Near Death Experiences Really Should be Teachable Moments

It’s crazy how insane the past couple weeks have been. The movers handled the large items and friends carried loads of boxes, but our new townhome sat piled ceiling-high with boxes for a week as we spent time outside with the neighbors and packed up for a beach vacation.

Sand is always good. Sand that has been dredged from the bottom of the ocean is near perfection. There’s not a sharp sea shell in it. You can dig and dig and dig out a hole large enough for boys to jump in and be completely hidden from sight. You can drizzle it into the forest where the trolls live while waiting to save Princess Ana from the accidental strokes of Elsa. You can mold a horse to be galloped upon. You can mold sandballs of wet sand dabbed in hot fine sand to threaten siblings with. You can rest.

There are few things more relaxing than sun and sand and the lap of waves. There are also few things more terrifying than the power and pull of water.

The warm sun was coaxing my eyes to close as I sat upon a boogie board and watched the three boys jump in the surf. After each wave, I would identify them – The First One shakes his head to get the water out of his ears. Super Tall Guy wipes the water from the top of his head to his chin. Mr. Ornery bounces and bounces and bounces. He comes up from under a wave and bounces as he awaits the next. His ringlets bounce. His body bounces. His arms bounce.

And suddenly there was no bounce. I looked again. There was his head very close to Super Tall Guy, but there was no bounce. They were too far out. They were too far out to see their faces, but I was on my feet and headed out there. A glance at the lifeguards on their stand showed that they were not going to be of any help. The panic started to rise as each wave pushed me back from my singular goal – to reach my boys who were being swept out to sea. But I wasn’t getting there fast enough. Do I scream? Yell? The three adults near them were close enough though. One man reached for Mr. Ornery and pushed into shore. One man grabbed Super Tall Guy and guided him in. I watched The First One start to swim.

Mr. Ornery wrapped his arms and legs around me as he clung sobbing in my arms. I tearfully thanked the Helpers. I praised Super Tall Guy for clear attempts to save his younger brother and keep him afloat. Suddenly I panicked again looking for The First One. Where was he? Mom, where is he? Super Tall Guy, where is he? I rushed to the lifeguards and then turned and found him. He had swum beside the current and then into shore. We all hugged.

“Look for the helpers,” I reminded the boys as Mr. Fred Rogers so eloquently stated. Rogers HelpersWhen you are in trouble, look for the helpers. They will be there.

Ask Mr. Ornery how his vacation was and he’ll say “I was almost dead.” We had to talk a lot about it that night. We talked about safety. We talked about the power of water. We talked about the helpers. We talked over and over about how you “NEVER go out past your waist” and you “NEVER swim alone.” We talked about going back in again.

And he did. Right back into the water the next day. I watched much more intensely. And I watched the new day’s lifeguard splash over to him and remind him in words and body language – “NEVER go out past your waist.”

And yet he did. Bouncing along right into the deep. This boy is going to require a whole lot of “teachable moments.” And he’s going to need a whole lot of Helpers!

But I, for one, would like to skip the “near death” moments the next time he needs to learn a lesson.

Moving Day

“Okay, go!” I said to Super Tall Guy as we backed out of the driveway of the townhouse. “3 minutes, 21 seconds and 59 milliseconds,” he said as we pulled into the driveway of my sister’s new house.

One weekend. Two moves. Two sets of movers. Countless loads of boxes via theboxes2 minivans. Strong cousin. Saintly mother. Spackling father. Lamps. TV. Shoes. Books. Headache. Couches. Beds. Clothes. Numerous trips to Target. But no toothbrushes. No toothpaste. No toiletries. None. The boys rejoiced!

It’s been twelve years in an old Victorian house with stained glass windows, built-in wooden bookcases, three floors, and a hidden back staircase. It’s been the only home the boys have known. It’s been the place everyone called “home” until we moved for school and the extended family split up a bit to diminish the chaos and to stretch out a little.

