And Then There Were Water Beads…

“Hey, want to be Doctor and Nurse again for the kids’ science fair night?” I asked a friend a couple weeks ago. A few days later she sent me directions (so thankful) for creating a demonstration of blood using water beads as the red blood cells, ping pong balls as the white blood cells and pieces of red foam to be the platelets. Looked easy enough. Amazon delivered the supplies a few days later and I left them in the box until they were needed.

Chomping on some salad a couple hours before heading to the science fair, I pulled up the instructions on my phone to start getting ready. “Hmm…water beads….” I opened the box and read their instructions. “Soak in water for 6 to 24 hours.”  &!@$!!! But then I remembered many science lessons by my mother when I was young about the power of heat and soaked those tiny pellets in hot hot water!!  It was amazing to watch them grow!

Hours later, my friend and I were swamped by kids coming to play with our bucket of “blood.” Kids would stand there for 5-10 minutes just letting the little beads roll through

Bucket of “blood”

their hands. Some were semi-interested in learning about blood, but really, they just wanted to squish beads between their fingers. We even encouraged all the parents to put their hands in and the expressions on their faces were priceless. We witnessed awe, delight, relaxation, and sheer surprise that the beads weren’t “slimy.” I stood there as a perfect spokesperson (for Amazon!), “Don’t you think you need some of these in your house?” “Wouldn’t it be so relaxing?” “Excuse, Mr. Principal of this school. Don’t you think you should have a bucket of these in the office next week for the kids as they work on their PSSAs? A chance to relax and de-stress while they are filling in endless bubble exams?”

The entire next day, Super Tall Guy sat on the couch running his fingers through a bucket of water beads as he watched TV. I’d turn and see him letting them slip around his hands, squishing and squeezing them. I thought about how wonderful it was to see my boy who often has so much trouble regulating his intense emotions sitting so calmly and relaxing with this sensory stimulation. It seemed like a perfect item.

Except that all “perfect” things, in a household of boys, have a downside!  You can order a pack of 15,000 tiny beads and still have fights over even division of items among three boys! You can give all the warnings you want about keeping them in the buckets (and even outfit all the containers with snapping lids) and still you will find them all over the floor. (The vacuum worked, though!)

 

I don’t know whether I love these things or hate them. It’s only been 48 hours, so the jury is still out on whether these are a “helpful” experience for the boys. I can keep you updated.

But I can tell you that I haven’t ordered the “water bead gun” yet on Amazon and I sure haven’t informed the boys of its existence!!

 

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Parenting: The Science/Art of Prediction

When the boys were young, the day care center parking lot drove me crazy. Young kids are short enough that drivers cannot see them when backing up and every time I picked up or dropped off, I worried that a kid would be hit by a car in reverse. The new video technology is helping but it doesn’t guarantee anything. Kids in parking lots still stress me. This past weekend, the younger two helped me go grocery shopping. They eagerly unloaded groceries from the coveted “car-driving” cart into the back of our van. Without thinking, I stepped to the side of the van to put the “don’t-want-it-smushed” bread into the front seat. Then I heard a man yelling. The car beside me had started backing up at the same time that The Little Guy had decided to move our cart backwards to take it to the corral. The man’s yells stopped the driver moments after she had already bumped into the cart and into my son. He was fine. He was protected by the cart and by his angels. But the woman was in tears and I was in disbelief. I had failed to be there. Failed to predict my son’s movements. Failed to predict the driver’s movements. Failed to protect from harm. Lifting up thanks as we drove away, I reviewed the situation with the boys trying to reinforce safety.

Parenting, it really boils down to one’s ability to predict. Science or art….hard to tell.

And this starts early, shortly after the mesmerizing awe of the newborn look and smell. Soon, the parent is desperately trying to predict the infant’s sleep cycle. If the baby falls asleep at 9:00 pm, do you predict he or she will wake up at 11:00 and therefore there’s no reason for you to get to sleep yet, or might the little cherub sleep until 1:00 am and you can delight in at least 2-3 hours of peaceful rest. After a night or two, or a year or two, you realize there’s absolutely no rhyme or reason to a kids’ sleep cycle and you might as well give up trying to predict anything!

