“I am perfect with everyone”

I don’t even know where to begin tonight….except to be incredibly thankful to be sitting in a warm living room, with a twinkling Christmas tree, toys still scattered over the floor, my favorite Christmas song (Trans-Siberian Orchestra Christmas Canon) just on, and the house otherwise completely QUIET!!  (A crackling fireplace sure would be nice….but I won’t be too picky tonight…).

It has been anything but quiet for the past few days. As you might imagine with 5 boys under age 8 in the house….Christmas day was a zoo:

Boys clamoring over
Presents strewn across the room
Looking for their names

 

Wrapping paper shredded
Grandma trying to gather it up
Toys inspected and passed aside

 

Where is the next one?
Are there any more for me?
Open this, please and put it together.

 

It needs batteries….
Mom, he knocked it over
Will there be more presents tomorrow morning?

 

Christmas day….
Such joy and excitement, that
We ALL were asleep by 8:30!

 

The day after Christmas, my three cousins arrived and spent the next 3 days with us. We thought about “going places”….doing something more structured….but it seemed just easier and nice to stay home and spend time together. The boys loved their older relatives because they had “energy” – they carried them on their backs, they chased them around the loop, they played tickle monster, they engaged them nonstop….and the kids really appreciate that. It’s amazing how they sense who is “kid-friendly” and how much they love the physical nature of play. It’s so important for them to have these other adults show their love and affection.

To top off all this excitement, we also hosted our “first” foster child for the weekend ….now age 9 and living with his adoptive family (who called to ask the day before). The boys love it when the Older “Brother” comes to stay. He doesn’t really have to do anything – he’s in the “cool” category just by virtue of being alive 2 years longer than Super Tall Guy and The Flipper. He’s very easy-going and engaged each of the boys despite the ongoing jealousy issues of wanting more time alone with him.

I worried about how all the excitement of Christmas and schedule changes and the chaos of 15 people within the house at times would affect Super Tall Guy. He tends to be pretty sensitive to changes.  As he got ready for bed tonight, he said, “Now I’m lonely with everyone gone,” and a couple seconds later he added, “I am perfect when they are all here.”  Huh – I suppose I didn’t need to worry – he seemed to cope pretty well (and likely better than introvert me).  So as I tucked him in, I told him how proud I was of his ability to  handle all of the intensity without throwing any (major) fits. He smiled and said “Slam me, Good Job”….Body slam! Good Job!!

Yes….”I am perfect with everyone here.” We all need each other. Family. Friends. Neighbors. We are more perfect when in relation with others. Good Job, Super Tall Guy. Good job.IMG_5281

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Love at Christmas

Love – the final candle in the Advent wreath. Each week I’ve been writing around the themes of Advent, and this week I kept thinking what I would write about in terms of love.

It’s actually more complicated that one would imagine. Probably because love is actually really complicated.

I could throw around a bunch of cliché’s about how I love my kids – how I love watching them engage in sports, love seeing twinkling smiles light up their faces, love their excitement about hunting for hidden Advent Gift Bags and the fight over who gets to open it tonight!  There is so much I love about the boys.

Yet, sometimes love is really hard. It started early with this crew – each of the boys came to me from hospital discharge – age 2 days, 2 days, and 5 weeks (for methadone withdrawal). Each boy was “placed” in my house as a “foster child,” which means I was tasked with “treating them as if they are your own child and yet be willing to give them up at the drop of a sudden phone call.”  So you try this odd sense of love – I love this little baby, but he is not “my” little baby, so I don’t want to get too attached in order to not break my heart too much when he leaves. Hmmmm.

And I ask you? How is it possible to love and not “love/attach” at the same time?  Because you do love – the soft skin, the first smiles, the nestling of the downy head in the crook of your neck. And you love watching the baby learn to coo and sit and crawl and walk and talk-back. You love it all….while you wait for the important “milestones” of foster-to-adopt: decrease parental visitations, “change of goal” (when the agency stops trying to get the baby back to a biological parent and instead starts making other long term plans), termination of parental rights, appeal period, and finally “cleared for adoption.”  And then you await the court date – and stand excitedly as the judge pronounces you mother for life!  And one day, a birth certificate arrives with the child’s (new) name and right under that:  Mother – Lynne Williams.  Wow.

That is patient love. That is love which has survived the trial period. Love which has built up strength and resilience. Love that is true.

Now that the boys are all moving out of the toddler period, a new kind of love is settling upon the household. The “I love you, but….” kind of love.  I love you, but wish you had not thrown that huge plastic car mountain down the staircase just because you liked the noise it made the first time The Rascal threw it down.  I love you, but could do without the whine, the screams, the deal-making attempts (which honestly, make no sense at all, Super Tall Guy). I love you, but would really like it if you stayed in your bed the whole night….rather than smothering me in my slumber.

