Roll of the moody dice

It’s not really quite possible to describe the “typical” amount of chaos that just hangs in the air at our house. I suppose that if you are neighbors, you probably hear it quite regularly. I suppose that if you really wanted to experience it, you’d offer to babysit all five boys by yourself for the day for free (haven’t found that person yet). Or if you’re brave enough, you would stop by for a couple hours….get a hefty dose….and tell yourself, “Wow, I am so lucky to live alone/only have one kid/only have two kids/(fill in the blank!)”

We’re not really loud and chaotic all the time, though. Generally, after 9:00 pm, you could actually give us a call and maybe hear just one little squeaky voice in the background. You could also stop by around midnight when I’m up working in the office….and it’s pretty quiet right now. Super Tall Guy will come stumbling down the steps any minute to be tucked in again and The Little Guy is slated to need someone to “cover me” around 3:00 am and again at 4:30 and then likely at 5:42….or he could be up for good at that time.

But in these few, entirely delectable quiet moments of the night (when I’m energized by Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz…mixed with Chocolate Therapy delight….a combination I just discovered yesterday and is guaranteed to add a few pounds to my slowed-metabolism midriff), in these ephemeral glimpses of peace….

Hmmm….seems like I should be able to think of something profound to write about. Huh.

Ah, yes – brain reconnecting now…

The thing about these quiet moments is that they absolutely never happen when the boys’ eyes are open. Even if you put on the most engrossing movie possible, you’ll only get 138 seconds of stillness before The Little Guy loses attention and moves on to beeping the walkie-talkie followed by the predictable, responsive barks of “Quit that!!” “Be quiet!” “I can’t hear!” “MOOOOOOM!!!”

The other day I thought about this constant flurry of activity and how the escalations and dips really vary depending on so many things and a great deal on the personalities and quirks and behaviors and current moods of each boy. (Oh….it’s 11:21 pm…and there’s The Little Guy whispering, “Mommy…I want you to cover me.”  Must go tuck….Will be back….)

The days are a game of chance….a roll of the dice. Five dice constantly being shaken. If the mood is good (a number 1 or 2), those 1-3 boys escape up to the toy room, drag out the bins of train tracks and set up an elaborate system in the tiny hallway at the top of the stairs and demand that no one remove it or trip over it trying to go downstairs.

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If a 5 or a 6 is thrown, the sour angry pesky rage kicks back at a brother who accidentally brushed passed. The seething narrow eyes find their prey and deviously trip the happy 1 or 2 bouncing down the stairs seeking someone to admire the train track at the top.

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It’s almost impossible to predict from one moment to the next. How will these dice get along? When will the next shake-and-roll jostle the current interaction patterns? How much can we the parents control this chaos?

 

A couple weeks ago, I took my boys to a friend’s house for the Fourth of July. We stayed up for the community fireworks and the “family” fireworks party at the grandmother’s house afterwards. We played hard the next morning and returned to Pittsburgh happy, yet exhausted (moods teetering, dice weighted heavily).  My sister took her boys to spend the night at another friend’s house and they got home a few hours before us. The moment we walked in, the battle lines were drawn. The brothers chose family sides. A constant exchange of verbal and physical attacks ensued followed by an occasional retreat and regroup. It didn’t take long before adult-intervention was clearly needed to separate the spinning dice.

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(By the way, we’re not even going to add the variable here of our new little completely unpredictable, nonverbal canine pal….who can get all the dice wound up and running squealing around the indoor Victorian home track!)

So….my job as a parent is to monitor the current playing field. Re-shake when necessary. Remove a couple dice if needed. Tip an angry 5 to a more content 3 range.

And when all else fails…..cheat.

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Ahhh…..peace…..

When you are Three Feet Tall….

The Little Guy went sliding across the floor this afternoon, landing face-first on the Jack and the Neverland Pirates “telescope” in his hands. He cried. The bruise formed.

“Aw,” I said. “Mommy just mopped the floor there because something spilled and you slipped on the wet floor.”  For the rest of the evening, he repeated in various renditions the woes of running across a wet floor and how it would be better to walk.

It made me think about Life from Three Feet. There is so much to learn….and most of it from experience.  “Wet floor” = slippery = fall on face! And the world is so very different from the perspective of being three feet tall….