The toddler years are the nightmarish, desperate attempts at predicting the Tasmanian devil’s every movements. Is she too close to the steps and about to tumble down? Is he going to flush that Match Box car down the toilet or is he just happily driving it along the bathtub rim? Is she likely to choke on that piece of food? Is he going to bump his head on the glass table or duck just in time? Apparently at this age, unpredictability is the only predictable aspect of parenting.

You feel like you have a sigh of relief as they enter into the school-age years. Now they can dress themselves, feed themselves, sort-of toilet themselves, and sometimes even entertain themselves for practically an hour (if some electronic device is involved!). You start to feel smug and almost have empathy when you see the bedraggled parents of toddlers chasing kids down the grocery aisle. But then you rapidly realize that there’s a whole new level of prediction which is further complicated by trying to predict interactions with and influences of other children as well. “I’m sorry your friend just blocked you from Minecraft chat. It wouldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that you just blew up his carefully constructed building, would it?”

It’s a brain-spinning nightmare, really. The more experience you have with kids, the more adept you get at this game of parenting prediction, but really there is no level of perfection that any parent could ever attain. My life is full of little moments of failing to predict kid behavior (scribbles on walls, broken TV sets, holes in the bedroom doors, plumbing emergencies for toy extraction) interspersed with near constant mental energy trying to predict larger and more consequential situations.

For example, currently I’m trying to predict the likelihood that a guy who goes by the name James will continue to use my address as a meet-up point for people trying to sell electronics on an app. When they arrive, he approaches and then runs off with their item. Within minutes, he has it up on the app for sale. The local police seem unconcerned and apathetic. My neighbors seem to consider it “interesting.” Property management seems to be pondering what to do. I seem to be the one stressed that victims will eventually get fed up with “James” and come storm my townhome. The question is, will I and the boys be home then?

So, here’s my conclusion. There’s no way we as parents or as humans could possibly predict everything that would befall our kids or us. We get better with each experience, we rely on family and friends to lend advice, we pray and we hope, and that’s the best we can do.

For now, I’ll predict that my boys are going to be really excited about an upcoming surprise and that the first winter snow that is falling tonight. That’s about as much as I can predict. And that’s good enough.

 

 

 

 

 

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!).

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.

Why #MommyFail is no longer for me!

It’s been a spectacular week for Mommy Fail. Case in point, it’s Saturday and I’m finally getting around to writing this week.

I would want to blame the week on Mr. Ornery for waking me up at 3:00 am last Sunday morning screaming that his throat hurt. Forgetting that I have the “medicine bag” in the closet in my room, I went down to the kitchen to grab some ibuprofen for the feverish boy. MommyFail #1 – entering a kitchen at 3:00am is guaranteed to wake up a 4-month-old puppy who can’t understand – for the next 1.5 hours – why it is NOT “play time” yet?  I hate puppy whine when I’m trying to fall asleep.

Then I pull the poor kid out of his pajamas and drag him in the car to the doctor’s office since there’s morning walk-in hours and realize I’m way beyond empty. We pull into the gas station and I realize the wallet is NOT in my purse – MommyFail #2. Back home to get the credit card, back to the gas station, off to the doctor’s office….all the while, I’m wondering why I didn’t just let the poor guy lie on the couch while I called in the antibiotic myself!!

Hours later I feel bad that he’s still miserable despite the ibuprofen and his fever hasn’t budged much and I’m wondering where the Tylenol is that The Little Guy and tylenol-wpI just bought a few days before. Look all over the house. Can’t visualize taking it out of the grocery bag and putting it anywhere. Tylenol in the “medicine bag” expired 17 months ago (MommyFail #3) and hours later, I offer Mr. Ornery some ice cream…. Huh, there it is.

Sometimes I get so frustrated with myself. How could I forget so much? Why haven’t I taken care of x, y or z yet? How is it that it’s been over 2 years and I never thought to change The Little Guy’s name on his social security card (you know, until the IRS is breathing down my neck!!)?? Why can’t I keep this all together?

