Organizing a Surprise (To Disney!)

“I hate you! I can’t believe we’re going to Disney! ….You are the worst and the best Mom in the world! I love you…”  

A quote from Super Tall Guy as I filmed them learning about leaving for Disney. It was four in the morning. I woke up Mr. Ornery first with, “Hey, it just snowed 4 inches overnight – let’s go outside and play!” “Really?” he questioned. “Yes,” I exclaimed as I woke up the other two. Once they were dressed, they got to open backpacks laid out in the hallway ready for the plane flight. The excitement was intense.

The emotions were a true contrast to the past couple days when they had mourned the fact that they were missing out on fun when they found out that their cousins were going to Disney. They were not happy about having a mother who “never takes them anywhere.”  They begged to go. The eldest was perhaps the most sad. The younger two are pretty resilient.

I had spent two months in stress. Trying to coordinate a trip with my sister and mother while keeping it secret from my own kids. Shopping and hiding items in boxes in my room and keeping them separate from all the Christmas presents hiding as well. Staying up late at night buying tickets, planning the travel, trying for Fast-Passes at the parks. 

At one point, Super Tall Guy was awaiting a gift he ordered for his cousin from Amazon. On a Saturday morning when I took the younger two on errands with me, he opened the boxes that had been delivered…. finding the LEGO character gift he was expecting…. as well as the 5 Magic Bands for the upcoming trip!  Thankfully I masterfully distracted him with the “little lie” that the bands were for his cousin and family.

My sister questioned me several times – “Are you sure you want to do this? My boys don’t like surprises.” “I feel so bad that the boys are unhappy…” And yet I persisted. It’s a balance between giving them the sense of anticipation for the weeks leading up to a trip and the excitement of being surprised. It’s a choice that only I could make. It’s a choice that required me to reflect on the temperament of each boy. It’s a choice that made my life infinitely more difficult for a bit of time.

For example, there was that new suitcase that I purchased for the trip and hid in my shower stall so I could get it packed up and back into the car before the boys noticed. Unfortunately, I listened to the “odd” sound of the shower water hitting something before realizing what I had done the next morning.

Then there was the angst of trying to find items that were so well-hidden from the boys that even I couldn’t remember where I had put them. As soon as I “found” the magic bands and linked them to the tickets, I promptly “lost” them again after re-hiding them!

And yet, it’s a choice I made to create a “memory” within their hearts and minds. A memory that hopefully they will share together when they are older and sitting around the table – “Remember that time when Mom woke us up at 4 am to go to Disney?!?” Hopefully it will be a good memory, filled with fun and laughter.

Here are some things that I learned:

  • Super Tall Guy does not actually like surprises and definitely doesn’t like to travel back early in the morning at the end of a trip to make it to the karate dojo tournament. You basically wasted your money in changing those flights!
  • Boys get overstimulated by crowds easily and so throwing in a beach day when it’s over 80 degrees is great fun, especially if grandma splurges on renting a couple boogie boards.
  • When coordinating six boys from ages 6 to 13 (my three and my sister’s three), it’s pretty difficult to make all of them happy with the choice of park for the day or the next ride, so stop trying!
  • There will be meltdowns. There will be meltdowns. There will be meltdowns.
  • Leaving the boys to be put to bed by the grandmother the first night while you run to the grocery store for a week’s worth of food is not a very good idea – for the kids or the grandmother. See point above.
  • Mickey Ear chocolate ice cream is as delicious as I remember it to be but sadly my young ice cream fiends prefer the Mickey Ear sandwich ice cream bars.
  • Having the “Elf” join us for the trip added to some tossing-around fun and to the memories (but may have caused some distress from other elf-believing young kids).
  • Would have been a good idea to bring along the boys’ homework so they could make up missed work from school….and not have to force them to do it all the day we got back! Live and learn…. 
  • You may ask the boys to turn around and smile nicely for a picture in front of whatever (insert Castle, LEGOLAND sign, Animal Kingdom decorated Christmas tree, etc.) and they know full well that you are going to require a “nice” photo every day….but that’s not going to make them all actually look happy in the photos! 
  • The boys are not actually ready for two days of Universal Studios and you could have saved a lot of money by just getting a one-day hopper pass.
  • Don’t even bother to consider how much money you just spent.
  • Limiting souvenir purchases is so difficult – oh, but the memories….
  • Traveling as a single parent with three boys is exhausting but easier with grandmother and family alongside.
  • It’s quite freeing to finally visit Disney without renting a stroller and really only carrying the youngest two when staying late into the night. The “school-age” travelers are much easier than the toddler years!
  • I miss being the kid and having a “Mom” carrying EVERYTHING!
  • Pools at the hotels are a must.
  • There will be meltdowns (especially on the night that Super Tall Guy is disrespectful and so you prohibit him from a night-time swim!).
  • A trip to Disney the week before Christmas is a bit of a nightmare.
  • Memories were definitely created and hopefully the boys see and feel how much they are loved.  

