Thoughts on video-gaming and young children – There goes the TV

(An intermission from my “The Story of the boys” of the past few weeks ….for obvious reasons…..)

Sometimes when I think about it, I think, “Wow, for having 5 boys in the house, we really haven’t had any significant injuries or damage.” But as of this moment, the cost to my checking account is adding up.

It’s unpredictable, really, when Super Tall Guy will lose control and let a Wii remote go flying.

So here are some thoughts on video-gaming.

There are definitely some studies suggesting improvement in eye-hand coordination, spatial reasoning and critical thinking skills. And, from my medical perspective, peer-reviewed scientific studies have found video-gaming linked with better skill in laparoscopic surgery, a field which has cut down complications and recovery time for many types of surgery. This is good.

As I lay on the couch the other day (at 6:05am), trying to pretend like I was going to get a little more sleep, and The Little Guy puttered around while Super Tall played Star Wars Wii, I had a brief moment of thinking how persistent he is while trying to accomplish something in video-gaming. Super Tall will try the same level over and over until he’s successful. And this seemed like a good quality to be practicing, yet in my reflective process I couldn’t figure out if that translated to persistence in any other activities for him. He certainly doesn’t persist in practicing his handwriting and he expects to be an expert in a sport without practicing it….. Hmmm, maybe not so good.

Video-gaming does offer a social component, though. It requires the skill of asking another person if they’d like to play, negotiating the game to be played and arguing over who will be which character, and navigating the consequences of accidentally making each other “die” on a particular level. It also helps in social situations to be able to talk about the games you play, “Guess what? We ‘bought’ the Emperor on Star Wars Wii!” or “What level are you on Donkey Kong?” Developing social skills is a good thing. Yes.

In our house, though, there’s a tendency for these social-skill negotiations to crumble and some “shouting” and name-calling to commence. At this point, a parental figure often steps in with the threat of “You keep yelling at each other and I will turn this thing off.”

I walked into such a threat yesterday morning after returning from the I-can’t-survive-a-full-day-with-5-boys-if-I-don’t-get-a-mocha-in-my-system run. It seemed innocent enough. Kathy repeated that she had warned Super Tall and Mr. Ornery already about getting mad at each other about the game. And then she proceeded to say, “Okay….turn it off.” I had just walked into the living room and in my mind was thinking, “Now, this is a great time to start talking to Super Tall about how we calm ourselves.” (Having just read an editorial in the New York Times about a new strategy to teach children to calm themselves and, having thought it was the topic I most needed to help Super Tall with, I was ready to start addressing it).

I think I literally opened my mouth when my brain switched gears to “Oh no, he’s not really going to….oh he did….oh, he’s dead meat!!” Super Tall jumped up and ran to lock himself into the second floor bathroom. I ran and pounded on the door and yelled, “You better open this thing up or you’re in serious trouble.”

Well, he’s in serious trouble for sure. My Amazon log indicates that April 2, 2012, was the last time I purchased a flat-screen TV due to the effects of “de-pixilation” from a thrown object (and then that TV was stolen and we replaced it in September! Two years….three TVs….). I’m still seething.the TV2

“Why in the world did you do that?”…. “I don’t know.”

“Guess what, boy! ‘I don’t know’ is NOT an acceptable answer!”

I’m still working on what will be his “consequence”! The “natural” one of course is “no more TV”….you know, until I buy a new one (for the other kids). But it has now extended to “no more screens” (including the DS handheld games that have been in time-out for 3 months and were scheduled to return to him April 1). And, most definitely, absolutely, 100% (until I change my mind) “no more Wii until you’re 18!! …or 21….or sometime around there…..some time long after Wii’s become obsolete! And that’s final. Until I think of something else I’m going to add!”

You see, in our household….at least on my “side” of the household….video-gaming is NOT good for young children!

Addendum (3/31/14)

So, I’m putting Super Tall and The Little Guy to bed when Little Guy points to the window and asks, “Why is that broken?”  Good question. “So, Super Tall, do you want to explain why 2 days after breaking a TV by throwing something that you have now DSC_4010broken a blind by throwing something in your anger this morning?!? Do you have an answer other than ‘I don’t know?’ Do you have a plan for changing this?” Do I have to surround you with only soft toys? Sigh. We’re going to work on this….definitely going to work on this.

