A Single Parent’s Dreams

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,” 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.
  • The presence of another parent who also had the “responsibility” for the kids and I could leave them while 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • 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.

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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

The Seven Dwarves at Disneyland

 

Visiting California recently for the family reunion was the perfect excuse to get the boys to Disneyland. Having generally frequented Disney World during off-seasons, hitting the smaller Disneyland park during peak tourist time was a challenge for us all. But it also afforded ample opportunity for people watching and reflection. These are my seven brief categorizations of the people I saw.

  1. Grumpy. It’s thirty minutes before the night electrical parade. My family and I have alternated “bench saving” for the past two hours in the sun because we’re giving Grumpyour 5 young boys a special treat to stay up late and we’d like them to actually be able to see the parade. Pushing her stroller, Grumpy points to the seats questioningly. I respond, “Yes, I have a big family coming.” “Well, only six is appropriate you know.” Hmmm, you have been crowned Judge of Family Size? Move along, dear, move along. Fortunately, Grumpy people were relatively rare.
  1. Happy. In contrast, every single staff person, and I mean, every single staffer at happyDisney had a smile. No matter what. I tried multiple times to uncover potential  “slight dissatisfaction” – but no. Standing in 90 degree sunshine with a wide brim hat, Ann helped us get into the Autocars. Exhaust fumes filled the air. Motors roared. Cars bumped into each other despite numerous admonitions. “Aren’t you hot?” I queried with a smile. “No, I’m good,” she replied. I love how Happy they are. If you are ever feeling just a tiny bit down, glance at their name tag and say “Hello. I see you’re from….” The conversations are so much fun.
  1. Sleepy. We tried and tried to keep walking and walking and walkingsleepy the boys in the stroller. It took forever, but the 4 year old finally succumbed to the hum of people talking and the warmth of the sunshine. A little attention to “sleepy” time will turn anyone’s mood around.
  1. Dopey. These people are just loving the park. It doesn’t matter their age. Every ride brings a smile to their face. Being stuck on the Indiana Jones ride just dopeyas the jeep is about to cross the swinging bridge brings joy to the four young men in front of us as they “ooh and ahh” over the details of the ride. The lights are turned on and you can see the fake cobwebs and broken jugs, the snake eyes glowing and the realistic looking frayed ropes. They eagerly anticipate a free pass to another ride if this one continues to be broken….and squeal with delight when asked if they want to “go again?” once the ride moves along. It’s a chance for the kid in all of us to “play.”
  1. Sneezy – A glance at the Disney character description suggests that sneezyhe sneezes “violently and frequently but he doesn’t let that stop him from having fun.” The same for many of the people visiting Disney that day. Most of us carry around some struggle or illness or limitation, but when we have the chance to put it aside and let mirth and gladness surround us, we have the opportunity to just “be” in the moment ….for a moment. Sometimes that’s just what we need.
  1. Bashful – “Have you been on this ride before?” the mother behind us asked as her bashfullittle princess bounced around her waist. “Is it scary?” Hesitant, yet showing strength for her daughter, she reached out to a stranger for more information. We opened up a delightful conversation about travel and kids and how we love to surprise them and yet are so protective of them.

 

  1. Doc – It was a warm touch and I was not expecting it. The beautiful docwoman beside me waiting for the parade, placed her hand on my knee and said, “You’re doing well. It’s hard but hang in there.” – Doc – the encourager, the supporter. She could see Super Tall Guy’s anger and oppositional behavior “a mile away.” She knew his rage. She was calm when he bolted into the crowd yelling that he was going to go ride the people mover by himself then! She was not phased by his hurtful tone. “You’re doing well.” I needed those words that day. The comfort of knowing that despite the challenges, I was doing my best and that was good enough. I wandered after him. He returned before me. We watched the parade. The day moved on and was better after that.

