My crazy slippers

For the past week, I have walked around the house with mismatched slippers.  My left foot wearing a brown slipper – one half of the pair that my mom just purchased and left at our house to keep her feet warm – and my right foot sporting a mauve fleece slipper from a pair I purchased several years ago.  I haven’t really thought about my mismatched slippers, despite the visiting foster caseworker pointing them out last week to the two other caseworkers (we like to schedule them all at one time and pretend to clean up for them).  But tonight, once the house grew quiet, I moved myself downstairs to the couch to admire the newly constructed and lit Christmas tree and kicked off the slippers to tuck my feet up under me.  I looked down at the odd pair and smiled.

Now, I could just say that wearing this particular pair is a sign of true laziness on my part.  I haven’t bothered to bend over and look for the matching sets under any of the couches or chairs or even bothered to look for them at all.  Strangely, for the entire week, the missing slippers have not magically appeared themselves like I keep thinking they will.

Or I could admit that my comfort and ease in slipping on two completely different slippers now shows just how completely I have given over to CHAOS and don’t even notice it anymore.  I only worry about the missing slippers when my mom does come to visit and I reluctantly give up my crazy pair so that her feet are warm (but since she was on a cruise for the past ten days, my feet have been so nice and toasty).

It’s hard to tell if this surrender is the sign of strength or just a survival mechanism.  I mean, I look around this room and see the towels on the floor (awaiting the return of the hamper which hasn’t climbed out of the basement yet with its latest load of laundry), the red Christmas Santa hats and stockings scattered at the base of the tree where the boys discarded them after our torture photo session in front of the tree, the books leaning off the shelves in a “pick me, pick me” stance waiting the joy of page-turning, the orange Matchbox tracks angularly sticking out from under the furniture (although I just noticed the loop and a couple tracks are up on top of the wall railing 6 feet up and in time out after a frustrated little boy threw them when the car didn’t loop as expected)….and I could go on and on ….but won’t, for instance, even mention the fireplace mantel where you’d be hard-pressed to find the beta fish in among the trophies, Lego airplane, digital camera, box set of DVDs, lotion bottles, a red 3-pound hand weight, and numerous other “off limit” or “too small and highly-chokeable” items.

Chaos reigns well enough in my life that yesterday when we pulled away to head down to my late-grandmother’s farm to have Thanksgiving dinner with the family, I wasn’t fazed at all to drive around the block, discover my tire pressure of the front tire read 6 instead of 35 (ie, FLAT), park the car, transfer 3 children into my sister’s car, climb in and head on out.  I wasn’t struck by the commotion of 13 children (my brother has 8) bouncing around the small dining room/living room of the farmhouse, wielding light-sabers which occasionally injured innocent bystanders.  And I wasn’t (too) fazed by sitting in the back of the new John Deere Gator and bouncing around the brush as my brother provided rides for all the kids.  In fact, it just felt really good to be surrounded by family and to watch the kids chase each other, “capture” each other into “tickle jail,” and slam Draw Four cards down in heated games of Crazy Uno.  It was delightful to have my grandmother’s farm welcome us all again.

My two cousins spent the night with us afterwards and this morning it seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring up the Christmas tree and start the festivities.  We balanced tree-arranging and some football playing, with Micah wrestling a cousin in the other room to get the ball and me defending the mantel knick-knacks (and fish!) from the on-coming missile.  The “babies” (we’ll eventually have to stop referring to the youngest two as “the babies”…someday) repeatedly approached the sparkling lights of the tree and timidly reached out hands to marvel at the brightness of bulbs before yielding to the expected reprimands of “Don’t TOUCH!”  Noah was the best, though – every time he walked into the living room today, he’d exclaim “oh my gosh,” or “that’s amazing,” or “we have an awesome tree.”  The chance to share in this joy and amazement and love of family is what makes the chaos worth it….the clutter worth it….the exhaustion worth it….

It’s what keeps my toes warm in mismatched slippers without a care.

Glimpses of love

A Steeler fan

I am a sucker for plush baby animals…..squishy….delightfully comforting softness.  I just am.

