Because of Corona: Covid week 3

I tried a rap with the boys.

You’re off school

Isn’t that cool

Cuz cuz cuz, Corona.

 

Everything’s closed

Stuck at home

Cuz cuz cuz, Corona.

 

They thought it was awful.

We’ve been trying to cope with all these changes and name them. We can’t go to the skate park with our scooters and skateboards, because of Corona. Grandma didn’t get to join us in coloring Easter eggs, because of Corona. We can’t invite a friend over to play, because of Corona. “Will we go to the beach for vacation this year?” We might not, honey, because of Corona.

Because of Corona, I start all my work emails with the words, “So sorry for my tremendous delay in responding….” It’s my “Covid-delay.” You know the joke, where someone gets distracted by a passing squirrel? Well, that’s all I have in my life right now – lots of squirrels!! And there’s no space for brain power.

Because of Corona, the governor of our state just canceled schools for the rest of the year. My 5th grader is missing out on his “senior” year of elementary school – the strutting in the hallways of being the “big” kid on the block, the visit to the middle school in preparation for the transition, the grade-level picnic at the local playground as a last bonding hurrah. I know it’s a small thing in the grand scheme of health and life, but it’s a disappointment and a grieving. And it’s a stress to know that the squirrels are going to be circling me for another two months!

Because of Corona, I am now putting in full days at the medical office which means my sister is helping by watching my youngest for almost 12 hours (which gives her a total of 5 boys in the house; although fortunately the three teens sleep a good chunk of the day). And it means that Mr. Ornery is home alone for a good chunk of time watching TV. I thanked him for it the other night as I tucked him into bed and he said, “It’s okay, Mom. I know you have to help people.” It’s still a sacrifice for the family.

Because of Corona, the younger boys, the little Cavadoodle and I take a walk around the neighborhood every day. They are usually on a scooter or skateboard and I’m usually saying inane things like, “Look at that beautiful purple flower which I don’t know the name of….” We are becoming more in tune with nature and the tiny changes of the season that we would never have noticed had we been in our hectic schedule of gymnastics, hockey, basketball and on and on. It’s a time of growth for us.

Because of Corona, I am a little more irritable and snap at the boys a little more. I’m around them so much now that I start to pick on little things. I’m trying hard to get work in and realize I’ve just snapped at a little boy who interrupted my online meeting because he simply needed a hug. I sleep much more than I used to and yet struggle to feel rested. I read more. I puzzle more. I bake more. My body is stressed and trying to deal with the trauma of an upended life. It takes a toll on all of us.

Because of Corona, my neighbor and I have started to jog or walk together a couple mornings a week. We just need to move and we just need to talk. We just need the comfort of venting to one another, listening to one another. I’ve been connecting with many people electronically. I’ve had several zoom “Happy Hours,” but there’s a different physical and biological response when we’re near someone even if we’re six feet away.

But because of Corona, we’re also awkward around other people now. I fold my arms across my chest to make sure I don’t accidentally reach out and touch someone as we talk. As someone who is not all-huggy, I now crave the hugs from my great-hugger friends. My neighbor brought over sidewalk chalk for the boys and we awkwardly tried to figure out if she could hand it to me or put it down and I’d pick it up…. Because of Corona, I wonder if people worry about me baking cookies for them (so I wash frequently and use gloves to plate them). It’s a constant edginess.

I asked the fifth-grader how he felt about missing his last quarter of his school year. “Awesome!” he exclaimed. “Isn’t it a little weird, though?” I inquired. He paused. He doesn’t talk about emotions much (you know, a preteen boy). He replied as he walked away, “Yes, it is weird. …. But I’m okay.”

I’m okay. Acceptance. That’s the point we need to get to, but it’s going to take awhile. We are coping with loss and disappointment. We are coping with uncertainty and constant change. We are coping with stress and trauma. The wisdom of Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief fits this age of pandemic. As individuals and communities, we worked through denial of “it’s just a flu.” We wrestled with the anger of “how can you shut down our normal routines and businesses and ask us to collectively stay home?” We start the bargaining of “Can’t I just….or….” And we feel the depression and anguish of the current state. We hurt for those experiencing intense hardship. We worry about the individual and societal and worldwide impact of this experience. The grief is real.

