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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who’s with me in 2018?

 

 

 

Recommitting to the Boys

It was one of those deep, cathartic cries for a few minutes last Friday night. One of those crashing moments that emanates from serious exhaustion and feeling completely overwhelmed. A moment sparked by a sappy movie and fueled by a very late hour of the night. When I glanced up at the canvas painting on the wall of the three boys at the beach, I thought, “What in the world am I doing? What am I doing parenting three young boys? Sitting here in this temporary home trying to figure out the next step? How did I get here? Why am I doing this?”

Earlier in the week a colleague said, “I remember meeting you five years ago. You had a little baby on one hip, a little toddler tugging at your other leg, and a larger boy clinging on you. I thought to myself, I don’t know how she’s doing it.” I confessed that there were many times in those years that I didn’t know how I was doing it and sometimes I still don’t.

And there have been many times that I’ve confessed to another mom of boys, “I don’t know how to do this. It’s overwhelming to be responsible for these boys. I don’t think I can be a good mom to them.” Her reply, “It was not a mistake. God picked you to be their Mom.”

And yet, I have those moments of doubt about making the right decisions in life and wondering where to go next. Everybody does. It would be a lie to say that my life is roses all the time. To say that there are not moments when I doubt the decision to adopt three kids on my own. I don’t think I’d be much of a parent to them if I wasn’t consciously thinking of them often.

There certainly are many moments when I sit exhausted on the couch and envision what my still single friends are doing in their tidy little houses. I know they haven’t picked up a thousand Legos over the course of the day, or wiped feces off the wall, or sat locked in a battle of wills over the spelling homework paper. Sometimes it seems that the grass is greener over there (or doesn’t have to be tended to as much!).

It’s not that I think about reversing the decision, it’s that I get overwhelmed with the responsibility. My brain is constantly worried about how they are doing. Are they behaving in school? When’s the next IEP meeting? Have I gotten all their appointments scheduled? How am I going to afford braces? Is Super Tall Guy’s med working well? Are they playing nicely with the neighbors? Is this normal brotherly aggression or is it overboard? Why did they decide to microwave the oatmeal and the spoon? When will I have to sign the next “behavioral slip” for school? Does he need to be evaluated or is he just normal boy?

So the other night, I wiped away the tears and tucked myself in bed, pulling out (and dusting off) the boys’ “letter journals.” I used to journal when I was in my teens and then into college. In med school, I “journaled” by writing a letter to my grandmother every single week for four years about my medical img_9950training and then into residency as well until she passed away. Now I blog to share the crazy journey of parenting in a wider community. And every once in a while, and definitely not as often as I’d like, I also “journal” to my boys as short letters to them in small lined books.

It’s a lot like taking photographs of your kids. The first one, Super Tall Guy, has an entry every few months for his first few years of life. There are so many fun stories and sentiments that document his days and adventures. Middle child has much fewer and The Little Guy’s book, well, you can imagine, has very few pages full of ink.

As parenting stress crashes upon me, it helps to re-center by reconnecting. It’s an important exercise for me  It forces me to think about each boy individually. To think about what they have been doing lately and who they are becoming. I think about their personalities and their gifts. It helps me to reconnect with each of them and recommit to them, reminding me of my love for them and my commitment to parent them in the best way I can. And it’s an opportunity for me to lift them up in prayers of thanksgiving and protection.

paint-wpI tell the boys every day, “I love you – forever, for always, and no matter what.” I finish their “journal letters” each time with the same words. Sometimes I need to remind myself that in the hard times, in the times when my love for them is hidden under painted fingers, soiled laundry, broken doors, angry words, noise and chaos, that this love is a commitment. Forever, for always and no matter what. That’s what it means to be their parent. And the honor and joy of being part of their lives is all I really need (well, that and coffee and chocolate pretty much does it!).

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

 

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.)

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!

 

 

 

 

A Christmas in Photos

Whoever is making toys these days just doesn’t understand boys….or at least not our boys. We tried some new toys this year and have not been impressed. My top goal is to find a sturdy remote control vehicle that lasts more than a couple days – I’m still hunting.

This Wubble lasted a couple hours, despite the claims to “bounce it, catch it, squeeze it, kick it.” Fortunately it has a lifetime replacement guarantee (“if you happen to pop” it, you can pay for another one, states the website….since our patch attempt with Ninja Turtle Duct Tape didn’t help :))

"Lifetime warranty"

 

IMG_8506Yet the replacement Wubble seemed to experience the same fate as the first (and the mom is not paying to replace it again!).

 

 

 

The “Smash Toys”  that splat against the ground and slowly reform to be thrown again also come with a free lifetime replacement….and lasted …oh….about 4 throws….(doubt they will be replaced either)

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The tent survived almost an entire day before the poles were too bent to erect again….(guess it’s trash!)