So, after an absolutely perfect morning at the zoo the other day, I decided that of course, Seth needed a new stuffed animal.  I have a monkey theme occurring in his crib – but the white polar bear was just too precious.  (You have to inspect all of them and pick the face that touches your heart.)

Seth smiled and clasped it to his body….for all of 3 seconds and then he shoved it aside and concentrated on the live animals.  Oh well, I thought, pushing the white softness into the bottom of the stroller.

But later that night, Noah found the little polar bear.  He lifted it high into the air with a huge smile and said “Did you buy this for me?”  “Oh yes,” I replied happily (I try to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, except in cases like this little white lie.)

He spent that night and the next day playing with the polar bear.  When he brought the adorable little creature to bed last night, I asked “So, what is your bear’s name?”  He replied “Mawzi.”

And Mawzi it is.  Mawzi gets lots of loving.  He likes to have his belly scratched.  He loves it when you rub his ears.  And he’s particularly happy when you go fishing over the edge of the bed with a pole of glow-in-the-dark wands to catch him some fish.  And if he seems to be getting full, you can just put the extra fish in a bucket for tomorrow.  Mawzi will be so happy, apparently.  I’m learning a lot about polar bears.

I was actually a bit surprised that Mawzi was still getting attention on day 3 of his adoption.  Apparently he is also ideal for monkey-in-the-middle games and doesn’t seem to mind being bounced on the floor, landing behind the TV, or snagged from mid-air by screeching 6 year olds.  Mawzi is very adept at fitting into the household of boys.

I was at a meeting tonight and when I returned, I did my typical “tucking in” of the boys.  I put the covers back on, kiss them goodnight, and linger for a minute in peace.  I walked into Noah’s room wondering if Mawzi had made it upstairs with the babysitter.  As I leaned down to kiss Noah, his eyes fluttered open.   “I love you,” I said.  He sleepily replied, “Can you get my Mawzi?”  I just smiled and went downstairs to answer the request….only to find Mawzi sitting upright joyfully playing with a little red fire truck.  He seemed ready to get to bed, though, so we trudged back upstairs.  Noah tucked him under his head as a pillow and drifted off to sleep.  Mawzi seemed to understand.  I’ll make sure he gets some extra fish in the morning for being so gentle.

Draining, demanding dependents

That’s the phrase I texted to a friend yesterday.  Of course, I was telling her that I have 3 of them….but it’s very important to not getfor (as Noah calls it) that there are actually 5 boys in this household….none of whom can pour their own glass of milk, completely toilet themselves or get a bath, or really even get dressed without either hands-on work or mental exhaustion in reminding them to at least put underwear on!

It’s been an exhausting weekend and it’s shocking to realize that the house looks just as trashed Sunday evening as it did Friday evening, despite the fact that we were home all weekend and actually did some cleaning.

I had to look back in some older messages to find a short paragraph that I sometimes send to new parents….just as a way to get them thinking about how life will change with a new baby:

Did you know that – – A typical baby needs to be fed every 2 or so hours for about 15-25 minutes each time and about 8 times a day. – If you mix formula, that takes about 20 minutes of your time each day. – Changing a diaper will take approximately ten minutes 8-10 times a day. – Extra laundry, cleaning or shopping may take an extra 2-3 hours a day. – Playtime and cuddling the baby should be done 15-25 minutes at a time a minimum of 4-6 times a day.  Total time required: 8 hours and 40 minutes to 12 hrs and 40 minutes a day!

That’s for a baby!  This is how our “typical day” falls….

