What? You’re not listening?

I love books. Absolutely. No questions asked. Give me a good book that I can sink into and I’ll mourn the loss of my new friends at the end of it. I laugh. I cry. And I’m just talking about kids’ books here.

More than anything, I want to instill this love into my children. I’ve done everything I can. My house is cluttered with books – look around and you’ll see bookcases and bookcases booksof books. At any given moment you’re likely to stub your toe on a book on the floor (after you gingerly step over the recently fired Nerf gun bullet and landed on the sharp edge of a Lego, that is!). I treasure the “favorite” books (list below). I gift the boys a new book for their birthday and for Christmas with sweet love messages written on the inside cover. I read to them every single (almost) night. I even recorded every book I read to Super Tall Guy throughout a whole year once. (Mr. Ornery – I started, but I definitely read less to him. And Poor Little Guy….well, they read a lot at the day care center!)

But I am waging a battle against the lure of a flat screen and the opinion that the “movie” version is the way it’s “supposed to be.” I can’t seem to get across the concept that an author actually sat down and WROTE the book first with the complete intent that the reader should create in their own heads what the characters actually looked like and what really happened.

I know that Super Tall Guy could care less about “reading the book first” before watching a movie. I thought it endearing when we would get to below 50 or so pages of a Harry Potter book and he would bring it to me in bright daylight and ask me to read so we could finish the book! And of course, his motivation was to get to see the movie on the weekend, knowing that I’d put it off until the following “movie night” time if we didn’t get that book done in time. I thought we at least had something great going.

Until tonight when he completely deflated me. We are reading “Fish in a Tree” (even though there’s no movie to dangle at the end) and every once in a while I like to stop and ask a question, partly to check on his level of alertness (ie, “is he asleep yet?” though the snoring should tell me!) and partly to bring home a good point that may have been made. Tonight when I stopped and turned to ask a question, he said, “Mom, I never actually listen to what you’re reading. I just like to hear you talk.”

“What?!?” I said, “You’re not listening?!? Since when?”

He replied, “Since you started reading Harry Potter” (like over a year ago!) “I just wanted to get to the end to watch the movie. That’s why I play while you’re reading. I’m not really paying attention.”

I laughed and playfully punched him. But also felt a bit sad. I thought in my head, well, I could just read my own books aloud if all he wants is the drone of my voice as white noise to fall asleep by. I might just try reading my Internal Medicine Board Review book aloud tomorrow night!

But I shall persist. Because somehow and in some way, I’m determined to make a reader out of these boys. To bury within them the love of pages. To develop a deep yearning for learning through stories of others’ lives and the printed word. To help them know the comfort of snuggling under covers with a good book in hand. To set them on adventures in new worlds and with different people. To live. To learn. To grow.

Well, we certainly aren’t getting in the recommended “20 minutes” of reading every night and Mr. Ornery struggles to read fluently, and Super Tall Guy clearly isn’t listening, but I shall battle on!

Here are some of the books we’ve loved:

Preschool:

  • Goodnight Gorilla
  • Goodnight Moon
  • Where’s Spot
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar
  • Five Little Monkeys

5-7:

  • Library Lion – absolutely love – almost cry every time
  • I Need My Monster – have read too many times!
  • Tony Baloney Buddy Trouble
  • Fly Guy – any of them
  • Robert Munsch – any of his!

8-9 (that’s as far as we are):

  • Harry Potter
  • Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Super Tall Guy probably stopped listening to me when we started this as our first “longer” chapter books)
  • Holes
  • I Survived …. Series
  • Magic Tree House…. – read many of these

 

 

 

 

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Celebrating the family ….in a long over-due reunion

An airline flight of five hours is not ideal travel conditions for five boys ages 4-9. Nor is a 3-hour time difference conducive to productive sleep thus yielding subsequent emotional dysregulation. There was great dread and very little interest in my soul last week as I packed for the trip to California to visit relatives. The fear and nervousness dissipated with the first hug.

IdyllwildIt was the first family reunion in 18 years. The first time family gathered except for patriarch funeral and then matriarch funeral and then the eldest son’s funeral and then a few family members together for a wedding last fall where the idea of the family reunion germinated.

family 1

Awesome uncle encouraging The Little Guy to join in the soccer game.

