I need to let more mistakes happen

One of my greatest fears is the fear of failure. It’s likely what drives me so passionately toward my goals. It spurs my drive for perfection. It underlies 32 years of education and schooling. It is a fear that forces constant forward motion and yet can limit new experiences. I fear making mistakes. As I let the dog out tonight, I remembered sitting on the back stoop of my house years ago listening to a colleague in my medical practice explaining a mistake I had made in ordering a medication. The patient was okay now. She just wanted to let me know. Thankful for her honesty, I learned a great deal from that mistake.

It was too cold to go sledding. Mr. Ornery was tired and got too cold to hang in there. coldMaybe it was because he wouldn’t – or he couldn’t – stop lifting snow up to his face to savor each mouthful. Maybe it was because it was barely into the teens and the wind chill was brutal. The little guy couldn’t handle it either and I shortly declared it “time to go” despite having spent a few minutes with the neighbor kid who joined us on the hill.

Mr. Ornery sat in the snow and refused to move. Mr. Ornery threw his gloves far from himself. Mr. Ornery “walked” down the hill on his knees, plodding along at a pace that slays a parent. Mr. Ornery removed his hat, his scarf, his gloves, his coat and finally slid out of the shoulder straps of the snow pants which then rested along his ankles as he proceeded to waddle along the sidewalk.

Mr. Ornery’s mother went ballistic. She was cold. She couldn’t handle it anymore. Fingers numb, carrying sleds, repeatedly beckoning the 3-year-old to keep walking, she couldn’t stand the sight of Mr. Ornery dropping items of warmth and picking them up only to drop them again. She couldn’t stand that he was clearly being obstinate and obnoxious and ornery! Clearly.

She slammed the door shut upon entering the house. She pulled off boots and snow pants tossed them across the kitchen floor. She picked up that Mr. Ornery and held him sideways stomping all the way upstairs. Super Tall Guy and The Little Guy kept their distance….but followed the excitement to the top. Depositing him into the boys’ bedroom, Crazy Mama yelled, “You better stay in there until you can figure out how to cooperate!!” before closing the door. Like that helps.

Crazy Mama sat on the top step and sighed deeply, catching her breath. Super Tall Guy wrapped his arms around the back of her neck and said, “We all make mistakes, Mom. It’s okay.”

I wasn’t sure if he was talking about my mistake in my over-the-top response or the antics of an angry 5-year-old, but he was right. We all make mistakes and it’s okay. I opened the door.

I don’t let the boys know that often enough. I don’t make it “safe” enough for them to experience mistakes and failures. And if I don’t figure it out soon, eventually I will be instilling in them the area that I struggle with the most.

eggAnd I knew this when I moved the kitchen rug the other night. Roxy dog had really been licking at it earlier. I couldn’t figure out why. Mr. Ornery was helping me make his cake for his birthday the next day and had gotten out three eggs. Apparently, there had been a fourth egg which had tumbled to the floor and while I wasn’t looking must have been hurriedly covered up by the kitchen rug (which is still in the laundry…sigh).

Why? Because Mr. Ornery was worried that Crazy Mama would yell at him. That Crazy Mama would get mad and cart him upstairs to his bedroom on the very night that he was beyond THRILLED that she was letting him bake with her. Mr. Ornery was worried that he had made a mistake and the consequences would be too great for him to pay that time. Hiding the evidence seemed to be a better option.

I know that I want my boys to be able to make mistakes. I want them to fail and to learn. I want them to “shake it off” and move on. I want them to see that it is the joy of trying that matters. I want them to be brave. (And I want them to clean up after their mistakes too!)

I need to model that. I need to tell them about my mistakes and how I learn from them and plan to do better. I need to show them my mistakes. I need to laugh at mistakes more often. And we need to encourage each other to let our kids make mistakes. And we need to help each other be okay with kid mistakes as sometimes kids’ innocent mistakes are the spark that ends in abuse. We need to let kid mistakes be just that…an “oh man!” moment for growth and moving on.

But as Mr. Ornery wouldn’t confess to the two little piles of poop on the bathroom floor earlier today until direct questioning…it’s clearly not “safe” enough for him yet.

I’m still making mistakes. Still learning. And so are they. One great loving and learning failing family!

