When “Good Night, I love you” is enough

Sometimes it’s okay to say “Good night, I love you” and just walk out of the room. Probably best to inhibit the desire to slam the door and just keep a soft tone of voice. Hard, but better.

Because sometimes an “I love you” is all you can muster. You know you love them but at the moment you are just downright impatient, uninterested, and definitely not feeling “the love.” You are frustrated, angry, and too tired to care. At the moment, you just want to sit on the couch, pick up a book or turn on the TV and just have 5 minutes of peace and if at all possible, a smidgen of quiet.N Apr 2012wp

Their bellies are full (or full enough even if they don’t think so). Their teeth are brushed (for at least 20 seconds of the recommended two minutes). They may or may not have jammies on, but the pull-up is in place and that matters more. The house is warm (compared to the 48 degrees it hit when the polar vortex crashed through the area again this winter). And they are over-tired thanks to your desire to take them for a “nice night out” for their basketball award ceremony (note to self: they are still not old enough for evening activities!).

They are whiny. They are miserable little guys. They refuse to lie down. They refuse to settle. They are throwing pillows at each other. They are jumping on their beds. They are screaming that you don’t care about them. They are threatening to ignore you for the next 10 sleeps (if only he would carry through on that). They are currently not the most lovable creatures on earth. Far from it.

It is absolutely okay to walk out of the room.

It’s likely that they really will make it through the night without the requisite twenty minutes of Go, Dog, Go. They might not actually die of hunger or thirst as bemoaned since they could easily walk the ten feet to the bathroom sink for a cup of water if really necessary. They can probably cover their bodies up themselves without requiring your expertise at billowing the blanket – it’s really not that difficult.

The guilt hangs in the air.

I keep walking.

Best that the last words out of my mouth were “I love you” rather than the myriad other phrases streaming through my brain.

Sleep well, my dears.

Love you.

Top 10 Things I Shouldn’t Have to be Doing! (…at my age!)

In case you’re wondering, the boys are almost 9, just 6 and almost 4…and I am 45. Really, at these ages….

  1. Walking past an odd smell over and over again on the third floor. Wondering what Mr. Ornery got in to during his most recent “time-out”. Mind boggling. What is that smell? Ah-hah! A decaying banana.  Nice. Almost as good as the moldy apple under my sister’s desk!!
  1. Cleaning poop out of a bathtub after a rapid evacuation by the innocent siblings and a drippy wet march to the third floor for showers.
  1. Picking up the pile of dirty clothes located precisely 1.33 feet away from the laundry basket placed strategically near boys’ bedroom door to receive said dirty clothes.
  1. Buying Mr. Clean Magic Erasers to scrub off colored and marked-up walls, including the inked initial with a circle around it (…and Mr. Ornery wants to know how I knew it was him who wrote on the wall!).
  1. Cleaning out the washing machine of the million-plus white pellets that erupt from a washed diaper that mysteriously ended up down the laundry chute rather than into the garbage pail.
  1. Retrieving the bottle of bath soap from the basement for the millionth time after it disappears down the laundry chute again and again….along with the little green army men, the Matchbox cars, the cup to rinse boys’ hair, the bouncy balls, the flash-light….pretty much anything that will fit down the hole. I keep wondering when a kid will consider if he will fit down the hole!
  1. Scrubbing blue toothpaste spots off the sink, the shelves, the walls and the floors of two bathrooms on a weekly basis.
  1. Putting plastic tape over a 3 inch hole in the bedroom window that somehow happened to have a toy “computer” go through it.
    IMG_6530
  1. Stooping over to pick up Lego pieces from every single floor space of the house! Every single day! Several times a day! Why do you have to pull their teeny tiny hands out of the teeny tiny arms?!?!
  1. And the number one thing I shouldn’t have to be doing  — washing poop off the walls (bathroom, bedroom, radiators…). Yep. Nothing else to add. Shouldn’t have to be doing this….IMG_7325

 

 

 

 

 

 

BONUS: A bonus had to be added the day after this post was written – because I can’t even make this stuff up! Super Tall Guy in the back of the van discussing a scab that just came off his knee and how blood tastes like metal. Next thing I know, I hear, “Try it, Mr. Ornery. Did you like it?” “Whoa!! Wait!!” I exclaim, “Did you just give Mr. Ornery a taste of your blood?!?” “But Mom….I dabbed it on the end of the coffee stirrer to give it to him.” “Hm, yum.”

I’m silent. I really can’t make this stuff up….nor do I have any ability to predict their next disgusting move. Lord, help me.

Why getting to know each other matters (based on a horrific example)

There is such a sad story from my neighboring community this weekend – a 22-year-old mother was found dead on her bed and her 10-month-old baby dead nearby in the living room. Her cause of death is unknown and his is suspected to be a result of dehydration and starvation. The story is not yet complete and details are still unfolding, but the family and the neighborhood is reeling. And the neighbors who live in the same apartment building are wracked with guilt.

My soul aches since hearing the news. I fall asleep thinking of a little boy crawling around on the floor searching….searching for food….searching for water…searching for his mother….crying out for someone to help him. And though his cries were heard, the incredible weight of them, the life and death significance of them were not known until too late.

“If I took the time to get to know her I probably could have helped her” said a tenant in the same building as quoted in the newspaper story.

His remorse hit me. We have gone too far. We have let too much distance exist between us. When parents are afraid to reach out for help, we are letting them down and we are putting children at risk. When people worry that their neighbor will “call child protective services” against them, we are pitting family against family. When we lose a sense of community and of watching out for one another, we become isolated and lonely and we cannot thrive.

