Moments of Silence

I have a new car. Another minivan. I laugh, “This is my last minivan. When it dies….I finally get MY car!” (Mr. Ornery promises to buy me a pink Lamborghini!) The last minivan decided to die a little before I was ready for it but this one better give me another ten years; ten years for the last little guy to get out of high school!

Farewell to the blue van that holds so many memories.

Farewell to the scratches and dents from boys’ misdirected emotions.

Farewell to whatever smell that was that was never going to come out.

Farewell to the stress of not knowing just exactly when after 150,000 miles it was going to konk out!

As with any new car, I now have the “gift” of Sirius XM. For two whole months. I’m trying to make the most of it. One of the channels I’m surprisingly enjoying the most (until I realized that they repeat content some) is “LaughUSA.” It hit me that I just wasn’t getting enough laughs in my life and this puts a smile on my face more frequently.

Recently, one of the comedians was ribbing with some of his audience. He joked about a man having a “worn-out face” from his marriage and divorce and kids. He retorts, “Look how great I look. I’m 64 and no wife or kids. I have something all of you want…..silence.” I paused. He was right. He had silence.

“Are these two yours?” she inquired genuinely.

“Uh, yes,” I hesitantly replied.

“Bless you.” The teacher overseeing “younger siblings” during the parent open house at the middle school shook her head. “You have your hands full! They are delightful, but…”

I get that a lot.  “Yes, pray for me,” I reply. “They are non-stop!”

I wouldn’t change this parenting gig for the world. But every once in awhile I could use just a little bit of silence. It’s what causes me to “need” to stay up for an hour or two after the kids fall asleep so I can recharge with my silence (ie, midnight or later). It causes me to grab my laptop and hide in my bedroom on the weekend for a moment of silence. It leads me to announce, “I’m taking the dog for a walk,” and scuttle out for a loop around our community as often as I can get away with it – silence.

And, it has led me to be okay with planning a trip to Croatia at the end of this month to spend a week in a villa with a friend and her friends…in the hopes of finding silence. We all know how crazy September is. The month where everyone who ever wanted to do anything, but wasn’t going to plan it for August vacation month, has now scheduled their events. The month when kids are returning to school and while they are in a “honeymoon” period of little homework or studying, the parent is intensely trying to figure out their schedules and how to keep up with this new routine. The month when the school honeymoon ends and behavioral slips are sent home, tests are scheduled, and everyone’s stress rises. The month when my work has ramped up, creating early mornings and late nights.

So, it just seemed right to say “yes” to a friend when she asked (and begged politely) me to join her. I never thought of going to Croatia, but I was hooked as soon as I spent some time on Google looking at the photos of beautiful water.  I’m not sure what my expectations are. I’m not sure how this introvert will connect with a group of people I’ve not met yet. I’m not sure if my saintly mother is going to regret her “willingness” to watch my boys for eight days. I’m not sure if my boys are going to spend the eight glorious days trying to get away with anything they can at home and school.

But I’m pretty sure that I’m going to find a few moments of silence.

And that will be beautiful.

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Screeching into the Preteen Years

It was a very quick decision placing (way too many) hundreds of dollars on my credit card to purchase a plane ticket for Super Tall Guy. His aunt and her three boys were leaving five days from that Saturday to visit family in California. She thought his presence might be a helpful “buddy” to her oldest son as they are both early morning risers, love to spend more time in the water than her younger two, and are generally more similar in personality. Super Tall Guy thought it would an exciting time. I thought it would be amazingly quiet without his intense energy for a week.

I think we all were right. What I didn’t think about, though, was how to define communication expectations for him. After texting him for four days and not getting a response (except for one app purchase request which was flatly denied by me), I decided to give him a call. I was driving back from a presentation hours away from home and my sister handed him the phone. Pretty sure there wasn’t even a “hello,” before he said, “I don’t want to talk to you. Leave me alone.”

“Son, I haven’t talked to you for four days. I miss you.”

“Leave me alone,” he grumped.

“You’re not serious.”

“Leave me alone.”

Displaying all 47 years chockfull of maturity, I snapped, “Fine. Goodbye” and hung up.

Then I burst into tears. What had I done wrong? How could my son not want to talk to his mother? Doesn’t he miss me at all? Does he hate me?

I was miserable the whole way home. My sister texted, “Don’t worry about it.” My best friend said, “Yep, that’s just the way these boys are.” (Her boys are eleven and thirteen.) But I was heartbroken.

