Helping boys understand adoption….with a puppy!

“Five minutes, Mom. Only five minutes,” Super Tall Guy barked as we pulled into the parking lot. “I want to go home.” We had left ice hockey a few minutes early where he had spent the time playing on my cellphone, so it’s not like it had been a rough hour. But Super Tall sure wasn’t interested in a stop before we got home, especially when I was vague about “meeting someone for a minute.”

When I held up a tiny 4 pound puppy to the car window, Mitsy2eager squeals of delight erupted. I handed in one puppy and then another. National Adoption Day. In honor of my three adopted brothers, we brought home from a shelter two sister Cavadoodles. It probably would have been more peaceful for my life if that mother had had three girls in her litter, but we’ll just continue to work on “taking turns” and “being patient” and “sharing;” great skills that the boys rarely like to practice.

There’s something so sweet about bringing a little puppy into your life. The pooping on the floor is not so sweet, but the snuggling into your lap and bouncing along behind your feet as you move from room to room can’t be beat. It’s also sweet to watch the boys pick up little Mitsy and tuck into a blanket on the couch, slipping deep into the warmth and rhythm of a sleeping animal. They don’t know it yet, but they are forming a bond with this little lovebug that’s going to change their life. They are experiencing peace and joy and unconditional love. They are accepting a bit more responsibility, altering to a new schedule, sharing their “lovey” with neighbors and cousins, and making a loyal friend. They will likely never reflect on or recognize all these “gifts” that a pet brings (until they sit on a couch as a parent and write about adopting a pet), but they will feel it and that’s what’s important.

I’m hoping that adopting a little puppy and opening our heart and our home to a new life will also help the rough and tumble boys understand a bit more about their own adoption. That they might understand that a woman gave birth to them but was not able to continue to take care of them. That another woman accepted them into her arms and her world eagerly even though it meant big changes in her life. That they are loved beyond measure even when they poop in the house or don’t put the toilet seat up. That they started life in a “shelter” situation, but they can live and grow and flourish in this home with their siblings knowing that they will always be loved and welcomed. That a mother is a mother is a mother and a son is a son is a son. The bond we have will not be broken. Love remains forever, for always and no matter what. That’s what adoption means.

Of course, since I so clearly have failed at house-training three rambunctious boys, I have no idea why I think I’ll do any better with a teeny tiny fluffy dog. But, hey, we still have years and years to work on this!


“Owner Surrender”

F.G. is an 11 year old male brought into shelter by owner surrender. This male was in shelter and foster care from age 9 months to 5 years. Previously adopted by his third foster family, these new owners decided to release him in March. F.G. has recently been rehomed with one of his original foster families. Adoption is pending.

Sounds a bit like animals in pet shelters or when animals are “rehomed” through internet ads (I might be reading adopt-a-pet websites too much). What happens when it’s an “unwanted child”? Currently, in all but six states, “rehoming” a child is within the law. Adoptive parents can sign paperwork to transfer a child to another family without a lawyer or child protective services involvement. It’s not clear how often this takes place as the numbers can’t be tracked. (On the other hand, “disrupted adoptions” that occur before the adoption becomes finalized happen 10-20% of the time time.)

The First Guy has been visiting with my sister over the summer and living with her since right before our family vacation in August. He has had tremendous transition to a new family structure, new expectations and rules, new siblings, and a new school system. When asked by a therapist how he feels about his upcoming adoption, The First Guy replied, “I don’t care. I’ve been through it before.” Powerful words when an 11-year-old does not care to have a family. He does not know “forever.” It is lost and must be learned. Trust is broken and must be earned. Anger simmers and must be released. Hurt roils and must be forgiven. There is much work to be done. Yet, my sister has a heart full of love and forever is forever in this family.  This Friday, The First Guy will join his forever family.