I meant to get all sentimental about leaving “home” – but the stress of a quick move left the heart door closed. In fact 36 hours after dropping the last box packed for “moving day” onto the townhome floor, I actually texted my mom to say I like the space better than I thought I would. It’s small, clean and manageable (or it will be once all the boxes are emptied and flattened or donated to the lady next door who remarked she was moving soon too).

Somehow the boys seem to have forgotten to be sentimental too. They seem to be enamored by the chance to ride bikes and scooters up and down the street, bumping over the speed bump. They seem to appreciate the new neighbors — a 12-year-old and 7-year-old boy who pop out of their house the moment my car engine stops with a soccer ball in hand and eager faces! They seem to be enthralled by the closeness to “Auntie,” or maybe it’s the community pool that’s two houses away from Auntie’s house and has diving board!  Maybe they are managing this chaos better than I.

They are less excited about the New House, New Rules reality though:

  • See this – it’s a sink. Take your plate to the kitchen, rinse it in the sink, and….put it in the dishwasher!
  • These clothes? They’re yours. Sort them into three piles and each of you take them upstairs. And those things are called drawers – that’s where the clothes go! Not the floor!
  • And this new bunk bed? Yes, you may sleep on top…but the new rule is that you will stay in your own bed – all night! No more climbing into Mom’s bed between 1 and 3 am!  (Oh my goodness…3 days in and this rule is actually working!!)

There’s a whole lot of things still back at the “old” house. I had to stop there on the way to work yesterday to grab a pair of shoes for work. There’s tons of dust bunnies where the beds once sat. Empty candy wrappers line the edge of the wall having been dropped behind the couch. The closet is full of items that will move to the front yard for a yard sale in a few weeks (if it didn’t move to the town house in the first couple days as “essential,” then it actually isn’t essential!). The tall-ceiling rooms are eerily empty and echoes abound. The windows are closed. The doors are locked. But hopefully soon it will be filled again with love and joy and laughter as a new family finds their “home.”

 

 

What Single Parents Dream Of

Every year my sister takes her kids on a “Single Parents Weekend Retreat.” This year my kids begged me to go too with stories of zip lines and giant swings and swimming pools. The place on Lake Erie was packed with kids and many many parents, most of us women. The main speaker was to talk on passing on the “legacy of love” but she was neither a single parent, nor was she even a parent. My mind drifted to wondering how these parents all got to this place.

Did they make a conscious choice to parent through private or foster care adoption? Had they been in relationships that ended with tragedy or separation? Were they stressed by their current situation or had they come to grips with single parenting? Was this just a “phase” of their life with them constantly seeking something different or did they plan to remain a “single parent”?

Most days I realize that I don’t identify myself strongly as a “single parent,” I’m just parenting. And I am thankful every day to have the privilege to be a part of these boys’ lives (even on the days that Mr. Ornery suggests that I go find a new family to join!). I love each boy. I love being a parent in so many ways, but every once in a while I dream of:

  • Someone to jump in at the end of a long day and volunteer to put the kids to bed! Oh, that would be heaven on earth. What would I do with the gift of two free hours that usually entail repetitious phrases such as “pee, wash hands, brush teeth,” “pick 3 books (and not that one again!),” “lay down and go to sleep.” Lay down and go to sleep. Huh – I could probably read a book. I mean, an adult book!
  • The presence of another parent who also had the “responsibility” for the kids and I could leave them while going out with friends, or on a run or doing errands without having to beg my mother or pay a babysitter to keep the kids alive.
  • Knowing there’s another adult in the house who could find a baseball bat and creak downstairs when you hear a noise.
  • Someone who would share in cleaning a few rooms in the house, or take out the trash, or help in shoveling the snow from the driveway.
  • Really just someone who would pack up the car for the road trip and then complete the dreaded unpacking at the end of vacation. Slugging around suitcases is really not my favorite thing at all.
  • An extra chauffeur for the soccer Saturdays when one kid is at one field at 10:00 and the “travel team” boy needs to be 45 minutes away for a 10:30 game. Let’s throw in gymnastics, basketball, flag football, inline hockey….it’s only getting worse. Hence, the poor Little Guy won’t be starting sports until he’s 25!
  • The comfort of knowing that in an emergency, there would be an extra hand or someone to stay home with a couple boys while I ran one of them to the doctor for stitches or a cast! There was a close call when Little Guy sprayed Deet in his eyes, but we survived that one.
  • Having a partner in making a whole host of decisions from where to buy a house for the “right” school district to what to make for dinner (because asking the boys has only resulted in “mac and cheese” and “chicken nuggets” as less-than-desirable answers).
  • Riding in the passenger seat of the car so that I’m not breaking up fights or switching DVDs or handing out food to quiet the backseat wolves at the same time as trying not to run off the road or into another moving target.
  • Someone to pamper and take care of me. I spend all day giving of myself to others at work and then at home, constantly making sure the kids are safe and relatively comfortable. I spend more time on their social life than I do my own. I worry more about what they’re doing and how they’re feeling than I think about myself. It sure would be nice to have someone pay attention to me (other than to ask for a glass of cold water!).
  • A nice warm stretch of sand without a single human being under the age of 24 in sight and a cool drink in one hand and a mindless novel in the other. That’s what single parents dream of!beach footprints

