We need to create more Grateful Moments!

The bus was late. I was stressed. We were going to be late for the first gymnastics class. I parked the car across from the bus stop and waited. After they tumbled off, I hustled the boys over to the car and yelled, “Jump in! Get buckled!” As the bus was trying to make its busu-turn and I was clearly blocking its progress, I moved the car forward to the other side of the street. Super Tall Guy yelled out, “Mr. Ornery’s not in the car” (well, he used the middle kid’s real name, to be truthful). I stopped immediately, opened the car door and looked back about 20 feet behind me. My vision of Mr. Ornery in his bright orange shirt was blocked by an unknown car who had stopped right in front of him and the driver had jumped out to videotape or photograph my moment of stupidity.

And that’s what it was. A moment. Maybe 20 seconds. A moment when a hurried mother made a mistake. But thanks to the stranger, a police officer showed up at my door at 9:00 o’clock that night to interrupt bed-time routine and inform me of my stupidity. Fortunately, it was one of those awkward “warnings” about a “chaotic bus pick up?” and I agreed with him that yes, I was wrong. It was a lapse of judgement. But no one was hurt and I had not gone anywhere. My boys were safe and they were not traumatized. We had talked about the situation. All was fine.

Except my heart. My heart was sad that in this world, my first thought was – great! Some stranger is videotaping me and I’ll either “go viral” on social media or have a police citation.

My question is – why didn’t the stranger instead think to help. Maybe instead of blocking my view of my son, she might have taken my son’s hand and walked him to my car. We all would have said thank you and moved on with the day. It could have been a “grateful” moment.

Just five days before this, on the second day of school, a little 7-year-old got off the school bus with my boys. There was no parent waiting for him. I walked him to his house and we knocked on the door. No answer. Knocked on windows. Nothing. I called the management office of the community and they called the parents and tracked them down. I waited with this little boy for 10 minutes until his parents arrived. They thought he had gotten on the bus to day care rather than the bus home. It was a mistake.  A moment. I did not call and report the parents to the police. I helped.

Oh how I wish we could all be more helpful.

This week an elderly patient sat in my office. She wasn’t sure she wanted to return in two weeks to get her blood pressure rechecked because transportation was too difficult for her. And she didn’t have any one around to help her. She looked at me with eyes of sadness. “People tend to disappear once you get older or have a cane,” she lamented. “Nobody wants to help anyone anymore. Nobody cares anymore in this world. Everyone is just worried about their own self.”

A generalization yes, but also a reminder to me.

Let’s be more kind.

Let’s be more helpful.

Let’s think about what others might be going through and what we might do to help.

Let’s be a good neighbor and a loving friend.

Let’s create more grateful moments.

Love matters.

Bits of Trauma

It was a couple of small pops followed by some strange noises that I couldn’t decide if they were animal or human. It was 9:30 at night and I was walking the little dog a few doors down from our home in the “townhome” side of our rental community. The next morning, my neighbor asked if I heard the gunfire as I greeted him while taking the dog out again. My fears were confirmed when a friend from the township police department called to let me know there had been gunfire, broken window, and argument, but no arrests. “Probably drug related,” he suggested.

Gunshots in the apartment side of the community. Gunshots fired in the building adjacent to the playground where my children swing and slide and jump their bikes off any possible knoll. Gunshots that could be a stray bullet piercing one of my precious sons.

I immediately put in a call to the property management office for the boss to call me and sent an email. He called back later the following afternoon. He had no concern and certainly had no plan to address the issue. “I can’t control who people invite over,” he responded. “No, we won’t extend the fence line; that would be expensive.” “The police do patrol,” he answered – “never seen them patrol,” I argued – “well, it’s at random times.” (Hmmm, nope, no one in the neighborhood has ever seen them patrol either.) Every suggestion I made, he had no interest in. “I’ll pass your concerns to my supervisor,” he concluded. I informed him that I was “tremendously disappointed in your clear lack of concern for the safety of the people who live here and for the children.” And then I left a message for the regional manager; and I’m still waiting a return call.