And then “sad-mad.” It’s one of my favorite expressions from the movie Home. It just captures human emotion so well. I went from sad to mad in minutes. How could he not talk to me?!? Didn’t I just spent way too much money to send him out there?!? How could he be so disrespectful?!? What an ungrateful child.

mat-2-17He knew he was in trouble the next day when I picked them up from the airport. “Sorry,” he muttered. He handed over his iPod when I informed him that since he couldn’t use it as the communication tool it’s supposed to be, he’d have to separate from it until he figured out communication! 😉  He lay in bed that night explaining that he didn’t mean to be rude. He just didn’t know he was “responsible” for talking to his mom. Amazingly, I pointed out, he was able to communicate with his best friend during his trip. There were plenty of texts sent to another person’s device.

And then it hit me. Eric Erikson was right. Super Tall Guy was screeching into the “Industry (competence) vs. Inferiority” stage in which the peer group becomes more important to the child than the parent perspective. He may be ready to enter this stage, but his mom isn’t yet. 

Not only was he changing his focus in communicating, but he had also learned “independence” in bedtime during his trip away. Instead of listening to me drone on and on while reading, he now would rather listen to music. While I can’t begrudge the sudden “free” time I find in the evening, I miss those quiet moments of “Read Mom!” and sharing books together. Now I’m wondering how I will ever get book seven of the Harry Potter series read! 

It’s one thing to have a PhD in Developmental Psychology and to have learned all the stages in fine detail, but it’s another thing to be living them and trying to figure out how to best love my boys through each stage into adulthood, responsibility, independence, competence, self-assurance, wisdom and respect.

It’s a work in progress, but I think I’m learning a lot more than they are.

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?

 

 

 

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

 

Celebrating the family ….in a long over-due reunion

An airline flight of five hours is not ideal travel conditions for five boys ages 4-9. Nor is a 3-hour time difference conducive to productive sleep thus yielding subsequent emotional dysregulation. There was great dread and very little interest in my soul last week as I packed for the trip to California to visit relatives. The fear and nervousness dissipated with the first hug.

IdyllwildIt was the first family reunion in 18 years. The first time family gathered except for patriarch funeral and then matriarch funeral and then the eldest son’s funeral and then a few family members together for a wedding last fall where the idea of the family reunion germinated.

family 1

Awesome uncle encouraging The Little Guy to join in the soccer game.

Finally, fifty people including 24 children, gathered at a mountain resort. We adults were practically giving each other high-fives to not have to hear, “Look how much you’ve grown. Gosh, how big you are now.” Yes, it’s good to be on the other side of that. We got to hug and talk and laugh and introduce our children around. Social media has helped bridge the distance, but nothing is as strong as a warm hug.

Funny how it took a day to start to get to know each other. “Hi, and you are?” Despite my dislike of the custom, almost all conversations started with “And what do you do?” as we sought to establish some understanding. The kids, on the other hand, had no trouble at all. The girls held hands and skipped along like best friends within hours. The boys climbed rocks, battled with stick swords and chased each other round. There were crafts generously donated and coordinated by a great aunt and such laughter and joy. There were meals together and games and hikes. There were slide shows of old and new photos of the family, generating so many memories of prior times and prior clothing and hair styles!

And, there was also a delightful viral illness which knocked out Super Tall Guy, three cousins and one significant other. There’s nothing so glamorous as cleaning up vomit and diarrhea in a log cabin and longing for gloves and Lysol. My 31-year-old outdoor adventure cousin was the hardest hit and eventually left for IV fluids at the closest ER. Despite the miserable day he had spent in bed with constant fluid loss, he left with a smile and remarked, “In some ways, I don’t mind that I got sick. It showed me the amazing power of the family I have.”

family 2

Plastic cups labeled and washed for reuse! No waste here!

Yes, it is a tremendous amount of work and money to take the kids to the other side of the United States. Yet it is so important to me that my boys know in their very soul that throughout this large country, there are people out there who love them….just because they are family. They have joined this family through a court decree; yet, they have been welcomed with loving arms and open hearts. For that, I will be forever grateful. For each and everyone of my great big family is unique and wonderful and loving.