Finally, fifty people including 24 children, gathered at a mountain resort. We adults were practically giving each other high-fives to not have to hear, “Look how much you’ve grown. Gosh, how big you are now.” Yes, it’s good to be on the other side of that. We got to hug and talk and laugh and introduce our children around. Social media has helped bridge the distance, but nothing is as strong as a warm hug.

Funny how it took a day to start to get to know each other. “Hi, and you are?” Despite my dislike of the custom, almost all conversations started with “And what do you do?” as we sought to establish some understanding. The kids, on the other hand, had no trouble at all. The girls held hands and skipped along like best friends within hours. The boys climbed rocks, battled with stick swords and chased each other round. There were crafts generously donated and coordinated by a great aunt and such laughter and joy. There were meals together and games and hikes. There were slide shows of old and new photos of the family, generating so many memories of prior times and prior clothing and hair styles!

And, there was also a delightful viral illness which knocked out Super Tall Guy, three cousins and one significant other. There’s nothing so glamorous as cleaning up vomit and diarrhea in a log cabin and longing for gloves and Lysol. My 31-year-old outdoor adventure cousin was the hardest hit and eventually left for IV fluids at the closest ER. Despite the miserable day he had spent in bed with constant fluid loss, he left with a smile and remarked, “In some ways, I don’t mind that I got sick. It showed me the amazing power of the family I have.”

family 2

Plastic cups labeled and washed for reuse! No waste here!

Yes, it is a tremendous amount of work and money to take the kids to the other side of the United States. Yet it is so important to me that my boys know in their very soul that throughout this large country, there are people out there who love them….just because they are family. They have joined this family through a court decree; yet, they have been welcomed with loving arms and open hearts. For that, I will be forever grateful. For each and everyone of my great big family is unique and wonderful and loving.

On our second night together, as The Little Guy had drifted off to sleep and Super Tall Guy’s eyes were softly fluttering, my brother opened the door to our cabin. “Everyone’s on the step for a family photo.” “Now?” I grumbled in disgust. “You’re kidding!”  Knowing that we had talked about it all day and never done it, I was frustrated that it was happening “late” at night. Yet, with furrowed brow and glaring eyes, I woke the boys, got them dressed and ran to the steps in time to set the timer on the camera. It flashed three times and we trudged back to the cabin. My cousin’s hug soothed me and I knew it was the right thing to do, but I teared up when Super Tall Guy lay down to sleep again and whispered, “I can’t wait to show that photo to my kids.”

Full circle.

Family.

 

We honor each other.

We love each other.

We work to continue to connect with each other.

Despite the trials and the difficulties of gathering.

Despite our differences and inconveniences.

 

If not for us….it is for our children.

For they must know that they are worthy and that they are loved.

They must know the strength of the bond that ties us.

We must give them family.

 

Family who will be there when you are sick and vomiting.

Family who will be there in the good times and the bad.

Family who will be there on the other side of the photo.

 

For someday our children will share us with their own family.

From one generation to the next

Love will endure.

family 3

The family also celebrated my parents’ 50th anniversary! They bear witness to love and family.

Letting them down…Helping them learn

Last week I frantically waved my left hand at the back of the kindergarten classroom hoping that the substitute teacher would notice me, and I could point to an empty ring finger in the hopes that she’d stop asking my 6-year-old to “be thinking of what you like to do with your dad because I’ll call on you next. I always like to call on kids when their parents are visiting us.” His head dropped as she reached down to tie his shoe and I heard her speak more softly, “that’s okay. You can tell us something you like to do with your mom instead,” but she never did call on him.

It’s the end of the school year. Time to make Father’s Day cards. Heart sink. I cringe with regret that I have let my boy down. I’m not good enough. I have not “given” him what every boy wants – a Dad. My boys probably deal with this issue more than I imagine. Given an age in which non-traditional family structure is becoming more and more common, it still amazes me that certain settings continue to function as if there is only one model of family. Elementary schools still have pre-printed materials that ask children to fill in what they do with their dad or with their moms as if it applies to everyone. Parent forms usually do not include a way to indicate single parenting or non-traditional parenting.

