Repaired Windshield, Shattered Relationships: Another Weekend of Tears

The windshield was repaired this past week (review of that story), but I had to make a tough decision that I really didn’t want to. It was the second Friday in a row of kids crying and Mom crying. The second Friday of sobbing on the couch after the boys went to bed. The second week of cycling through shock and numbness and sadness and wondering why this parenting “gig” has to be so hard sometimes.

I had to let the sitter go. She’s been with our family for three years. She’s a part of our family and the kids are a part of hers. But around 3:30 on Friday afternoon I got a call from a friend who asked, “Where is your sitter? Or who is picking up the boys after school? I see the younger two playing here on the school playground, but I don’t see your sitter. I started to drive away with my kids then turned and came right back.” Asking her to stay there and keep an eye on my 7 and 9-year-old boys, I called the sitter. She left the boys at the playground (“there were other people there”) because Super Tall Guy really wanted to be taken home.

She left my boys.

In shock, I said, “You can’t leave the boys alone! Those kids are the most precious things in the world to me. What if one of them fell off the monkey-bars, split his head open and died….alone? What if someone walked by and took off with one of them? What if you got in an accident as you drove and then they are hanging out at the playground for hours wondering where you are?”

She arrived to pick them up as I communicated with the other mom again how I appreciated her taking care of my boys. I got home as soon as I could. I wrote out her weekly check and told the sitter it wasn’t going to work out anymore. She had done this once before a couple months ago. I had talked with her then. Then she had left the 7-year-old at the playground in our community once for a few minutes while she ran to the school to pick up the middle kid because “he was playing with the other kids and wouldn’t listen to me when I called him. What did you want me to do – go over there and drag him to the car?” Yes.

This time, I flipped out. I couldn’t bear the thought of my kids being in danger. She wasn’t intentionally hurting them. She just wasn’t thinking through the potential dangers. And she wasn’t assigning another adult to hold the responsibility of the kids in her absence. She loves the boys. She doesn’t want to make any of them angry or disappointed. Yes, I understand that, I said. But, their safety is first priority. Whether they are “happy” is a bit lower down the line of concern. And trying to protect the boys, mostly from their own rash decisions as well as from other people’s decisions, is a huge challenge as a parent.

Another huge challenge of parenting is managing your own emotions while also scaffolding those of your children. The role is complicated with multiple children who have different personalities, different types of emotional processing, and need different help with managing their emotions based on their developmental stage and individual abilities.

Super Tall Guy doesn’t care. “That was stupid,” he says and walks off. Mr. Ornery says, “Aw, that’s sad. What’s for dinner?” The Little Guy crawls into my arms, shaking as he sobs. I reassure him that we love the sitter, we’re still friends, we can still visit, but it’s Mommy’s job to always, always make sure my boys are safe.

In the past couple of days, the weight has just hung on me and the tears are easily present. The Little Guy asks about her often and before falling asleep the next day, he said to me, “But Mommy, everyone makes mistakes. Why can’t you give her another chance?”  Yes, I replied, we all make many mistakes every single day, but there are some big mistakes that are super important. Keeping you safe is super important.

And we cried together again.

 

 

 

 

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Broken Windshields and Digital Detox: Handling Mother’s Day

It was not a good morning. A wet t-shirt whack to the middle child’s arm left him in tears and left the eldest arguing about the subjective experience of pain. My attempt to explain this subjectivity was unwanted factual information at a time of emotional distress which escalated the issue. Before long, TV remotes were flying, pillows were flying and by the time the baseball helmet was about to be launched toward the sliding-glass doors, I took him down.

I give the boy credit for moving into submission rather than fighting back with all his might as he outweighs me by at least twenty or thirty pounds now. But we drove to school with me emotionally exhausted. As they jumped out of the car, tears welled as I texted a friend: “It’s so hard when people tell you how mature and wonderful Super Tall Guy has become and they don’t have to see the shit that he gives me at home.” Over and over again.

He pops into school and does well all day, while I carry around a heavy heart. Because his loss of control seems more intense lately, I eventually decided to call for an intake appointment for psychiatric/therapy services. It’s been on my mind, you know, every time he flips out and then I say, “Well, he’s calmed down again.”  But I worry about the emotional toll on myself, the toll on him to deal with uncontrolled anger again and again, and the toll on the younger brothers emotionally and sometimes physically.

