Surprise…again

I guess kids should surprise you.  I mean, why wouldn’t they?  They are their own little independent selves, interacting with a world from the perspective of adult knees and trying to make sense out of the chaos of noise, lights, movement and touch that surrounds them constantly.

They are naturally built to focus in on certain things.  They know to look at the human face to read emotion. They know to pay attention when enumeration begins, but that it’s possible to ignore for quite some time the word that’s supposed to signify their identity (ie, the eldest responds to “One….” much faster than he answers to “Micah….”).  They know that if they crawl into bed at 2 am and say they’re “scared,” the warm body there will accept them and drape an arm over them in protection. They know that the relationship between a mother and her child is vital to the child’s survival and they will attempt to repair it whenever needed.

But they also seem to know that it’s pretty unconditional – and that relationship can be pushed pretty far and stretched out and pulled and yanked… and yet the coil will still spring back. So my kids love to check the pull of this coil.  They love to see how loudly they can screech as they chase each other around the loop of the house.  They love to test how much water is too much water out of the bathtub as they splash gleefully. They like to explore the effects of cheerios flying through the air and scattering upon the carpet and then eating them up “like doggies.” They like to measure how frequently the word “no” can be said before it is followed by a long tirade of how and why “no means no,” or a distinct rise in the ending tone of the word, or a movement of a large parent towards them to block their original goal.

It still surprises me, though, when Micah has one of his really big blow-outs. Like this afternoon, when we decided to get into the car and go someplace fun, but he gets upset and starts the fight with removing his seatbelt as we’re driving 50 mph. This calls for an immediate pull off the road and a discussion on safety….and yet it’s followed by repeated hitting of his brother, taking off the seatbelt and throwing things in the car.  Each time, I pull over and remove him from the car.  I breathe deeply.  I count to 10. I try to remember all those tips from numerous parenting books (none of which has mentioned specifically how to handle a size 2 boy shoe thrown at the back of one’s head while driving…hmmm….). We work ourselves up to 4 hours of time-out upstairs by the time we’ve spent 40 minutes in and out of the car… going nowhere. I feel bad for the other two in the car. And when Micah and I finally talk about it later and I ask “why,” he says, “my brain tells me to be bad.”  Okay – what do I say to that?

Gosh, I’m glad he doesn’t surprise me too often with this. But it does stop me in my tracks. I start to wonder what’s going on…and if I’m supposed to be doing something else with him. Am I working too hard and ignoring my kids? Should we go back to therapy? Does this kid need something else? What sparked all that? Is this something I’m triggering or continuing? Is he starting to react to the stress of the craziness that is hitting our lives recently?tracks in the tub

I prefer the surprise of being called to “look what we did!” and finding car tracks encircling the bathtub. And sharing the joy of creating something new out of connecting toys. And smiling at the surprise of making a tunnel under a pile of snow. And giggling together over a video of funny cat tricks. I so often hear the phrase “oh, the joys of parenting” and there are many joys for sure, but the sarcastic tone that sometimes accompanies that phrase is also very true some times. There are some “joys” that are hard to handle. But the coil always snaps back into place….

It is a very tight coil built of the strongest material ever – love.

(8:00 pm addendum: Now I’m wondering if today’s blow-up was a harbinger of illness. Micah fell asleep on the couch at 6 after complaining of “being cold” which he never is and a headache. Sigh. Gotta love these viral-infested little guys!)

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Never Violence

“The following story was written by Astrid Lindgren, the Swedish author best known for her “Pippi Longstocking'” books. I’d like to share it with you.

When I was 20 years old, I met an old pastor’s wife who told me when she was young and had her first child, she didn’t believe in striking children, although spanking kids with a switch pulled from a tree was standard punishment at the time. But one day when her son was four or five, he did something that she felt warranted a spanking – the first of his life. And she told him that he would have to go outside and find a switch for her to hit him with.

The boy was gone a long time. And when he came back in, he was crying. He said to her, “Mama, I couldn’t find a switch, but here’s a rock you can throw at me.”

All of a sudden the mother understood how the situation felt from the child’s point of view; that if my mother wants to hurt me, then it makes no difference what she does it with; she might as well do it with a stone. And the mother took the boy onto her lap and they both cried.

Then she laid the rock on a shelf in the kitchen to remind herself forever, never violence. And that is something I think everyone should keep in mind. Because violence begins in the nursery.

Thought for the day: “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”  (Mahatma Gandhi)”

I am working at least 15-20 hours a week on trying to establish a non-profit crisis nursery in Pittsburgh (mostly late into the night after the boys are tucked into beds….and disrupted almost nightly by Micah coming down to find me so that I can “retuck” him into MY bed!).  One of the women on my Executive Team found the story above and shared it with the crisis nursery team yesterday.