You see, last Friday we got a “letter” in our mailboxes saying that of all the nerve, there have been reports of kids riding their bikes on these dead-end streets and that from now on, all children must be supervised at all times when playing outside. I didn’t see on that letter that there have been any reports of people driving faster than the posted 10mph while on the same streets as the kids, but I pretty happily give these drivers the universal “slow down” hand signals when they come cruising along. I’m just wondering why management in their wisdom doesn’t want to put out a letter to help the entire community feel safer about the recent gunfire “incident.”

So this weekend, I took it upon myself to personally say hello to my neighbors, ask if they heard about the “incident” and let them know that “management” doesn’t want to have anything to do with it. I am therefore asking each of them to be more vigilant and keep an eye out for each other. I am asking them to call the police immediately if they notice anything troubling. I am asking them to speak up if they have a concern.

My boys have heard these conversations. We’ve talked about it many times. We’ve set new boundaries for where they can play and ride their bikes. We’ve reviewed safety guidelines. They seem to be coping better than I am. For they have the great perspective of a protected child; they can look at the adults around them and feel safe and loved.

Probably what was more “traumatic” to Super Tall Guy this week is that he twisted his ankle jumping on a “Jump Pad” at a local corn maze. He hobbled around for the foot-bootafternoon complaining that he couldn’t have any fun. He crawled around the floor the next morning until his aunt dropped off a pair of crutches. Finally he succumbed to my urging to get it checked and he walked out of there in a boot with a nondisplaced avulsion fracture in the ankle. Yes, he will likely remember this weekend of me downplaying his pain while my head and heart were wrapped around the needs of the community.foot-broken

It takes a village, they always say. We live in a small “village” here. Apparently our “leaders” are much more interested in collecting rent checks than providing safety, but we shall continue on and do what we can to protect each other and support each other. And we as parents certainly are looking out for each other’s kids.

And yet I shall continue to look for a new house….while also making sure that I land in another “village” to wrap around us all.

An Adventure to Kinzua Bridge

I chose the road less traveled by and it made all the difference.

Some weeks, the storms rage and the responsibilities at work and at home coalesce into endless days and sleepless nights. Last week I was simultaneously preparing to give a talk to fifty elementary school kids interested in service and a roomful of primary care providers at their annual conference. In the midst of powerpoint slides, I was aggregating data into dreary Excel sheets of numbers. I felt sorry I wasn’t spending much “quality” time with the boys and yet by Thursday afternoon, I was solo and heading northeast to the middle of the state.

An evening of quiet, an entertaining exchange over breakfast with the bed and breakfast owner, an energizing presentation and I was headed south again. On a whim, I set my GPS course for the Kinzua Bride State Park after flipping through the coffee table book the night before.

The road less traveled by. I do not regret the stop.

In 1882, over the course of 94 days, a bridge 301.5 feet high and 2053 feet long was constructed over the Kinzua Valley. kinzuabridge1Forty workers were paid 2-3 dollars a day as they constructed 20 towers made of iron to support a railroad track which would move the state’s natural goods.










Just 18 years later, however, the locomotive engines were heavier and the iron tower had to be replaced by steel. Again the feat was accomplished in a short period of about four months but given the high winds in the area and the weight of the engine and cars, the trains were restricted to 5 miles an hour.










Considered at one time to be the Eighth Wonder of the world, people came from miles around to see this amazing bridge. It was used regularly for commercial purposes until 1959 when alternative routes were used and the land was sold to the state to become a park. Excursion trips were then available; but in 2003 a tornado ripped through the valley and sent almost two-thirds of the structure crashing to the ground. There it remains as a tribute to the ingenuity of man and the power of nature.


