If only I was a stay-at-home mom…for the school.

Sometimes I wish I was a stay-at-home mom. I would get the Legos picked up off the floor. I would have the clothes actually put away in drawers. I wouldn’t get so wrapped up in trying to decide whether to crate the dog and keep the floors clean or chance it that maybe she won’t pee today while we’re gone.

And if I managed to get all this done during the day, I’d actually look forward to hugging the boys after school and sifting through their artwork and crumbs and broken pencils to find the one sheet of homework crammed into the torn folder in their backpack. I’d pull it out and gently guide them through a relaxing session of learning at our comfy “homework” snowman2station, reviewing their scattered errors on the week’s spelling or math test, finding the blue crayon to color in the weekends and yellow crayon for the weekdays of the calendar, and cutting out and pasting a photo of something beginning with the letter “N.”

Life would be so different if I was a stay-at-home mom.

It’s 4:17 pm. I leave a meeting at a local university. I’ve been in and out of the office all day. I’ve been trouble-shooting via email. I’ve been writing up grant ideas. I’ve been designing our new website. I’ve been answering phone calls. I’ve been learning how to merge scanned pages into a single PDF document. I’ve been shaking hands, smiling and thinking up grand ideas for collaboration during a two-hour meet-and-greet session. And I’ve been sweeping all that into the corners of my mind during the harrowing drive on snowy roads to get to the daycare center to gather the two youngest boys.

I rush through inches of snow in dress shoes to check on the driver of a car crash right  beside the center. I put up cones “borrowed” from the day care center to warn other drivers. I meet the parents of my middle kid’s new best friend. I commiserate on how not all day care centers are perfect. I find coats and back packs. I forget (again) to empty the papers from the boys’ mail slots which overflow until the teachers just hand them to me. I buckle the boys in with fingers numb from cold exposure and stubborn carseat buckles. I turn on track #8 so we can listen to it for the thousandth time. I breathe.

Home – gather up and take out trash and recycling. Move the clothes from washer to dryer and start the next never-ending load of soiled torn boy clothes (and just spray a couple of those stained white items – who ever bought white!?!). Take the dog out and beg her to pee because my ears and legs are frozen standing here with you. Open and close the fridge looking for left-overs. Open and close the cupboard doors looking for something mildly nutritional. Greet the second-grader dropped off by my mother who helps with after-school care. Warm up the chocolate milks. Monitor the math homework of the eldest child. Stop countless battles over Legos, time with the dog, who broke the train set, flashlights, Spy Gear goggles, books, basketballs, stuffed animals. You name it – it’s scattered on my floor and ammunition for whichever kid doesn’t have it in his hands at the moment.

Bathtime. Pajamas. Mama’s glass of wine.

Book reading. Teeth brushing. Really – put the pull-up on!

Settle down. Stop joking around.

Be quiet

Lay still.

By the time the oldest and youngest are asleep (and I awake from my mini-nap on their bed), I find the kindergartener wrapped in his special “blue blanket” sacked out in front of the space heater. I sigh. Lifting him gently and tucking him into bed, I kiss his forehead and pat the dog who cuddles in beside him.

Quiet.

For a moment.

I’m sorry, dear kindergarten teacher. Thank you for your kind email this morning. Yes, I know that homework at age five “is important to set a good foundation to carry through in the upper grades”….but I just didn’t get to it last night.

Forgive me.

And yet, this single working mother of three wild, delightfully rambunctious boys is going to do better today. I think…..

How a magic pill became a monster

If you’ve been following along this journey, if you have a child who struggles with regulating themselves, then you know the emotional toll that behavioral struggles extract on a family. The diagnoses are clear, my eldest has significant difficulty focusing his attention and subsequently controlling his impulses, his emotions, his aggression, his frustration. I know all this and it seems easier to manage when they’re three and you can just pick them up and put them into another context without much strain. But when they’re eight and expected to function in a classroom, expected to process social-emotional information well enough to develop friendships, expected to control impulses enough to not constantly kick a brother walking by, then it’s a whole new game.

Super Tall Guy has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, with a corresponding learning disability in written expression, fine motor delays, and “meets criteria” for Oppositional Defiant Disorder (I could have told you that), though this is all likely related to the primary disorder – Attention Deficit.

