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.

The Sports Mom (ahem….Tiger Mom?)

It’s hard to be a competitive person by nature, and to channel that trait in parenting active and athletic boys (good thing my boys are not anywhere near Olympic potential or I’d surely be in trouble!). I stress out enough as it is, trying to instill the values of sportsmanship, of having fun, of playing your best, of staying in there for your team, of respecting and listening to your coach, of learning the game and not worrying about the score. After all, let’s be honest – the boys are only 8 and 6!  Of course, these little guys are hard-wired to be competitive – you don’t have to keep score, they keep it themselves! They know who won! So my typical pep talk has nothing to do with scores or winning, despite what my loud cheering on the sidelinesflag football might lead you to believe otherwise.

This Spring my older two played flag football (not “real” football because I’m a mother and I’m a pediatrician and I have a fetish about keeping brains intact). My eldest is not a natural at football but he seems to really enjoy playing and names it consistently as his favorite sport. So we arrived on the field and I was all smiles and happy to find out that he’d be coached this season by a former NFL player. Wow. Swoon. Or not.

Soon I was dealing with a sad, disappointed player who spent more time on the sidelines than he did on the field. And when on the field, he was allowed only one chance to actually carry the football, because there were 3 or 4 other players who were really good players. And they got to be quarterback and they got to be running back and they got to catch the ball and run. And it gets a little hard to have your boy look you in the eye and say, “Why don’t I get to play, Mom?” (especially when you know you paid $140 for your kid to PLAY!)

At the end of the first game, the coach went around the circle and told every single boy what he noticed about their play during the game. “S, way to get the flag that time.” “J, excellent run, you had great speed today.” “The medal goes to JL for that end-of-the game interception.” And when he got to Super Tall Guy who was last, he said, “Um, you man, you have two eyes.” Ouch. Now there’s a self-esteem builder. Two eyes. Fortunately Super Tall Guy is not socially savvy enough to know that he was just offended – but his mother is.

So, the next week, I decided to double check my perception. I grabbed a notecard and a Sharpie from the gym bag and recorded who was off the field in the first half. Kid #15 was on the sideline for 16 plays (his mom said he asked her if he could play his DS — I mean, really?!? The kid is sitting on the grass for so long that he wants to play a video game because he’s bored!)  #29  was out 11 times, Super Tall Guy was out 9 times….and the two coaches’ sons stayed in the entire half.

Don’t mess with Mama Bear.

Being much more bold than I almost EVER am, I marched right up (timidly) to that 6 ft- 4 in muscular giant and said, “Coach, you are not rotating the kids evenly. Some of them are spending a lot of time on the sidelines” and I showed him the card. My heart pounded!! He looked down at me and said, “I play them only if they are paying attention and every kid gets to carry the ball once.” Once? That’s football?! You get to touch the ball one time?!  And you want 8 year olds to sit on the sideline and learn by watching? I believe developmental research indicates that children learn by doing! Heck – most adults learn by doing!

Shaking from the interaction, I returned to the other side of the field and watched Super Tall Guy get out on the field at least a little a bit more that week. Over the rest of the season, though, he was called up mostly when the team was on defense (he’s a solid mass, probably seems more intimidating than his actual flag-pulling ability). And if he got on the field for offense, he got to snap the ball – and get his one carry. Not only did Super Tall Guy notice this, but the coaches of the teams we played against also noticed that the talented players played more.

Believe me, I’m not naive. I understand sports. I know that you’re not going to be able to

play if you’re goofing around. I know you have to work hard. And some day, if my boys want to try out for a school team and expect to play in the games, they are going to have to figure it out. I won’t be coddling them. But for this season, I invested in this particular sports league because of its promise to be non-competitive, to focus on the joy of the game and learning all aspects of the game, and to play every kid an equal amount of time. I want my boys to have fun. I want Super Tall Guy to feel like he is part of a team. I want him to look forward to the games.