And there I stood at the end of the observation deck, letting the breeze blow over me, basking in the warmth of the sun, and resting in the quiet of the early afternoon. Glancing down, I saw people far below and knew at that moment that it would be just a little bit longer before I returned to my boys.


Scampering down the pebbly path as a mountain goat, I thought of how much the boys would enjoy the hike. Rounding a hairpin turn in the path, I slowed down to meet Barb and ponder with her the best way to reach the bottom. We ambled along together, her regaling me with stories of her husband slicing off the tip of his thumb this week with a crossbow and therefore she was descending alone. I shared my newfound knowledge of miscellaneous facts gathered from the coffee table book. We wondered if my sons and her grandchildren actually would want to scamper down and HIKE back up.

Her husband Terry did eventually join her and we enjoyed the start of the return journey together. When they stopped to catch their breaths and waved me along, I agreed to send down the search party if they didn’t return shortly (and they did make it).



The road less traveled.

It made all the difference to me that day.

An hour of quiet reflection.

An adventure with new “friends.”

A chance to reconnect with nature and see the beauty of the changing seasons.

A new discovery to share with my family one day and a moment of peace.

Sometimes, you have to choose the other road and enjoy the adventure.road-large


Recommitting to the Boys

It was one of those deep, cathartic cries for a few minutes last Friday night. One of those crashing moments that emanates from serious exhaustion and feeling completely overwhelmed. A moment sparked by a sappy movie and fueled by a very late hour of the night. When I glanced up at the canvas painting on the wall of the three boys at the beach, I thought, “What in the world am I doing? What am I doing parenting three young boys? Sitting here in this temporary home trying to figure out the next step? How did I get here? Why am I doing this?”

Earlier in the week a colleague said, “I remember meeting you five years ago. You had a little baby on one hip, a little toddler tugging at your other leg, and a larger boy clinging on you. I thought to myself, I don’t know how she’s doing it.” I confessed that there were many times in those years that I didn’t know how I was doing it and sometimes I still don’t.

And there have been many times that I’ve confessed to another mom of boys, “I don’t know how to do this. It’s overwhelming to be responsible for these boys. I don’t think I can be a good mom to them.” Her reply, “It was not a mistake. God picked you to be their Mom.”

And yet, I have those moments of doubt about making the right decisions in life and wondering where to go next. Everybody does. It would be a lie to say that my life is roses all the time. To say that there are not moments when I doubt the decision to adopt three kids on my own. I don’t think I’d be much of a parent to them if I wasn’t consciously thinking of them often.

There certainly are many moments when I sit exhausted on the couch and envision what my still single friends are doing in their tidy little houses. I know they haven’t picked up a thousand Legos over the course of the day, or wiped feces off the wall, or sat locked in a battle of wills over the spelling homework paper. Sometimes it seems that the grass is greener over there (or doesn’t have to be tended to as much!).

It’s not that I think about reversing the decision, it’s that I get overwhelmed with the responsibility. My brain is constantly worried about how they are doing. Are they behaving in school? When’s the next IEP meeting? Have I gotten all their appointments scheduled? How am I going to afford braces? Is Super Tall Guy’s med working well? Are they playing nicely with the neighbors? Is this normal brotherly aggression or is it overboard? Why did they decide to microwave the oatmeal and the spoon? When will I have to sign the next “behavioral slip” for school? Does he need to be evaluated or is he just normal boy?

So the other night, I wiped away the tears and tucked myself in bed, pulling out (and dusting off) the boys’ “letter journals.” I used to journal when I was in my teens and then into college. In med school, I “journaled” by writing a letter to my grandmother every single week for four years about my medical img_9950training and then into residency as well until she passed away. Now I blog to share the crazy journey of parenting in a wider community. And every once in a while, and definitely not as often as I’d like, I also “journal” to my boys as short letters to them in small lined books.

It’s a lot like taking photographs of your kids. The first one, Super Tall Guy, has an entry every few months for his first few years of life. There are so many fun stories and sentiments that document his days and adventures. Middle child has much fewer and The Little Guy’s book, well, you can imagine, has very few pages full of ink.