When you are Three Feet Tall:

  • Big dogs are actually very scary monsters. Their happily wagging tail is aimed directly for your eyes and yet everyone keeps telling you, “he’s really friendly – you don’t have to be scared of him!” Try being hit in the face with that lashing rope and see what you think about his “friendliness”!
  • A simple task of “Go wash your hands” becomes an acrobatic feat as you balance atop a stool and lunge your belly onto the sink to teeter precariously while somehow turning a knob clockwise, twisting your torso to reach the soap, then lather and rinse. Boom! Landing on your feet again with pride….your joy is dashed when out rings, “Turn off the water!” Oh, darn.
  • Every single little bitty toy you want to play with has been placed high on top of the mantle with those tall parental creatures thinking that “out of sight” is “out of mind.” Not so!.  Look, I may be short….but the brain still works, buddy!
  • Brothers barreling through the room at full speed are almost guaranteed to knock you off your feet – especially the 85-pound one who barely seems to have any control of his flailing arms (or maybe he does….maybe he just pretends that “was an accident”….hmmmm….something to think about…..).
  • People say things like, “Oh look, you’re tall enough to ride the roller coaster this 130525-Idlewild-Amusement-Park-45-1024x681year!” They never once consider whether or not you might actually want to ride the roller coaster….and since you have no clue what that word means, you decide to go along with the apparent giddy waiting in line….climbing aboard….SHEER TERROR!!!
  • Of course, the very next weekend, they might deem you “too little” to join them in roller skating…or bowling….or Laser Tag. Come on – sometimes I’m “too big” to still be wetting my pants and then “too little” to hang with the cool dudes?!?
  • You practically run a 10K every time the family decides to go for a “short walk.” Anyone ever think about the fact that these legs are half the size of yours….thus they only move half the distance?  I’m doing 5 or 6 steps for every one of yours – think that might be why I’m so far behind you?

Some great things about being Three Feet Tall though:

  • You can still cuddle up in laps to read books at bedtime.
  • People still carry you around when you lift your hands halfway through a “short walk.”
  • Bending over to pick something up off the floor is hardly any work.
  • People tend to think you’re just really cute…like all the time! And this can go a long way. A Long, Loooong Way!

It helps me to think about Life from Three Feet a little. To be a little more patient with the short legs, the earnest attempt to complete tasks while living in the world of giants, and the view of big things coming at you fast. Sometimes it helps to slow down a bit and view the world from the kids’ point of view….rather than my own.

 

We adopted a girl!

Her name is Roxy.

She is fourteen pounds.

A Bichon-Terrier mix who is five years old, little and very sweet.

(Gosh….that didn’t take too long in between my weekly posts….)

Super Tall Guy picked out a pink collar at the shelter,“since she’s a girl.” I was impressed by his thoughtfulness, and she does actually look cuter with a splash of color.

First impressions:

Super Tall Guy – very happy to the point of not really knowing what to do (and misbehaving at summer camp – which he attributes to being excited about getting a dog to which I say “baloney. You better behave tomorrow” – cuz that’s a helpful threat.) “I’m so excited we have a Roxy day one2dog! Finally! And in a couple years we can get a bigger dog, like a black lab, and then we’ll have two dogs!” “I’ll clean up the poop in the morning and The Flipper gets to do the afternoon one!”

The Flipper – thrilled and trying to figure out how to “share” this new joy as both of the older boys would like to be “the first” at everything – feeding her, walking her, cuddling up with her to read books.  “Can’t believe we finally got a dog. I love my dog,” as he dances around the room.

Mr. Ornery – impartial and doesn’t really care to be the first to do anything. But since this seems to be the best thing since chocolate milk was introduced into the house, he’s attempting to appear interested. – “Look, she knows me already, she licked my hand”

Mr. Trouble (with a capital T) – senses possible competition for the “Capital T” title and is determined to maintain his distinguished honor. Thus, within a hour, he has kicked over the water dish, opened and closed the crate door incessantly, tried to feed her people food, and opened the doors to rooms we don’t want the dog in.  It’s only the beginning…it’s only the beginning. Kathy already called the dog by Mr. Trouble’s name – a sure sign that this is going to be an interesting experience.

The Little Guy – semi-terrified and semi-fascinated. It’s an approach-withdrawal dance every single encounter. “Can I pet her?”-“Ah, Mommy pick me up!!!”  The key is that Roxy is half his body weight, so I’m hoping he’ll get comfortable with her soon, compared to the black lab at a friend’s house this weekend that left The Little Guy quaking and frozen in place any time the lab walked within 5 feet of him!

