And Then There Were Water Beads…

“Hey, want to be Doctor and Nurse again for the kids’ science fair night?” I asked a friend a couple weeks ago. A few days later she sent me directions (so thankful) for creating a demonstration of blood using water beads as the red blood cells, ping pong balls as the white blood cells and pieces of red foam to be the platelets. Looked easy enough. Amazon delivered the supplies a few days later and I left them in the box until they were needed.

Chomping on some salad a couple hours before heading to the science fair, I pulled up the instructions on my phone to start getting ready. “Hmm…water beads….” I opened the box and read their instructions. “Soak in water for 6 to 24 hours.”  &!@$!!! But then I remembered many science lessons by my mother when I was young about the power of heat and soaked those tiny pellets in hot hot water!!  It was amazing to watch them grow!

Hours later, my friend and I were swamped by kids coming to play with our bucket of “blood.” Kids would stand there for 5-10 minutes just letting the little beads roll through

Bucket of “blood”

their hands. Some were semi-interested in learning about blood, but really, they just wanted to squish beads between their fingers. We even encouraged all the parents to put their hands in and the expressions on their faces were priceless. We witnessed awe, delight, relaxation, and sheer surprise that the beads weren’t “slimy.” I stood there as a perfect spokesperson (for Amazon!), “Don’t you think you need some of these in your house?” “Wouldn’t it be so relaxing?” “Excuse, Mr. Principal of this school. Don’t you think you should have a bucket of these in the office next week for the kids as they work on their PSSAs? A chance to relax and de-stress while they are filling in endless bubble exams?”

The entire next day, Super Tall Guy sat on the couch running his fingers through a bucket of water beads as he watched TV. I’d turn and see him letting them slip around his hands, squishing and squeezing them. I thought about how wonderful it was to see my boy who often has so much trouble regulating his intense emotions sitting so calmly and relaxing with this sensory stimulation. It seemed like a perfect item.

Except that all “perfect” things, in a household of boys, have a downside!  You can order a pack of 15,000 tiny beads and still have fights over even division of items among three boys! You can give all the warnings you want about keeping them in the buckets (and even outfit all the containers with snapping lids) and still you will find them all over the floor. (The vacuum worked, though!)

 

I don’t know whether I love these things or hate them. It’s only been 48 hours, so the jury is still out on whether these are a “helpful” experience for the boys. I can keep you updated.

But I can tell you that I haven’t ordered the “water bead gun” yet on Amazon and I sure haven’t informed the boys of its existence!!

 

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A Climbing Wall: The Art of Parenting

“I need you to check in with me,” I said to the 9-year-old as he placed his foot on a ledge on the climbing wall. “I am what keeps you alive.”

In the boys’ endless quests for adventure, the climbing wall at the gymnastics facility was their next journey. There was fun and challenge to be had on the walls and in the attempt to swing up into a little “cave,” but the greatest fun was to descend into the pit, hook up to a harness, and scale the wall. My job was to belay them. My job was to keep them safe, to keep them alive.

This was a new adventure for me as well. I had no experience in belaying and it’s been way too long since I’ve tied any knots in Girl Scouting (“Form a guy, give him a tie, poke him in the eye.” – viola! – a figure-8 knot). I realized as a stood back, craning my neck, watching my fearless boy climb straight up that there was a great deal of learning happening in a short period of time.

Mr. Ornery was learning strategy of placement of hands and legs. With encouragement from the two men who climb each week, he was learning to focus on his legs to push him up higher. He was also learning to listen to others (even if he had just met them) who had more experience and thus could give him some guidance. If he could reflect deep enough, he was learning to respect his elders.

He was also learning to trust himself and develop confidence. The first couple times, the wall with an overhanging cliff loomed against his skill. Several attempts later, he fought to keep his toes in the footholds and extend his arms high enough to get the next rock. Scrambling over the edge, he shot to the top to ring the bell and joyously called out, “I did it.”

