Gifts of Hospitality at Thanksgiving

“When are these people leaving?” the youngest asked with sincerity. My cousin, her mother, her husband and their two kids were staying at our house a few months ago. While the boys were still sleeping in their rooms (except Super Tall Guy who is an extreme introvert and “moved” to my sister’s house temporarily), clearly The Little Guy noticed some disruption and change in their routines. He wasn’t asking in a negative way. He probably genuinely wanted to know when his “fun” playmates were leaving. But his question struck me as an honest one that usually only kids can ask. And it struck me that this was the first time in his memory that we had a house large enough to “host” people and enough space for people to actually spend a few nights with us.

I love having enough room to “host” people. I grew up a missionary kid with parents who believed in a revolving door philosophy of “come on in, we’re here.” I want people to visit and to stop by whenever they can. I also want my boys to understand how to help people feel comfortable and how to treat guests with respect and kindness.

So, after the front room carpet was torn up the night I moved in; after the hardwood floors were stained on Christmas afternoon; and after the “wood room” served as Mr. Ornery’s crafting, building and storage room for months, I was thrilled to clean it up to get ready for the delivery of a dining room table a few days before Thanksgiving. My brother and his family of ten and my local family totaling ten would be gathering around the table. Mr. Ornery and I counted out who were the eldest of the grandkids who would make the cut and win seats at the new “adult” table whilst the others would be at the folding tables down the middle of the kitchen. I ordered a ten-foot Thanksgiving table cloth and my friend suggested an idea her family does of stenciling on a turkey every year with people signing their names around it. I was thrilled.

Until the delivery men said, “Did they call you to tell you that the base is broken? We can leave the table but can’t put it together until they deliver a new base.” I stared dumbstruck. You mean, you’ve arrived with my almost $2000 table but it’s broken?!? It took several phone calls and a good night sleep for me to get over my disappointment. It took days of hassle to realize I wouldn’t have a table up in time for Thanksgiving. (It’s taken even more phone calls and grumpiness once the table was set up but the seating bench didn’t have “hardware” in the box to put it together. Don’t buy Bob’s Discount Furniture is the moral of this saga…even if you really love the table!)

And yet, we had a wonderful Thanksgiving of folding tables and folding chairs and lots of people and plates tipping off the too-narrow tables and good food and okay wine and lots of noise and Nerf darts everywhere and high-stakes games of UNO and Bananagrams. Because it turns out that celebrating family and celebrating what we’re most thankful for didn’t require the perfect dining room table at all. The gift of welcoming people just involved opening the door.

May The Little Guy soon learn to ask, “How long can you stay?” and bound away with thankfulness that all are welcome in this house.

 

 

And the truth will….

…completely shock you,

…elude you for days,

…eventually set you free?

“At some point in your life, Little Guy, you’re going to have to learn not to listen to your brother, Mr. Ornery!!”

The two mothers of boys on The Little Guy’s gymnastics team just cackled in laughter. “You mean, you didn’t know?” they guffawed. “But he told all the boys on the team that it was an apple on a knife!” one exclaimed.  “I just literally found out this morning!” I sighed, shaking my head.

For five whole days I was under the impression that my “poor” eight-year-old had tripped over his own two feet while spinning around our kitchen floor and hit his chin off the countertop. Because that’s what he told me. And that’s what he told the babysitter when he came downstairs with paper towels pressed to his face and soaked in blood. And that’s what he told the doctor at the emergency department when we got there for SEVEN stitches on the night I turned around just as I was parking to hear Ibram X. Kendi speak (you know, after purchasing the tickets months ago!). And that’s what he told his aunt and grandmother and all his friends and teachers at school.

Five days! Five days until Mr. Ornery blurted it out on a Saturday morning. Five days before The Little Guy finally confessed when I told him I wouldn’t talk to him the rest of the day until I heard the truth. Little man, if you had told me the truth from the beginning, I would have said, “Well, that wasn’t very smart, was it? Do you see now why Mommy says, ‘Don’t ever touch my knife set’?”  Behavior. Consequence. Done.

And here, I almost let you have Halloween back. I was feeling compassionate about you getting injured and being so brave and stoic despite the discomfort of the stitches. I was being kind in letting you have an early dismissal from school the next day to rest. I was actually feeling sorry for you. Imagine tripping and busting your lip open. Maybe you should go Trick-or-Treating. But no, now I’m planning to wrap up empty boxes for you for Christmas!!