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The continuation

Super Tall Guy was about to turn one and was already pushing past the 75%ile on his growth measures. The gap between him and The Flipper in size was beginning to widen, but The Flipper wasn’t going to give up anything in the abilities field. He was already wiry and muscular. The two of them were just beginning to toddle around the house, exploring, examining the rule of gravity, noting projectile velocities, rejecting a wide variety of foods, and communicating through basic signs.

The phone rang. Well, Kathy’s phone rang. I pretty much just got the gist of it. The First One (now age 34 months) and his younger sister, really “The Only Girl,” at age 18 months were going into foster care and would arrive soon at our house. Despite her physical age, The Only Girl had definite developmental delays that put her close to a one-year-old level….giving us 3 1-year-olds and 1 3-year-old in the house. The next day Kathy traded in her Honda station wagon for a minivan! (My CRV didn’t succumb until there were 5 kids to cart around).

I will confess the hard truth here. I was not ready for this sudden change and my grumpiness was likely evident at times. You see, I was delighted to have “a” baby and had finally adjusted to having two. But I’m an introverted, “slow-to-warm-up” type of person, and the doubling of children ages 3 and under was overwhelming. Looking back, I know I was not very helpful and supportive at the time. I would kind of “punish” Kathy by having her pretty much handle three kids on her own with an attitude of “well, you said yes to two more!!” I really don’t know how she did it all – but I’m mighty proud of her.

I think we survived the chaos only with the assistance of my mother. She would come over daily for the dinner-bath-bedtime routine. We had three high chairs and should have had a dog to clean up the spaghetti. The bathtub could hold three and the floor sure could hold a lot of splashed water. We had three cribs in the house and a toddler bed. And none of us slept.

The year was a blur and a huge juggling paradigm. As probably an attempt to cope with the chaos and laziness in truly baby-proofing a house, we spent most of the weekends outside of the house. We would take those kids anyway – mall play-yard, the zoo (almost every single weekend! Arrive when it first opened, hit the playgrounds and leave as others with “nice” sleeping kids would start to arrive.), the Children’s Museum, the Science Center. Anywhere. And then we’d end up at my mother’s for dinner on Saturday evenings….every single one…

The First Guy and The Only Girl were enrolled in a “therapeutic preschool” in a part of town that was not convenient for either Kathy or I. So Children, Youth & Families (CYF) would send a “driver” to our place every morning to pick them up and someone would bring them back every evening. They also had visits with their biological mother for a couple hours 2-3 times a week. This was an odd time. For the younger two kids, Kathy and I pretty much made all the decisions since the mothers were not really involved (though The Flipper was still having weekly visits with his mother). But for the older two, we had no say in their schedules and had to adjust. The First Guy was clearly happy to be back with Kathy as he had bonded to her the first time he was with us. And we were happy to be providing what the kids needed.

Again, the birth mother “met” her goals and the kids were reunited with her. Yet life remained difficult for her and The First Guy was a challenging creature as he worked through issues of independence and obedience. Eventually, even though the kids were living back at home, they were still with us for “weekend respite” as The First Guy grew even more difficult and eventually his explosive tirades were medicated. Kathy and I struggled with how to help him for clearly he was living under two (probably three) different sets of standards – ours, his mom’s and his childcare center’s. It broke our heart to see him struggle and you’d think it might have prepared me for Super Tall’s outbursts when he turned three, but it really didn’t. I probably blamed The First Guy’s behavior on “poor parenting” by his bio mother ….and Super Tall Guy’s on him.

Eventually, The First Guy’s behavioral problems escalated enough that by the time he was back into the foster care setting again, it was decided that he needed “therapeutic foster parents” and off he went to his “fourth” mother in his five years of life. It was a confusing time which included an inpatient psych stay for him, caseworkers essentially blackballing Kathy, and us all wishing there was something we could do.

We knew that The First Guy just needed love and stability and yet we were not allowed to have a voice into his life, despite the fact that we had cared for him more in his life than any other “parent.” It was years before we had any contact again. Yet he remains a part of the boys’ lives as does The Only Girl. To this day, Super Tall Guy will randomly sigh and say, “I wish I had my sister back.” Foster parenting affects everyone in very unpredictable ways.

