47 Things I’m Thankful for on My Birthday!

I guess the first thing would be that I got out for a run after putting the kids on the bus (school day number 2!) this morning and that gave me time and mental “space” to think about all the things I’m thankful for! After about the top 11+, they are not really in any particular order (kind of hard to compile the final part with a five-year-old talking incessantly in your ear while wearing an Olaf costume).

  1. A loving and forgiving God who picks you up and fills you up in all the many moments every single day! 🙂
  2. Super Tall Guy– within all his grumpiness, irritability and anger, he is sweet and loving and trying every day to do his best.
  3. Mr. Ornery – ornery as all get out, but such a sweet, creative, snuggly delicious little boy!
  4. The Little Guy – the most resilient, tender, kind, extroverted being I’ve ever met who approaches the world head on. He’s a game-changer!
  5. My parents – their unconditional love, missionary heart, and constant encouragement has meant the world to me. And their current support of my sister and I in our parenting is priceless.
  6. My sister – she started us on this journey of parenting and I will never forget that! Love her.
  7. My brother and his family – such a faithful, loving big bunch. Wish we lived closer.
  8. All my other family scattered around the States and the world! So thankful for them and the love they share.
  9. My best friend from college – her boys are just two days older than my three and we commiserate and support each other practically daily.
  10. Countless friends who are always there in so many different ways from all my educational experiences (a TON of education) and a wonderful medical community of friends and so many other places. I am so grateful!
  11. Our Cavadoodle Mitzy – she’s such a gentle soul….and patient with the boys….soooo patient with the boys!
  12. My health – enough to try water-skiing again last month and getting out to run.
  13. That my boys are physically healthy (though behaviorally they drive me nuts!!)
  14. A developing church family.
  15. A fellow foster parent who made parenting a newborn possible ten years by offering to do childcare for Super Tall Guy until he was 6 weeks old and could start at daycare. She made our “story” possible.
  16. Growing up as a missionary kid in Thailand as it had such an impact on my life and is my forever home in my heart.
  17. The opportunity to travel throughout the world (though the passport became unused once the boys arrived….).
  18. Friends around the world thanks to my parents’ wise decision to have foreign exchange students when we were in high school.
  19. Living in the U.S. where we have so many opportunities.
  20. Super Tall Guy’s “big brother” from the Big Brothers Big Sisters program who has been a blessing to our whole family.
  21. Good school for the boys where they are safe and cared for and have many opportunities.
  22. Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz ice cream – it’s out of this world. Try it. You won’t stop.Processed with MOLDIV
  23. The fact that Target has just started stocking Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz! One-stop shopping is key for single moms!
  24. Living in Pittsburgh which is a small town big city in which everyone is “related” by only 2 or 3 degrees of separation.
  25. Starbucks nonfat no-whip mocha…..just addicted…that is all.
  26. Ability to work a job that gives me tons of flexibility at work doing so many different things and and flexible hours so that I can be at kid events and available when needed.
  27. A camera that lets me document my boys’ antics and cuteness – photos are sometimes a necessary reminder of why I love them! 🙂
  28. Friends that helped me purchase a minivan when my crew grew and three car seats wouldn’t fit across a row anymore!
  29. Opportunities for my boys to get involved in sports and receive coaching and mentoring and meet new people (though I miss them when seasons end)
  30. Living in a community with neighbors who help out whenever needed.
  31. Texting – I just love texting….I’m an introvert….enough said.
  32. Having a home. Even though we’re looking for a new place to move to, it’s nice to have a comfortable place to be in the meantime.
  33. A comfortable bed. Beds are wonderful. I can’t wait until all of my boys feel the same way about their OWN beds!
  34. Showers are great – especially the first one after a beach vacation and you finally feel like you got the sand out of your toes.
  35. Okay – the opportunity to take vacations. Not everyone can and I don’t take them for granted.
  36. Grass under foot, trees overhead, flowers in bloom, leaves that change color, snow that falls.
  37. Fireplaces – I love fireplaces.
  38. And garages, oh how I wish I had a garage (it’s on my bucket list before I turn 50!).
  39. A basic ability to cook and a joy of baking.
  40. The opportunity to live in peace and safety (most of the time).
  41. Having a big “safety net” around and under me when it’s needed.
  42. My grandma’s piano in the living room and an occasional moment to tickle the ivories.
  43. Jigsaw puzzles – always a soothing activity to me.
  44. Access to technology and a basic understanding of it so that I can communicate with it, compile memories through it, and connect with others.
  45. A little wine or beer or margarita sprinkled into life.
  46. Sunshine.
  47. Knowing that I am loved.

