Very Round Peg, Very Square Hole.

It has finally come to me that despite his amazing athleticism and my clear joy in spectatorship, Mr. Ornery appears to be little interested in organized sports. At 18 months of age, his day care teachers remarked at his persistence in shooting basketballs into the miniature plastic hoop. At 4 years of age, I strapped on ice skates and he took off across the ice with me stumbling in awe behind him. Put him in shoes, in skates, in skis, on wheels and he just goes. Give him a ball, a bat, a glove, a stick and he gets it.

In his short 8 years (well, four really when you consider that he didn’t start until age four), this boy has done sports! He has played more seasons of soccer than he cares to have joined. (“But, Mom, I didn’t sign up for soccer,” he whined one evening last Spring as we drove to practice. Evil grin from the driver’s seat.) He has played basketball for the past three winters. He tried ice hockey for a year and decided to “retire” shortly after I sunk money into the “travel bag” to carry all the gear that I had already sunk money into! He played a season of flag football. He was fast. He can run. But he didn’t care to catch the ball. He tried baseball last Spring. His coach was amazed that it was his first time ever as he caught, threw and hit with ease. “Yep,” I said, “I bought him a glove a week before the first practice.”

Scattered in all that was two years of gymnastics, getting to the point of twice-a-week practice to look toward competitive gymnastics, but he was not interested. He joined his brother and cousins in karate for a few months, but had no stamina for working toward a hierarchy of colored belts. He was on the swim team last summer and has a beautiful stroke, but doesn’t care to show any speed. We even tried a session of water polo, but for a little seven-year-old, treading water in the deep end of the high school swimming pool was a bit too exhausting.

But look him in the eye and ask Mr. Ornery what’s his favorite sport and he’ll say, “I’m going to be a BMX biker when I grow up.”

Mind you, I love watching all my boys play sports. I happily drive them to practice after practice. I put money into sign-ups, equipment, and Gatorade and tons and tons of mileage. I want to expose them to as many sports as I can (okay, I probably didn’t need to do all of the above in 4 years I realize now as I list them!). My hope is that one day when they are on the college campus and someone yells out to them, “Dude, want to join us for a quick game of …?” they will actually know how to play that … and jump right in. (Golf, we need to do golf. And tennis and rowing and cross-country….)

But Mr. Ornery has other ideas. He’s a round peg. He wants round things under his feet. He glides with ease and flies to the top of ramps on a small BMX bike. He is working on how to do an Ollie on a skateboard (see what I’m learning?). He just learned how to “drop in” on a scooter from an older kid at the skate park. He’s watching YouTube videos of people biking and skating and scootering. He’s begging me to take him to the indoor bike park several times a month and rates their one-week bike camp as the best week ever. He cajoles the babysitter into taking him and the Little Guy to a nearby skate park as often as he can (though her rule is that they leave when the teen mass enlarges towards the evening and the language gets more and more foul).

And, Mr. Ornery has spent this entire weekend creating his own miniature skate park in his bedroom after spending his allowance on “fingertip” skate boards and torturing me with the world’s smallest nuts and bolts to put together a Tech Deck. (That’s the towel rack from the bathroom, by the way. Sigh.)

Give me a sport that I can understand and cheer for and I am happy. Put wheels under Mr. Ornery and he is in heaven. He’s a round peg. He doesn’t care for my square holes. But we are learning to compromise. He keeps up a sport to garner the lessons of persistence, sportsmanship, listening to a coach, and working towards a goal as a team. I keep the bike tires pumped up, the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches packed for a quick snack, and the back of the van loaded with two BMX bikes, two scooters, two skateboards and two helmets at all times (naturally, the Little Guy is following right along).

And, I keep the prayers flowing as I watch him soar, hoping for soft landings.

Love my round peg. (And…. he’d love you to “subscribe” to his video. It matters to an 8-year-old, apparently 😊). 

 

 

 

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Failure Demon

By all accounts, I am a highly-accomplished woman. I have a college education, a PhD and a medical degree. I am an executive director, a physician and a co-founder of a successful non-profit. Despite being an introvert, I have strong social skills and am adept at networking and building community. I have many friends and a wonderful family. I know persistence, determination, resilience and hard work.

And I know the Failure Demon. The one that sits upon your shoulder and provides the 40,000-foot macro overview critique of all your deficiencies and failures.

