Changes in the New Year!

The moment my sister carried out her son’s small vault, the tears welled. I didn’t expect to be crying. But it had been four very long and stressful weeks –  eldest son “let go” from his school, looking for a new school for the 3 boys, looking for new house in the right neighborhood to get to the “right” school that can handle “behavioral” problems. The stress gave way. I had visions of the boys not seeing each other anymore. Of Mr. Ornery never becoming a great gymnast because he doesn’t have The Flipper to keep encouraging him (I know – insane). It felt like the beginning of the end – such a huge change in the status quo, years in the making.

It wasn’t about the gymnastics – it was about a change in the boys’ relationships. It was about a change in the adult relationships. In the true sense of the phrase, I am a “single mom.” But I rarely think about it that way – because I have such a beautiful family. In essence, it has been more like two parents with five boys…..and incredibly supportive grandparents (incredibly supportive)! We have been one big (and mostly) happy family.

But suddenly, the “singleness” hit and I was afraid and so sad. It was the day after Christmas. My sister was making good use of “vacation” time to get the move done. Friends came over to carry out the couch. My father spent countless hours putting together a dining room table and chairs. My mother flitted around doing everything and anything.  I, however, was frozen in denial, dipping into sadness, punctuated by jealously (why do you get to move into the sparkling clean cute townhome with a master bedroom and your own private bathroom that likely won’t have “tinkles” on the toilet seat and gobs of kids’’Sparkle Fun’ toothpaste lining the sink?!?), sprinkled with shock at all the rapid changes.

Verklempt.

“It will be good to have some quiet,” she said. I nodded. It’s impossible to explain to anyone the mind-numbing, energy-zapping level of NOISE and motion that exists within the walls of this house with 5 boys ages 3 to 8. Super Tall Guy likes to poke at kids to get a response. The Flipper and Mr. Ornery either swing from the pull-up bar or set up gymnastics floor routines through the living room/parlour area. Mr. Trouble exists as a constant threat to everyone approaching his Ninja Warrior Nunchucks or swinging light saber. The Little Guy doesn’t know he’s little as he excitedly tackles Super Tall Guy to the ground and wrestled around while the dog squeals and hides when moving bodies collide into hers. It’s nonstop. It’s pandemonium. In an effort to survive,  I proclaimed the Holidays to be unlimited “screen time” (or there’d be no sense in calling it a “holiday” for anyone!).

A little bit of quiet. The truth is – it’s probably what we all need. A chance to let the boys develop a little bit of themselves as an individual instead of constantly in relationship to or in reaction to another child. A chance for my sister and I to figure out a little bit more about how we can parent our own children without all the clutter and chaos of who hit who? Who’s tattling on whom? Who’s fault is it really? Who’s toy was it first? (Like you even cared about that Nerf gun anyway…. until The Little Guy picked it up!)

It’s likely a really good thing for everyone to have a little more space. And, as my sister reminded me, it will just be a temporary time until we can figure out the next step. And, I still have the Thai house guest here at “the Big House” for another month, so I still have back-up help and am not completely “single” :).

It’s just been some crazy stressful few weeks. I’m super proud of my sister for just jumping in and getting everything together to create a new home for herself and the boys. And we’ve tried not to visit too much as New Yearthose walls are too flimsy for my boisterous boys (but come summer….when she can walk to the community’s swimming pool….she might need to adopt a few more little men!).

The schedule is going to be a lot to juggle as the three older boys begin in a new school in the morning. And there are going to be a great many kinks and glitches to iron out. But I have a terrific family and much hope in this New Year of New Beginnings!

 

 

 

 

Sacrifices of the Second Sibling (or third or fourth or fifth)

Mr. Ornery dances around the kitchen floor. “I love my teacher. I love Miss P,” bubbles out over and over again. I sigh inside, knowing that the week, the season, of Miss P is coming to an end. Sometimes I let him dance. Sometimes I remind him that he’ll be leaving Miss P’s class and his friends. Sometimes I let him sit in the sadness of “I don’t want to leave Miss P” as he falls asleep at night.