On our second night together, as The Little Guy had drifted off to sleep and Super Tall Guy’s eyes were softly fluttering, my brother opened the door to our cabin. “Everyone’s on the step for a family photo.” “Now?” I grumbled in disgust. “You’re kidding!”  Knowing that we had talked about it all day and never done it, I was frustrated that it was happening “late” at night. Yet, with furrowed brow and glaring eyes, I woke the boys, got them dressed and ran to the steps in time to set the timer on the camera. It flashed three times and we trudged back to the cabin. My cousin’s hug soothed me and I knew it was the right thing to do, but I teared up when Super Tall Guy lay down to sleep again and whispered, “I can’t wait to show that photo to my kids.”

Full circle.

Family.

 

We honor each other.

We love each other.

We work to continue to connect with each other.

Despite the trials and the difficulties of gathering.

Despite our differences and inconveniences.

 

If not for us….it is for our children.

For they must know that they are worthy and that they are loved.

They must know the strength of the bond that ties us.

We must give them family.

 

Family who will be there when you are sick and vomiting.

Family who will be there in the good times and the bad.

Family who will be there on the other side of the photo.

 

For someday our children will share us with their own family.

From one generation to the next

Love will endure.

family 3

The family also celebrated my parents’ 50th anniversary! They bear witness to love and family.

The True Story of the Beach Vacation

… as told by the 2-year-old….I mean, who else really knows the truth!

  • When you say, “we’re going to the beach today,” is there a way you could have explained hours and hours….and HOURS in a carseat?
  • The words “water” and “waves” don’t exactly convey the truth of a huge expanse of ice bath. And really, “here comes a little wave” greatly depends on your perspective ….because something that hits me squarely in the chest seems a bit like a typhoon.
  • When I say “bandaid,” I don’t mean that you should put one on my badly skinned knee…and I certainly don’t mean you should rip off more skin in removing it. I’m actually trying to tell you that my boo-boo really hurts. That is blood, after all.
  • “Night, night” and “nap time” are NOT two of my favorite words, even if they are yours.
  • You know those two right-footed over-sized plastic shoes I wore the whole trip out because you didn’t pay enough attention to me (kid number 5 – geesh!!) – you think they might have something to do with the wounds on my feet? Or are you just going to label me “Banged-up Seth” and add more bandaids?!?
  • It seems to me that the brothers are making some choices in flavors at Yums Yums Ice Cream and you’re going to give me a tiny bit of vanilla again? I mean, really, is it my fault that the chocolate stained the white shirt? Who put that shirt on me anyway?
  • So it took you four days to “realize” that you had a size 1 wetsuit in the swim bucket that actually fit me? Well, yeah, I look adorable – I’m also finally warm, thank you. Days and days of mind-numbing teeth chattering pain….and now I’m “adorable.”
  • Apparently I didn’t see the big hole that sent me flying into that rock and “owwie” actually means “I’m hurt.” Yes, this is blood on my hand. What….it’s two hours later and you’re going to act shocked that the middle part of my front tooth is missing?!? Really?!?
  • You may think he looks like a nice dentist but I don’t think I need any gloved fingers in my mouth. Okay, Sunshine Dentistry, the balloons are a nice touch.
  • Have you tried to eat a pretzel rod with half of your tooth missing?
  • When I say “gaglassh,” I am not referring to your glasses, nor my desire for a pair of sunglasses, nor a giraffe…or grass….or anything else you’re coming up with.  Why do you tall things think that you know everything?
  • At what point did I not make myself perfectly clear that I don’t want to have my picture taken on the beach this morning?
  • Well what do you think? If you tumbled down a staircase 10 times your size, do you think you might be a bit ouchy too? And you want me to tell you where it hurts?!?
  • Wait – you’re going to refer to me as “23 pounds of spunk”…. ”loud”…. ”stubborn”…. ”persistent”…. “independent” – gosh, look what I have to put up with – 4 rambunctious boys and you!  (see also the older brother’s view a couple years ago: https://middleofthemadness.org/2012/08/14/top-ten-disney/)
  • I don’t really find it funny when you smugly say “I only have to understand half of what he says since he’s two years old.”  Didn’t I hear somewhere that you haveExhausting parents a degree in development? I’d also like to know when that pediatrics degree is going to help me any – let’s look at the bandaid….tooth….stairway incidents, for example.  Who gave you those degrees anyway?
  • So, you think it’s cute to road trip with me wearing a shirt saying “My parents are exhausted.”  It’s more like “My parents are exhausting!”  So happy to be home – put me to bed, “peas.”

