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.

 

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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

 

What are little boys made of?

Yesterday I pondered “Why don’t we let little boys be little boys anymore?”

My little boy is “misbehaving” in first grade. He is “playing in the bathroom” (no way?!? Really? He never does that at home.) He is “talking to his friends” (right – definitely a problem). He is “being silly” (Am aghast! A true offence indeed).

I mock. I mock because I struggle. I know, just as well as the teacher knows, that all of his behaviors are absolutely perfectly NORMAL six-year-old boy behaviors (and girls too!). The problem is that he is displaying these natural inclinations at all the wrong moments. Most likely when he’s supposed to silently wash his dirty little hands and line back up to return to the classroom. He’s chatting with classmates instead of sitting quietly on the rug for the Mystery Reader. He’s sputtering or spinning or bumping around when he should have both feet on the floor and tracing lowercase “h’s” for the 100th time in his short little life.

I was never a little boy. I do not understand all that goes on in my little boys’ brains. Their world is total insanity to me. They leap over couches and curl under dining room chairs. They throw each other to the ground and smack each other’s heads. They will never ever lift the seat before peeing. Rocks fall out of their pockets. Snakes slither across their hands. Boogers and blood go straight into their mouths…along with Lego pieces, plastic bottle caps, and marbles (and flower petals and miscellaneous bush berries and countless other potentially poisonous or choking hazards!).  There seems to be no rhyme or reason to their chaos or their constant energy. It is like a constant death wish thwarted by a vigilant (exhausted) parent.

But I do understand that we (as in all of us) are doing this wrong. We have exorbitant numbers of young boys with ADHD and medication to “quiet” them down.  We have young boys expelled from day care centers. Behavioral charts. “Reward systems.” Detentions, suspensions, expulsions.

Gone are the days, it seems, when they played pick-up baseball in an empty field. Gone are the adventures around the neighborhood which ended when street lights came on or the neighbor caught them red-handed. Gone are the times of recess, dodge ball and tag.

little boys

From Etsy: Expressive Sprouts

I don’t want to be stuck in nostalgia. I don’t want my boys to get hurt (too much). But I do want them to be the “boy boys” they were created to be. I want them to be silly, impish, mischievous, creative, brave, daring, strong, boisterous, adventurous, wild, rambunctious rascals.

For I know that there are precious few years for them to be boys and so little time before they are whittled into “grown-ups” who act “mature.” Oh, what to do?

Dirty fingerprints on once white walls
Purple stains on carpeted floors
Beaten and ratty leather couches
Broken knobs on unhinged doors.

 

Tennis balls behind the piano
Abandoned socks under the beds
Ripped jeans and stained pajamas
Random “treasures” under their heads.

 

Gouges on the dining room table
Rickety wiggly dining room chairs
Board game pieces strewn haphazard
Window curtains marred by tears.

 

Dirty dishes, scattered toys
This is home to three little boys.

 

(Complimentary ear plugs and hand sanitizer available at the door. Please sign your acknowledgement of the dangers inherent upon entering such a place. Alcoholic beverages available upon request, signaled by a wink and a nod. Or a scream, yelp or whimper. Whatever works best for you. Welcome to our home.)

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.

 

Baked Goods and Boys’ Behavior (and a recipe)

Tonight I made cookies again. Even though I didn’t really feel like it. I just made a batch of chocolate-chip cookies yesterday for my friend and her husband’s 40th birthday party cookie table. Several neighbors were delighted to receive the “spare” cookies yesterday and the boys nibbled on quite a few.

cookiesTomorrow a new neighbor will be receiving a plate of cookies. I never met him before, but we all did this evening. Apparently at least two out of four of the “older boys” thought it would be a good idea to “annoy the old man” and ring his doorbell and run away.  I turned to look down the street of the townhome community to see him emerge from his house and exchange words with the boys that I couldn’t hear. As he turned to come my way, yelling “whose kids are these?” I jumped up to claim them. “Well, they need to stop ringing my doorbell when I’m trying to eat. It’s annoying.” “Yes,” I agreed, “that would be.”

My sister left with her kids and I sent mine to their rooms. It is a bit difficult to get the “real story” out of them, especially when Mr. Ornery challenges me with “Well, if you’re asking for a story, Mom, then a story is not real, is it?” Sigh….