Four months ago he left the day care center where he went almost every single weekday of the year since he was 6 months old. He entered a new school – new “authority figures,” new friends, new routines, new expectations. And believe me – it took him a LONG time to adjust. But he did. Because he’s strong, he’s bubbly, he’s the class clown, and he’s just so darn cute! – the girls swoon already, he asks “if you’re in love do you kiss a girl?,” and the little fairies gather around him when he enters a room.

But four weeks ago, I was asked to “transition” my eldest, Super Tall Guy, out of the school. He didn’t “fit,” they didn’t want to work with him anymore, they had a symphony “orchestra” to coordinate, he was an electric guitar. Mr. Ornery is the bystander. The one who gets uprooted almost before he has his feet under him. Just as he’s coming into his glory. Just as he’s figuring out who he is and who he’s becoming.

Star Student of the Week

Star Student of the Week

I mean, when you are 5 – what is huge in your life?  Your family – though he often says he needs to find a new one (you know, one that won’t ask him to pick up his clothes or put his dishes away). And his school. That’s it – that’s where life is when you’re five. And his world is about to be completely and totally changed….on behalf of the needs of a sibling.

So part of me hurts on behalf of Mr. Ornery, knowing that he is happy where he is and I have to make the decision to move him. In the larger scheme of life, I know there are many times a parent has to make decisions that dramatically alter their children’s lives – moves to new cities/houses/schools, arrival of new siblings (Super Tall Guy is still not too thrilled that boy #3 arrived and stayed), addition of a pet or loss of a pet. The list goes on. There are also more dramatic times of when the needs and happiness of siblings are affected by other sibling needs, especially if one sibling has chronic health problems. We had a small window of that when Super Tall Guy had to return to the hospital after his tonsillectomy and I thought about how unsettling it was for the younger boys to watch us rush out of the house late at night and not be home the next day. I am so thankful that our kids are generally healthy, yet having multiple kids does lead to multiple unpredictable situations.

The good thing is that the boys are young and they’re resilient. And they’re resilient because they are loved and they know they are loved and they still have a great support group around them. They have family, they have friends, they have neighbors, and a new church family. They are also resilient because they have had prior experiences of shifts in schedules and environments and have made it through them. They will likely handle this transition to a new school better than I am going through it.

Super Tall Guy’s teacher told me that she talked to him on his last day of school and explained that finding the right school was like trying on shoes. Sometimes you have to try on a few pairs before you find the right one. Well, we’ve tried four of them already – Montessori, daycare center kindergarten, cyber school kindergarten, and private

Frustrated second grader

Frustrated second grader

Christian school. We’re moving into the public school system – the one school that will not say, “I’m sorry, your child doesn’t fit here,” but that says, “All children fit here.” That’s where the boys need to be – where they will “fit” and thrive and grow.

It will be a big change for both boys, but hopefully it will be their last big change — at least for a few months 🙂 and I have high hopes for them that this New Year will bring some great new joys and friendships and happiness.

 

 

 

 

 

The rush of time

This is how I know I’m stressed – when a friend offers to arrange a massage for me (AND watch the other kids….AND bring me Starbucks!) AND…. I actually consider it.  Never been a fan of massage, I hate to say….but I do know that all the muscles that I can still name from medical school anatomy class and the ones that I occasionally pull and can’t remember their name – they’re all pretty tight right now!!

The other way to tell that life is in that “stress” mode is the lateness of this post. When your brain is filled with the “have-to’s,” there’s very little space for the creative. Yet, if you pause enough, it will come.

Every single year I have high hopes for Advent. Teaching the boys about patience and waiting (“I hate waiting”). Focusing on hope, love, joy and peace (“It’s my turn to blow out the Advent wreath candles!” “No, you blew them out last night!”). Thinking about service and how we care for others (“Oh man, I’ll just get that Angel Tree gift myself this year”). Starting new traditions that will carry on year after year and become that lore in adulthood of “well, when I was a child, we always did…..at Christmas.”

When I struggle to slow time down – it has a way of speeding right along.