As parenting stress crashes upon me, it helps to re-center by reconnecting. It’s an important exercise for me  It forces me to think about each boy individually. To think about what they have been doing lately and who they are becoming. I think about their personalities and their gifts. It helps me to reconnect with each of them and recommit to them, reminding me of my love for them and my commitment to parent them in the best way I can. And it’s an opportunity for me to lift them up in prayers of thanksgiving and protection.

paint-wpI tell the boys every day, “I love you – forever, for always, and no matter what.” I finish their “journal letters” each time with the same words. Sometimes I need to remind myself that in the hard times, in the times when my love for them is hidden under painted fingers, soiled laundry, broken doors, angry words, noise and chaos, that this love is a commitment. Forever, for always and no matter what. That’s what it means to be their parent. And the honor and joy of being part of their lives is all I really need (well, that and coffee and chocolate pretty much does it!).

The Start-up of M.O.C.K


A few years ago, I celebrated my birthday with my family – my three very young boys,

Trying a magic trick

Trying a magic trick

my sister and her two young sons and my wonderful parents. The only thing I remember from that evening is vowing to never again have dinner at home on my birthday. From then on, I was not going to eat cold take-out Thai food, yell at kids and wipe up dog poop from under the table. It’s my birthday – I shall go out with friends. Now I delightedly savor warm bites of my favorite food and enjoy my favorite adult drinks in the company of some of my favorite adult friends. Delightful.

However, apparently once a year is not enough for me.

Anyone want to clean that up?

Anyone want to clean that up?

Because not all of my favorite adult friends are available on one particular day. Not all of my favorite food and drink can be consumed in one sitting (without some serious consequences afterwards). And that really, for me to survive this “best job of all” – parenting kids – I’m going to need a lot more support than dinner once a year.

We all do. We need fellowship with people in order to keep ourselves grounded and sane. We need to vent, we need to share, we need to laugh. We need friends of various walks of life to offer us perspective and experience. We need friends of various “ages and stages” of life to mentor us through our current stage and prep us for the next. We need people! And while in today’s world it’s pretty easy to connect through texting and Facebook and email, we cannot let ourselves be satisfied there. The body language, eye contact, and spontaneity which flows in gathering together is vital to us.

Typical evening pencil battle

Typical evening pencil battle

So my resolution this year (year being the “academic school year” since it is September after all, and therefore convenient to label it so), is to spend more time in the presence of friends (or about-to-be friends). And because I work for organizations with silly acronyms, I think an adult gathering should have a silly acronym as well. And because I’m all about inclusion and I have friends from so many different phases of my life and different situations, I want to make sure all are invited.

I’ve decided I need a M.O.C.K group – Mother Of Crazy Kids. (Or M.O.C.C. – see below).

If you have any children in your life, be they 50 years old, 22, 15 or 5 months of age, they are crazy by definition. They pick up gum from pathways in Kennywood Amusement Park and eat it before you can scream No! They color on walls. They flush things down the toilet.

Is this your hiding place?

Is this your hiding place?

They are crazy because they are curious and they are curious because they are kids. So, if you have kids (or someone in your life who acts like a kid), you have crazy kids.

Or, you could be the Mother of Crazy Kittens or Crazy Canines or some other kind of Critter (including general pests within the house). It’s M.O.C.C.!  If you have kids and critters, bless you. We should talk about that sometime.

Of course, you could also be the Mother of Crazy Concepts. Some of my friends specialize in wild and wacky ideas for which I love them. These thinkers-outside-any-box are essential to a gathering!

You just going to leave that there?

You just going to leave that there?

My thought is to have a regular gathering night and I’ll be there (unless I can’t) and others can just show up (unless they can’t). And if no one shows up, I’ll read a book for a couple hours and consider it a perfect night. And if anyone shows up, I’ll consider it a perfect night. The absolute key thing will be to stay out late enough that the babysitter has the boys asleep (and not just “in bed” – they’ve tricked me with that before!) before I get home!

