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.”

 

 

 

An Open Letter to the Coach at my Son’s Gym

Interestingly, Facebook just popped up “memories” of last year’s gymnastics Halloween party as I was writing this post and considering copying it into an email to the owner. Sadly, this year’s memories are of a much different flavor. Maybe I’m over-reacting. Let me know.

Dear Coach,

I am struggling with feeling so unhappy about how you treated my son during the Halloween Party at the gym last weekend. Yes, he was being loud and silly, wrestling IMG_3720with his cousin, as they got off the mat after the costume parade. But as he had rolled right over to my feet, I was about to correct his behavior when your booming voice and harsh tone sent my little four-year-old panicking into my arms. I comforted him and reminded him that he needs to be quiet, sit and listen, but I was a little surprised at your tone. When the owner of the gym came over to see why he was sobbing and if he needed encouragement to engage in the fun activities, I told her we were just taking a break, but the truth was that he was trembling and needed to calm down.

Later when you returned upstairs and said to me, “Your boys are being too wild,” I wasn’t sure exactly what you were referring to. However, I didn’t get a chance to dialogue about it as you shortly thereafter yelled once more at my Little Guy. Having just exited the bounce house, he was unaware that you had proclaimed the tumble track off limits. Had you held your tongue, I would have walked over to my son and explained to him that that equipment was not to be used and we would have found another activity. Instead, it was clear to me that my family had been targeted in your mind as “trouble” and we weren’t going to have a good experience anymore. You certainly did not raise your voice to any other children or families – only mine and my sister’s boys. So, I gathered up my guys and we left early.

You see, my children may look like “normal” children and they often act like “normal and active” little boys, but deep inside the brain there is a shift in the neurotransmitters and the neuronal connections which leaves them struggling with hyper-reactivity and very poor impulse control. It’s not a physical disability that you might see and have empathy for, it’s a mental one and clearly you have no empathy for a condition that occurred before they were born. But it is precisely for this reason that I have my boys enrolled in gymnastics, to teach them the skills of strength and self-confidence and self-control, all of which your employing gym espouses so frequently. Yet, your direct and harsh yelling shatters the self-esteem, demeans the child and breaks the spirit.

Furthermore, your rapid discipline of my children when I am right there takes me out of the equation. I’m not sure if you think me too permissive or incompetent at parenting, but your actions were completely disrespectful. When my children are in class with you, then you have the authority. When they are at an event with me, I hold the authority. Unless they are in danger of hurting themselves or someone else, then it is my responsibility to handle their behaviors.

Here’s what I expect of a teacher and a coach – someone who treats all people with respect and dignity. Someone who encourages a child to do their best and reach new goals. Someone who celebrates hard work and dedication. Someone who models what it means to be a strong, competent athlete and decent human being. Someone who works with the family to reach out to kids with unique developmental “challenges” and develop self-confidence, increase self-esteem, and develop sportsmanship. If you are unable to be that great coach, then we will find someone who can.

Please let me know.

Thank you,

A tremendously disappointed mother

 

Untreated ADHD is Just Exhausting

That was my conclusion last week. The effort that it takes to get the 8-year-old ready for school in the morning is more than my 8-hour work day. The decibel level of some of the spontaneous explosive noises in the car is worthy of heavy metal concerts. The number of “re-directs” I utter in those first two hours makes me comparable to a drill sergeant with new recruits.

That’s it. That’s what I decided last week. It’s exhausting.

And it might be feeling more so because I have this carrot dangling in front of me of finding the “right treatment” – the magic pill that’s going to help his brain focus better and control impulses more. I’m so eager to find that control, because let me tell you – tonight’s lack of impulse control escalated from putting the car window up and down, to swatting his brother, to throwing his pencil at the dashboard, to repeatedly hitting my shoulder with his flip-flop. It ended with me tackling him to the floor and holding him tightly until the fight left and his 101 pounds sat on my lap on the kitchen floor while I hugged him. “Bear hugs and kisses” my friend says – “bear hugs” to hold them until the anger leaves and “kisses” of love….because I love him.

But it’s exhausting.

Given the extreme reaction to his first medication, we decided to trial the intermediate acting one, hoping to get better sleep. And given his reaction of five hours of pressured speech, we decided to start at the lowest dose. So for a week, Super Tall Guy swallowed 10 mg of metadate sprinkled on apple sauce (much easier than swallowing a pill!). After a week of no observed change in behavior, I increased it to 20 mg. Still nothing…except for staying up later at night just a little bit each night so that by the weekend, when I increased it to 30 mg, we had a blow-out fight (see above!). I couldn’t figure out whether to attribute this explosion to the medication increase or the fact that for almost two weeks he had gradually gotten more and more sleep deprived – a sure trigger for explosive behavior.

Either way, it’s exhausting.

