Poverty as Seen By the 6 Year Old

The Little Guy was rapping in the back seat again. He does it often enough to make Super Tall Guy snap “shut up” more often than I like. I love hearing him play with words and sounds. I love listening to the boys experiment. And so I bite my tongue when I’ve had a long day and am tired of noise. And I shush the eldest to give space to the learning.

Last week, these were the words:

I got no money

I got no money

I got no job

I got no home

 

Help me

Help me

Please help me

Cuz I got no money

 

All I got is this piece of cardboard

Cardboard

All I got is cardboard

And I’ll recycle it

But can you give me some money

I got no money

 

Please help me

Won’t you help me.

 

“What does he know about poverty?” asked the ophthalmologist as I mentioned this song that was created on the drive to his 6-month eye check-up.

What does he know? We drove past a man holding a sign as we traversed a poorer section of town and I answered the Little Guy’s question.

No, he doesn’t understand the complexity of poverty. He doesn’t understand how people and institutions with power oppress over 45 million Americans. He doesn’t understand that kids go to bed hungry every night just miles from his home. He doesn’t understand that families don’t have running water and don’t play in the bathtub with goggles on their face any time they want to like he does. He doesn’t understand inequality and disparity. He doesn’t understand that the color of his skin will play a bigger role in how people approach him than the words that come from his mouth and the thoughts that come from his mind.

He doesn’t understand that life will beat people down. He doesn’t understand that the feelings of scarcity created by experiencing poverty in and of itself will alter the brain in such a way as to keep people in poverty. He doesn’t understand that the man holding the sign does not want to stand in the hot sun and humble himself to beg for money from people who might roll down their window and toss a couple dollars in his cup.

But he does understand that the man is asking for help. And there is something inside the heart of the Little Guy that hears that plea and responds to that plea. His innocence and youth allow him to connect on a real level with a man on the street, uninhibited by all the conflicting “science” of the “best” way to help people.

What I want him to understand about poverty is that it doesn’t have to be this way. What I want him to do is hold onto his heart and his innocence and develop the skills he needs to change the world.

“You really can change the world if you care enough.” ~ Marian Wright Edelman

Advertisements

Effective Immediately

“’Effective Immediately’ can be your team name,” replied a mom recently. I had just explained to her that I have this sense that any time I receive an email or a note in my mailbox from any “community” to which we belong that begins with the words, “Effective Immediately,” or “It has come to our attention…,” it can pretty much be assumed that my boys played some role in this new “policy.”

“Effective Immediately, children must now be supervised in the play area…” Community Pool.

“It has come to our attention that children are riding bikes in the street….” Townhome Community. Let’s be serious. It’s not really a street; it’s more like a parking lot road to the end of the row of townhouses. And it is already posted as “10 mph,” so maybe if you enforced the speed limit with the adults, there would be fewer near-misses of cars and kids on bikes.

My boys are not complete hooligans, but let’s face it, they are boys. They do enjoy removing large boxes from the recycling dumpster and building forts. They have been known to unwind a whole role of duct tape around a couple trees out back and then get distracted by the next game. They particularly enjoy careening down the slope of one parking area to see if they can keep the turn at the end tight enough to miss parked cars but not tight enough that they spill over onto the asphalt (smart guys). And they do march around with their shirts off and their Nerf guns in the ready position, like a reenactment of Lord of the Flies. They are boys – active, busy, exploring, socializing, negotiating, testing their limits.

It’s such a balance as a parent between hovering over them to make sure they don’t get too banged up and letting them figure out who will be captain of the adventure crew versus who is picking up the trash; who steers the swivel cart and who holds on for dear life; who chooses the next activity and who follows along. They climb, they jump, they roll, they speed, they play (and apparently they have jumped off the roof of my sister’s house onto the temptingly waiting trampoline below too!).

To me, the generated “policies” and “notices” hint at the loss of the “community,” the “village,” that used to surround parents in the neighborhood. Instead of Ms. So-and-So down the street just yelling at my boys if they were doing something stupid, she now sends me a text and tells me what they did. Instead of Mr. So-and-So just grumping, “Get off my yard,” he complains to management and every townhome with a human under 5-feet-tall gets a reprimanding notice.