And we work toward acceptance and healing. We work toward a new “normal” and a new level of empathy and compassion. We work toward making sure that everyone is “okay.” Blessings to each on this journey.

Forsythia heart in a neighbor’s yard.

 

 

In a Blink: COVID-19 Week 2

She waved at me from behind the glass of the front door. We were on the phone together, we were ten feet away from each other, but the glass door kept us apart. The glass door kept the virus out, if there was a chance of me carrying it to my aging parents and my father with lung disease. I struggled to not let her hear my voice crack in sadness. I wanted more than anything to give my mom a hug of letting her know that I love her.

“Want me to throw a knife out the window?” she asked after offering me the chance to pick a bouquet of daffodils. “No, thanks, my fingernails are working just fine,” I replied as I gathered the bright yellow smiling flowers. They sit on my coffee table, a reminder of joy and new life.

And a distinct reminder of how life was altered drastically in a blink of our eyes. In a blink, the schools closed and the kids stayed home. In a blink, the offices closed and people started to work from home. In a blink, all our routines changed. All activities canceled. All restaurants closed to social gatherings. All public places closed. All people were told to stay home.

In a blink, the fear rose. The fear of catching an illness which could kill. The fear that the person near you could cough and spew minuscule, unseen particles of disease. The fear of drastic economic changes that could topple many people. The fear of losing jobs. The fear of stress increasing domestic violence and child abuse. The fear of how uncertain everything seemed to be. The fear of constant shifting change. The fear of death for families and friends. Gut-wrenching fear.

Yet, in a blink we also started to see life in a new way. In a blink we started to actually “see” our family. We started to think about activities that we could be doing together. We started daily family walks around the neighborhood that gave us moments to talk together. We spent hours creating cardboard mazes for the hamster, Lego constructions, and new fingerboard “skate parks.” We played games and watched more movies together. We roasted marshmallows for s’mores while lamenting that we couldn’t invite the neighbors over, but cherishing the moments together.

In a blink, we started to look at our neighbors differently. Did the elderly couple next door need someone to shop for them? In a blink, we encouraged each other to color on the driveway with sidewalk chalk, put bears in our windows for “bear hunts” for the little ones, and raised our glasses in salute of our community. In a blink, we started to see that only by encouraging each other to practice social distancing, uniting as a community with one goal, would we make it through this craze with as little loss as possible.

And how do we understand that the blink that happened in my world is so totally different than what happened to others. I have been able to adjust to the changes around me because I’m financially stable and have a truly wonderful support system. Others, though, have lost jobs, lost income, lost opportunities. Others have lost connections with friends and families. Others have struggled to find food for their families and lost access to healthcare and medications. Others are stressed about finding formula and diapers and baby wipes for their infants. Some are stressed by spending more time in dangerous situations of homelessness or abuse. For some people, their entire world has collapsed and they are drowning in their storm. The safety net systems are cracked and straining and the gaping inequality in our country has become exposed for all to see.  There are some local resources here.

In a blink, our very world changed. And it’s up to us figure out what we’re going to take away from this moment in time. Will we hold each other tighter? Will we show genuine love and respect for all human beings? Will we reach out and support those who are doing such hard work? Will we remember that we are all created equal? Will we grow in our faith and our commitments? Will we work to address discrimination and intolerance and inequality?

Fast forward a week to the day my father turned 80. My family and my sister’s family piled in our cars and drove over. We placed 80 candles on two small cakes, but only 5 or 6 candles would stay lit given the wind and overcast drizzle. We held up signs and sang Happy Birthday through a closed window. One of the cakes fell off the porch smashing onto the ground and we laughed. Super Tall Guy smeared a piece of cake onto my head and I resisted the temptation for a food fight solely because I knew we didn’t have access to water to clean off! We laughed. We blew kisses and mimed hugs. Hopefully we were able to convey our love and thankfulness to these wonderful grandparents.

