Sunday, February 7, 2010

I blame it on the epiDNA

Well, it’s been a while since I gave a Zander update in terms of behavior.  Lately it’s been all about school/reading etc…  Raising Zander, from day one, has been a challenge to say the least.  He is brilliant, deep, thoughtful, stubborn, willful, violent, creative, considerate, destructive, silly – oh – just so many things!    We have progressed this year, to a point where he is mostly happy, and his behavior is pretty good almost all of the time – although good does not necessarily mean, well, normal.

He’s done some things lately that are both funny and challenging and so I thought  I’d write about them.

A fairly typical day: Tuesday, January 26th

I show up at the school to chaperone a field trip.  Zander has been expecting me and runs up to the fence to line up – without a partner.  Soon the other kids show up and he gets pushed to the back of the line.  He never gets a partner, is looking up into the sky, and would have gotten left behind if I hadn’t called to him to catch up.

We arrive at the school and pile off the bus, once again reforming the line with partnered kids.  Of course, Zander once again doesn’t have one.  Dialogue ensues:

M: Zander, where’s your partner?

Z: {no response}

M: Zander, where’s your partner?

Z: {pauses} I don’t have one.

M: Yeah, I see. But you need one!

Z:  Well, there’s an odd number of kids, so…. I can’t have a partner.

M: But look, what about that kid?  He was your partner last field trip.  He doesn’t have a partner!  Go be his partner!

Z:  Well, yeah, but Mom – he doesn’t like having a partner, and neither do I, so we just don’t.

M: You can’t just decide not to have a partner, that would be chaos!  Everyone else has a partner, you need to as well.

Z:{no response}

(Line starts to move now, ending conversation, Z, still partnerless is alone at the end of the line and, once again, looking around in space.  As the rest of the kids move into the building, he is once again almost left behind.)

M: Zander!

Z: {no response}

M: Zander!  Hello??? We’re going!

Z:  Oh! (starts moving)

M: (angry now)  That’s the second time you almost got left behind in 10 minutes!  You need a partner like everyone else.  It’s the rule and you need to follow it since you don’t pay attention.


They head inside the building.  They are going to their first of about 8 swimming lessons.  Seems the French government doesn’t believe in art or music for everyone but does put stock in swimming.  Free of charge all students across France receive swim lessons starting in 2nd grade and going right on through high school.  Awesome, right?  This is the first day of lessons and they are going to split the kids into skill levels.

I was very proud of Zander.  He was obviously the most skilled swimmer in the group.  But he wasn’t put into the highest group.  This was because, even though he was at the end of the line and about 20 kids went before him, he didn’t follow the instructions on what he was supposed to be demonstrating.  Later, I asked him about it.

M: Zander!  Wow, you did such a great job swimming!

Z: {no response}

M: I think you didn’t get in the top group because you didn’t do the crawl when you were supposed to.  Why didn’t you?  I saw you doing it great earlier.

Z: Well, Mommie I didn’t understand the instructions – there was so much noise and everyone was yelling!

M: Oh, yeah – that’s hard for me too!  It is so hard to understand French sometimes when everyone is talking.  But why didn’t you just watch the kids in front of you?

Z:  Oh, I would never watch them!

M:  Really?  Why?

Z:  Well, they are doing n’importe quoi (this means nothing important) and if I watch them it will mess up my swimming!

M:{no response}

I just didn’t know what to say – I mean, just watching them is going to infect his eyeballs or something????? 

Later that day we were walking home when another kid greeted Zander.

Kid: Oh! C’est Zander!

Z: {no response}

M: Zander, that kid said hi to you.  Say bonjour!

Z: {no response keeps walking}

M: (turning to kid) Bonjour!  A demain!  (I try to get Zander to stop as well but he’s continued on down the street.  I catch up and say) That was really rude!  Why don’t you say hi to him?

Z:  He didn’t say hi to me

M:  Yes, he did, he said Oh!  It’s Zander – and you say something like, “Oh, It’s Joe” or “Oh, hello!”

Z: He didn’t say hello.  I don’t say anything to them unless they say “Bonjour”

M: Well, that’s incredibly rude!


Are you sensing a pattern here???  Believe it or not SHUT UP is an improvement over previous behavior which included snapping his glasses in half or flying into a destructive rage.  Zander likes to be in control.  He doesn’t like anyone to tell him what to do or even hint that he might have done something wrong.  He is quite the little know it all and told me later he didn’t think he’d learn anything from swimming lessons since he already knows how to swim.  Frankly, it’s a miracle he swims as well as he does, with his attitude.  I blame a combination of lessons from my dad and others and my own stubborn perseverance in teaching him!