First reactions from friends:

“Are you nuts?!?”

“Do you need more chaos?!?”

“Aw….she’s cute.” (that’s if I text them a photo)

“Man, you guys just have ‘adoptive’ hearts, don’t you? If it needs love and a home, you’ll take ‘em.”

“Awww!! Precious!!” (also to a photo)

“Congratulations”

“Are you serious?!?”

“Don’t forget, dogs get up just as early as kids to go out to pee!! LOL!” (to which I replied, “well, that’s just going to be the sister’s job then!” and I’m sure early-bird Super Tall Guy will be awake at 5:30 tomorrow to check on Roxy’s need to go out!)

Yep – that about sums up the responses from the first people who have heard. I’m sure it’s going to be a repetition of the above as the news spreads.

As if the kids don’t provide me with enough “writing material”….

Why we absolutely Do NOT need a dog for any reason…..maybe….

There’s been a lot of talk in this neck of the woods lately about getting a little dog. Super Tall Guy has been begging for one since the moment he could talk. I have him generally pacified with the excuse of needing to move first so that we’ll have a nice big yard for the dog to run (and theoretically not have to do daily excrement removal!). He did inform me just the other day, though, that the excuse is wearing a bit thin….and “if we don’t move this year, we must get a dog before my next birthday.”  I’m still not quite giving in.

I thought about it briefly last monthly….briefly enough to begin a conversation with the other head-of-household.  But then I let it drop….and now it surfaces again as the next boy approaches the tender age of 8 – apparently the age to consider getting a dog.

But….let me just say this (you know, in a blog, rather than in conversation….) – here are ALL the reasons why we don’t need a dog, actually:

Dogs bite – particularly little puppies. They are always nipping on something…your shoes, your TV remotes, your body. And really, we already have a biter in the house. His name is Mr. Trouble. Come to think of it – he’s never bitten me (wise young man), but he so enjoys shocking his mother with a good nip or causing a ruckus by attacking the back or arm of an unsuspecting brother/cousin. So why add another random pain inducer?

Dogs are constantly underfoot and you are always tripping over them. We have that already – The Little Guy. You turn around and boom – there he is! You trip over him.  You walk into the kitchen and he circles in front of you – boom! Trip over him. Anywhere you turn. Anywhere you walk. It’s uncanny. There is The Little Guy … underfoot! Boom. Trip.  (“uncanny?” …more like “annoying” is what it is!!)

Dogs tend to “piddle” in the house and usually in a most unwelcome place. We already have that – “Mommy, ‘someone’ peed on the floor again!!” – in the toy room, in a bed room, on the hardwood floor….a nice puddle of yellow. Seems Mr. Trouble went through a stage of marking his territory which (knock-on-wood) has subsided, but The Little Guy is still having enough “accidents” in his toileting “stage” that I’m not so eager to bring another creature lacking bowel and bladder control into the house!

Dogs bark a lot and you can’t actually make them be quiet if they don’t want to. And we really already have a whiny, crying little being – The Little Guy. He gets into fits of whine and cry that no amount of threat, cuddles, hugs or admonitions is going to snap him out of it. He’s particularly good about starting into a fit around 5:40 in the morning….just when you need that last bit of sleep cycle to get the body rested. Why would we want another incessant noise-maker???

Dogs shed, and tear up newspapers, and scratch up furniture, and pull things off counters, and carry shoes around the house and leave them in miscellaneous places, and splash water all over the floor while drinking, and…. And, really, the five creatures who ambulate on two feet pretty much do the exact same things – shed scratched tableclothes wherever they happen to be standing, tear up newspapers or books, scratch the dining room table with the tines of forks (despite repeated admonitions), pull candies and treats off the counters, carry one shoe off and leave it wherever they last changed their focus of attention, and can’t possibly direct every drop of water from a cup into their mouth, thus splattering the floor… And this is all in a 20-minute period – now just keep repeating that throughout the day!

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Dogs wander into places you don’t want them to go unless you’ve managed to train them to be in the crate or a room for the day. Children also seem to have the habit of wandering into rooms that you’ve expressively forbidden them numerous times. And when caught red-handed, they hide under your office room chair and pretend they’re not there and that that’s obviously not their mess on your desk!