 

I would really like to trust you…

I really wanted to trust you. It’s my nature to start with trust. I’m not sure when my uneasiness began and the trust faded, but it finally started to bother my brain enough to make me jump in the pool shortly before the closing whistle to be nearer to my boys.

You had arrived just a bit earlier. I haven’t seen you at the community pool before though we’ve been there almost every sunny day. White man. Graying hair. Alone. No wedding band. As a single woman with hopes of someday changing that status, I pay attention to these things. You had a friendly smile. You noticed my middle child’s dive off the board and gave him a passing “Good job.” You swam. You were playful and went down the slide. You noticed the boys’ skill in swimming.

But then I noticed that you noticed my boys. poolSuddenly I noticed that I was noticing this notice. I peeled off my warm outer layer and jumped into the pool. We had a great time in the setting sun and the cooling evening. We splashed and raced each other around the pool. I caught the Little Guy over and over as he flew from the edge into my arms without his protective “floatie.” We played until the whistle blew and the pool closed. You said, “Thanks for sharing your pool with me” as you departed.

Leaving the pool, I tried to catch the manager but found him busy setting up for a private party. I made a note to call him later. I would like his help. I’d like him to remind his staff that the threat of human trafficking is real, even in this “safe” and seemingly small community. I’d like them to help me as a mother make sure that my boys never walk out of the pool area with anyone but me. I know they can’t keep track of everyone, but a gentle to reminder to keep an eye on kids and non-parental adults couldn’t hurt.

On the way home, I turned off the music in the van and asked for the boys’ attention. “Hey guys, I know that man we talked to seemed really nice today. And he may be a really nice guy. But we just met him and we don’t know him. So I need you to remember that you will never leave with someone or go to someone’s car unless you “Ask First” and I say it’s okay. Even if that man said to you, “Let’s go get a chocolate bar out of my car.” You would say, “I have to ask my Mom first.” Remember, you always Ask First.”

I really wanted to trust you. Maybe I can. Maybe we’ll see you around this summer. Maybe you’ll eventually become a friend. Maybe you’re actually a really nice guy. I hate that I have to become paranoid. But that’s the way it is, sir. This world seems a bit too crazy. My boys are way too precious to me. The thought of them caught up in abduction or trafficking makes my heart pause and my breath stop. They are my life, my joy and my responsibility.

Stay away from my boys.

Thank you.

 

 

 

On losing our “forever family” pet

“Mom, can Roxy sleep with me tonight?” the six-year-old implored as he climbed into bed. “Honey, Roxy is dead,” I gently reminded him. Tears welled in my eyes as I thought about the afternoon. The wag of the tail as she greeted our visitors. Her disappearance as we talked. The phone call from my sister relaying the message from a sweet man who had found her….and stayed with her so she wouldn’t be alone until we got there. But she was already gone…

…and I was alone. In fact, my whole family was around me, but I was alone as I called the boys together outside and told them she had died. I was alone as I gathered up her food dishes and leftover treats and emptied them into the trash can.