Whew! Don’t need to do that again for awhile! (But you know we will!)  

But we are looking forward to some new adventures in 2018!  Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you, dear sister

Our Family
A circle of strength and love
Founded on faith….
Joined by love
Kept by God
Together forever

 

To my sister,

Thank you for the Willow Tree figurines of my three boys this Christmas. More importantly, thank you for my three boys.

You started this journey eleven years ago during whichour-family we fell into adoption and flew into love. I still remember nervously standing around a bassinet of two-day old Super Tall Guy, waiting for the social worker to find some clothes for him to wear out of the hospital. We walked to the car swinging him in the car seat unable to talk other than whispered “Oh my goodness.” I stared into his eyes while you ran to the store for bottles and formula and diapers and baby wipes. What had we gotten in to? Leaping by faith to into a family.

I broke your heart once. Probably more times than that, but once in a big way. It was the day I was sitting in my office chair and looked up at you standing there innocent and announced that I needed clarity on being a mother. I couldn’t share mothering. I wanted Super Tall Guy to be mine despite having both of our names on the adoption certificate. I needed there to be just one mother. I was naïve. I was strong-willed. I pushed the limits of our love, but you held firm. You sacrificed and continued to love me. We learned to be independent yet together.

And I divorced you once in a house of five young boys. We sat on the hard wood floor of the second-floor bedroom and divided the children’s books into yours and mine piles. We clung to memories of books that mattered to our mother-hearts. We snapped softly at each other. We made lists of books we were determined to replace as they clearly meant so much to us. It’s been two years. I haven’t found my list. I haven’t replaced the books, because it wasn’t the books that mattered, it wasn’t the toys that mattered, it wasn’t the Christmas ornaments that mattered; it was the sadness of separating. It was the reality of beginning to parent on our own. It was the fear that dug deep within us. And yet, two years later, we hold together as a family. We rely on that bind. We trust that bind. We are still in it together.

boy-figurines2“The Caring Child” – Super Tall Guy – strong and huge with occasional explosions of rage, but deep within there is such a soft tenderness.

“The Inquisitive Child” – Mr. Ornery – always wondering how to push the limits and whether that line in the sand was really meant for him or for someone else.

“The Kind Child” – the Little Guy – overflowing with love and kindness, ready with a smile and a story, eager to meet the world and charm the skies with his eyes.

Each beautiful boy a gift of God. Each beautiful boy a gift to my life. Each beautiful boy so touched by the love that you share with them as well as with your own three boys. Each of us touched by being part of our larger family.

Thank you for my boys. Thank you for being my family. Thank you for being in this together forever. No matter what.

Love,

Your sister

Advent Week Three into Four: Fighting for Joy

 

adventChristmas is always my favorite time of year. I think I just like lights…on trees, on bushes, on houses, on boys’ bunkbeds. They seem to emanate a feeling of peace and comfort. But the end of this year has been pretty bumpy and it’s been hard to capture any peace.  It could be the endless roll of medical visits for my three boys (two fractures, bead in the ear, strep throat, medication checks, flu shots) or the endless saga of behavioral crises that my sister’s boys are wrestling with as the year comes to a close.

It could be the pervasive sense of sadness that settled in in early November when less than half of the voters still triumphed. It’s impossible to see any Joy in the one who is to be our new leader, yet who is so far from a Christian role model that I want to shield my sons from all news until this crisis is over.

