Some days Motherhood Seems So Surreal

Super Tall Guy and I were in the battle. Lines drawn. Armor on. Advancing and retreating. Serious and big emotions. We’re matched weight for weight and almost height by height. And it was physical. Wrestling. Pushing. Yelling. I stood my ground. He pushed the buttons, clamoring for more power. Arguing for agency and the right to be his own boss.

“You are not the boss over me,” the argument continued.

“I am your mother,” I repeated countless times.

In the heat of the anger, the tears, and the chaos, I finally calmly asked, “Do you need to see your birth certificate? It has my name on it.”

Immediately he quieted. “Yes,” he whispered and followed me upstairs.

He sat on my floor against my bed as I pull out the fire-proof safe and got the key. He sobbed that kids at school had said there’s only one way to be someone’s mother and that’s to birth them. He railed against adoption.

I pulled out The Little Guy’s birth certificate. “See, under ‘Mother,’ there’s my name.”

Same for Mr. Ornery’s birth certificate.

Same for you.

“Well, I’m just going to tear it up,” he yelled. “Tear it up a hundred times,” I countered, “It will still stand. Always and forever, I am your mother.”

We’re going to wrestle about this quite a few times, I have a feeling. In every kids’ life there are times that we challenge our parents’ parenthood or angrily state that we want to go live with someone else, you know, because their “Mom is so much nicer.” But when it comes to adoption, the stakes are even higher. It was a choice I made in a court of law to “become” a mother but it doesn’t change the fact that the child has a sense within that there’s “another” mother out there somewhere. Another mother that “could” be Mom or “should” be Mom or is somehow missing from their life. Even without meeting their birthmom, my boys have to come to grips with the fact that they are being raised, and cared for, and loved by a woman who doesn’t look like them, doesn’t share the same genes, didn’t actually birth them.

Super Tall Guy is the first to express this internal wrestling. It took an all-out physical fight to uncover the core of his distress. Each boy will need to deal with the issue in their own way, just as I find myself needing to deal with it.

I woke up this morning on Mother’s Day, listening to the sounds of three boys stirring. Three boys who call me Mother. Three boys who have new birth certificates with my name in the “Mother” line. What a journey this has been.

Some days I can’t figure out how I got here. Some days I know that I haven’t assumed the mother role completely. The sacrifices. The exhaustion. The endless nagging and battles. The toys that creep across the floor in the middle of the night and sprout between the cracks of the hardwood.

Some days I look at my friends’ comments on all the great trips they are taking, the movies they are watching, the hot coffee they are sipping. I warm up my coffee for the third time and pick up another toy to put it in another spot from which it will sneak out another time.

But some days I cry with pride at the orchestra recital, cheer myself hoarse at the soccer field, and fill my heart with joy as I watch boys tear through Christmas wrapping paper. I wouldn’t change this for the world!

Happy Mother’s Day to all Moms, but most especially to those who have raised their right hand and sworn to be Mom through the ups and downs and received a brand new birth certificate with their name on the “Mother” line!

Warnings about “Tricky People” Don’t Stick with My Kids

When I haven’t blogged for a few weeks, it’s a pretty good sign that my brain is full. Lately it’s been full of miscellaneous Internal Medicine board recertification facts that will now slowly fade from the brain after the tortuous 8 hour exam. Thus the brain is clear to start fussing about other things.

For example, I’m starting to get that restless “time to move” feeling. We have been in a small townhome for almost two years and my need to stretch is tugging on me. More importantly, my concern about the neighborhood is growing steadily greater.

This week we had the “tricky adult” talk. Not the “this could happen” talk, but the “this did happen” talk. I talk to my boys about tricky adults and being safe pretty frequently. I also tell them to lift the toilet seat and to ask before sneaking a treat pretty frequently too, but that hasn’t gotten me very far. I know I’m going to go hoarse with the “stop whistling in the car” admonition. They don’t listen.

