Make way for the GUILT

I know that most people dread Monday mornings….the back to work routine… the end of rest and relaxation. But I secretly don’t mind Mondays because they signal the end to harried weekends.  It’s almost impossible to have any semblance of “relaxation” on the weekend – there’s always one more fight to call truce for, one more cup of water to get (come on, 3-year-old, reach the sink already, would ya?), one more spill to wipe up. But Monday? Monday morning I get to sit down at my grown-up desk, reach for a cup of coffee (that is still warm), and think about….ah….ADULT stuff (as well as wonder if I packed the quarter for milk in the lunch box, if Super Tall Guy is behaving at school, if I remembered to pay the day care bill….fleeting, fleeting worries…back to work).

Sometimes, I even feel just a tad bit guilty for liking Monday mornings when everyone else is moaning. But that’s only because it’s clear that as a parent, you will feel guilty about almost absolutely every single decision you make and even ones that you didn’t really make.

My latest parent guilt trip took off last week. For the first time, I had to go away for a business trip (and was actually looking forward to a quiet evening alone in a hotel room!). I kept the upcoming 36 hour getaway low key early in the week and the boys said goodbye pretty easily Thursday morning (though Mr. Ornery slept through the kiss I planted on his forehead). By Thursday night, however, I was talking with Super Tall Guy at an hour past his bedtime and listening to his weeping, sobbing cries of “I need you here, Mommy?….Why did you leave me?…..There is no meeting more important than me, Mommy.”  (You know it’s a tear-jerker when it’s weeping, sobbing crying!). Of course, he was in the excellent hands of my sister and mother, and yet I felt pretty bad about leaving him and for “burdening” my family with the care of my three rambunctious temperamental boys (though I confess, the king-size bed was pretty sweet without my usual 90-pound son encroaching upon my space!).

And this came on the heels of my wallowing guilt for Super Tall’s two-weeks of nonstop saliva-spitting throat pain after his tonsillectomy. So I’m feeling a bit fragile in the parenting department right about now.

The problem with parenting is that you feel guilty no matter what. I yelled at my kids too much today. I put them in daycare rather than having Mary Poppins nanny at home. I work rather than be a stay-at-home mom (even though I’m single and have to be the bread-winner!). I fed them McDonald’s two days in a row. I put the blue lid on the green sippy cup. I forgot the water bottle for the soccer game. I rocked him to sleep. I didn’t rock him to sleep. I left the chocolate bar within reach. I told him a thousand times not to touch the hot pan – he still touched it. I snapped at the three-year-old for wetting his pants….and at the five-year-old for wetting his pants. I bought a Nerf gun. I let him sleep over at a friend’s house when he was already tired. I only read one book before bed. I thought the 32 stickers on the belly were cute…until we tried to take them off.

I missed church today….again. I didn’t have the energy to battlezoo 2014 Super Tall Guy and his argument that he’s practically at church all week by attending a Christian school. Instead we had a “quiet” morning of indoor soccer goalie practice (nothing shattered) and then headed to the zoo. It was a perfect sunny day and I sat watching them scurry through the mole rat maze. Peace. And I didn’t even play with my phone – I just rested in the moment. A mother bouncing a ten-month old sat next to me and we struck up that typical “hey, your baby is cute and boys are WAAAAY different than girls” parenting conversation. She confessed that they had also missed church despite having gotten dressed and ready….but just didn’t get there. I shared that I had also given in and decided I could be a less-stressed, more patient mother by enjoying just a bit of time with them this morning as well. Before parting, she said, “Thank you for the affirmation. Sometimes I feel so guilty.”

Sometimes we have to remember that we are being the best parent that we can be in the moment that we have. I know that so many times I want to have done better. So many times I wish there was a rewind button, even if only 5 minutes back, to have a chance to do it over and do it “right” this time. But often I have to remember that there usually isn’t a “right” way to do it. There are so many factors at play – what I’m bring to the situation, what the kid is bringing and the context that we’re in.

Sometimes, I’m a “good enough” parent. I’ll never be a perfect parent. There is no perfect person….no perfect kid. But the fact that I care enough to think about it – that I care enough to experience guilt (on a pretty regular basis) – that it matters to me….that’s what makes me a pretty good parent. The willingness to try my best despite suffering “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” of parenting – that’s what matters. There will always be guilt. There will always be a next time. May we continue to encourage each other to be the best we can be in the moment…and practice forgiveness.

