Advent Candle of Hope

Sunday was the first day of Advent. My boys don’t really care about the “anticipation” and the “waiting” for Jesus. They care about the wreath on the dining table that has candles on it. Candles can only mean one thing – the chance to fight about who gets to light the candles and who gets to blow them out. That’s what Advent is to them. Though they did learn last year that Mommy means what she says – keep fighting, keep arguing, keep driving me nuts, and that wreath disappears!!

So we sit down to a fine dinner of spaghetti and meatballs Sunday evening and light the first candle – the candle of Hope. I ask each one what they are hopeful for – and no, that particular Christmas gift does not count.

A couple hours later, during a typical wrestling match, Mr. Ornery apparently delivered a well-executed sweep kick that crashed the five-year-old to the floor. I did not witness said move as I was in the kitchen, doing what all single moms do after a meal – hiding and praying for a moment of quiet. But no, the Little Guy is screams in pain, and his unempathetic mom gives him a kiss and an elbow rub and a “get over it” look and we’re ready for bed, guys! After all, it is bedtime and sleep heals all wounds.

And what I realize in that moment is that all I’m hoping for this Advent Season is a moment of peace….which is not to be.

So here’s this year’s list of Advent Hope.

  1. Hope for just a few evenings of quiet to sit on the couch and stare at the tree lights.
  2. Hope that the hurt elbow heals up by the morning. This Hope, however,sam-cast2wp was replaced with Monday evening at Express Care and Tuesday afternoon spent in the Emergency Room for a lovely HUGE cast! (Mind you, on the same day, Super Tall Guy finished his 3rd week of boot-wearing after 3 weeks of casting. One out of a cast and one into a cast! Delightful.)
  3. Hope that this fracture train will end and the third boy keeps his bones intact! (He seems to hold the opposite hope, as these casts apparently to draw pretty cool attention according to his logic!)
  4. Hope that the dog will never ever ever again bark from her crate in the morning and wake me up on my golden morning of sleeping in as she did last Sunday! Really, dog?!?
  5. Hope that the boys will develop a much better aim for bodily fluids because I’m in-toiletgetting pretty tired of being the janitor (or else their hands are going to be cramping with writing assignments! “It’s 50 this time but it’s going to be 200 next time!”)
  6. Hope that we get a few more nice evenings to enjoy my early Christmas gift of a fire pit on the front patio (and again, not struggle with “behaviors” related to messing with fire!).
  7. Hope that there will be more dull moments this season – when the to-do list isn’t rumbling around in the back of my skull and the hype isn’t stirring up the boys’ inability to control impulses – and that we actually enjoy the days and each other (I know, too much to hope for, but I’m going to try).
  8. Hope that I can instill some meaningful traditions into this season where the boys catch a glimpse of the true meaning of Christmas and think about others for a few seconds; I’m only asking for a couple seconds.
  9. Hope for the world and all its people to find some peace and know that Christ is the Light of the world that disperses darkness.
  10. Hope for continued love and support of family and friends, and for patience….lots of patience….I need lots of patience…..

Hanging out in the “Accident Zone”

I’m pretty sure Children’s Hospital Express Care should know our names by now. If you’re parenting three boys, you’re just going to be engaging the health care system…a lot!

Looking around the waiting room on a Friday night, it felt good to be getting out of the fever, cough, cold, respiratory stage of needing a doctor. But we seem to have moved into the “accident” stage of life. Last week, it was a 1 inch dog bite under The Little Guy’s eye from his aunt’s busy-with-my-bone dog. We spent the next ten days with some antibiotics.

Two weeks before that it was a painful swollen ankle of Super Tall Guy mat-xrayafter he twisted it jumping on a bounce-house type jump pad. Not wanting to deal with crutches and school the next morning, I finally convinced him to go with me to get it checked out. Expecting an ankle aircast for a “sprain,” we walked out with a boot and an appointment for orthopedics.

A couple days later when the orthopedist suggested a cast instead of the walking boot, I agreed whole-heartedly. I know boys. Anything removable will be removed. Clothes. Soiled diapers during nap time. Seat belts in the middle of a long highway journey. And velcro-fastened walking boots.foot-boot

I also know that there’s no stopping my boys. Two days after the cast was applied, my sister texted to ask if Super Tall Guy could jump on the trampoline with the cast. “Um, no.”  “That’s what I told him, but he said his mom said he could.” He still rides a bike and a scooter through the neighborhood. I’ve called him down off the roof of the tree-house. Other than maybe shortening the trick or treat time from 2 hours to one hour and forty-five minutes, I haven’t seen much change in this boy (except to ask for glasses of water and dinners to be brought to the couch!).