This is also that true love. The love that says – no matter what you do, I still love you. And the love that says – no matter what I do (get mad, frown, discipline you, go to work, seem busy on the phone), no matter what, I still love you.

Each night as I tuck the boys into bed, I whisper to them, “I love you. Forever. For always, and no matter what.”

My gift to them each and every day – complete, unconditional love. Their gift to me – bouncy, bumbling, blubbering kisses and hugs and love.Nate-light-2013

Love at Christmas and every day of the year.

Glimpses of joy

As you might imagine, I “generally” try to only tell my boys the truth (for example, there is no Santa in our house, though Super Tall Guy still wants to believe in the Leprechaun due to the damage in his pre-k classroom thanks to a creative teacher). However, when I tuck them into bed and try to creep out of the room and they say, “stay.”  I reply, “I’ll come back in 5 minutes.”  They counter, “one minute.”  “Okay, one minute,” I’ll say….and nine out of ten times I do not come back and probably 99% of the time certainly don’t make it back within a minute. The other night, though, I tucked in Mr. Ornery, walked some dirty clothes downstairs and then came back up to “check on” the little guy. I bent over to his small form tucked into a sleeping bag and kissed his forehead.

A slow smile spread across his face as he acknowledged the warmth of my lips. And I thought – “joy” – that was it.

It could have been happiness, but I’m going to argue for joy. That at that very moment, Mr. Ornery knew of my indescribable intense love for him and he was filled with joy. (Or maybe he realized that his mother actually stuck to her word this time and that made him happy!)

These boys bring me joy. They bring me stuffy noses and colds. They bring me sleepy eyes and a tired body. They bring me incredible frustration and a wildly sharp temper. They bring me poopy diapers and Legos underfoot.  They bring me a range of emotions that I had no idea existed. And they bring me joy.

I have great joy in adopting The Little Guy this year and making him a permanent part of this wild family of boys. I see joy in the rare and yet incredibly touching ways in which IMG_3506the boys show each other brief moments of tender love.  I feel tremendous joy when the Little Guy whispers “I love you, Mommy” in the middle of the night when I tuck him in for the umpteenth time….melts my heart and makes me just a little less frustrated to have been called out of bed again and again.

And I know of just so much joy as we trim the Christmas tree, unwrapping porcelain ornaments of the boys over the years and we smile at “how cute” they were and how much The Little Guy looks just like Super Tall Guy when he was little.

We are not always a happy family….but we sure have many moments of “intense and ecstatic” joy.

Peace and (very little) quiet!

There was a morning this week that I came into consciousness during the wee hours when it was still dark. I sighed when I realized that at least the entire right side of my pajamas felt drenched any time I moved in bed. There was a large boy on my right, a middle troll (I mean, boy) on my left, and a wee one bumbling around trying to figure out how to squeeze in somewhere. The “fluid,” I can only surmise, was the result of boy #2 who had decided his jammies were wet, left them and the pull-up in a pile beside the bed and climbed naked into my bed sometime in the very, very wee hours of the morning (apparently I am tired enough not to notice additions to my slumbering anymore).  Deep down inside, I groaned, “I am miserable….”

….for a second. Then I said to myself, “I am blessed.” For if you desire peace, you create peace within yourself first. You lay amidst the chaos and say, “I am blessed.”  You take ten deep breaths as Super Tall Guy works to escalate a battle and say, “I am jello…your emotions will not stick to me.”  You watch a football soar from the arms of Super Tall Guy, sail over the hands of The Flipper and bounce off the head of the Little Guy who is in the midst of tackling The Rascal while Mr. Ornery races around the indoor home loop. And you say, “this is pretty good – all is well. There is peace here.”

The center of peace is in the way that I perceive what is happening and can negotiate the environment and interactions around me. This is a work in progress (every single minute). Super Tall Guy and I had a very miserable year when he was about three. He was struggling with independence issues (very normal) and a quick temper. I was struggling with unhappiness in my adult life at the time, a quick temper as well (that part hasn’t necessarily gone away), and having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that I could not “control” this little human being. We were an explosive combination with intense negativity at times and a general lack of peace. There was very little “tranquility” and not much “harmony” in our relationship. It has taken quite awhile to grow together and get to the point where we are today with random flares disrupting a much calmer sea.

And most of the time now…more honestly…some of the time, I can handle the chaos and the noise of 5 active boys running around, pushing, shoving, sticking their tongues out, biting, kicking….pretty much invading each other’s personal space in order to meet a personal desire for an object or invoke a whine or cry from the other. Sometimes I have had enough sleep. I am feeling “okay” in my professional life. I am not (too) stressed and can tolerate the chaos.