After school he wasn’t much better. I arrived home with The Little Guy (after learning that since a cavity was filled in the same tooth eleven months from the last time, insurance wouldn’t cover it and I’d be paying $175) to find Super Tall Guy running out to my car to say, “I’m sorry for hurting Mr. Ornery.” Sigh. Apparently a discussion had gone awry about who got the “best” placement for the Mother’s Day gifts they brought home from school. Mr. Ornery’s loss left a scratch on his back.

My consequence of banning him from visiting his aunt’s house where Awesome Cousin had just arrived from the West Coast was met with upturning the video/CD shelving. I took the younger brothers over while Super Tall Guy cleaned up the mess. Expecting him to have turned the corner, we went over to my sister’s as well.

The evening seemed to go smoothly and given the beautiful weather, I worked on cleaning my car while the boys rode bikes on the street. I heard but didn’t see the crash that sent my 7-year-old nephew onto the pavement as he swerved to avoid Super Tall Guy lying in the middle of the road. His full-face helmet offered important concussion and teeth protection, but his lack of a shirt resulted in brush burns to back and shoulder. Comforting the young one, I let Awesome Cousin chat with Super Tall Guy about his poor decision.

We soon left for home and just a few hundred feet down the road, I reiterated how dangerous it is to get in the way of young kids riding on the street. Super Tall Guy was not in the mood to hear more about his mistake. Embarrassment leads to anger. Remember that. Embarrassment leads to anger. He picked up his feet and kicked the windshield – causing a brilliant star-shaped shatter. Shocked, I pulled over to the side of the road and just sat there for a couple minutes crying “I can’t do this anymore.” Super Tall Guy cried in sadness and despair. The Little Guy cried out of fear at the intensity of the emotions around him. Mr. Ornery must have been wondering what all the fuss could possibly be about as he didn’t notice the cracked windshield until the next morning.

Walking into the house a few minutes later, Super Tall Guy collapsed onto the couch and fell asleep as I took the dog for a short walk. I gave The Little Guy a tight squeeze as I reassured him that his mom had this. “I’m strong. I got this. Don’t you worry. I’m going to help your brother.” Kissing Mr. Ornery good night, I talked about the many reasons people cry but he seemed unconcerned other than hoping that his cousin would be feeling better soon.

Then I sat on the couch with a bowl of Ben & Jerry’s and let the shock fade.

This is Mother’s Day weekend. This is the boy that first “made” me a mother. This is my love. And yet I struggle so hard to parent him. The emotional toll is huge. The physical burden gets overwhelming. The struggle to understand what he needs and temper his anger is intense.

Reflecting on his day, I can tell that he was very tired. He was probably also reacting to a long week of dealing with consequences for behaviors last weekend that left him without his Ipod and without his laptop to play games on (the XBox has been gone for quiet awhile – that will be another story). And, I have a strong suspicion that he is “detoxing” from sustained “digital heroin” intake and experiencing a reorientation of his dopamine neurotransmitters.

Too often I have relied on electronics to keep Super Tall Guy quiet and keep his emotions at bay so that he isn’t bothering his brothers. But time spent in this digital reality hasn’t been teaching him how to deal with the typical everyday annoyances of having younger brothers. It’s going to take years and years to learn that, I’m sure.

The day after his explosions he spent a couple hours doing “community service” for his aunt. He spent hours playing with his brothers and cousins. And, after an hour of TV and then a tantrum about how he “needed” more, he and I started a game of Monopoly before bed.

I remind myself that detox is not easy. I am going to need a lot of patience and friend support as Super Tall Guy and I go through this, I’m pretty sure.

And, I remind myself that this parenting gig is not easy.

But it is oh so worth it.

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

 

And Then There Were Water Beads…

“Hey, want to be Doctor and Nurse again for the kids’ science fair night?” I asked a friend a couple weeks ago. A few days later she sent me directions (so thankful) for creating a demonstration of blood using water beads as the red blood cells, ping pong balls as the white blood cells and pieces of red foam to be the platelets. Looked easy enough. Amazon delivered the supplies a few days later and I left them in the box until they were needed.

Chomping on some salad a couple hours before heading to the science fair, I pulled up the instructions on my phone to start getting ready. “Hmm…water beads….” I opened the box and read their instructions. “Soak in water for 6 to 24 hours.”  &!@$!!! But then I remembered many science lessons by my mother when I was young about the power of heat and soaked those tiny pellets in hot hot water!!  It was amazing to watch them grow!