The reason I’m over the top with rage is that less than three weeks ago, The Little Guy sat in the car on his way to gymnastics practice and told me that a boy was mean to him on the bus and put him in a choke-hold. Knowing this little boy, I doubted the story and said, “Hmmm, that doesn’t sound right, my dear.” “Don’t you care about choking?” he asked in disbelief. “Oh, I care very much. It’s just that I haven’t heard the whole story yet.”  And the next morning, a mom at the bus stop revealed that the real story involved MY boy reaching across the aisle and grabbing his friend around the head. The real story is that my son had been bouncing around the bus and eventually got into an argument with another kid. The real story is that my son then lied to me about who was at fault. And that’s when he became grounded for the month, including all Halloween activities! I don’t take bullying or lying lightly!

And now this? He already wrote “I will only speak the truth” one hundred times, but since that didn’t help, he’s working on his second set of 200 lines. Other than church, school, gymnastics and meals (can’t break the no-food-upstairs rule!), he’s now isolated to his bedroom one day for each person he lied to….and Mommy counts for two days at least.  This evening he mumbled, “Well, I’ve finished the two days for Mommy, so today is for Mrs. S.” (his third grade teacher). Yes, we will just name the days now of which victim is sponsoring his quarantine.

The rational side of my brain knows that this is normal developmental behavior for a young kid. My rational side knows he just doesn’t want to be in trouble. My rational side knows the 10-year-old set him up (he also has consequences). But to have this follow his most recent episode of lying just put me over the edge. And one of the biggest reasons I tell my boys not to lie to me is that my job is to protect them as a mom. I need to know the truth to keep them safe and I need to be able to trust them. You know, a fact I’ve explained a million times now.

And will….a million times more!

Yes, these are the stories from childhood that will last forever.

“How did you get that scar?”

“Well, you see, there was an apple and a knife….but I told my mom it was the kitchen counter or was it the bathroom counter?!”

Parenting is No Joke (Part 1): When Strangers Attack via Social Media

I suppose I chose to never again have a dull life the moment I chose to adopt three boys. What I had no choice about, though, is that my “age of parenting” is coinciding with the explosive “age of social media” in which there are no solid rules of engagement or etiquette.

An almost peaceful night was disrupted by a text from a neighbor reading “Check the Facebook group for our neighborhood.” And there it was – a short video of my middle son riding down the street, their friend coming off someone’s lawn and onto the street on a bike, and my youngest walking behind the bike. That was it. A seemingly benign video but their big sin was infringing on someone’s grass.

I have explained to the boys countless times that they need to turn off lights, pee only into the toilet bowl, and stay off other people’s lawns. Despite the continuous reprimands, we seem to be making nonexistent or very slow progress. But I expect that since they are 8 and 10 years old and behavior change is difficult even for mature adults.

However, I also expect that if my neighbors have trouble with my children, they should find the parent and address the situation. I never expected to be called out on social media with “parents are not raising children with respect of others” when this individual has never ever met me. She does not know how hard I work to instill respect. She doesn’t know how many times I yell, punish, and reprimand the boys. She does not know that I work tirelessly to help other parents in this most challenging work, that I’m committed to the philosophy that it takes a village to raise a child and that we should all be helping each other.

And she does not know that I showed the video and the post to my boys that night as we sat on the bed and had another heart-to-heart talk about respecting other people and their property. She does not know that I cried as I explained how their behavior was being blamed on my parenting. The boys apologized over and over again and the youngest hugged me tight and said, “But you are a good mom. You are the best mom.”

The post was removed by 7:30 the next morning, but the sting remained. When I moved, I was searching for a neighborhood in which the boys could thrive. I was looking for a “nice community” in which neighbors supported each other. And so far all of my interactions with neighbors had been phenomenal. I suppose there’s always that one house to avoid.

So I looked up her address (county websites are so helpful), baked fresh chocolate-chip zucchini bread (zucchini from my next door neighbor’s garden) and took my little Cavadoodle on a walk up to the “richer” part of the neighborhood. Ringing the door bell, I waited as the inside dogs quieted down as the door opened. “Hello,” I said, “I’m the mom of the boys who were so disturbing to you this week. I just wanted to apologize that they appeared disrespectful to you. I can assure you that I’ve spoken to them numerous times about respect and staying off people’s property unless they have permission, but they are still young and they are still learning. I asked them to write an apology card for you. My contact information is inside in case you should ever need to reach me. But I do worry that you put their photos up online without my permission. It’s just not safe.” Pretty sure my neighbor had absolutely no idea what to say. She babbled, shocked. “I never expected you to do all this…(babble, babble)… I can tell that you are raising them well with all this effort you went through.”

So let’s remember this, folks. Do not judge the woman down the street as being an awful parent because her kids played in your yard. Be glad that the kids are outside and getting exercise and that your neighborhood is safe enough for them to do that.

