood the deep crevasses I have had to trek. My scarlet letter has been placed upon me as an outcome of my sons deep internal conflicts. My son, Matthew, has struggled with his place in the world seemingly since he was born. His hurdles have names like Childhood Depression, Attention Deficit Disorder, and Non Verbal Learning Disorder. Of course there are also other labels of possibilities like Early Onset Bi-Polar, Oppositional Defiant Disorder or Integrated Sensory Disorder, but I have chosen to only focus on Matthew and not on determining the exact disorder he might have. The names of these challenges simply explain the chemical abnormalities in his brain, but not who he really is. To understand the inner intricacies of Matthew, I would like to start at the beginning When Matthew was young, I tried to be the consummate mom. I made sure we watched only PBS, ate organic fruit, read every night, and played outside more than in. I knew what a good mom was supposed to do, so when the unexpected challenge of my sons behavior descended I was completely caught off guard. As a toddler, angry outbursts would erupt from this little guy, like a bomb exploding. He was completely helpless to these attacks, defenseless to the rush of emotion that seemed to overtake him. He readily hit his toddler friends when things did not go quite his way or grabbed whatever it was that he might have wanted from them. However, the most concerning thing was his vocabulary. By the age of 3 he cussed at the slightest provocation and the phrase shut up was continually at the tip of his tongue. I was mortified and terrified. My husband and I were in the process of a divorce, and I could attribute some of his anger to that. But I also knew that there was something deeper going on. He absorbed everything that went on around him. He seemed to not have any filters within his spirit that limited the information given to him. He was a sponge. With an almost morbid fascination, his focus was the negative information. He developed a large repertoire of bad habits and over time has greatly suffered as a result of his own impulsive choices. By the time he was 4, I was the sole provider for our family. Unfortunately this took even more time away from him, when I felt he so desperately needed the stability of Mom. It was during this point that I researched every private school; I also had him tested and seen by several Doctors; and had him in therapy. I was sure, that if I just tried harder and longer that my son would be ok. As I went through the arduous task of talking to many Doctors about Matthew, I was usually met with the standard response of he probably just needs some Ritalin. Once I found a Dr. that seemed to recognize the severity of our situation, we still struggled trying to find a regimen that would stabilize Matthew. We tried many kinds of medicine, I attended workshops to be able to do therapy at home, he went to weekly therapy, he attended social skills groups and he attended schools that were supposed to be geared towards helping kids with these types of challenges. I pursued every avenue possible in hopes of bringing his inner turmoil to an end. As private school after school decided Matthew was too much to handle, and each Dr. offered no real hope, I started to give up on the dream of finding some type cure for Matthew. I would wait by the phone in dread, praying that it was not the school, or sitter asking for me to rescue them from one of his battles of rage. His struggle with day to day decisions and frustrations became unbearable at times. I watched as he would cry and scream as his Lego tower collapsed or his friend had to leave early. Internally my heart broke, and I would often retreat to my room and silently sob. He looked to his Mom to fix things and make them better, and I felt totally helpless to even know where to begin. Sometimes I would wrap him in my arms while he raged. I would just hold and rock him, as if he had fallen and scraped his knee. I gave up the hope of the perfect school, and we started public school. For the first and second grade things were somewhat stable. Then as the pressures of third grade mounted, things began once again to deteriorate. He refused to comply with the teachers request, he made fun of peers, and he constantly interrupted class with his boisterous comments. Often his comments made the other kids laugh, and he seemed to maintain a large circle of friends with his daring and racy sense of humor. His relationship with authority, however, was another story. His comments that were made in moments of defiance soon echoed throughout his entire elementary school. Teachers talked amongst themselves of Matthews incredible gall and horrible attitude. They wrote me letters at length about every aspect of Matthews disappointing behavior. I would sit there and just shake as I had to read through every detail of his trying day. Though I felt great empathy for the teachers, I also felt that sometimes his reputation sometimes succeeded him and at times was not given a fair chance. None the less, I supported and upheld the consequences in all instances of his non compliance. If a parent decided that Matthew was not a good playmate because of his challenges, than as much as that hurt, I had to accept that. When