Injury only has two days of “coolness,” though. mat-castThe first day is an opportunity to show off the green-casted foot to all the kids in the neighborhood. Ohhh. Ahhh. The next day is the sympathy at school and the offer to be at the head of the lunch line.

But on day two, the anger sets in. The annoyance at the itch down deep inside (“you must go buy me a hair dryer now, Mom. She said to use a hair dryer.” It’s nine o’clock at night, buddy. We’re going to bed.). The frustrated tantrum of wanting it off and banging the cast against the wall in an effort to shatter the plaster.  I consider the $85 cost of replacing the waterproof liner if we have to redo this cast and the damage to the wall as I angrily respond; that is, until I pause and remember that it’s day two. Day Two is nightmare zone, whether it’s during vacation at the beach or the start of a long recovery process. Day Two is when the excitement comes to a screeching halt. Always be prepared for Day Two.

And yet, two days moved into two weeks and then three weeks and the cast came off. The nurse practitioner smiled and said, “Keep it in the walking boot for 3 weeks and then see how it is.” See how it is? The kid just took off the walking boot off 10 days later to “skate” at the indoor slide-skate park!! Remember, “removable” splints and bandaids and velcro boots and so much more are, in fact, removable!

I’m not sure who is more miserable when a kid breaks a bone, but I can assure you that we’d all like to get out of the “accident zone” of medical visits.

 

 

Why It Matters: I Choose Love

I’m not just going to get over it. It matters to me.

I didn’t sleep Tuesday night. I lay in bed checking the electoral count every 5 minutes. When the Associated Press called it, fireworks went off in my neighborhood. For the first time in a long time, I felt fear in my heart. Gunshots in the neighborhood a few weeks ago did not even compare to this fear. Fireworks to celebrate the election of a man who for over a year has publicly spewed words of hatred and anger, racism and sexism, disrespect and disregard for thousands upon thousands of people, this act of celebration pierced my heart.

In the morning, my eldest son woke up. Having followed the election from the periphery, he knew that Trump was unkind, but he certainly didn’t know the depth of it all. When his eyes opened, I said, “Son, Trump was chosen.” “Oh, okay,” he replied. I said, “No, son, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was just elected our president.”

“Oh, that’s bad. Very bad.”

This is not about taking “sides.” This is not about policies and politics. This is about choosing dignity and who will represent Americans to its own citizens and to the face of the world. #notmypresident is the cry that this man does not represent the feelings and passions of so many people. And I cannot tolerate disrespect and violence against my children, my family, my friends and my fellow humans.

I can not tolerate that my 7-year-old scribbled this note and tried to hide it in his room one night this week. When I asked him about it, he replied, “Because I am stupid.” And the pain touches me and I wonder where he is hearing these words that pierce his soul.nate-name

As I lay there into the early morning hours of Wednesday, the words below formed in my heart and I jotted them down. This morning (Sunday), I asked my ten-year-old to write the second half of the poem and handed him my computer.

Listen to his voice. This is why it matters to me.

When you walk in white skin
You stride through the world
Open doors and shake hands,
Look in people’s eyes with confidence.
When you walk in white skin
You feel safe, respected, untouchable
Assuming that you have the right to what you want.
When you walk in white skin
You say “I am not racist, I don’t even notice the color of skin,”
Because your eye has already seen the flesh upon your arms and it is content.

When you walk in white skin
You must force yourself to consider a walk in the shoes of another….

For….

When you walk in black skin…

Kids pick on me!
“Your black and I am white so you listen to me” they say.
Someone punched me in the stomach!
Sometimes it bothers me
Sometimes I feel bad inside
Sometimes it makes me get mad
Sometimes it makes me get annoyed
Sometimes it makes me get angry
Sometimes I am lonely.

THE END

 

It’s not that I don’t accept a “change.” It’s that I won’t accept mistreatment of human beings who were created by and loved by the Almighty God. I will not accept evil.

"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"

“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”

It Matters to me.

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I Choose Love.
On behalf of my boys of brown skin, I choose love.
On behalf of my family and friends, I choose love.
On behalf of everyone who is scared and hurting, I choose love.
On behalf of the oppressed, I choose love.
On behalf of you, I choose love.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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

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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!).