He was learning to trust his mother. “You sure you got me?” he’s asked several times as he reaches far up to the top. He knows he’s high enough that a fall would be devastating. He knows he’s connected to a rope, but he’s not so sure that rope is secure. He knows the rope is connected to me, but he’s not so sure this system is going to work. So, I remind him that he’s safe. I remind him that his mom has him. I remind him that he checked in with me at the start so that we’re in this together – he’s ready to explore, I’m ready to catch. Just as he used to walk off as a toddler and then circle back to check that I was still there, now as an adventurous third-grader, I’m still there. I’ve got his back in this life.

As I hold the rope, I contemplate this parent stuff. I’m responsible for keeping my kids safe, but also for encouraging them to try new things. Before clicking onto the rope, we review the knots together so that my kid thinks of safety first (helmets, seat belts, paying attention – whatever it is, safety matters). Before giving advice about the next possible step, I hang back as much as I can and let him struggle for a bit. Of course, I have an answer for him because I have a different vantage point (I’m not on the wall and I’ve already had a lot of experiences in life), but some of this he needs to wrestle with and I need to hold my tongue.

I am also reminded that part of what makes this parenting gig tough is that I don’t always have all the answers and new things (like belaying) come at me all the time. The great thing is that there are others, more experienced climbers, who can provide help – check the knots, teach me to hang the rope up at the end, provide soft encouragement. And there are more experienced parents who can give advice and share wisdom and provide soft encouragement when the going gets rough. There’s no way I could do this without them (and I’m looking for them as we approach the teen years!).

So, I’m learning to say “Go for it.” I’m learning to coach my kids just a little but hang back as much as I can so that they can figure it out. I’m learning to let others mentor and teach them skill sets that I don’t have. I’m learning to support but not hover. I’m learning to figure out what makes each boy tick and what they need on their journey. I’m learning the outward expression of the love withing.

Before you venture forth, my dear sons, check in with Mom.

And I will say, “Climb on.”

Believe Me: I am Smart

It was just another rough weekday morning. The same nasty tones and words. The same tomfoolery. The same old problem of too much grumpiness, not enough independent motivation, and plenty of hurt feelings before the day gets started.

I am working so hard on the concept of “respect,” but it sure is a tough one for me and these boys. The morning quickly disintegrated into my eldest yelling, “Stupid!!” at me, and I had had enough! “Don’t you ever call me or anyone else stupid!” I exclaimed (for the millionth time).

“Actually, my dear,” I continued after one of those long dramatic pauses, “I am one of the smartest women you will probably ever meet. My IQ is in the gifted range. I not only have a college degree, but I have a PhD and an MD. On top of that, I still take evening online classes and do a lot of reading. I am a doctor and the head of an organization [small, small one…but we’re not going into details]. I am a very smart woman.”

I don’t think I’ve ever said those words out loud. I know it though. I’ve seen my resume. I’ve been told I’m smart. I’ve been told smart women are intimidating (though that doesn’t seem to apply to one’s children!). But I’ve never actually built a case for my boys about how smart I am. It doesn’t seem right to brag.

And I’m not sharing here to impress anyone, it’s just that it struck me that my boys are under constant pressure to compare themselves to the opposite gender. They learned, “Boys rule and girls drool” around the age of three at the day care center. They happily proclaim “girls are so bossy and annoying” and “girls are stupid and weak” as they progress through elementary school. They hear people say “Don’t let a girl beat you” in sporting events, as I overheard just this week. They have so much peer influence trying to make them feel superior – on top of the natural self-absorption of this age range!

I am working to counter that. I intentionally try to stop myself from making gender-based generalizations. I try to model truth and goodness, strength and kindness, integrity and faith, and the importance of hard work.