A sense of dread always comes over me when a particular father in the neighborhood approaches my door. He’s a nice guy and usually it’s about some skirmish his boys and mine are having. Sometimes it’s about who was swearing first. Sometimes it’s about the boys not sharing. This afternoon it was a question about whether I knew a man in a townhome a few doors down. “I’ve met him once,” I replied. “He’s the boyfriend of a mom I know from kid basketball and baseball.”

“Well, I just saw him give the boys candy in exchange for a hug,” he responded.

Boom.

Red Flag number one for grooming behavior of a sexual predator. Every warning signal going off in my body. Every Mama Bear siren firing. I calmly asked the boys to hand the candy over to me as they bounced home a few seconds later, lollipops hanging from their lips. I asked them to stay away from the house and we would talk later.

As we sat in the car before picking up the older boys for karate, I patiently explained the concept of “tricky people” again. How someone might ask you for a hug for candy, but the person is using candy to trick you. They might nicely do it two or three times. On time number four, they might say that the candy is inside the house or the car and please come inside to get some. I said to the boys, “Has Mr. V ever asked you for a hug? Has Mr. A ever asked you for a hug?” referring to the fathers of friends of ours in the neighborhood. “No,” they both replied. Good men do not ask children for a hug. You are not to hug someone that you don’t really know and never someone who is giving you candy to get a hug.

Later that night I chatted with a couple friends…..and then I made a police report. According to my neighbor who witnessed the event and spoke with the police the next day, the man denied touching the boys (of course) and stated that a bowl of candy is always available to anyone (news to me). The district attorney didn’t think there was enough evidence to continue the case, and the family in question is apparently moving out to a new home in a few days anyway (thank goodness). But in my mind, a relatively unknown man has touched my young children without my permission and when I wasn’t present.

My Mommy-heart worries for the three young children of the woman in that relationship. My Mommy-heart worries that for all of my warnings and admonitions my boys remain so easily seduced by sugar. My Mommy-heart worries that I won’t always be there or another caring parent won’t always be a witness and provide a safe extraction. And yet my Mommy-heart is thankful that the boys were not hurt, that it is an important story for us to keep telling and learning from, and that the community is watching out for each other. Parents are in this together.

Maybe there is something to the Bottle-Flipping Insanity

The other night my older two boys sat in the hallway cheering and yelling and counting as they seemingly mindlessly twirled plastic bottles into the air. The bottle flip game. Every parents’ nightmare. Every teacher’s nightmare. Every coaches’ nightmare. If you work with kids, you are tortured by this new craze. There’s even an app for it – at least the app doesn’t involve spilled water or loud thunks or occasional property damage.

My constant diatribe fell on deaf ears. “Go pee, brush your teeth and get ready for bed,” I repeated endlessly. All they could focus on was whether they had “stuck it.” How many points the opponent had. Whether that flip counted or not. They were completely enraptured.

However, it didn’t take long for those bottles to be emptied out and thrown into the recycling bin by a slightly irritated parent.

You see, my boys flip the bottles in the living room. They flip them on the sidewalk. They flip them in the car. They used to flip them in the cafeteria at school, but apparently that’s been banned. Smart lunch staff! The game eats under my skin. It’s not just the noise, it’s the waste of resources that kills me. I already have a “thing” about plastic bottles, but to catch my boys cracking one open, pouring out almost 1/3 of the contents, and then leaving water bottles strewn ….everywhere….. It’s more than I can endure!

So in the manner of most things that irritate me about parenting, I try to consider what might be positive about this bottle flipping nonsense.

Persistence – If nothing else, the boys are learning to stick with something and work towards improvement since landing on the cap apparently earns more points than landing on the base. In general, nine out of ten times the bottle lands on its side, so they flip again.

Turn-taking – Social give-and-take is a constant learning need of the boys and although there’s usually a continuous argument throughout a “game” of bottle flipping, the boys are negotiating the rules and turn-taking.

