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.

 

 

 

 

 

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! 🙂

 

 

Just a few (like 10) of the Challenges of Single Parenting

I read a headline the other day about a single woman adopting a set of 6 sisters,zoo boys and I thought, wow, what an amazing thing to do. She fostered them and wanted to keep the sisters together (you know, it’s National Foster Care Awareness Month). It’s a great thing to do. It’s also a very difficult thing to do.

There’s a growing number of women parenting “by choice,” with rates rising in particular for women over the age of 35 (you know, like me 🙂 ). There is no accident or illness or divorce that left us with our hands full of kids. Instead, we decided for a whole host of reasons that we could and should become a parent.

My decision was more a natural flow from having fostered a child for 18 months and being given the option of adopting. I can’t say it required much decision-making. I already felt like his mother. I already acted like his mother. It was the choice that I wanted. I could not have foretold eight years later when I’m now parenting three young boys, that I would spend so much time contemplating my choice.

So here are a few thoughts on the challenges of single parenting.

  1. You are it. The final word. The absolute decision maker. Whether that’s sitting in your kid’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting and deciding what is the “best classroom” option for your 7-year-old, or deciding whether or not you will move ahead with eye surgery for the 5-year-old who’s eye wanders on oblique gaze, you are it. Figuring out what school district would best meet the needs of the kids. Which toothbrush to buy. What to make for dinner. Do we start karate or not? Replace the TV or leave it broken? Everything. Sure, I have a lot of support. I have many friends and family to bounce ideas off and get advice. But the final decision is mine. Sometimes that’s nice and sometimes that’s scary.
  2. When you are way beyond tired, have hit your limit, or are otherwise just “done” with the day….there’s still three little boys. They still need dinner. They still have sports activities or homework to get to. They still need a bath. They still want you to read them a bedtime story even if your eyes sting with exhaustion. They’re really not concerned about how you’re feeling. No, they’re not.
  3. If you want to get away, you have to line up a babysitter. For anything. A night out. The grocery store. A work meeting. Getting some exercise. And finding a sitter can take time and make you much less spontaneous than you’d like to be sometimes. And sitters make every activity or event more expensive as you count up the number of hours you’ve entrusted someone to care for the kids! I used to be a night-owl, now I dash home as quickly as I can.
  4. Your phone is always on you. Always.running with phone If the school calls or the daycare center number shows up on your “silenced” screen, you answer it. Always. If you’re running the marathon relay, you answer it. Always. You never know when one of the boys is heading to the emergency room.
  5. You worry about getting seriously ill or in an accident yourself and who would take care of the boys. On days when you’re not well, you set your alarm every 15 minutes to get out of bed to make sure they haven’t broken a bone or a lamp. You let them fall asleep with their Kindles in hand as long as they’re giving you some peace and quiet. And, you actually make your doctor appointments and think about your health a little bit (see, there is a benefit!).
  6. You get to be the “Bad Guy” every….single….time. You get good guy times too, but you are always the Bad Guy. Always the Meanest Mommy in the Whole World. There is no “wait till your father gets home” or “go ask your Mom.” You have to decide in the moment and have your yeses be yeses, and your noes be noes. Constant discipline, constant evaluation of your discipline technique, constant enforcement….it’s pretty draining.
  7. When you are stressed or tired or happy or sad, there’s no buffer for your emotions. There’s no one to assist with a little “honey, why don’t I take the kids for a bit?” And the kids have started to figure this out. “Hey, Little Guy, you probably want to listen to Mom before she gets really mad at you,” I overheard Super Tall Guy recently advise his little brother. Yeah, think about it little dude, we’re this close….this close…
  8. You have such pressure to be there at all the kids’ events and activities, because there’s no other parent to make it to the games or the concert, or the school play. I altered my first job as a physician because I was expected to be rounding in the hospital on Christmas morning and that wasn’t going to work for me when I was the only parent the boys had for Christmas morning. There are a lot of sacrifices, a lot of guilt and a lot of trying hard to make it all work, but it doesn’t always.
  9. You worry about job security even when you’re a well-educated, “marketable” person. You realize that your income alone is spread among you and the kids and mostly your income is for the kids. I can’t remember the last thing I bought for myself other than socks (and paying that “babysitter” to get away for a few hours).
  10. You have to maintain everything about the lives of three other individuals in your head at all times (this on top of work responsibilities, friends, your own junk, etc). What do they need for school (“a 2-liter bottle of Diet Coke, Mom, for the experiment”) and what homework is due when. When was the last doctor’s appointment? Is the prescription ready to pick up? What’s their birth date? Who has soccer, baseball, Tumbling & Trampoline, gymnastics, flag football and karate when? Did they eat any fruit today? Did I RSVP to that party for Super Tall Guy? What’s their shoe sizes for when you come upon a sale? And the hardest thing of all – what “consequence” did I tell which kid that he had after school today?!?!
  11. Oh, and a “Bonus” one: You are eternally grateful for your family and friends who jump in when you need help. You realize the importance of living in and being in community and the need to nourish and tend to those relationships. Despite being a strong introvert and wanting more “quiet time,” I’m grateful that there’s people nearby just in case….

