My Washington relatives have ducks and chickens. They have delightful video updates about how the duckies are doing. I’m a little jealous, but not so much. I’ve got plenty of livestock for now. I thought of them the other day when I ran into a duck– in the meeting sense, not in the running-over sense.

My family here seems to find this story amusing. It has no plot, really, just me and the ducks. It’s more a story of place, you know like a Steig Larsen book or something. Haunting landscape and deep connection to the topography and all that.

I was at the good will, as I am wont to go from time to time. I was on a mission. The mission, as I recall it, involved self-loathing and the hunt for a good pair of jeans. It involved trying on no fewer than 9 pairs of jeans. Trying on jeans is hard work. I found one pair, but they turn out to be the kind of jeans that stretch as you wear them, maybe they’re made of a kind of butter-based-polymer or something.  As they get warm they start to sag and create a sort of skirt with legs, with the crotch causing a denim ridge to form all the way around the point just above my saddle-bags. Shoot… you don’t want to hear my jeans story. Trying on clothes is about as interesting as listening to someone’s cat story.

Unless it’s me. Because my cat stories are fascinating. But I digress from the duck story. I left the good will with one pair of jeans, a couple shirts for Zach and some fiestaware saucers (issues).  The Goodwill parking lot is across the street from the actual store. The lot butts up against University avenue (where I have had a few misadventures in the past)(monument story, dropping boards story). University Avenue is currently the site of some gigantic construction in preparation for the controversial light rail line to go through. I am torn on the light rail, because I loves me some mass transit, but I understand how people are upset about exactly where it goes, how many stops it has and how it gets paid for. In any case, the parking lot is on Univeristy avenue, which is the busiest street in Saint Paul except maybe Snelling.

So there’s nothing quaint about this section of Saint Paul. Nothing idillic or darling about this junky parking lot overlooking the heavy machinery and pylons. Nothing quaint except for the Perfect and perfectly still Mallard Duck sitting in the back of the lot. Now, you never know what you might find at the Goodwill, but this was just a little weird. Somebody’s decoy? But no! I saw his head move. For Sure. I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve been fooled by those plastic geese and ducks with the bobbling heads or the wind-sock bodies, but I this was a real, live animal. Packed up my stuff in the car and got in. I decided I’d better go and talk to the duck, though. I mean, he didn’t really belong there, did he? Was he lost? Was he hurt? Was he tame?

I drove to the far end of the parking lot where the duck was. I parked about 3 spaces over from where he was parked. When opened my car door he decided to get up and walk a few steps. He was decidedly real. I got out just to say hi. I don’t know why, but it was just so unusual to see this beautiful little animal sitting in a parking space. His colors were bright like a caricature  of a duck, bright green head and purple wing stripe. He was gorgeous and I needed to say hi to him. Just to check in. There he was on Uni alone.

Except he wasn’t alone. When I spoke to him the hen, who had been sitting perfectly still near the chain link fence, got up and moved towards him.  She stopped and looked at me and took an enormous gooey poop, after which the two of them waddled a few more spaces away from me. I got the message. I moved on.

Dear Tommies

I don’t quite feel like I fit in at my new Graduate School. This will probably pass soon after I finish my Statistics in the Behavioral Sciences class.  We had a movie in Stats the other day. It was the PBS Frontline production about overmedicated kids.  The video was really troubling.  They had about 3 kids, all of whom were on multiple medications, often one to treat the side effects of the other. One kid was clearly overmedicated. His eyes were unfocused and he had a disturbing head-rolling tic. Then there was the little girl who was  obviously not right in the head before medication, but pretty functional on her medication. Lastly was a boy who seemed way too young to be medicated. I think he was about 3.  Seemed clearly like a case of overmedication.

Witnessing the righteous indignation of my classmates after they watched the Frontline documentary about overmedicated kids I’ve come to realize how much being in the trenches as a mom has taught me.  Things it would be good for future therapists to know. I’m trying to write a rant that would actually benefit them and their clients (parents and children).  I’m having trouble coming up with something that isn’t totally vitriolic. Listen to a 22 year old talk about “Parents just need to get up off the couch and do the real parenting” or “Obviously the kid is learning that behavior from someone” or “parents should really try to do more with diet and environment”… Listen to that and think about  who you’ll be asking to help your frayed family.

