Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Uncle! No, really, I've had enough! I don't think I can take anymore.

Joey is having issues. I touched on this in a recent post. He's acting out (I think that's the modern term for acting bratty), and it's become worrisome. Michael and I both realize that he needs some extra TLC, so we've been trying to give him that. Of course I want to make sure he feels loved and valued and safe. We actually had a really nice weekend which included lots of special time for Joey (but not to the exclusion of the other kids; it's a juggling act, let me tell you). And really he seemed more relaxed and happier (and more pleasant to be around) the last few days. This morning, however, he got out of bed in a bad mood. I tried to talk to him and find out what was bothering him, and all I could get out of him was that his best friend, a little girl named Lexi, was mean to him at school yesterday. But see, I'm not buying it. Lexi was out sick for over a week with pneumonia and yesterday was her first day back at school, and yesterday after school Joey was brimming over with happiness that she was back because he had missed her so. If she was mean to him (and she's such a sweet thing, I just can't see her being mean), why didn't he say anything yesterday? I concluded that he was grasping onto something concrete, something that made sense to him (even if it was only imaginary) because he is unable to understand and/or articulate what's really bothering him. In the spirit of good parenting (whatever that is) and communication, I sent a quick email off to his teacher this morning to give her a heads up that he was in a bad mood. She's been concerned about him too, so we've been trying to communicate.

She and I exchanged several emails throughout the day. Joey told her that he was in a bad mood because he was tired because his brother wouldn't let him sleep. I didn't think this was true either, because Joey went to bed about two hours before Kevin did last night, as Kevin was up late doing homework. I told her that I really think that what's at the bottom of all this is that Joey is scared about his dad. She mentioned that the school psychologist was on campus today, and would I like him to talk to Joey? Hmmmm. I was torn. I don't want to make a bigger deal out of this than it is, and I worried that having Joey sit down with a stranger and answer questions might be upsetting to him. However, Michael and I talked briefly and decided to give the go ahead.

Joey apparently enjoyed talking to the psychologist (phew!). What I got from Joey is that the doc asked him about his family, and specifically his dad, and Joey told him that his dad has cancer, that he's having chemo, that he has to have surgery, and that he'll have more chemo, and that he won't get the tube out of his arm until around Thanksgiving. I asked Joey, "When you think about Daddy having cancer, how does it make you feel?" He said, "Well, it worries me that he's going to end up with a BIG problem. And I'm afraid that I'm going to get cancer."

Ahhhhh, I just wrapped my arms around him and tried not to cry. Poor kid.

He asked me if everyone gets cancer, and I told him no, only some people.

His teacher talked to the psychologist after school and sent me this:

Dr V says that making things up is a pretty typical way for children to cope with stress. The problem is that Joey is very bright and he picks up on things that would go over the heads of most first graders. Dr. V says he needs to be more sheltered from the health issues. It's not that you are not paying enough attention it's that Joey is old for his age intellectually but not emotionally. He doesn't know what to do with these feelings. Then he said something about not being able to separate reality from fantasy at this age and that's why they make things up but he totally lost me at that point. All I heard was Blah blah blah lol. He said family therapy is always good when your family is going through a crisis. Maybe you could talk to the social worker where Michael is getting Chemo. They usually have resources available and good advice about dealing with kids and illness.

So. I honestly don't know what to say about sheltering him more from the health issues. We don't sit around and discuss M's cancer and treatment in front of the kids, but they (mostly Joey) ask questions. In the beginning, we gave them all just the very basic facts: Daddy has a sickness called cancer; he's going to get medicine for a long time that will help him get better. It's hard to shelter kids from a fucking tube hanging out of their dad's arm for months on end. I've always been a firm believer in honesty with kids, but not giving them more information than they can deal with (and that, my friends, is a difficult balancing act sometimes). So when Joey asks questions, we try to be honest with him but not overwhelm him with information. He knows M is going to have surgery soon - how could we shelter him from that? I really don't see how we can.

Out of all the kids, Joey is the one who is taking this all the hardest. Not surprising, really, given that he's always been a Daddy's boy, he's extremely bright and perceptive, and he's extremely sensitive. So his issues lately boil down to stress, and I suspect his sleep troubles have way more to do with the stress he's feeling than anything Kevin is doing. And we all know what lack of sleep can do to an already stressed person (just ask moi).

And it turns out that not only is Joey stressed out and worried about his dad, he's also worried about Finn. He's scared that Finn is going to have to have surgery again (he actually is scheduled to have tubes put in his ears in a couple weeks, which is a minor procedure, but I doubt Joey sees it that way). This came out at dinner time tonight.

So now we have to figure out if all this calls for some counseling. Do we make that big a deal out of it? I mean, would taking him to a counselor make it an even bigger deal than it already is? On the other hand, if we don't, what repercussions might that have?

This is another aspect that all along I've just stupidly assumed would go away when Michael's cancer goes away. When he's all finished with treatment at the end of this year, we can all go back to normal - us, the kids, all of us. But of course I'm seeing now that none of us is ever going to be the same again. And I worry so much about Joey now. Is this whole thing going to scar him for life? Will he carry this heavy load of stress and worry around as just part of his makeup for the rest of his life? Is that just another casualty of all this?

As for me, I'm a stress case too these days. And getting by on very little sleep. I'm full of worry - over everyone, Michael, the kids. I feel anxious much of the time. Am I depressed? I don't know. Overwhelmed? Yes. The crying jags are certainly coming on more frequently.

This is cancer. These are some of the many ways in which cancer fucks with a family.


Angie said...

(((HUGS))) Lisa
My heart just ached for Joey when you were describing what he said.

Tricia said...