In the Beginning: Part 0.5

I know you are all waiting for Part 2….and yes, I will write more of THE story. But it just seemed important to back up to Part 0.5 (and maybe even fill in 1.5 at some point), because there’s quite a bit that shaped us before Super Tall Guy arrived.

So….I take you back to the beginning. Back to early 2005 when I stumbled off an airplane after spending a month on rotation during residency in Kenya. Emotionally exhausted from a month of international medicine and more childhood death than I had ever witnessed, physically exhausted from staying up night after night for a month prior to journeying home, yet so delighted to be back to friends and family. I was greeted at the airport by my wonderful sister. “Hello,” she said excitedly…. “so, while you were away, (I think she forgot to say “hey, how are you? how was the trip?)…. I was contemplating the Biblical principle of ‘taking care of the widows and children’….and since we don’t really care about old ladies (ironic, as we had just had a widow in our house for 4-5 months before she left for the mission field), I signed us up for Foster Parenting classes….which begin next week.” Next week….right. Okay.

And that’s how it began.yarn bridge-wp

We sat in classes week after week, confirming again and again that we were in the “foster parent” track and not the “foster-to-adopt” track (you know how that ended) and learning all we could from the Children, Youth and Families (CYF) caseworkers who stood in front of us. There were probably 7 or 8 other couples in the class and I think we were among the few professionals. We were certainly the only sister pair. And some of the trainees were family members of children that were already living in their homes. When classes ended in June, we had our “Home inspection” and passed. Naturally, Kathy then left on a business trip, and our caseworker called. Little Girl S (age 3) and Baby Sister V (age 2) came to spend two nights with us for what is called “shelter placement” (did I mention Kathy was out of town?), that is, temporary care of children while suitable family members are sought. The two were incredibly delayed in development, cowering and shy little blond-haired girls who sparkled after some food, clean clothes and a bath. They went to live with a doting aunt who kept in touch for about a year.

The day after they left, we were called for our “first true” foster child. Sometimes CYF caseworkers bring the children to you. Sometimes you go to pick them up. I drove to the other side of town to pick up The First from his aunt’s house. I knew he was a couple days away from his first birthday and I pictured a crawling cute little helpless baby. I couldn’t wait to meet him.

Knocking on the door, I entered into a world of clutter and confusion, and a little toddler literally running through the house with a bottle of grape kool-aid dangling from his mouth (I knew that instant that we were in trouble 🙂 ….. but I got the cute part right). He was being chased delightedly by the aunts’ older children as she tried to collect some toys and clothes to send along with him. She explained that much as she loved the little guy and appreciated watching him for the past three months, her multiple sclerosis illness and the needs of her 3 biological children were getting to be too much. She handed me the belongings and gathered The First into her arms to walk to my car.

As we approached, a pick-up truck skidded to a halt and the little boy’s biological father jumped out. He shouted expletives and grabbed The First into his arms. The aunt whispered that we were going to tell him I was the CYF case worker (if he asked) for it was apparent that he was intoxicated. The man squeezed The First tightly in his arms, mumbled a bit, and then flung his sun-glasses to the ground in frustration. (At this point, it dawned on me the potential danger in these situations, but I was strangely not fearful.) The aunt took back the child and buckled him into my car seat. She kissed him good-bye and promised to call us and visit him often. A week later, The First returned to spend the weekend with his aunt, but the visit ended early due to his multiple episodes of diarrhea. That was the last time we heard from the aunt and the father’s side of the family.

This little guy was adorable. We loved him. But I was a fourth-year resident and had some rotations where I spent every 3rd night in the hospital and I barely saw his chubby face. My sister, though, bonded immediately. She took The First with her everywhere. They shopped. They went to the park. They hung out at the mall playground. They visited friends and lounged at my parent’s house. They went on trips together and he came on our annual beach vacation. The two were inseparable….. until CYF called. The mother had completed her “checklist” of “things you must do to get your child back”…. and he returned home. I could hear my sister’s tears late into the night some nights. We knew it was going to happen. We knew that The First had weekly and sometimes 3-times-a-week visits with his mother. We knew that she was “making progress on her goals.” We knew that foster children are supposed to reunite with their parents.  Yet we didn’t know the pain of releasing a beautiful, giggling, joyful boy back to his mother.