But, oh, I miss my mom’s hugs. The grief is real.

 

Parenting During Coronavirus COVID-19

In this unique time of a threatening health crisis due to the coronavirus CoVID-19, we are being asked to do something that goes against our very human nature. We are by design social creatures. That’s how we have thrived for thousands. But now in 2020, we are asked to literally stay away from other people. No more shaking hands. No more hugs. Unless you live in the same house you are not to touch someone else.

As difficult as that is, we are also now asked to stay in our own homes. Stay away from public places. Get your groceries and that is it. While these restrictions are meant to help us stay physically healthy, they do not help us stay mentally healthy. Now layer on the challenges of parenting young kids during this time. Children are not in school. Young children are not in day care. Many parents are expected to work from home while keeping an eye on their children. Many parents are expected to help their children get schoolwork done while schools are closed. Many parents have no one else to take care of the children so that parents can get away for a break. The “village” that used to exist to help parents is no longer concretely visible for so many.

This “village” is part of the five Protective Factors that help parents be the best they can be. These include 1) parental resilience, 2) social connection, 3) concrete support in times of need, 4) knowledge of parenting and child development, and 5) social and emotional competence of children. Let’s take a look at these factors within our current situation of social distancing to slow the spread of the virus.

Parental Resilience: Resilience refers to the strategies we all have to help us cope with daily life and with any curveballs that are thrown our way. Right now we’re experiencing a huge curveball not in existence for decades. Thus, it is really important for parents to take some moments to reflect on how they are doing emotionally and physically. It’s important to give yourself quite a bit of slack knowing that the stress you are facing right now is greater than normal, the demands are higher than normal, and the worry is more serious than normal. Find the things that make you happy and allow yourself to indulge a bit. Call or text a friend. Get outside and take deep breaths of fresh air. Watch a movie. Find activities that are relaxing for you and that bring you joy. Within the chaos, we need moments of joy that may continue to build our resilience.

Social ConnectionSince the beginning of March, we’ve been hearing about the concept of “social distancing” as a way to slow down and limit the spread of the coronavirus. Soon, a new insight arose. What is important in fighting this virus is “physical distancing” and staying at least 6 feet away from anyone not in our family unit. But “social connection” is more important than ever. We need to realize that we are in this together. As a community, as a state, as a country, we need to be in this together. And as parents, we need to have social connection. We need to be connected with other people so we can talk about our fears and concerns and worries. We need to connect so we can ask questions and get answers and support one another.

And we also need to make sure we are staying socially connected to our children. Sometimes our brains get so wrapped up in stress and worry that it changes the way with interact with our children. We are less patient and more negative. We also know that children can sense our stress and they are likely stressed themselves by the sudden change in their lives and the fact that they don’t have the same social connection with other children in their classes or neighborhood. As parents, we can help keep them connected to their friends remotely if possible or just by continuing to talk about some of their favorite friends.

Concrete Support in Times of Need: When businesses are shut down, when cities and countries are under “shelter in place” direction, it is a very difficult time in terms of getting needs met. In many places, the shelves are bare and it is too difficult to travel around to find items you might need. Closed businesses might change people employment causing financial stress. Services that are generally available may have limited hours or capacity. It is important to know that even though it seems that the world has kind of shut down, there still are services to meet the need. And it is important to ask for help if needed and persist in getting that help. And for those people who are doing okay in terms of getting the needs of their family met, this is a great time to reach out and find ways to help others for whom life is really challenging right now.

Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development: No child ever came with a “how-to” manual when they were born and no parent suddenly acquired all the skills and knowledge of “how to” be a good parent the moment they started to parent. We all are learning every single day more about our children and more about ourselves. The key to this parenting gig is maintaining a “growth mindset.” Understand that your children are constantly growing and changing and something that works one day will suddenly not work another day. Understand that your parenting skills are also able to grow and change and improve. Understand that we are all going to make mistakes. We all make mistakes. So we learn from them and adapt. And we learn from others. Part of that “village” and that “social connection” that we all need is the chance to talk about children and their behaviors and get other ideas about how to parent. We learn from each other. We learn from reading about children and parenting. And we learn from doing it.