It could be the deluge of photos showing the reality of hundreds of thousands of innocent people dying in Syria. It could be the feeling of powerlessness as a hurricane wipes out lives and livelihood for thousands in Haiti.

It could be the unpredictability of violence in the neighborhood, the financial drain of a house still sitting on the market, the uncertainty of funding at my current employment.

It could be a lot of little irritants throughout a day. It could be all-consuming disgust and annoyance. It could be boys who squabble, or whistle in the car, or throw remotes in frustration, or roll around on a kitchen floor to trip over when trying to make dinner. It could be the slow slow slow plodding march every….single….night to shift three little brains from alertness to dream state. It could be any of a hundred of weights in a single moment.

But it could also be moments of Peace. (Nah, that’s only when they’re asleep). It could be moments of Love in the notes Mr. Ornery writes to say he’s sorry. It could be elfmoments of Joy in watching Super Tall Guy in his first performance playing the saxophone. It could be moments of Hope in the excitement of The Little Guy waiting for Christmas (and expectantly looking for the elf that the babysitter likes to hide).

 

It could be all these moments if the focus is in the right place. For there is only One from whom Peace passes all understanding, Love surpasses knowledge, Hope yields eternal life, and Joy fills the soul. Only one.

May we all seek and find that Joy, Peace, Hope and Love this moment, this day, this year and into the next.

Merry Christmas to All!tree

 

 

Advent Week Two: Who is in control?

The Candle of Preparation

“Do you or do you not have a bead in your ear?” I asked the 7-year-old for the hundredth (almost literally) time. I couldn’t decide which side of dragging children to the Express bead-in-ear-wpCare again I wanted to lean on. The otoscope at school apparently wasn’t working when the school nurse called me Thursday to explain the situation. My 25+-year-old otoscope also wouldn’t charge up so I couldn’t confirm Mr. Ornery’s story and given his orneriness, I couldn’t read his face. Was it worth going out another evening this week to check the ear?

The problem was, the week was just not going the way I had hoped. My idea was that it would be my final week of “preparation” for my once-every-ten-years required pediatric recertification examination. Having taken the internal medicine exam in October, I had been studying almost every day of the week since summer when I sat with a thick book in my lap at the pool. Now I had just a few more days of cramming small details into my brain and I wasn’t feeling ready.

Does he look like he ever slows down?

Does he look like he ever slows down?

But Monday was consumed with the fact that copper pipes were stolen from the basement of the house we’re trying to sell, necessitating quite of bit of work that my sister coordinated. Tuesday was the Little Guy’s orthopedic appointment (“When the cast comes off after 4 weeks, he’ll need to lay low for another 4 weeks” Um, have you met my Little Guy?!?). This was followed by a grand-slam knock-down homework battle prior to heading to a friend’s for dinner. Wednesday evening was karate. Thursday was going to be our evening at home so Mommy could settle and prepare for her test…..or head to Children’s Hospital Express Care.

Friday morning, the day of the test, started with running late to the bus stop due to having to rescue the neighbor’s locked-outside dog, followed by cleaning dog do-do off Super Tall Guy’s shoes, and culminating in finding out there was a conflict with the babysitter’s schedule at the end of the day which needed some childcare juggling as I would still be in my test. Keep it coming.

As hurdle after hurdle rolled my way, I realized that the preparation I was supposed to be doing the second week of Advent was laying all those burdens before the Lord. God was reminding me that there are many things in this world that I have no control over (and most clearly not the 3 little ones who live under the same roof with me!) and yet, He remains in control. As the things of this world – the big and the little – whirl around us and push and pull us, there is one thing that remains true forever. God is in control.

Advent Week Two – Preparation for what God has in store.

 

 

Advent Candle of Hope

Sunday was the first day of Advent. My boys don’t really care about the “anticipation” and the “waiting” for Jesus. They care about the wreath on the dining table that has candles on it. Candles can only mean one thing – the chance to fight about who gets to light the candles and who gets to blow them out. That’s what Advent is to them. Though they did learn last year that Mommy means what she says – keep fighting, keep arguing, keep driving me nuts, and that wreath disappears!!