My house deal fell through this weekend. It’s been six weeks of sleepless nights stressing about whether it was the right place for my family and finally shifting into preparing mentally to move. The boys were excited, talking about how they would arrange their rooms and all the fun space they would have to play. And the yard. Sigh, the yard.

Failure Demon points out that I’ve been looking at houses for over a year. I keep talking about wanting to move and get the kids into a different school system and yet I can’t that done. No house has been the right one and the walls of this rental townhome are closing in on us.

Failure Demon likes to point out deficiencies like this when I’m trying to focus on studying. Failure Demon reminds me that despite being a nearly straight-A student my entire life, despite passing every prior standardized test I’ve taken with relative ease, I have now failed my Internal Medicine re-certifying exam twice. I have one more chance. I am in a “grace year” and I’m running out of time. Failure next month will change me from a “Med-Peds” physician to a pediatrician. Failure will change my current employment at a medical office providing care for under- and uninsured patients. Failure will change my income and the ability to afford such things as a house for the boys. Failure will have a ripple effect.

Failure Demon reminds me that part of all this stress of choosing a house and choosing a school district is the stress of trying to parent alone and make important life decisions on my own. Failure Demon points out that my life-long goal of finding a partner, a soul-mate, a friend, a spouse is still unmet, still in the failure category. Failure Demon chuckles.

For Failure Demon points out that solo parenting isn’t even working out so great, is it? The threatening letters from property management to inform tenants that “all children must be supervised at all times when outside” have now escalated to an email asking for a meeting with the property manager next week. Apparently there’s been a report of Mr. Ornery lighting smoke bombs in the back yard while “unsupervised” the other night while I was at work. Mr. Ornery is ornery; there’s no getting around that. But Failure Demon knows that I am stretched and that trying to keep track of everything spins out of control sometimes.

Failure Demon struts and nods smugly. Failure Demon smiles haughtily. Failure Demon loves to torture all of us.

But you shall go away, Failure Demon. I will sit here for a moment. I will sit in peace. I will let the sadness of losing the house pass me by and then I will begin again. I will pick up my phone and study more exam questions on that handy app and I shall do my best. I will give my boys a hug and rejoice in their health and their creativity and their love of exploration. I will shake off that demon and rise again.

For I have confidence that “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God.” And God’s Word is that we are loved. That we are made perfect through Him and that there is no failure when one walks with God.

So go away, Failure Demon. For Christ reigns, friends surround, and there is much work to be done.

“Last Child in the Woods”: Living in a Toxic Environment

We are in the suburbs of a large city and in an expensive townhouse and apartment community. There is a brand new playground in the middle of the community and the pool just re-opened. And it is toxic. Every couple months, threatening notes are placed in everyone’s mailboxes that focus almost entirely around the fact that children are playing outside. The most recent mandate, “effective immediately,” is that no child shall be outside at any time without supervision.

The mandate itself doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t define the age of such children or what constitutes supervision. It stems from complaints by other tenants that there are occasionally bikes or toys left around the community. That sometimes children cross someone’s back patio. That kids are riding bikes on the dead-end lanes in the community and that someone feels their rights are being fringed upon by having to slow down.

It is exactly what Richard Louv refers to as “the criminalization of natural play.” It is the attempt to keep children inside and not seen or heard. It is the thought that parents must have eyes on and helicopter around their children at all moments. According to his report, “Most housing tracts, condos, and planned communities constructed in the past two or three decades are controlled by strict covenants that discourage or ban the kind of outdoor play many of us enjoyed as children.” (pg 28) It goes against every concept of parenting, but emerges from the adult world of entitlement. To me, it stems from a belief that an individual should be able to have full control of the environment around his or her property and not be impacted at all by others in the community.

This environment is toxic to my soul and to the way that I want my boys to grow in independence, self-sufficiency, creativity, and respect. It goes against my desire for them to develop friendships and negotiate conflict by having space to interact with other kids. It takes away their opportunity to develop responsibility and an understanding of consequences. I expect them to make mistakes and to have to deal with the consequences. When Super Tall Guy accidentally slid his scooter handle into the neighbor’s car, he shouldered some of the cost to repair it.

Richard Louv discusses the importance of spending time in unstructured play. Building a tree house brings together the skills of math, science, spatial relations and a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Exploring the habitats of wildlife engenders an understanding of the species coexisting with humans and a respect for protecting the environment.