The fact that it makes sense doesn’t make it easier for me to think that my (well, somewhat) perfect little man has a “disorder.” The fact that I go around presenting on the consequences of early life experiences, including prenatal “insults,” having profound and lasting effects on the brain doesn’t make it easier for me to acknowledge it in the child that I’ve chosen to love and care for for the rest of his life.

“He would likely really benefit from medication.” You know, if I was in the doctor role – the one where I dispense all the advice – that’s exactly what I would say too. Yet, deep in my heart, I resist. I worry about using a chemical to control behavior. I wrestle with putting “unusual” compounds into young children to alter their actions. I struggle with feeling that parenting should shape behavior well enough and if my child needs more, does that imply I have not been a successful parent? Maybe Super Tall Guy is just in the wrong context for how he’s formed – maybe he needs a great big farm and less structured schooling?

I pick up the prescription. We follow the doctor’s advice to learn to swallow pills with a box of tic-tacs, a twisty straw and a cup of juice. We are successful with the tic-tacs….we toss a couple pills before Super Tall Guy swallows the two tiny caplets around 9:30 in the morning.  “How you feeling?” I ask an hour later. Nothing. He’s much too excited about the trip to Target to pick out a gift in celebration of “Adoption Month” (the anniversary of adoption for the boys fall on the 12th, 24th and 26th of this month so I figured it would be easiest to shop for and mark the occasion on one day). He does, however, spontaneously say from the back of the car, “Thank you for letting me get this present, Mom.” Huh. A spontaneous thank you?!?

And the day floated along smoothly. He was courteous. He was agreeable. He didn’t complain. He went along with what we were doing. I don’t remember him hitting, kicking or shoving a brother – huh.

And then the flood gates opened. He started talking…..and talking…and talking….and talking from the moment his basketball game ended until hours and hours later. Whereas Super Tall Guy rarely put 5 or 6 words together in a sentence (unless he really really wanted to tell you about a wonderful time he had just had), he now talked about anything and everything. If it hit his brain, he was going to talk about it. Everything. He talked about everything. And there were very few pauses unless I specially interrupted 3 or 4 times and would manage to get a sentence in before he had more he absolutely desperately needed to share. I just laughed at him. I think the younger brothers were stunned. They certainly couldn’t get a word in.

speed talk

Started taking notes of his speed talk…

At one point, I sat on the stairs and eavesdropped into his conversation with his brother. He explained how multiplying something by one was so easy. And if you multiply by zero it’s just zero and you need to know this Mr. Ornery because you’re in kindergarten and you’re going into first grade and you need to know. And you will go right into first grade, not like me. I had to repeat kindergarten because mom wanted to try to help me and make the right decision, but now I’m the oldest and the tallest kid in my class. But you’ll go to first grade when you finish kindergarten and you need to learn to multiply. And you need to be a Christian too because you need to be in Heaven so I can see you. Because Mommy and I are going to Heaven so you need to pray, “Dear God, please come into my heart and soul and I believe. Amen.” You need to say it so when you die you’ll go to Heaven. And maybe they’ll have Spy Gear there. And you’ll have a new body. And you see, Mr. Ornery, you just hurt The Little Guy. You see, that’s wrong. That’s a mistake. But if you believe then you’ll be okay. In Heaven you’ll have a new soul and God is so happy.

Super Tall Guy was on speed. He couldn’t stop talking. It was like truth serum. I wish I had some really good questions to ask him. I did ask “how do you feel?” With a huge grin, he replied, “I feel AWESOME. I feel SO SMART!!” And then he told me that he was really good all day. And that there were sometimes that he thought about kicking the Little Guy, but then he stopped and thought about it and knew he would get in trouble, so he didn’t.

Bingo. That’s the point at which he should be for an 8-year-old. Right? He should be able to stop and think. And it took 45 mg of Concerta for him to do that.

But he couldn’t stop talking while watching a movie. He couldn’t stop talking long enough for me to finish the Hardy Boys book we were reading. He couldn’t stop talking enough to put aside his new Spy Gear Night Vision Glasses so they wouldn’t break if he fell asleep. He couldn’t stop talking when I finally gave up and walked out of the room after an hour of trying to get him to sleep. He couldn’t stop talking despite my replies that I couldn’t hear a word he was saying as I ran on the treadmill. He couldn’t stop talking despite my multiple admonitions and threats to time-out/ground him/remove privileges…..nothing was going to get him to stop talking.

