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!

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Screeching into the Preteen Years

It was a very quick decision placing (way too many) hundreds of dollars on my credit card to purchase a plane ticket for Super Tall Guy. His aunt and her three boys were leaving five days from that Saturday to visit family in California. She thought his presence might be a helpful “buddy” to her oldest son as they are both early morning risers, love to spend more time in the water than her younger two, and are generally more similar in personality. Super Tall Guy thought it would an exciting time. I thought it would be amazingly quiet without his intense energy for a week.

I think we all were right. What I didn’t think about, though, was how to define communication expectations for him. After texting him for four days and not getting a response (except for one app purchase request which was flatly denied by me), I decided to give him a call. I was driving back from a presentation hours away from home and my sister handed him the phone. Pretty sure there wasn’t even a “hello,” before he said, “I don’t want to talk to you. Leave me alone.”

“Son, I haven’t talked to you for four days. I miss you.”

“Leave me alone,” he grumped.

“You’re not serious.”

“Leave me alone.”

Displaying all 47 years chockfull of maturity, I snapped, “Fine. Goodbye” and hung up.

Then I burst into tears. What had I done wrong? How could my son not want to talk to his mother? Doesn’t he miss me at all? Does he hate me?

I was miserable the whole way home. My sister texted, “Don’t worry about it.” My best friend said, “Yep, that’s just the way these boys are.” (Her boys are eleven and thirteen.) But I was heartbroken.

And then “sad-mad.” It’s one of my favorite expressions from the movie Home. It just captures human emotion so well. I went from sad to mad in minutes. How could he not talk to me?!? Didn’t I just spent way too much money to send him out there?!? How could he be so disrespectful?!? What an ungrateful child.

mat-2-17He knew he was in trouble the next day when I picked them up from the airport. “Sorry,” he muttered. He handed over his iPod when I informed him that since he couldn’t use it as the communication tool it’s supposed to be, he’d have to separate from it until he figured out communication! 😉  He lay in bed that night explaining that he didn’t mean to be rude. He just didn’t know he was “responsible” for talking to his mom. Amazingly, I pointed out, he was able to communicate with his best friend during his trip. There were plenty of texts sent to another person’s device.

And then it hit me. Eric Erikson was right. Super Tall Guy was screeching into the “Industry (competence) vs. Inferiority” stage in which the peer group becomes more important to the child than the parent perspective. He may be ready to enter this stage, but his mom isn’t yet. 

Not only was he changing his focus in communicating, but he had also learned “independence” in bedtime during his trip away. Instead of listening to me drone on and on while reading, he now would rather listen to music. While I can’t begrudge the sudden “free” time I find in the evening, I miss those quiet moments of “Read Mom!” and sharing books together. Now I’m wondering how I will ever get book seven of the Harry Potter series read! 

It’s one thing to have a PhD in Developmental Psychology and to have learned all the stages in fine detail, but it’s another thing to be living them and trying to figure out how to best love my boys through each stage into adulthood, responsibility, independence, competence, self-assurance, wisdom and respect.

It’s a work in progress, but I think I’m learning a lot more than they are.

The Power of Pixels

(Wow – somehow time got away and I haven’t written for awhile, despite the fact that there are 4-5 “posts” running through my head and drafted in some form or another. An article I read today prompted me to finish up this one!)

It wasn’t until I looked up that I realized what I had been doing. I was idly scrolling through something on my phone and looked up to find that I was in the presence of my boys but not in the present. A very small flicker, a short reflection, a moment in time when I was not connected with them. Nothing bad had happened while I wasn’t paying attention, but that was the point. I wasn’t paying attention. Do my boys know that I’m not paying attention?

When they were younger and “smart phones” were new, I definitely made sure that I was focused on them (the kids, not the phones). Of course, there was also much more to pay attention to – the first step, the tip of the plate of spaghetti onto the floor, the endless bedtime routine, the careening down the wooden stairs, the first two-wheel bike ride. Yet as they all approach school age, my focus has drifted and I am less attentive and more distracted by something that easily slips from my pocket to my hands.

Today the boys lounged on my sister’s couch for a couple hoursscreen creating and blowing up each other’s structures in Minecraft with a mixture of joy, frustration, and plenty of noise. They would have continued much longer had we not kicked them out to the pool. As we walked over, I thought about my discontent with their “need” for screen and yet my clear modeling of the use of a screen for me. They swim. I look at my screen. They create Indiana Jones adventure routines. I look at my screen (until they’re ready to perform, that is).

This is not to say that I need to be “attending” to them at all times. If we pay too much attention to kids, they have no space or time to learn to entertain themselves and develop skills and confidence. I certainly let my boys spend tons of time out of my line of sight and out of my ready input into their activities. The question is, am I showing the boys that I am spending my time wisely or am I modeling ways to “waste” time and attention with short blurbs and snippets of culture.