Surviving New York City Madness

I’m not sure how it happened, but somehow I just survived 3 days in New York City with three young boys (6, 3, and 1).  It’s probably entirely related to the fact that I traveled with a good friend who is very easy-going, her 2-yr-old son and her nanny (whose back should be sore from holding my 1-year-old most of the time in a front-pack!).

I personally only had one minor explosion, I think — trying to navigate a stroller out of a narrow NYC Starbucks doorway on day one — with octopus hands lunging from both sides of the stroller and two boys fighting each other for the right to get through the doorway first, despite the presence of said stroller.  And a very sweet woman holding the door open for me heard me mutter “I can’t do New York City by myself with 3 little boys.”  Without a pause, she affirmed, “no, you can’t.  It’s too hard.”  Fortunately, my friend is wonderful enough that I repeated the same phrase to her shortly afterwards despite my usual hesitancy to ask for help.  From then on, my youngest was graciously strapped to the nanny most of the time and I was able to have hands free for two other boys who liked to dart away.

I was pretty stressed about how Micah would behave during the trip, knowing that triggers for his outbursts include tiredness (how could he not be tired, traveling in a car for 9 hours, getting to bed late in a new environment, walking and sightseeing, pushing past thousands of people….), lack of consistency (every day we visited something different), and hunger (it’s hard to figure out new places and new food, finding food in time before blood sugar crashes, and really, where can you get “chicken nuggets and ketchup” in NY City?).  So the fact that I only had one minor from him when he cut his lip on a water bottle (that he was trying to open with his teeth despite multiple reprimands to “never do that!”) and then again a few minutes later when waiting in the sun in a crowd of hundreds of people trying to get on the ferry leaving the Statue of Liberty island…Wow.  I am impressed with him.

So here’s what I learned from our trip:

  • No matter how impressive the “tourist” sites are in a new city, the most favorite place of all is the local playground.
  • My 3-yr-old will continue to challenge his immune system no matter where we are.  Apparently (according to the nanny), he ran his Hot Wheels pickup truck up and down the benches at the playground, through the sand, across the open rim of a garbage can, and then right into his mouth!
  • Kids six and under have absolutely no concept of how high the Empire State Building is (nor do they care about the history of how it was built), but they sure are impressed by the 10-minute “Sky Movie” ride simulating flying over and around New York City (and bumping into people in Central Park and into a shark in the bay! Who knew there were sharks in the waters of NY City?).
  • Any and all bottles of fluid, no matter how costly (even if $3 for 16 ounces), will be spilled – including red Powerade onto my fresh mozzarella and basil hot Panini sandwich that I was just about to pick up to eat.
  • It is scary to think how easily the one-year-old could fit through the criss-cross wires on the observation deck of the Empire State Building – 86 floors up!
  • It is important to travel with good friends who are comfortable letting each other’s kids take turns having melt-downs….as well as multiple requests to return to the playground.
  • There are a LOT of dogs in New York City and one can get tired of the “can I ask the owner?” question prior to petting each and every one of them.
  • I can see why New York City parents might worry about “nanny stealing” – there was a clear difference in the spectrum of nannies available for observation at the playground.  I wanted to bring one of them home with us!
  • There’s no guarantee of getting good sleep after a long drive. Got home at 1:30 am, tucked in the boys, and my head hit the pillow at 2:00am – and then some alarm on one of my running watches went off at 2:01…. and then the 3-year-old crawled into bed with me at 2:09 after a nightmare…ahhhh!  But the sense of accomplishment this morning made it all worth it.

So, here’s a photo of our “calm and bliss” traveling together…but photos only capture the moments of glory.  This was taken right after Micah’s first melt down and his refusal to accept an ice cream cone.  So I held his which Seth shared with me and his white  T-shirt.  Noah also demolished one but not before it melted into a river dripping down his arms.  Stickiness did not stop him from playing with the “coin” a friend gave him which he dropped over and over, bent down to pick up repetitively, and clearly has his right hand raised, playing with the quarter in his mouth.  Seth was tired of the front pack and being given over to someone “new,” so clung to me.  Micah’s shorts and my pants are red on the front from the Powerade that spilled on my lunch and the backpack holds tiny Statue of Liberty snow globes the boys picked out as souvenirs…among a TON of other heavy stuff.  That’s the story behind this “calm” – and thank goodness there are moments of tenderness like this.  We might even go again some day!