Hours later, my friend and I were swamped by kids coming to play with our bucket of “blood.” Kids would stand there for 5-10 minutes just letting the little beads roll through

Bucket of “blood”

their hands. Some were semi-interested in learning about blood, but really, they just wanted to squish beads between their fingers. We even encouraged all the parents to put their hands in and the expressions on their faces were priceless. We witnessed awe, delight, relaxation, and sheer surprise that the beads weren’t “slimy.” I stood there as a perfect spokesperson (for Amazon!), “Don’t you think you need some of these in your house?” “Wouldn’t it be so relaxing?” “Excuse, Mr. Principal of this school. Don’t you think you should have a bucket of these in the office next week for the kids as they work on their PSSAs? A chance to relax and de-stress while they are filling in endless bubble exams?”

The entire next day, Super Tall Guy sat on the couch running his fingers through a bucket of water beads as he watched TV. I’d turn and see him letting them slip around his hands, squishing and squeezing them. I thought about how wonderful it was to see my boy who often has so much trouble regulating his intense emotions sitting so calmly and relaxing with this sensory stimulation. It seemed like a perfect item.

Except that all “perfect” things, in a household of boys, have a downside!  You can order a pack of 15,000 tiny beads and still have fights over even division of items among three boys! You can give all the warnings you want about keeping them in the buckets (and even outfit all the containers with snapping lids) and still you will find them all over the floor. (The vacuum worked, though!)

 

I don’t know whether I love these things or hate them. It’s only been 48 hours, so the jury is still out on whether these are a “helpful” experience for the boys. I can keep you updated.

But I can tell you that I haven’t ordered the “water bead gun” yet on Amazon and I sure haven’t informed the boys of its existence!!

 

A Climbing Wall: The Art of Parenting

“I need you to check in with me,” I said to the 9-year-old as he placed his foot on a ledge on the climbing wall. “I am what keeps you alive.”

In the boys’ endless quests for adventure, the climbing wall at the gymnastics facility was their next journey. There was fun and challenge to be had on the walls and in the attempt to swing up into a little “cave,” but the greatest fun was to descend into the pit, hook up to a harness, and scale the wall. My job was to belay them. My job was to keep them safe, to keep them alive.

This was a new adventure for me as well. I had no experience in belaying and it’s been way too long since I’ve tied any knots in Girl Scouting (“Form a guy, give him a tie, poke him in the eye.” – viola! – a figure-8 knot). I realized as a stood back, craning my neck, watching my fearless boy climb straight up that there was a great deal of learning happening in a short period of time.

Mr. Ornery was learning strategy of placement of hands and legs. With encouragement from the two men who climb each week, he was learning to focus on his legs to push him up higher. He was also learning to listen to others (even if he had just met them) who had more experience and thus could give him some guidance. If he could reflect deep enough, he was learning to respect his elders.

He was also learning to trust himself and develop confidence. The first couple times, the wall with an overhanging cliff loomed against his skill. Several attempts later, he fought to keep his toes in the footholds and extend his arms high enough to get the next rock. Scrambling over the edge, he shot to the top to ring the bell and joyously called out, “I did it.”

He was learning to trust his mother. “You sure you got me?” he’s asked several times as he reaches far up to the top. He knows he’s high enough that a fall would be devastating. He knows he’s connected to a rope, but he’s not so sure that rope is secure. He knows the rope is connected to me, but he’s not so sure this system is going to work. So, I remind him that he’s safe. I remind him that his mom has him. I remind him that he checked in with me at the start so that we’re in this together – he’s ready to explore, I’m ready to catch. Just as he used to walk off as a toddler and then circle back to check that I was still there, now as an adventurous third-grader, I’m still there. I’ve got his back in this life.

As I hold the rope, I contemplate this parent stuff. I’m responsible for keeping my kids safe, but also for encouraging them to try new things. Before clicking onto the rope, we review the knots together so that my kid thinks of safety first (helmets, seat belts, paying attention – whatever it is, safety matters). Before giving advice about the next possible step, I hang back as much as I can and let him struggle for a bit. Of course, I have an answer for him because I have a different vantage point (I’m not on the wall and I’ve already had a lot of experiences in life), but some of this he needs to wrestle with and I need to hold my tongue.

I am also reminded that part of what makes this parenting gig tough is that I don’t always have all the answers and new things (like belaying) come at me all the time. The great thing is that there are others, more experienced climbers, who can provide help – check the knots, teach me to hang the rope up at the end, provide soft encouragement. And there are more experienced parents who can give advice and share wisdom and provide soft encouragement when the going gets rough. There’s no way I could do this without them (and I’m looking for them as we approach the teen years!).

So, I’m learning to say “Go for it.” I’m learning to coach my kids just a little but hang back as much as I can so that they can figure it out. I’m learning to let others mentor and teach them skill sets that I don’t have. I’m learning to support but not hover. I’m learning to figure out what makes each boy tick and what they need on their journey. I’m learning the outward expression of the love withing.