The other night, Super Tall Guy and I chatted before he fell asleep. He mentioned that a neighbor boy said he couldn’t do something because his mom just lay on the couch most evenings. Super Tall Guy pointed out, “You never just lie around on the couch, Mom.” I agreed. “Yes. It’s important to me to take care of you boys and the house. I do some work in the evenings many times so that I can be available during the day when needed for you guys,” I replied. “But I do take the weekends off, don’t I?” I explained (thank you, Netflix!). I’ve learned so much from my incredibly industrious amazing mother and other strong women role models in my life. My goal is to show my boys the value of hard work and respect for the work that others do. My goal is to show them that women can and do make tremendous contributions to society.

I try to find examples of equality through picking movies wisely that show women “saving the day” and not just men all the time (loved Frozen for that!). I have read “Paper Bag Princess” numerous times to the boys. I look for books with strong female characters. I try to be intentional.

There are so many things that these boys of mine are going to learn by looking at my example. There are so many more things that they will learn from peers and social media and entertainment and the culture around them. And there are some things that I just need to say out loud so they understand. Mommy is smart!

Just maybe….some day… maybe they will listen!

 

 

 

 

The Masks We Wear

My house is dotted with photos. Smiling boys. Smiling mom. I absolutely adore these boys. I love them to the core. I so want to help them grow into amazing men. I want what is best for them. I am their voice and their advocate. I pour a lot of time and energy into them. A lot of time and energy.

I am an “amazing” “incredible” woman, so many say. Yet, I have taken on the responsibility of raising three boys by simply walking one foot in front of the other by faith into this. I head to work with composure. I frequently write about my boys and their antics with an attempt at wit. I provide a listening ear and a gentle shoulder (sometimes via texts) to other tired and worn mothers. I pull it together and smile.

Yet some nights I sit on the couch and cry. “Why, Lord?” In the dark, the mask falls off. In the dark, the weary wrinkled eyes weep.

Some days are just harder than others. Some days the eldest is exhausted because he was so intent on completing “a challenge” of staying up all night that he spends the next two days irritably dealing with the consequences. He tops it off with flatly refusing to get a shower. (A preteen boy who refuses a shower for two days. Let that sink in.) Some days he flashes into rage and lunges at the middle brother with an anger and intensity that shakes me. I bring every calming nerve I can around to attention and sit in front of his face saying, “We are not doing this. We are not doing this.” Somedays, I am so completely disconnected from my eldest. I banish him to his room until he makes himself clean. I ground him for a week for the violent outburst. I refuse to enter his room at night to read to him due to the smell (though our silly dog seems to happily enjoy his company!). I am over it. I weep.

Some days Mr. Ornery completely flips out. Frustrated with a Nerf “war” gone bad, he decides to trash his room completely. In his fit of frustration, he smashes his Christmas Lego sets and empties the thousands upon thousands of Legos from sorting boxes into one large box. My heart aches as I think of all the hours we have spent building Legos together. The hours I have put into sorting Lego pieces by functionality. The hours of creating intricate buildings, cars, planes, homes. Trashed in a matter of minutes.

Some days The Little Guy just can’t stop whining. Every time he comes near, his voice screeches in a complaint about something not going his way. “Mr. Ornery hurt me.” “Why can’t I watch Batman Returns?” “Why do I have to feed the dog. I always have to feed the dog. I’m the only who ever has to feed the dog.” I send him away as his pitch is nails on my internal board. Yet at the same time I know I should be giving him a hug and chasing away his gray clouds. I should be answering his cries to connect instead of pushing him away. We are distant and I can’t find the energy to pull in.

Some days I just sit on the couch. The sting of parenting leaving me empty. The constant mess around me. The constant energy to motivate uninterested young boys. The constant noise and chaos and destruction. The constant demand for my attention.

I sit wondering if I can put the mask back on and rally another day.

Knowing that I will.

Knowing that I am not alone.

 

Knowing that God in His wisdom chose me for this one.

Knowing that it will be better in the morning when I have more energy to deal with it all (if I get to bed soon enough, that is). Knowing that the boys will feel better in the morning. Knowing that I have the support I need – my friends and family are just a call or text away.

I let the tears flow

And the peace return.