So we sit down to a fine dinner of spaghetti and meatballs Sunday evening and light the first candle – the candle of Hope. I ask each one what they are hopeful for – and no, that particular Christmas gift does not count.

A couple hours later, during a typical wrestling match, Mr. Ornery apparently delivered a well-executed sweep kick that crashed the five-year-old to the floor. I did not witness said move as I was in the kitchen, doing what all single moms do after a meal – hiding and praying for a moment of quiet. But no, the Little Guy is screams in pain, and his unempathetic mom gives him a kiss and an elbow rub and a “get over it” look and we’re ready for bed, guys! After all, it is bedtime and sleep heals all wounds.

And what I realize in that moment is that all I’m hoping for this Advent Season is a moment of peace….which is not to be.

So here’s this year’s list of Advent Hope.

  1. Hope for just a few evenings of quiet to sit on the couch and stare at the tree lights.
  2. Hope that the hurt elbow heals up by the morning. This Hope, however,sam-cast2wp was replaced with Monday evening at Express Care and Tuesday afternoon spent in the Emergency Room for a lovely HUGE cast! (Mind you, on the same day, Super Tall Guy finished his 3rd week of boot-wearing after 3 weeks of casting. One out of a cast and one into a cast! Delightful.)
  3. Hope that this fracture train will end and the third boy keeps his bones intact! (He seems to hold the opposite hope, as these casts apparently to draw pretty cool attention according to his logic!)
  4. Hope that the dog will never ever ever again bark from her crate in the morning and wake me up on my golden morning of sleeping in as she did last Sunday! Really, dog?!?
  5. Hope that the boys will develop a much better aim for bodily fluids because I’m in-toiletgetting pretty tired of being the janitor (or else their hands are going to be cramping with writing assignments! “It’s 50 this time but it’s going to be 200 next time!”)
  6. Hope that we get a few more nice evenings to enjoy my early Christmas gift of a fire pit on the front patio (and again, not struggle with “behaviors” related to messing with fire!).
  7. Hope that there will be more dull moments this season – when the to-do list isn’t rumbling around in the back of my skull and the hype isn’t stirring up the boys’ inability to control impulses – and that we actually enjoy the days and each other (I know, too much to hope for, but I’m going to try).
  8. Hope that I can instill some meaningful traditions into this season where the boys catch a glimpse of the true meaning of Christmas and think about others for a few seconds; I’m only asking for a couple seconds.
  9. Hope for the world and all its people to find some peace and know that Christ is the Light of the world that disperses darkness.
  10. Hope for continued love and support of family and friends, and for patience….lots of patience….I need lots of patience…..

Double Duty

We’re members of a neighborhood pool this year mostly because it’s one yard and one street away from my sister’s new house. What we love about this pool is the incredible “freedom” compared to other pools. From the boys’ perspective, they are allowed to do “flips off the diving board” (best thing ever!) and play “gutter ball” where you sling a ball from one side of the pool to the other and get points based on the chance landing of said ball into the pool side gutter. At this pool, you can also ride on your dolphin floatie and play basketball at the shallow corner and, of course, buy ice cream at the “Snack Shack.” Every boy’s dream. From the adult perspective, you can bring in your own food and your own “refreshing beverages” – every parent’s dream!

A slightly buzzed gentleman walked the edge of the pool this afternoon dragging a three-foot wheeled cooler behind him. He stopped at every man sitting in a chair or standing in the pool,Double duty shook their hand, wished them “Happy Father’s Day!” and handed them a cold one. I observed and smiled at his generosity and good will. I also wondered if it would be impertinent to jump up and say, “Hey, I’m a single mom and so it’s pretty much Father’s Day for me too as I get to do two jobs!” But, I didn’t. I had brought my own beverage!

Double duty – every single day.

