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!).

 

The Year of Gratitude

You always think that you’re doing a great job at parenting (like never), but sometimes it hits you that you’re just not getting it right. There are those moments…moments when you drive to your sister’s house three times before you get there.

Take 1: Mom suggests to her three boys that she plans to a) be more consistent with their weekly allowances (I tend to forget…so, this can be New Year’s Resolution #1) and b) increase their allowance. It sounds good until the silly mother continues with the expectation that each boy will Share, Save and Spend. They are expected to Share ten percent through tithing either to church or to others in another way (“like Mom gives to Jeremiah’s Place” I say). Save ten percent for their future. The rest they may Spend as desired. It was a matter of seconds before Super Tall Guy angrily commented that he wasn’t giving any away. He wasn’t responsible for other people and wasn’t going to be sharing (“Any time I share, someone breaks my toys,” he moans).

So, I dropped off the younger two, texted an apology to my mother (who was watching my sister’s three boys) for adding to her workload, and returned to our driveway to have a discussion about all our numerous blessings and our responsibility and opportunity to share with those who do not have as much as us. I will be honest, it was not a successful discussion. It involved a lot of harsh ungrateful words, kicking at the back of my chair, and deep scowls. It involved sadness and anger and me telling myself that the boy is only nine and has much to learn and that children don’t just develop empathy without assistance. So, New Year’s Resolution #2 is to help my sons become more grateful and giving young men.

Take 2: We arrive back at my sister’s house (fortunately just 3.5 minutes away) and I calmly suggest that Super Tall Guy might take Mitzy puppy inside and return to help me carry in some food items for our upcoming fondue feast for New Year’s Eve. This “suggestion” is met with “I will not” and I turn the car around again. Now we sit in the driveway and begin a discussion on how this really nice Mom is always “helping” her boys and that I don’t necessarily need to “help” this capable 9-year-old get over to Auntie’s house where he would like to play with his cousins. He could walk there himself, but Mom could also “help” him.

New Year’s Resolution #3 – make sure the boys are helping even more with all aspects of our daily life. Yes, they have daily and weekend chores. Yes, I ask them to help carry in bags and groceries. But, it would also be good to point out the times that they do help. Highlight the times that I’ve asked them to help. Find opportunities for them to help in many different circumstances. Increase their inclination to help others through volunteering. You see, I’ve done a lot of volunteer work and spent significant amount of time working on the crisis nursery project, but just “seeing” your mom do something doesn’t have the same impact. They need to get their hands in it too.

Take 3: We arrive at Auntie’s house again. Super Tall Guy jumps out with puppy in hand and takes her in. He returns to carry in a load and asks if he needs to do more. I give him a hug. We are going to have a busy year.

New Year’s Resolution #4 – hug each boy at least three times a day. They just need more hugging. We all just need more hugging. I’m not generally a “huggy” person, but if I seem to be more huggy this year, you’ll know why.

New Year’s Resolution #5 – drink more wine. Wait, less wine. More coffee? Less Starbucks. More exercise – yes, need that. Settle on a school district. Find a “real” house. Study for recertification Board exams. Cultivate current and new friendships. Spend more “real” time with people. House-train that puppy. Love on my family. Praise more and be more thankful (thinking of starting that gratefulness diary mentioned by a friend or paper slips in a jar). And finally, I resolve to accomplish the above Resolutions (I think)!

And if you live in the area and want to join my quest to accomplish Resolution #2 of helping our children be grateful and serve others, let me know. If you have suggestions for doing this, let me know. I’d love to find a monthly service activity that is kid-friendly for all ages  ;).

 

Light in the darkness of fear

“Mommy, can you please give me some food?”
He screams into the air.
Tears stream.
He sits on the edge of the bed.
“I’m starving. I haven’t had anything to eat!”

 

He is paralyzed. He can’t get off the bed.
He can’t face the prospect of going downstairs by himself.
At night.

 

“I have dreams of getting killed. I can’t do it.”
“Please, Mommy, get me some food.”

 

He bargains.
He pleads.
“Please, Mommy, get me a granola bar.”

 

I sit against the wall.
Recording the conversation on the iPad on my lap.
Encouraging him to venture downstairs.
Refusing to get up for him.
“Which feeling is more powerful?” I ask.

 

He is relentless.
He is persistent.
The piano tinkles.
There’s a sudden realization that the other brother must be downstairs then.
He pops out of bed and runs down for a snack.

 

I sit and wait.
Peace returns to the room.
“Please, Mommy, can you read Harry Potter now?”

 

It is paralyzing. Fear is paralyzing. I know it. I have my own fears. Will I be a good enough Mommy? Will these boys grow up independent and courageous? Will I forever be alone? I have few paralyzing fears, though there are moments of them – when your car slips on ice, when there’s a new sound in the house at night and you remember you’re the only adult.