Because kids are crazy and crazy is fine, but sometimes it’s just nice to not put the crazies to bed and to have a few moments in the company of others.




47 Things I’m Thankful for on My Birthday!

I guess the first thing would be that I got out for a run after putting the kids on the bus (school day number 2!) this morning and that gave me time and mental “space” to think about all the things I’m thankful for! After about the top 11+, they are not really in any particular order (kind of hard to compile the final part with a five-year-old talking incessantly in your ear while wearing an Olaf costume).

  1. A loving and forgiving God who picks you up and fills you up in all the many moments every single day!🙂
  2. Super Tall Guy– within all his grumpiness, irritability and anger, he is sweet and loving and trying every day to do his best.
  3. Mr. Ornery – ornery as all get out, but such a sweet, creative, snuggly delicious little boy!
  4. The Little Guy – the most resilient, tender, kind, extroverted being I’ve ever met who approaches the world head on. He’s a game-changer!
  5. My parents – their unconditional love, missionary heart, and constant encouragement has meant the world to me. And their current support of my sister and I in our parenting is priceless.
  6. My sister – she started us on this journey of parenting and I will never forget that! Love her.
  7. My brother and his family – such a faithful, loving big bunch. Wish we lived closer.
  8. All my other family scattered around the States and the world! So thankful for them and the love they share.
  9. My best friend from college – her boys are just two days older than my three and we commiserate and support each other practically daily.
  10. Countless friends who are always there in so many different ways from all my educational experiences (a TON of education) and a wonderful medical community of friends and so many other places. I am so grateful!
  11. Our Cavadoodle Mitzy – she’s such a gentle soul….and patient with the boys….soooo patient with the boys!
  12. My health – enough to try water-skiing again last month and getting out to run.
  13. That my boys are physically healthy (though behaviorally they drive me nuts!!)
  14. A developing church family.
  15. A fellow foster parent who made parenting a newborn possible ten years by offering to do childcare for Super Tall Guy until he was 6 weeks old and could start at daycare. She made our “story” possible.
  16. Growing up as a missionary kid in Thailand as it had such an impact on my life and is my forever home in my heart.
  17. The opportunity to travel throughout the world (though the passport became unused once the boys arrived….).
  18. Friends around the world thanks to my parents’ wise decision to have foreign exchange students when we were in high school.
  19. Living in the U.S. where we have so many opportunities.
  20. Super Tall Guy’s “big brother” from the Big Brothers Big Sisters program who has been a blessing to our whole family.
  21. Good school for the boys where they are safe and cared for and have many opportunities.
  22. Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz ice cream – it’s out of this world. Try it. You won’t stop.Processed with MOLDIV
  23. The fact that Target has just started stocking Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz! One-stop shopping is key for single moms!
  24. Living in Pittsburgh which is a small town big city in which everyone is “related” by only 2 or 3 degrees of separation.
  25. Starbucks nonfat no-whip mocha…..just addicted…that is all.
  26. Ability to work a job that gives me tons of flexibility at work doing so many different things and and flexible hours so that I can be at kid events and available when needed.
  27. A camera that lets me document my boys’ antics and cuteness – photos are sometimes a necessary reminder of why I love them!🙂
  28. Friends that helped me purchase a minivan when my crew grew and three car seats wouldn’t fit across a row anymore!
  29. Opportunities for my boys to get involved in sports and receive coaching and mentoring and meet new people (though I miss them when seasons end)
  30. Living in a community with neighbors who help out whenever needed.
  31. Texting – I just love texting….I’m an introvert….enough said.
  32. Having a home. Even though we’re looking for a new place to move to, it’s nice to have a comfortable place to be in the meantime.
  33. A comfortable bed. Beds are wonderful. I can’t wait until all of my boys feel the same way about their OWN beds!
  34. Showers are great – especially the first one after a beach vacation and you finally feel like you got the sand out of your toes.
  35. Okay – the opportunity to take vacations. Not everyone can and I don’t take them for granted.
  36. Grass under foot, trees overhead, flowers in bloom, leaves that change color, snow that falls.
  37. Fireplaces – I love fireplaces.
  38. And garages, oh how I wish I had a garage (it’s on my bucket list before I turn 50!).
  39. A basic ability to cook and a joy of baking.
  40. The opportunity to live in peace and safety (most of the time).
  41. Having a big “safety net” around and under me when it’s needed.
  42. My grandma’s piano in the living room and an occasional moment to tickle the ivories.
  43. Jigsaw puzzles – always a soothing activity to me.
  44. Access to technology and a basic understanding of it so that I can communicate with it, compile memories through it, and connect with others.
  45. A little wine or beer or margarita sprinkled into life.
  46. Sunshine.
  47. Knowing that I am loved.


