When Your Appearance Matters to Your Child

My typical outfit for the last 11 years has been jeans, a t-shirt and something to cover my head due to alopecia, typically a bandanna of sorts or something like what cancer patients wear when they do chemo. I shave my head so that the significant loss of hair due to alopecia doesn’t break me every time I look in the mirror.

When I drop off my kids and pick them up I am in my usual attire, that’s what I am comfortable in, when you work in IT and they let you wear it every day you get used to it. Depending on how I am feeling I may wear a “nicer” top when going to events at the school (parent/teacher conference, back to school night).

I volunteered at my second graders school for one hour this week. It consisted of sitting on a stool next to a filing system where the kids school work goes and then putting those papers in the corresponding folders. Easy enough for my wonky brain and broken body, though I must admit that doing that for an hour, as simple of a task it may be, actually wore me out. I felt more foggy and fatigued than usual but my kid was so excited I was there.

That being said, and knowing that I already draw attention with a service dog, I put on a more business casual top for that day and my son picked out what was going on my head. He did not approve of the plain black scarf I was going to wear tightly around my scalp with a knot that made it look like a bun at the back.

He is keenly aware of appearance at the ripe age of 7. Most recently he likes to check himself out in a full length mirror attached to a cabinet in the living room where we keep the snow gear. He wears light weight jackets around his waist like an accessory, and makes careful selections about his shirt each day. I expect this from my 13 year-old, I wasn’t prepared for it from my 7 year old.

The oldest made a comment the morning I went to volunteer asking ┬áme where I was going because I was more dressed up than usual. While I would like to think people should just accept us how we are, fashion choices and all, I know that is not the world we live in. It saddens me to think that what I may be wearing will have an impact on how classmates treat my son, it doesn’t make sense and yet that is the world we apparently live in.

Until the world changes, I will continue to let my kids advise me on attire when I am attending something with them or at their school because I love them and don’t want their life to be any more complicated than it is having a mom with MS, Meneire’s disease and a service dog.

The Training of MY Service Dog

People always ask me how long it took to train my service dog. Before answering that question I always be sure to let them know that I was NOT the one to train him. Freedom Service Dogs (FSD) did all the hard work to get him ready for me and I am always sure to tell people that first.

Training of a service dog is tricky, how long it takes depends on the dog (their learning ability) and the person (the tasks required). From my understanding, FSD adopted my dog from New Mexico when he was about 8 months old. He was the only dog for one trainer so she worked with him every day, 5 days a week. He then went home with his foster mom on the weekends who reinforced his tasks before going back to work the next Monday.

Training requires consistency, really exciting treats and minimal distraction when learning a new task. Once the task is understood through action and command, distractions can be brought in to ensure commands can be followed under different circumstances.

My service dog came ready with a lot of commands, easy as sit or as complicated as helping me off of the floor. People are most excited when he picks his leash up off the floor and brings it to me, every dog should come with that one it’s very handy.

He practices all of his tasks every few weeks if they are not ones I use daily or frequently to make sure he practices them. He also has to learn one new task a year. This keeps him busy, learning and not bored. The new task he learns can be a useful command or a fun one, as long as it is something new.

I am the one that teaches him the new commands each year so it helps us both, connecting and using our brains. The first year I taught him “kisses” because his foster mom, whom I am now friends with, said he never gave kisses. I started teaching him this by using his “touch” command and touching my cheek so he would touch his nose to my cheek. Sometimes he still only gives kisses with his nose instead of a lick but I respect that, I would not want to be forced to give a kiss every time someone told me to. Once he touched his nose to my cheek I would press the button on the clicker and give him a treat. Once he had that down then I used the command “kisses” while pointing to my cheek and repeating that with the clicker and treats. Eventually the command alone was all that was needed and he knew what to do.

Some tasks are a bit more complicated to teach, for me anyhow. “Scooch” was something we say when we want him to move his butt a little but not actually get up and move his whole body (this is mostly used at bedtime because he sleeps next to me in case I need him). Since I am frequently asked if he can shake that was the task he learned this year. For us it was putting his paw in my palm, saying the command and pressing the clicker, followed by a treat. Eventually we both figured it out. He likes the easy tasks because it’s a quick way to get a treat.

For more complicated things, like some PTSD tasks, we get to work with a trainer at FSD who helps walk us through what it looks like. At the start, she took Oak and was working with him so I could just see, she was less stressed out about the situation then I was so he was able to focus completely on her. Since I live locally to Freedom it makes it really easy for me to get the extra help I need when it. (I am not getting anything from FSD for writing this blog.) I love Freedom Service Dogs, what they do and their ability and desire to help the service dog/client teams to succeed in life. They are amazing and I can never say enough good things about them.

Motherhood, Multiple Sclerosis and Isolation

Isolation is an unpleasant feeling and I think perhaps a bit shameful. At least I feel shamed when I’m feeling isolated.

I have friends, I have a solid group of mom friends in addition to non-mom friends. So why do I feel isolated when my husband works late almost every night during his first week at his new job? In part he’s late because he’s getting to know co-workers so he has to stay to finish work. I’m not angry at him for it, I’m actually happy for him. Finding people to connect with in a new environment is hard, it gets harder with age.

Perhaps I’m a bit frustrated at handling everything at home and dealing with sibling fights, homework, dinners, Cub scouts and all the other shit that I normally have a partner for so I’m not out numbered. So I feel bad and a bit ashamed of myself for getting upset that I’m here, parenting alone with no energy.

More likely it’s because this week as been rougher than I’d hoped. Taking a week off of things to recoup from being in a social setting for 10 hours hasn’t been as relaxing and restorative as I planned.

I feel terrible, my body aches, I’ve had a headache on the verge of migraine for 5 days now. I had a cookie that I feel bad about eating because I was doing really good with keto. Arguments about bed times and video games are never ending.

No one wants to hear how super shitty I feel this week so I sit with it, hold it in like a secret. I don’t want pity, nor do I want someone to say the things they think they should because I answer honestly when they ask how I am.

So I isolate myself more so I’m not a burden to others. I don’t have to be another thing for someone else to worry about. I’ve got this, I may not be doing well but eventually it will balance out, it usually does.