And I realize that even though I have wrapped my mind around the fact that we’re currently a non-traditional family, I don’t often talk about it with the boys. Yes, when they bring it up, I answer their questions. When Super Tall Guy blurts out, “You’re never going to get married, Mom,” I answer, “You never know.”  But I realized a few days ago, that it might actually have been helpful to talk to Mr. Ornery about what happened in the classroom, to reflect with him, “I noticed your teacher kept asking about what you like to do with your dad. How did that make you feel?” I might be able to learn some from him and help him feel more aware and comfortable with our situation.

Instead, I process the experience for myself. How did it make me feel? What did I think? Well, I felt like I let him down. That I wasn’t providing enough for him. That I put him in an awkward situation just because I haven’t done the “typical” life cycle event of getting married. That somehow my poor kid is not living life to the fullest that he could be. Then I stop myself and remind myself that I am providing for these boys so much more than what the situation they were born into could have provided. We have a home filled with more toys than they need. They rarely experience hunger. They have an extended family who loves them and a wide social net around them. They play sports. They go to the pool. We take family vacations. I remind myself that I am doing my best for them and it’s pretty darn good, come to think of it. (Yes, they do need to be doing piano lessons….but I just haven’t gotten around to scheduling that yet, much to their delight!)

It’s hard to understand the world around you if no one explains it to you when you’re six. It’s hard to comprehend how families are different and how life is different for different people unless someone explores that with you. And as an introvert who is so used to internally processing what I see and hear and experience, I rarely think about making my thoughts “evident” to my sons. Huh. New parenting insight. “Think” more externally. Journey with them rather than apart from them.

Good thing I processed the situation! 🙂

 

The “smaller” family…

“Jump in the car, we’re going on an adventure.” The boys were in their snow pants, jackets and gloves. For the past 10 minutes they had hopped on little sleds for a 2-second ride from the garage to the mesh fence 15 feet away. They weren’t complaining, but it seemed that we could probably find something more.

It was Sunday morning. We should have been heading into church. I had no energy for it. My body ached a bit from the tight “bear hugs” needed to get Super Tall Guy back into calmness during a sudden rage event the day before. I needed some peace for my soul. I needed some nature. I needed to find a few moments of joy with these boys because single-parenting was tuckering me out.

We pulled over along the windy road in the nearby park. Bumbling out with snowsleds in tow, the boys were soon whizzing down a hiking trail covered by a fine layer of ice and snow (and pebbles). The first couple times I held my breath and prayed they wouldn’t careen into a tree or fly over a rock. Their giggles and shrieks of exuberance soothed me.

We clambered through the leaves. Watched deer dart up the hillside. Stared at the ice wall that once was a low waterfall. Balanced on logs. Slid on the frozen stream. We just needed to be. To be outside. To be free. To be marveling at the winter landscape. To be enjoying time with each other and helping each other. To be a family.

We’re trying that out now and trying to figure out how to be a smaller family. It is quieter. It is less chaotic. But it’s also a bit more overwhelming to me. Sometimes I feel like I just went through a divorce – suddenly the “other” parent isn’t around anymore and here I am. Figure it out.

So, we have had Family Movie Night on the couch because we’re too tired to do anything else after an hour in the woods, two hours at the roller-skating rink and then basketball practice.

We have spent more time in Family Game-playing with cookie prizes to the winner (and the dog considers herself part of the winning team each time and deserving of a Nutter Butter Bites too!).

We have a few new rules that I occasionally record as they run around in my brain so much.

We have had Family Time at the Upward basketball games as well, taking turns being on the court versus being disruptive on the sidelines … or being on the look-out for where the Little Guy might have disappeared to….again (right, water fountain….).

And, we had a Family Meeting early last week to discuss the consequences of acting out so much before school that Grandma “quit” her morning role as school “dropper-off-er.” (And how the boys are going to cost so much more money to use a before school service, so what changes will we need? Hmmm?  Anyone? Anyone?)

nature

I’ve put a little more energy into focusing on the “family” this week and how we live together and get-along (or not) together. How we’ll need to make sacrifices for each other. How we’ll need to better respect each other. How Mommy will still need evenings with my “texting friends” to improve my coping skills so we’ll be looking for babysitters.

