Disturbances of the peace

I am on my couch with a new laptop…replacement #2.  Somehow my 1-month-old laptop started confusing its numbers with its letters (a feature I found quite annoying) and I returned it and got a smaller, sleeker more fun model :). So I sit reflecting on the week, with a laptop in my hands, an empty ice cream dish beside me (my current concoction is a mix of Edy’s French Silk, Archer Farms Belgium chocolate, and a dash of Ben & Jerry’s VolunTirimisu – don’t even ask!), and a 3-year-old dreaming on the couch nearby.

I glance over at Noah sleeping on the other half of the replacement sofa (courtesy of the foam-hungry police dog’s owner. I’m going to shy away from leather sofas in the future though – they’re ice cold as our temperatures plummet and the boys have noticed – didn’t take long when they plop down in their undies in the morning – and now jump onto the comfy chairs).  Noah looks so peaceful….and I realize I wish I could be in that state – blissful slumber without a care in the world (other than the fact that Micah using the purple lightsaber all day was just “not fair”).

Instead, my peace this past week has been disrupted by too many “incidents” – teen boys in New Jersey who lured and killed a 12-year-old girl, two infants hospitalized here in the city from injuries by their parents, a nanny in New York killing two children in a family.  I feel the pain of these families.  I fear the world in which my boys are growing up.  And I wonder about my ability to prepare them for this world.

It seems parenting is hard enough just taking care of the physical aspects, like

–          Micah throwing up three times on Monday just as I put him to bed…and again and again as soon as I change the sheets

–          Stephen emptying a whole half gallon of milk onto the dining room table and splashing in it in delight as we hurriedly wiped it up with any and all available towels

–          Taxiing Micah to basketball for half a session, rushing by the house to change into soccer gear, and dashing off to stand in the rain for the final game of the season (shhh, don’t mention that we’re missing next week’s make-up game…there’s too much going on as it is already!)

–          Trying with all my will power to breathe quietly and drive safely as the 3 older boys chattered and teased and fought and screamed for an hour and 15 minutes after we left a Halloween party near Cleveland last night – and just as the third one finally drifted off to sleep – the baby awoke and whimpered and cried and spluttered for the rest of the way home.  7 minutes  from the house (according to friendly GPS Jane), the car was quiet….and then we carried them all inside!  (must remember never to do that again!  Or just give in and turn the TV on – who cares if they don’t fall asleep for a while – they didn’t anyway!).  And whose bright idea was it to give the boys tons of dessert and candy and then put them in the back of an enclosed moving vehicle and buckle them up?!?

But it’s more the emotional challenges that drain me, like

–          Trying (unsuccessfully) to stop myself from scolding Micah for soiling his underwear.  I know he didn’t mean it but I keep saying “you’re 6 years old….why do I have to clean you over and over?”  And I know full well that this is not only NOT a useful tirade to be on, but it is not healthy for his emotional state.  Yet, I am frustrated to be dealing with it again.

–          Worrying about whether my boys are in the “right” care settings and how well they’re handling them, especially when Micah states he doesn’t like one of his afterschool teachers because she’s always putting him in “time out.”  And I keep thinking that I don’t want him to develop a construct of being the “bad kid,” but he certainly does pull for a lot of disciplining.

–          And I’ve been very unsettled by an article written by two of our Child Advocacy physicians earlier last week about a recent court decision that would allow people who abuse children (as shown by “substantial evidence”) to not have their names registered as an abuser (because it’s not “clear and convincing” evidence). In which case, even though someone is a known abuser, they may still “clear” the background checks and thus drive my children to school, serve as their sports coach, even teach our children.  I’m pretty frustrated that my state shows so little concern for its children – the future for all of us.  And I realize that I need to be wary and even more protective of my children and yet not wanting them to grow up in fear.  What a balance!

So if you have any of this all sorted out, I’m eager to hear!

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A Love Song

I think I was mostly paying attention at a conference the past two days, although I’m starting to feel a little over-conference-ated!  (3 days at Prevent Child Abuse conference and 2 days at the Infant Mental Health conference in the space of a week).

Here’s what I learned (other than the fact that if you wake up boys 2 days in a row to make it to a conference, when it’s Saturday and you can all sleep in, they will obligingly wake up at 6:10 for you!):

– the “dance” of love in touch and expression between a mother and child is both fascinating and incredibly sacred.

– over the years, research has not really focused on fathers at all….very strange.

– my kids actually need to dance more, despite the fact that I am not a dancer (so I went out a bought a CD/FM/cassette player last night – who knew they still made cassettes?  The iPod/CD one was sold out….).

– there are probably a lot more environmental toxins affecting our children’s development than we want to admit and Rachel Carson (from Pittsburgh!) was way beyond her time drawing attention to environmental impact

– it is important to continue to develop our children’s sense of wonder – and our own!

