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🙂

 

 

 

 

The Difficulties with Being a Temporary Sports Mom

I’ve come to acknowledge that I’m a temporary sports mom. A temporary soccer mom. Temporary ice hockey mom. Temporary basketball mom. And this isn’t just because the season ends, but because the boys keep trying activities and then stop. It’s what I want logically; that is, I want them to explore and try out different sports to see which ones might fit them or which ones they develop a passion for and a desire to start improving their skills. I also have a long-term goal of giving them some basics in sports so that later in life they can join in with friends. However, I didn’t realize how draining this temporariness would be on me.

I know my perspective is limited as my boys are still very young and we’ve only just skimmed the surface of some of the most typical sports. There’s still lacrosse and badminton and wrestling and tennis to get to (but not football, no, not football). And yet sometimes, I just wish they would settle (like on basketball as an indoor sport so that I’m not exposed to hours upon hours of rain, sleet or snow!).

baseballIt’s a strange experience. Each time we start a new sport, I ramp up to learn more about it myself. Rereading the “you’ve registered” emails to see if there’s any information, scouring the internet, and then of course, showing up at the sporting goods store to ask tons of questions about what do we need and what don’t we need and to throw away hundreds of dollars. For example, I had no idea that hockey sticks were right or left-handed and that my kid would naturally use one versus the other as determined by swinging at pucks in the aisle over and over. Of course, when the salesman said, “Just take the stick home and cut it down to size,” I thought, “You’re kidding, right? I’m supposed to do that?!?” (Single mom. Townhouse. No circular saw in sight. Thank you, Pop, for doing that!)

Then you show up to the first practice and try to figure out how to put the equipment on the kid. Do soccer shin guards go over the socks or under the socks? Do you wear the cup in baseball practice or just for the games? How in the world do you get these fifteen pieces of hockey gear on? Without fail, I seem to forget at least one piece of equipment each season. First swim meet – no towel. First ice hockey practice – no mouth guard. First soccer game – no water bottle (and umbrella for me!).

soccerThen there’s the need to figure out the social context of each sport. I am constantly trying to find someone who knows about the sport and can give me some pointers. But there’s a whole dynamic to navigate around. There’s the super-competitive families, “My kid’s been playing baseball since he was 3 and of course you do it year-round and go to every clinic and summer tournaments and …” And there’s the never-played-any-sports at all families who are peeling the kids off their bodies and throwing them onto the field, begging them to just try to kick the ball one time. I tend to gravitate to the ones who seem to know at least one or two steps beyond me, either the kid has played a season already or their older kids have done this sport.

It takes a bit of time, but I eventually settle into a “group” of parents to hang with, because the reality is, you’re going to spend an hour or so a week just sitting together at practice and then again on the weekend for a game. You’re going to need to borrow a pair of hockey socks when you left your kids’ set in the dryer. You’re going to want to be able to complain about the rain or make comments about the coaching to someone. You’re going to want to have someone on the journey with you. The problem is, you then form a nice weekly friendship which suddenly ends abruptly when the season ends and you wonder – will I see these new friends again? Will we cross paths in another season or another sport? I realize that I am saddened by the loss of those relationships. Yes, you’ve exchanged numbers so that you can text about whether there’s a practice tonight in the rain or if they might let the coach know you’ll be a tad late (can’t find the bat). Yes, sometimes we connect over facebook or social media, but it’s just not the same as sharing your life weekly for 3-4 months in a row, discussing weekend plans or how your kid is doing in school. I didn’t realize I’d be mourning the loss of the baseball parents or the hockey moms or the soccer gang. That I’d be floating along wondering how such and such kid is doing or explaining to my boy that we might see them again sometime.

I suppose these temporary friendships might be a function of our current exploration of sports, so I wonder if some of my impatience with the boys’ switching around has to do with my desire to maintain some friendships. (It could very well have to do with the ever-growing piles upon piles of “last sport’s, now unused” equipment as well!) On the whole, though, I’ve been delighted to meet so many new people and develop some new longer lasting friendships.

Now if only we could stop switching schools so that I might get to know some of the classmate’s parents!

 

 

I Choose Love

It’s been an absolutely crazy week in the news and I know most of us are struggling with understanding what is happening and trying to figure out what we can and should do.

What’s most important, it seems to me, is to maintain hope. Just like we know that individual humans make mistakes, groups of humans and countries also make mistakes.

But it is the individual who has to hold the hope. The hope that there is better and can be better. And then collectively we can share the hope.

There must be enough of us to say, “I know you are hurting at this time and the world and the country seems bleak, but I will hold the hope.” For the time being, I will be the one to hold the hope.

Mat awesome

Suntan lotion fun with Super Tall Guy

I am doing that for my boys. They don’t even know that I am holding the hope for them. They don’t know that internally I wrestle with knowing that their brown skin glows and glistens and that beautiful skin will mark them and label them. They don’t know that I hold the hope for them.