Super Tall Guy has played two other seasons in this league. He’s not dumb. He knows this isn’t right or fair. But he also can’t quite figure this out in words. He can’t express the disappointment he’s feeling. And he’s certainly too shy to try to talk to a coach. Until he learns how to stand up for himself and be able to demand what he is due – until that day, then it is my job.

I do not like confrontation. I am a peace-maker. But I will also fight for fairness and justice for my boys, for your boys, for your girls, for all children.

I asked Super Tall Guy to write a thank you note to each coach as we do every season the boys play. He wrote it willingly, sealed the envelops and addressed them to “Coack” (spelling his own). I know the coaches volunteer. I am grateful for their willingness to share their time and talent. I truly am. But I will also hold them to a high standard when they touch the life of a child.

Sure glad to be done with this season. Tiger Sports Mom is moving on.

Letting them down…Helping them learn

Last week I frantically waved my left hand at the back of the kindergarten classroom hoping that the substitute teacher would notice me, and I could point to an empty ring finger in the hopes that she’d stop asking my 6-year-old to “be thinking of what you like to do with your dad because I’ll call on you next. I always like to call on kids when their parents are visiting us.” His head dropped as she reached down to tie his shoe and I heard her speak more softly, “that’s okay. You can tell us something you like to do with your mom instead,” but she never did call on him.

It’s the end of the school year. Time to make Father’s Day cards. Heart sink. I cringe with regret that I have let my boy down. I’m not good enough. I have not “given” him what every boy wants – a Dad. My boys probably deal with this issue more than I imagine. Given an age in which non-traditional family structure is becoming more and more common, it still amazes me that certain settings continue to function as if there is only one model of family. Elementary schools still have pre-printed materials that ask children to fill in what they do with their dad or with their moms as if it applies to everyone. Parent forms usually do not include a way to indicate single parenting or non-traditional parenting.

And I realize that even though I have wrapped my mind around the fact that we’re currently a non-traditional family, I don’t often talk about it with the boys. Yes, when they bring it up, I answer their questions. When Super Tall Guy blurts out, “You’re never going to get married, Mom,” I answer, “You never know.”  But I realized a few days ago, that it might actually have been helpful to talk to Mr. Ornery about what happened in the classroom, to reflect with him, “I noticed your teacher kept asking about what you like to do with your dad. How did that make you feel?” I might be able to learn some from him and help him feel more aware and comfortable with our situation.

Instead, I process the experience for myself. How did it make me feel? What did I think? Well, I felt like I let him down. That I wasn’t providing enough for him. That I put him in an awkward situation just because I haven’t done the “typical” life cycle event of getting married. That somehow my poor kid is not living life to the fullest that he could be. Then I stop myself and remind myself that I am providing for these boys so much more than what the situation they were born into could have provided. We have a home filled with more toys than they need. They rarely experience hunger. They have an extended family who loves them and a wide social net around them. They play sports. They go to the pool. We take family vacations. I remind myself that I am doing my best for them and it’s pretty darn good, come to think of it. (Yes, they do need to be doing piano lessons….but I just haven’t gotten around to scheduling that yet, much to their delight!)

It’s hard to understand the world around you if no one explains it to you when you’re six. It’s hard to comprehend how families are different and how life is different for different people unless someone explores that with you. And as an introvert who is so used to internally processing what I see and hear and experience, I rarely think about making my thoughts “evident” to my sons. Huh. New parenting insight. “Think” more externally. Journey with them rather than apart from them.

Good thing I processed the situation! :)

 