Do not vent your complaints on social media unless you have a purpose in creating a better world, like pressuring representatives to vote for health care or companies to take care of their employees better. Social media is not a forum for you to criticize your neighbors.

Teach your children that someone is always watching them, parents, neighbors, teachers, strangers and God Almighty. And it’s very possible that someone is taking photos or videos, so be good and be safe.

And for me, I keep reminding myself that parenting is no joke. But I’m doing the best that I can (usually 🙂 ) and have to put strangers’ inane comments in their rightful place (the trash can!).

(PS – The next morning, said lady drove past tooting her horn “happily” and waved. She’s now my Bestie, apparently.)

 

Suddenly We Were Bouldering

Over the past few years, we’ve taken a mini-vacation to Yogi Bear Campground about an hour and a half southeast of the city. We met a delightful family a couple years ago with kids around the same age and personalities and energy levels that meshed with the boys. So every year we hang out together around the campfire making smores and popping in and out of the pool and going down the small water slides. The kids ride on their bikes and spend hours playing with whoever shows up at the Gaga pits. The biggest excitement of the campground, though, is the golf cart that I rent and then spend most of my days driving kids around.

Last year we decided to go off-site and visit Ohiopyle where the boys clambered around Cucumber Falls and experienced the thrill of jumping off a rock that juts about 12 feet out of the water and you can go deep into “just the right spot” about 2-3 feet away from the rock. This year they were so eager to go back that we even bought a cucumber to take along with us and hide in the rocks for others to find.

We started out Saturday morning and happily clambered down the sets of stairs to the bottom of the falls. Mr. Ornery (age 10), The Little Guy (age 8), my nephew (age 9) and our friend HockeyGirl (age 9) climbed over rocks to the base of the falls and Mr. Ornery ventured into the freezing water to be splashed by the spray. Then we ambled down the stream where the water of the falls merged with the Youghiogheny River. From that point, we could watch groups of people in kayaks and rafts as they ventured in the white water rapids.

Remembering that last year, we had hiked to the right of the tributary and came out to the jumping rock, the boys set off scrambling over rocks as my mom (age 78, by the way) and I hurried to keep up. Something in my head wondered if there wasn’t an actual “trail” that we followed last year….and don’t trails usually have markers on the trees or the rocks?….but the thought slipped in the need to keep up with the adventurers. After 20 or 30 minutes however, I realized that we weren’t coming to any trail and the rocks were getting larger and more difficult to climb over.

 

Pretty soon it was clear that we were out bouldering. And by the time it was closing in on a hour of exercise, I kept sending Mr. Ornery ahead to scout out if we could make it around the next obstacle. (Of course, what appears to be “doable” to a 10-year-old boy is quite different than a mom approaching fifty who is thinking of her own mother using a walking stick behind her!) My anxiety was starting to rise as it became clearer and clearer that we were no where near a path, the overgrowth was pretty overgrown and rose steeply up the hills to our right, and there loomed a huge rock up ahead. I couldn’t tell if it would be better to forge ahead or go back. I was stressed that my mom would tumble and break a hip or a head. I worried that one of the kids would get hurt as I watched them crawl under a fallen tree. Just at my peak stress about safety, my nephew let out a blood-curdling scream as a bee stung his cheek. This resulted in me squeezing under the tree, hugging him and talking down my 10-year-old who was hyperventilating with a fear of bees now. This was a bad idea, I kept screaming in my head. The kids were exhausted and hungry. There was no path ahead. My mom didn’t want to jump in the raft of the “first aid” rafter who had floated nearby a little bit earlier. I just didn’t know what would be best to do.

That’s when I heard some voices and looked up to find a couple guys coming down the side of the hill. I yelled out, “Is there a path up there?” He couldn’t hear me. I dashed back under the tree and scrambled up to him. “Yes,” he replied, “There was a path going back and forth that we crossed. Do you need help?” I gave him a hug as he directed the kids, my mom and I past tree branches and up onto a well-worn trail. “Thank you, thank you”, I yelled out as we parted and started following the yellow-painted trail markers. “Oh, so this is what the trail should be, eh?” said my mom, the experienced Girl Scout leader!  Yes, Mom….this is the trail we were supposed to be on (and the one that HockeyGirl later said, “Oh yes, I saw a sign directing to a trail right when we started but the boys were already off to the rocks!” Silly girl, boys don’t look around, they just bumble along. Feel free to yell out next time!!)