Social and Emotional Competence of Children: Every single child is completely different than any other child. Just like each child learns to crawl or walk at a different time, they learn to understand and manage their emotions at a different rate as well. Some kids are very in tune with their emotions. Some kids never seem to talk about their emotions. But in this time of coronavirus, it is likely that every child is feeling some type of stress. That stress might just come from the fact that so much changed in their lives in terms of being home all day now with the family. For school age children, they are no longer sitting in classes with friends and teachers. For some older children, they may be hearing about the virus or reading about it and are scared and worried about the health of themselves or family members.

This is a time for us parents to make sure that we are connecting with children on the emotional level. For younger kids that means lots of physical contact of hugs and cuddles to help them feel loved and safe. For children who are older and can talk and understand, it means letting them know that you as a parent are doing everything you can to keep them safe and healthy. It means talking about emotions more. It means reading books that help kids understand emotions. It means understanding that sometimes when the kids are “acting out” or “being bad” or making a total mess, it is merely an expression of the stress that they are feeling within. It is so, so hard as a parent to take a breath at this time, give the kid a hug, and say “I know you’re feeling confused, scared, sad, lonely, worried (whatever emotion you think they are dealing with), but I’m here for you.” It is hard some times, but it is also so helpful to the child. And it might be so helpful to you too to speak these emotions out loud.

There’s no manual for any of us parents to cope with the CoVID-19 virus. There’s no one alive who has ever experienced such a pandemic and would be able to offer us concrete guidance. It is a new and very unusual time for absolutely every single person in the world, so all we can do is try our best. But we humans can find within us an inner strength to cope and to adapt and to figure out what we need to do to survive this and thrive. We can find what brings us joy and love. We can share our love to our children, our families, our friends and neighbors and to others in different ways now, but it still has the same power.

Be gentle to yourself. Be connected to your family. Love yourself and share your love. And always have Hope, knowing that we will come through this and hopefully will learn so much about true love.

Resources:

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746
  • National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) or text 1-800-422-4453
  • United Way in SW PA: Call 2-1-1 or text your zipcode to 898-211
  • Healthy Children resource from the American Academy of Pediatrics
  • Audiobooks at the Carnegie Library using Overdrive or Hoopla app.

Social “Distancing” – Week 1

When the fifth-grader’s teacher texted me on Tuesday night to say she had an “inkling” that schools would be closing by Monday, I panicked. “Oh, please, no,” I responded. The thought of having the boys home ALL the time was overwhelming to me.  But as I read more and more about the coronavirus COVID-19 and as more and more places closed, I slowly started to grasp the reality.

And then by Thursday night, my stress level climbed as I got downright frustrated that the school district had not informed parents about a closing. As more and more neighboring districts closed and ours wasn’t, I got more and more worried. I got so worried, that I had to rip open another jigsaw puzzle box, pour a glass of wine and stay up late into the night putting tiny cardboard pieces together to help me relax and unwind the tightness of the stomach and muscles.

Super Tall Guy called me Friday afternoon right after I hung up from listening to the school district’s automated message. “We’re out of school for two weeks!” he exclaimed. “Where are you?” I queried, hearing a cacophony of noise in the background. “In reading class,” he responded, “Everyone is calling their parents.” I imagine the reading teacher had basically just given up with her room full of teens!

….There’s a reason I was never a stay-at-home mom. Well, of course, the reason is that I need to work as a single mom. But the other reason is that kids are entirely exhausting to this strong introvert. There’s nothing I like more than curling up with a great book beside a fireplace. Taking a long run or walk. Losing hours to the lull of a jigsaw puzzle (do not mess with my pieces – I know the location of every single one of them as they await being placed!).

Kids are entirely exhausting to me. And juggling kids while trying to work from home is entirely exhausting. Making food all day long is exhausting. Keeping up with the tracking in of dirt is exhausting. Biting my tongue and escaping to my room when tempers flare and kids quarrel is exhausting. Listening to the whine of “I’m bored” is exhausting. And trying to explain in a safe and non-scary way why we’re not playing with other children for awhile is exhausting.