Sitting in a local coffee shop to squeeze in some work before a meeting the other day, my eyes wandered to the preschool girl in the chair nearby. The mother’s friend was engaging her in a conversation (“when does school start? Is your daddy working today”) while looking down at her own cell phone instead of the child. While the adult brain knows that it can multi-task the response to the text and attend to the answers of a little girl, what is the girl’s perspective? Does she know she is only getting a fraction of the attention? What is the adult modeling to her?

So how can I fault my boys as they start to show more hunger for screens? The power of pixels captures the eye and the brain. The problem is, more and more research is showing just how powerful and damaging that screen can be for the brain. In fact, a recent New York Times article referred to it as “digital heroin.” It is addictive and can interfere with engagement with other facets of life and most importantly with relationships with others.

Time to change. Time for me to put down my little addiction and pick up a book (or that board exam material I should be reading). Time to talk to my little guys a bit more about why I restrict their screen time (and it’s not because I’m “Mean Mommy”).  Time to think more and be more conscientious and get around to instituting that Game Night weekly. It’s going to be a continuous challenging battle, but it’s one I must fight. Wish me luck 🙂

 

 

 

 

Thank Goodness the Last Day Approaches!

Another school year coming to a close. I’m probably a little more excited than the kids! Super Tall Guy quietly mentioned this morning, “I feel bad for you, Mom.” Thinking he might be remorseful for having woken me up in a very annoying manner, I replied, “Why’s that?” He answered, “Because you have to keep going to work all summer and don’t get to just stay home.” So very true. So very sad.

But despite going to work during the day, I will have much less work at home in the evenings! I will no longer make a turkey and provolone on “white” bread (PB&J goes on “brown” bread) every evening and ponder what else to throw in the lunch box. Puppy is going to miss the crumbs from this daily event, but I sure won’t!

I will no longer call boys in from the neighborhood baseball game (“But it was just my turn to bat!!”) to do homework. I will no longer have to supervise homework progress, erase mistakes and require correction, and unfurl rage-crumbled papers and smooth them out to begin again. I will not be collecting quart-sized containers of yogurt, washed and labeled to take in for class experiments. I will not run back into the house for the cello every Monday morning and worry about it on Tuesday as well. I will not stress about who has which afterschool program and who’s going to be picking them up today.

And, I am thrilled to avoid the daily review of the double behavioral charts of the first grader and the need to sign-off on the “smiley-face, frownie-face chart” (later converted to the “positive star chart”) as well as the green-yellow-red calendar square requiring my initials, not to mention the occasional “super bad behavioral slips” received by the first grader. I will not receive a phone call about detention in a 6-year-old for at least the next three months. And, I will no longer lay awake at night pondering why Mr. Ornery has had such an extraordinarily ornery year and what would be a better way to help him.

Super Tall Guy in his early morning lull this morning also whispered,

Apparently I might have accidentally recycled some homework before I should

Apparently I might have accidentally recycled some homework before I should

“I might even miss school this time.” That was a shock! He actually enjoyed third grade. He enjoyed his teacher. He got along with his classmates. He made tremendous improvement in developing responsibility and taking on the role of a student. He surprised me numerous times with information about which project was due when and “I probably should do a few questions tonight, Mom, so that I don’t have a whole bunch to do the day before.” Huh. His IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting took about thirty minutes. (“Making progress.” “Doing well.” “Keep it up” ….slight tweaks….done!).

Mr. Ornery’s IEP meeting took about three hours and we wrapped it up when we realized kids were being dismissed at the end of the day and my two were waiting in the office. If you think parent-teacher conferences are exhausting, try a whole afternoon with a table full of education staff – principal, learning support teacher, reading specialist, speech therapist, primary teacher, school psychologist – going over in fine detail all the “issues” your child is “struggling” with, the biggest of which is “school.”

Mr. Ornery does not like school. Mr. Ornery is not a “student.”  Mr. Ornery is a class clown. Mr. Ornery acts out. Mr. Ornery rushes through his worksheets because he wants to have them “done” so he can go outside for recess. Mr. Ornery asks whether he got on red the day before so that he can figure out if he’ll get outside for recess today. Mr. Ornery doesn’t want to sit still. Mr. Ornery wants to smell his smelly-markers. Mr. Ornery does not want to be in school.