There have definitely been so many changes for this family lately and my sister’s family. Yet, there is also lots of love and commitment and mutual support. It’s a “season.” We will figure it out and be okay. I am grateful.

 

 

 

 

The Little Guy

Sometimes I think it must stink to be “the Little Guy” in this household. At just barely cruising along the 3rd percentile line for height and weight, Seth is just starting (at age 2) to fit into 18-month size clothing, while Kenny (age 3) is rapidly overtaking Noah’s clothing (size 4) and Noah is trying to push Ryan out of his 5T size….while Micah just laughs at all of them from his 4 ½ foot, 76 pound frame. And then he flicks the wind in Seth’s direction….and Seth blows over.

And yet, Seth doesn’t take any crap from any of them. He’ll jump right onto Micah and goes for the throat – well, the face actually….and just as effective. He’ll push Kenny right back, while stumbling to the ground. He’ll screech at Noah when a toy is taken. And….hmmmm….he and Ryan pretty much ignore each other.

Tonight the “older” boys (Micah and Noah) spent the night at their grandparents. I ran a couple errands with Seth and found myself making silly faces and blowing bubbles on him and chatting away with him. He rarely (RARELY) gets that kind of attention that Micah got ALL the time when he was little and Noah got a ton of. Now in the car, the other two are so busy talking over each other (9.25 minutes post) that I can barely hear, much less talk to, Seth.

I tucked him into bed tonight and sat beside the crib/bed (one side has been removed due to climbing hazards) and sang him to sleep. I can’t remember the last time we had one-on-one at night  – probably sometime when he was a tiny baby….yep, like at 2:00am when I would feed him and we’d both fall asleep!  I stayed with him until his eyes closed, watching him breathe and thinking about how little time over the course of the day, if I were to actually measure it, he would have with me, with undivided attention.

Probably….regretfully….really miniscule. I spend a great deal of time managing and strategizing how to manage Micah’s behavior and emotional outbursts. I am constantly trying to outwit and outpsych the 4-year-old who is trying to push me over the edge. I often look at Seth and say “oh, hello, little guy.”

So, if your line of vision was someone’s knee caps….and the people whose bellies you had visual access of were constantly trying to flatten you to the floor….do you think you might develop an annoying screeching whine as an attention-getting mechanism? And if you feel constantly ignored and yet having to defend whatever object is in your possession from sudden attackers, what kind of adult would you grow up to be? Strong and Stubborn?

I’m wondering if I might need to be a bit more patient with Seth…..

And I know for sure that he could use some more one-on-one time….rather than my pure surprise that he’s made it through another day in the middle of the boy madness and is ready to be tucked into bed.

And if he would cool it with the 5:30am wake-up times, he and I could become best of buddies…I’m pretty sure!

Visit from our first foster child!

I don’t know ­how you’re supposed to get anything done with 5 kids around. I don’t know why I ever expect to. I keep thinking that weekends should be “productive”….and then I’m in the middle of one and just hoping to survive!

I keep reminding myself that with five swirling storms, it’s pretty unlikely that I might sweep a floor or mop the kitchen. I mean, why even try? So this weekend, we decided to up the ante and try having 6 boys around – 8, 6, 6, 4, 2, 1!

Maddox, our first foster boy and now 8, spent the weekend with us while his adoptive parents were out of town. I remember the day I went to pick him up when we first met him. I had been thinking in my head “hmmmm, an almost 1 year old – how bad can that be?”  I opened the door and he was running around his aunt’s house with a bottle hanging from his teeth….and I knew right then he was going to be one active boy. He was a delight while he stayed with us.

He also showed us the classic case of foster parenting. He stayed with us for 10 months and then returned to his biological mother. A few months later, she would stress out and turn to drugs for comfort and he would be placed into foster care. After 10-12 months, he returned to his mother and months later, he and his sister came into our care (that’s when we lived for about 8 months with one 3-year-old and 3 one-year-olds!  And I’m complaining now about being busy??).  Again, the mother worked to get her kids back….again she lost them….but this time they were older and starting to act out themselves in more serious ways….and eventually were placed in “therapeutic foster homes.”  (It is this first foster family that popped into my head the moment I heard the concept of a crisis nursery – and thought that the biological mother just needed a crisis nursery – some place to take the kids for 2-3 days so that she could breathe and get things done…..and so began my quest to open Jeremiah’s Place).

