Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day and MMD

It shouldn't be that hard to provide an ideal education to three kids, should it? The federal government, for example, has been on a quest to figure out the one ideal education that will work for all kids everywhere. So finding something that works for three should be a piece of cake, right? Right?

Hold on. I am not hearing the chorus of homeschooling mothers of three saying that it is no trick at all to meet the educational needs of three children. Certainly mothers of two have no trouble.

I'm getting silence here.

I suspect that even mothers of one find that what their child needs changes over time and what worked once suddenly doesn't.

So I have been reading Mel Levine's A Mind at a Time. Everyone's got a different mind, he says, with its own unique strengths and weaknesses. Mel Levine explains cognitive processes and breaks them down into component parts. Someone who has attention issues, he says, may have them for a variety of reasons. It could be a difficulty filtering distracting input. Or it could be a difficulty sustaining mental effort. The ways you would cope with those two problems would be very different: the first might call for a quiet, uncluttered place to work, the latter for work in short bursts, or keeping a diary to try to discover if there are patterns to when mental energy is high and when it is low. I have found the book very absorbing and informative.

Take this:

Does your child keep losing gloves, pens, sweaters, homework assignments, and lunch money? Does he forget to take the field trip permission slip to school? Are all the tattered pages falling out of his bulging loose-leaf binder? Does he have trouble finding a place to write his book report because of the heaps of socks and underwear occupying his desktop? Does he forget to remove one of his socks when he takes a bath? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then your son or daughter may be suffering from a material management dysfunction.

I read this not merely nodding my head, but with gooseflesh. It was downright uncanny. This perfectly Right down to wearing a sock into the bath. I did that once. And then a few times more because I thought it was so funny the first time.

Mel Levine says he shares this dysfunction. "We materially disorganized martyrs spend much of each day in vain quests for lost objects." Where the heck are my keys anyway? And the library books? I am now a persona non grata at all library systems within a 25 mile radius of our home.

When I was a kid I had the messiest room in town bar none. Whenever my brother's room was messy my dad would ask if I'd helped him decorate.

I can't say that this is all owing to a glitch in the spatial ordering system of my brain. Probably part of it has to do with a deep-seated hatred of tidying. When my mother would tell me to clean my room I would throw myself on my bed and sob and fervently wish with all my heart that my room would clean itself and be again and again disappointed by the failure of magic. I tried it again yesterday and dammit, no luck.

I remember many years ago now I was listening to a Rick Roderick lecture on tape and he said that philosophy is like housework, you have to do it every day. And I thought please, no, I have no idea what that means, but tell me I'm not supposed to do housework every day.

I cope with this now by 1) having a housecleaner and 2) having a garage. A new friend once made my week by looking in my garage and saying, "Ha! I see you are not a perfect housekeeper!" It was the first time that anyone had ever, even for a moment, made that mistake.

But now I wonder if part of my hatred of cleaning isn't my underlying material management dysfunction. I just love how absurd that sounds, by the way. As I was telling a friend about my MMD I forgot the elaborate game of Greta's creation that she had pressed into my hands and let fall all its minuscule paper pieces. There goes my MMD acting up!

But back to the cleaning. When the kids come to me and say, "Where does this go?" I think, how should I know? Where do things go? I wonder where all my lost things have gone.  Is that where they are meant to be?  Are they enjoying a better life with someone who never forgets where they are?  So I say, "Just stick it over there." I end up, when the house needs to be tidy, sweeping whole tablesworth of stuff into crates and then shoving the crate in the closet or the garage.

I sometimes imagine a lone counting bear in one of those crates crying out, "Why have I been cruelly separated from my kin and consigned to this half life of disuse in a crate in the garage with one lego, one unifix cube, one wood block, one game token, one timer, one glo bone, one knex, one puzzle piece, two playing cards and a broken baby toy as my companions?"

My house is Dorian Grey and the garages and closets are its true portraits. It might look tidy, but scratch the surface and you will find instead of puzzle pieces and game pieces united in their native boxes, a useless diaspora of them evenly spread throughout.

Or that would have been the case up to a couple weeks ago.

You see, my mom had been visiting. And Clem wanted a vivarium. So I set her the task of getting rid of half her stuff. My mom dug into it with us. But that issue I was talking about, the random crates, reared its ugly head. We had collected dispirited clusters of counting bears and puzzle pieces still longing for the rest of their kin. The project spread to every room and closet in the house.   I remember the moment when we found an overlooked closet and I shouted Eureka!  The widgets!  We had four or five of them but up to then the great mass of their kin had been lost.

I call it the Great Sort. I should mention that my powerhouse mom was recovering from surgery.