He was awake at 11 pm. He was still awake at midnight. By 12:30, he was convinced he was never going to fall asleep. By 12:45 we were in a huge argument about putting the Spy Gear glasses DOWN and I mean, DOWN, and go to sleep! He was angry. He was out of control. We were both out of control. He was probably scared and worried that he’d never settle down to sleep. I knew he was “under the influence” and that it wasn’t his fault, but I was exhausted from his endless chatter. I was frustrated that I hadn’t had any quiet “non-kid” time for the whole evening. I was worried that he would in fact wake up at 6:00 am and have a miserable day from lack of sleep. I didn’t like this whacked out boy I now had on my hands. This wired unpredictability worried me. I finally climbed into bed at 1:00 am beside him and he tossled and complained and I ignored him and fell asleep first.

The Magic pill gave me a sweet boy – one who in his stream of talk said, “I love you, Mom. You’re the best Mom in the world. I don’t know what I would have ever done without you. I’d be stuck in an orphanage somewhere. I’m glad you’re my mom.” Magic pill. Wow.

Turned into a late night monster of out-of-control alertness causing anxiety and fear of being awake forever. “Yeah, that’s not doable,” as a friend noted. We didn’t try again the next morning.

Guess I’ll be calling his doctor tomorrow. Sure would be nice to find the magic pill. I think.

 

 

Sometimes the Positive Parenting just doesn’t work….for me….

angry baby

(Image courtesy of clip-art)

I’m sorry, but sometimes reading a bunch of mini-articles and blogs on “positive parenting” techniques is just a bit too much for me. Like when Mr. Ornery has drawn his battle lines – he’s not going to kindergarten today; he’s not going to put his shoes on; he promises to take his seat belt off in the car. His arms are crossed. His brows are furrowed and the eyes narrow to slits. His feet are planted….without socks on yet – he refuses them too.

I look at him. I size up my worthy opponent. I conjure up all that I’ve read about being a “great parent.”

Okay – the kid is apparently experiencing some pretty intense emotions.

  1. Take some deep breaths and calm yourself.
  2. Label the emotions – “Wow, Mr. Ornery, it looks like you are feeling very angry about school today.”
  3. Provide support and love as “those big emotions can be scary.” I kneel beside him and extend my arms to offer a “supportive loving” hug. He shoves me off balance.
  4. Empathize
  5. Encourage
  • Check
  • Check
  • Check
  • Check
  • Check

“Whatever!” I finally yell. I tuck the 47-pound obstinate soldier under my right arm, scoop up his shoes and backpack and coat with the left arm (we small wily moms have incredible strength) and march through the door graciously opened by our Thai guest (who must be thinking, “these American parents are nuts!!”). I toss him into the minivan and glare intently into his eyes ~ “GET  your  seatbelt  ON  NOW!!!!  And I mean NOW!!”

Yep – “positive parenting” at its best. Did it – failed. Tried it – failed. Resorted to….Power.

I know – in the long-term, the physical power of picking up a kid is not going to get me anywhere (especially when he’s 100 pounds). But on Thursday it got us to school on time.

Mr. Ornery does not like his new kindergarten class. I understand that. I understand that this month of “change” in every single aspect of his life is a bit disruptive. I understand he’s stressed and expressing his inner turmoil through obstinate defiance. I understand his emotional woes.

I understand a lot.

“Get in the car now!!” is how all that soft stuff boiled down in the moment of confrontation.

I’m not a bad parent. I’m a stressed single working mother. I get three kids off to daycare and before-school YMCA care before many people finish their morning coffee (thank goodness for Keurigs at the office!). I’m trying to be sweet and sensitive and sometimes I am. Sometimes I’m a really super mom. Sometimes I’m not.

Do you know that if you meet your dear sweet baby on their first day of life…and stick beside them for 18 years, you’ll spend 6570 days together (give or take a few necessary “business trips” and “I just need to get away” trips!).  That’s 6570 opportunities to completely mess up – but in reality, you’re more likely to have thousands of awesome days, thousands of “pretty good” days…. and just a few “that was really truly awful” days.