And that trail let us right to the rock which was right down the stream from the natural water slides that the boys had enjoyed the day before. And the kids got refreshed in the cool water while my mom and nephew walked up the road to get the car…and much to the great delight of The Little Guy, we made it back to the campground just in time for the Mardi Gras parade. The kids rode along throwing out beads to the eager kids and adults lining the roads of the campground.

“Let’s chalk that up to an experience,” suggested HockeyGirl at the end of the “hike.”  I gave her a huge high-five. “Yep, let’s call that off-ice, cross-country, cross-training for you, my dear HockeyGirl,” I replied.

Bouldering sure was an experience. Hopefully the kids can see how amazing they were to work together and keep persisting even when one was hurt and all were tired and hungry. Hopefully the kids can understand just how beautiful it is to help one another along life’s journey and guide each other to the easier paths when possible. Hopefully the kids can lift their heads and be awed and inspired by the beauty of this world – the gentle roar of rushing rapids, the power of moving water in carving out rocks and the joy of exploring creation.

And hopefully next time we’ll all look out for trail markers before setting off. Well, sometimes. And sometimes it’s nice to end up bouldering.

Make Good Ripples

Everybody needs your help

Clearing out some emails tonight, I saw the subject of one reading, “Seniors in Isolation Need Your Help.” My first thought was, gosh, really, when you think about it, everybody needs my help. The kids crying and traumatized in concentration (I mean, detention) camps need my help. Isolated senior citizens need my help. Whales swallowing plastic need my help. The neighbor down the street whose basement was flooded last week needs my help. A friend starting to acknowledge the severity of her ailing mother needs my help. And by golly, these crazy boys living in my house sure do need a LOT more help curbing their misdirected urine, intense energy and spontaneous life-threatening poor decisions.

It’s pretty easy to become scatterbrained clicking on every email and every story and every social media post calling out for your help. It’s pretty easy to start thinking that the world is completely falling apart based on the endless cries for help. And it’s pretty easy to start feeling hopeless that there’s no way this one aging, exhausted mother of three is ever going to meet all those cries for help.

It seems to me, though, that the key to saving the world is by focusing on the little thing right in front of you and letting the love spread. A colleague of mine ends all her emails with the words “Make good ripples.” This has been sitting on my mind. When I talk to undergraduate and graduate students and professionals about what can be done to tackle the enormous and complicated construct of poverty in this country, I ask them to think of small things that can be done every day to make a difference. Give someone a smile. Hold the door open. Make eye contact. Share a hug. The smallest gesture of acknowledging the humanity in one another will make good ripples. It will share a little joy that can spread into bigger and bigger ripples of service and advocacy.

Take that one step further and find a charity that matches your passion, whether it’s with children or animals, homelessness or the elderly, the environment or your house of worship. Become a monthly donor to sustain their work. Sign up for emails or texts to provide you with daily or weekly action points, such as calling or writing to your representative about issues. Read wisely and become informed. Listen to others’ stories and speak for those who cannot.

Another key is having appropriate expectations for oneself. There was a period of time in my life when I worked full-time, parented young kids and spent hours and hours every week opening up a non-profit to care for children and families. That was a time that I could hear the cry for help and meet the need. But I can’t work at that level, survive on reduced sleep at that level, and not be present for my own children at that level every day. My expectation has shifted to match my current situation and now I look for other ways to spread joy and serve.

Some days one can wander along the path of despair in the vastness of the need. Some days it can seem like there is no way to make a difference. Some days, you just have to refocus on meeting the needs of a few people at a time, knowing that tomorrow always brings new opportunities. I know that I can not save the world myself, but I know that I can continue to love others, serve others and make good ripples.

You Got This!

I had just finished the first leg of the Pittsburgh Marathon, running 5.3 miles at a pace generally faster than usual for me. This was a combination of a running partner who was clearly in better shape than I (since she could keep talking while running – ahhh!) and because we were having such an impassioned conversation that adrenaline was definitely flowing.

After giving sweaty hugs to the friend who took up the next leg of the relay and to my running buddy, I headed over to the river to soak in the majestic views offered by the city despite a gray and foggy sky. Along the way, I politely offered to push buttons on cell phones to convert people’s “selfies” into “real” photos as I feel it gives a much better perspective (I’m a bit snobbish that way!).

Eventually I approached the statue of Fred Rogers, I noticed a man in an animated face-time phone conversation who was showing his listener the views of the river and pointing out that you could see the runners on the other side. Having politely asked the mother of a two-year-old little boy (who was definitely “not” going to get close to Fred!) to take my picture beside him, I wandered back to the race course. There was the runner who had ended his conversation. We remarked politely as to how the weather had cooperated and the rain had ended. We wondered how we’d “politely” cross the course to get to where we had parked. And then we began talking about the charities that we had run for to raise funds. I explained the work of Haiti H2O and he listened intently. He explained that he had been a marathon runner and had survived a heart attack a few years ago. He was back to running and was clearly passionate about raising awareness of heart disease and helping others.