Here are some before and after pics.  This is the sorting table. Look at it!  I could never have tackled this without help.  Dinosaur, game piece, parsley growing kit, bath toy, tops....

Now imagine an entire dining and living room filled with this chaos.
And here we have the reunited pieces.  Ah, order. Hello wasabi, what are you doing here?

A herd of horses....

Playmobil people united with their accessories, but
not necessarily their hair.

Glo bonz....and a sneaky stuffed rooster!  This was supposed to be an "after" shot!


A closet with two crates containing size 6-7 clothes and size 13 shoes.

More than 12 crates of sorted toys are in the garage awaiting donation.  And several more crates of clothes.  I couldn't bear to throw away toys missing parts knowing that one day I would find that missing arm or spring and then I'd regret that I'd consigned a hunk of plastic to the dump needlessly.

And here is the best part--we assigned places to the things we kept!  I no longer need to treat "where does this go?" as a mind-boggling existential question.

It was in this context that I opened A Mind at a Time and read this:

There's hope; parents can help a child organize a home office with labeled drawers, shelves and boxes. Sometimes parents need to take over entirely the chore of keeping a kid's workspace neat so he can acquire a taste for material order.

I feel so lucky to have a mom who is still willing to help me out with the chores that are overwhelming.  I have actually, over the years, acquired a taste for material order, without acquiring the skills to bring it about.  I may be 41 but when it comes to organizing I am still that kid sobbing into my pillow and wishing for magic.  This time my wish came true.  And thanks to my mom I now I have a whole lot less material to manage. 

Ok, now that the housework is done for good I can get back to finding that ideal education for my three kids.

P.S.  This is for Laura...hope that even if we can't keep all those damned playmobil people and their accessories together for long we can at least keep track of the car keys.


J.G. Wilder said...

Oh, the pain. I think this dysfunction has a spectrum, like autism, and I always imagined that maybe I was not so far down on the spectrum as some people? Maybe? Please?

But no, what it is is that I have one less kid. (And almost no closets, now that you mention it.)

Okay, okay, I'm' rushing out to get the book now. (More soon!)

Laura said...

Oh my goodness, reading this post was sooo familiar. Is there hope?? Really?? Could I do a Great Sort and feel relief knowing that all those poor counting bears were reunited? I swear, this sort of thing truly pains me, I can't bear all the crazy jumbled baskets of stuff around this house, but the idea of getting it all sorted out just seems too big a hurdle. But this gives me hope!

Susan said...

Jennifer, you are definitely not as far down on the spectrum as I am, though I may say that we have been enjoying the water bottle you left. :) One day I will mail it to you...but as I like to say, going to the post office is not one of my core competencies.

Laura, you make me feel almost guilty. I am sorry, but I don't really believe there is hope. The only real solution is to not have stuff, but it just creeps back up on you.

I added a photo above as a small shred of hope. I hung up this fish for my keys. And it has mostly worked. But I admit that I had to hunt them down for the photo. Sigh.

Instead of hope in the eternal struggle with clutter I offer you In the Air...did you see the movie with George Clooney? If you haven't, do. At least we don't have to worry about not having enough in that backpack to keep us down to earth.

Gretchen said...

I must be on the other end of the spectrum. I like to sort ad nauseum!! And if you ever want to do it again, just let me know!

Carolyn said...

Oh Susan, this post cracked me up. I'm at the other end of the spectrum (I'm embarrassed to admit how much I enjoy ordering and sorting). But I'm married to a man with MMD and my best friend has it too and I am powerfully drawn to you folks because I believe that you're simply devoting your mental and emotional energy toward much more interesting things.

Have you read any of Neil Gaiman's fiction? In the author blurb of the book I'm reading right now (Fragile Things) he says that he has no idea where his keys are. You're in good company.

Mars said...

I'm so glad your mother was there for you! She's a swell mama. Standing ovation for her!

I just started a book called: One Year to an Organized Life: From Your Closets to Your Finances, the Week-by-Week Guide to Getting Completely Organized for Good

A few friends have tried it and really like it. It breaks everything down into manageable chunks. I'm going for it! I have a weird mix of a tendency toward clutter and the anal need for everything to be in its place (spice bottles in my cabinet are all label forward and organized). Which makes me feel kind of nauseous and disjointed.

I hope your new organization system works for you and keeps you motivated. As for keys, they should all have legs and come when called. But then, I was also the child (maybe adult) that fervently wished for magic.

Kristin said...

The whole post is fun to read but this is my favorite section:

And here is the best part--we assigned places to the things we kept! I no longer need to treat "where does this go?" as a mind-boggling existential question.

I can totally relate. Your Mom is a dear and I'm glad she was able to help you even after her surgery. You're both strong women, obviously.