It was hard to “lose” Maddox three years ago. It was hard to understand how a judge would decide to take this boy from his “biological” mother and the woman he thought was his “mother” (my sister) and place him with his 4th family in 4 years. And at the time, we had no idea what the future held….so it was amazing that as soon as he was adopted, the forever mother called to reconnect with Kathy and so began some visitations and then this weekend.

Over the past 2 years or so, Micah and Ryan have talked a lot about Maddox. They remember him and they also remember an idealized version of an “older brother.” This weekend was not anywhere close to an idealized existence as they all had to figure out how to share space and attention and the iPad and the rooms and the Wii remotes and the younger two boys who thought this strange new being was a super hero of some sort.

And Noah just walked around asking, “What’s his name again?”

Foster parenting asks you to hold a kids’ heart in yours so tightly for an unknown period of time and then let the child loose into the world without possibly ever knowing anything about him/her again.  But sometimes….sometimes you have the joy of loving them again.

4 year-olds’ Bestest Day Ever

Hurricane SimulatorWhy?!?

Hurricane Simulator
Why?!?

I was at a conference in Florida last year and just had to grab a picture of this “opportunity” when we walked past it in the middle of a small mall. I mean, really, who would want to get into a “hurricane simulator”?  I feel like my life is a hurricane half the time (or possibly much more than half the time). I think I’m in current need of a “boredom simulator” or at least a “sleep simulator.”

Fortunately, this week was a bit of a slow-down compared to the past month. With my brother giving the example of taking off work on each of his (Eight!) children’s birthdays (and spending the day as a family), I began years ago with my boys to spend their birthday with them. Micah calls it “my I can do whatever I want day” and I keep correcting him that “Mommy still has veto power.”

So Monday was Noah’s day and I can’t even begin to describe how nice it is to be attending to just one boy at a time. And it was beautiful to not have to rush to get anywhere but to follow his lead. No real agenda – other than me getting coffee, of course. Since he wanted coffee cake from Panera, we went there….and even sat down to eat. He thought that was “awesome.”

His chosen “event” for the day was to go ice-skating and he was giddy with excitement. I almost blew any chance of having a future Olympic skater, though. At first, he was given hockey skates that were too “slippy” for him and he couldn’t move a foot. Then he fell and bloodied his nose – and I had no tissue or anything with me on the ice….and resorted to the inner lining of his coat (I should probably wash that thing!). By this point, I’m berating myself for not being better prepared as a parent and having a helmet on his head, when he yells his foot is hurting because he had on two “right foot” skates. Sigh – eventually we got sorted out and had a nice time. I even woke him up on the way home to make him eat ice cream…teeth-chattering in 40 degree temps, face smeared with “Chocoholic chocolate chunk” and hands beyond the worst definition of sticky! Good mommy.

Though the main part of the day seemed to flow well, I just felt like I was doing a lousy job. Kathy and I always have helium balloons (one for every kid) in the living room on a birthday….and I awoke in bed that morning in panic realizing I had forgotten this (contemplating the lifelong trauma I was inflicting on him – “it all started when my mom forgot my birthday balloons….”). I also completely forgot to make a cake for the actual birthday, despite making two for his party two days before (“…and then no cake – no candles – no singing!!”). And I completely exploded at Micah at the dining room table and dragged him upstairs for a break from his incessant pestering and acting up. So in my nice little world of “perfect mothering” (of which I never attain), I was falling fast from my little pedestal. I was failing on one of the most important days of Noah’s year. And yet, he lay in bed that night and said “this is the bestest birthday ever, right?”  I smiled and said “that’s right.” So who’s the better judge?  And why can’t they stay forever four – when the “bestest day ever” is easy and uncomplicated?

And who volunteers to remind me that no matter how many mistakes I make in a day – sometimes, it’s still the “bestest ever”?