 

 

Do Not Ignore the Soft Signs (of a future school drop-out)

Sadly, kids can’t use all the words they need to help us best parent them into adulthood, but they will often give you some clues. Please do not ignore the soft signs.

The hardest, but most important, thing to me.

This week I got a call from Mr. Ornery’s homeroom teacher. He got in trouble midweek at lunch for acting out and causing a scene – the classic “attention-getting” behaviors, she said. He came home with a “behavioral slip” (which he tried to get the sitter to sign-off on so he didn’t have to show it to Mom!).

But the key thing is that as the teacher talked with him, he mentioned that his goal is to act out until he gets expelled. Who says that at third grade?  A kid who is not connected is who.

Here’s what I know now. He spends forty-five minutes with his homeroom teacher (Mrs. L) and has her for a science/social studies period. He is then in a different class for math (Mrs. R), another class for English (Mrs. K), another class for the “enrichment” time slot (Mrs. H), in other classes for specials (art, music, library, gym – 4 different teachers). On top of that, he is pulled out for “reading support” (Mrs. C) and for “speech therapy” (Mrs. T) and sees Mr. M twice a week for orchestra. Mrs. M watches him for recess/lunch (my boys seem to prefer to act out for her) and Mrs. B is the school counselor who “touches base” occasionally. When I sit with him and ask him to tell me who all his teachers are, he can’t name them all. I just listed thirteen that I can figure out and there likely are more!

This boy is eight and he is walking all over the school to different classrooms, just like a middle-school and high-school kid. And do you know what he’s doing in the hallway? He’s dragging his feet and getting to class late. He’s “hanging” out behind a door and skipping his English period completely. He’s essentially “skipping” school while within the school – at the age of eight.

So who is this kid connected to, I asked. Who at the school has the power to speak into his life when he starts to act up? Who is consistent enough to keep him grounded? To make him feel worthy? To make him feel empowered to do his best? To help him develop confidence? To help him develop a love of learning?

I asked this of his teacher. I asked this of the assistant principal the next day. We set up a meeting to review his schedule. You see, this school is apparently so focused on academics that they are frequently doing assessments and altering the students’ schedules to place them in “just the right” classes to target “just the right” academic level. They seem so pleased with this concept. So I ask, “It seems that you are targeting academics beautifully. But have you stopped to consider what this is doing to the kids social-emotionally? Have you considered how fundamental and foundational the first three years of school are? Have you thought about how important consistency is? Have you considered paying attention to the soft signs of a student who is lost in the shuffle?”

Do not ignore the soft signs. Do not ignore an eight-year-old considering ways to get himself expelled. Do not ignore a third-grader suggesting that he’d like to skip school and hang at the skatepark like the teens do. Do not let a little kid continue on a path toward truancy and drop-out because you love your academic assessments and beautiful matching of precise academic levels. Do not ignore the importance of childhood. Do not ignore the cries of my little boy.

Because I will not allow this bright child to lose his light and his potential.

He and his brothers hold my heart.

 

 

 

 

Organizing a Surprise (To Disney!)

“I hate you! I can’t believe we’re going to Disney! ….You are the worst and the best Mom in the world! I love you…”  

A quote from Super Tall Guy as I filmed them learning about leaving for Disney. It was four in the morning. I woke up Mr. Ornery first with, “Hey, it just snowed 4 inches overnight – let’s go outside and play!” “Really?” he questioned. “Yes,” I exclaimed as I woke up the other two. Once they were dressed, they got to open backpacks laid out in the hallway ready for the plane flight. The excitement was intense.

The emotions were a true contrast to the past couple days when they had mourned the fact that they were missing out on fun when they found out that their cousins were going to Disney. They were not happy about having a mother who “never takes them anywhere.”  They begged to go. The eldest was perhaps the most sad. The younger two are pretty resilient.

I had spent two months in stress. Trying to coordinate a trip with my sister and mother while keeping it secret from my own kids. Shopping and hiding items in boxes in my room and keeping them separate from all the Christmas presents hiding as well. Staying up late at night buying tickets, planning the travel, trying for Fast-Passes at the parks. 