With all due respect, Lisa...and feel free to take it or leave it of course, but I think you might be worried a bit too much about...being worried. To clarify, don't worry about "making it a big deal". It IS a big deal. For you, for Michael, for the kids. Especially a perceptive and sensitive little guy like Joey. My knee-jerk opinion (not that you asked for it) is that maybe counseling will help. He opened up for the school psychologist, so maybe he'll do it again. Perhaps just talking about it in that kind of structured way will help him put things into perspective. Perhaps that scheduled discussion will help make him feel secure--in his knowledge of things, and in knowing that there is a place he can talk and ask questions.

Kids are very perceptive and intuitive. As great a mom as you are, no doubt some of your own stress is seeping out, even if only in the most subtle ways. The kids can probably pick up on that.

Maybe a family session or two--maybe just for the bigger kids and you and Michael--might be just what is needed. I don't think it can hurt.

Just my two cents for your change purse which is probably overflowing with pennies you didn't ask for.

Wish I could offer more than that!

Eternal Lizdom said...

I agree with Tricia. Life is a big deal right now and tackling it as a unit, with the assistance of an outside party, could be exactly what is needed.

You don't have to do it alone.

It's ok to need help; it's ok to admit that this is a Big Deal.

Talking to a counselor isn't admitting defeat or that you've failed or something. It's making sure you do what needs to be done, say what needs to be said. For you, for Michael, for the kids. There is a lot to deal with these days...

You posted on my blog that you are struggling with the parenting and discipline thing. You are an avid reader, I know, and willingly seek out parenting books and other people for assistance in that area. This is no different. It's seeking guidance from a knowing source. It's a form of self-audit and self-awareness. You don't have to be and do everything yourself!

If your car was making funny sounds, would you hesitate taking it to a mechanic? Nope. Your child is making funny sounds. You might be hearing your own funny sounds... so go see your own mechanic.


Anna A said...

Hugs from me too. What a sweet boy Joey is...you should be proud of him, Lisa. And it's another credit to your parenting how sensitive you remain to him and the rest of your family when there is so much going on.

As someone who went thru a PPD, I can attest how easy it was to ignore my own stress, insomnia and anxiety until they ballooned into smth bigger... I am glad you are taking the time to look out for yourself. Even if you are not depressed it's worth checking on yourself.

Jen said...

You've gotten some good advice here, and I have nothing new. Just hugs and peaceful thoughts for you and your sweet boy, and your whole family.

Jodi said...


I wish I had more time to write something supportive, but I'm rushing off to graduation.

Brea Community Center has a "Kids Konnected" support group. Not sure if Joey would feel comfortable talking with a group of kids, but it's another option if he is...

Next Meeting, Tuesday, May 26th at 6:30 p.m.

Grandpa J said...

I'd check out Jodi's recc for a support group, at Kids Konnected, or the like, in conjunction with, or as a prep for indiv counseling, or instead of..for now, or in addition to, whatever you choose. I've seen 6 and 7 yr olds in support groups become valuable resources for each other, many are capable of sharing experiences that enable other kids to pick up and/or invent on their own-valuable coping mechanisms and ideas. Especially a tuned in alert kid like joey. Like he does each day in school, except it would be affective education.

Joey can benefit others a great deal---,at the same time he can be a beneficiary himself, which always promotes ego strength. The other thing to know, is that the personal distress/life story of others in the group is not contagious, so that shouldn't stop one from joining up, if parents are hesitant.

On another note, when working with stressed out kids, I always tried to appeal to their healthy side(s)in relating to them, of which Joey has tons and tons, to encourage them to believe in themselves and to believe in their ability to cope. Getting counseling of any sort is not making stuff a bigger deal that it is, the stuff is what it is--it's more education!



Liz said...

Just a suggestion- Joey needs a special job with his Dad - something only he gets to do EVERYDAY--as a cancer survivor and mother of 3 sons - this was helpful for my middle son who is my most sensitive. It can be very simple - (choosing shirt or tie to wear everyday)

My name is Sarah said...

Lisa this is Joyce. I have been traveling for a few days so I am trying to catch up. I've been thinking a lot about Joey after your post the night at school. He sounds a lot like Matt at that age. One day I got a call from the ass't principal that he had Matt in his office after he acted out in class and the teacher sent him down to talk. He told me that when he asked Matt what was bothering him he said he was afraid we were going to lose our house and that would be awful for his sister becasue then she wouldn't have anywhere to plug her breathing machines in and she would die. So he was calling to offer help. Hmmm....I just sat there with my mouth hanging open. Where ever did he get that? I assured the principal we are fine.

That night after dinner I sat down with Matt and had a long talk and asked him why he thought we were going to lose our house. He said because I told him I could not afford to buy him the new $100 skateboard he wanted and then I heard you tell dad that you did not have enough money to pay the house payment so you trained money. (I think he heard me say I transferred money from the savings to the checking which we do all the time because we keep little in the checking in case our debit card gets stolen).

WOW....what a stretch. I was just stunned. I couldn't believe how he had distorted that I was not going to buy a fourth skate board with a discussion between John and I. Then I wanted to laugh, of course I didn't, but it was a wake up call that we just don't know how little minds process and put things together. And when it involves an illness the fear of death is always present but their reasoning capacity is just not developed enough to know how to articulate it. Thus the acting out.

This was not the first time Matt had displayed these behaviors and had mentioned the fear of loosing Sarah. So we started him with a psychologist. In the beginning it was twice a month, just a time for him to talk about whatever he wanted. We did not make a big deal about it. The psychologist taught him how to play chess and that is what they would do while they were talking. It made a HUGE difference with Matt. We have kept it up to this day. At his choice he now only goes once a month, but knows at anytime if he wants to go more often we can arange it.