Mathematics – Not only are the boys keeping score, but they are adding and comparing numbers. I’d love them to start calculating percentages, but that might be a bit too much to ask out of my 8 and 10-year-olds.

Self-entertainment – Teaching kids to be self-sufficient and able to entertain themselves is a constant struggle for parents. At least while bottle-flipping, they are not complaining about being bored or trying to spend time on an electronic device. And it is an activity amenable to a variety of environments, just not all the ones (like in the car) that the boys think it’s appropriate for.

Friendship – The beauty of this game is that anyone can do it no matter what the age or skill level. Thus, the boys can practice the skills of making new friends and initiating interactions with others by joining in this mutual activity or asking other kids to play with them.

Science – In essence, they are experimenting
with gravity, learning the differences in motion depending on weight or amount of fluid in the container, and learning about rotation of objects. I’m working to incorporate the lessons of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” though we haven’t gotten too far with that yet. It’s usually me picking up the bottles and tossing them in the recycle can.

In general, I’m trying to be a bit more patient with this fundamentally annoying game. Like all fads, I’m hoping it moves along soon….though it’s upcoming replacements (like the fidget toy) tend to be a bit more costly!

 

 

 

 

Have We Watered Down “Friends”?

A friend from high school stopped by a couple weeks ago. We haven’t seen each other in about 20 years, but our reunion hug was long and deep. A true friend. Which made me wonder about the friends my kids are developing?

I really thought about it when my mom returned from the parent-teacher association meeting recently about online safety.

“How was it?” I asked later that day.

“Scary,” she replied. Huh, I thought, that’s the same response my neighbor had when I asked her.

And they are right. It is scary. We know that children are being exposed to photos and information that is not appropriate. We know that our children are revealing too much personal information about themselves. We know that the number of child predators online is beyond comprehension (about half a million predators online every day). We know that at least 20% of all kids experience cyberbullying. We know that about 70% of all kids will “accept” a friend invitation whether or not they know the person.

Then it hit me. Do children these days actually know what a friend is? In my generation, a friend was someone you spent time with, someone that you enjoyed, someone with whom you did activities or sat beside and watched the clouds roll by. A friend was a human being in your physical social context. You have talked to your friend. You have shaken hands or hugged your friend. In those days, you knew your friend’s number and you talked to them.

Today, my children have had “friends” since they were a few months old in day care. Every other child in their class was a “friend.” “Good morning, friends.” “Play nice with your friends.” “Let’s open up our books, friends.” As they entered elementary school, the concept of all peers as friends continued to persist.

My question is, have we watered down the concept of friends to the extent that children assume everyone in their peer group is a friend. Thus, it makes sense to them that they might have hundreds of “friends” in an online space because “friends” are not necessarily people you know, but defined by someone else.

I asked my ten-year-old how many friends he has. His reply was “I have tons of friends. A whole bunch.” To me, though, he essentially has only one friend that he texts and plays Minecraft with and visits his home. The others are classmates and school peers.

So I’ve begun defining for him as he enters the online world that the only “friends” he is to have online are those that he also has a “real life” connection to. People he can touch. People he has spoken to and spent time with. People he actually knows.

It’s a scary world out there (even for me with viruses, hackers, identity theft and more a constant threat). Part of keeping kids safe is helping them navigate their social, electronic and digital experiences (I’m even contemplating using an “online contract“). And part of that is helping them identify and cultivate true “friends.”

(And I used to think parenting was easy….)

Building Wings

I walked away.

I might have peeked back, to be honest.

But I walked away.

My nod was the signal. I passed the middle child off.

What’s your name dude?

~Gavin.

Thanks for saying hi to my guy.

~I rode with him before.

They circled the course again, getting good air.

On deck, Gavin called Mr. Ornery’s name. He lined his bike up with the riders and sat.

A new tribe.

I walked away.

There is growth.  There is learning to be done.

Pump. Jump. Spin.

Confidence. Persistence. Technique.

That part is not my job.