It’s National Adoption Month. There are 108,000 children “legally free” for adoption and DTFA_2012WaitingChildren_v3A-1waiting for a “forever family” in shelters, in foster homes (some great and others not as ideal), in group homes (which are rarely ideal) and in facilities. We cannot let our future contractors, doctors, plumbers, lawyers, machinists, engineers, senators, and CEOs wallow childhood away without having a family. We cannot let children continue to “age out” of the “system” and face adulthood without family to celebrate their graduations, toast their weddings, or hold their grandchildren. Children need to know the power of love, the stability of love and the unconditional quality of love.

Consider adoption this month if you can. If you or your home is not “open” at this time, then find a way to help others make a difference. You might donate to nonprofits doing adoption work. Make a meal for a foster or new adoptive family. Advocate for changes in the systems that will help adoptions, such as tax breaks for adoptions or supporting legal fees. Do not turn your eyes and walk past. You can Be the Change in the world of a young child. Be or support a Forever Family.

A letter sent

He shoves his way into our space, barreling as if he could open up a path by sheer determination and wrath. My glasses shift askew as The Little Guy ricochets into my hunched body attempting to tie the shoes of Mr. Ornery. One should not have entryways so small. One should not have massive frustrated boys.

Face on fire, I stand against my enemy. I grab at his shirt and shove him back. He stumbles over one of many scattered shoes. “Just stop,” I yell. Just stop.

There is no space.

There is no room.

There is no breath.

We stare each other down. Until we can breathe again. Until we can hug again.

A firm grip that says, “I’m sorry.”


There are good days and bad moments. There is much joy and much pain. It hurts my soul to see how powerful the rage is and how powerless I am against it in the moment. Each time we get better and I learn and try to teach him, yet deep inside I so often wish we did not have to go through these battles. I wail, “why does he have to be so hard?”

Yet these battles fuel me to try to figure out how to help these boys. They intensify my ferocity in defending their very nature and core. They push me to learn more and try to support more.

While acknowledging that I am challenged by trying to deal with Super Tall Guy’s intensity, I sometimes give no grace to others who struggle with it as well. Might I be holding them to higher standards? Might I be expecting too much from them as if holding a degree or years of experience teaching other children should have prepared them adequately for these boys? Maybe we all need more grace in figuring this out together.

I never sent the Open Letter to the Coach at my son’s gym. I paused and gave it some space. Instead I sent him this letter today:

I wanted to let you know that I could tell you were frustrated with my boys at the Halloween Party and I’m sorry about that. I know that they get wild when excited and feed off the energy of others.

I don’t know, though, if you know that these boys have some special needs. They aren’t physical that you could see, like a limp, but it’s within the brain as a result of prenatal injuries and stress on a forming brain. My sister and I committed to adopting and raising children who had been abandoned and we are always so grateful to find help and support in others.

To me gymnastics is an excellent sport for boys like mine because it works on developing self-awareness, self-control and self-discipline and a healthy, fit body. It teaches them to tone down the “dysregulation” that is within. And what makes that work is awesome male role models who are willing to teach and coach, like you!

So I thank you for being Coach to my boys. Hopefully they will continue to progress and one day we will all look back with pride and say “Wow! Look how far these guys have come!”

Because maybe, just maybe, this “village” that it takes to raise these kids is learning and growing together and is not always perfect. But we will only get to success by forgiving, encouraging and working together.


Why I love summers!

I don’t know – I always had this idealized vision of “school” probably mostly with the thought that “wow, once they are in school, I won’t have to pay a HUGE child care bill every single week” anymore. Unless, of course, they are in a school district with half-day kindergarten and then you have another 9 months of child care bills for afternoon care! (Just to add some perspective, kid starts day care at 6 weeks of age and has a February birthday when he turns 5 and school starts in late August, so I’ve basically spent $65,052 in just child care. On one kid! Man, I could have been rich!!)

So, yes, as a single working mother I was thrilled with the concept of school. The children would be someplace. They would be learning. I wouldn’t be the only one responsible for whether they knew their colors or could multiply 6 times 7.