Is it a shift in people turning more inward and taking less responsibility over others? Is it a shift in parents being more protective and getting upset if other people encroach on their boundaries of parenting? Is it a lack of engagement or a calculation of potential liability?

I feel like I have to practically beg people to be my village. Yell at my kids – they’re going to listen to you more than to me anyway! I want my boys to develop independence and take risks, but also learn respect and responsibility. I want them to know that others have expectations for them as well and that there is a community that surrounds them and cares about them. As I search for a new home for us, I’m also searching for that community; one that is not reprimanding the parents, but actually joining in the difficult task of raising up the next generation.

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe there is something to the Bottle-Flipping Insanity

The other night my older two boys sat in the hallway cheering and yelling and counting as they seemingly mindlessly twirled plastic bottles into the air. The bottle flip game. Every parents’ nightmare. Every teacher’s nightmare. Every coaches’ nightmare. If you work with kids, you are tortured by this new craze. There’s even an app for it – at least the app doesn’t involve spilled water or loud thunks or occasional property damage.

My constant diatribe fell on deaf ears. “Go pee, brush your teeth and get ready for bed,” I repeated endlessly. All they could focus on was whether they had “stuck it.” How many points the opponent had. Whether that flip counted or not. They were completely enraptured.

However, it didn’t take long for those bottles to be emptied out and thrown into the recycling bin by a slightly irritated parent.

You see, my boys flip the bottles in the living room. They flip them on the sidewalk. They flip them in the car. They used to flip them in the cafeteria at school, but apparently that’s been banned. Smart lunch staff! The game eats under my skin. It’s not just the noise, it’s the waste of resources that kills me. I already have a “thing” about plastic bottles, but to catch my boys cracking one open, pouring out almost 1/3 of the contents, and then leaving water bottles strewn ….everywhere….. It’s more than I can endure!

So in the manner of most things that irritate me about parenting, I try to consider what might be positive about this bottle flipping nonsense.

Persistence – If nothing else, the boys are learning to stick with something and work towards improvement since landing on the cap apparently earns more points than landing on the base. In general, nine out of ten times the bottle lands on its side, so they flip again.

Turn-taking – Social give-and-take is a constant learning need of the boys and although there’s usually a continuous argument throughout a “game” of bottle flipping, the boys are negotiating the rules and turn-taking.

Mathematics – Not only are the boys keeping score, but they are adding and comparing numbers. I’d love them to start calculating percentages, but that might be a bit too much to ask out of my 8 and 10-year-olds.

Self-entertainment – Teaching kids to be self-sufficient and able to entertain themselves is a constant struggle for parents. At least while bottle-flipping, they are not complaining about being bored or trying to spend time on an electronic device. And it is an activity amenable to a variety of environments, just not all the ones (like in the car) that the boys think it’s appropriate for.

Friendship – The beauty of this game is that anyone can do it no matter what the age or skill level. Thus, the boys can practice the skills of making new friends and initiating interactions with others by joining in this mutual activity or asking other kids to play with them.

Science – In essence, they are experimenting
with gravity, learning the differences in motion depending on weight or amount of fluid in the container, and learning about rotation of objects. I’m working to incorporate the lessons of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” though we haven’t gotten too far with that yet. It’s usually me picking up the bottles and tossing them in the recycle can.

In general, I’m trying to be a bit more patient with this fundamentally annoying game. Like all fads, I’m hoping it moves along soon….though it’s upcoming replacements (like the fidget toy) tend to be a bit more costly!

 

 

 

 

Building Wings

I walked away.

I might have peeked back, to be honest.

But I walked away.

My nod was the signal. I passed the middle child off.

What’s your name dude?

~Gavin.

Thanks for saying hi to my guy.

~I rode with him before.

They circled the course again, getting good air.

On deck, Gavin called Mr. Ornery’s name. He lined his bike up with the riders and sat.

A new tribe.