Instead, as more children are forced to be inside due to the pressures upon parents, their natural tendency is to turn more and more to screens as a way to pass the time. The consequences of extended screen time are becoming drastically apparent. It is something I struggle with daily as Super Tall Guy has given up on the outside world and shifted towards passive entertainment. I continue to seek opportunities for him and the younger two to stay engaged in the outside world.

Clearly I can no longer foster outside play in my own housing community. Instead I look for chances to pack up the boys and head out to the nearest county park or other spaces (and I continue to look for more acreage in a house for the boys!).

 

Read Along with Me: Last Child in the Woods

Okay, I finally decided to start reading “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv. So many have asked me if I had read it, that I was starting to feel embarrassed. I felt like one of those presenters who is in front of a large crowd and a hand shoots up and says, “But have you read the most seminal piece in parenting this day?” Ahhh…..

Fine. I’ll read it.

And you can journey along with me.

I completely agree with the premise. Today’s kids have become more and more distant from nature and that is having serious consequences on their health, creativity and development. It is also having an impact on the environment. I’m just not sure I need 300+ pages to tell me all that, since I am now also a product of the internet age and want my information concise and quick.

But I’m going to slug through the book and see what I learn, having started on page one in the middle of the night while waiting for the emergency medicine vet to evaluate my dog’s chocolate toxicity level. Apparently the scent of delectable dark chocolate nonpareils was more than her four paws and sharp canines could resist.

One paragraph that caught my attention was Richard Louv’s description of how much our society uses technology within our cars now. No longer do kids observe endless fields and mindless telephone poles whipping by their peripheral vision. Instead they are plugged into a device and miss out on observations of nature and changing landscapes, thus missing opportunities to understand the expanse of the world and the connection countryside and cityscapes.

“We actually looked out the car window. In our useful boredom, we used our fingers to draw pictures on fogged glass as we watched telephone poles tick by. We saw birds on the wires and combines in the fields. We were fascinated with roadkill, and we counted cows and horses and coyotes and shaving-cream signs. We stared with a kind of reverence at the horizon, as thunderheads and dancing rain moved with us.” (pgs 63-64)

Okay. He got me there. I have long patted my shoulder for keeping all electronics off in the car while we travel around “town,” but whenever we started a road trip that would last longer than an hour, the boys knew that devices were now “allowed.”  I’ve been doing it backwards!

But here’s my argument; that is to say, here’s what I do to convince myself my decision is of course the right one. I’m a single parent driving three bouncy, noisy, crazy boys six hours to get to the beach. There’s only so much a mom can handle before she becomes too much of a distracted driver and things get unsafe. I can’t juggle the arguments about who won the counting cows contest, who is touching whom, who stole whose pillow. So if they’re going to “plug in” and leave me to my inner introvert thoughts for a bit, I’m just going to go with it. We will all arrive safer and saner this way.

As a compromise, we have developed a routine of turning off all electronics about forty-five minutes out from our destination so we can see the landscape change and start to smell the salt air. It’s a moment to bond with each other in excitement and in connecting with nature. We spend the next week feeling and talking about the power of waves and the pull of the tide. We stumble over sharp shells and curl our toes into the sand. We explore the rough, heavy wet sand which shapes into castles with the fine silky hot sand that floats in the wind as you let it spill from your fingers. It’s a whole week of being unplugged which the boys still relish at the ages of 11, 8 and 6.  I’m hoping we get a few more golden years of spending a week at the beach.

And after starting to read this book, I have tried to be more intentional about pointing out “nature” a bit more as we drive around town and through the city parks. I throw in small comments about the shape of the clouds, the color of the sunset, the shade offered by the trees, the grass along the side of the road. This pacifies my guilt a bit, but I still wrestle with wanting my kids to be more comfortable in the natural world and to connect more with it.

So I’ll keep reading (though I confess that I’m more drawn to “Before I Wake” by Dee Henderson which I’m also currently reading!).

 

Poverty as Seen By the 6 Year Old

The Little Guy was rapping in the back seat again. He does it often enough to make Super Tall Guy snap “shut up” more often than I like. I love hearing him play with words and sounds. I love listening to the boys experiment. And so I bite my tongue when I’ve had a long day and am tired of noise. And I shush the eldest to give space to the learning.