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So I am just thankful for Legos….every single time I open a box, I’m amazed legosat the quality (and the price tag! and the pain of an unsuspected Lego under a walking foot). This year, though, The Little Guy got his first set and he was thrilled (and persisted in putting together 5-6 pieces)!  And….we have a new record — of keeping a 400+ piece “construction” together for more than 3 days so far!  The Star Wars spaceship goes to bed every night with Mr. Ornery to “protect it” from the others!

 

 

 

And…lest you think  we have mice in the house (well, we do….but mainly in the kitchen)….most of the mess comes from 5 boys! (Um, one does not like chocolate. One does not really care much about candy. One is too young to figure out how to hide wrappers behind furniture. Hmmm…that leaves two with incredible sweet teeth and cunning mentality!)

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Lastly, it seems pretty clear that the dog is just humoring me with a new toy, but she seemed to survive the chaos commonly known as dog-bearChristmas!

 

 

 

 

 

All in all – it was “relatively quiet” (ie, no broken windows) and the boys were “relatively happy” with their gifts (ie, very little thievery from each other….except of stocking candy), and the adults got “relatively” few moments to open some gifts as well. (Although, we have resorted to texting relatives to ask, “what did you get for so-and-so?” — helps in writing the thank-you cards that way!).

Hope you all had a great Christmas. Any gift joys or frustrations?

P.S. (added 12/29/14) – And….apparently….you shouldn’t submerge new watches in 8 inchesIMG_8511 of bubble bath water! Who knew?  (Actually, I’m not complaining about this one. First and only day the 8-yr-old wore a watch and I was vowing to never buy him one again! “Aren’t we done yet? It’s 11:47.” … “You said 10 minutes and it’s already been 12 minutes.” Never. Again!)

My eldest is exhausting

He loves to bounce basketballs in the house ….near the chandelier….why hasn’t that thing broken yet?

He doesn’t quite grasp why I gasp every time his foot makes contact with the soccer ball and it goes flying…guess he’s never seen a glass door shatter….

He wants to wrestle.
He likes to trip his brothers.
He thinks football is an indoor sport.
He wants me to pick him up and throw him on the couch….and I can barely even lift his 82 pounds on the back of my light frame.
He doesn’t accept my praise unless I body-slam myself into him…a simple high-five won’t do it.
He has trouble controlling his anger and escalates battles with me until my head ignites and rockets off past the moon and orbits Saturn. Literally.Matt disney

And yet….. he is a quiet, sensitive soul.
He’s easily upset when thinking that others are teasing him.
He’s shy around new people.
He doesn’t want to go to Sunday School class because he “doesn’t know” anyone and prefers to torture me by goofing off (semi-quietly) in the back of the church space.
He cannot express his feelings very well. I can’t tell if he is feeling bullied or if he is the bully in the situations.
He’s sad that he has to sit alone at a table at lunch and hasn’t been eating his lunch during school. And that makes me sad.
He occasionally has trouble with his bowels and sometimes does soil his pants – but it’s not right that the second-grader on the bus sings out “You are a poopy-pants!”

I sat in a parking lot the other day and let huge tears splash onto my lap after a call from the principal of his school. There had been some words exchanged. Super Tall Guy wasn’t happy and struck out at the other kid (a kindergartener….) hitting him in the eye, but not hard. Super Tall’s response, “it was an accident. I didn’t hit him hard. He was bothering me.” That’s your story, eh? There’s so much pent up in there. I know there is.

The thing is…
I don’t know how to help him release it.
My heart aches for his inner pain.
My soul grieves a child in turmoil.
My brain just wants the “easy fix” – snap out of it; quit acting that way; grow up – all the things we want to say….all the things that won’t help a single bit.

We talk about the “hitting situation”….and get nowhere. I suddenly write in his Spelling book: calm, cool, collected.

Calm – focus for a minute
Cool – blow out that heat bubbling inside you
Collected – wrap your arms around yourself and collect yourself

Got it? Remember the C’s.

I don’t know. It’s a work in progress. I don’t know if this “new method” will work, but I have to keep trying. We’ve been working…and working…together for years now. I’ve read 7 or 8 parenting books and tried countless “techniques” and “words of wisdom.” We’ve done time out. We’ve done reward charts. We’ve done grounding and missed special events. Super Tall Guy doesn’t seem phased by all those attempts. I grasp for straws. I grasp for anything that will tame the beast within.

Because I know that I love the beast, the tiger, the lion, the lamb, the teddy bear….the little boy trapped within a huge body, struggling to “be good.” This week, we celebrated the adoption of my dear sweet, exhausting Super Tall Guy, and I love him more and more every single day.