 

Donald Trumps says things that I discipline my children for!

My eldest son was at it again, torturing his younger brothers. You know the drill, he’d fake throwing a football at them. They’d scream. My ears would ring. We were running late. I was tired and stressed. I did the calm “please” technique to alter his behavior. I tried the old “counting to three” technique without any change in his aim. So I got up and removed the hard ball from his hands to which he replied, “You b**ch.” Yes, my son has learned words that I didn’t know until I was an adult. But, contrary to his desires that morning, such disrespect for his mother earned him a serious consequence of being grounded from outside play and the worst punishment of all (in current scale) – “no trampoline today.”

Reflecting later, I realized that one of the front runners in the political field this year is a man saying the very things to which I dole out serious consequences. I am working hard to shape my young boys into caring, considerate, compassionate men and I have before me the very antithesis of this behavior seeking applause from his supporters.

“I love the old days, you know? You know what I hate? There’s a guy totally disruptive, throwing punches, we’re not allowed punch back anymore…. I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell ya.” –Donald Trump on how he would handle a protester in Nevada, sparking roaring applause from the audience, February 22, 2016

Here, one of America’s most “powerful” men (only because people seem to want to equate power with money) is expressing his desire to punch another human being in the face in response to an action. What do I tell my boys over and over? “We use our words. We do not hurt other people.”  “Hands are for helping, not hurting.” It is in their very nature to respond physically. My boys are always wrestling. They are always walloping each other. It is with time and with love and with constant correction that I shape them to respond to each other with kindness, to see another’s point of view, to control their temper and their bodies, to seek peace and reconciliation. It is an exhausting process and yet I persist because it matters.

“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s, like, incredible.” –Donald Trump, speaking at a rally in Sioux Center, Iowa as the audience laughed, January 23, 2016

There were 23 mass shootings over the course of 20 days starting February 19th, from California to our neighbors here in Wilkinsburg. Across 17 states, 128 people were shot and 42 died (from Esquire). There is unspeakable grief for at least 42 families. And, this is just “mass shootings” and doesn’t count the shooting deaths of just 1 or 2 people (like the remarkable physician in Texas who was killed by her husband last week, leaving two young children behind). Should one of our most visible “leaders” be promoting violence, the kind of violence that kills people? The kind of violence that takes kids from their parents, parents from their kids, brothers and sisters from each other, best friends split forever? Violence that leaves emptiness and pain in the hearts of so many.  Violence the type that I talk to my sons about and ban them from video games that make it seem realistic and that disassociate it from the pain and consequences it produces.

“Women: You have to treat them like s–t.” –Donald Trump (italicized quotes from a recent compilation)

I don’t even know where to begin on this one. I am a single woman raising three incredible sons whom I adopted from the foster care system because there are kids in this country who need a family and need love. And I am trying my hardest to raise my sons to respect people – all people, men, women, children, people of different backgrounds, people of different faiths, people of different skin tones (because our household is a blended tone one), people of all walks of life. In fact, I am teaching my boys not to treat anyone like s—t!

I am a lucky, lucky mother. My children are young. They do not watch the “real” TV, they watch episodes of Pound Puppies and Octonauts. They are not exposed to the news. They probably don’t even know that Donald Trump exists. I am lucky. I do not have to explain (yet) how a grown man who is displaying so many things that every parent works to correct in their children is getting so much attention. I do not have to explain why people are afraid and how their fear is driving their praise of this behavior rather than disgust. I have time to prepare.