May more and more of us be “Doc” to each other, show each other our Dopey side with abandon, take care of our Sleepy needs, rejoice and be Happy more often, approach the world Bashfully when needed, yet not get bogged down when Sneezy, and put a smile on Grumpy whenever you meet him. A smile and a light touch have “magical” powers. Use them.

Celebrating the family ….in a long over-due reunion

An airline flight of five hours is not ideal travel conditions for five boys ages 4-9. Nor is a 3-hour time difference conducive to productive sleep thus yielding subsequent emotional dysregulation. There was great dread and very little interest in my soul last week as I packed for the trip to California to visit relatives. The fear and nervousness dissipated with the first hug.

IdyllwildIt was the first family reunion in 18 years. The first time family gathered except for patriarch funeral and then matriarch funeral and then the eldest son’s funeral and then a few family members together for a wedding last fall where the idea of the family reunion germinated.

family 1

Awesome uncle encouraging The Little Guy to join in the soccer game.

Finally, fifty people including 24 children, gathered at a mountain resort. We adults were practically giving each other high-fives to not have to hear, “Look how much you’ve grown. Gosh, how big you are now.” Yes, it’s good to be on the other side of that. We got to hug and talk and laugh and introduce our children around. Social media has helped bridge the distance, but nothing is as strong as a warm hug.

Funny how it took a day to start to get to know each other. “Hi, and you are?” Despite my dislike of the custom, almost all conversations started with “And what do you do?” as we sought to establish some understanding. The kids, on the other hand, had no trouble at all. The girls held hands and skipped along like best friends within hours. The boys climbed rocks, battled with stick swords and chased each other round. There were crafts generously donated and coordinated by a great aunt and such laughter and joy. There were meals together and games and hikes. There were slide shows of old and new photos of the family, generating so many memories of prior times and prior clothing and hair styles!

And, there was also a delightful viral illness which knocked out Super Tall Guy, three cousins and one significant other. There’s nothing so glamorous as cleaning up vomit and diarrhea in a log cabin and longing for gloves and Lysol. My 31-year-old outdoor adventure cousin was the hardest hit and eventually left for IV fluids at the closest ER. Despite the miserable day he had spent in bed with constant fluid loss, he left with a smile and remarked, “In some ways, I don’t mind that I got sick. It showed me the amazing power of the family I have.”

family 2

Plastic cups labeled and washed for reuse! No waste here!

Yes, it is a tremendous amount of work and money to take the kids to the other side of the United States. Yet it is so important to me that my boys know in their very soul that throughout this large country, there are people out there who love them….just because they are family. They have joined this family through a court decree; yet, they have been welcomed with loving arms and open hearts. For that, I will be forever grateful. For each and everyone of my great big family is unique and wonderful and loving.

On our second night together, as The Little Guy had drifted off to sleep and Super Tall Guy’s eyes were softly fluttering, my brother opened the door to our cabin. “Everyone’s on the step for a family photo.” “Now?” I grumbled in disgust. “You’re kidding!”  Knowing that we had talked about it all day and never done it, I was frustrated that it was happening “late” at night. Yet, with furrowed brow and glaring eyes, I woke the boys, got them dressed and ran to the steps in time to set the timer on the camera. It flashed three times and we trudged back to the cabin. My cousin’s hug soothed me and I knew it was the right thing to do, but I teared up when Super Tall Guy lay down to sleep again and whispered, “I can’t wait to show that photo to my kids.”

Full circle.

Family.

 

We honor each other.

We love each other.

We work to continue to connect with each other.

Despite the trials and the difficulties of gathering.

Despite our differences and inconveniences.

 

If not for us….it is for our children.

For they must know that they are worthy and that they are loved.

They must know the strength of the bond that ties us.

We must give them family.

 

Family who will be there when you are sick and vomiting.

Family who will be there in the good times and the bad.

Family who will be there on the other side of the photo.

 

For someday our children will share us with their own family.

From one generation to the next

Love will endure.

family 3

The family also celebrated my parents’ 50th anniversary! They bear witness to love and family.