So on those downright no good truly awful horrible days (like when I’ve threatened to return the dog to the pound, have grounded the boys for the next 5872 days, or carried a flailing screeching kindergartener out of a birthday party at the bowling alley)…. I just tuck those little ones in at night with a kiss and an I-love-you and remember – tomorrow is a new day. And it’s likely to be an awesome day.  Day number 3184, day 2173, and day 1379, respectively…to be precise.

 

 

 

 

Uncovering the mind

Give me a Hemoglobin A1c of 7.5, and I’ll tell you you have diabetes. Give me an EKG with ST elevations and I’m sending you off to the emergency room. Give me a boy who is active, bouncy, grumpy, defiant, aggressive, combative, sweet, sensitive, fearful, shy, and tender all rolled into one and I have no idea what to do.

  • Give me almost daily phone calls from the principal of the prior school.
  • Give me constant reports from family members about his difficult behavior.
  • Give me sleepless nights and buckets of tears and I keep trying to figure him out.

What happens inside the brain is a mystery. Thousands of neurons firing. Thousands of connections being made. Thousands of signals to control the body, the emotions, the thoughts, the dreams. And yet, this Super Tall Guy just seems to “be wired” a bit differently. I’ve read 7 or 8 parenting books and hundreds of blogs and articles on the internet. We’ve done months of counseling (which seemed to help mainly me!). A whole battery of assessments years ago. Time outs. Time together. Removal of privileges. Rewards. Grounding. Behavioral charts. Taking away toys and gadgets. You name it, and yet he remains a mystery – spontaneous, impulsive, defensive….challenging, oh so challenging to parent.

“Definitely ADHD,” she said as we sat in the small conference room at the neuropsychology office for the “feedback” session. “All the testing points to it and believe me, it took a tremendous amount of effort on my part just to get him to focus and complete the tasks in the evaluation.” Uncovering the brain….

“He also has dysgraphia, a learning disability making it hard for him to express himself in writing. And a difficulty with fine motor control plays into all of this as well. Any questions?”

You know how you can sit there blank and not have any questions at all? Nope. Not really. Will definitely google this later.

Ah yes, a question – “So….what do we do?”

  • Medication
  • Learning support at the school
  • Occupational therapy

I’ve been wary of the diagnosis for years now. Is the rise in the number of kids with ADHD a true picture of the burden, or is it another clear case of trying to fit kids into a mold that’s just not right for them? Is there something we should be doing differently or is this just the way it is for some kids? For my boy, he just never met criteria each time we filled out questionnaires before, and yet on more in-depth testing it pops out.

I can’t deny it really. He is impulsive. He interrupts. He bounces off the couch. He punches his brother and then acknowledges that the bump was likely an accident as the little one walked by. He is a zombie in front of a TV set as the rapid-fire stimulation of Transformer Rescue Bots engages his neurons. He hates spelling words. His handwriting is awful. He plays with Legos but his 5-year-old brother can construct them more easily.

You want to label the kid rude, aggressive, immature. Maybe it’s a lack of consistent parenting. Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe it’s a lack of motivation. Maybe it’s his fault.

Maybe his brain is different.

Quote from "The Giving Tree" ~ Shel Silverstein

Quote from “The Giving Tree” ~ Shel Silverstein

Tomorrow we meet with the psychiatrist. Tomorrow we talk about calming down the brain with medication. My stomach tenses. I wasn’t ready to discuss medication at age 4 or 5, but now? But now, we might need just a little more help….

uncovering the mind of my son….

 

Find the Someone’s

His hood was pulled tight around his ears, blocking the winter cold as he burst through the door. It was way past his bedtime, but his eyes danced and the biggest smile ever flashed across his face. He kicked off his shoes and bounced away into the living room. I turned to my friend, gave him a brief hug, and say “Thank you.” “It’s good to be a friend,” he said as he turned to leave.