But sometimes I just want quiet. I want peace. I want a moment to myself that is not between the hours of 10:00 pm and 1:00 am. I’m wondering what was that insane moment when I decided to become a parent and why.

Sometimes, the words of an Amy Grant holiday song run through my head:

“Look at us now, rushing around
Trying to buy Christmas peace…

I need a silent night, a holy night
To hear an angel voice through the chaos and the noise
I need a midnight clear, a little peace right here
To end this crazy day with a silent night.”

It helps me to know that my crazy days end with a “silent night” even if sometimes that night is really short by the time the last one stops waking up to be re-tucked in and the first one hasn’t yet proclaimed “it’s morning time!”  It helps me to try to keep a bigger picture in mind. To understand that the occasional chaos is a temporary and very small aspect of the larger task of raising up three wonderful men and wanting our relationship to continue in peace for years and years to come.

So, this Advent week, I’m going to reflect on peace a bit more, model it more in myself, and encourage it more in the boys. I’m also going to pray that night-time pull-ups will be a bit more super-absorbent, and that we will all work towards peace at home, at work and in the world. IMG_4464

 

 

 

Inspiring Hope

We put our tree up the day after Thanksgiving. The boys were so eager.

Hoping there's something awesome inside the box!!

Hoping there’s something awesome inside the box!!

Super Tall Guy asked about it from the moment he woke up. I reminded him that he had 3 hours of “upstairs time out” to do before he could participate in the tree trimming. Given his normal daily routine – he had that criteria met by 9:00 am! Silly boy.  (He still had to earn enough “star” points to be able to go to the afternoon movie, though. As you might be able to decipher, he was coming off a really (really) rough evening!).

Mr. Ornery was excited too when he woke up a few hours after Super Tall Guy. He bounced around the living room asking where the tree was. He eagerly put the branches in. He tried to help string some lights until my patience and his interest collided. He put ornaments up. And he asked where the presents were. I replied that they come on Christmas morning. And the next morning, he suddenly sat upright in my bed (yes, sometimes there’s two of them trying to pancake me!) and said “Are there presents under the tree today?”

He is hopeful.

I heard a talk by Richard Louv a couple months ago. I loved listening to him. He talked about how our whole body and spirit come alive by spending time in nature and how as a society we are drifting further and further away. It was depressing as well as challenging. But the point that caught me the most was when he talked about time that he spends on college campuses talking with students in the prime of their lives. And the one thing that he has noticed in recent years is a shocking lack of hope. He challenged and encouraged each one of us to re-instill that hope within all children that we have contact with. Hope for the future. Hope for good. Hope for relationships, for work, for the earth.

Little kids have hope. Little kids hope that there will be presents under the tree in the morning (at least that it will happen November 30th….and maybe again on December 25th). Little kids have hope for an extra frosted-covered donut in the morning. They hope for the 3DS video-game hand-held unit they so badly want for Christmas. They hope that we will move someday soon and get a dog. They hope Mom will play football in the house for “just 5 more minutes”….or build “just one more” Lego spaceship/aircraft for their fleet (and they hold out hope against all hope that we might find the microscopic heads for the countless Lego men laying around with just a peg jutting out of the torso).

We parents have a great deal of hope too. I hope that the boys actually grow up someday and move out of the house as happy, productive, joyful young men. I hope that they remembered to pick up the Lego pieces so I don’t walk on them in the hallway tonight (“why in the world do you HAVE to play in the hallway?!?!?”). I hope they sleep past 5:22 am….because that would make me so happy. I hope that someday we can get studio photographs done without them pushing each other off the crates, collapsing into giggly fits on the floor, or getting up and walking out before it’s done (because that SURE didn’t happen this weekend!!  The key is that I attempt these photo sessions in public….because having people around helps to control my behavior!!).

But we also work to instill hope in our children.  “I hope you have a good day at school, dear.”  “I hope you have much better behavior tomorrow.”  “I hope you have fun at the party.”  “I really hope you didn’t just push your brother off the couch for no reason (ie, I hope you come up with a darn good reason for that – fast!!)”

Tonight for Advent we talked about “waiting” and what we’re “waiting” for. Naturally the answers were mostly about what gift they were “hoping” for, but the important thing is – we were talking about hope. We were experiencing hope.  I’m going to try to keep up this theme this week. My wonderful mother blesses us (daily, for sure) and every Advent season with 24 Advent Bags containing fun little games or candy or toys for the boys. Every night they joyfully/greedily push and shove to find out what is in the bag that evening.  Of course, we forgot to do it tonight, so I just wrote notes in the little Advent calendar boxes to help them find their Advent Bags starting tomorrow, “Hope you can find your gifts by the piano”…. “Hope you brush your teeth after eating these” ….

Maybe it will catch on…..Maybe their little Hope candle will never burn out.

I can only hope.