I was alone as I sat on my bed in the quiet of the night, eyes stinging from the tears. I was alone.

Single mom.

Three boys.

No little dog.

Those dark moments are when the world crashes and the weight feels unbearable. When sadness drapes your heart. When guilt condemns you for not having kept her inside, for not keeping a member of your family safe, for failing to be the protector. When you can’t yet see the light even though you know it’s there and will return.

IMG_4769

Super Tall Guy wanted to keep the collar “in our house.”

We have now made it past twenty-four hours. Friends have expressed condolences and texted kind thoughts. “How are the boys doing?” is a recurring question.

The Little Guy in his concrete stage of thinking spent the day telling everyone he met, “Our dog died. Rund over by a car. She didn’t look both ways.”

Super Tall Guy woke this morning and said, “I cried for Roxy while I slept last night. We need another little dog that looks like Roxy and we’ll name her Roxy until we get our big dog.” Emotions generally are not part of his vocabulary (despite recently watching “Inside Out”) but he misses the morning hugs.

Mr. Ornery lay on his bed again tonight and said, “I’m sad Roxy died. Will she come back alive? Will we see her again? Is she alive in Heaven?” and moved on to “When are we going to Kennywood again? I’m only going to ride that circle snow thing ride the whole day.”

Seems to me that they cope better than I. That they don’t know yet the finality of death. That they don’t worry about whether I could have prevented it. Gave Mr. Ornery a hug today and said, “I cried last night when Roxy died.” He paused. “I would cry if you died.” Fair enough.

Roxy & NateI cry. I cried tonight when I peeked into his bedroom as is my nightly habit and miss seeing the white furball cradling his head or sleeping along his back. I miss the dog more than I thought I would. Turns out, I must have actually loved the sometimes trouble but genuinely sweet little girl.

It is a shift in our household, yet we grieve and learn and grow. And I am learning how to handle my own grief as I walk my sons through their first pet loss (Lightning McQueen the beta fish did not have the same effect). Time heals, they say. I wait for time.

Beware the grief
It calls upon the demons
It beckons the darkness
It smothers the flame.

 

Beware the grief
It tarnishes the beauty
It robs the love
It spoils the soul.

 

Beware the grief
It heeds no boundaries
It follows no clock
It finds its own path.

 

Rise up, oh strong one.
Lean in to others
Seek comfort
Accept the balm.

 

Rise up, oh strong one,
Rest the soul
Cry the tears
Let healing begin.

 

Rise up, oh strong one,
The heaviness shifts
The dark shall disperse
The light shall shine.

 

Hold on to joy.
Hold on to memories
And keep the gift alive.

 

Seeking the not-so-faint at heart…

 

There are some unexpected challenges that come along with parenting in some families that are usually not spoken about….including struggles to finding a babysitter. I mean, yes, if you have seven kids, it’s pretty hard for someone to volunteer to babysit. But that’s also true if you have four boys. And it’s very true if you have “challenging” kids.

Parenting is exhausting. Same routine day in and day out. Dinner, bath (sometimes) and bed. Brush teeth. Read books. Take micro naps while lying beside the kids yearning to hear them snore. Every night. Doing it by yourself is especially exhausting. Naturally, I try to heed the advice I give to all parents, “Make sure you get some time out to rejuvenate and revive yourself. Get a break from the kids. Find time to talk to a fellow adult in sentence form rather than word fragment.” Yet sometimes it feels like it’s not worth going out at all. No matter what time I pull into the driveway, there seems to be a kid greeting me at the door.

This week, I lost it. It was 10:05 pm. I had had a very long day and an evening engagement. The lights were out in the house as Super Tall Guy and the Little Guy (well, I’m sure it wasn’t his idea) wanted to prevent me from knowing they were still awake. I politely paid the babysitter, assured her it was “no problem” that the boys were still bouncing off the walls, and said good night. Then I snapped. “Why did I just pay a babysitter to do the work of caring for you and putting you to bed….and I still have to do it all myself?”  “You’re nine years old – you know what it means to go to bed.” “I can’t believe you are so disobedient that you refused to go to bed,” tired Mommy roared. I was worked up enough to almost pull the ice cream out of the freezer to soothe the inflamed throat, but dinner had been too good.