Mr. Ornery does not have any intellectual or learning disabilities according to all the evaluations. Mr. Ornery has “other health impairments” affecting his learning. So Mr. Ornery now has a “positive reinforcement” IEP to help him make gradual progress toward the goal of being a good student – sitting in his seat, taking his time and putting his full attention to his work. Mr. Ornery’s IEP states he needs to have frequent structured break times. My greatest triumph is that the IEP prohibits taking away recess as a “consequence” of behavior. His first-grade teacher sighed and muttered under her breath at that, but it makes no sense to take away active gross motor time for an active kid and take away the physical activity that will prime his brain to learn more for the afternoon.

It took a very long time to walk through the template for the IEP and make decisions about goals and how progress would be measured. Having some background in education and psychology and medicine, I felt I was keeping up pretty well until we got to the question of whether to keep him in a “regular” classroom all day, or pull him into a “learning support” room for most of the morning for the language arts. So much new jargon and arguments for and against each situation and then the room turned to me and asked, “So what’s your decision?” “Oh, you don’t have to make it right away – the sooner the better – but you can think about it for a few days.” And I replied, “What am I thinking about again?” Done. By that point, I was done. I couldn’t figure out if they were the experts and knew what they were doing, or if I was the expert and knew what we should be doing. All I could think about was what a huge responsibility this was to figure out by myself and how do people who have less formal education and training in this arena advocate for their children?

“Of course,” says the learning specialist, “all this may change if Mr. Ornery comes back as a different kid next year.” I mean, he could come back as a “Tom” or “Jerry.” But I’m pretty sure the “suggestion” was if his mom gets him a diagnosis of ADHD and gets him on a stimulant. Maybe that would solve the issue of “school.”

Yes, I sure am looking forward to the summer break. But I’m not sure any of these “issues” are going to disappear this summer. “Four more sleeps” and then this year is done!

A letter sent

He shoves his way into our space, barreling as if he could open up a path by sheer determination and wrath. My glasses shift askew as The Little Guy ricochets into my hunched body attempting to tie the shoes of Mr. Ornery. One should not have entryways so small. One should not have massive frustrated boys.

Face on fire, I stand against my enemy. I grab at his shirt and shove him back. He stumbles over one of many scattered shoes. “Just stop,” I yell. Just stop.

There is no space.

There is no room.

There is no breath.

We stare each other down. Until we can breathe again. Until we can hug again.

A firm grip that says, “I’m sorry.”

 

There are good days and bad moments. There is much joy and much pain. It hurts my soul to see how powerful the rage is and how powerless I am against it in the moment. Each time we get better and I learn and try to teach him, yet deep inside I so often wish we did not have to go through these battles. I wail, “why does he have to be so hard?”

Yet these battles fuel me to try to figure out how to help these boys. They intensify my ferocity in defending their very nature and core. They push me to learn more and try to support more.

While acknowledging that I am challenged by trying to deal with Super Tall Guy’s intensity, I sometimes give no grace to others who struggle with it as well. Might I be holding them to higher standards? Might I be expecting too much from them as if holding a degree or years of experience teaching other children should have prepared them adequately for these boys? Maybe we all need more grace in figuring this out together.

I never sent the Open Letter to the Coach at my son’s gym. I paused and gave it some space. Instead I sent him this letter today:

I wanted to let you know that I could tell you were frustrated with my boys at the Halloween Party and I’m sorry about that. I know that they get wild when excited and feed off the energy of others.

I don’t know, though, if you know that these boys have some special needs. They aren’t physical that you could see, like a limp, but it’s within the brain as a result of prenatal injuries and stress on a forming brain. My sister and I committed to adopting and raising children who had been abandoned and we are always so grateful to find help and support in others.

To me gymnastics is an excellent sport for boys like mine because it works on developing self-awareness, self-control and self-discipline and a healthy, fit body. It teaches them to tone down the “dysregulation” that is within. And what makes that work is awesome male role models who are willing to teach and coach, like you!

So I thank you for being Coach to my boys. Hopefully they will continue to progress and one day we will all look back with pride and say “Wow! Look how far these guys have come!”

Because maybe, just maybe, this “village” that it takes to raise these kids is learning and growing together and is not always perfect. But we will only get to success by forgiving, encouraging and working together.

 

An Open Letter to the Coach at my Son’s Gym

Interestingly, Facebook just popped up “memories” of last year’s gymnastics Halloween party as I was writing this post and considering copying it into an email to the owner. Sadly, this year’s memories are of a much different flavor. Maybe I’m over-reacting. Let me know.

Dear Coach,

I am struggling with feeling so unhappy about how you treated my son during the Halloween Party at the gym last weekend. Yes, he was being loud and silly, wrestling IMG_3720with his cousin, as they got off the mat after the costume parade. But as he had rolled right over to my feet, I was about to correct his behavior when your booming voice and harsh tone sent my little four-year-old panicking into my arms. I comforted him and reminded him that he needs to be quiet, sit and listen, but I was a little surprised at your tone. When the owner of the gym came over to see why he was sobbing and if he needed encouragement to engage in the fun activities, I told her we were just taking a break, but the truth was that he was trembling and needed to calm down.