Okay… in an attempt to be fair and reasonable, there are a couple reasons why we do need a dog…

They clean up the house – at least of anything edible.  I have, in fact, vowed to never feed the boys spaghetti again until we have a dog who will clean the floor. I have to date broken that vow numerous times….but I still say it every time I attempt to get the sticky stringy noodles to stop clinging to the broom bristles and move into the dustpan.

They are generally protective and since we’ve already been robbed….it stands to reason that it might be nice to have a loud boisterous deterrent guarding the door and the little ones inside.

They are adorable and cuddly …. For just a wee bit of time ….just like the cute and cuddly newborns ….who suddenly grew up to be loud and boisterous boys craving independence and “power.”

They are a “man’s best friend” and since we’re in the process of raising a rambunctious handful of men, it might be nice for them to have a friend….and a few lessons in “responsibility” wouldn’t hurt.

We’ll let you know what he/she looks like…. And, of course, we sure would love your advice for “family-friendly”…. “semi-shed-free” …. “lovable, adorable” dogs in the comments below.

….if you wouldn’t mind…

….just sayin’……

(thanks)

Anatomy of a Mantel in the home of Five Young Boys

Every year, our home is “recertified” for foster care. I’m not entirely sure why we continue to stay “open” and “certified” since we’re both crazy busy with the five boys…..but we do.  We could discuss this for awhile, but let’s not. The wine is kicking in and I’m ready to get to bed.  Nonetheless, to keep our house certified, we have an annual visit by our Child, Youth and Family (local Child Protective Services) case worker. This year, it’s a new caseworker. The one we had for ten years just retired in January and we haven’t met the new one yet….so we’re a little nervous.  There might have been a bit more cleaning this weekend than typical….so much so that Super Tall Guy exclaimed, “Why do we have to still be cleaning?!?”

The “anatomy of the mantel” will give you a hint at why.  I don’t really want to be doing a PDF….but there were a lot of graphics and I’m still in the stone-age for them….so bear with me….and enjoy.  Anatomy of a Mantel 6-22-14

Everything I need to know I learned from my son’s first grade

M & N 4-30-14Love your job and do it. – Super Tall Guy struggled with high energy and impulsivity the entire school year. It seemed like every day he was getting into a bit of trouble in first grade. Wrapping up a parent-teacher conference with the principal in attendance, I thanked the two of them with heartfelt gratitude for being willing to work so hard with him. “Of course,” said the principal, “It’s our job and we love him.” It struck me that she was right and I was thrilled to see them do their job with such loving hearts.

Judge less. Give more grace. – Super Tall Guy informed me one day, “Mom, why are you always judging me? They give me more grace at school.”  Apparently, my constant parent-harping is considered judging and I should give him a little more grace. Very true. They speak the truth.  And if you make a mistake and “judge” the wrong kid, apologize and make amends. That’s what his teacher does

Some things take a lot more time and money than you expect. Let’s take shopping for school supplies at the beginning of the year as an example. Enough said.

Find a routine that works and stick to it….up until the point at which you find you absolutely must change it. Figure out when that homework must be done and stick to it. Kids smell weakness.

It’s okay to reward some behaviors. It is amazing how the “Spelling” grade sky-rocketed once practice was tied to the reward of “ten minutes of TV” (well, technically, “screen time” as the TV is still out of commission thanks to the mysterious “somebody” who keeps getting into trouble!). Rewards in the form of “Leaping for Joy” from the teacher can also become screen time!

Be patient and try again. You won’t always succeed on the first (or 200th) time, but keep trying. Math facts and phonics “special sounds” are pure memorization – do the drill to get the result.

Be present in the moment….and actually listen. If your kid has something to say about school other than a monosyllabic grunt, shut your mouth completely and give space for whatever he wants to say. It’s going to be rare.

Make new friends and cultivate your friendships. Bug your mother incessantly until she sets up a playdate – it’s important. Spend time with people.

Remember that the start and end of a project are always the busiest times. Plan for that.  The first couple weeks of school take an enormous amount of energy to get into a rhythm and you might as well just take off work the last week of school, what with awards ceremonies, family picnics, early dismissal…..

Hug and Kiss your kid every single day. Tell them that they are doing a good job and that they will change the world. Someday they just might believe you.

 

 

The Final Little Guy (at least currently)

(My sister informed me this morning, “Hey, I didn’t receive a Middle of the Madness email yesterday!” I replied, “And do you remember that I had something stuck in my eye last night and couldn’t hold the right one open?” So….I’m a day late…but here.)