But, one day we will talk about this complicated mess. And I only hope that on that day, I will have a much better role model that I will be pointing my sons to and saying, “My boy, that is the kind of man you need to be. Strong and courageous. Kind and compassionate. Empathetic and understanding. Humble and willing to serve. Be the man God has created you to be.”

 

 

 

The Top 2 Most Ineffective Words in ALL of Parenting

The other day, I made a little video on my phone of my youngest boy. Of course, I had to have him repeat his question for the video because the first time he asked, I didn’t have any video recording running. I should just run video nonstop at my house. After all, I have three boys – feel sorry for me.

I was in the kitchen baking and The Little Guy came up and asked, “Mommy, if I make this noise (something between grunting like a pig and clucking his tongue or some concoction of extreme annoying noise) when I’m near you, would you say ‘Stoppit’?”

“Stoppit”
“Stop-it”
“Stop It!”
And “Quitit”
“Quit It”

They’re actually 4 words in total, but they roll of my tongue so rapidly and frequently that it seems as if it’s just 2 words after all.

I can’t even count how many times a day I say these simple “words” but clearly enough that the boys identify them as frequently used enough to completely ignore them. And they are right – these words are entirely ineffective.

The other day, Super Tall Guy lay on the floor wiggling and kicking around his feet. I kept repeating “quitit” “Quit IT!!”….he kept moving. I kept getting frustrated seeing all the papers that were being scattered and how he was kicking into Mr. Ornery also rolling around on the floor. “Quit it!” and yet he was not stopping.

Clearly my words were not helping him understand what his behavior was and why it was such a problem. “Super Tall Guy, please stop moving your feet around. You are messing up my papers and kicking your brother.” “Oh,” he replied, “I didn’t know.” My first thought was ‘how in the world would you not know? Don’t you feel yourself knocking into things?!? What’s wrong with you?’ But that question is not helpful. My commands were not helpful. I needed to educate him on exactly what was the problem and help him see how he was affecting the world around him.

“Yes, Little Guy, when you make that noise near me it makes my brain feel really crazy and Mommy doesn’t like it. But you can make that noise in another room if you want to.” Now the Little Guy can make an association between his behavior and how he is affecting the world around him. He can also choose to make annoyingly obnoxious noises in another space if he would like (for example, beside his older brothers who just punch him or start copying him!). What he now knows is that Mommy doesn’t just yell “stoppit” and “quitit” all the time for no apparent reason.Im perfect

I mean, I do. I do say them all the time.

But the first step to change is admitting you have a problem.

And visualizing the change you want to be.

How do you build persistence?

I walked into Brighton Music Center last week. I thought I would be carrying a big bulky cello with me to return the rented instrument. For the past several months, Super Tall Guy has said “I’m quitting” every single week after cello and then orchestra practice at school. Every single week. “I hate missing recess” (happens rarely). “I hate taking it on the bus” (not even once a week does he do that). “I’m not going to practice” (that’s true – he hardly ever took it out of his case at home).

And every week, I would reply, “You can’t quit yet. You chose this instrument. You have to stick to your commitment until your concert in January.”

The next rental payment was due the day before the concert. Super Tall Guy spent the day grumping, “I’m not going to wear those shoes, they’re too tight.” “I’m not dressing up.” “I don’t have any dressy long pants.” “I’m wearing my tennis shoes.” “I’m not going to the concert.”

I wondered if it would be okay to return the instrument the day after the concert. We’ve never had an instrument in the house other than the piano which is definitely out of tune and woefully neglected by the only individual who can create a tune on it. I just didn’t want to pay a month’s worth for just two days of cello use.

The day of the concert was the first day of real snow of the season and we braced ourselves against the wind walking to the auditorium. Kids wandered up and down the aisles. Parents searched for rows that had enough empty seats to meet their “save me a seat” requirements.

Tuned and ready!

Tuned and ready!

Super Tall Guy meandered to the front to join the throng of kids waiting to have instruments tuned by very patient music teachers.