When I read it last week, I was so touched and moved by the power of the message, that I spoke to the team further, my eyes glistening with passion.  It is important that we all remember never to use violence with children, no matter which way it is done (words, hands, switches, rocks).  Yet the rock can also be viewed in a positive light – it is the building block, the foundation, upon which a new idea like a crisis nursery can be built.

I’m also reminded of a quote by Albert Schweitzer, “Anyone who proposes to do good must not expect people to roll stones out of his way, but must accept his lot calmly, even if they roll a few stones upon it.”  I paraphrase this as, whenever we are working on a big project for the good of others, there will likely be boulders in our way and we must find ways to overcome them and move on.  We are not guaranteed an easy work in this world.

Charlie, the pet rock

Charlie, the pet rock

And, of course, if you add “googley” eyes to a rock (and maybe a splash of color), then the rock becomes a pet capable of receiving loving caresses from young boys as they carry Charlie around the house.  Fortunately, Charlie makes very few messes and has an insignificant food budget.

I took a box of rocks of all shapes and sizes to the group so that the team members could choose one if they like. Some did and some didn’t.  I don’t know what symbolism the rock will hold for them today, tomorrow or next year.

But I do know that the one I chose is in the shape of a heart (using your imagination)

My heart rock
My heart rock

and it’s not at all perfect (just like me), but it sits on my desk – a symbol of the heart of my boys and my very important job to love them with all my heart and protect them with all my strength.

Happening just so fast!

I got home at midnight tonight (well, technically, 11:46pm) from a grant-writing meeting (another story) and had to rearrange two boys.  I carried Micah up from his snoring paradise on my sister’s bed to my bed (lacking sheets which are still in the laundry due to Micah’s occasional pull-up failure) and I picked Noah up off the tiny floor rug outside his room and placed him in the snuggly arms of a huge brown stuffed-animal bear which Seth is too scared of to claim as his Christmas present.

As I carried the boys, I thought how strange it is going to be soon to change this routine – because our house just sold!!   Yes, we’re shocked.  It’s been on the market for two years.  I’ve been mentally exhausted just thinking about it.  I’ve been physically exhausted by all the cleaning for showings (and by carrying boxes and boxes of things downstairs to “hide,” only to find them months later and food past its expiration dates!).  And yet, now that the reality is here, I can’t even adjust to it.  Of course, I’ve been too busy to even think about it (or even to celebrate it – though we did pop the bottle of bubbly….sparkling apple juice….that was in the fridge for the boys!!).

Congratulations!

Congratulations!

But now the questions begin.  How in the world are we going to get this house packed up in the next 6 weeks? (Guess those boxes I kept carrying to the basement are all ready to go!)  Where in the world are we going to move?  (That seems like a relatively important question…)  And how am I going to help the boys transition through this? (Was Micah’s aggressive acting out today a response to the shift in stress and energy that he felt move through the house?)  Why am I feeling depressed even though I’ve been so eager to move? (Change is hard….and this house is huge – and we won’t find such space anywhere else…and this is all going to take a great deal of energy….)

As if this isn’t enough for my poor brain to process….it follows closely on the heels of finding out that the “Termination of Parental Rights” went through for Seth.  He is cleared for adoption.  I am cleared for adopting him.  The caseworker came to visit the night the offer came in for the house.  I did hear about it via email on Monday (though the court hearing was last Friday…and I had to wait nervously all weekend to get the results!).  Monday was a busy evening and I quickly made a cake from a mix that I found (not expired in the basement) and since I couldn’t find the frosting tubes, I wrote out “TPR” in M&Ms (red and green from Christmas) on the top.  Lit some candles, took some pictures, let boys dig into chocolate gooey mess….there – we acknowledged it.

But it’s all just moving.  So fast.  And I can’t keep up with processing through it yet.  For the past 20 months, I have been Seth’s mom (even if he calls Kathy “mommy” too sometimes….).  He has been my son.  He has been the brother of the boys.  He has already gone through a name change.  But next month, he will officially change his name (not him….but the judge will sign a piece of paper….and a new birth certificate will be printed….and a woman named Hannah will no longer have any documentation of having a little boy….three little boys…..).  And a few weeks later, I will receive a piece of paper that has Lynne listed as “legal mother” under Seth’s name and birthdate and an “Adoption Certificate” which proclaims that this happened February 12th, 2013.

And I will say “whew,” and then it might sink in.  That Seth is forever part of my family.  That the man who thought he was biological father until proven otherwise is now part of history.  That there will be no more “odd” visitations to the county jail for Seth to spend time with a stranger (his birth mom).  That I can call him “my son” without the qualifier “foster….who will hopefully be adopted”… That I am now responsible for three wild and wonderful boys.  Oh boy.