And we didn’t know if we’d ever see him again.

But we did.

Finally, starting “The Long Story”

I was never one of those high school girls who knew how many kids I wanted, but I knew I wanted kids and I knew I wanted to name my daughter “Katelyn” (a combination of my sister’s name and mine :). I didn’t have a boy’s name picked out and I never knew that I would be adopting….

Last month was a celebration of my adoptions (Feb 12, 24 and 26th). Sometimes I sit and look at the boys bouncing around the room. Sometimes I wonder why I’m so exhausted. I mean, many families have 5 kids. But few families have 5 boys in a five year period – my eldest is about to turn 8, the youngest is almost 3, and my sister’s two are in between these.

So it seems about time to “explain” our situation a little bit (since I’ve alluded to the “long story” before). Almost nine years ago, we became foster parents and had a one-year-old boy for over ten months. He returned to his mother and we had a set of siblings for “emergency shelter” for two days prior to getting a call about Super Tall Guy. I was on rotation in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit as a fourth year resident when my sister called me and said, “Lynne, they have a newborn baby boy that we can pick up….and J.P. has already agreed to watch him.” Yes, J.P. is a dear woman, a foster parent who was fostering 4-month-old twins at the time, and yet agreed to watch Super Tall (at a whopping six pounds four ounces) for the first six weeks of his life until he could be in a daycare center. It was noon and we had to pick him up before the social worker left work at five.

My co-workers were awesome and let me leave a bit early. I met my sister and we found an infant car seat in our basement that someone had loaned to us and we made our way cautiously into the hospital’s nursery. The social worker asked for our driver’s licenses and then showed us to a bassinet with a little tiny baby swaddled in white. We both held our breath. We couldn’t believe it. We were going to take a newborn home. We were clueless. And we certainly didn’t have a “diaper bag” or anything prepared. The social worker disappeared and returned with a pair of blue pants and a striped blue shirt that she put over the hospital long-sleeve shirt. We buckled him into the seat and quietly walked out of the door. We might have started to breathe again once we got out of the parking lot, but it’s unlikely.

We couldn’t do anything but stare at him all night. Kathy ran out and blitzed the store – baby bassinet, diapers, wipes, clothes, bottles, formula….anything and everything that we needed. We had nothing. Nothing except an incredible love at first sight, joy at cuddling a soft sighing newborn, and unending gratefulness for the foster mother who was willing to make this possible for us.

It wasn’t too long before we reached a rhythm. I finished residency with tiny Super Tall Guy in my arms at every event – award ceremony, graduation ceremony, anything – I took him everywhere. Though it was hard to leave him during the day, I was chained to the dining room table that summer to study for two board certification exams (pediatrics and internal medicine). Day after day, night after sleepless night….and one day, I sat at the end of the table when my cell phone rang. Kathy said, “hey, Lynne, they have a two-week old baby that they need a home for.” I said, “oh….well….you see, we have a baby in the house.” Her heart started, “I know, but…” My brain responded, “we have a baby already….” “Aw man, I’m supposed to be in a meeting – I’ll call you back in a few minutes.” She hung up. I returned to mitochondrial disease manifestations. The phone rang. The caseworker wondered, “Do you want to pick him up….or should I drop him off?” I replied, “she said ‘yes,’ didn’t she?”

Enter the Flipper – two weeks old and tiny – a little African American baby with the softest hair I’d ever felt. I spent the next year asking every patients’ mother, “What do you use in your child’s hair,” until we finally found a product that seemed to tame some of the wild. He barely uncurled from his ball-like position. He mewed and sighed and stole your heart the moment we met.

But in the middle of the night, he was inconsolable. He fussed, he wept, and once he got going he shrieked with a sound no human could imagine. I was the “night time” person ….the one who got up all night with the babies. The one who kept diapers and wipes and binkies and bottles of formula on my bed stand. The one who paced and rocked….and fell back asleep before the babies did.