When Parenting Drop-kicks your Expectations

“Parenting – the hardest job you’ll ever love.”  I don’t know, sometimes, it just doesn’t work for me. Sometimes it’s just way harder than I’d like it to be….and I’m not seeing much of the flames of love.

Most of the time, it’s hardest when it spits at and flaunts my expectations for the day. You’d think that with a cumulative “parenting age” of 16 (8 + 5 + 3), I could learn not to have expectations….but no…..I’m still a young and naïve student of erratic, nonsensical, disruptive young boy behavior.

The earliest lessons in false expectations are learned dramatically by all parents in naptime woes. You think you’ve managed to keep the little 3-month-old awake all morning and put him down at 10:00 am so you can catch the Ellen Show…but no….five minutes after you just sit down, right after her dance routine fades into commercials, and…. “waaaah.” Crushing.

You think you’re going to enjoy a nice afternoon at the Museum of Natural History, dsc_0243but you spend the entire time chasing down an escaping two-year-old, cornering him in the bathroom after he’s already wet his pants, and then staring in shock as he drops his knickers in full view to pee on the grass near Dippy the Dinosaur outside. Mind-numbing, drop-kicking parenting.

Then there’s the recent experience with the tonsillectomy where I figured about 4-5 days of ice cream, popsicles and jello and we’d be right back into routine.  But no…..two trips to the ER, return trip to the operating room and two weeks of spitting out saliva. Messy, disgusting, worrisome….and so knocking out my expectation.

Parenting…. drop-kicks every expectation, right?!?

But no, I don’t even learn the hard way. Tuesday morning….it’s my birthday….and what do I expect?  Silly of me to even think that we could possibly have a peaceful day. Super Tall wakes up beside me and wonders, “Do I get to stay home from school for your birthday?” “No, my dear,” I reply, “I don’t even get to stay home from work!” And since it was the first day back to school after a long holiday weekend, the boys sure weren’t going to work too hard on having a peaceful back-to-school moment just because it was my birthday!

But I out of work a little early to pick them up from the bus and take them out for some ice cream (my treat) …. and that was the end of the peace. Parents picked up Thai food earlier and reheated it for dinner. Boys bounced on and off chairs and screeched and babbled at the table repetitively. Every few minutes another pile of dog poop was gleefully discovered under the table and had to be cleaned up. The wine glass stood untouched. The food was cold by the time it reached my lips. The fight over who was going to blow out the candle (clearly not the birthday girl) was not surprising, of course, and the chaos before the quiet of deep sleep was only a tad more than typical. “Exhausting” is not even an adequate adjective.

My brother called around 8 pm and asked, “So – what’s your resolution for this upcoming year of your life?” Without pause I replied, “Next year – next year on my birthday, I am going to be at a nice restaurant with adult friends enjoying some peace and quiet and a very fine glass of wine!” He seemed surprised. I don’t know why.

In about 50 weeks, I’ll let you know time and location ….and I’m going to expect some good cheer, belly laughs, and a table full of peace and quiet!!

You can hold me to it.

(Of course, this expectation will be dashed by a kid who breaks his arm falling off the top of the minivan at 4:00 pm!)

 

5 things to do differently next year so that I’m not apologizing again

Because I really do owe my boys a great big huge apology for totally underestimating their amount of stress this week with the start of school.  It became pretty clear by school day number 4 when every single person in the house was tantruming in the morning, including me. It was a bit obvious the night before when the 5-yr-old new kindergartener cried every 5 minutes about absolutely everything in big weeping, sobbing tears punctuated by blood-curdling screams.

Yes, it took me three days to become reflective enough to see that the boys were exhausted and I certainly had not done well enough to prepare them nor to help them navigate the huge change of starting school. By the time I got them to bed on day #4, I had myself a little cry-out of emotional exhaustion on my bed (and though I stumble on the “language” in this post about emotionally exhausting mothering, when I read it the next morning, I thought – wow, that’s exactly what I’m thinking!)