You must have texting friends

And you need quite a number of them because you never know who might be too busy at the moment….changing a diaper, engaged in a heated argument with a three-year-old over whether cows have four legs, locked in an endless cardgame of “War” with an eight-year-old, or actually (no way?!?) be engaged in an adult-only activity!  For when a mom is busy – a mom is busy.

But when a mom is hurting or scared or frustrated or feeling so guilty that she knows her kid will need counseling the rest of his adult life, then a mom is hurting or scared or just out of her mind. And at that moment, she needs another woman. (No doubt this applies to dads too – I just can’t speak from that experience 🙂 ).

If you’re a mom today, you must have texting friends (and your texting mom!)….because that’s how we “do it” nowadays. In other times, there were the quilting bees – sitting around an edge of a quilt, needle in hand, sharing life’s moments, passing along wisdom from one generation to the next. There were the book groups – I mean, really – who’s ever been to a book group where you actually read and discussed the book?!? There were the church women’s groups for tea and cakes. And in some developing countries, there’s the long walk to the watering hole with the empty jug and the heart full of the day’s worries.

These days, for me, it’s the text. When my heart is full, I don’t actually want to “talk” to someone….because they might notice my red, wet eyes. They might hear the crack in my voice, the sniffle of my nose. And sometimes I don’t want to talk face to face because I’m in my pajamas. And I’m home alone and the kids are sleeping upstairs. And I’m on the couch with a huge heartache. But when I send my woes out in the void, I need the return “beep” of comfort, wisdom, advice….or sometimes just “I hear you.” “It’s hard.”

Mr. Ornery has taken his namesake to an all new level. He has become that obnoxious, bratty little kid that every parent dreads and every parent wonders, “How did I create this monster?” I react and push back against his hurtful words. I demand he clean up his toys and get to bed. I grump about how “bad” his behavior is….until suddenly it dawns on me that he is speaking from a place of pain. (I’m slow at these realizations, I know, but am trying to get better.) You see, my Mommy job is to explore that pain and figure out what’s really bothering him deep in there – you know, other than the fact that he just started a new school – um, yesterday – and returned to his prior daycare center for the afternoon, and his buddy The Flipper is not around anymore, and it’s no fair that they get to stay “at the new house and he doesn’t.” I could go on and on. texts2He should be angry, sad, stressed, exhausted, tearful. So I finally get control of myself and wrap him in my arms beside his bed. I “secretly” cry enough silent tears that he finally sits up and says, “Why is my hair wet?” We wipe his head. I grab a tissue. He sleeps. I text the void. My friend replies.

I’m not saying that that’s all you have. In fact, you can’t “have” texting friends until you actually make friends and develop enough of a relationship that they can “read” the subtleties of your text. That your friend can “feel” you through time and space and “know” that they need to respond. And your relationships can’t all be built upon texting, either, because that can get too messed up and sometimes mistaken (or auto-corrrected!). You actually do need face time (not on a screen!) and you do need time that you sit beside someone in silence and you really do need hugs (find those hugging friends too!). To survive this thing called parenting, you need all kinds of friends.

But find those women who will be your texting friends. Some day….late at night….when the heart aches….you will find comfort.

Thank you to all my friends (and my mom….who texts!).

 

Top Ten Trophies for Boys under Ten….and their Mom

My boys love awards. They love medals. They love trophies. Our house is full of “awards.” We have the cheap plastic ones that they walk around the house wearing on odd dress-up occasions. We have the “everyone’s a winner” medals from doing the Junior Great Race in Pittsburgh. We have medals won in competition by hard work and 3-times-a-week gymnastics practice. We have trophies for completing a season and for being the best. We have “Student of the Week” awards and “Clean Desk” awards (but I don’t believe that one at all….given the status of said child’s room). In fact, the boys like medals so much that they give them out to each other sometimes.IMG_0165

And many of these recognitions are fine and good, but I would like the boys to actually earn some of them.