 

Yet I sense that our world is troubled by fear of late. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the different. Fear of the random and sudden violence. Fear of the new. And maybe this is not a new experience – maybe it is just a resurgence or a cycle of difficult times. Whatever it is, I have noticed and felt it.

 

But we are not to live in fear. “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord…” (Luke 2:10-11)

 

Advent; the season of waiting.
(I know you’ve been waiting for a post from me. My laptop crashed a few weeks ago and all got off track, but it’s back on again. Maybe I can blame that new puppy somehow; after all, she’s chewing up the carpet and currently destroying Super Tall Guy’s old shoe while I type.)
Advent, a waiting filled with a sense of peace. A confidence of knowing that there is hope.

 

That there is a reason to celebrate. There is light within us. Light for the darkness without.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that; hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” ~MLK Jr.

 

Let us have Love this Christmas season and hold up the light.

 

Merry Christmas to all. 

 

Near Death Experiences Really Should be Teachable Moments

It’s crazy how insane the past couple weeks have been. The movers handled the large items and friends carried loads of boxes, but our new townhome sat piled ceiling-high with boxes for a week as we spent time outside with the neighbors and packed up for a beach vacation.

Sand is always good. Sand that has been dredged from the bottom of the ocean is near perfection. There’s not a sharp sea shell in it. You can dig and dig and dig out a hole large enough for boys to jump in and be completely hidden from sight. You can drizzle it into the forest where the trolls live while waiting to save Princess Ana from the accidental strokes of Elsa. You can mold a horse to be galloped upon. You can mold sandballs of wet sand dabbed in hot fine sand to threaten siblings with. You can rest.

There are few things more relaxing than sun and sand and the lap of waves. There are also few things more terrifying than the power and pull of water.

The warm sun was coaxing my eyes to close as I sat upon a boogie board and watched the three boys jump in the surf. After each wave, I would identify them – The First One shakes his head to get the water out of his ears. Super Tall Guy wipes the water from the top of his head to his chin. Mr. Ornery bounces and bounces and bounces. He comes up from under a wave and bounces as he awaits the next. His ringlets bounce. His body bounces. His arms bounce.

And suddenly there was no bounce. I looked again. There was his head very close to Super Tall Guy, but there was no bounce. They were too far out. They were too far out to see their faces, but I was on my feet and headed out there. A glance at the lifeguards on their stand showed that they were not going to be of any help. The panic started to rise as each wave pushed me back from my singular goal – to reach my boys who were being swept out to sea. But I wasn’t getting there fast enough. Do I scream? Yell? The three adults near them were close enough though. One man reached for Mr. Ornery and pushed into shore. One man grabbed Super Tall Guy and guided him in. I watched The First One start to swim.

Mr. Ornery wrapped his arms and legs around me as he clung sobbing in my arms. I tearfully thanked the Helpers. I praised Super Tall Guy for clear attempts to save his younger brother and keep him afloat. Suddenly I panicked again looking for The First One. Where was he? Mom, where is he? Super Tall Guy, where is he? I rushed to the lifeguards and then turned and found him. He had swum beside the current and then into shore. We all hugged.

“Look for the helpers,” I reminded the boys as Mr. Fred Rogers so eloquently stated. Rogers HelpersWhen you are in trouble, look for the helpers. They will be there.

Ask Mr. Ornery how his vacation was and he’ll say “I was almost dead.” We had to talk a lot about it that night. We talked about safety. We talked about the power of water. We talked about the helpers. We talked over and over about how you “NEVER go out past your waist” and you “NEVER swim alone.” We talked about going back in again.

And he did. Right back into the water the next day. I watched much more intensely. And I watched the new day’s lifeguard splash over to him and remind him in words and body language – “NEVER go out past your waist.”

And yet he did. Bouncing along right into the deep. This boy is going to require a whole lot of “teachable moments.” And he’s going to need a whole lot of Helpers!

But I, for one, would like to skip the “near death” moments the next time he needs to learn a lesson.

On Mothering and Foster Parenting for Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day and Foster Parenting Awareness Month coming together kind of makes me reflective – though not reflective enough to type through the exhaustion of Mother’s Day evening! It might have been the four hours of shadeless, 92 degree sun while the boys practiced and played flag football that got to me. Yes, that is what mothers do on “their” day, apply SPF 70 sunscreen to survive the brutal battlefields of youth sports. And yet, when I turned to the mother beside me and said, “This is what makes mothering fun – watching your kid run and jump and cheer and smile,” she smiled and nodded in agreement.

And these rare moments are a good thing because those little beings don’t always make you proud to be their mother. Take their recent rock launching incident at a friend’s house, for example. Or the kicking out of the stained glass window! Or a host of other ways they torture mothers!