– and when the mind drifts as a presenter drones, here’s what happens:

A love song:

Why is it so hard sometimes?

Why do we struggle?

We love

We hold

We play

We tickle

We smile

We laugh

We wipe snotty noses

We sweep up messes

We scrub dirty bums

We pick up toys

We clean up high chairs

We sit exhausted

We run and run and run

We become weary

Until we watch the soft sighs

of deep slumber

Rocking the angel

Who rests in our arms

In peace and hope

For another day.

Voice….less

“Didn’t you miss me just a little, teeny, tiny bit?” I asked Micah when he first woke up.  “Nope,” he replied, “I was having too much fun.”  “Just a little?!?!?”  I tried consoling myself that this was good.  Clearly he wasn’t miserable that I was gone for 3 days.  Clearly he had a good time with grandma and Aunt Kathy, but seriously, can’t you miss me just a tad.

Well, I missed the boys.  I was away for 3 days at the Prevent Child Abuse – America national conference and can’t even remember the last time I was away, not even for a day, much less three.  It was the first time for Seth who is almost 18 months, so he had quite a lot to say about it in his body language.  Noah, however, gave me the sweetest tightest hug when I woke him up in the morning after returning home late Sunday night.

I confess, it was nice to have some time away – without noise, without 68 pounds of deadweight in the bed beside me, without the demands of feeding hungry mouths or giving baths or getting them to bed “on time.”  I also had a visceral reaction to seeing families in the airport carrying babies in front packs and remember getting back from Disney World last year and being so thankful not to have the weight of a baby constantly strapped to my body almost 24/7.

But I missed them and I missed having a physical presence in their day and knowing what they were doing.  It’s not the same to listen to them on the phone (the 6 year old doesn’t really want to talk, the 3 year old just repeats himself, and the one-yr-old just stares at the phone).  I missed sharing in all their activities and joys (like winning the soccer game again – still undefeated!).  I missed interpreting their world for them as they moved through it.  I missed being their voice.

I’ve been contemplating that concept today – being a voice.  My kids clearly have a “voice” but they really don’t know how, much less when, to use it.  And often they use it at decibels I wish they wouldn’t or to talk about subjects I really wish they wouldn’t.  But they don’t really have a voice in their world and in their community.  For the most part, that is funneled through me – their mother and protector.

Yet, as I think about the project I am working on – to develop a crisis nursery (a safe place for temporary care of young children when their families hit crisis) – I realize that the real reason we need this is because the very little children in our world and in our city do not have a voice.

My safe, secure, fun-loving boys do not have a voice….and so too the child who has been hurt at some time in his life or has seen one of his parents hurt.  And the child laying in the hospital bed being treated for multiple injuries has no voice.  And the little boy hungry and dirty and cold….alone in his house…. has no voice.  And the teen “graduating” from the foster care system and moving into a world all on her own where she might one day get married and have no one to walk her down the aisle has no voice.  And the four-year-old who has moved from one house to another and one apartment to another until he ends up in a cold dark homeless shelter has no voice.  And the girl taken from her family and ravaged by the human trafficking nightmare that is upon us has no voice.

It is we who give voice to our children.  It is we who need to speak up and speak out for them.  It is we who need to demand a change for the sake of our children’s hearts.

Be the voice.  Be the change.  As often as you can speak.

Awakened…by the foster care system

It’s almost 7 am on a Saturday morning.  Six-year-old Micah has already been appeased by Netflix on my cell phone and it’s a dark rainy morning so I’m loving the chance to drift back to sleep.  Suddenly, though, I open my eyes to see my sister standing over me, “Lynne, there’s a case worker here to pick up Seth for a visit.”  I’m awake.

And I’m mad.

It’s Saturday morning and apparently they decided to schedule a visit for an 18-month-old boy with his birth mother whom he’s never actually seen, who is in the county jail, and who has no chance of ever being his parent because of her repetitive mistakes.  He doesn’t need to see her.

If this isn’t infuriating enough to me – the fact that no one ever told me that they scheduled the visit has definitely pushed me over the edge!

I throw a sweatshirt over my jammies and grab Seth and a change of clothes for him.  While I change him, Kathy is packing up a diaper bag (her foster boys have gone on visits before – she knows exactly what to put in it).  I rush him out to the case aid at her car in the alley and inform her that “heads are going to roll” come Monday morning (or Tuesday, since Monday’s a holiday).

She’s empathetic.  She just does the driving.  She had no idea that I didn’t know.  She also has no idea how to buckle a baby into a car seat….nor how to install the car seat in her car….and yet she’s paid by the county to transport young children daily! (ahem, get down off that soap box too, Lynne!)  Seth is crying in her arms as I try to buckle in her seat.  I take him back and say “give me 5 minutes to get dressed and I’ll follow you down there.”