So I’ve decided that here are the Top Ten Trophies to be Awarded to Boys under Ten (at least in my house….in this season of life):

10. The “Thank you for saying Thank You” Award.

9. The “Just Try One Bite without a Fuss” prize.

8. The “Getting off the brother you are sitting on the first time I ask you” Medal of Honor.

7. The “You went in to use the bathroom ….and came out ….without leaving a puddle at the base of the toilet!” Most High Praise

6. The “Most Costly Child” Honor (in terms of total cost of two 42-inch plasma TVs, countless light bulbs, numerous chairs including the portable camp chair I just purchased yesterday for soccer! and so much more)

5. The “You gave the toy back after grabbing it out of your brother’s hands” Certificate.

4. The “Stopped when asked to stop before running in the parking lot” Award for Safety.

3. The “You actually washed your hands after using the bathroom….with soap!?” Amazement Award.

2. The “Wow – your little brother just hit you and you DIDN’T punch him back!” Trophy

And finally…

1. Bronze – “You got dressed without being asked.”
Silver – “You got dressed AND brushed your teeth?!”
And the Gold Medal goes for – “You put on underwear!!” – The crowd cheers!!

Some possible future awards….not yet attained:
• Put the toilet seat down award.
• Ate something green on your own initiative certificate.
• Woke up and didn’t whine within the first five minutes winner (oh, that might not ever happen)

These thoughts ran through my head this week as I thought about the “stars” I write on pieces of scrap paper magnetted to the fridge. When the boys earn twenty, they earn a prize. It’s been a good system for a bit of time. But sometimes there doesn’t appear to be anything that alters their behavior.

This was particularly the case in church this morning. “The talk” was provided before we got out of the car. Reminders were sprinkled over the course of the first few minutes. The five year old was removed to the parking lot for a few minutes for a more intense reminder. But by the time the 7-year-old had racked up an hour of time-out for making noise during the service, the 3-year-old entered screaming for communion and the 5-year-old was playing in the baptism fount…..All three were unceremoniously removed to the car.

My head exploded. My blood pressure shot. My face was red as a torrent of admonitions flowed in anger…..a diatribe reviewing the “inappropriate” behavior and noise during church. That was it. Grounded for the day – 5 year old banished to the third floor and 7 year old restricted to the second. I handed them bagels and bananas and left….zombie-like to the door of the back porch where I sat and cried. Embarrassment makes me angry. Anger makes me sad. Parenting makes me exhausted. Emotions make me clean the house for two hours…..and weed the garden… and send boys back upstairs over and over all day……and realize that with all the awards that I dole out and the stars I reward and the praise and the high-fives, the real award goes to me. Me.

The Bounce Back Award goes to me and every other parent who hits the end of their limits. Who let themselves embrace the hardship of parenting. Who sit and cry at how overwhelming the responsibility is sometimes. Who have learned to forgive their children and forgive themselves. Who get up again and brush off the dirt and say – Here I am. I love you and will never give up. Ever.

Congratulations to every single parent who Bounces Back. Here’s your gold star. gold-star-sxcTreasure it…

….just as you treasure those who cause you to earn it.

I am your ACE

Sometimes the strain of parenting really gets to me. Sometimes I am not personally balanced enough on my own little teeter-totter, that when the boys throw me a curve ball, I fall off in the attempt to catch it.

I’ve been doing a lot of work in establishing a crisis nursery for the Pittsburgh area. Although a respite for any parent, it started as a child abuse prevention model. Put the young children in a crisis nursery for a few hours or a few days to keep them safe while the parent or caregiver takes a break and attends to an emergency or pressing situation.

This work is built on the premise that our young children are very vulnerable to stress under the age of 5 at the same time that their brains are developing at lightning speed. If they are exposed to “adverse childhood experiences,” their brains, genetic structure, and immune system can be altered for life. Yes – brains, genes, health…changed for life. This is some serious stuff!

So, these adverse childhood experiences are called ACE, because no one likes to say a mouthful of words. In the research, an ACE score was based on an experience of physical abuse, sexual abuse, exposure to domestic violence, having an incarcerated parent, living with a parent with mental health issues or substance abuse problems. The higher the ACE score, the harder the childhood, the worse the person’s health in adult life.

I spoke with a friend about this research recently. Her whole career is focused on this area and in helping people think about ACE and how we care for children and adults who have been traumatized by events in their life.

Naturally, as she is a mother of a boy….we also shared a lot of stories about the joys and stresses of parenting boys. I told her that when Super Tall Guy was around 2 or 3, Way I feelwe were reading a “feelings” book together that had wonderful illustrations of a range of emotions and the word identifying them on the page. He was silent as we turned pages….until the drawing of a red head with exploding swirls and dark eyes and jolting lightning bolts….and he said “Mommy” …  right there at the page labeled “Angry.”