I was actually glad there was no school on Friday. I took the “little boys” (ie, Mr. Trouble and the Little Guy) in to day care with Mr. Ornery so that he could “visit” and say hi to his friends again. Then we all just played at home for the morning – the school boys on the computer, me in the weeds – until the afternoon when IMG_4478we explored a new pool (thanks to Pittsburgh Mommy Blog’s mention of it). It was exactly what we all needed. No stress. No worry. Something new and fun. Time on a pool lounge chair for me to just sit for a bit, to breathe. A chance to regroup and become friendly to each other again.

So, today I say:

Super Tall Guy, I am so sorry for being so grumpy with you this week and for not being more patient. You knew you didn’t want to go back to school because “it’s too boring” and “second grade is too hard.” You have changed classrooms, changed teachers, and changed most of your classmates. And to top it all off, your best friend from the past two years is in the other second-grade class. Despite all this, you have “stayed on green” every day, and I haven’t had a call yet from the teacher!, and you haven’t even given (too much) of a fuss about getting ready for school. I shall try to give you a little extra attention this next week and let’s find the fun in second grade.

Mr. Ornery, I owe you a super huge apology for completely underestimating the amount of change you would be going through and how exhausting that would be for you. Your cheerful smile and bouncy energy mask the fact that you’re so nervous inside that you just can’t hold back the tears. Your whole daytime world has changed and Mommy’s just been like, “hey, you’re going to kindergarten now….have fun!” I know – it’s the second time “kindergarten” for me….but it’s the first time for you. I’m sorry. You certainly needed many more cuddles and hugs and explanations than you were getting from me, even with the whole “Kissing Hand” bit. Thanks for being such a brave little boy and for loving your awesome teacher so much (but, um, hey – don’t forget about your Mommy!). I promise to give you much more “lovings” this coming week and find time every day to listen to just you tell me about your day at school.

Hey Little Guy, sorry for kind of forgetting about you…..again. With all the excitement of the brothers going back to “real” school, there certainly wasn’t much hoopla to celebrate that you were also moving to “the big kid class” at your day care center. Yes, you visited it a few times and you always seem to handle transitions well, but maybe your extended and extraordinarily annoying whining fits are just your way of saying “Hey Mom, my life is stressful too, you know! Where’s my attention?!?  Hello!!!”

So….to possibly avoid future apologies (yeah, right!), next “Back to School” season, I’m going to try to remember to:

  1. Acknowledge that it’s going to be stressful and tell the boys that. Let them know that they are going to get so tired from meeting new teachers and new friends and old friends and figuring out new classrooms and new seating arrangements and new schedules. They have new desks and new chairs. New backpacks and lunch boxes. New clothes and new shoes. New readings and math and homework. It sure is a whole lot of new at one time – and how many of us like change?!?
  1. Have something fun and special in their lunch boxes every day. Take some time to write a little note or draw a little picture. I’m not super creative like some parents, but I would like to do something a little more meaningful than a hurriedly packed sandwich.
  1. Celebrate the end of summer and the beginning of the school year by having some one-on-one time with each boy. I thought about it a bit late this year and asked Super Tall Guy to go out to breakfast last week…and he wanted The Flipper to join us. I wish I had done the same with the other boys.
  1. Stock up on a little more patience and a lot more sleep! I definitely needed to be in bed earlier myself each night to be more rested and ready to handle their emotions. I had a hard enough time managing my own emotions and feelings feed off each other like wildfire!
  1. Slather the boys with as many hugs and kisses as I can get away with. After all, they are still young enough that they’re letting me hug and kiss them before they walk into the school and I know this isn’t going to last long.

In fact, none of these days and years and moments of time last long, so I don’t want to live in regret. We’ll have a re-do next year and next week!

From Heavy Boots to Hope for my Biracial Boys

Years ago I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s book “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” set in the time of 9/11 from the perspective of a 9-year-old boy who lost his father. It was such a powerful book and one that I was glad to read, despite the tears. I have always remembered little Oskar and the way he described his intensely sad emotions as “heavy boots.” That phrase rings in my heart on many different occasions.

This week has been one of heavy boots – from the Middle East to the Ebola outbreak to the death of another African American teen and the tension that followed. I am faced with the reality of how fragile life is and how one can get comfortable expecting a “tomorrow” when there really is no guarantee of one.