My job is to let the little boy find his wings.

My job is to find the safe space and walk away.

My job…. is to hold myself in check and be able to walk away.

 

Seven Friends Every Mom Needs (Especially this Single Mom)

Skiing has always held a strange mystique over me. Having grown up in a non-snowing foreign country and transplanting back in my teen years, I could never understand the fascination of propelling oneself down a hillside on thin blades and hoping for balance. Yet, it has remained on my list of things I “must” do with the boys (it’s my own internal list, half the stuff doesn’t make sense and the other half likely will never get accomplished).

However, the vast unknown surrounding the world of skiing has until now blocked my boys’ experiences. How do you even dress to ski? How do you put boots on kids’ feel? How do you navigate a ski lodge in which everyone walks around in the confidence of knowing where they’re going and what they’re doing – except you? It was too much to comprehend. Too much to attempt alone. Too much until a friend said, “Hey, my husband would be happy to teach your boys.” What beautiful joy.

This week, two very happy boys learned about clicking in ski boots, skicreating pizza or French fry poses, and the thrill of flying down the side of a little tiny mountain. Their brilliant faces and sparkling eyes spoke of their joy. I stood near the outdoor fireplace warming my toes and capturing moments on film and in my heart. Gratefulness overwhelmed me at one point as I thought about the joy that friends bring to one’s life and just how important they are to my parenting journey.

It seems to me that every parent needs at least seven kinds of friends. Clearly, one of them needs to know how to ski!

People who can do stuff you can’t Friends – There are things I can teach my boys like how to do the laundry, wash dishes, and say please and thank you. But there are so many things that I clearly have no ability to teach, like lift the toilet seat, flush every time, and how to ski. For this and so much more, I need friends who not only have skills I don’t, but who have a desire to spend time with kids and help them learn new skills. I’m very thankful for these friends.

Text Me Friends – In this digital age, it’s great to have these friends when you just want a little affirmation or to share a funny story that you know no one else except another mom would appreciate. The most important thing about these friends, though, is that when you’re stuck in a moment of parenting and just need a kind word, advice or empathy, but don’t have the emotional energy to actually talk, these friends are there for you in the pretty immediate response mode.

Call Me Friends – When you’re ready to chat about the little things in life, the surprise find at the grocery store or the cost of gas, or when you’re ready for a good heart-to-heart in-depth discussion, these are the friends you need. Though for us introverts, sometimes these are the Send Me An Email or Reach out on Facebook Friends! It’s pretty handy to have a friendly pediatrician in this category when you can’t figure out what that rash is or whether to grab the kid and run to the emergency room or just dole out some ibuprofen.

Dropping-by Friends – You need these friends to just come knocking or send a text and say, “Hey, watcha doing? Mind if I drop by?” And then you rush around picking up unmatched boys’ socks, doggie toys, and shoving the shoes into a pile so they don’t trip up your guest before opening up the bottle of wine. It’s going to be a nice evening and these are the friends you need.

You Got This Friends – The parenting journey is impossible without multiple moments of complete meltdown and desire to give it all up. You feel lost. You don’t know what to do next. You know you’re the worst mom (or dad) in the world. These friends pick you up, brush off the dirt, wipe off the baby drool, and push you back into the game. Listen to them.

Been There Done That Friends – Now these are key. When your eldest son refuses to talk to you on his first trip away from you in the ten years that you’ve known the dude, these are the friends who say, “Yep, boys are like that. Don’t worry.” You don’t believe these friends at first, but then you realize that they speak from experience and they actually are right! It’s also wise to listen to these friends as they rant or tell stories about their little ones, because pretty soon these “ho-hum” stories become your reality.

Meet Me Friends – It might be coffee. It might be a margarita. It might be a walk in the park or a bench at the playground. These are the moments when you pause and breathe and rest in a rhythm together. You smile, you laugh, you cry. You get together in the monthly M.O.C.K (Moms of Crazy Kids) meet ups. It’s really best to have these moments without the little ones around if you expect to put more than two sentences together in a conversation, but if that’s not possible, meet up anyway. Human contact is part of sanity.