I paused. That moment is imprinted on my mind. Sometimes, for my developing boys….“I am your ACE.” I am a stressful experience. I am a scary moment. I don’t want to be that. I don’t want to be the model of an angry face, even if sometimes my head is red and there are lightning bolts jutting out at all angles. (I’m not trying to downplay the seriousness of these ACE “experiences,” just reflecting on how powerful emotions can be and a parent’s potential role).

I once took a mini-video of Mr. Ornery when he was having a huge fit of tears and anger. I played it back for him to let him see what it looks like as he yells and flails and stomps and wails. It’s probably the case that I should actually take a “selfie” of my own face sometimes when I’m in a “mood” with the boys….when I’m frustrated at having told them for the umpteenth (I now understand that that word refers to parental infinity) time to not stand on the piano to climb up and hoist yourself over the staircase railing…. when I’m reminding them to aim in the bathroom…. when I’m shaking my head and saying “really? Really? You just hit him for what?!?”

It’s quite possible that my selfie might make me reconsider my outburst. It might help me step back and count to ten. It might encourage me to put myself in my own room for a time-out break and some deep breaths. It might be just what I need to remind myself that I actually never want to be an ACE for my children and will do absolutely everything in my power to protect them from a single Adverse Childhood Experience.

Wrapping them in the “protective relationship” of unconditional love, body-slamming them with praise, encouraging their expressions of independence and individuality….these….these are the experiences I must provide. For I am your Absolutely Cherishing Each – ACE!

What to do when you’re out of “kid joules”

So….I’m on empty. It happens pretty frequently, especially on the weekends.

Think of it. You wake up with energy (unless you’ve just lived through the nightmare week called “Post-Daylight-Savings-Time-Messes-With-Every-Child-Under-The-Age-Of-Seven!!”).  Let’s give that morning energy a number, such as 1000 kJ or “kid joules” (where a joule is defined as the energy expended to move one kid through the distance of one day under absolute pristine perfect conditions…which never exist).

So, on a good day, like yesterday morning, you wake up with 1000 kJ….or you expected to, but since The Little Guy was up 3 times in the 45 minutes prior to you groaning out of bed, you leave the warm comforter with 972 kJ. Knowing that it’s going to be a long day, you bribe your sister to run for mochas while you make pancakes (caffeine + chocolate = + 500 kJ for sure!).

The boys bounce around the house for an hour, tackling each other, fighting over who has which fire truck (which doesn’t really matter when you’re just racing the inside track of the house screaming at the top of your lungs anyway), and tossing a football towards the ceiling and pretending that they weren’t “trying” to hit the chandelier, really.  – 478 kJ

You text a few friends with kids to let them know that you’ve about lost it already and are heading to Chuck e Cheese. Yes, this seems counter-intuitive, but at least the boys are less likely to be trying to strangle each other or break household items when you’re in someone else’s enclosed space.   One friend shows up so you have a bit of interrupted adult conversation  + 135 kJ, and yet the presence of 38 other screaming monsters leaves you just barely ahead. – 112 kJ

You return home to let The Little Guy nap while you drug the older ones with rapidly-flashing animated scenes (“The Croods”) and sit down yourself for a minute, drawn into the drama of a  caveman father who risks his life for his family (sniff, sniff…oh, he lives).  + 289 kJ

If you’ve been keeping track, you’re at 1206 kJ at 1:30pm and you’re feeling pretty good about the day. Unfortunately, the next item on the agenda is the Circus!

– 25 kJ – getting 4 boys to go to the bathroom before leaving the house
– 55 kJ – finding 7 complete pairs of shoes
– 60 kJ – buckling in 2 boys and nagging 3 to buckle up
– 285 kJ – managing 5 boys in one mini-van for a 10 minute ride …. when they are sitting close enough to actually TOUCH each other!!
– 111 kJ – corralling all 5 yippy loose dogs in a line to enter the arena
– 2897 kJ – lights, sounds, explosions, acrobatic tensions, tigers, elephants, hungry whiners, elephantspilled popcorn, packed seats, potty breaks, toy grabbers, occasional punches, tired moans, “why didn’t I get a whirly flashing light thingy like The Rascal did?”….back in the car – PLEASE turn the video on, I say, so we can have some quiet (no positive joules, just the absence of further depletion).