Literally, this Advent season has been:

  • Choose a new school district for the boys from (thankfully) some really great choices. My sister and I have thought about which district we would prefer “in theory” for a few years now, but we suddenly needed to make the decision….like yesterday!
  • Put up Christmas tree top-heavy with the “fragile” ornaments
  • boy tree_wp
  • Tape up a strand of Christmas lights around the door frame
    • Re-tape
    • Re-tape
    • Tape again
    • “Stop playing with these lights!!”
  • Find a place to live – not only within the school district but in the “zone” that feeds into the elementary school that handles kids with “special emotional/behavioral needs”
    • Search for places online – Thanks, sis, for handling the brunt of this!
    • Visit homes for rent, townhomes, apartments
    • Agonize
    • Look at more, change mind, get close (oh, wait, this place doesn’t take dogs!)
    • Sign lease
  • Fill Advent calendar boxes with candy
    • Forget to open a box every day – our calendar says it’s December 7th – we have LOTS of shopping days left!
  • Complete paperwork for neuropsych evaluation intake appointment for Super Tall Guy
    • Freak out the morning of the appointment when the forms are who knows where
    • Out-smart 8-year-old to get him in the car to go to the appointment
    • Pat self on back for remembering to charge and bring along the DS game system
    • Groan when informed, “Mom, there’s no game in this DS”….ugh!
  • Thank Grandma for bringing over “Advent Bags” filled with toys/treats for each evening of Advent
    • Forget to open them after day 5 or 6 – we’ll just save them for next year (Did we say that last year?)
  • Complete (redundant, endless) paperwork for school enrollment for two boys
  • Find central admin office just in time for school enrollment appointment
    • Freak out in parking lot over who has the copy of the lease – really – honestly – the ONLY important paper we need today
    • Sweat bullets over whether all the forms are done correctly as the administrator slowly marches down the checklist – check, check
  • Complete paperwork and behavioral forms for behavioral assessment intake appointment for Super Tall Guy
    • Huh, he is pretty challenging
  • Bake brownies for
    • Christmas party #1
    • Christmas party #2
    • 2nd Grade Christmas party
    • Kindergarten Christmas party
    • Oh, you want some for your second-grader as well??
  • Battle with self-will to NOT go in to Toys R Us
    • Lose battle
    • Spend too much (again) on the boys
  • Sit on the couch
  • Turn off the lights
  • Soften Christmas music
  • Cuddle with sleeping dog
  • Get lost in the glow of the tree lights
  • Breathe
  • (message friend to accept massage offer….)

Want to slow down time? Just do it.

Don’t mess with Mama Bear

That should be the mantra for all parent interactions. Say, for example, that you are a school representative about to deliver bad news about a child’s behavior. You might just have this line running through your mind. Kind of like – the customer is always right. Don’t mess with Mama Bear.mama bear2

Apparently the meeting with the principal 10 days ago was to let me know that Super Tall Guy needed to “transition” out of the environment in which he no longer “fit.” From the principal’s perspective, they had done all they could in adjusting his environment but it wasn’t helping and things were getting worse. Super Tall Guy was more disruptive and more disrespectful and beginning to require “in school suspensions” sitting in the principal’s office.

I could see this was the end of our grace period, but I am also absolutely convinced that an 8-year-old boy does not need to be expelled from school. That while trying to figure out what’s going on inside the head, we need to support and keep alive a desire to learn and succeed. We can’t let very young children develop a sense of failure. We need a smooth transition to the next arrangement. In that vein, I offered to take him out of school at lunch time since it was clear that he was consistently falling apart in the afternoons.

It was certainly an emotionally charged meeting – Mama Bear was in high protective mode, while also trying to acknowledge and understand their point of view. Disruptive children do not fit into the beautiful “orchestra” of small private schools.

As often happens, though, emotions cloud discussions and we never wrapped up the details. However, when I arrived to pick up Super Tall Guy the next day – Friday – I was distressed to find that he had been sitting in the office of the Head of School all afternoon – having a “nice time looking up insects on the iPad….as we were expecting you to pick him up at lunch.” “Oh,” I replied. “I didn’t know that was starting today. For I had no details. For example, do you know what time his lunch is? Do you know when I was mama bearexpected to be here?” Don’t mess with Mama Bear – because she’s holding herself together pretty darn well right now given that Baby Bear is staring at us! Because, you see – you just made Baby Bear miss out on the combined second grade class holiday party?!?!?