Tonight as I tucked him in, I asked him to review what went wrong while in the car earlier. He played with his toy truck as I listed some of his behaviors, you know, to prompt him. “You played with the window when I asked you to stop. You were hitting The Little Guy. You threw your pencil. You are a dog. You ate a cow.”

“I ate what?”

“Never mind.”

It’s too exhausting.

(I have a new prescription in hand….waiting for the weekend to watch for side effects.)

I need to let more mistakes happen

One of my greatest fears is the fear of failure. It’s likely what drives me so passionately toward my goals. It spurs my drive for perfection. It underlies 32 years of education and schooling. It is a fear that forces constant forward motion and yet can limit new experiences. I fear making mistakes. As I let the dog out tonight, I remembered sitting on the back stoop of my house years ago listening to a colleague in my medical practice explaining a mistake I had made in ordering a medication. The patient was okay now. She just wanted to let me know. Thankful for her honesty, I learned a great deal from that mistake.

It was too cold to go sledding. Mr. Ornery was tired and got too cold to hang in there. coldMaybe it was because he wouldn’t – or he couldn’t – stop lifting snow up to his face to savor each mouthful. Maybe it was because it was barely into the teens and the wind chill was brutal. The little guy couldn’t handle it either and I shortly declared it “time to go” despite having spent a few minutes with the neighbor kid who joined us on the hill.

Mr. Ornery sat in the snow and refused to move. Mr. Ornery threw his gloves far from himself. Mr. Ornery “walked” down the hill on his knees, plodding along at a pace that slays a parent. Mr. Ornery removed his hat, his scarf, his gloves, his coat and finally slid out of the shoulder straps of the snow pants which then rested along his ankles as he proceeded to waddle along the sidewalk.

Mr. Ornery’s mother went ballistic. She was cold. She couldn’t handle it anymore. Fingers numb, carrying sleds, repeatedly beckoning the 3-year-old to keep walking, she couldn’t stand the sight of Mr. Ornery dropping items of warmth and picking them up only to drop them again. She couldn’t stand that he was clearly being obstinate and obnoxious and ornery! Clearly.

She slammed the door shut upon entering the house. She pulled off boots and snow pants tossed them across the kitchen floor. She picked up that Mr. Ornery and held him sideways stomping all the way upstairs. Super Tall Guy and The Little Guy kept their distance….but followed the excitement to the top. Depositing him into the boys’ bedroom, Crazy Mama yelled, “You better stay in there until you can figure out how to cooperate!!” before closing the door. Like that helps.

Crazy Mama sat on the top step and sighed deeply, catching her breath. Super Tall Guy wrapped his arms around the back of her neck and said, “We all make mistakes, Mom. It’s okay.”

I wasn’t sure if he was talking about my mistake in my over-the-top response or the antics of an angry 5-year-old, but he was right. We all make mistakes and it’s okay. I opened the door.

I don’t let the boys know that often enough. I don’t make it “safe” enough for them to experience mistakes and failures. And if I don’t figure it out soon, eventually I will be instilling in them the area that I struggle with the most.

eggAnd I knew this when I moved the kitchen rug the other night. Roxy dog had really been licking at it earlier. I couldn’t figure out why. Mr. Ornery was helping me make his cake for his birthday the next day and had gotten out three eggs. Apparently, there had been a fourth egg which had tumbled to the floor and while I wasn’t looking must have been hurriedly covered up by the kitchen rug (which is still in the laundry…sigh).

Why? Because Mr. Ornery was worried that Crazy Mama would yell at him. That Crazy Mama would get mad and cart him upstairs to his bedroom on the very night that he was beyond THRILLED that she was letting him bake with her. Mr. Ornery was worried that he had made a mistake and the consequences would be too great for him to pay that time. Hiding the evidence seemed to be a better option.

I know that I want my boys to be able to make mistakes. I want them to fail and to learn. I want them to “shake it off” and move on. I want them to see that it is the joy of trying that matters. I want them to be brave. (And I want them to clean up after their mistakes too!)

I need to model that. I need to tell them about my mistakes and how I learn from them and plan to do better. I need to show them my mistakes. I need to laugh at mistakes more often. And we need to encourage each other to let our kids make mistakes. And we need to help each other be okay with kid mistakes as sometimes kids’ innocent mistakes are the spark that ends in abuse. We need to let kid mistakes be just that…an “oh man!” moment for growth and moving on.

But as Mr. Ornery wouldn’t confess to the two little piles of poop on the bathroom floor earlier today until direct questioning…it’s clearly not “safe” enough for him yet.

I’m still making mistakes. Still learning. And so are they. One great loving and learning failing family!