In the calm of snoring children, I realize that my family just doesn’t do the “average” babysitter. The boys chew them up and spit them out. They don’t return my texts when I reach out to ask if they’re free to watch the boys. They don’t leave with a “call me anytime” response. They probably spread the word throughout our childcare center, “Don’t give your number out to babysit those crazy three.” Yes, finding a babysitter is easier than keeping a babysitter!

This difficulty in finding respite is amplified for families who have children with medical complications. I can’t even imagine their struggle to find someone able to care for medically fragile children. I have spent countless hours in the area of non-profit respite work. I know it’s tough.

It just hadn’t really occurred to me that I also needed to be looking for a babysitter who was “strong” enough to deal with active boys and defiant behaviors. Someone strong enough to say “No.” Strong enough to not back down in the face of opposition. Strong enough to impose limits. Strong enough to recognize and escape the wily kid traps. Heck, sometimes I’m not strong enough.

So if you know anyone who’s worked in juvenile detention, or as a therapist for emotionally and behaviorally difficult children, send them my way. Or to any of the other numerous families with challenging children. For a little bit of respite is good for the soul. And my boys really are good kids – you just need to have a ton of energy and a firm look to your eyes….and the desire to play hide and seek a million times!

IPOY

We watched fireworks last night for July 4th and I was disappointed to see someone’s private drone right there in the middle of the flashes. As we tried to enjoy the beauty of the sparkles and the colors, there was a small green line hovering in and out of the exploding bursts. Distracting, to say the least, but mostly I was annoyed that one individual had the gall to put an object in the air and detract from the viewing pleasures of thousands of spectators. Examples flooded my mind of so many times that I’ve seen one person think solely of themselves to the detriment of others.

Sometimes it feels like there’s a palpable shift towards more and more people thinking

www.wpxi.com (photo credit)

http://www.wpxi.com (photo credit)

only themselves, yet, tonight as I watched the USA Women’s Soccer team come together as champions, I think of their sacrifice of time and effort and I’m reminded of so many people I know who continue to lift others up. In the immortal words of Fred Rogers, I’m Proud Of You (IPOY).

IPOY, my friend, for flying your three boys to Vancouver so they might witness that historic moment as the USA women won their third World Cup title. You have given your sons a memory they will cherish for a lifetime.

IPOY, my friend, that despite a recent divorce, you intentionally try to make sure your 5-year-old daughter has many magical and fun “first” moments with her father. You know how important it is for her to continue and cement a bond with him.

IPOY, my sister, that while already parenting two children adopted from foster care, you are opening your heart and your home to another boy so that he may never again feel abandoned or unloved. You risk heartache and tears so that he might see your unconditional love and heal.

IPOY, my friend, for not worrying about the possible stigma of a medical condition, but seeking help and treatment for a recent illness so that you might be whole again for your children and family. You have shown strength and courage.

IPOY, my friend, for persevering along each goal from medical assistant to nurse to nurse practitioner while parenting two amazing children on your own and serving the community in so many ways. You teach us to seek our dreams and never give up.

IPOY, dear preschool teacher at Disneyland, for willingly reaching out to touch a complete stranger and speak a word of encouragement to a mother in the journey of parenting “challenging” children. You remind us that we are in this together.

IPOY, my “friends” in a social media group, for your daily sacrifice of time with your own family to provide medical care for other people’s family. You gracefully juggle the demands of parenting and doctoring with poise and aplomb.

IPOY, my parents, for sticking with each other through thick and thin for 50 YEARS (this Friday) and for modeling faith and hope and love to your family and to the world around you. You are an inspiration and a gift to many.

It is easy to get bogged “down” and see all the hurt and the pain in the world, but there is actually so much joy and beauty in every day and in each other. Lest we forget this, take a moment today to send someone you admire an IPOY – by text, by Twitter, by Facebook, by phone (what? talk to someone?)….heck, hug someone today and say,

I’m mighty darn Proud Of You!!

IPOY4