And then they began. It took a few notes, but soon each song became recognizable. Most of these third graders started four months ago without any musical ability. It was not until last month that they started to use the bow rather than just plucking the strings. It’s an impressive feat for a music teacher to turn 70 rambunctious 8 and 9-year-olds into musicians.

“Well, Super Tall Guy,” I queried as we stepped out into the night, “What did you think?” “It wasn’t bad” – and voila, we’re not taking the cello back yet, I thought to myself!  “Maybe some day you’ll be playing Cello Wars Lightsaber Duel!” “Nah, it makes blisters on my fingers.” Ah, sigh….

I’ll just rejoice in the fact that I’m plopping down a check on the music store counter instead of an instrument and hold out hope that he’ll persist for a bit longer with the cello (maybe at least until the Spring Concert). And I’ll be grateful for a passionate music teacher who inspires new musicians, a committed homeroom teacher that sends reluctant kids down the hall to practice, great music stores that make it possible to try instruments, and a school that supports musical arts. And the PianoGuys who end their Cello Wars video with the Jedi Mind Trick “you will start cello lessons now”….

It worked.

New Year’s First Week

 

If you’re a mom and fighting a cold, you might just close your eyes while sitting on the couch in the middle of the afternoon.

And if you close your eyes after a long week of work and the end of the first-week-back-to-school, you might just fall asleep.

And if the single mom falls asleep as it gets closer to five o’clock, the resourceful unsupervised boys might just make their own dinner.

And if two young boys decide to make their own dinner, they might just pour out a wrappersbowl of cereal and head upstairs with a large number of Hershey Kisses piled on top.

And if the boys are wise enough to know that they’ve taken far too many “treats” they might just try to hide the wrappers in their bathroom.

And if the boys mention getting some more treats as they walk past the couch, they might just wake up their mother who then decides to explore the little house and see what the boys have been up to during her absence.

And if the mom finds evidence of all this unhealthy eating, she might just send the little squirts off to their room for a break so that she can sit down on the couch.

New Year’s Resolution number whatever – beware the first week of January. It will knock you hard. Respect it. Respect the disruption it holds on your life. Respect the toll of exhaustion on little bodies as they try to “align” themselves with the routine again. Respect the stress on your own life as you readjust to work and wade through all that has piled up in your absence. Be more patient with those little creatures and with yourself. Rest more. Forgive more. Remember that it’s okay to say no to good things.

Do you know why parents have to talk to each other so much? They have to float ideas out there to make sure they’re not crazy. “Seems to me that a 7:00 pm practice is a bit late for a 6-year-old….” “Oh, yes.” “I know, right? It just throws off our whole evening!” “Uh, hmmm.” Check, yep, I’m right. We’re going to have to start skipping those late evening basketball practices and get a bit more sleep.

I think Mr. Ornery hit yellow on his behavior chart the second day back to school because he’s not back in the rhythm yet.” “Oh, yes. I’ve had to wake my kid up every day.” “I know, right? I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on him for having a rough time at school.

New Year’s Resolution next in number – support one another through those crazy stressful times. Encourage each other and take naps as often as you can!

 

 

 

Assumptions about Super Tall Guy – wrong again…

You know … you really have to watch your assumptions when you’re a parent. With this opening line, I could go anywhere, couldn’t I? But I shall try to tie this in.

Super Tall Guy is an extraordinarily shy guy. At least he seems to be. At least that is my assumption about him…built on a vast number of facts such as hiding behind my body on too many occasions to count, refusing to speak to someone that I am conversing with, and many other examples. However, every once in awhile, he isn’t shy and I am generally taken aback and don’t know how to respond.

This weekend we had a sunny and warm Saturday morning (wow – mid November!) meer catand so we strolled along the zoo enjoying the quiet of the morning. We eventually stumbled into the Polar Bears’ Birthday Party (who knew that Koda and Kobe are 8 and 11 years old….but I can’t remember which is which). All the crafts and activities and yet Super Tall Guy was Super bored until Radio Disney said they were going to have a hulu-hoop contest. He raised his hand and bounced “pick me, pick me.” I stood awestruck and watched him go forward. He easily won the first round – probably since the Little Guy was one of the 2 opponents, and then he went head-to-head against a very graceful school-aged girl. He was quite disappointed to lose. I was quite shocked to watch him compete. It was touching on the way home when he mumbled in the back of the van, “I was sad not to win the hulu hoop.” I still shook my head in disbelief and said, “I’m proud of you for getting up there.”  Where does this come from?