At the beginning of the year, I sent an email to a friend:
My dreams for this year:
– adopt Seth
– sell this house and move!
– open up Jeremiah’s Place – the crisis nursery

Let’s see how that all works.

What I didn’t mean is for all of this to happen in the first months of the year (the crisis nursery project has taken off and I have two grants due at the end of the month….even though I have no idea how to write a grant!!!).

What I do know is that I’m going to have to find time to let all of this sink in.  That I’m going to have to find ways to help the older boys let this all sink in.  That as I become harried and stressed, that the boys will pick up on that and feel harried and stressed as well.   So, instead of starting the packing….instead of searching for a house to rent on the internet….instead of doing anything productive, I let the boys play outside in the “snow box” while I cleaned out the car.

Such gooey brown slime

Slouching in the recesses of the cup holder

You let go of the smothered keys with a long stranded release

I wash you out with clean pure water.

Oh, wrinkly brown grapes

Hiding under the car seat mat

You dream of becoming raisins in the sun

I toss you out with the hardened cheese.

Dear crumbs, crumbs, crumbs

Sprinkling the floor, the seats, the mats

You long for relief from the trampling of feet

I suck you out with the green vacuum.

Oh car, my dearest van —

You seem so clean today.

Why don’t we drive off tomorrow…

Without the boys!

Noah and Les Mis

We have fallen into a bedtime routine recently – reading 2-3 books downstairs, then marching up to the third floor where I sing to Seth as Micah does what he needs to do in the bathroom (“pee, wash hands, brush teeth” I say at least 7 or 8 times, every single night, trying to get him to go in that order!).  Seth stands in the corner of his crib curiously observing Micah watch “one….and only one” (or sometimes two) YouTube videos (usually Star Wars Lego clips) on my phone.  We then “say prayers” and lay there quietly while Micah falls asleep and Seth plops down into his crib and stuffed animals.  Eventually, I wake up from my comatose state and tiptoe downstairs to find Noah (who often is watching a short video or playing with Ryan, but tonight was helping his aunt make an apple pie!).

Noah takes a nap at preschool despite my wishes that he wouldn’t, because his body doesn’t need much sleep.  So this hour or so after Micah crashes and before Noah climbs into bed is usually “our” time.  Sometimes we are running to Target for milk or diapers.  Sometimes we are reading books or playing with Hot Wheels cars.  Sometimes he plays on the office room floor while I run on the treadmill, frequently reminding him (or scolding him) about the dangers of putting his little toys or fingers into the moving track.  At some point, when the cuteness wears off, I trudge him upstairs to bed.

He likes to climb into mine now and jump around a bit before settling into the crook of my arm.  Then, anywhere between nine and midnight, Micah wakes up, finds me downstairs, begs to be carried upstairs (despite being half my body weight), and goes to my bed.  I transfer kicked-out Noah to his crib mattress on the floor of the boys’ room and Micah snuggles into the warmed up section of bed.  (When I’m ready to sleep, I just roll him over and get the warm sheets myself – very handy in the winter!)

Tonight, as I was putting the bouncy, almost 4-year-old Noah to sleep on my bed, I whispered “I love you, Noah” giving him a squeeze and kissing the top of his head. He replied, “Thank you, Mommy.”  I paused just slightly, thinking about that thank you and said “You’re welcome.” He answered, “I like to have my Mommy love me.”

Boom.  This is what it is all about.  Despite the craziness of the days.  Despite the arguing and squealing and wrestling the boys do.  Despite the mess of yogurt flying from the end of a Gogurt tube as Seth flings it happily in the middle of the kitchen floor, mostly with joy to my yelling “no, no, no”.  Despite the cleaning and the laundry.  Despite the worry and the energy and the “mindfulness” of parenting.

It all comes down to the expression of love.  The tight squeeze.  The gentle kiss.  The whispered words.  And Noah thanks me because that’s what he needs in his life.  To fall asleep knowing that he is loved.

Cosette - illustration from original work (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_miz)

Cosette – illustration from original work (from Wikipedia)

 

I watched the movie Les Mis this afternoon with a couple other mothers.  I was misty-eyed through much of it, naturally.  The hardship and the pain and the injustice and deaths of so many.  The contrast of living by the law and living by grace.  There is so much power and truth in that story by Victor Hugo.  One line at the end, though, catches my heart every time I hear it:  “To love another person is to see the face of God” – uttered by Jean Valjean whose world was changed by love when he “adopted” little Cosette.

This is what I see in my boys.  Created by God. Gifted to me.  Loved by me.  They have changed my world and I am trying hard to change theirs, wrapping them in love each day.  I am mindful of saying it and expressing it.  Of occasionally catching Micah as he runs by to give him a big kiss.  Of whispering it in their ears when I have them close.  Of signing it with my fingers to the back of the car. They need to know it. And sometimes…..yes, sometimes, they say “Thank you, Mommy.”