Twenty minutes later, I’m feeding quarters into the meters outside the Allegheny County Jail.  I’m shaking my head that for poor people coming to visit a relative in jail, getting 5

The jail entrance…where we sat for 20 minutes.

minutes on the meter per quarter seems sickening.  We walk inside.  The case aid finds a locker to put all the stuff – “Including the diaper bag?” I ask.  Yes.  I sit in the cold lobby with Seth on my lap and start to feed him some breakfast as we had to be there an hour early anyway.  He’s making a mess — spilling Kix all over the floor and bench. I’m cowered over him in a most protective way.  People are putting all their items, including any “hoodies,” into lockers and going through the metal detector.  The case aid enters through the detector to check in and wait for me inside.

We finish the yogurt and the aid comes back out.  “Well,” she says, “I’m glad you came down with me.  There’s no visit.  They didn’t put mom’s name on the list.”  I’m reminding myself to take deep breaths now…and yet letting a few out with relief.  One error after another has spared this tiny little boy from a very traumatic morning.  And yet, some judge, somewhere in his cozy house with a cup of coffee this morning, without ever a clue as to the disruption and pain he “court-orders,” has deemed it appropriate for a woman sitting in jail to spend one hour with a boy she birthed but can’t parent.

Yet, who is advocating for the child?  And who is advocating for the foster parents who step forward to care for unwanted children, yet whose lives are turned upside down over and over again?

Some day, I’ll look for answers. But today, I gave Seth some mighty tight hugs, strapped him into the car safely, and brought him home to his family.  Please, Lord, let’s not go through this again next month.

“Conditioning our children”

“Green and green” is my mantra to Micah now as I drop him off at kindergarten.  They are using the “stoplight” system – green is good, yellow is your warning, red is trouble.  At the end of the day, the teacher puts a “face” (smiling green, flat-lined yellow, frowning red) on a sheet of paper that comes home in the folder.  I pick up Micah and look at the sheet every day and we talk about the day.

Last week was rough….On the previous Friday, Micah was yellow for school and his after-school teacher wanted to “talk to me” (so far, I’ve never been excited to have a teacher want to talk to me….maybe they need to start making up some good stuff, because I’m starting to get Pavlovian conditioned to not want to walk into the after school building to pick up Micah!).

Anyway, on Friday he was yellow and yellow.  I said “aw, that’s too bad, Micah.  I did plan to take you for a surprise treat at Rita’s if you were green and green.” He sobbed…literally from the bottom of his heart sobbed all the way to the daycare center to pick up the brothers.  He wasn’t upset about the treat – he was upset that I didn’t tell him about the “reward” ahead of time.  He thought it wasn’t fair to “surprise” him like that.  I thought as I drove along – all those years of training, 7 years of grad school in psychology learning that “variable-ratio schedule of positive reinforcement in operant conditioning” is best (ie, “Variable-ratio schedules occur when a response is reinforced after an unpredictable number of responses. This schedule creates a high steady rate of responding.” http://psychology.about.com/od/behavioralpsychology/a/schedules.htm) – all for naught.  My son is tearfully telling me that psychology doesn’t work for him!

So now we’re back to “green and green, Micah, green and green….and I’ll take you to Rita’s.” Monday – yellow and yellow.  I spend a long time talking to the afterschool teacher about Micah being a “boy boy” and that after 5 hours of academics in kindergarten, the only thing he wants to do in afterschool is play (worksheets and more worksheets and sitting at a table with his head down along with the rest of the class is not really what he wants to be doing).  Yes, I agree that he needs to listen to his teachers, but I’d like to know that his teachers are also striving to match a 5 or 6-year-old’s developmental stage.

Tuesday – yellow and yellow.

Wednesday – red….hmmm, apparently Micah has decided to become the class clown with “potty words.”  Yes, Mr. M., I do inform Micah that those words are inappropriate (I think at the same time about Micah and Ryan sitting at the dining room table every night cracking each other up with pee and poop stories….).  You know, Mr. M., I do think he’s doing it for (ahem) positive reinforcement, I mean, there wouldn’t happen to be a group of boys sitting around him cracking up, would there?  Right.  (Psychology at work.)

Thursday – yellow and green…progress.

Friday – green and green!  Wahoo – Rita’s!!  We stop.  We get an ice cream cone for

This machine is outside our local fire station!

him, a guava ice for me.  We’re so happy.  He eats half and throws it away – it’s too cold for ice cream he informs me as we walk through the farmer’s market across the street.  Kettle corn – now that’s what we need.

So, are you going to get Pepsi or Coke out of this machine?  How do we match our expectations for our kids with the reality of how they function?