Right, we’re home… It’s 6:00pm, I’m at -2227 and the boys need some dinner. Cereal sounds really good and it seems like it’s just about bed-time in this household too.

smaller chaos

Pause on this photo for a second…can you feel the energy?!?

The problem is, when I’m running in the negative….like on the day after the circus, I am naturally much less patient and much more demanding on the boys. They are likewise in a negative energy state and trying to make up for that by being particularly rambunctious and pesty. We spiral ever downwards, dragging mother and child through the maelstrom. Feeble attempts to bump the energy level are short-lived for both mother (bite of chocolate, escape to the basement to change the laundry…slowly….) and child (banishment to the isolation chambers of the upstairs toy room = worst thing in the world!). Nothing, nothing helps this situation except night-fall and the glorious sounds of snoring boys. It is then that the countdown begins… “just two more hours and it will be bedtime”…. “just 1 more hour”….. “just 45 minutes”…. “just 31 minutes”…. “just 28 minutes”…. “just 25….oh geez – get up to bed already!!” A little longer story time can soothe us all.

In these moments I remind myself that the days are long, but that we survive them.

I remind myself that I love each and every one of these crazy kids, even though my exploding face isn’t always showing it.  I take some deep breaths and back away, then hand out hugs to everyone.

I remind myself that we’re all in this mess together and when we create more mess, we have to clean it up together. And we do.

I remind myself that they will sleep, tomorrow will come, and it will give us all a new start. Each day we strive to be a little better and rest in the knowledge that love smoothes the bumps along the way.

Bouncing balls

I sat on the couch the other day….taking in the perspective of the house….watching the boys bounce around in an active game of football. (Super Tall Guy throws it to Flipper 1315168797_Bouncing_Ballswho tries to make it around the inside track of the house one or two times before his flags are ripped off. The “less-essential” members of the team pretty much just run and jump and pick up a toy and play with it for a few minutes then rejoin the team – pretty much, they are less than essential to the scoring capabilities of the team.)  The image of little rubber bouncing balls came to my mind – that’s what my household is almost continuously – a set of bouncing balls.

Naturally a set of balls bouncing about in a finite space lends towards occasional collisions. When you have a particularly large ball like Super Tall Guy who also thinks it’s fun to bounce into and off other balls….it’s quite a bit less fun. And when he’s in one of his pesty moods, like he was last Monday before school, it’s really not fun at all.

After he careened into multiple children and finally sent a shooting ball into my mother’s abdomen, I had had enough and chased him at top speed upstairs. He knew he was in trouble. I knew I was in trouble as I wondered how to wrestle him to the ground and wait for my anger to subside so that I wouldn’t actually harm the poor kid. Practically sitting on him, I looked him in the eye and informed him that he was grounded from all fun this week – including the parent-child last practice soccer game, the Halloween party at the gym, and the party with his favorite friends just outside of Cleveland. That got his attention.

Now I had a good week. Having him in the position of not getting his fun activities, we came up with a star system to earn them back. Then, if he wouldn’t listen to me this week, I could threaten to take away a virtual star that existed mostly in my head, but sometimes on the dry erase board hanging on the refrigerator. Of course, he worked hard to get 5 stars to go to the soccer game….and it got rained out. And then worked for another 10 stars to get the day of activities and parties on Saturday.

Now I had to do that oft-recommended parenting technique = catch them at doing something good. You can imagine the challenge of singly out a bouncing ball and informing it that it’s on the right track and doing well. So, a star for brushing your teeth in the morning when you hate doing that. A star for getting dressed without me reminding you. One day, I realized I was pretty desperate when before the bath, I said, “Wow, Super Tall Guy, you actually wore underwear today – you get a star for that!”

I’m liking this system….so then I realized I need another big carrot to dangle. Fortunately, my sister bought tickets to the circus – of dragons! – now, that’s a great item to have in the back pocket!

Arlington Cemetery….and the trials of 3 Boys!