But what is most exhausting is stress. Stress is exhausting. Holding ourselves together is exhausting. Reading about the insidious spread of a virus is exhausting. Worrying about the health of your own family and your aging parents is exhausting. Frustration at the lack of a coordinated and helpful response by your own government is exhausting. Worry for colleagues in the medical field is exhausting. Worrying about seeing patients is exhausting. Stress is exhausting!

I slept a lot last week. A lot. So did the eleven-year-old. The eight-year-old watched a lot of TV. A lot. The 13-year-old played Fortnite. A lot of Fortnite.

But we made it through. We made it through with rest, with games and movies, and cardboard creations for the hamster. We made it through with faith and music and stories. We made it through with cookies. Lots and lots of cookies. And, we made it through with understanding that it’s not “social distancing” we’re trying to accomplish, it’s “physical distancing.” The social connection must remain. So, I continued to call my mom daily. I texted many people I hadn’t connected with for awhile. I started getting outside for walks or runs with a neighbor, each of us letting the other know when we were about to blow and needed some physical activity to clear the head and raise the endorphins. We started to figure out what it meant to stay away from others and yet try to stay connected (I miss hugs….).

And, we made it through because there was no school requirement yet and no pressure to juggle one more thing…

….but then there’s tomorrow morning. Remote school starts.

Let the wild rumpus begin!

Jeremiah 29:11

Why gymnastics? Strength. Power. Determination.

A good friend said one morning after we returned from traveling to the other side of Pennsylvania, “Well, that’s a lot of travel for gymnastics competitions and I’m not sure I’d want to do it.”  Yes, I agreed, it sure is a lot. And it’s particularly awful when you have a 7:45 check-in time on the morning of spring daylight savings time change! Given where we live, this sport does require quite a bit of travel. And yes, it does get expensive.

As we talked, I wondered about when you are single parenting three boys, how do I make decisions about the limited resource of money? After all, there was a recent new roof to be put on the house. The Little Guy needed an expander for braces. And there’s other sports and activities. On top of that, these boys seem to be constantly hungry and want food!! It made me reflect a bit about whether gymnastics is worth the time and money I put into it for this Little Guy.

On the surface, I kid with people that he’s in gymnastics because if he was home those two evenings a week and on Saturday mornings, he’d be stuck on a screen. At least for seven and a half hours a week, I’m not spending a lot of negative energy trying to get him off a screen. And I joke that when people tell me, “Don’t let your kids play ice hockey – it’s too expensive,” I reply, “Have you tried competitive gymnastics?”

So for me, here’s why I sink time and money and energy into this sport.

Strength. You should see the muscles on this little man. A fellow gymnastic mother lamented the other day that her 6-year-old son’s cute little baby belly had flattened into a strong six-pack. I agreed it was surprising to see the definition form. The Little Guy’s six-pack and biceps are the envy of his 11-year-old brother and all the kids in the neighborhood. And, this physical strength has done him well. The summer after his first competition season, The Little Guy became an amazingly fast swimmer on the little community swim league. He had perfect form. His arms motored him from one end of the pool to the other without effort. His body is toned, his coordination is extraordinary, and he’s able to easily pick up other athletic skills.

Power. More than the physical strength, though, this Little Guy has developed an amazing emotional strength and confidence. Mind you, he already exuded far more confidence than you’d expect out of a tiny human being, but he has honed that into a confidence that explodes when he walks into a room. A few weeks ago, he decided to do a “dance” for the school talent show. He didn’t practice at all. He didn’t see the need. He walked onto the stage and did whatever dance moves came to him. He has developed an inner power that makes him invincible.