But let me tell you. School stinks! In the best sense of the word, that is.

Let’s just start with homework. It’s not that I’m opposed to academicsschool bus (after all, I have a BS, MS, PhD and MD degree, and about 19 years of school/training after high school), it’s just that after 6 hours at school, I really do think the kids need some unstructured play time. And they need to do some sports or physical activity so that they develop a sense of feeling healthy. Why would we want to spend an hour or two doing homework? This is especially true for families with working parents who don’t get kids gathered up and home until 6:00pm or later and trying to get an average of 10 hours of sleep (for them, not me!) makes it hard to squeeze much else in.

Then there’s the “projects” which take up even more time, like making a poster or a diorama. Naturally, this involves the extra time burden of running to the store to round up supplies because in this tiny townhome, we’ve streamlined quite a bit.

And then there’s so many “volunteer” opportunities at the school, that it can get overwhelming. There’s such self-imposed guilt to be “present” in the school and see what the kids are doing and have them so excited to see Mom in the class as Mystery Reader (or maybe that was embarrassment) or Holiday Party volunteer (Just going to have to say no to that. Kids are noisy enough. Now give them sugar and excitement of a celebration and you’ve got chaos personified!). And of course, some of those holidays require significant time commitment, like the Halloween parade that begins at 1:30pm but if you’re not in the parking lot by noon, you’re not getting a spot. The Memorial Day program takes all morning – bring your fold-out camping chairs and come early to find space.

Let’s not forget about those fundraisers! What a joy to convince family and friends to buy some items so the kids can “win” a T-shirt which they refuse to wear anyway. How about saving those Box Tops (which also have to be cut to the exact shape of the rectangle)? You don’t want your kid to be the only one in homeroom not bringing them in and they would sure like to actually win the Box Top contest for the month!

Now consider that school ends at 3:20. That’s right 3:20. But when they hit middle school it’s  2:40. Interestingly, my job would like me to work until 5:00pm, which means now I get to figure out afterschool care. Which means I can pay for someone to watch my kids for 2-3 hours every day or beg Grandma. And please don’t forget about the before school care. When school doesn’t start until 9:00, it’s pretty hard to be at work at that time too!

This timing is a far cry from just dropping off at daycare whenever we all get ready in the morning and picking them up in the evening after I’ve stopped at the grocery store or run a few errands first. No, now with school there’s actually a specific start time and they expect you to pick up at a consistent time too. Really cramping my cram-a-lot-into-the-day lifestyle!

Even worse are the two-hour delays, the “no school” days or the unexpected cancelled days for snow!

School was looking really good until I realized how much more I have to juggle now that it’s back in session.

Don’t get me wrong, I do love school. I love that the boys are learning. I love that they are meeting new kids and forming new friendships. I love that they are learning to listen to other authority figures. I love that they have opportunities to learn the cello and “rugby basics” and art and science and handwriting and so much more. I love that they are in a good school district which cares about them and with teachers who want them to succeed. I love that they are doing well.

I’d just like to return to summer time …right about now.

An Open Letter to the Coach at my Son’s Gym

Interestingly, Facebook just popped up “memories” of last year’s gymnastics Halloween party as I was writing this post and considering copying it into an email to the owner. Sadly, this year’s memories are of a much different flavor. Maybe I’m over-reacting. Let me know.

Dear Coach,

I am struggling with feeling so unhappy about how you treated my son during the Halloween Party at the gym last weekend. Yes, he was being loud and silly, wrestling IMG_3720with his cousin, as they got off the mat after the costume parade. But as he had rolled right over to my feet, I was about to correct his behavior when your booming voice and harsh tone sent my little four-year-old panicking into my arms. I comforted him and reminded him that he needs to be quiet, sit and listen, but I was a little surprised at your tone. When the owner of the gym came over to see why he was sobbing and if he needed encouragement to engage in the fun activities, I told her we were just taking a break, but the truth was that he was trembling and needed to calm down.