10 Things you do Reflexively after Having Kids!

  1. Maintain at least one child-length distance from the galloping child in front of you as you go down stairs. It is nearly impossible to predict the sudden stop three steps from the bottom to pick up a crumb, fix a twisted sock, or oh wait! To jump off the step! Of course he was going to jump. (step 3, step 4, step 5….Quit it!!)
  2. Tense every muscle in your body to prepare for impact as a flailing child comes hurtling towards you at full speed. The possible damage is entirely unpredictable and best to assume defensive posture with wide stance and arms reflexively protecting sensitive body parts.
  3. Pick up the discarded bandaid, the teeny tiny Lego hand, the empty juice cup, the hallwaytoy blockade, the shrugged-off blankie as you walk by, all the while promising yourself that “next time” you will most certainly and definitely require the kid to do this menial clean-up. After all, it really is such an important part of their early learning. Next time.
  4. Avert one’s head at the slightest sound of air intake made by any child under age 5 (or even age 10 for that matter). You knew coming into this parenting assignment that you were going to get puked on, peed on, pooped on, but really….a full-force cough spewing droplets right into your own face? Just not right.
  5. Kiss a boo-boo. Any boo-boo. Knees. Toes. Fingers. Bellies. Foreheads. Even if it’s not your own child, because we all know the golden kiss heals all boo-boos (or at least temporarily stops the screech!).
  6. Nod and mumble “Uh, hmmm” repetitively to signal that you are paying “close” attention to the lengthy detailed story emitting from a child’s mouth even though you have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about (including sonorous descriptions read from Pokemon card collections). Clarifying questions are sometimes needed if you’ve become completely distracted, but notice a word or phrase indicating that you might actually need to know a bit of this information.
  7. Inspect all toilet seats as you approach. There really is no need for the cold wet discomfort of knowing you forgot this time. They are boys, after all.
  8. Run your fingers through a kid’s hair as they cuddle up against you. The soft curls. The fine strands. There’s nothing quite like it as you send messages of love through their body without saying a word.
  9. Jump sideways and backwards at the sight of a falling sippy cup. There is no greater pain than 8 ounces of milk inside a plastic projectile colliding with one’s big toe…unless, of course, you consider unexpectedly stepping on a Lego. It’s a nightmarish toss-up.
  10. Catch your kid’s eye in the rear-view mirror or before the school play or in the midst of a soccer game and flash them the “I-love-you” signal, letting the warm flush of love course through you as they grin back reception of your message.

Parenting is subtle. Day in and day out you usually don’t notice the patterns and reflexes that you’ve developed. Some are protective. Some are loving. All are because you’re inextricably tied to this delightful little being.

Savor the craziness. It doesn’t last forever.

Ten reasons why foster parenting is so hard

  1. You just have no idea when your phone is going to ring and a caseworker is going to ask if you’d like to take on a kid. Sometimes you’re just waiting and waiting eagerly. Sometimes you’re crossing your fingers saying “I’ve got three right now, I’m feeling a bit busy, thank you, but….” And sometimes they ask if you can pick up a kid within 15 minutes!
  1. You just have no idea how long a kid is going to stay with you. It might be three days for a “shelter hearing” when a relative or someone else is found to take the foster child, or it might be 6 months and 2 days, or 18 months and 9 days, or at least 18 years and the rest of the kids’ life once you’ve adopted the child.
  1. You just have no idea when they are going to schedule a “visit” for the child to see his or her biological parent and once the child goes off in a stranger’s car, when the child will return to you. If the parent shows up for the visit, it might be a couple hours. If the parent doesn’t show, it might be just a round-trip in a car. You just have no idea how truly irksome this is to have little control over your schedule.
  1. You just have no idea whether to get rid of some of the 3T boy clothes you still have in boxes or whether you should keep them just in case another kid comes along. Do you take the carseats out of the car or shove them in the trunk?
  1. You just have no idea how much paperwork you’re going to have each time the caseworker stops by for a visit. And when one agency decides to stop their foster care services and you have to switch to another agency, you have another thousand and five pages to complete, and clearances to run, and home inspections to prepare for.
  1. You just have no idea how each child is going to respond to arriving in your house. You can’t predict if they’ll cuddle right in or scream for hours. You don’t know if they’ll throw punches at the wall or help with the dishes. You don’t know if the other children are going to be thrilled with a new “friend” or wish that they were gone. The uncertainty is huge because everyone is reacting to a major unexpected change.
  1. You just have no idea how painful it is to have a child leave your house with only a few hours notice and realizing that you likely will never see that child again in your life, despite being the one and only parent the child has had in the past 10 months. The empty space hurts.
  1. You just have no idea how protective you can become of a child, caring for them the best you can and wanting so badly to advocate for their well-being.
  1. You just have no idea how frustrating it is to not really have a voice for a child. You provide the 24-hour a day love and care but have no influence over the bigger picture. You wash and feed the child, watch them grow, encourage their development, treat the fevers, but no one wants to hear your point of view.
  1. You just have no idea how quickly your heart is going to fall in love with the child in your home as you rock them to sleep and kiss their scrapes and bumps. You tell yourself that you’re keeping a distance, that you’re not really attached, that this is just “foster love,” but your heart never listens to that anyway.