Later when you returned upstairs and said to me, “Your boys are being too wild,” I wasn’t sure exactly what you were referring to. However, I didn’t get a chance to dialogue about it as you shortly thereafter yelled once more at my Little Guy. Having just exited the bounce house, he was unaware that you had proclaimed the tumble track off limits. Had you held your tongue, I would have walked over to my son and explained to him that that equipment was not to be used and we would have found another activity. Instead, it was clear to me that my family had been targeted in your mind as “trouble” and we weren’t going to have a good experience anymore. You certainly did not raise your voice to any other children or families – only mine and my sister’s boys. So, I gathered up my guys and we left early.

You see, my children may look like “normal” children and they often act like “normal and active” little boys, but deep inside the brain there is a shift in the neurotransmitters and the neuronal connections which leaves them struggling with hyper-reactivity and very poor impulse control. It’s not a physical disability that you might see and have empathy for, it’s a mental one and clearly you have no empathy for a condition that occurred before they were born. But it is precisely for this reason that I have my boys enrolled in gymnastics, to teach them the skills of strength and self-confidence and self-control, all of which your employing gym espouses so frequently. Yet, your direct and harsh yelling shatters the self-esteem, demeans the child and breaks the spirit.

Furthermore, your rapid discipline of my children when I am right there takes me out of the equation. I’m not sure if you think me too permissive or incompetent at parenting, but your actions were completely disrespectful. When my children are in class with you, then you have the authority. When they are at an event with me, I hold the authority. Unless they are in danger of hurting themselves or someone else, then it is my responsibility to handle their behaviors.

Here’s what I expect of a teacher and a coach – someone who treats all people with respect and dignity. Someone who encourages a child to do their best and reach new goals. Someone who celebrates hard work and dedication. Someone who models what it means to be a strong, competent athlete and decent human being. Someone who works with the family to reach out to kids with unique developmental “challenges” and develop self-confidence, increase self-esteem, and develop sportsmanship. If you are unable to be that great coach, then we will find someone who can.

Please let me know.

Thank you,

A tremendously disappointed mother

 

My Three Little Hearts

Mr. Ornery comes by his nickname very respectfully. He earns it almost every day. You might even call him Mr. Mischievous. Mr. Where Did You Say the Line was Drawn? Mr. Rascall. He drives me absolutely nuts. He’s gorgeous with tight brown ringlets. His lower lip is slightly fuller than his upper and curls into a delicious smile. His body is toned and athletic. He giggles when you tickle him.

And he talks back. He loves to throw rocks. He barrels down hillsides on a flimsy plastic Big Wheeler. He jumps the speed bump on his Razor scooter. He is a daredevil. He attacks life and attacks it hard.

And I worry about him. We drove home the other night from Super Tall Guy’s baseball game and reviewed the preceding couple hours in which I had to curb Mr. Ornery’s behaviors several times. We got to the topic of misbehaving so much that other people, complete strangers, start to tell you to stop doing whatever you’re doing. I start down the thread of if you’re not listening to your Mom, then other people will step in. Super Tall Guy brings up that eventually “the police will come and take you to jail.”

Of all three of my boys, the middle one, Mr. Ornery, carries that highest risk. And it pains me.

After they crashed from their “I’m so tired, I’m obnoxious” highs into snoring slumbers, I sat down to catch up a little on the last season of Scandal. That was probably not a good idea as the episode was about a teenager shot by police. A brown body in the streets guarded fiercely by a grieving father. And the love of this father and all that the father had done to protect his son touched my soul…. and yet there he was…gone. I wept.

When they are born, you carry them and cuddle them. You meet their every need and you think this little bundle is perfection. You think about how this angel will grow and live and change the world someday. You delight in the dreams and the potential. You burst with pride and inexplicable love. You don’t realize at that moment that one day they will throw rocks at the neighbor’s lawn chairs just for fun.zoo

You can’t imagine them turning to drugs or alcohol and dropping out of college to go to rehab. You can’t even imagine them locked behind bars. You never dream of them dead.

When your heart and your soul are walking around in some other little being, you fear the decisions they might make, and you weep.

Each and every day, I say to these boys: My job is to love you and protect you. And every decision I make, whether you like it or not, is based on those two principals. Always and forever and no matter what, I will love and protect.

My three little hearts

Come closer

Stay nearer

Listen and learn

My little men.

Your Mama loves you so

Be good to my heart.