The calm before the storm was a bit eerie. Why wasn’t Super Tall Guy more upset about missing his party?  It took 24 hours for the waves to swell and the gale-force winds to build ….when he realized his behavior at Grandma’s had just led to missing “movie night” of the next Star Wars film. And then it all unleashed. The anger. The pain. The disappointment. The fear. The frustration. The teeth on my arm. The kicking feet. The refusal to try any calming tactics suggested by the therapist. The storm, it seems, just has to settle itself out…and then the tears flow about how unfair the world is. How sad it is to miss a party that you had been looking forward to.

His pain pierced Mama Bear’s heart.

My sister, bless her, kicked into active drive, spending hours on the internet looking for a new school district and a place to live. I, however, spent a couple days with my heart wrapped up. Distraught by the realization that my eldest must have some “problem” clearly severe enough to disrupt schooling and result in the whole family moving. Saddened by the way he has struggled for months. Disappointed in myself for not recognizing all this sooner. Frustrated by the crumbling of our current status quo. Overwhelmed by the thought of moving and packing and transitioning boys to a new school – much less trying to decide “which” new school.

And yet hopeful – that we might find a school that will honor my son. One that will meet his needs and build on his strengths. A place that will not try to “break the strong willed boy” but will seek to understand his struggles and help instill healthy coping strategies and skills. A place where he is not judged as “bad” but will rejoice in the small steps of progress.

For Mama Bears have pretty high expectations. Don’t mess with them.

 

Parenting THAT school-aged child

If there was a parenting manual for the school-age kid, I always imagined it would go like this. Get the kid up, dressed and off to school after a good breakfast. Your child will enjoy class time and friendships. After a snack and a break, child completes homework, studies as needed and succeeds.

Except for some children.

Some children wake up and don’t want to go to school. Some children say “I can’t do this” the moment they sit down to a work-sheet. Some children lay on the floor and roll around making noises in the back of the room. Some children talk out of turn and without raising their hands. Some children talk back to the teachers. Some children express anger. Some children just don’t seem to fit.

I read a fantastic piece today written by a teacher about “THAT” kid in the classroom. The one that other children always talk about. The one that other parents always worry about distracting their precious learning child. And I wept knowing that THAT child is my child. My boy is the one laying on the floor making noises. My boy is the one that gets “dangerous” sometimes and for no reason. My boy is the one that kids and parents talk about. My boy is the one who is not fitting.

And when the principal of your private school calls on a Friday afternoon to say “We really do want the best for your son, but this may not be the best fit for him,” you feel your world crumble right alongside you. The walls collapse. The ground shakes a bit as the weight of the words sink through the protective, defensive, mushy Mommy brain. Numbness turns to questions.

Questions which don’t really have an answer.

Questions that begin with “oh my goodness.”

What are we going to do now?

What are the options?

How do I help this boy who is struggling?

How did we get to this point?

What should I have done differently?

Where do we turn?

How do I parent “that” kid that doesn’t fit anywhere? Where is this parenting manual?

Self-emptying

Funny how you won’t hear words for a long time…and then twice in one day. Funny how the concept of “self-emptying” seems to be synonymous with parenting. The IMG_5152preacher used it in an example yesterday morning and then my friend who has 4 boys of similar ages of mine used it as we rested on blankets at Raccoon Creek State Park while the boys splashed in ice-cold fall water (good for you, knuckle heads!).

You know how you watch your red needle slide past the “E” on your car and you calculate based on prior experience that you have 20-30 more miles to go? Running on fumes and yet you’re still running?