Later I asked him how he felt about swimming lessons, about not making the top group etc…. His only response was “Ida Know!” He has a very hard time expressing how he feels.  I talked to him on the phone all this week while I’ve been gone and he never once told me he loved me or missed me, only saying “Ida know!” It reminds me of those old Family Circus cartoons – Ida Know and Not Me….  Zander runs away from his negative feelings, he never admits to them, he never cries.   He also avoids situations where he will feel helpless.  I have been trying to speak French at home to gain more practice but Zander just hates it.  He says I am saying n’importe quoi (nothing) and he can’t understand me enough to even help me.  He gets very angry if I keep talking and tells me to (you’ve guessed it right?) SHUT UP!  He then runs away!  But no matter how he runs and hides, his feelings have a way of coming out, one way or another.  Eventually they just explode.   We have been working on helping him identify his feelings, let them out in healthy ways, he is getting better – but progress is very slow. 

The worst thing in the world, for my oldest child, is to feel helpless or out of control.  He reacts in very extreme ways to any situation that puts him in a place that attacks his integrity (like when I told him he was rude and he knows he is very polite) or his position of power (I don’t need a partner).  He is very very difficult to coach and almost entirely self motivated.  The funny thing is, I could say the same exact thing about André.  Of course, it is pretty normal for kids to get traits from their parents but the main reason André hates feeling helpless so very much is due to his abusive upbringing.  He grew up in a world where the people who were supposed to love him the most hurt him.  He could trust no one and nothing, not even his own feelings.  He truly had no choices, no power, and no one respected him as an individual.  Now that he is out of that environment, and even after years of counseling, he resists anything that makes him feel that way and often has a hard time showing how he feels.  Zander, however, is not (I hope) a severely abused child – but his reactions to feeling helpless are (up until recently and still sometimes) absolutely atomic!  He doesn’t trust us, he doesn’t listen.   He won’t share his feelings with us. We have to be very creative to help him grow and learn.  Why, we wonder, is it like this to the degree it is???  Why??? 

Then, I read about epiDNA.  It turns out that, although true evolution is slow, traits and characteristics can also be passed down very quickly, in just one generation!  There was a small village in Norway that suffered famine and the children of this generation died an average of 15 years before their expected life span.  A Norwegian geneticist got interested and now has been studying the implications of all this for decades.  He has found that the things that happen to you as a child are not just affecting you – but also affect your children, and even your grandchildren!  If you smoke, between the ages of 12 and 18 and then never smoke again – it not only makes you more likely to have lung cancer – it does it to your kids as well!  Ditto for obesity and heart attack!  It turns out that these changes are not permanent, and if your children lead healthy lives and so do their children the epiDNA will revert and no permanent damage will be made to the DNA code.  If there wasn’t enough to feel guilty about as a parent – know now that the things you did as a kid and the mistakes you make as a parent will not only mess up yourself and your kids, but even your grandkids!

Surely, abuse as severe and prolonged as André’s has had some major effects on his psyche – and I do believe to Zander’s as well. Just gives me another reason to hate not only his abuser, but the people who knew and could have stopped the abuse.  I guess I should be grateful that Callie and Griffin are not total emotional wrecks.  They are only occasionally, as Marty would say, ornery!

So, I guess I blame it all on the epiDNA!

But, having said that, and having some sort of (probably totally wrong) explanation, really doesn’t change anything. For all the frustration and hard times, I wouldn’t really want Zander to change.  Maybe if he listened more he wouldn’t be so creative, he wouldn’t be so focused, he wouldn’t have so many of the wonderful things that make him unique and special.  The last week or two he has been orchestrating amazing magic potion making sessions with his brother and sister and came up with the idea of getting new fish for our family.  He is the one who wants to send money to Haiti and can’t wait to go to Berlin this week.  Raising him so far has stretched me in ways I never would have imagined, and I’m sure it will continue to do so and I’m grateful to him for that.  Regardless of why or wherefore, he is still my Zander and I love him unconditionally. 

I wonder what all this is doing to his epiDNA???  Good luck grandkids…..


Jenae said...

I don't believe in Epi-DNA. I think most problems kids have are directly related to how their parents raise them. If the parent has a problem from their childhood that they have not worked on of course the child is more likely to share the same issues. You need to nip Zander's "shut up" in the butt however works best for you. If he doesn't learn to be respectful now, I worry that the next thing he decides to say will be much worse. Good luck!

Jeuce said...

Beckie, This sounds really tough. I admire all the hard work you are doing. Zander is one lucky kid that he has you!



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