They don’t know that I worry about them every day. Will they make good decisions or bad ones? Will they make poor choices in friendships or be surrounded in love? Will they thrive or flounder? They don’t know that I hold the hope for them.

They don’t know that I pour my heart and soul into thinking about them and what’s best for them. They don’t know that I sacrifice almost all my time and a (very) high percentage of my income for them. They don’t know that I’m desperately trying to get this parenting thing “right” for their sake. They don’t know that I hold the hope for them.

They don’t know that this world is huge and going through some crazy times right now. They don’t know much about the violence and racism and fighting and division. They don’t know that I hold the hope for them.

This week what runs through my mind over and over is “I choose love.” No matter what is happening around me, I choose love. For the sake of my boys, I choose love. For the sake of changing the world, I choose love. For the sake of those who need to hear it, I choose love.

If we respond in love,

If we react in love,

If we live in love,

the world will be better.

I hold the hope and I choose love.

prayer-of-st-francis

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Dropping my babies off at the box

Driving past the entrance of the daycare center, I mentally resist the inclination to turn. For ten years I have made that turn almost every single week day. Almost 2500 times I have entered the parking lot, unbuckled a child and walked into the building. There have been days when I have choked back tears as I left a small infant in the hands of a daycare worker or sat them on the carpeted floor and kissed their head goodbye. There have been days when I’ve left a kicking and screaming toddler in the restraint of a teacher. There have been days when they’ve taken off running and never turned to say “Bye Mom.” And, there have been days when I’ve right-handedly barrel-held a three-year-old while carrying the rejected coat and left shoe in my other hand and shoved the boy into the waiting arms of his preschool teacher’s and growled, “Bye, I love you” as I’ve turned and stormed out of the door. Tell me we’ve all had those mornings!

Every day for ten years I’ve dropped off one or two of my boys (and sometimes my sister’s kids) and returned to pick them up.  I can’t say I’ve always been happy with the choice of using a daycare center, though I have been happy with the one that I’ve used. Although staying home with my children was my initial desire, it has never been an option. As a single adoptive mother, I am the wage-earner. This is it. In the beginning of this parenting journey (that is, when I had one child and lived with a sister with a “very good” job), I was able to work part-time and had a wonderful blend of child time and adult time. But soon the financial demands led to full-time work and full-time child care needs.

Conservatively, I’ve spent over $100,000 on childcare expenses (about $230/week per kid). Sure I regularly debated more “cost-effective” options, but the comfort that I had with this particular center and knowing that it was “quality” child care always kept me there. When I was in grad school, I participated in a national study on the effects of child care, comparing kids who were home with a parent and those in a family or day care center care. Time and again, the “quality” of care aspect showed up as important for future social-emotional and intellectual development.

If I couldn’t be home with the boys, I wanted the security of knowing that they were well cared for. I wanted to know that the center was open every day. I sloshed through the sequential illnesses they picked up and brought home (in ten years, I only stayed home once because I was the one sick – every other time it was for a sick kid!) because I knew they were in a good place. I wanted a place that just laughed when I called and said Sam shoes“there’s another foster baby” and they had a spot for him. I wanted a place that didn’t judge when Little Guy wore his shoes on the wrong feet 99.99% of the time. I wanted a place where everybody knew my name. Sure I saw a lot of “teachers” come and go, and the directors and assistant directors come and go, but I stayed because of the incredible staff. There are so many who have touched us and one teacher in particular was there year after year from the moment I handed Super Tall Guy to her at the age of 6 weeks to the last hug of the Little Guy when we left last week. Miss Kathy and I were in this together. Every single morning after moving up to the next classroom, the Little Guy still walked out of his way to circle through Miss Kathy’s classroom. If she was doing circle time, we’d wave. If she wasn’t (too) busy, we’d stop for a little update on boys’ antics over the weekend or the latest sport Mr. Ornery was trying. You can’t replace that relationship.

Every day for ten years I walked into that building.

And, I walked out of that building almost 2500 times too. I have walked out with anxiety and confusion as to whether this was the right thing to do. I’ve walked out with anger at the troubles and struggles of a rough morning. I’ve walked out with a smile at the silly exchange with a kid or the hug of one of the boys’ little “friends.” I’ve walked out and given a teary-eyed new mom a smile of encouragement and said, Don’t worry. It gets easier and

Choosing donuts for the teachers on the last day.

Choosing donuts for the teachers on the last day.

the kids are happy.”  I’ve walked out with peace and comfort knowing my sons are safe and loved. And I’ve walked out with sadness to be leaving for the last time, to be ending a stage of my boys’ lives, to be missing the friendships I’ve made over the years with this “family.”

Yes, there have been times that I’ve struggled with feeling that I’m leaving my kid in a big box building for the day, but now I struggle with missing the routine, missing the friends, missing the comfort and innocence of those early years of life. The Little Guy is ready for his next step. He’s excited about kindergarten. He doesn’t look back. Life is ahead and compelling and interesting and calling to him. But I know of that life, my little man. I know of that life.

And I wish for you just a few more days of Miss Kathy and your daycare center home.