Dear Psychology Grad-Tommies,

I know you’re smart. I know you want to help. I’m a parent. The vast majority of you are not. It shows. Realizing these few things will help you be a better provider. I realize that most of you are not parents yourself, and as such you are understandably ignorant of what really happens in a family from any perspective but that of a child. Parents have always been blamed for anything their children do or are that is unacceptable. This has happened forever. It’s not new, but it is old. Let me point out a few things that might have escaped your radar.

  • Most of you have no idea what it’s like to have a child at all, much less one who has a mental health problem. Stop judging long enough to listen.
  • If we (as parents) didn’t go and ask for help for our kids and keep insisting until something (meds or other) worked, in the unlikely event that the kid snapped, you’d all be shaking your heads and asking why we didn’t do something more.
  • Frontline has a good reputation, but never trust the media so much that you don’t question the editing of a piece such as the one you just finished watching.Remember that although PBS has excellent credibility, they are producing shows to get watchers. You have no idea what was edited out and how things were spliced together.
  • 30 years ago there was absolutely nothing that could be done for a troubled child. The suicide rate was significantly higher than it is now. When teenagers started on the SSRIs, the suicide rate started to decline. When the big scare about antidepressants and suicide in teenagers hit the press, parents pulled back on allowing their children to be medicated. The suicide rate skyrocketed just afterwards
  • Don’t believe every thing you think, everything you’ve been told and certainly not everything you see on a TV documentary or pharmaceutical company presentation.
  • It is just as likely (in fact, there is evidence) that the parenting style you are blaming for a child’s problems is in fact a response by the parent to the child’s problems. This is how we got the “refrigerator mother” theory of autism. It was bunk.
  • It is just as likely (in fact there is compelling evidence) that the adult you are treating for a mental health issue, the one who remembers being bullied or being leered at, or having a distant father or an overbearing mother, it is just as likely that this person is remembering things from a skewed perspective and focusing on the negative. That adult with a full flown mental problem was once a child with a budding mental health problem.
  • It’s very likely that the simple parenting skills (parenting 101) you are sure would solve the problems of an obviously spoiled or neglected child have already been tried by the parents you have judged to be incompetent. Most parents who are to the point of bringing a child into the clinic have tried the obvious (ignore the pleas for attention, give more attention, talk to the child more, make consequences clear, set clear limits, pick battles, etc.). Notice how many of those are contradictory. Know what that’s usually a sign of? Bullshit guesses.
  • Feel free to doubt the efficacy of medical treatment for mental health problems in childhood, because 30 years ago we didn’t have any of these drugs or any of these problems, right? Except maybe we did have the problems. And maybe we used to marginalize, institutionalize, bully, jail or tranquilize these kids because it was the best we could do. It was the best we could do. And it wasn’t good enough.
  • Feel free to maintain that it’s unethical to try treating kids with adult medications, but try explaining that to a mother who grew up in a family with a history of mental health train-wrecks. Train wrecks people for generations could predict from about kindergarten. Sure, generations of that family were just fine without medications (or even psychotherapy) in childhood. But they weren’t.

Not all troubled kids need medication, but rather than making up your mind that no children should be medicated, try opening your mind. They aren’t little adults, but they are little people. When little people can’t see, we get their eyes checked and get the little glasses if they need them. When little people have asthma, we treat them with real drugs. Of course we check their environments to see what else can be done, but we don’t judge parents who carry inhalers for their kids. Nor do we deign to judge them when the inhaler isn’t enough. But the minute a kid who is (or isn’t) medicated snaps and hurts someone, we all turn to scrutinize the parents. Do you know why?

If we’re not parents, I think we do it because we still blame many of our problems on our parents (although I’m not sure we’re always so generous with credit for our successes). If we are parents, we do it because the thought that our child might be capable of evil terrifies us, and we want to distance ourselves from this family. Not that we shouldn’t investigate every aspect of a catastrophically failed life. But we shouldn’t be so sure we know where to assign blame.

Pharmaceutical companies have too great an influence on doctors and parents. This is almost indisputable if you look at the data. Many kids are overmedicated. Many adults are overmedicated. Too many are medicated instead of getting therapy or lifestyle change. They should be getting all of it.