Last night, my next door neighbor joined us for dinner at my sister’s house. I gave him a tour. He finally commented as we wrapped up about the clutter that exists in both our places. “Ah,” he said, “I see that my wife stays home all day and spends a lot of time cleaning everything up.” I said, “Yes, whereas, we work full-time, come home to three boys, dinner, bath, bed-time routine and by the time we wrap that up at 9:30, we’re pretty exhausted. And sometimes I sit down to do an hour or two of work after that. Picking up and organizing all the “stuff” in the house is pretty hard to get to!”

For a single mom, it’s pretty hard to get around to the ‘lesser’ priorities. The boys kind of want to be fed. Every day. Sometimes multiple times a day. I kind of want to put them to bed. Every night. Sometimes multiple times a day. There’s no back-up in chores or discipline or bedtime routines. No back-up other than the grace of family members (Happy Father’s Day, Dad!)

Double duty – every single day.

So this is life for now. I don’t like clutter more than the rest of them, but I also don’t feel like getting up from this computer and straightening up those cookbooks that have fallen over or picking up that Batman costume that has sat on that box for (oh, about) a month and carrying it upstairs. I’m sacrificing orderliness for sanity and survival. I’m sitting down for a few minutes, because my smart phone pedometer says I’ve been moving pretty well all day. I’m willing to have a bit more chaos and dust to have a little more peace and quiet.

Double duty day in and day out and without much recognition – at least not from the boys who still seem to think that their lives are generally miserable and “not fair.” But last week, my sister and I got an email from their karate sensei who said, “I admire what you women are doing in the lives of these boys. I know you only paid to have them do lessons once a week, but I’d like to offer that you can bring them as many times a week as they’d like for no extra cost.” My sister texted me right away with joy. Here, an almost stranger to us acknowledged that this work is hard and committed to being a part of it – jumping in to be part of the village.

Double duty-ing (new word) the best we can at the moment with the help of many because these crazy boys are worth it.

Or at least they better be! 🙂

 

 

Learning a Little in Giving Valentine’s Day Cards

Super Tall Guy was not going to move from the green lacy Victorian sofa. He had a stack of Pokemon cards in his hands and was intent on “studying” them for as long as this process was going to take. Mr. Ornery and The Little Guy hung on my legs impeding forward movement. It was an unusual sight for them to be sure; about fifty elderly men and women sat around tables in groupings of three to six. “One of them has a helmet,” whispered The Little Guy. “Yes,” I replied, “he does, but we aren’t going to point. It’s lunch time for everyone.”

A lot of cajoling and a few bodily shoves eventually moved the fifty- and thirty-pound little boys towards the open doorway. They stood frozen with red Valentine hearts clasped heartbetween stiff fingers. The delight of making the cards, the joy of writing their names, the discussion of visiting “older people” had all faded when faced with the unknown. A woman looked up and smiled. “How about handing her a card?” I questioned.

You could have heard a hearing aid buzz in that silence. I fought to overcome my own discomfort and prod my boys toward handing over some cards. Little by little they realized that their simple acts were being met by smiles and delighted “Oh, look, it’s a little Valentine’s Day card” responses. One was even rewarded with a small white chocolate Kit Kat bar from a sweater pocket. Mr. Ornery surprisingly and graciously replied “oh, I don’t need one” when the woman confessed she didn’t have another for him.

It was readily apparent that we had not brought enough cards for everyone, though. We had never visited this home before. I had no idea we’d be walking into a room of senior citizens spooning chicken noodle soup. I felt terrible that we didn’t have enough and uncomfortable about leaving some people out. I turned to my friend and offered to run home for some more cards, but lunch would likely end before then. Next time, I thought.

As we drove home, we reflected on what a lovely time that had been. It was brief and little interaction, but the boys learned something that day. They learned that sometimes older people live away from their families. They learned that sometimes older people have to sit in a wheelchair or use a walker to help them move. They learned that sometimes they fall asleep while eating lunch. They learned that when you give a little, you make others smile and have a moment of joy.

They learned that they can bring joy to someone else with small acts of kindness.

Well, Super Tall Guy still has a bit of learning in that arena. He spent the way home asking if we could go to Target and buy him a new toy. But I have high hopes for him. I know that he approaches new situations warily and with great caution. I was that way myself. He’ll come around. It will take awhile, but he’ll come around to the idea of service (I have great hope!).