Determination. There’s one thing that hours and hours of practice promote and that is a strong sense of determination and independence. The gymnasts are taught a certain skill and expected to work on it on their own. They are given a routine and are expected to practice it until they have it down perfectly. They are expected to remember how many swings to do before doing a release move on the high bar. They must remember to hold their legs exactly 90 degrees straight out in front of their body while hanging perfectly still from rings suspended in the air and not forget to point their toes. Not only is their brain remembering all this, their muscles are remembering all this and their bodies are aching. At one point toward the end of last season’s competition, the Little Guy had “rips” (torn skin in the palm of his hands that start with a blister and can tear open and bleed). Nonetheless, he wrapped sports tape around his hands and competed through the pain. At the age of seven. Pushing through difficulty, showing up, controlling his impulses, representing his team, trying his best. There are tremendous life lessons that he’s working through.

The thing is, I realize that his competitions also pull at my competitive nature. I start feeling frustrated and disappointed that he’s not “doing better” or “getting a better score” or remembering to point the toes. I have to step back and remember that there’s very few…very very few….8-year-old boys who can do this at all and who are willing to make this commitment. In truth, he is utterly and entirely amazing as are all the gymnasts.

So, I try not to think of the money. I try not to be tired of driving back and forth. I try to decide what is best for my boys. For now, gymnastics is nurturing and shaping this amazing little 8-year-old. For now this hard work and learning from tough coaches is important for him. For now, the comaraderie of his teammates and the great group of parents is an important part of our family life.  He might not continue after this season. We’re on break right now due to the coronavirus (and he was sad Saturday morning when I told him gymnastics was cancelled even though he’s usually begging to “skip” a practice). And he’ll take a break over the summer to give his brain and body a rest. But I sure will support him if he wants to continue. And we’ll keep using those long drives to competitions as opportunities to explore our region (visiting Gettysburg and Philadelphia have been quite fun!) and to bond as a family.

For now this sport is worth it. We all know life changes rapidly!

 

 

The Little Guy’s Word for the Year: Hope

It was a rough start to the school year if you’ve been following my life in the middle of the Madness! The Little Guy clearly was struggling with expectations for behavior. I don’t know if it was the stress of school starting back up, the increased academic pressures of third grade, or just a trial of flexing his eight-year-old will, but he and I clashed over the importance of telling the truth about his misbehavior. In turn, I had to flex my brain in keeping up with consequences for behavior – writing “I shall only speak the truth” two hundred times, grounding, missing Halloween and finally, the ultimate consequence (which only works in the winter holiday season) – you shall not receive any Christmas gifts other than socks and the traditional gift of a book.

To “Mr. Resilient” this didn’t phase him. One day on the way to gymnastics practice, he was flipping through the Target toy catalog that had recently arrived. He found a pen on the floor of the car and started describing the toys that he was circling in anticipation. I matter-of-factly reminded him that his only gifts under the tree would be empty boxes wrapped in wrapping paper (handy that the boys don’t believe in Santa) and he nonchalantly responded without pause, “Well, there’s always next year.”  The circling continued.

I took every opportunity in late fall to remind him of behaviors and consequences. Lying to your mother is serious enough to miss Halloween, remember. And when you do it AGAIN, you miss Christmas. But any time you think up a consequence as a parent, you better be sure that you have the strength to pull it off. And gosh, Christmas is Christmas. That’s a tough one.

A couple days before Christmas, Mr. Ornery (age 10) decided to check on my resolve, clearly a little worried for his little brother. “Did you really not buy The Little Guy anything for Christmas?” “Oh, I told him. Lying is serious. All he’s getting is a book and empty boxes.”

Christmas morning arrived. The boys entertained themselves (The Little Guy made a ‘vlog’ video of himself brushing his teeth) while I took the dog for her morning walk. They impatiently sat on the top steps as I got the oven on to warm up breakfast. They begrudgingly (and with almost a smile from all of them) participated in the requisite selfies and photos of them in matching pajamas. They sprang to the family room. They jumped upon their stockings and whipped through the smaller gifts while shoveling handfuls of chocolates into their mouths. (Super Tall Guy sorted his stocking stuffers into “worthy of keeping” and “garbage” piles! 😊). I love stockings.