Mothering is one of life’s biggest challenges and it starts right from the beginning. For some, mothering appears suddenly, unexpectedly with cheers or big sighs. For others, it might be the joyous moment at the end of a long wait or years of careful planning. It might stop and restart to the dismay of the expectant heart for some.

Or it might putter down the long road of foster parenting. “Hi, I’m his foster mom,” is the awkward phrase that tries to encapsulate one’s care of and affection for a child and yet a distance that is forced to exist. The foster mother has all the responsibility for caretaking of the child – feeding, clothing, bathing, sleeping, getting homework done, reading, worrying, laughing, crying and treating the fevers. Yet the mother has no true responsibility in terms of decision-making. The foster mother asks for permission to take the child on vacation. She asks for medical decisions on his/her behalf. She can’t speak up in court to inform the judge on what’s really in the best interest of the child. When it comes to what will really affect the child’s future, the foster mother is silenced. “Love her, but don’t get attached.” “Treat him like he’s your own child, but don’t make any decisions.” It’s a hard space to be in and sometimes it doesn’t feel at all like mothering. But to the child – it is everything that is important. And for 27,419 children in 2012 – the foster family became the forever family.

Yes, mothering is a journey. It is not an arrival. The path is pretty wide and there’s a lot of leeway for stumbling along and doing things your own way or for trying something new. There are smooth parts and bumpy parts and lots of hiccups along the way. There’s singing and dancing and laughing and crying. And there’s certainly a great deal of pain ground deep within the furrows of the path. There’s distractions and dead ends and wrong turns and celebrations. So it’s pretty important to travel along in the company of other women. Sometimes, they’ll help you carry some things to lighten the load. Sometimes they’ll jostle you a bit to get the smile back on your face. And sometimes they’ll pull you back onto the path when you’ve gone a little over the edge and you reach back for a strong hand. Travel among the women. It’s your only hope.

So whatever the type of mother – bio mother, adoptive mother, step-mother, his mother, her mother, tiger mother, tired mother, lax mother, strict mother, helicopter mother, world’s best mother – take care of yourself, take care of each other, and hang on. The road continues on.

A Christmas in Photos

Whoever is making toys these days just doesn’t understand boys….or at least not our boys. We tried some new toys this year and have not been impressed. My top goal is to find a sturdy remote control vehicle that lasts more than a couple days – I’m still hunting.

This Wubble lasted a couple hours, despite the claims to “bounce it, catch it, squeeze it, kick it.” Fortunately it has a lifetime replacement guarantee (“if you happen to pop” it, you can pay for another one, states the website….since our patch attempt with Ninja Turtle Duct Tape didn’t help :))

"Lifetime warranty"

 

IMG_8506Yet the replacement Wubble seemed to experience the same fate as the first (and the mom is not paying to replace it again!).

 

 

 

The “Smash Toys”  that splat against the ground and slowly reform to be thrown again also come with a free lifetime replacement….and lasted …oh….about 4 throws….(doubt they will be replaced either)

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The tent survived almost an entire day before the poles were too bent to erect again….(guess it’s trash!)

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So I am just thankful for Legos….every single time I open a box, I’m amazed legosat the quality (and the price tag! and the pain of an unsuspected Lego under a walking foot). This year, though, The Little Guy got his first set and he was thrilled (and persisted in putting together 5-6 pieces)!  And….we have a new record — of keeping a 400+ piece “construction” together for more than 3 days so far!  The Star Wars spaceship goes to bed every night with Mr. Ornery to “protect it” from the others!

 

 

 

And…lest you think  we have mice in the house (well, we do….but mainly in the kitchen)….most of the mess comes from 5 boys! (Um, one does not like chocolate. One does not really care much about candy. One is too young to figure out how to hide wrappers behind furniture. Hmmm…that leaves two with incredible sweet teeth and cunning mentality!)

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Lastly, it seems pretty clear that the dog is just humoring me with a new toy, but she seemed to survive the chaos commonly known as dog-bearChristmas!

 

 

 

 

 

All in all – it was “relatively quiet” (ie, no broken windows) and the boys were “relatively happy” with their gifts (ie, very little thievery from each other….except of stocking candy), and the adults got “relatively” few moments to open some gifts as well. (Although, we have resorted to texting relatives to ask, “what did you get for so-and-so?” — helps in writing the thank-you cards that way!).

Hope you all had a great Christmas. Any gift joys or frustrations?

P.S. (added 12/29/14) – And….apparently….you shouldn’t submerge new watches in 8 inchesIMG_8511 of bubble bath water! Who knew?  (Actually, I’m not complaining about this one. First and only day the 8-yr-old wore a watch and I was vowing to never buy him one again! “Aren’t we done yet? It’s 11:47.” … “You said 10 minutes and it’s already been 12 minutes.” Never. Again!)