ducksAnd lastly, when you’re single-parenting, you just want people to understand how complicated it is. That even if this situation was and is my “choice,” it doesn’t make it any “easier.”  Like most parents, I’m doing my best at the moment. Some days can get pretty dark and draining and tiring and you’re just putting one foot in front of the other and making it through. But you do make it through. So know that I sure appreciate everyone’s encouragement and support and patience when I’m not as available as I used to be or as fun as I used to be.

But hang around, I’m still here. I’m learning, I’m growing, I’m parenting. It’s a good thing (and these little guys better appreciate it some day!). Because I love them enough to do this.

Gratitude

I sort of missed a posting last week. I did have good intentions, but exhaustion hit Sunday evening after staying up most of Friday night (and sleeping on a thin mat) in preparation for a yard sale Saturday morning. Then the fuzzy throat hit Monday morning and by Tuesday afternoon, I declared myself sick with strep (symptoms + nephew and neighbor positive for strep) and called in some antibiotics. (Sometimes that degree is really helpful since the leftover amoxicillin that I found in the cupboard was dated 2013. Probably too old, I surmised.)

Let me tell you, sick and single parenting is no fun. Just that. No fun. It’s even 50 times less fun when it’s pouring down rain, you are without an umbrella but with two kids in tow and running in and out of the doctor’s office and the pharmacy because the elder child has a sinus infection at the same time.

Somehow, my boys don’t seem to be old enough (or wise enough) yet to know that when Mommy is sick, thou shalt keep the noise level below 115 db, sit nicely and do your homework, and take yourselves upstairs to bed (and NOT require said ill person to sit and read Harry Potter Book 3 to you for just one night. Say “Please, just a few more pages,” as many times as you want, it’s just not going to happen).

It’s such an amazing feeling when your brain starts functioning again and you realize you haven’t actually been “all there” for three days.  And I realize in these moments that this single parenting is really a very fine line. Everything fits into the puzzle just right at this time. It’s working to juggle gymnastics, baseball and ice hockey. My job is flexible enough to cover random days off school. I’m keeping up with the house and the bills. But it’s all very fragile. Life is very fragile. Throw in a fever and you’ve got a kid home from school or a mommy home from work. Routines alter. Emotions jumble. It’s all unsettling for a day or two. The return to calm reminds me to be grateful that these “hiccups” are minor and that I have a wonderfully supportive network.

I was so touched when a woman I’ve met a couple times at churchdinner emailed last week and asked “although it’s a bit late and the month sure has been crazy, could I drop off a meal to welcome you all to your new home”? Tempted to reply, “oh no, really…we’re fine,” I instead responded with the truth – “that would be such a wonderful gift.” She brought over the most delightful steak taco meal complete with all the fixings including homemade guacamole, and the “last of the summer’s corn” from a local farm, a huge fruit salad and, of course, homemade macaroni and cheese for the “picky” eaters and DESSERT!! I just stared at the spread on the table as I unpacked the huge box ….grateful.

new home

Life is fragile. Be grateful. Touch others. Savor the moments.

What Single Parents Dream Of

Every year my sister takes her kids on a “Single Parents Weekend Retreat.” This year my kids begged me to go too with stories of zip lines and giant swings and swimming pools. The place on Lake Erie was packed with kids and many many parents, most of us women. The main speaker was to talk on passing on the “legacy of love” but she was neither a single parent, nor was she even a parent. My mind drifted to wondering how these parents all got to this place.

Did they make a conscious choice to parent through private or foster care adoption? Had they been in relationships that ended with tragedy or separation? Were they stressed by their current situation or had they come to grips with single parenting? Was this just a “phase” of their life with them constantly seeking something different or did they plan to remain a “single parent”?

Most days I realize that I don’t identify myself strongly as a “single parent,” I’m just parenting. And I am thankful every day to have the privilege to be a part of these boys’ lives (even on the days that Mr. Ornery suggests that I go find a new family to join!). I love each boy. I love being a parent in so many ways, but every once in a while I dream of:

  • Someone to jump in at the end of a long day and volunteer to put the kids to bed! Oh, that would be heaven on earth. What would I do with the gift of two free hours that usually entail repetitious phrases such as “pee, wash hands, brush teeth,” “pick 3 books (and not that one again!),” “lay down and go to sleep.” Lay down and go to sleep. Huh – I could probably read a book. I mean, an adult book!
  • The presence of another parent who also had the “responsibility” for the kids and I could leave them while going out with friends, or on a run or doing errands without having to beg my mother or pay a babysitter to keep the kids alive.
  • Knowing there’s another adult in the house who could find a baseball bat and creak downstairs when you hear a noise.
  • Someone who would share in cleaning a few rooms in the house, or take out the trash, or help in shoveling the snow from the driveway.
  • Really just someone who would pack up the car for the road trip and then complete the dreaded unpacking at the end of vacation. Slugging around suitcases is really not my favorite thing at all.
  • An extra chauffeur for the soccer Saturdays when one kid is at one field at 10:00 and the “travel team” boy needs to be 45 minutes away for a 10:30 game. Let’s throw in gymnastics, basketball, flag football, inline hockey….it’s only getting worse. Hence, the poor Little Guy won’t be starting sports until he’s 25!
  • The comfort of knowing that in an emergency, there would be an extra hand or someone to stay home with a couple boys while I ran one of them to the doctor for stitches or a cast! There was a close call when Little Guy sprayed Deet in his eyes, but we survived that one.
  • Having a partner in making a whole host of decisions from where to buy a house for the “right” school district to what to make for dinner (because asking the boys has only resulted in “mac and cheese” and “chicken nuggets” as less-than-desirable answers).
  • Riding in the passenger seat of the car so that I’m not breaking up fights or switching DVDs or handing out food to quiet the backseat wolves at the same time as trying not to run off the road or into another moving target.
  • Someone to pamper and take care of me. I spend all day giving of myself to others at work and then at home, constantly making sure the kids are safe and relatively comfortable. I spend more time on their social life than I do my own. I worry more about what they’re doing and how they’re feeling than I think about myself. It sure would be nice to have someone pay attention to me (other than to ask for a glass of cold water!).
  • A nice warm stretch of sand without a single human being under the age of 24 in sight and a cool drink in one hand and a mindless novel in the other. That’s what single parents dream of!beach footprints

 

Find the Someone’s

His hood was pulled tight around his ears, blocking the winter cold as he burst through the door. It was way past his bedtime, but his eyes danced and the biggest smile ever flashed across his face. He kicked off his shoes and bounced away into the living room. I turned to my friend, gave him a brief hug, and say “Thank you.” “It’s good to be a friend,” he said as he turned to leave.

After a rousing basketball game (I almost typed “unsuccessful” there – as in his team didn’t win – when I caught myself. The act of playing is “success.” The ability to catch, dribble and toss a ball is “success.” The joy of the swoosh and the cheer of the parents around the court is “success.” I shall remember.) Anyway, after the game, I dropped Super Tall Guy off at a friend’s house – a dear couple who used to go on training runs with me years ago when my three were a little easier for someone else to handle. A delightful set of friends whose kids have gone on to college and beyond and yet their house remains an open door of love and hospitality. Though we have only seen each

other a couple times in the past year, I jumped on Mr. G’s offer to show Super Tall Guy his canaries.

About 4 ½ hours later, Super Tall returned, beaming from ear to ear, bouncing around the house with stories about holding birds, cleaning cages, writing down the “secret” number of the birds, and naming them (Sunny 1, Sunny 2, The Dark). He showed me how you can hold them without squishing them. That if you blow on them to “see their bellies” you can tell if it’s a male or a female. He talked until sleep took over.

It’s going to take a village for me to raise these boys.

  • It takes the daily help of my mother who despite being in her 70s, carts around a 9-month-old foster baby wearing his “my-head-is-misshapened” helmet.
  • It takes a father to unclog the drains, put up plastic over drafty windows and change the chandelier light bulbs over and over as they are knocked out by arching footballs.
  • It takes a sister to help juggle the schedule and take the oldest one skiing while I stay within a warm house.
  • It takes a school to sit down and meet and develop a plan for the new kid in the class and commit to doing what needs to happen to help him succeed.
  • It takes a Big Brother, Big Sister program to bring alongside a mentor and a friend for a kid without a father.
  • And it takes a whole bunch of friends for me – texting friends, dining friends, babysitting friends, comforting friends – to be able to survive.

But what really warms my heart are friends from years past who step up and take a kid for a couple hours and when you thank them profusely over text as you tuck your bubbly boy in bed, they reply – “Really glad to love on the kid.”

You see, that’s what all kids need – someone to love on them. And it can’t be me because I’m too busy racking up awards of “Meanest Mom Ever.” It has to be someone outside the family. Someone who really shouldn’t care that I chose to adopt three beautiful challenging boys. Someone who doesn’t have to give up their Saturday night to show a 90-pound clumsy 8-year-old how you hold on to a delicate bird. Someone who will love on a kid because that’s what the kid needs and they are willing to give.

If you have kids – find those someone’s.

And if you can – be that someone to a kid. You have no idea how profound and powerful you can be when you love on a kid.

Even if just for a day.

Thank you, Mr. G.

The “smaller” family…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

nature

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

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