The Power of Pixels

(Wow – somehow time got away and I haven’t written for awhile, despite the fact that there are 4-5 “posts” running through my head and drafted in some form or another. An article I read today prompted me to finish up this one!)

It wasn’t until I looked up that I realized what I had been doing. I was idly scrolling through something on my phone and looked up to find that I was in the presence of my boys but not in the present. A very small flicker, a short reflection, a moment in time when I was not connected with them. Nothing bad had happened while I wasn’t paying attention, but that was the point. I wasn’t paying attention. Do my boys know that I’m not paying attention?

When they were younger and “smart phones” were new, I definitely made sure that I was focused on them (the kids, not the phones). Of course, there was also much more to pay attention to – the first step, the tip of the plate of spaghetti onto the floor, the endless bedtime routine, the careening down the wooden stairs, the first two-wheel bike ride. Yet as they all approach school age, my focus has drifted and I am less attentive and more distracted by something that easily slips from my pocket to my hands.

Today the boys lounged on my sister’s couch for a couple hoursscreen creating and blowing up each other’s structures in Minecraft with a mixture of joy, frustration, and plenty of noise. They would have continued much longer had we not kicked them out to the pool. As we walked over, I thought about my discontent with their “need” for screen and yet my clear modeling of the use of a screen for me. They swim. I look at my screen. They create Indiana Jones adventure routines. I look at my screen (until they’re ready to perform, that is).

This is not to say that I need to be “attending” to them at all times. If we pay too much attention to kids, they have no space or time to learn to entertain themselves and develop skills and confidence. I certainly let my boys spend tons of time out of my line of sight and out of my ready input into their activities. The question is, am I showing the boys that I am spending my time wisely or am I modeling ways to “waste” time and attention with short blurbs and snippets of culture.

Sitting in a local coffee shop to squeeze in some work before a meeting the other day, my eyes wandered to the preschool girl in the chair nearby. The mother’s friend was engaging her in a conversation (“when does school start? Is your daddy working today”) while looking down at her own cell phone instead of the child. While the adult brain knows that it can multi-task the response to the text and attend to the answers of a little girl, what is the girl’s perspective? Does she know she is only getting a fraction of the attention? What is the adult modeling to her?

So how can I fault my boys as they start to show more hunger for screens? The power of pixels captures the eye and the brain. The problem is, more and more research is showing just how powerful and damaging that screen can be for the brain. In fact, a recent New York Times article referred to it as “digital heroin.” It is addictive and can interfere with engagement with other facets of life and most importantly with relationships with others.

Time to change. Time for me to put down my little addiction and pick up a book (or that board exam material I should be reading). Time to talk to my little guys a bit more about why I restrict their screen time (and it’s not because I’m “Mean Mommy”).  Time to think more and be more conscientious and get around to instituting that Game Night weekly. It’s going to be a continuous challenging battle, but it’s one I must fight. Wish me luck🙂