That’s what I was doing last week – running on fumes….after I thought I was already at Empty. I went way past Empty on Tuesday when the third or fourth email arrived about how “difficult” my boys were being in their nice private Christian school. When the kindergarten teacher called to see if we could have a conference with the principal because Mr. Ornery was in fact being….well, Ornery. When the poor 5-year-old boy had landed on Red on the Traffic Light system (and the floodgates seemed to have opened up). Well, I lay into him as soon as he popped “innocently” into the van in the carpool line:

  • “What do you mean you were on red?!?”
  • “What do you mean you’re not listening to your teacher?!?”
  • “What do you mean you’re refusing to do your work?!?”
  • “How could you stand in front of the class being a goof pretending you’re writing Dunceon the board in marker instead of chalk?! And then you’re going to make the chalk screech?!?”
  • “And you pulled down your pants?!?”
  • “By golly, BOY – you gonna be on RED at school, you’re gonna be HURTING at home!”

By the time we got home….and the typically bouncing boy sobbed as he slunk into time out (while I was still on the phone with his teacher, mind you)….he probably thought his world had ended right then and there.

Well, mine had. We picked up the second-grader from chess club an hour later and I laid into him too. “What are you so mad at me for?” he asks.

Could it possibly be because:

  • “STG had a very difficult day today”
  • “STG was defiant and disruptive in class.”
  • “STG put his head down and flatly refused to work.”
  • “STG should NOT have any gaming time. It’s very important to be firm and consistent.”
  • “Anger seems to be STG’s most authentic mood.”
  • “STG almost constantly makes noises like a whale song in the back of the room, which do not seem to be intentional.”
  • “I really do need you to have a conversation with STG about his behavior. He needs to understand rules and consequences.”

By this point, I was banging kitchen cabinets to check to make sure that they will in fact break if you give it just the right slam! I had sent both boys to time-out and gratefully let my sister “talk” to them about why Mommy might be so angry. I had very few tears left to burn down my face. I headed out of the door to take one of those “I completely give up and I am not your mother” walks when my mom arrived with my youngest….and I sucked in a big breath and welcomed him home. Self-emptying.

I wasn’t mad at the boys. I was mad at myself…..for possibly picking a school for them…that might not actually be right for them. I was mad at myself for possibly making a mistake. I was mad at myself for not knowing the “right answer.” I was mad at myself for being mad at them and at myself.

I was Empty.

I was exhausted.

I had done the week of guilt. I no longer could process the constant emails interrupting my office work to inform me that my boys were “not listening to the instructions the first time.”

I couldn’t figure out how to advise the sweet young kindergarten teacher how to draw the line for Mr. Ornery and change her “reward” system so she didn’t keep rewarding his obnoxious class clown behavior.

I couldn’t figure out how to handle Super Tall Guy’s teacher’s sharp tone of annoyance in her emails.

I wanted to know that these teachers and school were going to come alongside me and partner in this journey of growing healthy boys (not just compliant boys). I wanted to know if they actually had a sense of developmentally appropriate expectations. I wanted to know if they actually loved the boys. I don’t have peace about any of that yet.

So, I need someone to open a “boys’ school” in this area. And I need it Pretty Darn Quick! Let me know when you have it ready!

 

 

Hitting the inevitable wall of failure along the journey of parenting …

A week of “heavy boots” for me. Both boys are apparently struggling at school. Super Tall Guy seems to be having a particularly severe time….and after a string of emails and phone calls from teachers, I hit the wall.

Sometimes as a mother you struggle just to breathe.

Oh…it happens quite a bit, actually. I didn’t know that. Before. Now I do.

The tears burn hot in the eyes and threaten to escape onto the apex of the cheeks.

The heart aches as it wordlessly pumps life-giving energy into a body temporarily unwilling to accept it.

The brain screams “failure” from deep caverns within.

Failure…

Failure…

And you sit

Washed in emotion

Lost in contemplation

Crushed in fear

How could you be such a failure?

How could you?

The evidence seems to mount up so clear

Arguing against you

And yet….

Sometimes…. it takes a few moments to pull back

To look up

To step away

To see that all the little pieces jumbling towards failure

Pointing towards failure

All the little pieces….

Are in fact….just little pieces

And apart they are manageable and will dissipate.

Do not let them congeal and yell failure.

Do not listen.

You are mom.

You are strong.

You will rise again.

And so will they.