Got-your-back Friends – Every once in awhile, the fine structure you’ve built up of how to make life flow smoothly crashes a bit and when your family is busy or is already watching your other kids and it’s midnight and you’re in the emergency room with one of the kids, these are the friends who arrive with a bag of every possible cell phone charger made in the past fifteen years so that you can plug in yours. No matter what, no matter what time of day, no matter what they are in the middle of, these friends drop it all. They’ve got your back. They will be there. (I know, this is technically the eighth type – but these friends are so crucial they are in their own must-have category!)

You need friends. That “village” that they’re always talking about. It’s not really for the kids…it’s the village behind the parent that keeps you going.

Build your village. I sure am thankful for mine – old and new.

 

 

Screeching into the Preteen Years

It was a very quick decision placing (way too many) hundreds of dollars on my credit card to purchase a plane ticket for Super Tall Guy. His aunt and her three boys were leaving five days from that Saturday to visit family in California. She thought his presence might be a helpful “buddy” to her oldest son as they are both early morning risers, love to spend more time in the water than her younger two, and are generally more similar in personality. Super Tall Guy thought it would an exciting time. I thought it would be amazingly quiet without his intense energy for a week.

I think we all were right. What I didn’t think about, though, was how to define communication expectations for him. After texting him for four days and not getting a response (except for one app purchase request which was flatly denied by me), I decided to give him a call. I was driving back from a presentation hours away from home and my sister handed him the phone. Pretty sure there wasn’t even a “hello,” before he said, “I don’t want to talk to you. Leave me alone.”

“Son, I haven’t talked to you for four days. I miss you.”

“Leave me alone,” he grumped.

“You’re not serious.”

“Leave me alone.”

Displaying all 47 years chockfull of maturity, I snapped, “Fine. Goodbye” and hung up.

Then I burst into tears. What had I done wrong? How could my son not want to talk to his mother? Doesn’t he miss me at all? Does he hate me?

I was miserable the whole way home. My sister texted, “Don’t worry about it.” My best friend said, “Yep, that’s just the way these boys are.” (Her boys are eleven and thirteen.) But I was heartbroken.

And then “sad-mad.” It’s one of my favorite expressions from the movie Home. It just captures human emotion so well. I went from sad to mad in minutes. How could he not talk to me?!? Didn’t I just spent way too much money to send him out there?!? How could he be so disrespectful?!? What an ungrateful child.

mat-2-17He knew he was in trouble the next day when I picked them up from the airport. “Sorry,” he muttered. He handed over his iPod when I informed him that since he couldn’t use it as the communication tool it’s supposed to be, he’d have to separate from it until he figured out communication! 😉  He lay in bed that night explaining that he didn’t mean to be rude. He just didn’t know he was “responsible” for talking to his mom. Amazingly, I pointed out, he was able to communicate with his best friend during his trip. There were plenty of texts sent to another person’s device.

And then it hit me. Eric Erikson was right. Super Tall Guy was screeching into the “Industry (competence) vs. Inferiority” stage in which the peer group becomes more important to the child than the parent perspective. He may be ready to enter this stage, but his mom isn’t yet. 

Not only was he changing his focus in communicating, but he had also learned “independence” in bedtime during his trip away. Instead of listening to me drone on and on while reading, he now would rather listen to music. While I can’t begrudge the sudden “free” time I find in the evening, I miss those quiet moments of “Read Mom!” and sharing books together. Now I’m wondering how I will ever get book seven of the Harry Potter series read! 

It’s one thing to have a PhD in Developmental Psychology and to have learned all the stages in fine detail, but it’s another thing to be living them and trying to figure out how to best love my boys through each stage into adulthood, responsibility, independence, competence, self-assurance, wisdom and respect.

It’s a work in progress, but I think I’m learning a lot more than they are.