As we meandered across the road and then along the race course in the opposite direction, B started to cheer on the runners. I added some feeble-sounding encouragements as well, but his voice boomed. “You got this,” he exclaimed over and over again. He lifted his extra-large right hand enveloped in a neon green glove and started to give each runner a high-five. I often thought, “that person won’t move over for a high-five,” but they sure did.

We were along the course around mile 4.5 where those at the end of the long line of participants were making slow progress in running, jogging or walking the race. Some looked exhausted already. Some looked like they were determined to keep going. Some looked like they wondered why they were doing this in the first place. Some looked ready to quit. But each time B yelled out “You got this!” and gave them a high-five, their faces transformed into beautiful smiles and a spark shone from their eyes. Every one. Old. Young. Black. White. In shape or out of shape. They all responded to B.

“Look how they are lighting up and smiling,” I remarked as we continued along. “Yes,” he paused. “My kids often say ‘Cool it, Pop’ but to me, every moment is worth living.”

Every moment is worth living.

Every moment is worth giving another encouragement. Giving another a smile. Giving another just a little more power, a little more strength, a little more determination to continue on. Whether others are running a mile or a marathon or whether they are walking or running through this journey of life, may we all continue to share a smile, give a high-five, and boom out loud – “You got this!

Photo credit: Daniel Heckert; Story credit: Betsy Ann

 

The Giving Tree on Our Mantle

Mr. Ornery is impossible to take into a store. It’s a guaranteed extra $50-75 any time we check-out. He always “needs” something — whether it’s a specific food item or the “need” to spend his allowance. It is always something.

And I try to remind myself that this is part of growing up and that if I continue to persist, hopefully we’ll make it to the point where his “giving” nature is a bit greater than his “accumulating” nature. But if you take a look at his current Nerf gun collection and Legos you know that we have a long way to go.

There are glimpses of hope, however. He does like to give gifts to friends. At Christmas time he really wanted to buy some toy skateboards to give to his friends with whom he plays a recess. Apparently a few of them bring in these mini skateboards and try to make them do flips and tricks using their fingers. He is also quite generous with gifts for his teachers and will “gift” things around the house to his brothers, like putting together a snack for them or wrapping up a toy and giving it to them.

A couple weeks ago, my sister took my younger two and her 8-year-old to see TobyMac (Christian Hip-Hop performer) in concert. That was a tremendous gift to me to have hours of time free to have dinner with a friend. Part way through the concert, Mr. Ornery called my cell phone and asked permission to buy ball caps. About an hour later, my sister texted, “Mr. Ornery got you a sponsor child. I can give it back. LOL”  “No, keep it,” I replied. The fact that Mr. Ornery thought about sponsoring a child warmed my heart. He was so excited about the packet when he brought it home. “Look, Mom, a girl name Yvonne. It says she lives in Rwanda. Can we send her $50 a month?” “Yes.” “Great, can we send her $80 a month?”…

I’ve been reflecting a bit that I grew up in a “giving” household. My parents were missionaries in Thailand while I was a young girl. I watched them every day give of their time and of their money and of their material things. I learned from my family, from my church, and from my friends to be a “giving” person. I began to wonder how much my boys see of that “giving” nature in me. I’ve done quite a bit of donating time in starting up a nonprofit crisis nursery and I try to point out to the boys that I’m “giving” my time now in meetings to help keep it running smoothly. And they see me giving to the offering plate at church and to the people along the side of the road when we’re downtown.

But they don’t often see the “giving” in terms of sharing with others via monthly monetary support. So I decided that our house needed a “Giving Tree” where we can share and celebrate the opportunity to be able to give to others.

On our tree, we have the sponsored girls giving treefrom Guatemala and now from Rwanda (through Food for the Hungry). We have a picture of our church and will add a picture of a dear friend who works in campus ministry. We also need a picture of me running the marathon relay as a way to raise money for work in Haiti through Haiti H2O. And I’ll grab a photo of the boys when they share Easter eggs with residents of a nearby nursing home next week.

My hope is that this becomes a dynamic, changing and ever-growing tree. My hope is that the boys develop an ever-growing awareness of the blessings in their lives and the call upon all of us to give and share with those who have less than us.

My hope is that I can keep looking for those tiny glimpses of the boys’ giving nature and help that blossom further, deeper and more beautifully.