At one point, Super Tall Guy was awaiting a gift he ordered for his cousin from Amazon. On a Saturday morning when I took the younger two on errands with me, he opened the boxes that had been delivered…. finding the LEGO character gift he was expecting…. as well as the 5 Magic Bands for the upcoming trip!  Thankfully I masterfully distracted him with the “little lie” that the bands were for his cousin and family.

My sister questioned me several times – “Are you sure you want to do this? My boys don’t like surprises.” “I feel so bad that the boys are unhappy…” And yet I persisted. It’s a balance between giving them the sense of anticipation for the weeks leading up to a trip and the excitement of being surprised. It’s a choice that only I could make. It’s a choice that required me to reflect on the temperament of each boy. It’s a choice that made my life infinitely more difficult for a bit of time.

For example, there was that new suitcase that I purchased for the trip and hid in my shower stall so I could get it packed up and back into the car before the boys noticed. Unfortunately, I listened to the “odd” sound of the shower water hitting something before realizing what I had done the next morning.

Then there was the angst of trying to find items that were so well-hidden from the boys that even I couldn’t remember where I had put them. As soon as I “found” the magic bands and linked them to the tickets, I promptly “lost” them again after re-hiding them!

And yet, it’s a choice I made to create a “memory” within their hearts and minds. A memory that hopefully they will share together when they are older and sitting around the table – “Remember that time when Mom woke us up at 4 am to go to Disney?!?” Hopefully it will be a good memory, filled with fun and laughter.

Here are some things that I learned:

  • Super Tall Guy does not actually like surprises and definitely doesn’t like to travel back early in the morning at the end of a trip to make it to the karate dojo tournament. You basically wasted your money in changing those flights!
  • Boys get overstimulated by crowds easily and so throwing in a beach day when it’s over 80 degrees is great fun, especially if grandma splurges on renting a couple boogie boards.
  • When coordinating six boys from ages 6 to 13 (my three and my sister’s three), it’s pretty difficult to make all of them happy with the choice of park for the day or the next ride, so stop trying!
  • There will be meltdowns. There will be meltdowns. There will be meltdowns.
  • Leaving the boys to be put to bed by the grandmother the first night while you run to the grocery store for a week’s worth of food is not a very good idea – for the kids or the grandmother. See point above.
  • Mickey Ear chocolate ice cream is as delicious as I remember it to be but sadly my young ice cream fiends prefer the Mickey Ear sandwich ice cream bars.
  • Having the “Elf” join us for the trip added to some tossing-around fun and to the memories (but may have caused some distress from other elf-believing young kids).
  • Would have been a good idea to bring along the boys’ homework so they could make up missed work from school….and not have to force them to do it all the day we got back! Live and learn…. 
  • You may ask the boys to turn around and smile nicely for a picture in front of whatever (insert Castle, LEGOLAND sign, Animal Kingdom decorated Christmas tree, etc.) and they know full well that you are going to require a “nice” photo every day….but that’s not going to make them all actually look happy in the photos! 
  • The boys are not actually ready for two days of Universal Studios and you could have saved a lot of money by just getting a one-day hopper pass.
  • Don’t even bother to consider how much money you just spent.
  • Limiting souvenir purchases is so difficult – oh, but the memories….
  • Traveling as a single parent with three boys is exhausting but easier with grandmother and family alongside.
  • It’s quite freeing to finally visit Disney without renting a stroller and really only carrying the youngest two when staying late into the night. The “school-age” travelers are much easier than the toddler years!
  • I miss being the kid and having a “Mom” carrying EVERYTHING!
  • Pools at the hotels are a must.
  • There will be meltdowns (especially on the night that Super Tall Guy is disrespectful and so you prohibit him from a night-time swim!).
  • A trip to Disney the week before Christmas is a bit of a nightmare.
  • Memories were definitely created and hopefully the boys see and feel how much they are loved.  