Before you venture forth, my dear sons, check in with Mom.

And I will say, “Climb on.”

Believe Me: I am Smart

It was just another rough weekday morning. The same nasty tones and words. The same tomfoolery. The same old problem of too much grumpiness, not enough independent motivation, and plenty of hurt feelings before the day gets started.

I am working so hard on the concept of “respect,” but it sure is a tough one for me and these boys. The morning quickly disintegrated into my eldest yelling, “Stupid!!” at me, and I had had enough! “Don’t you ever call me or anyone else stupid!” I exclaimed (for the millionth time).

“Actually, my dear,” I continued after one of those long dramatic pauses, “I am one of the smartest women you will probably ever meet. My IQ is in the gifted range. I not only have a college degree, but I have a PhD and an MD. On top of that, I still take evening online classes and do a lot of reading. I am a doctor and the head of an organization [small, small one…but we’re not going into details]. I am a very smart woman.”

I don’t think I’ve ever said those words out loud. I know it though. I’ve seen my resume. I’ve been told I’m smart. I’ve been told smart women are intimidating (though that doesn’t seem to apply to one’s children!). But I’ve never actually built a case for my boys about how smart I am. It doesn’t seem right to brag.

And I’m not sharing here to impress anyone, it’s just that it struck me that my boys are under constant pressure to compare themselves to the opposite gender. They learned, “Boys rule and girls drool” around the age of three at the day care center. They happily proclaim “girls are so bossy and annoying” and “girls are stupid and weak” as they progress through elementary school. They hear people say “Don’t let a girl beat you” in sporting events, as I overheard just this week. They have so much peer influence trying to make them feel superior – on top of the natural self-absorption of this age range!

I am working to counter that. I intentionally try to stop myself from making gender-based generalizations. I try to model truth and goodness, strength and kindness, integrity and faith, and the importance of hard work.

The other night, Super Tall Guy and I chatted before he fell asleep. He mentioned that a neighbor boy said he couldn’t do something because his mom just lay on the couch most evenings. Super Tall Guy pointed out, “You never just lie around on the couch, Mom.” I agreed. “Yes. It’s important to me to take care of you boys and the house. I do some work in the evenings many times so that I can be available during the day when needed for you guys,” I replied. “But I do take the weekends off, don’t I?” I explained (thank you, Netflix!). I’ve learned so much from my incredibly industrious amazing mother and other strong women role models in my life. My goal is to show my boys the value of hard work and respect for the work that others do. My goal is to show them that women can and do make tremendous contributions to society.

I try to find examples of equality through picking movies wisely that show women “saving the day” and not just men all the time (loved Frozen for that!). I have read “Paper Bag Princess” numerous times to the boys. I look for books with strong female characters. I try to be intentional.

There are so many things that these boys of mine are going to learn by looking at my example. There are so many more things that they will learn from peers and social media and entertainment and the culture around them. And there are some things that I just need to say out loud so they understand. Mommy is smart!

Just maybe….some day… maybe they will listen!

 

 

 

 

The Masks We Wear

My house is dotted with photos. Smiling boys. Smiling mom. I absolutely adore these boys. I love them to the core. I so want to help them grow into amazing men. I want what is best for them. I am their voice and their advocate. I pour a lot of time and energy into them. A lot of time and energy.

I am an “amazing” “incredible” woman, so many say. Yet, I have taken on the responsibility of raising three boys by simply walking one foot in front of the other by faith into this. I head to work with composure. I frequently write about my boys and their antics with an attempt at wit. I provide a listening ear and a gentle shoulder (sometimes via texts) to other tired and worn mothers. I pull it together and smile.

Yet some nights I sit on the couch and cry. “Why, Lord?” In the dark, the mask falls off. In the dark, the weary wrinkled eyes weep.

Some days are just harder than others. Some days the eldest is exhausted because he was so intent on completing “a challenge” of staying up all night that he spends the next two days irritably dealing with the consequences. He tops it off with flatly refusing to get a shower. (A preteen boy who refuses a shower for two days. Let that sink in.) Some days he flashes into rage and lunges at the middle brother with an anger and intensity that shakes me. I bring every calming nerve I can around to attention and sit in front of his face saying, “We are not doing this. We are not doing this.” Somedays, I am so completely disconnected from my eldest. I banish him to his room until he makes himself clean. I ground him for a week for the violent outburst. I refuse to enter his room at night to read to him due to the smell (though our silly dog seems to happily enjoy his company!). I am over it. I weep.