– a typical boy age 1-6 needs to be fed every 3 or so hours for about 20 minutes each time and about 5 times a day; but it takes an additional 15 minutes to sop up the spilled water (Noah!!), pick up the flying chicken nuggets (Micah!!), and mop up the overturned cereal bowl again (Steven!!) at least 2-3 times a day = 2 hours and 10 minutes

– changing a diaper of a squirming fussing 18 month old will take at least 5 minutes, chasing them around the house to get the clothes back on, another 5 minutes, for 50 minutes a day x 2 diaper-clad bottoms (the 2-yr-old isn’t much easier) = 1 hr, 40 minutes

– laundry of 5 boys, partially folding, sorting and stacking clean clothes onto the back of the couch, refolding and restacking and resorting after Micah falls onto the couch in his Immaculate Reception imitation football catch, lugging clothes upstairs into dressers, washing towels and towels and towels = 2 hours a day

– Shopping for food, gallons of milk, clothes, shoes, toys, milk, coats, diapers, wipes, more diapers, more baby wipes, more milk, more food, back for bananas, gallons of milk (“why in the world did you only buy ONE gallon of blue-top milk?!!?) = average 1 hr a day

– And then there’s Steven… one day, he removed his diaper at nap time and woke up distressed by being covered in “poop” (I mean, who wouldn’t be?) = 30 minutes bath (well, 60 minutes by the time all the boys decided they needed one too at 2:30 pm) and 45 minutes laundry and wipe up; emptying of a practically full box of cereal onto the floor (awesome gravity effect) = 15 minutes of cleaning; upending a mug of hot chocolate splashing across the kitchen floor = 15 minutes; dumping over a bowl of cereal = 15 minutes…. 2 hours and 30 minutes of completely unproductive cleaning and close behind this tornado is little Seth emptying the papers from the recycling bin, removing Tupperware from the drawer, and shredding bits of papers.

Right – and now we have to add in “play” with the boys?  Let’s see, 2152 Lego pieces emptied across the floor, a diaper toss battle with Pampers flying, paper airplanes arching through the air, lightsabers dropped after battle (and guaranteed to make you slip and break your neck), Kleenex plucked from the boxes and dropped throughout the house (used? unused?), books wildly tossed off the shelves….I could go on…and on….

My total was at 10 hours before getting to the “play” and the aftermath of it.  If my sister and I sit down for 5 minutes we start to get antsy….knowing that someone is destroying something somewhere.  So from 5:56 (first child up) to 9:17 (last child down), there is absolutely no letting your guard down.

But they sure do look like angels when they’re all asleep!

Never…and No, I won’t

“Well, acknowledging your ‘issues’ is 3/4ths of the way there,” a good friend recently said over a very nice margarita and nachos supreme.  And I kind of wanted to ask – if I’m at 75%, is that good enough or do I have to actually try to go for 100%….ie, do I have to work on improving myself?

I was explaining to my friend the difficulties that I sometimes have with Micah as he continually tries to test the limits I set.  I joked that I had just picked up another book, this one called “Try and Make Me,” and it described us perfectly in the first 5 pages.  It also suggested rather firmly that the fault of all power struggles lies solely in me, the adult.  Yes….I roll my eyes, I know.

So, I am starting to feel a little confident that I have found a book that understands my problem, and on Thursday as we are all getting ready for school/work/day care, Micah is throwing a ball at the chandelier (right after being reprimanded and having the first ball removed from his hands).  I turn to my sister and say “he’s baiting me.  Yep, that’s what the book says – he’s baiting me.”  “So,” she replies, “what does it say to do about it?”  I shake my head, “no clue, haven’t gotten there yet, but he’s baiting me!”

Then this morning, the woman working at the community center where Micah plays basketball offers that her life was completely changed around by the “1-2-3 Magic” system by Thomas Phalen.  Good, I think, another book for me to read….

A few months ago, I joked with a co-worker that the only “literature” I read now is parenting books.  He surprised me when he said, “you know, I really admire that.  I mean, if I want to become an expert at something, I read about it.  I would imagine that if you want to become good at parenting, it’s good to read about it.”  I actually had never thought about that.  Somehow I expected parenting to be as easy and natural as babysitting – feed them, rock them, play with them, viola! – return them to the parents!