Susan said...

Gretchen, look out, I am planning on taking you up on that!

Carolyn, I tried to read Snow Crash several times. I like to believe that I am devoting more time to creative endeavors, but really I'm devoting time to looking for my keys! You meanwhile, are racking up the wordcount!

Mars, I have embraced similar plans for a time. Boy, the time when I tackled the finances was something and it didn't last. I'm at it again in a way...replaced all the incandescents with compact fluorescents. I have exactly zero illusions that this sort will last. More junk will come. I threatened to set a trap for the Easter Bunny and Greta started to wail.

Kristin, thanks! I'm maybe even a little stronger after carrying all those crates. :)

patricia said...

I loved this post, as usual.

I do not have MMD. (I am, instead, a piler, which means that I have many piles, but I know where everything is.)

My youngest, however, definitely has MMD. With the older two, we got around to our own Great Sorts on a regular basis. But I've let Mr. T's room get out of control. It's the repository of every toy from his older siblings, plus his own, so we are beyond having a place for everything.

The quote on how parents can help MMDrs, your saintly mom's help, not to mention your own orderly results have inspired me. It's time for me to get in that room, and teach T how to manage his own MMD. And make his room somewhere that he wants to be.

Maybe I'll get to it in July...

laurata said...

Oh man. I wonder if I could get my mom to come help me sort and find places for things.

Anonymous said...

The writer of this blog must somehow have missed the numerous front page stories in the New York Times about the fifty boys who have come forward to say that Levine molested them as children. Additionally, she must have missed the news stories everywhere that reported the North Carolina Medical Board forced Levine to give up his medical license last year and that he can NEVER practice medicine anywhere in the world ever again. She must also have missed the news stories about how the Board of Directors of the All Kinds of Minds foundation kicked Levine out last year because they didn't want to be associated with a child molester and that if you contact them now, they take great pains to disassociate themselves from him.

She must have missed the most recent news story that talks about Levine is being sued by the victims and the enormous pain he has caused them (one victim committed suicide) This was in the Delaware News Journal on May 2, 2010

"Pedophile Doctors Not New, Not Rare"

Please say a prayer for his victims.

Susan said...

Anonymous, I did miss those articles. I appreciate you taking the time to let me know. I think we can consider the merit of the man's ideas while condemning his alleged crimes. He was never convicted, but there were multiple accusations over his career, and the suspension of his license was "unusually broad", barring him from ever practicing again, anywhere. I suggest people interested in reading his book do a little research into the matter and buy used or get a library copy of the book if they feel wrong about sending money his way.

Kat said...

I started a quest at the beginning of the year. To adopt my Grandmother's motto. A place for everything and everything in it's place. We worked on it as a family and had some fantastic results for the first month. But alas...well MMD creeps up on you. Oh for just a little bit of that love to organize. I do love organized...just not organizing.

Karen said...

My five-year-old got into the bath, just the other day, and forgot to remove his underwear!
I have the same issue, and can totally relate. This is where hubby is my knight in shining armor, as he is the one who gets totally sick of the legos building up under the couch, or the star wars stuff frothing up out of the spare bedroom and into the hallway. After a week or two, he can't take it any more and he cleans it all up! Best of all, he gets the boys to help him and supports their efforts so that they don't end up like me, despairing of loose ends and odd game pieces.
Great post!

Susan said...

Tricia, I wish you luck instilling a love of material order in Mr. T. On a completely unrelated note I realized that MMD is why I will never be a knitter. I just can't keep my yarn straight and I'd rather poke my eye out with a knitting needle than untangle it. I am glad that two of my three don't seem to suffer from MMD. Evelyn manages her yarn (and other things) fine.

Laura, let me know how convincing your mom to do a great sort goes!

Kat, I love how you put that: I do love organized, just not organizing. Yes, that is the rub. Wouldn't it be easier if in addition to disliking organizing we also disliked organization? On the other hand, now that we have a named disability, maybe we can lobby for services! I can just imagine that if we lived in Sweden they'd have a home health organizer who would fill the house with Ikea shelves and boxes and sort everything for us. Aah.

Karen, I'm cracking up about Owen wearing his underwear into the bath. Did he do it several more times for laughs? I found the joke wore thin for my mom pretty quick. My husband doesn't have a problem with material management, but he doesn't care about it, except for certain things (his kayak gear, for example). Which on the one hand is good (he never complains) but on the other hand, he never gets fed up and takes matters in hand.

Stefaneener said...

Hey, I relate to having a taste for what one hasn't the skills for. I'm working the one day at a time philosophy and having a neat freak housemate is definitely helping. Maybe getting rid of stuff would, too. Can't wait to see your new, neat place.