I was just as shocked last month as we started to leave the great party welcoming the Big Yellow Rubber Duck to Pittsburgh. As we attempted to skirt past throngs of people, we were approached by a man with a microphone near a canopy tent. He asked if we’d like to participate in his documentary. I laughed and began to move on when Super Tall Guy said “yes” and stopped. I paused and said to myself, “we’ll just see if this actually works!” So he asked what the rubber duck means to us and Super Tall Guy smiled, pulled me down to his height and whispered in my ear. I repeated his words and moved on thinking “well, that’s on the editing room floor!”  So – check it out (warning…we’re at the end….but it really is an interesting short piece.)

My other big really bad, definitely more significant mistaken assumption over the past couple weeks was related to Super Tall Guy’s first grade homework. For the month of October, they were expected to memorize Psalm 100. It’s a long one and I didn’t really understand it as homework and really thought that STG wouldn’t be interested in memorizing and wouldn’t have the brain-power to do so. Hence, I never reviewed the verse with him at home. Tuesday, the 30th, he lay in bed before falling asleep and recited the whole thing. I pounced on him with joy. He said “do that again,” and I body-slammed him again! (apparently this is the kind of praise that he likes). I confessed my apathy to his teacher the next day at the conveniently scheduled parent-teacher conferences and I promised in my head that I would never underestimate him again (until I do) and would do better at working with him on homework (until I don’t).

But reflecting on these few examples tonight makes me realize how I shape his experiences based on my assumptions of what he will and will not like. I love that he surprises me, but I hope that I’m not denying him some really fun and rich experiences based on my own judgment call. More importantly, I need to be wary of not challenging him to his fullest potential, but to expect the world of him …. and body-slam him whenever he proves me wrong.

Parenting Haikus….which I repeat….and repeat….

My sister and I often wonder why we actually have to tell these boys certain things. Aren’t they supposed to be born with some basic survival instinct? Some basic fear of heights? Some understanding of the physics of dropped or propelled objects? Did they miss some lesson prenatally or are they just little boys?

I’m often wondering if they come with a built-in audio-processing center or if their only way to learn is kinesthetic and/or experiential. And if they do in fact have two auditory processing units protruding from the sides of their heads, do these devices only transmit information once it hits a critical threshold of a certain number of repetitions? Or can increasing the volume of the auditory stimulation help convey the message better?IMG_5941

These are some pretty intense scientific questions which I’ve been researching for the past 7 years, 4 months, and 12 days. I’ve even increased the number of randomized subjects to see if there’s consistency in my research findings.

But the only true consistency that I have discovered is that the following phrases flow from my mouth at least once every….single…..day…..of …..my….life!!

Seriously, boy
You did what with that apple?
Bottom step, time out!

No balls in the house
Stop throwing at the mantel
You break it, you’re done. (especially if you hit the little fish tank!)

Don’t suck the exhaust
Get away from that tail pipe
That stuff will kill you.

Get in and buckle
There’s no climbing in the car
One, two, three clicks now!   (every single time we get in the car….ahhhh!)

No blowing bubbles
Make the mess, you clean the mess
Get the paper towels. (thanks, Godmother, for sending those straw cereal bowls)

Sit at the table
Or your dinner will be gone
Boy, I said sit down! (I know you act better at the table at day care)

We don’t splash in tubs.
You get water on this floor
And you’re outta there.

Time to get three books
Okay, now you’ve lost one book
Hurry up, or no books!

Pee, wash hands, brush teeth
And I mean in that order
Pee, wash hands, brush teeth.  (repeat x 10)

Stop talking to me
I’m not listening anymore
I’m an introvert!!!

I love you, my boy.
Forever, and for always,
And no matter what.  (goodnight kiss)