I’m also the one who finally told my sister, “I just can’t take it anymore. His cries in the middle of the night just tear at my soul. I can’t handle him. Either you’ll have to do the nights….or we’ll have to call CYF to find another family.” I just couldn’t….and I’m the “Baby Whisperer” who calms any child…but I couldn’t do anything with this little guy.

I sometimes think about the Flipper’s cries at night. Sometimes I’m sorry that I couldn’t do it. And sometimes I think about the fact that he came to us (foster care) because a couple years prior, an older sibling had been found with over 20 broken bones at the age of 3 months. It broke my heart to think of that baby. And I wondered if that sibling had had the same heart-wrenching, mind-numbing cry in the middle of the night….his mother would have had a real struggle. I who hold three kid-associated degrees and have years upon years of experience working with infants…. I couldn’t stand the noise. Wow.

But Kathy could. She could rock him. She could pace around the house. She could put him in the car and drive around town until he settled down. She could love on that boy….and I could love on tiny Super Tall….and soon we figured out who was “mommy-ing” who.

That’s how our “twins” (separated by 7 weeks) came to be.the first two

Whew…getting late…and Super Tall has come downstairs…is scratching his back and arms….yawning….and giving me “the look”….the “hey, put me back to bed” look (he’s also rubbing his ear and picking his nose, but I probably shouldn’t mention that).

So….the story of the next three boys is just going to have to wait.

I have a Super Tall little man to tuck in again.

My eldest is exhausting

He loves to bounce basketballs in the house ….near the chandelier….why hasn’t that thing broken yet?

He doesn’t quite grasp why I gasp every time his foot makes contact with the soccer ball and it goes flying…guess he’s never seen a glass door shatter….

He wants to wrestle.
He likes to trip his brothers.
He thinks football is an indoor sport.
He wants me to pick him up and throw him on the couch….and I can barely even lift his 82 pounds on the back of my light frame.
He doesn’t accept my praise unless I body-slam myself into him…a simple high-five won’t do it.
He has trouble controlling his anger and escalates battles with me until my head ignites and rockets off past the moon and orbits Saturn. Literally.Matt disney

And yet….. he is a quiet, sensitive soul.
He’s easily upset when thinking that others are teasing him.
He’s shy around new people.
He doesn’t want to go to Sunday School class because he “doesn’t know” anyone and prefers to torture me by goofing off (semi-quietly) in the back of the church space.
He cannot express his feelings very well. I can’t tell if he is feeling bullied or if he is the bully in the situations.
He’s sad that he has to sit alone at a table at lunch and hasn’t been eating his lunch during school. And that makes me sad.
He occasionally has trouble with his bowels and sometimes does soil his pants – but it’s not right that the second-grader on the bus sings out “You are a poopy-pants!”

I sat in a parking lot the other day and let huge tears splash onto my lap after a call from the principal of his school. There had been some words exchanged. Super Tall Guy wasn’t happy and struck out at the other kid (a kindergartener….) hitting him in the eye, but not hard. Super Tall’s response, “it was an accident. I didn’t hit him hard. He was bothering me.” That’s your story, eh? There’s so much pent up in there. I know there is.

The thing is…
I don’t know how to help him release it.
My heart aches for his inner pain.
My soul grieves a child in turmoil.
My brain just wants the “easy fix” – snap out of it; quit acting that way; grow up – all the things we want to say….all the things that won’t help a single bit.

We talk about the “hitting situation”….and get nowhere. I suddenly write in his Spelling book: calm, cool, collected.

Calm – focus for a minute
Cool – blow out that heat bubbling inside you
Collected – wrap your arms around yourself and collect yourself

Got it? Remember the C’s.

I don’t know. It’s a work in progress. I don’t know if this “new method” will work, but I have to keep trying. We’ve been working…and working…together for years now. I’ve read 7 or 8 parenting books and tried countless “techniques” and “words of wisdom.” We’ve done time out. We’ve done reward charts. We’ve done grounding and missed special events. Super Tall Guy doesn’t seem phased by all those attempts. I grasp for straws. I grasp for anything that will tame the beast within.

Because I know that I love the beast, the tiger, the lion, the lamb, the teddy bear….the little boy trapped within a huge body, struggling to “be good.” This week, we celebrated the adoption of my dear sweet, exhausting Super Tall Guy, and I love him more and more every single day.