Sometimes the Positive Parenting just doesn’t work….for me….

angry baby

(Image courtesy of clip-art)

I’m sorry, but sometimes reading a bunch of mini-articles and blogs on “positive parenting” techniques is just a bit too much for me. Like when Mr. Ornery has drawn his battle lines – he’s not going to kindergarten today; he’s not going to put his shoes on; he promises to take his seat belt off in the car. His arms are crossed. His brows are furrowed and the eyes narrow to slits. His feet are planted….without socks on yet – he refuses them too.

I look at him. I size up my worthy opponent. I conjure up all that I’ve read about being a “great parent.”

Okay – the kid is apparently experiencing some pretty intense emotions.

  1. Take some deep breaths and calm yourself.
  2. Label the emotions – “Wow, Mr. Ornery, it looks like you are feeling very angry about school today.”
  3. Provide support and love as “those big emotions can be scary.” I kneel beside him and extend my arms to offer a “supportive loving” hug. He shoves me off balance.
  4. Empathize
  5. Encourage
  • Check
  • Check
  • Check
  • Check
  • Check

“Whatever!” I finally yell. I tuck the 47-pound obstinate soldier under my right arm, scoop up his shoes and backpack and coat with the left arm (we small wily moms have incredible strength) and march through the door graciously opened by our Thai guest (who must be thinking, “these American parents are nuts!!”). I toss him into the minivan and glare intently into his eyes ~ “GET  your  seatbelt  ON  NOW!!!!  And I mean NOW!!”

Yep – “positive parenting” at its best. Did it – failed. Tried it – failed. Resorted to….Power.

I know – in the long-term, the physical power of picking up a kid is not going to get me anywhere (especially when he’s 100 pounds). But on Thursday it got us to school on time.

Mr. Ornery does not like his new kindergarten class. I understand that. I understand that this month of “change” in every single aspect of his life is a bit disruptive. I understand he’s stressed and expressing his inner turmoil through obstinate defiance. I understand his emotional woes.

I understand a lot.

“Get in the car now!!” is how all that soft stuff boiled down in the moment of confrontation.

I’m not a bad parent. I’m a stressed single working mother. I get three kids off to daycare and before-school YMCA care before many people finish their morning coffee (thank goodness for Keurigs at the office!). I’m trying to be sweet and sensitive and sometimes I am. Sometimes I’m a really super mom. Sometimes I’m not.

Do you know that if you meet your dear sweet baby on their first day of life…and stick beside them for 18 years, you’ll spend 6570 days together (give or take a few necessary “business trips” and “I just need to get away” trips!).  That’s 6570 opportunities to completely mess up – but in reality, you’re more likely to have thousands of awesome days, thousands of “pretty good” days…. and just a few “that was really truly awful” days.

So on those downright no good truly awful horrible days (like when I’ve threatened to return the dog to the pound, have grounded the boys for the next 5872 days, or carried a flailing screeching kindergartener out of a birthday party at the bowling alley)…. I just tuck those little ones in at night with a kiss and an I-love-you and remember – tomorrow is a new day. And it’s likely to be an awesome day.  Day number 3184, day 2173, and day 1379, respectively…to be precise.

 

 

 

 

Thoughts on video-gaming and young children – There goes the TV

(An intermission from my “The Story of the boys” of the past few weeks ….for obvious reasons…..)

Sometimes when I think about it, I think, “Wow, for having 5 boys in the house, we really haven’t had any significant injuries or damage.” But as of this moment, the cost to my checking account is adding up.

It’s unpredictable, really, when Super Tall Guy will lose control and let a Wii remote go flying.

So here are some thoughts on video-gaming.

There are definitely some studies suggesting improvement in eye-hand coordination, spatial reasoning and critical thinking skills. And, from my medical perspective, peer-reviewed scientific studies have found video-gaming linked with better skill in laparoscopic surgery, a field which has cut down complications and recovery time for many types of surgery. This is good.

As I lay on the couch the other day (at 6:05am), trying to pretend like I was going to get a little more sleep, and The Little Guy puttered around while Super Tall played Star Wars Wii, I had a brief moment of thinking how persistent he is while trying to accomplish something in video-gaming. Super Tall will try the same level over and over until he’s successful. And this seemed like a good quality to be practicing, yet in my reflective process I couldn’t figure out if that translated to persistence in any other activities for him. He certainly doesn’t persist in practicing his handwriting and he expects to be an expert in a sport without practicing it….. Hmmm, maybe not so good.

Video-gaming does offer a social component, though. It requires the skill of asking another person if they’d like to play, negotiating the game to be played and arguing over who will be which character, and navigating the consequences of accidentally making each other “die” on a particular level. It also helps in social situations to be able to talk about the games you play, “Guess what? We ‘bought’ the Emperor on Star Wars Wii!” or “What level are you on Donkey Kong?” Developing social skills is a good thing. Yes.

In our house, though, there’s a tendency for these social-skill negotiations to crumble and some “shouting” and name-calling to commence. At this point, a parental figure often steps in with the threat of “You keep yelling at each other and I will turn this thing off.”