Later when you returned upstairs and said to me, “Your boys are being too wild,” I wasn’t sure exactly what you were referring to. However, I didn’t get a chance to dialogue about it as you shortly thereafter yelled once more at my Little Guy. Having just exited the bounce house, he was unaware that you had proclaimed the tumble track off limits. Had you held your tongue, I would have walked over to my son and explained to him that that equipment was not to be used and we would have found another activity. Instead, it was clear to me that my family had been targeted in your mind as “trouble” and we weren’t going to have a good experience anymore. You certainly did not raise your voice to any other children or families – only mine and my sister’s boys. So, I gathered up my guys and we left early.

You see, my children may look like “normal” children and they often act like “normal and active” little boys, but deep inside the brain there is a shift in the neurotransmitters and the neuronal connections which leaves them struggling with hyper-reactivity and very poor impulse control. It’s not a physical disability that you might see and have empathy for, it’s a mental one and clearly you have no empathy for a condition that occurred before they were born. But it is precisely for this reason that I have my boys enrolled in gymnastics, to teach them the skills of strength and self-confidence and self-control, all of which your employing gym espouses so frequently. Yet, your direct and harsh yelling shatters the self-esteem, demeans the child and breaks the spirit.

Furthermore, your rapid discipline of my children when I am right there takes me out of the equation. I’m not sure if you think me too permissive or incompetent at parenting, but your actions were completely disrespectful. When my children are in class with you, then you have the authority. When they are at an event with me, I hold the authority. Unless they are in danger of hurting themselves or someone else, then it is my responsibility to handle their behaviors.

Here’s what I expect of a teacher and a coach – someone who treats all people with respect and dignity. Someone who encourages a child to do their best and reach new goals. Someone who celebrates hard work and dedication. Someone who models what it means to be a strong, competent athlete and decent human being. Someone who works with the family to reach out to kids with unique developmental “challenges” and develop self-confidence, increase self-esteem, and develop sportsmanship. If you are unable to be that great coach, then we will find someone who can.

Please let me know.

Thank you,

A tremendously disappointed mother


Cold sacrifices

People talk about the sacrifice you make when you become a parent. They talk about so many sacrifices for your kids. If was sounding pretty “yeah, yeah” to me…until yesterday. Until I sat in 42 degree weather with the sun pushing the clouds out of its way for miniscule moments of time before the darkness and gray returned and the wind whipped through tiny entrances of layered clothing to reach my very soul as I sat cheering for Super Tall Guy at his baseball game.

This, I thought, this is what “sacrifice” means. Every muscle in my body wanted to sprint for the warmth of the car. My head ached from the tense neck muscles as I hunched as far into the blanket as I could. I sat there wishing for just a couple more degrees of warmth and possibly for feeling in my toes.

I glanced at the coaches on the field, blowing on their hands to diminish the numbness. “Come on, kid, you can do it. We got a hitter here,” they would yell to the batter. These men, these fathers, were sacrificing their Saturday morning to stand in the freezing cold for what? For my kid. And for that kid over there. And that one over there. Sure the kidsbaseball were cold. Sure they were rubbing their hands. Sure Super Tall Guy asked if he could leave after the second inning (knowing it would take two innings to get to his turn at bat given his bottom of the line-up position). But the coaches coached and the parents huddled and froze so that the kids could play. And the kids played so that they could learn about sacrifice and being cold and persisting and being “tough” and showing up for the team and winning and losing….and well, because their parents made them show up in the hopes that they would learn some of those lessons.