Almost exactly at this time, three years ago, on an ordinary Thursday morning, I was presenting to a group of doctors about the concept of a crisis nursery like Jeremiah’s Place. My cell phone vibrated in my pocket and I ignored it through the talk, through the questioning time and as I walked out of the building with my colleague. Reaching my car, I returned the call to my sister. “How busy are you?” she asked. “Well, things are pretty busy,” I thought of all the work to be done on the nonprofit, raising two boys, working 3 part-time jobs.

“Super Tall Guy and Mr. Ornery have a little brother.”

Huh.

I called the caseworker back and she asked, “Are you ready to adopt another boy?” I couldn’t answer. Wow. There was no way I could commit to that in fifteen minutes. Adoption is a big decision. I finally replied, “I can commit to fostering the brother, but I can’t say I’m ready to adopt today.” (Of course, you all know, that the moment I said the first “yes” – I was also saying the “adoption

And so there was The Little Guy! He was ready to be discharged that afternoon, after spending 5 weeks in the hospital for methadone withdrawal. We were leaving for the beach in two days – Saturday morning. So I drove home, picked up a car seat, chose a “cute” take-me-home outfit and headed off to the hospital.

The Little Guy was tucked in the corner of the nursery. He had a little MamaRoo swing that he apparently had loved spending time in. He had a whole lot of nurses who had loved him for the past month. He had a few outfits and apparently a grandmother who had visited a couple times. I met with the resident who was “discharging” him and walked out with a little bundle. We went straight home so I could have a little time with him before the brothers arrived.

Then we went into hyper-drive – packing even more than usual for a beach vacation – diapers, baby clothes, bottles, formula, binkies, pack-n-play, blankets. It was a hectic start but in a way it was nice to go away. We all had time to bond some with this little guy, rather than returning right to work as is typically the case for us in getting newborns.

The Little Guy came to us at the “oldest” age for an adopted boy. Sometimes I’m sad about missing out on those first few sweet weeks (though I guess for him they were difficult fussy weeks of crying and sleeping through medicated stupors). Sometimes, though, I wish the “System” would have called me right after he was born so that I might have visited him during those weeks. After all, with the birth mother in jail, they knew the baby would go to a foster home and they always try to place with siblings first. And yet, the “system” is that the Child Protective Services aren’t even notified until right before hospital discharge. And maybe it would have been hard for me to see The Little Guy struggling to clear drugs from his body. And yes, it would have been hard to squeeze in time to sit by his bedside at the hospital (likely it would have been late into the night). And yet, I would gladly have been there – for everyone needs to feel love and comfort – and a new little guy certainly needs that.

It was a “rockier” time with the adoption process for the Little Guy. I had started blogging by then so have shared several of the stories along the way. Long story, shorter….therenot-the-dad-2 was an identified “father of the baby” who was incarcerated, but who wrote letters to the baby at least 1-2 times a week. I finally became weary of this “relationship” and asked for paternity testing…which revealed that he was “not the dad.” That awkwardness ended but I still had to face the birth mother during a “contact visit” at the county jail before the adoption (yes, I made the commitment) finalized just before he turned two.  (Three years later, I’m hoping that my advice to seek contraception was in fact followed. My hands are a bit full.)

Part of this “rockiness” led me to talk to Super Tall Guy a bit about the situation with The Little Guy and the birth parents. Apparently Super Tall Guy then had some hope that The Little Guy wasn’t going to be staying around and taking up attention and space and toys. Even just last month, as an 8-yr-old, Super Tall Guy lay in bed one night and said, “I wish we didn’t adopt The Little Guy.” It seems life is still rough to be sharing time and attention. I’m sure that all families struggle with how many kids to have, and for us foster-to-adopt families, it’s hard to predict how all of this will play out. Will the foster kids stay and become adopted….or will they tear your heart in two as they leave? As hard as it is on the adult, it also has implications for the kids in the household as well.

Three years later, The Little Guy is still “the little guy” (though he’s finally solidly on the growth chart!!)I used to tell people that The Little Guy got the “memo” that he was Boy # 5 and life would be easier as a calm, mellow little dude. And he sure did get a “memo” – the one that said, You’re Boy # 5 – you better be extraordinarily loud, stubborn, and strong-willed. I know these characteristics are going to be fantastic strengths one day, but in a 26-pound three-year-old, they are an expressive, argumentative, whiny, outspoken little guy!