Last week, these were the words:

I got no money

I got no money

I got no job

I got no home

 

Help me

Help me

Please help me

Cuz I got no money

 

All I got is this piece of cardboard

Cardboard

All I got is cardboard

And I’ll recycle it

But can you give me some money

I got no money

 

Please help me

Won’t you help me.

 

“What does he know about poverty?” asked the ophthalmologist as I mentioned this song that was created on the drive to his 6-month eye check-up.

What does he know? We drove past a man holding a sign as we traversed a poorer section of town and I answered the Little Guy’s question.

No, he doesn’t understand the complexity of poverty. He doesn’t understand how people and institutions with power oppress over 45 million Americans. He doesn’t understand that kids go to bed hungry every night just miles from his home. He doesn’t understand that families don’t have running water and don’t play in the bathtub with goggles on their face any time they want to like he does. He doesn’t understand inequality and disparity. He doesn’t understand that the color of his skin will play a bigger role in how people approach him than the words that come from his mouth and the thoughts that come from his mind.

He doesn’t understand that life will beat people down. He doesn’t understand that the feelings of scarcity created by experiencing poverty in and of itself will alter the brain in such a way as to keep people in poverty. He doesn’t understand that the man holding the sign does not want to stand in the hot sun and humble himself to beg for money from people who might roll down their window and toss a couple dollars in his cup.

But he does understand that the man is asking for help. And there is something inside the heart of the Little Guy that hears that plea and responds to that plea. His innocence and youth allow him to connect on a real level with a man on the street, uninhibited by all the conflicting “science” of the “best” way to help people.

What I want him to understand about poverty is that it doesn’t have to be this way. What I want him to do is hold onto his heart and his innocence and develop the skills he needs to change the world.

“You really can change the world if you care enough.” ~ Marian Wright Edelman

Effective Immediately

“’Effective Immediately’ can be your team name,” replied a mom recently. I had just explained to her that I have this sense that any time I receive an email or a note in my mailbox from any “community” to which we belong that begins with the words, “Effective Immediately,” or “It has come to our attention…,” it can pretty much be assumed that my boys played some role in this new “policy.”

“Effective Immediately, children must now be supervised in the play area…” Community Pool.

“It has come to our attention that children are riding bikes in the street….” Townhome Community. Let’s be serious. It’s not really a street; it’s more like a parking lot road to the end of the row of townhouses. And it is already posted as “10 mph,” so maybe if you enforced the speed limit with the adults, there would be fewer near-misses of cars and kids on bikes.

My boys are not complete hooligans, but let’s face it, they are boys. They do enjoy removing large boxes from the recycling dumpster and building forts. They have been known to unwind a whole role of duct tape around a couple trees out back and then get distracted by the next game. They particularly enjoy careening down the slope of one parking area to see if they can keep the turn at the end tight enough to miss parked cars but not tight enough that they spill over onto the asphalt (smart guys). And they do march around with their shirts off and their Nerf guns in the ready position, like a reenactment of Lord of the Flies. They are boys – active, busy, exploring, socializing, negotiating, testing their limits.

It’s such a balance as a parent between hovering over them to make sure they don’t get too banged up and letting them figure out who will be captain of the adventure crew versus who is picking up the trash; who steers the swivel cart and who holds on for dear life; who chooses the next activity and who follows along. They climb, they jump, they roll, they speed, they play (and apparently they have jumped off the roof of my sister’s house onto the temptingly waiting trampoline below too!).

To me, the generated “policies” and “notices” hint at the loss of the “community,” the “village,” that used to surround parents in the neighborhood. Instead of Ms. So-and-So down the street just yelling at my boys if they were doing something stupid, she now sends me a text and tells me what they did. Instead of Mr. So-and-So just grumping, “Get off my yard,” he complains to management and every townhome with a human under 5-feet-tall gets a reprimanding notice.

Is it a shift in people turning more inward and taking less responsibility over others? Is it a shift in parents being more protective and getting upset if other people encroach on their boundaries of parenting? Is it a lack of engagement or a calculation of potential liability?

I feel like I have to practically beg people to be my village. Yell at my kids – they’re going to listen to you more than to me anyway! I want my boys to develop independence and take risks, but also learn respect and responsibility. I want them to know that others have expectations for them as well and that there is a community that surrounds them and cares about them. As I search for a new home for us, I’m also searching for that community; one that is not reprimanding the parents, but actually joining in the difficult task of raising up the next generation.

 

 

 

 

 

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!