It’s been nine and a half years since I turned over under the covers and slept past 7:30 on a Saturday morning. It’s been nine and a half years since I last woke up and said, “hmmm….what should I do today?” Going from single, carefree woman to “what am I going to do for and with you today?” has been a pretty dramatic adjustment. Learning to sacrifice myself and my desires and even my needs (like you know, to sleep, to eat (a warm meal), to get to the bathroom before desperation) has been a big change.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy. I’m not complaining. I don’t mind leaving the movie theater right at the part I really wanted to see because the four-year-old can’t sit still any longer. I don’t mind staring at the huge painting in the dining room and wondering who shattered the upper corner of the glass. I don’t mind contemplating if the dampness seeping through my sock is urine or just water from the evening bath. I think it keeps me in shape to continually bend over and pick up those paper airplanes that missed their landing strip. I kind of enjoy slithering under the car to retrieve the soccer ball being melted onto the hot frame. I’d rather sleep on a narrow sliver of bed than spread out like an eagle and take up so much space. It’s keeping me limber and young and inquisitive, and so I really don’t mind….because I have three awesome boys…and I’ll get them back some day for all these sacrifices!

What are little boys made of?

Yesterday I pondered “Why don’t we let little boys be little boys anymore?”

My little boy is “misbehaving” in first grade. He is “playing in the bathroom” (no way?!? Really? He never does that at home.) He is “talking to his friends” (right – definitely a problem). He is “being silly” (Am aghast! A true offence indeed).

I mock. I mock because I struggle. I know, just as well as the teacher knows, that all of his behaviors are absolutely perfectly NORMAL six-year-old boy behaviors (and girls too!). The problem is that he is displaying these natural inclinations at all the wrong moments. Most likely when he’s supposed to silently wash his dirty little hands and line back up to return to the classroom. He’s chatting with classmates instead of sitting quietly on the rug for the Mystery Reader. He’s sputtering or spinning or bumping around when he should have both feet on the floor and tracing lowercase “h’s” for the 100th time in his short little life.

I was never a little boy. I do not understand all that goes on in my little boys’ brains. Their world is total insanity to me. They leap over couches and curl under dining room chairs. They throw each other to the ground and smack each other’s heads. They will never ever lift the seat before peeing. Rocks fall out of their pockets. Snakes slither across their hands. Boogers and blood go straight into their mouths…along with Lego pieces, plastic bottle caps, and marbles (and flower petals and miscellaneous bush berries and countless other potentially poisonous or choking hazards!).  There seems to be no rhyme or reason to their chaos or their constant energy. It is like a constant death wish thwarted by a vigilant (exhausted) parent.

But I do understand that we (as in all of us) are doing this wrong. We have exorbitant numbers of young boys with ADHD and medication to “quiet” them down.  We have young boys expelled from day care centers. Behavioral charts. “Reward systems.” Detentions, suspensions, expulsions.

Gone are the days, it seems, when they played pick-up baseball in an empty field. Gone are the adventures around the neighborhood which ended when street lights came on or the neighbor caught them red-handed. Gone are the times of recess, dodge ball and tag.

little boys

From Etsy: Expressive Sprouts

I don’t want to be stuck in nostalgia. I don’t want my boys to get hurt (too much). But I do want them to be the “boy boys” they were created to be. I want them to be silly, impish, mischievous, creative, brave, daring, strong, boisterous, adventurous, wild, rambunctious rascals.

For I know that there are precious few years for them to be boys and so little time before they are whittled into “grown-ups” who act “mature.” Oh, what to do?

Dirty fingerprints on once white walls
Purple stains on carpeted floors
Beaten and ratty leather couches
Broken knobs on unhinged doors.


Tennis balls behind the piano
Abandoned socks under the beds
Ripped jeans and stained pajamas
Random “treasures” under their heads.


Gouges on the dining room table
Rickety wiggly dining room chairs
Board game pieces strewn haphazard
Window curtains marred by tears.


Dirty dishes, scattered toys
This is home to three little boys.


(Complimentary ear plugs and hand sanitizer available at the door. Please sign your acknowledgement of the dangers inherent upon entering such a place. Alcoholic beverages available upon request, signaled by a wink and a nod. Or a scream, yelp or whimper. Whatever works best for you. Welcome to our home.)