Whew! Don’t need to do that again for awhile! (But you know we will!)  

But we are looking forward to some new adventures in 2018!  Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

Parenting: The Science/Art of Prediction

When the boys were young, the day care center parking lot drove me crazy. Young kids are short enough that drivers cannot see them when backing up and every time I picked up or dropped off, I worried that a kid would be hit by a car in reverse. The new video technology is helping but it doesn’t guarantee anything. Kids in parking lots still stress me. This past weekend, the younger two helped me go grocery shopping. They eagerly unloaded groceries from the coveted “car-driving” cart into the back of our van. Without thinking, I stepped to the side of the van to put the “don’t-want-it-smushed” bread into the front seat. Then I heard a man yelling. The car beside me had started backing up at the same time that The Little Guy had decided to move our cart backwards to take it to the corral. The man’s yells stopped the driver moments after she had already bumped into the cart and into my son. He was fine. He was protected by the cart and by his angels. But the woman was in tears and I was in disbelief. I had failed to be there. Failed to predict my son’s movements. Failed to predict the driver’s movements. Failed to protect from harm. Lifting up thanks as we drove away, I reviewed the situation with the boys trying to reinforce safety.

Parenting, it really boils down to one’s ability to predict. Science or art….hard to tell.

And this starts early, shortly after the mesmerizing awe of the newborn look and smell. Soon, the parent is desperately trying to predict the infant’s sleep cycle. If the baby falls asleep at 9:00 pm, do you predict he or she will wake up at 11:00 and therefore there’s no reason for you to get to sleep yet, or might the little cherub sleep until 1:00 am and you can delight in at least 2-3 hours of peaceful rest. After a night or two, or a year or two, you realize there’s absolutely no rhyme or reason to a kids’ sleep cycle and you might as well give up trying to predict anything!

The toddler years are the nightmarish, desperate attempts at predicting the Tasmanian devil’s every movements. Is she too close to the steps and about to tumble down? Is he going to flush that Match Box car down the toilet or is he just happily driving it along the bathtub rim? Is she likely to choke on that piece of food? Is he going to bump his head on the glass table or duck just in time? Apparently at this age, unpredictability is the only predictable aspect of parenting.

You feel like you have a sigh of relief as they enter into the school-age years. Now they can dress themselves, feed themselves, sort-of toilet themselves, and sometimes even entertain themselves for practically an hour (if some electronic device is involved!). You start to feel smug and almost have empathy when you see the bedraggled parents of toddlers chasing kids down the grocery aisle. But then you rapidly realize that there’s a whole new level of prediction which is further complicated by trying to predict interactions with and influences of other children as well. “I’m sorry your friend just blocked you from Minecraft chat. It wouldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that you just blew up his carefully constructed building, would it?”

It’s a brain-spinning nightmare, really. The more experience you have with kids, the more adept you get at this game of parenting prediction, but really there is no level of perfection that any parent could ever attain. My life is full of little moments of failing to predict kid behavior (scribbles on walls, broken TV sets, holes in the bedroom doors, plumbing emergencies for toy extraction) interspersed with near constant mental energy trying to predict larger and more consequential situations.

For example, currently I’m trying to predict the likelihood that a guy who goes by the name James will continue to use my address as a meet-up point for people trying to sell electronics on an app. When they arrive, he approaches and then runs off with their item. Within minutes, he has it up on the app for sale. The local police seem unconcerned and apathetic. My neighbors seem to consider it “interesting.” Property management seems to be pondering what to do. I seem to be the one stressed that victims will eventually get fed up with “James” and come storm my townhome. The question is, will I and the boys be home then?

So, here’s my conclusion. There’s no way we as parents or as humans could possibly predict everything that would befall our kids or us. We get better with each experience, we rely on family and friends to lend advice, we pray and we hope, and that’s the best we can do.

For now, I’ll predict that my boys are going to be really excited about an upcoming surprise and that the first winter snow that is falling tonight. That’s about as much as I can predict. And that’s good enough.