There’s no tomorrow for Michael Brown. I will not pretend to know all the facts and realities of what happened in that scenario. But I will say that it cuts to my core – in sadness for parents who suddenly lost their precious son and in heightened worry in my heart….for my boys are brown. Heavy boots upon my soul.

This is one of those posts that I’m not really sure how to write. My brain still swirls around this subject. I’ve read posts from an African American women pleading with her white friends to do more. I’ve read posts from a white mother acknowledging the white privilege her children have. I sit and ponder – where am I fitting in? – a white woman raising biracial boys.

The year I adopted Super Tall Guy was the year Barack Obama became president. I’ve often thought that rather than celebrating our “First African American President,” we should be celebrating our “First Biracial President.” We should celebrate the fact that families can unite. There can be peace and harmony.

Yet often there isn’t. A discord simmers below the surface until the spark and then it blasts wide open with an ugly face. We’re shocked. Outraged. It’s too ugly and we want the lid back on. Cover it, and yet it’s not over. It’s not over until we deal with the truth in turmoil beneath.

I don’t know how to do this fully, but I’m seeking. I’m seeking ways to help my sons understand that the color of their skin will actually influence the way people look at them and respond to them. We’re just in the early stages of the boys recognizing a difference. This summer at the pool, 5-yr-old Mr. Ornery looked around and said, “Mom, there’s not too many brown skin people here.” True. And sometimes we put our arms side by side and Super Tall Guy says, “Look how white Mommy’s skin is. Why do you get freckles?”???????????????????????????????

Two years ago, Super Tall Guy learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. in kindergarten. We bounced down the staircase of the school talking about the day and all he had learned. I asked him in the course of many questions, “So, Super Tall, are you black or white?” “White,” he responded as he jumped the last two steps to the landing.

You see, though his skin is browner than mine, he is growing up in a “white world.” That’s my world and that of my family. Yet I am conscious of the fact that he is biracial – all three are despite how light or dark their skin is – and that matters. I look for diversity for the boys – in their school, in their neighborhood, in our church. Yet I know that I need to do more for deep in my heart, I worry about what they will face in this world. Heavy boots.

I need to learn more. I need to talk to others more. And I need to talk to my sons. I havet yet to say, “Son, because of your skin, people are going to judge you and make assumptions about you and treat you differently…..and they won’t do the same to Mr. Trouble because he’s white.”  Hard.

Maybe I’m hoping that one day I won’t have to say it. Maybe I’m hoping that someday it won’t make a difference to anyone. Maybe I’m hoping my boys can keep growing up in the Mommy-cocoon of protection. It sure would be nice, but I also know this world is not going to change enough in the next year or five years or even ten years to spare me the difficult talk. And it’s not going to change enough to spare my boys some very painful experiences. I ache already for them.

Yet part of that world change has to begin with me. And you. And everyone. Together.

A change in the way we look at each other, whatever our differences. A change in the way we respond based on our judgments.

So when you see me out with my kids, don’t assume the “Black Baby Daddy” is at home. Talk to me and learn about this single woman who has adopted a set of brothers.

And don’t look at my sister’s African American kid and assume the poor little guy lost his Mommy when in fact he is standing right beside the woman who loves him more than the moon. Ask and learn about The Flipper’s challenging beginning and how far he’s come and his hopes for the future. He is amazing. My sister is amazing.

Please….don’t assume. Don’t judge. Begin the conversation. Open up. Be real. Invite others into your home and into your life. Share the fears, the heartaches, the pain. See beyond the surface and honor the person within. Lift each other up. Love. For we all need to be about the business of changing the world. There’s no sitting around hoping.

I don’t have all the answers, but it matters to me.

Lift the heavy boots.

Then he bled….

Every few months I settle into my bed a little before exhausted-brain time and write a short “letter” to the boys in a journal for them. I know that I’m not going to remember everything that they do. I know that I will forget so many details of their lives and will regret that. So I try to chronicle some of the “momentous” moments. (Naturally, boy number three keeps getting the short end of the straw….same way that there are fewer professional photos of him!  Why are some clichés so real?!).