After a rousing basketball game (I almost typed “unsuccessful” there – as in his team didn’t win – when I caught myself. The act of playing is “success.” The ability to catch, dribble and toss a ball is “success.” The joy of the swoosh and the cheer of the parents around the court is “success.” I shall remember.) Anyway, after the game, I dropped Super Tall Guy off at a friend’s house – a dear couple who used to go on training runs with me years ago when my three were a little easier for someone else to handle. A delightful set of friends whose kids have gone on to college and beyond and yet their house remains an open door of love and hospitality. Though we have only seen each

other a couple times in the past year, I jumped on Mr. G’s offer to show Super Tall Guy his canaries.

About 4 ½ hours later, Super Tall returned, beaming from ear to ear, bouncing around the house with stories about holding birds, cleaning cages, writing down the “secret” number of the birds, and naming them (Sunny 1, Sunny 2, The Dark). He showed me how you can hold them without squishing them. That if you blow on them to “see their bellies” you can tell if it’s a male or a female. He talked until sleep took over.

It’s going to take a village for me to raise these boys.

  • It takes the daily help of my mother who despite being in her 70s, carts around a 9-month-old foster baby wearing his “my-head-is-misshapened” helmet.
  • It takes a father to unclog the drains, put up plastic over drafty windows and change the chandelier light bulbs over and over as they are knocked out by arching footballs.
  • It takes a sister to help juggle the schedule and take the oldest one skiing while I stay within a warm house.
  • It takes a school to sit down and meet and develop a plan for the new kid in the class and commit to doing what needs to happen to help him succeed.
  • It takes a Big Brother, Big Sister program to bring alongside a mentor and a friend for a kid without a father.
  • And it takes a whole bunch of friends for me – texting friends, dining friends, babysitting friends, comforting friends – to be able to survive.

But what really warms my heart are friends from years past who step up and take a kid for a couple hours and when you thank them profusely over text as you tuck your bubbly boy in bed, they reply – “Really glad to love on the kid.”

You see, that’s what all kids need – someone to love on them. And it can’t be me because I’m too busy racking up awards of “Meanest Mom Ever.” It has to be someone outside the family. Someone who really shouldn’t care that I chose to adopt three beautiful challenging boys. Someone who doesn’t have to give up their Saturday night to show a 90-pound clumsy 8-year-old how you hold on to a delicate bird. Someone who will love on a kid because that’s what the kid needs and they are willing to give.

If you have kids – find those someone’s.

And if you can – be that someone to a kid. You have no idea how profound and powerful you can be when you love on a kid.

Even if just for a day.

Thank you, Mr. G.

The “smaller” family…

“Jump in the car, we’re going on an adventure.” The boys were in their snow pants, jackets and gloves. For the past 10 minutes they had hopped on little sleds for a 2-second ride from the garage to the mesh fence 15 feet away. They weren’t complaining, but it seemed that we could probably find something more.

It was Sunday morning. We should have been heading into church. I had no energy for it. My body ached a bit from the tight “bear hugs” needed to get Super Tall Guy back into calmness during a sudden rage event the day before. I needed some peace for my soul. I needed some nature. I needed to find a few moments of joy with these boys because single-parenting was tuckering me out.

We pulled over along the windy road in the nearby park. Bumbling out with snowsleds in tow, the boys were soon whizzing down a hiking trail covered by a fine layer of ice and snow (and pebbles). The first couple times I held my breath and prayed they wouldn’t careen into a tree or fly over a rock. Their giggles and shrieks of exuberance soothed me.

We clambered through the leaves. Watched deer dart up the hillside. Stared at the ice wall that once was a low waterfall. Balanced on logs. Slid on the frozen stream. We just needed to be. To be outside. To be free. To be marveling at the winter landscape. To be enjoying time with each other and helping each other. To be a family.

We’re trying that out now and trying to figure out how to be a smaller family. It is quieter. It is less chaotic. But it’s also a bit more overwhelming to me. Sometimes I feel like I just went through a divorce – suddenly the “other” parent isn’t around anymore and here I am. Figure it out.

So, we have had Family Movie Night on the couch because we’re too tired to do anything else after an hour in the woods, two hours at the roller-skating rink and then basketball practice.

We have spent more time in Family Game-playing with cookie prizes to the winner (and the dog considers herself part of the winning team each time and deserving of a Nutter Butter Bites too!).