Then brilliance hit me. When you do something “mean” to someone, one of your consequences is to be “nice” to that person. (We’ve tried this a bit between brothers, but it got hard to keep finding “nice things” they needed to do.) I informed them that they would be taking a plate of cookies to said neighbor and apologize to him. They will be squirming. They hate to be embarrassed. “Super Tall Guy has to carry the plate,” says Mr. Ornery as he settles into bed. Yet, they will learn and grow. For simply “talking” to them isn’t enough. “Grounding” them isn’t powerful enough (yet, that is, when they don’t have enough to miss out on). We’ll see how it unfolds tomorrow. There could be a lot of cookies leaving our house over the next few months or maybe, hopefully, only when I feel like baking!

I was planning to post tonight about baking anyway. I asked Mr. Ornery if he wanted me to make chocolate chip cookies or Crazy Good Brownies for the neighbor. We love Crazy Good Brownies. A friend in medical school made them for me several times and I just had to have the recipe. They are delicious in batter form (especially if you lick both the chocolate batter and the cream cheese spoons at the same time!). They are incredible right out of the oven in moist, gooey chocolate-chip melting form. And they are awesome once cool (even directly from the freezer where they will stay until needed for the last-minute-what-am-I-going-to-take-into-work moments).

People love it when I bring them Crazy Good Brownies. I made them frequently for my colleagues in residency. I make them for just about every party that I’m assigned “dessert.” I make them for staff at work. I make them for game night with the cousins! I love sharing the brownies and the recipe because it’s so good to make a person smile. This contrasts one of my graduate school classmates who would not share her “secret family” recipe (can’t even remember what it was for), but really – unless you’re making millions on it in the food industry, spread a little joy!

So here’s how to make Crazy Good Brownies: (btw, my chocolate chip cookies come from the back of the Nestle chip bag with only Giant Eagle margarine and removing them from the oven just before they seem done ….though I haven’t figured out the baking quirks of this new home’s oven yet!).

Crazy Good Brownies

Preheat oven to 350.

Grease (with cooking spray) a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

Brownies

  1. Melt 2 sticks (1 cup) margarine (microwave 1 minute).
  2. Place margarine in mixer and add:
    1. 2 cups sugar
    2. 2 tsp vanilla
  3. Add 3 eggs and mix
  4. Mix in ¾ cups of baking cocoa
  5. Then add:
    1. 1 ¼ cup flour
    2. ½ tsp baking powder
    3. ¼ tsp salt
  6. Mix in 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips.
  7. Pour most of brownie mix into pan, saving out about 1 cup.

Cream Cheese Topping

  1. Whip 8 oz cream cheese in mixer.
  2. Add ¼ cup sugar.
  3. Add 1 egg and a dash of salt.
  4. Stir in ¾ cup mini chocolate chips.

Spread cream cheese topping over brownie mix. Glop spoonfuls of set-aside brownie mix onto the cream cheese topping.

Bake for 35-40 minutes (until cream cheese topping turns light brown).

Enjoy!!

 

 

 

 

Parenting Boys 101: The Cup

“You are going to wear a cup.”

His eyes went wide as his brain tried to figure out how a drinking cup was going to go on his body. We stood in the “baseball” section of Dicks Sporting Goods. His younger brothers raced around the aisles and in and out of the baseball pants neatly organized on baseball
circular hangers. They each held a $19.99 pair of red baseball gloves that they were sure Mom was going to purchase for them as soon as she finished some eye-to-eye conversation with Super Tall Guy.

“It’s called a cup. It’s protection for your balls.”

Blank stare as he contemplated how a baseball had anything to do with this and needed to be on his body.

“Super Tall Guy,” I whispered, “boys wear these shorts when they play baseball. There is a hard piece of plastic called a cup which is to protect their private area from getting hit with a ball.”

I’m NOT wearing that!” he stressed.

“Oh yes, you are.”

No way – it will make me look big down there. I don’t want to be big. People will notice.”

I laughed inwardly, “Honey, apparently guys want to be big down there” 🙂

“Now into the fitting room.”

I’m NOT trying that on.”

“Oh yes, you are. And hurry up, we’re going to be late for your second practice.”

Tell them to get out of the room.”