Some days Mr. Ornery completely flips out. Frustrated with a Nerf “war” gone bad, he decides to trash his room completely. In his fit of frustration, he smashes his Christmas Lego sets and empties the thousands upon thousands of Legos from sorting boxes into one large box. My heart aches as I think of all the hours we have spent building Legos together. The hours I have put into sorting Lego pieces by functionality. The hours of creating intricate buildings, cars, planes, homes. Trashed in a matter of minutes.

Some days The Little Guy just can’t stop whining. Every time he comes near, his voice screeches in a complaint about something not going his way. “Mr. Ornery hurt me.” “Why can’t I watch Batman Returns?” “Why do I have to feed the dog. I always have to feed the dog. I’m the only who ever has to feed the dog.” I send him away as his pitch is nails on my internal board. Yet at the same time I know I should be giving him a hug and chasing away his gray clouds. I should be answering his cries to connect instead of pushing him away. We are distant and I can’t find the energy to pull in.

Some days I just sit on the couch. The sting of parenting leaving me empty. The constant mess around me. The constant energy to motivate uninterested young boys. The constant noise and chaos and destruction. The constant demand for my attention.

I sit wondering if I can put the mask back on and rally another day.

Knowing that I will.

Knowing that I am not alone.

 

Knowing that God in His wisdom chose me for this one.

Knowing that it will be better in the morning when I have more energy to deal with it all (if I get to bed soon enough, that is). Knowing that the boys will feel better in the morning. Knowing that I have the support I need – my friends and family are just a call or text away.

I let the tears flow

And the peace return.

 

 

Do Not Ignore the Soft Signs (of a future school drop-out)

Sadly, kids can’t use all the words they need to help us best parent them into adulthood, but they will often give you some clues. Please do not ignore the soft signs.

The hardest, but most important, thing to me.

This week I got a call from Mr. Ornery’s homeroom teacher. He got in trouble midweek at lunch for acting out and causing a scene – the classic “attention-getting” behaviors, she said. He came home with a “behavioral slip” (which he tried to get the sitter to sign-off on so he didn’t have to show it to Mom!).

But the key thing is that as the teacher talked with him, he mentioned that his goal is to act out until he gets expelled. Who says that at third grade?  A kid who is not connected is who.

Here’s what I know now. He spends forty-five minutes with his homeroom teacher (Mrs. L) and has her for a science/social studies period. He is then in a different class for math (Mrs. R), another class for English (Mrs. K), another class for the “enrichment” time slot (Mrs. H), in other classes for specials (art, music, library, gym – 4 different teachers). On top of that, he is pulled out for “reading support” (Mrs. C) and for “speech therapy” (Mrs. T) and sees Mr. M twice a week for orchestra. Mrs. M watches him for recess/lunch (my boys seem to prefer to act out for her) and Mrs. B is the school counselor who “touches base” occasionally. When I sit with him and ask him to tell me who all his teachers are, he can’t name them all. I just listed thirteen that I can figure out and there likely are more!

This boy is eight and he is walking all over the school to different classrooms, just like a middle-school and high-school kid. And do you know what he’s doing in the hallway? He’s dragging his feet and getting to class late. He’s “hanging” out behind a door and skipping his English period completely. He’s essentially “skipping” school while within the school – at the age of eight.

So who is this kid connected to, I asked. Who at the school has the power to speak into his life when he starts to act up? Who is consistent enough to keep him grounded? To make him feel worthy? To make him feel empowered to do his best? To help him develop confidence? To help him develop a love of learning?

I asked this of his teacher. I asked this of the assistant principal the next day. We set up a meeting to review his schedule. You see, this school is apparently so focused on academics that they are frequently doing assessments and altering the students’ schedules to place them in “just the right” classes to target “just the right” academic level. They seem so pleased with this concept. So I ask, “It seems that you are targeting academics beautifully. But have you stopped to consider what this is doing to the kids social-emotionally? Have you considered how fundamental and foundational the first three years of school are? Have you thought about how important consistency is? Have you considered paying attention to the soft signs of a student who is lost in the shuffle?”

Do not ignore the soft signs. Do not ignore an eight-year-old considering ways to get himself expelled. Do not ignore a third-grader suggesting that he’d like to skip school and hang at the skatepark like the teens do. Do not let a little kid continue on a path toward truancy and drop-out because you love your academic assessments and beautiful matching of precise academic levels. Do not ignore the importance of childhood. Do not ignore the cries of my little boy.

Because I will not allow this bright child to lose his light and his potential.

He and his brothers hold my heart.