You just have no idea how your love and your hugs and your home can make all the difference in a child’s life, comforting them in a moment of chaos and giving them layers and layers of love to buffer them through life’s future troubles. They may stay with you. They may return home. They may more on. But your touch is always written upon their life.foster

You just have no idea how wonderful it can be to be a foster parent.

Think about it.

Some kid somewhere out there needs you to be brave enough, strong enough, creative enough to say, “I just have no idea….and you know what? That’s okay.”

 

 

On Mothering and Foster Parenting for Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day and Foster Parenting Awareness Month coming together kind of makes me reflective – though not reflective enough to type through the exhaustion of Mother’s Day evening! It might have been the four hours of shadeless, 92 degree sun while the boys practiced and played flag football that got to me. Yes, that is what mothers do on “their” day, apply SPF 70 sunscreen to survive the brutal battlefields of youth sports. And yet, when I turned to the mother beside me and said, “This is what makes mothering fun – watching your kid run and jump and cheer and smile,” she smiled and nodded in agreement.

And these rare moments are a good thing because those little beings don’t always make you proud to be their mother. Take their recent rock launching incident at a friend’s house, for example. Or the kicking out of the stained glass window! Or a host of other ways they torture mothers!

Mothering is one of life’s biggest challenges and it starts right from the beginning. For some, mothering appears suddenly, unexpectedly with cheers or big sighs. For others, it might be the joyous moment at the end of a long wait or years of careful planning. It might stop and restart to the dismay of the expectant heart for some.

Or it might putter down the long road of foster parenting. “Hi, I’m his foster mom,” is the awkward phrase that tries to encapsulate one’s care of and affection for a child and yet a distance that is forced to exist. The foster mother has all the responsibility for caretaking of the child – feeding, clothing, bathing, sleeping, getting homework done, reading, worrying, laughing, crying and treating the fevers. Yet the mother has no true responsibility in terms of decision-making. The foster mother asks for permission to take the child on vacation. She asks for medical decisions on his/her behalf. She can’t speak up in court to inform the judge on what’s really in the best interest of the child. When it comes to what will really affect the child’s future, the foster mother is silenced. “Love her, but don’t get attached.” “Treat him like he’s your own child, but don’t make any decisions.” It’s a hard space to be in and sometimes it doesn’t feel at all like mothering. But to the child – it is everything that is important. And for 27,419 children in 2012 – the foster family became the forever family.

Yes, mothering is a journey. It is not an arrival. The path is pretty wide and there’s a lot of leeway for stumbling along and doing things your own way or for trying something new. There are smooth parts and bumpy parts and lots of hiccups along the way. There’s singing and dancing and laughing and crying. And there’s certainly a great deal of pain ground deep within the furrows of the path. There’s distractions and dead ends and wrong turns and celebrations. So it’s pretty important to travel along in the company of other women. Sometimes, they’ll help you carry some things to lighten the load. Sometimes they’ll jostle you a bit to get the smile back on your face. And sometimes they’ll pull you back onto the path when you’ve gone a little over the edge and you reach back for a strong hand. Travel among the women. It’s your only hope.

So whatever the type of mother – bio mother, adoptive mother, step-mother, his mother, her mother, tiger mother, tired mother, lax mother, strict mother, helicopter mother, world’s best mother – take care of yourself, take care of each other, and hang on. The road continues on.