But no….not that easy.  Now I feed and rock and play and worry about whether their school/day care is right for them?  Whether Seth’s hair will grow back quickly as he has no bangs after that haircut yesterday?  Whether they will grow up to be independent, ethical, hard-working young men?  Whether they will stay as beautiful (ahem, handsome) as they are now.  So, now I read books:

Wild Things, the Art of Raising Boys – loved it

Love and Logic – couldn’t really get into it

The Explosive Child – described Micah and our difficulty perfectly, but the solution – not so helpful

The Help – great book

The Irresistible Henry House – thought I’d love it, never finished it

Goodnight Moon – a classic

The Very Cranky Bear – my favorite

Here’s what it boils down to.  My issues.  There are two parts of my personality that I struggle with – my need for control and the desire to be right.  Those two qualities are deep-seated and highly ingrained features of me.  And I’ve come far because of them (elementary education degree, developmental psychology doctorate, pediatrician – driven by my ability to control my learning and my need to be right).  However, these two qualities are at the root of much of my parenting difficulties.

Guess what?  You can’t actually control a child – they are their own unique human beings with their own will (and, not surprisingly, their own desire for control!).  My job is to help shape that will, but I can’t control it.  And when it comes to parenting, I am not nearly as right as I sure would like to be and that frustrates me.  So when Micah and I are escalating into one of our classic power struggles, it is actually me grappling with my own self and nature and refusing to give in or be perceived as being “wrong.”  Heavy stuff.

So….this is where I am right now – at 75% – and halfway through one book with two more in my Amazon cart….and I am open to suggestions.

————————- A  brief update to last week’s post ———————–

I called the caseworker supervisor on Monday to say that the visit almost never took place as the mother’s name was not on the list again.  He said, “Well, that’s her responsibility to make sure she’s on the list.”  I replied, “She didn’t even know a visit was happening that day.”  To this, he became quite agitated – saying that the mother’s lawyer had thrown a dramatic fit at the court hearing a week prior that CYF was ignoring the mother’s rights and treating her poorly and that the mother was so upset about not having a visit.  And now we’re all wondering how much of this craziness is being driven by the lawyer….rather than the mother….and is the lawyer even talking to the birthmother.  Who needs fiction?  Life is crazy enough!  So birthmother will be released in about two weeks and we’ll see what happens next.

A “contact visit” with birthmom

“The inmates sit in the pink chairs, we sit in the blue….oh, and at the end, we’ll stand here again while they turn all the chairs and tables over to make sure no one left anything for one of the women.”

I stood in a group of about twenty people waiting for the inmates to change into red “Contact Visit” labeled uniforms.  The room held 16 evenly-spaced small tables each with a pink chair and 1-3 blue chairs.  Pillars broke into the open space, a podium at the front displayed the American flag on the wrong side (according to the ex-military man I stood talking to), and a scattering of broken toys and books in a plastic bin sat in the corner.

The women filed in and took a seat.  Family members gathered around them, sisters, mothers, children brought to the visit by CYF caseworker or grandparents.  There were many happy smiles.  I stood with Seth in my arms looking for a woman with an empty blue chair. There wasn’t any and I asked of the guard where “H” was.  They called her down from the cell block.  (We almost didn’t have a visit since for the second time, because the birthmother’s name wasn’t on the list for visits.  We were only let through because a sergeant reluctantly cleared it, and yet the case supervisor had called me on Tuesday to make sure I knew that this visit must take place.)

Seth’s birthmother entered, and the guard pointed her out to me.  We sat awkwardly.  She asked how old Seth is and how he’s doing.  She asked how the older two were (using their original names, which I did not correct as I don’t want her to know their new identities).  She asked “what kind of mix is he?” pointing to Seth.  I said, “well, they believe he’s biracial.”  She nodded, paused and said “I was in drugs then….I don’t remember much.”  “I did want to get my tubes tied.”  Awkward moments interrupted by a guard who told me I needed to sit “across the table” from her, not with the chair at the adjacent side.  Seth eventually became restless of playing at the table and I got up to get him a “kitchen toy” with a small blue plastic pot.  He’s one and a half – the joy of tossing that little pot off the table was just a bit too irresistible.  Unfortunately, at the second drop, the sergeant patrolling the room didn’t appreciate his need to explore gravitational pull and took away the toy (“none of that throwing”).  I let the birthmother know that he was just being a normal kid.