We have a few new rules that I occasionally record as they run around in my brain so much.

We have had Family Time at the Upward basketball games as well, taking turns being on the court versus being disruptive on the sidelines … or being on the look-out for where the Little Guy might have disappeared to….again (right, water fountain….).

And, we had a Family Meeting early last week to discuss the consequences of acting out so much before school that Grandma “quit” her morning role as school “dropper-off-er.” (And how the boys are going to cost so much more money to use a before school service, so what changes will we need? Hmmm?  Anyone? Anyone?)

nature

I’ve put a little more energy into focusing on the “family” this week and how we live together and get-along (or not) together. How we’ll need to make sacrifices for each other. How we’ll need to better respect each other. How Mommy will still need evenings with my “texting friends” to improve my coping skills so we’ll be looking for babysitters.

There have definitely been so many changes for this family lately and my sister’s family. Yet, there is also lots of love and commitment and mutual support. It’s a “season.” We will figure it out and be okay. I am grateful.

 

 

 

 

You must have texting friends

And you need quite a number of them because you never know who might be too busy at the moment….changing a diaper, engaged in a heated argument with a three-year-old over whether cows have four legs, locked in an endless cardgame of “War” with an eight-year-old, or actually (no way?!?) be engaged in an adult-only activity!  For when a mom is busy – a mom is busy.

But when a mom is hurting or scared or frustrated or feeling so guilty that she knows her kid will need counseling the rest of his adult life, then a mom is hurting or scared or just out of her mind. And at that moment, she needs another woman. (No doubt this applies to dads too – I just can’t speak from that experience :) ).

If you’re a mom today, you must have texting friends (and your texting mom!)….because that’s how we “do it” nowadays. In other times, there were the quilting bees – sitting around an edge of a quilt, needle in hand, sharing life’s moments, passing along wisdom from one generation to the next. There were the book groups – I mean, really – who’s ever been to a book group where you actually read and discussed the book?!? There were the church women’s groups for tea and cakes. And in some developing countries, there’s the long walk to the watering hole with the empty jug and the heart full of the day’s worries.

These days, for me, it’s the text. When my heart is full, I don’t actually want to “talk” to someone….because they might notice my red, wet eyes. They might hear the crack in my voice, the sniffle of my nose. And sometimes I don’t want to talk face to face because I’m in my pajamas. And I’m home alone and the kids are sleeping upstairs. And I’m on the couch with a huge heartache. But when I send my woes out in the void, I need the return “beep” of comfort, wisdom, advice….or sometimes just “I hear you.” “It’s hard.”

Mr. Ornery has taken his namesake to an all new level. He has become that obnoxious, bratty little kid that every parent dreads and every parent wonders, “How did I create this monster?” I react and push back against his hurtful words. I demand he clean up his toys and get to bed. I grump about how “bad” his behavior is….until suddenly it dawns on me that he is speaking from a place of pain. (I’m slow at these realizations, I know, but am trying to get better.) You see, my Mommy job is to explore that pain and figure out what’s really bothering him deep in there – you know, other than the fact that he just started a new school – um, yesterday – and returned to his prior daycare center for the afternoon, and his buddy The Flipper is not around anymore, and it’s no fair that they get to stay “at the new house and he doesn’t.” I could go on and on. texts2He should be angry, sad, stressed, exhausted, tearful. So I finally get control of myself and wrap him in my arms beside his bed. I “secretly” cry enough silent tears that he finally sits up and says, “Why is my hair wet?” We wipe his head. I grab a tissue. He sleeps. I text the void. My friend replies.

I’m not saying that that’s all you have. In fact, you can’t “have” texting friends until you actually make friends and develop enough of a relationship that they can “read” the subtleties of your text. That your friend can “feel” you through time and space and “know” that they need to respond. And your relationships can’t all be built upon texting, either, because that can get too messed up and sometimes mistaken (or auto-corrrected!). You actually do need face time (not on a screen!) and you do need time that you sit beside someone in silence and you really do need hugs (find those hugging friends too!). To survive this thing called parenting, you need all kinds of friends.

But find those women who will be your texting friends. Some day….late at night….when the heart aches….you will find comfort.

Thank you to all my friends (and my mom….who texts!).