Had she lived another few months, Gammie Cole would have been 98 years old.Gammie Cole The boys knew her as a woman confined to a wheelchair who watched their every move as they zoomed through their grandparents’ house. She smiled at them most of the time and occasionally growled in their general direction if they misbehaved. But they never had the pleasure of really knowing their great-grandmother and her wonderful love and graciousness to the world.

She passed away quietly about 18 months ago. In her typical sacrificial nature, she donated her body “to science” and her ashes were recently returned to the family. In a short ceremony on Friday, she was interred beside her husband of over 50 years in Arlington Cemetery. I was physically there …with 3 bouncy and grumpy boys…..but I was not mentally there….due to 3 bouncy and grumpy boys. I regret not being able to be mindful of the ceremony and the memory of my grandmother….due to 3 bouncy and grumpy boys.

It wasn’t really their fault. I mean, they had just spent 5 hours in a car and then were DC-2forced into “nice” shirts (hey, I caved and let them stay in shorts!) and then expected to…. Hey, get that Batman off the tombstone! Stop jumping over tombstones! Don’t throw “coconuts” (aka acorns) at the tombstones!

I was stressed. I fell into the trap of worrying what the twelve 70-some year-olds who were former Girl Scouts in my grandmother’s troop would think of these Out-Of-Control Boys….so I tried to control them. And when boys sense that you are about to swipe some of their “control” – they scowl, they run, they push one another onto the gravel, they throw rocks and other “natural” projectiles, they pull up grass….they become OOC Boys!DC-1

Now, let’s just say that the plan then is to take these OOC boys to a buffet for dinner? I mean, why not? It’s better than a sit-down served dinner….And if that’s not bad enough, and my inability to maintain my own sense of control is not glaringly obvious, then let’s head to the hotel and “go to bed”…..or jump on the beds, wrestle in the sheets, throw pillows at each other, turn lights on and off, open the door and scream down the hall….

So when it’s 8 pm and Mr. Ornery has been in “time-out” in the bathroom for over an hour (and has decided to cut his lower lip with my razor….for the second time – first time was at the beach vacation….”Mommy, I’m bleeding”), and the Little Guy is climbing in and out of the port-a-crib and egging on Super Tall Guy who is doing back-flips on the bed….I’m texting my sister in the room across the hall saying “I hate this,” “I want to go home.”  But I rest for a few minutes until they bounce OOC into a peaceful sleep, while I dream of a cold beer, then grab my cousin to walk to the local pharmacy to pick up a pint of New York Super Fudge Chunk….and we survive the night.

Needing a better plan, we decided to completely wipe them out the next day. We took the metro to the Mall and visited the Air & Space Museum. We stopped by the National Book Festival where DC-3Kathy and her boys actually did “literary” type things while my boys and I wound up and flew rubber-band birds over and over again in the grass. And then we walked them to the Washington Monument, up past the White House and back to the metro. While waiting for the hotel shuttle, we gloriously let them splash in the deluge of rain dripping from the metro station roof. Soaking wet and happy, they inhaled a delivered pizza for “picnic and movie night” and by 7:30 they were snoring! Love it.  Now that’s how you handle OOC Boys!

Yet I replay the rough OOC day in my head over and over wondering if this “wild-ness” is just a function of their bouncy active nature …..or am I too lenient and need to do a better job at helping them “control” themselves more. Super Tall Guy has lately been very adamant that he is the boss of himself and not me, though I repetitively remind him that if he can’t handle himself, I have to step in (and that’s never a pretty sight when it’s 80 pounds to my 120!). It’s that parenting line that doesn’t have a clear answer. Am I respecting their needs and creativity and expression or am I raising misbehaving out-of-control children?

I sit here thinking about how I can “teach” them to handle themselves in certain situations, like how to behave at a restaurant. And my first thought was – gosh, that sounds like a miserable time! My second thought was – see, there’s some of that responsibility part of parenting that I posted about last week. …which, by the way, tends to coincide with the “exhausting” part of parenting. And since I have exhausted myself just by thinking about all of this tonight…I shall wrap this post upDC-4 (I’m already a day late since our cable/internet/phone box blew last night and I couldn’t do anything but get to bed early – how sad).

Tomorrow is another day to figure out how to get OOC Boys into little “slaves” as Super Tall Guy complained tonight that he was….the poor dear.