I walked into such a threat yesterday morning after returning from the I-can’t-survive-a-full-day-with-5-boys-if-I-don’t-get-a-mocha-in-my-system run. It seemed innocent enough. Kathy repeated that she had warned Super Tall and Mr. Ornery already about getting mad at each other about the game. And then she proceeded to say, “Okay….turn it off.” I had just walked into the living room and in my mind was thinking, “Now, this is a great time to start talking to Super Tall about how we calm ourselves.” (Having just read an editorial in the New York Times about a new strategy to teach children to calm themselves and, having thought it was the topic I most needed to help Super Tall with, I was ready to start addressing it).

I think I literally opened my mouth when my brain switched gears to “Oh no, he’s not really going to….oh he did….oh, he’s dead meat!!” Super Tall jumped up and ran to lock himself into the second floor bathroom. I ran and pounded on the door and yelled, “You better open this thing up or you’re in serious trouble.”

Well, he’s in serious trouble for sure. My Amazon log indicates that April 2, 2012, was the last time I purchased a flat-screen TV due to the effects of “de-pixilation” from a thrown object (and then that TV was stolen and we replaced it in September! Two years….three TVs….). I’m still seething.the TV2

“Why in the world did you do that?”…. “I don’t know.”

“Guess what, boy! ‘I don’t know’ is NOT an acceptable answer!”

I’m still working on what will be his “consequence”! The “natural” one of course is “no more TV”….you know, until I buy a new one (for the other kids). But it has now extended to “no more screens” (including the DS handheld games that have been in time-out for 3 months and were scheduled to return to him April 1). And, most definitely, absolutely, 100% (until I change my mind) “no more Wii until you’re 18!! …or 21….or sometime around there…..some time long after Wii’s become obsolete! And that’s final. Until I think of something else I’m going to add!”

You see, in our household….at least on my “side” of the household….video-gaming is NOT good for young children!

Addendum (3/31/14)

So, I’m putting Super Tall and The Little Guy to bed when Little Guy points to the window and asks, “Why is that broken?”  Good question. “So, Super Tall, do you want to explain why 2 days after breaking a TV by throwing something that you have now DSC_4010broken a blind by throwing something in your anger this morning?!? Do you have an answer other than ‘I don’t know?’ Do you have a plan for changing this?” Do I have to surround you with only soft toys? Sigh. We’re going to work on this….definitely going to work on this.

Bouncing balls

I sat on the couch the other day….taking in the perspective of the house….watching the boys bounce around in an active game of football. (Super Tall Guy throws it to Flipper 1315168797_Bouncing_Ballswho tries to make it around the inside track of the house one or two times before his flags are ripped off. The “less-essential” members of the team pretty much just run and jump and pick up a toy and play with it for a few minutes then rejoin the team – pretty much, they are less than essential to the scoring capabilities of the team.)  The image of little rubber bouncing balls came to my mind – that’s what my household is almost continuously – a set of bouncing balls.

Naturally a set of balls bouncing about in a finite space lends towards occasional collisions. When you have a particularly large ball like Super Tall Guy who also thinks it’s fun to bounce into and off other balls….it’s quite a bit less fun. And when he’s in one of his pesty moods, like he was last Monday before school, it’s really not fun at all.

After he careened into multiple children and finally sent a shooting ball into my mother’s abdomen, I had had enough and chased him at top speed upstairs. He knew he was in trouble. I knew I was in trouble as I wondered how to wrestle him to the ground and wait for my anger to subside so that I wouldn’t actually harm the poor kid. Practically sitting on him, I looked him in the eye and informed him that he was grounded from all fun this week – including the parent-child last practice soccer game, the Halloween party at the gym, and the party with his favorite friends just outside of Cleveland. That got his attention.

Now I had a good week. Having him in the position of not getting his fun activities, we came up with a star system to earn them back. Then, if he wouldn’t listen to me this week, I could threaten to take away a virtual star that existed mostly in my head, but sometimes on the dry erase board hanging on the refrigerator. Of course, he worked hard to get 5 stars to go to the soccer game….and it got rained out. And then worked for another 10 stars to get the day of activities and parties on Saturday.

Now I had to do that oft-recommended parenting technique = catch them at doing something good. You can imagine the challenge of singly out a bouncing ball and informing it that it’s on the right track and doing well. So, a star for brushing your teeth in the morning when you hate doing that. A star for getting dressed without me reminding you. One day, I realized I was pretty desperate when before the bath, I said, “Wow, Super Tall Guy, you actually wore underwear today – you get a star for that!”

I’m liking this system….so then I realized I need another big carrot to dangle. Fortunately, my sister bought tickets to the circus – of dragons! – now, that’s a great item to have in the back pocket!