Eventually playing with a broken toy at a table became less than enthralling and Seth yearned to roam the floors.  We wandered over to the book bin and he pushed a small plastic chair around.  The birthmother chatted with some of her fellow inmates and I thought about how foreign this world was to me.  They talked about their release dates, about who else they had seen “back in,” and about how cute each other’s kids were.

I felt so guarded.  I didn’t know what to talk about or how much to share with her.  In such a crowded space and on a first meeting, I didn’t want to pry, despite my intense desire to learn more about her.  I felt so torn about what to talk about, knowing that she had just “contested” the termination of parental rights thereby delaying the adoption process.  When she mentioned that she was about to be released in 20 days for “maxing out,” I wondered what her intentions were in regards to Seth.  Was she going to start fighting to get him back?  Was she going to ask for more visits?  She did say she was going to move back in with her father (oh, who has a new child himself.  His girlfriend just had a baby who is two months old and just out of the hospital because of methadone too.  My brain was reeling).  It wasn’t until about 10 minutes before the end of the visiting time when she told several other inmates that Seth was being adopted….and that she was “okay with that” …since it’s best for him, that I sighed inwardly.  And yet, I was still so tense.

Despite how intensely I thought the whole visitation of a child to a stranger was awful, I know it was the best thing for him that I was there.  To Seth, this was just some odd morning when we went to visit a new place and play with new toys among a big group of new people (with a mother who was oddly stiff and kept calling him “buddy” instead of “Seth” and some lady occasionally touched him and called him another name). To me it was one of the most tense, uncomfortable, out of my comfort zone experiences I’ve had for a long time.  We walked out into the crisp air – a welcome relief after the warmth of the basement of the jail – yet I could not relax.  I turned on my cell phone and listened to messages of my mother desperately trying to figure out where Micah’s basketball game was and called her briefly to learn that he had had an explosive fit, had run down the block chasing my sister’s car when she left and was currently in her car and refusing to get out.

I pushed toward the parking lot with feet lifting concrete boots and my body straining under such a mental weight.  I thought of so many things I wished I would have asked the birthmother.  I tried to remind myself that I’m not the perfect mother and didn’t remember to leave directions for basketball, but that Micah would recover from his horrible morning.  I drove in numbness despite the gnawing pain in my head.  I snapped at my kids.  I grumped about rushing off to soccer.  It took hours to start to feel normal again.  I can’t imagine this reality for so many families with loved ones in prison.

Random other snippets:

– walking downstairs toward the visitation room, I overheard a preteen girl tell her grandmother that she was always nervous about contact visits.  When asked why, she replied “it’s hard to actually see the one you love.”

– “She thought it would never happen to her,” lamented the 56-year-old grandmother whose daughter had succumbed to heroin and all the illegal activities associated with it and now she was taking care of the 15- month-old baby.  She’s the one who talked me through some of the process.

– “Whew, whose smell is that?”  Well, it could be any number of these toddlers and babies as there’s no diaper changing in the visitation area – everything had to be locked into a locker and one inmate was amazed that I had brought a sippy cup through.  Hey, someone else walked past the wanding body searching security guard with a bottle, so I figured why not bring along the sippy cup.

– “Does he have Hepatitis C….because I do.”  Um, don’t know – guess I’ll have to have him checked.  “Anything else you want to add?” I wondered.

Despite how incredibly difficult this morning was for me (it really was the first time I’ve ever met the birthmother of my three sons), I kind of wish that the visit had worked out last month.  That way, the “first” time awkwardness would be gone and maybe today I might have had my thoughts about me to ask intelligent questions that might help for the future of the boys.  I might have been more willing to share more about them.  The strange thing is, I don’t know if I’ll ever see her again though I did offer to send her a picture at Christmas (“maybe” of all three boys – though why didn’t I just give her a little peace and say “definitely” of the three?).

It’s going to take me a long time to think through the visit this morning on so many different levels.  But the best thing was hearing her confirm that Seth would be mine, and feeling Seth’s confirmation of that in his tight hugs around my neck.