Right – you want me tell wild, maniac 4- and 6-year-old dudes to sit quietly outside the fitting room door (without peeking under the door)?!?  “Okay, Mr. Ornery and The Little Guy, sit here while Mom helps Super Tall Guy.”

“Now, honey…quick….put this on.”

His dark brown skin turned a nice shade of pink.

It was Friday evening, the first day of baseball practice. Shelley, the assistant coach, was taking a break and we stood together at the fence talking about boys. She has three as well, though her youngest is eleven. We commiserated a bit before I asked her what my son will “need” for baseball (and what items are “nice” but not essential for the burgeoning kid-sport budget).
  1. Cleats – right….because those are different than soccer cleats (which we have) and football cleats (so that parents can spend a fortune if kids play different sports!)
  2. Baseball pants – huh, don’t have any of those yet…
  3. Glove – got that! (birthday gift this year just for fun)
  4. Bat is not essential but most boys bring their own – got that! (from the birthday. It’s metal, it’s dangerous and has sat in a closet for months to avoid concussing other children)
  5. She didn’t mention ball cap, but from the look of the field, Super Tall Guy is the only one who’s mother can’t remember to grab one from the house!
  6. And cup. “Okay, tell me honestly about that,” I said. “Because I’m clueless.”  She laughed, “I was too.”

I love parents. I love parents of boys, especially of just boys, because they get it!  They know that the kids are dusty because they just somersaulted down the hill. They know that I just opened the minivan door in the parking lot and found the younger two buck naked in there! They know that we spent the entire beach vacation arguing over who was sitting beside whom. They know that I search for a Mute button while pointing a remote at the boys. They know that the couch pillows are torn and duct-taped together from pillow fights and couch trampoline events. They just know. And I know to turn to them and start the conversation because sometimes I need to be reminded that yes, the boys are “normal” and “going to be okay” and will “eventually grow up.”

My job is to love and encourage and protect (every inch of them) along the way!

5 Things a 5-year-old Learned in One Week!

It’s been a bit of a busy week for a certain middle child in our household. It’s hard to believe he managed to squeeze all these moments within the course of a week, but he’s a bright one and likes to concentrate his learning!

  1. When you are supposed to be playing “quietly” downstairs with your older cousin while your mother puts your brothers to bed, it is unwise to empty out your brother’s two boxes of Pokemon cards, strew them across a previously clean floor, and begin to bat at them with flashlights. It is particularly unwise if the older brother had previously spent hours (with Mom) sorting those cards into a certain order and will likely be growling when he finds out in the morning.
  1. Oranges and apples should remain in the category of “food” and not be reclassified as “sports equipment” or as “weapons” to be propelled in the general direction of other boys while Mom is outside for all of 5 minutes to walk the dog! Secondly, fruit that explodes on the floor upon impact shall now be your responsibility to dispose of properly. After all, “You make a mess – you clean the mess!”
  1. Wood is a porous material – which means nathanthat if you write on beautiful hard wood built-in drawers in the upstairs room, they will not clean off very easily….even with all your scrubbing on behest of your mother. And the fact that you penned your own name onto the wood kind of answers the question of “Who did this?” Guilty, boy. You are guilty. You are going to have to own this one.
  1. It is true that you should not bite Legos to get them apart. And I can’t begin to recount for you how many times I have alluded to this timeless truth. The fact that your bottom tooth now hurts and “wiggles” is only confirmation that Mommy is always right. And yes, if you continue to bite Legos, all your teeth will in fact fall out and you will not be able to eat ever again! “And then you die?” “Not a chance you want to take, now is it, my young child?”  (And if you want to show off to the world that you now have a “loose tooth” you might just want to add how that happened….or I sure will whenever I’m around!)
  1. And lastly, for this busy week – The f-word and the middle finger are NOT appropriate additions to your vocabulary! It doesn’t really matter “what” the word means, nor whose brother told whose brother, or even if you said it “on accident” – you just better never say it again. And it is not, let me repeat – NOT your responsibility to teach every other kid in kindergarten (at your private Christian school) and your first (and likely your last) playdate buddy that they should never raise their middle finger. I think it’s best that you just forget all of that and let some of those grown-up people do the teaching!

    Mommys poor smashed finger this week!

    Mommy’s poor smashed middle finger this week!

Now that we got that all out of the way, we should be on target for a relatively quiet week!