We need to change. We need to reach out to each other. We need to carry each other’s burdens. We need to take the time to get to know each other.

I am parenting three young boys. I’ve made a point of meeting my neighbors. I let a nearby friend know that she’s number one back-up call in emergencies since she’s the one closest to us. I’ve talked to my children about what to do if x, y or z. I sincerely thank friends who offer help whenever needed and I reciprocate the offer, pausing to look them in the eye to solidify our agreement. I frequently think about the community that surrounds my family and whether I’ve built up enough of a buffer base for my children.

Last week, my middle son turned six years old. His birthday party was attended by three

Cupcakes decorated to match my son's typical drawings.

Birthday cupcakes decorated to match my son’s typical drawings.

boys from his day care center, one boy who used to attend day care with him, two boys from his prior kindergarten class, one boy from his new kindergarten class, one boy from the neighborhood, and two boys from friends of the family. I looked around the room with a smile as they sang Happy Birthday To You, off-key. My son’s net is wide. There are many connections. There need to be for him to know that he is loved, that the world is full of good people, and that there are people who will come if he cries.

Every child needs love and protection and a wide, wide net.

Take the time to get to know one another. It just might matter.

 

 

 

 

I need to let more mistakes happen

One of my greatest fears is the fear of failure. It’s likely what drives me so passionately toward my goals. It spurs my drive for perfection. It underlies 32 years of education and schooling. It is a fear that forces constant forward motion and yet can limit new experiences. I fear making mistakes. As I let the dog out tonight, I remembered sitting on the back stoop of my house years ago listening to a colleague in my medical practice explaining a mistake I had made in ordering a medication. The patient was okay now. She just wanted to let me know. Thankful for her honesty, I learned a great deal from that mistake.

It was too cold to go sledding. Mr. Ornery was tired and got too cold to hang in there. coldMaybe it was because he wouldn’t – or he couldn’t – stop lifting snow up to his face to savor each mouthful. Maybe it was because it was barely into the teens and the wind chill was brutal. The little guy couldn’t handle it either and I shortly declared it “time to go” despite having spent a few minutes with the neighbor kid who joined us on the hill.

Mr. Ornery sat in the snow and refused to move. Mr. Ornery threw his gloves far from himself. Mr. Ornery “walked” down the hill on his knees, plodding along at a pace that slays a parent. Mr. Ornery removed his hat, his scarf, his gloves, his coat and finally slid out of the shoulder straps of the snow pants which then rested along his ankles as he proceeded to waddle along the sidewalk.

Mr. Ornery’s mother went ballistic. She was cold. She couldn’t handle it anymore. Fingers numb, carrying sleds, repeatedly beckoning the 3-year-old to keep walking, she couldn’t stand the sight of Mr. Ornery dropping items of warmth and picking them up only to drop them again. She couldn’t stand that he was clearly being obstinate and obnoxious and ornery! Clearly.

She slammed the door shut upon entering the house. She pulled off boots and snow pants tossed them across the kitchen floor. She picked up that Mr. Ornery and held him sideways stomping all the way upstairs. Super Tall Guy and The Little Guy kept their distance….but followed the excitement to the top. Depositing him into the boys’ bedroom, Crazy Mama yelled, “You better stay in there until you can figure out how to cooperate!!” before closing the door. Like that helps.

Crazy Mama sat on the top step and sighed deeply, catching her breath. Super Tall Guy wrapped his arms around the back of her neck and said, “We all make mistakes, Mom. It’s okay.”

I wasn’t sure if he was talking about my mistake in my over-the-top response or the antics of an angry 5-year-old, but he was right. We all make mistakes and it’s okay. I opened the door.

I don’t let the boys know that often enough. I don’t make it “safe” enough for them to experience mistakes and failures. And if I don’t figure it out soon, eventually I will be instilling in them the area that I struggle with the most.

eggAnd I knew this when I moved the kitchen rug the other night. Roxy dog had really been licking at it earlier. I couldn’t figure out why. Mr. Ornery was helping me make his cake for his birthday the next day and had gotten out three eggs. Apparently, there had been a fourth egg which had tumbled to the floor and while I wasn’t looking must have been hurriedly covered up by the kitchen rug (which is still in the laundry…sigh).

Why? Because Mr. Ornery was worried that Crazy Mama would yell at him. That Crazy Mama would get mad and cart him upstairs to his bedroom on the very night that he was beyond THRILLED that she was letting him bake with her. Mr. Ornery was worried that he had made a mistake and the consequences would be too great for him to pay that time. Hiding the evidence seemed to be a better option.

I know that I want my boys to be able to make mistakes. I want them to fail and to learn. I want them to “shake it off” and move on. I want them to see that it is the joy of trying that matters. I want them to be brave. (And I want them to clean up after their mistakes too!)

I need to model that. I need to tell them about my mistakes and how I learn from them and plan to do better. I need to show them my mistakes. I need to laugh at mistakes more often. And we need to encourage each other to let our kids make mistakes. And we need to help each other be okay with kid mistakes as sometimes kids’ innocent mistakes are the spark that ends in abuse. We need to let kid mistakes be just that…an “oh man!” moment for growth and moving on.

But as Mr. Ornery wouldn’t confess to the two little piles of poop on the bathroom floor earlier today until direct questioning…it’s clearly not “safe” enough for him yet.

I’m still making mistakes. Still learning. And so are they. One great loving and learning failing family!

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.