Last night I picked up the pen to tell Mr. Ornery how exciting it is that he finished his “season” at the day care center. He has been there almost every single week of his life since the age of three months. There were times that he waved good-bye to me, times that he needed just one more kiss, times that he needed to run and jump into my arms, and times that I thrust him into Miss Kathy’s arms, knowing that her embrace would soothe him and he’d soon be on with his day. But there were many days that I walked out of the door with tears in my eyes, pausing before I could drive on. Being a working mom with my precious children with someone else every day was not something I had dreamed of. And yet, I also knew that they were well-loved, well-cared for and that they were growing and learning and thriving. And so….I would whisper comforting words to other mothers as they walked out with glistening eyes as well.

Last night I also wanted to write to Super Tall Guy to tell him in his own private journal (rather than the Open Letter) about his experience over the past two weeks. Yet as I chronicled the events and glowed about his bravery and how much I had been worried about him, I realized that I just couldn’t put the emotions into words. For almost two weeks, I have been wound so tense. I have lived with a baseline level of worry and stress and anxiety about my boy’s recovery.

How could I describe the panicked look upon his face when he bolted upright in bed at 9:02 pm last Monday? How could I tell him my fear when streaks of blood stained the tissues that he spit into? The shake of his head when I told him we were going to the hospital? The wide-eyed gazes of his younger brothers who had aroused with the sudden change in energy level in the room? The concern in my heart as I chatted with his ENT doctor during my almost red-light-running rush to the hospital? The determination in my voice as I announced to the Emergency Room attendant that he was bleeding after his T&A and we needed to go straight back?

The panic in my stomach as I watched him spit out clots of blood and saliva? The fear as they wheeled him into the operating room even though the on-call attending physician hadn’t made it to the building yet? The beat of my steps pacing an empty surgical waiting room at 11:15 at night? The silence in my response to the cleaning staff’s amicable question, “How are you?” (I had no answer….I had no idea how I was….).

The tears that eventually escaped in staccato bursts as I tried to pull myself together. The texts sent into the air to reach out to family and friends for prayers. Sister and mother who stayed awake throughout the night for electronic updates. The kind response from a friend over an hour away willing to come to the hospital (“You shouldn’t be alone now.”)  The warmth of the hug from a nearby friend who did jump in her car and sat with me for a bit….catching up on family happenings as if we had just met up for a cup of coffee.  Plain joy and gratefulness to once again look down at my son, my boy, my angelpost bleed….sleeping once again in the recovery room.

All of that and more, I just couldn’t write for him. Not last night. Not in his journal.

But maybe….someday…..he might read the writings of his mother who sends out her heart to friends and family across the void. Because it is through connecting that we are real and through loving each other that we carry on.

For now, I hug him every moment I can and whisper “I love you” so much more than I did.

And I rejoice in the cheeseburger that broke his 11 day fast and the smile that skirts his face as he jumps on his bike once more. Every day stronger. Every day more alive.

Every day more lovely and surrounded in love.

 

An Open Letter to my 8-year-old on his 6th day after tonsil surgery

Dear Super Tall Guy,

I’m actually not surprised by your anger this morning. I’m not surprised that you kicked out at me with your 80 pound body (now 7 pounds lighter than it was a week ago). I completely understand when you then curled into my lap and tearfully whispered in my ear, “Why did you let them take my tonsils out?” I felt your pain, the warmth of the tears, the wet of the drool.

You had no idea it would be like this. You had no idea how much pain there would be….that you wouldn’t be able to swallow anything for days….not even your own saliva. You were not fully informed. Oh, just a little day at the hospital while you sleep and then all TV-watching, ice-cream-eating bliss for a couple days is what you were told. You did not sign up for all of this.surgery

You should be angry in the middle of the night when you feel like you are going to choke. You should be angry that your brothers are running around having fun and you don’t have the strength to get up off the couch. You should be mad that even the offer of unrestricted ice-cream, popsicles, jello, or any kind of liquid including soda has no appeal to you at all. It stinks.

I’m sorry. I didn’t know it was going to be like this either. I watched the video sent out by the hospital. I read all the handouts given. “Keep the pain medications going around the clock for the first couple of days.”  “Offer cold liquids and transition to a soft diet as tolerated.” “Head to the emergency room if there’s any bleeding.” It seemed straightforward.  I had no idea the pain would be so bad overnight that you would stop swallowing completely. I had no idea we’d be back in the emergency room two days later for some IV fluids as I watched your lips and tears dry up and you couldn’t even take the pain medications for over 24 hours. I didn’t know you would have absolutely no food of any kind for six days.  Your moaning in the middle of the night breaks my heart. The tears well when you turn to me at 1:00 am and say, “Mommy, say a prayer for me please.”  I see your hurt.