Well, instead of MommyFail…it’s most likely a bad case of MommyBrain. There’s just too much to juggle. There’s work (which itself is a juggle and a particularly busy week was upon me). There’s after school activities of my 3 boys and my sister’s 3 that my mom and I oven laundrytouch base about every afternoon to figure out the taxi strategy. There’s homework, laundry, house-cleaning. There’s grocery shopping and car inspection overdue. There’s a puppy (I mean, really, why???). There’s relationships and friends. There’s stress and exhaustion. There’s sleep deprivation. There’s just a lot.

It’s not Mommy “Fail”…it’s Mommy hanging on doing the best she can at the moment. So I smile and laugh and thaw out the Tylenol. I sit on the couch and let sick boy cuddle and try not to look at the pieces of fuzz on the carpet. I try to remember to cut myself some slack and remember all the other mommies (and dads) who are out there doing the same thing and juggling the same chaos. It’s a lot of work and it’s constant.

So…no more MommyFail for me. From now on, it’s MommyRocks!  (Sometimes. Not all the time. But a good part of the time 🙂 ).

 

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.

This “Great Mom” is trying to teach R.E.S.P.E.C.T

I am in a constant state of over-stimulation – though, this really isn’t news to anyone who knows me. In my life, there is constant noise barraging my eardrum…..constant motion within my peripheral vision…and constant threat of bodily harm….as 5 little breathing, screaming, flailing bodies whiz throughout the house exemplifying chaos theory in action.

And I am an introvert, making my life overwhelming and basically exhausting.

Tuesday morning, I stood at the bus stop with two bouncy boys feeling so happy to be saying goodbye to them….even though I was heading straight to work. I turned to the mother beside me and asked how their holiday weekend had been. She replied that they had a nice day just “chilling at home.” I paused and considered how delightful that word sounded….”chilling”…. Then I laughed and told her, “we never chill at home. If we stay in the house, the 5 boys eventually start to kill each other. There’s no chilling. We must get out of the house at all costs!”

tired Nate

A very tired Mr. Ornery

It’s a constant balancing act in the kids’ need for stimulation and my need to decrease the stimulation. I realized that it’s something almost always on my mind in terms of how much stimulation each of the kids is getting and what level “works” or doesn’t work for them. When Super Tall Guy becomes overstimulated, he falls apart into angry outbursts that usually result in objects soaring through space or a contusion to a brother or mother. I’d love to prevent these, but have trouble anticipating them (though we had 3 of them this past week, which is a record high of late!). Mr. Ornery, as one might expect, becomes even more ornery and devilish when he’s over-stimulated and over-tired. He has a couple times, though, asked questions like, “it’s pretty late, isn’t it?” or “it’s past my bedtime, right?” – to which I respond, “oh my, yes, we better get to bed” – and that seems to be just what he needs. And, The Little Guy…I can’t tell yet what his threshold is…he seems to be able to function in the mania that exists within the house.

Somehow, we must have blown right past Super Tall Guy’s ability to regulate stimulation this week. We had a knock-down 20-min battle on Wednesday and topped it off with 2 of them on Saturday. Thinking myself quite wise…after he tossed his spit at me during the morning rage….I proclaimed his punishment would be to clean the bathroom. As this is a new “skill” for him, it required much supervision and much biting of my tongue and refraining from yelling “just let me do it!!” I thought I had done well with the consequence to misbehavior, until he eagerly asked when he could clean the bathroom again! (don’t worry – I know – this enthusiasm will wane rapidly and scrubbing toilets will eventually become an undesired consequence…).

So, after dealing with two rage episodes yesterday, Super Tall Guy was banned from TV today and grounded from going anywhere (which takes me right back to “how kids punish you” – I try to discipline them….makes my life more difficult!!).  I meditated some this morning about how to help Super Tall Guy work on finding control….and my mind drifted to the fact that he is really not showing respect for me or his siblings. I came up with a little mantra to think about some of the things I’d like my boys to be doing. My vision (of a great mother who puts her foot down) was to call a “Family Meeting” and review this concept…..but in the chaos of the day (Steeler loss despite hours and hours of football throwing practice inside the house, playing outside – in and out, in and out, mopping up watermelon and mopping up watermelon, rubber-band jump-rope and run around the inside track course to jump jump-rope, inside and out, inside and out), we somehow never got to it.

So I plan to work on being a great Mom tomorrow and see how that strategy works. At least my boys let me try a great deal of new techniques!

shark respect