the school decided that detention was necessary, I supported that. There were and are many other areas of my life where the actions of my son have brought me deep pain, but that is our reality, and I cannot fight it. What I do object to, is one of the roads that our life took because Matthew made many poor choices, and our community concluded that Matthew was a bad kid rather than realize he was truly a child in need. As a culture we all have a tendency to gossip, and enjoy talking about the latest thing that is scandalous or titillating. Unfortunately this conversation piece became Matthew and my mothering skills. In general, the assumption is that if a child misbehaves, the parents are to blame. So over time our community placed a scorning stigma on both Matthew and me. By the fifth grade parents requested that their child not be put in the same class as Matthew. Children told Matthew that they were not allowed to play with him, even though they had previously not met. A friend blurted to me that he thought Matthew would be on drugs someday. A neighbor saw my fiancée walking down the street, and proceeded to tell my fiancée how horrible Matthew was and interrogated him as to whether he was really ready for a step son like this. I cannot explain the shame and deep anger I felt about this injustice. The question was commonly asked why I could not control this child of mine. If everyone only knew, how hard I had tried and how much I had fought to make this situation better. Every time someone would remark to me about my son, I wanted to show them a 10 minute clip of what he is like when he is not angry. This is my precious child that I love more than anything. He is sweet and kind and tender. He crawls into my lap every night to tell me that he loves me and give me a kiss. He hugs the dog and cat goodbye every morning before he goes to school. He loves to learn new things, and hike and explore. He loves the mountains and the ocean and all the wildlife that accompanies it. He rescues baby lizards from the clutches of our cats mouth and puts them safely back into their habitat. He volunteers weekly, helping homeless cats find a new family. He is a good boy with a huge disability. Just as someone has Cerebral Palsy, or Muscular Dystrophy, Matthew also has a huge hurdle that he will have to overcome in his life. The difference in having a physical disability rather than a mental one is that we, as a people, immediately have empathy for a person with a physical affliction. We can see the illness, and we can see how hard it must be for them to cope every day. Mental illness certainly is just as real as a physical disability. Especially for a child, mental illness is a huge obstacle in their life. It is an obstruction that they will have to learn how to either go around or over. When we encounter a child like Matthew, it is so important to look into that childs soul, and beyond his outward temperament. We simply complicate the childs illness when we compound their existing struggles with judgment. I feel that as a society, we are obligated to take care of each other, especially our youth. If as a community we felt the obligation to take all children in our arms and to care for them as our own I believe that we could start to slow the spiral of suicides and violence that so plague our youth. When we choose to brand children as bad, we leave the troubled and challenged to become an outcast. I still struggle with the emotion of utter and complete desolation. I feel that I have this irreparable void in my life, and am constantly battling the effects of being shunned from societys inner circle. When passing my neighbors on the street I hang my head low and make sure not to look the person in the eye for fear of recognition. I dread the encounters when a friend or neighbor wants to talk, and pray that they have nothing to say about Matthew. I have felt the crush of being ostracized, and have had to dig from deep within to not develop a deeply bitter and hateful soul. When I reflect on our life, it is hard to know where things went wrong. Was it my parenting, or his environment or a bad gene pool that I should blame? Or should any blame be placed? I have gotten all of the traditional help for him, and then some. None of it seems to be the balm that he needs to find peace within himself. I trust and know that someday, he will find the door to his happiness and to his success. So, now I am on a quest to stop feeling his pain and to shake off the yolk of judgment, and find peace within myself. It is with resolve that I am holding our society responsible for taking care of all children. It is with resolve that I will always be by Matthews side; protecting him, guiding him, and never giving up on him. I will speak the truth to all that I can about his challenges, but most of all I will try and speak truth to him. I will tell him that though he feels like a bad kid-he is not. I will try and shield him from the swirling rumors and nasty reputation the neighborhood has placed upon him. I will battle his mark of judgment with the truth that he can do anything that he sets his mind on. That he is a good and loving person. And I will try and look beyond my own personal circle of ignominy and perhaps, someday, help others in similar situations.