I’m so sorry for yelling at you when you combined apple juice, koolaid, and the melted freezer pop liquid and then spilled it all over the table and floor. I’m sorry for snapping at you when you kicked out at a passing brother who brushed your foot. I’m sorry for being impatient and demanding that you just swallow!! You’re right….I “don’t know how it feels.” I don’t know how much it hurts. I don’t know how it feels to think that you’re constantly about to choke and die. I don’t know what drives the panicked look in your face in the middle of the night.

But I do know that we needed to do this to get you sleeping better and healthier in the long run. I do know that two weeks may seem like forever in your mind, but they are actually such as short window in your wonderful life as it plays out.

And I do know that I love you. I do know that I’m incredibly proud of you for hanging in there. I do know that I’m amazed by your brave face as the nurse tries to get an IV into small dehydrated veins. I do know that you have shown such amazing strength and courage over this past week. You have surprised me. You are no longer my little baby….you are becoming my big man.

But thankfully you still fit in my lap….because I still need to hold you.

I still need to kiss you.

And say, “I’m sorry.”

I love you, my big guy.

Mommy

Same Day Surgery

Scanning the surgical waiting room, I know that every parent here has just done the same heart-wrenching thing I did….turned and walked away from one of the most precious things in their life….their child strapped to a narrow Operating Room bed.

I had my hand on his arm as his eyes closed from the “magic air” flowing through the mask on his face. “Sometimes they do just drift off so quietly like that,” the anesthesiologist offers. “Now kiss his hand good-bye.”  “No wait!” I wanted to scream ….from that tiny voice in the back of your heart that always wants to scream and warn “this may be the very last time you see your child. This may be the image forever burned into your soul. This could be it. Cherish the moment.” But the moment is fast. When you need just a few more seconds, they usher you out of the cold, efficient, sterile room as the surgeon, nurses and techs stand poised ready to spring into action – willing you to leave their domain.

The tech makes pleasant conversation as you join her to “follow the green squares on the floor” that lead to the waiting room. Her rattling tries to push your fears aside. You walk alongside, numb to her words. You check in with the waiting room attendant but can’t remember her instructions; you’re too busy memorizing your child’s “number” so you can jump up every few minutes to check the “board.” It doesn’t change. “11788: OR in.” You wait. “11788: OR in.” Wait.

A couple sits side by side, absorbed in their respective iPads. A pinkified two-year old skips circles around the man playing solitaire and another couple hiding in their magazines. Parents pop up and down to check the board. Phone calls beckon families back to the recovery rooms. Surgeons gather families to talk in the “consult” rooms. A constant hum, constant motion, constant and welcome distracting dance of people’s lives. I put my book down. I can’t read anyway. I wait.

On this day, there’s no greater joy than in seeing your baby’s face again – even if he is 4-foot-7 and 87 pounds. He’s still my baby. But the alligator tears that spill from his eyes at the sight of me pierce my heart. His bravado, his cool, his composure melts at my touch, at the warmth of my arms around him, and the gentle kiss. This is when the tongue really hurts and the tears flow. I search briefly for a tissue, but wipe the wetness away with his blanket. I ache to soothe him, but my words and touch are of little comfort. Within minutes, another bit of medication through the IV site sends him back into sleep. My baby snores. I stroke his face.

Knowing that he’s safe again, I sit back and cuddle into the warmed blanket offered by the gentle nurse. I pause to be thankful that my touches of the “health care system” have all fallen within “the normal kid stuff” – the tonsils, the stitches, the corneal abrasion, rashes, sprains. I can cope with this normal. Yet my heart aches for the families who sit in the waiting room for the ninth or tenth time for their child. For the parents who never hear the surgeons say, “It was all routine. No problems. He’ll be just fine.” For the ones who walk away from their “sleeping” child on that cold table and never hold them again.

There are deep dark fears in loving and parenting. There are deep dark moments that remind us to cherish each breath and each smile and even each time the boys hit each other. As my heart swirls and thunders and catches itself today, I look upon my baby and lift up a prayer for him….and for all the other families.

Let the images be burned into my soul forever.

I shall cherish the love.