I walked away.

There is growth.  There is learning to be done.

Pump. Jump. Spin.

Confidence. Persistence. Technique.

That part is not my job.

My job is to let the little boy find his wings.

My job is to find the safe space and walk away.

My job…. is to hold myself in check and be able to walk away.

 

Seven Friends Every Mom Needs (Especially this Single Mom)

Skiing has always held a strange mystique over me. Having grown up in a non-snowing foreign country and transplanting back in my teen years, I could never understand the fascination of propelling oneself down a hillside on thin blades and hoping for balance. Yet, it has remained on my list of things I “must” do with the boys (it’s my own internal list, half the stuff doesn’t make sense and the other half likely will never get accomplished).

However, the vast unknown surrounding the world of skiing has until now blocked my boys’ experiences. How do you even dress to ski? How do you put boots on kids’ feel? How do you navigate a ski lodge in which everyone walks around in the confidence of knowing where they’re going and what they’re doing – except you? It was too much to comprehend. Too much to attempt alone. Too much until a friend said, “Hey, my husband would be happy to teach your boys.” What beautiful joy.

This week, two very happy boys learned about clicking in ski boots, skicreating pizza or French fry poses, and the thrill of flying down the side of a little tiny mountain. Their brilliant faces and sparkling eyes spoke of their joy. I stood near the outdoor fireplace warming my toes and capturing moments on film and in my heart. Gratefulness overwhelmed me at one point as I thought about the joy that friends bring to one’s life and just how important they are to my parenting journey.

It seems to me that every parent needs at least seven kinds of friends. Clearly, one of them needs to know how to ski!

People who can do stuff you can’t Friends – There are things I can teach my boys like how to do the laundry, wash dishes, and say please and thank you. But there are so many things that I clearly have no ability to teach, like lift the toilet seat, flush every time, and how to ski. For this and so much more, I need friends who not only have skills I don’t, but who have a desire to spend time with kids and help them learn new skills. I’m very thankful for these friends.

Text Me Friends – In this digital age, it’s great to have these friends when you just want a little affirmation or to share a funny story that you know no one else except another mom would appreciate. The most important thing about these friends, though, is that when you’re stuck in a moment of parenting and just need a kind word, advice or empathy, but don’t have the emotional energy to actually talk, these friends are there for you in the pretty immediate response mode.

Call Me Friends – When you’re ready to chat about the little things in life, the surprise find at the grocery store or the cost of gas, or when you’re ready for a good heart-to-heart in-depth discussion, these are the friends you need. Though for us introverts, sometimes these are the Send Me An Email or Reach out on Facebook Friends! It’s pretty handy to have a friendly pediatrician in this category when you can’t figure out what that rash is or whether to grab the kid and run to the emergency room or just dole out some ibuprofen.

Dropping-by Friends – You need these friends to just come knocking or send a text and say, “Hey, watcha doing? Mind if I drop by?” And then you rush around picking up unmatched boys’ socks, doggie toys, and shoving the shoes into a pile so they don’t trip up your guest before opening up the bottle of wine. It’s going to be a nice evening and these are the friends you need.

You Got This Friends – The parenting journey is impossible without multiple moments of complete meltdown and desire to give it all up. You feel lost. You don’t know what to do next. You know you’re the worst mom (or dad) in the world. These friends pick you up, brush off the dirt, wipe off the baby drool, and push you back into the game. Listen to them.

Been There Done That Friends – Now these are key. When your eldest son refuses to talk to you on his first trip away from you in the ten years that you’ve known the dude, these are the friends who say, “Yep, boys are like that. Don’t worry.” You don’t believe these friends at first, but then you realize that they speak from experience and they actually are right! It’s also wise to listen to these friends as they rant or tell stories about their little ones, because pretty soon these “ho-hum” stories become your reality.

Meet Me Friends – It might be coffee. It might be a margarita. It might be a walk in the park or a bench at the playground. These are the moments when you pause and breathe and rest in a rhythm together. You smile, you laugh, you cry. You get together in the monthly M.O.C.K (Moms of Crazy Kids) meet ups. It’s really best to have these moments without the little ones around if you expect to put more than two sentences together in a conversation, but if that’s not possible, meet up anyway. Human contact is part of sanity.