And then it was time to turn to the gifts. After the initial excitement of trying to stockpile some gifts, I glanced over at The Little Guy. He sat with a small pile of wrapped boxes. I handed him some gifts labeled 1, 2 and 3. I explained those were his gifts this year. He warily opened Gift 1. It was a box with three clementine oranges and a piece of paper that read “Don’t Lie.” Box 2 was a box with animal crackers and a paper that read “Don’t Lose….”  Box 3 was empty with a sheet of paper that read “….Hope.”

The Little Guy broke into tears.

I said, “Hey, what does ‘hope’ mean?” trying to break through the sobbing.  “Little Guy, what does ‘hope’ mean?” He ran from the room as I followed. My arms encircled him as he wept on the stairs. “What does hope mean?” I asked again. “I don’t know,” he cried.

“Buddy, ‘hope’ means ‘waiting for something good.”

“Let’s start over and think about this. Don’t lie. But don’t lose hope.”

I sat him back down in the family room and Mr. Ornery and I carried in a large box brimming with gifts. The smile returned to The Little Guy’s face. Hope returned to the Little Guy’s heart.

And that has become his word of the year. When you make a mistake, don’t lose hope. Things can turn around. When life looks bleak, don’t lose hope. Wait for good to come again.

Days later the boys and I sat in the theater watching the final Star Wars movie, The Rise of Skywalker. The Little Guy caught the word among the dialogue in one scene and turned to me with a smile, “Hope, they just said. I guess that’s my word.”

Harsh? Quite possibly. But then, I don’t think he’ll forget the meaning of Hope for awhile. I also hope that he doesn’t forget the reason we went through this and how important Truth is.

Now if only I could get that lesson to sink into Mr. Ornery…..

….works in progress is what we all are….

Finding Gratitude for the New Year!

The morning of New Year’s Eve my neighbor and I woke up early to get a short run in before the day got crazy. We’ve been meeting up for the past few months and as much as I despise getting out of bed before 6:00 am, it’s such a joy to spend the morning chatting in the brisk air with a friend. As we ran (okay, jogged is the more accurate term), she asked if I had a tradition of setting goals for the New Year. “No,” I laughed. “It’s never been a big part of my life, though my goal in the recent years has been to just keep the boys alive!” (You know they challenge that goal frequently!).

New Year’s Day turned bright and sunny with a very thin layer of snow on the grass. My boys bundled up (but rapidly shed layers) to head to the county park ice skating rink. I trudged along with book in hand, but also with a stack of thank-you cards to send my appreciation for the gifts I had received. As I sat in the warmth of the sun through the window of the lodge, I wrote the first note. Suddenly, I realized what my New Year’s Resolution would be – to more frequently let people know of my gratitude. And so I began to write a couple notes to friends for whom I am grateful.

After seeing the new Star Wars movie with the boys (grateful to have seen it with my Godson on opening day and thus enjoyed the second viewing tremendously because I could catch more minutiae), I sat on the couch between the boys’ bodies curled around an electronic device. The staying up until 1:00 am thing seemed to have caught up to them and they sought some “alone” time together. Suddenly, the little guy looked over and asked, “Can I write my thank-you notes too?”

He started off with the ones that I had asked him to write to the people who had given him gifts. And then a beautiful thing happened. His gratitude grew. Next he wrote a note to his grandparents to express his sadness that their car had been broken into but that he was hoping they would have a good new year. Then he moved on to writing a note to every teacher he comes into contact with over the course of the week. And he finished up with a thank-you to the principal and the assistant principal with gratefulness for their kind hearts in keeping all the students safe.

 

Of course, my heart melted. I leaned over to kiss his head and said, “Isn’t it kind of cool that when you start writing thank-you notes, you really start feeling grateful for what you have and experience.” It was a beautiful moment of sensing and supporting his heart and I hope he and I – and all the boys – will continue to grow in gratefulness this New Year.

So for tonight, I express my gratefulness to you, my friend. And hopefully this resolution will last longer than the average duration of the middle of February, for it is true that a grateful heart is a joyful heart.

Wishing you Peace, Joy and Gratefulness in the New Year!

 

 

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.)