Got-your-back Friends – Every once in awhile, the fine structure you’ve built up of how to make life flow smoothly crashes a bit and when your family is busy or is already watching your other kids and it’s midnight and you’re in the emergency room with one of the kids, these are the friends who arrive with a bag of every possible cell phone charger made in the past fifteen years so that you can plug in yours. No matter what, no matter what time of day, no matter what they are in the middle of, these friends drop it all. They’ve got your back. They will be there. (I know, this is technically the eighth type – but these friends are so crucial they are in their own must-have category!)

You need friends. That “village” that they’re always talking about. It’s not really for the kids…it’s the village behind the parent that keeps you going.

Build your village. I sure am thankful for mine – old and new.

 

 

Getting away from it all: Don’t forget Respite!

The night I sat on the couch with a bowl of ice cream and started the first episode of the first season of the “Gilmour Girls” and felt guilty that I wasn’t on my computer doing “work” at ten o’clock at night was the night I realized I really really needed a break.

It was also the week before I flew to Seattle and drove north for a couple hours before crossing over to a small island by ferry for a few days of respite. My aunt’s sister had just purchased a house on the island and offered a weekend away and I jumped at the opportunity. For the first time in over ten years, I slept in a queen-sized bed all by myself for TWELVE HOURS without the possible interruption of small two-footed or four-footed creatures. It was amazing!

My friends asked, “What did you do while you were away?”

“Absolutely nothing,” I replied, “and it was glorious! I sat on the couch with a cup of coffee and watched the clouds blow off the peaks of the neighboring island and examined the fishing boats and ferries as they passed by.”

That’s it. Sleep. Rest. Good conversation. Coffee. Food. Two books that had a higher ratio of words to pictures in them (okay, they didn’t actually have any pictures in them and that was fine).

For the first time in over ten years, I spent three days as me. Just me. Not as a parent getting boys ready for school or bathed and into bed at night. Not picking up Legos and dirty clothes from the floor. Not at work making decisions on grant writing or presentations or people’s health. The only decisions I had to make were whether I was hungry or not and what I wanted to eat.

I’m a firm believer in “respite.” I spent my entire college, grad school, and medical school years taking every Sunday “off” as respite. I consistently counsel new parents to build in respite to get away with each other, and I have many times watched children for the weekend for parents to get away. I also co-founded a “crisis nursery” in our community a few years ago to provide respite for every and any parent who needs it. And yet, it took me ten years and near exhaustion and a wonderful person to say, “Can someone watch the boys for a few days? I’m serious” to get me to apply my philosophy to myself and get on a plane.

guemes1I have absolutely no regrets. I actually relished having six hours on a plane where no one could reach me and all I needed to do was read a book and munch on some pretzels. I woke up on the second day feeling rested and refreshed. When a winter storm blowing in caused us to push back our flights by a day, I fretted for a while about how my eldest (and least flexible) son would handle another day without mom, but soon realized that clearly I was the one who needed that extra day to sit on the couch and watch the boats go by.

My mom is my joy. She willingly moved into my little home for a few days to juggle the boys, get them to basketball games, handle the push-back of not wanting to go to church, deal with the major emotional complete melt-down of Super Tall Guy before school on Monday morning, keep the dog alive, coordinate the babysitter and my sister’s kids’ after school care, all with a smile and grace and love. And my sister lovingly filled in to give the boys a few extra hugs and attention while I was away. I am so grateful for the support of family and friends to make this happen and the chance to meet new friends on my trip.

If there’s one thing I learned – it won’t be ten years before I take my next break. In fact, it’s been rolling in my head for years to get away with some other moms on a regular basis in January or February. This experience reinforced the importance of making sure that idea becomes a reality. Parenting is exhausting even when you are getting sleep. Sanity is maintained by getting breaks!

Who’s with me in 2018?

 

 

 

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