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?!”

The Masks We Wear

My house is dotted with photos. Smiling boys. Smiling mom. I absolutely adore these boys. I love them to the core. I so want to help them grow into amazing men. I want what is best for them. I am their voice and their advocate. I pour a lot of time and energy into them. A lot of time and energy.

I am an “amazing” “incredible” woman, so many say. Yet, I have taken on the responsibility of raising three boys by simply walking one foot in front of the other by faith into this. I head to work with composure. I frequently write about my boys and their antics with an attempt at wit. I provide a listening ear and a gentle shoulder (sometimes via texts) to other tired and worn mothers. I pull it together and smile.

Yet some nights I sit on the couch and cry. “Why, Lord?” In the dark, the mask falls off. In the dark, the weary wrinkled eyes weep.

Some days are just harder than others. Some days the eldest is exhausted because he was so intent on completing “a challenge” of staying up all night that he spends the next two days irritably dealing with the consequences. He tops it off with flatly refusing to get a shower. (A preteen boy who refuses a shower for two days. Let that sink in.) Some days he flashes into rage and lunges at the middle brother with an anger and intensity that shakes me. I bring every calming nerve I can around to attention and sit in front of his face saying, “We are not doing this. We are not doing this.” Somedays, I am so completely disconnected from my eldest. I banish him to his room until he makes himself clean. I ground him for a week for the violent outburst. I refuse to enter his room at night to read to him due to the smell (though our silly dog seems to happily enjoy his company!). I am over it. I weep.

Some days Mr. Ornery completely flips out. Frustrated with a Nerf “war” gone bad, he decides to trash his room completely. In his fit of frustration, he smashes his Christmas Lego sets and empties the thousands upon thousands of Legos from sorting boxes into one large box. My heart aches as I think of all the hours we have spent building Legos together. The hours I have put into sorting Lego pieces by functionality. The hours of creating intricate buildings, cars, planes, homes. Trashed in a matter of minutes.

Some days The Little Guy just can’t stop whining. Every time he comes near, his voice screeches in a complaint about something not going his way. “Mr. Ornery hurt me.” “Why can’t I watch Batman Returns?” “Why do I have to feed the dog. I always have to feed the dog. I’m the only who ever has to feed the dog.” I send him away as his pitch is nails on my internal board. Yet at the same time I know I should be giving him a hug and chasing away his gray clouds. I should be answering his cries to connect instead of pushing him away. We are distant and I can’t find the energy to pull in.

Some days I just sit on the couch. The sting of parenting leaving me empty. The constant mess around me. The constant energy to motivate uninterested young boys. The constant noise and chaos and destruction. The constant demand for my attention.

I sit wondering if I can put the mask back on and rally another day.

Knowing that I will.

Knowing that I am not alone.

 

Knowing that God in His wisdom chose me for this one.

Knowing that it will be better in the morning when I have more energy to deal with it all (if I get to bed soon enough, that is). Knowing that the boys will feel better in the morning. Knowing that I have the support I need – my friends and family are just a call or text away.

I let the tears flow

And the peace return.

 

 

Some days Motherhood Seems So Surreal

Super Tall Guy and I were in the battle. Lines drawn. Armor on. Advancing and retreating. Serious and big emotions. We’re matched weight for weight and almost height by height. And it was physical. Wrestling. Pushing. Yelling. I stood my ground. He pushed the buttons, clamoring for more power. Arguing for agency and the right to be his own boss.

“You are not the boss over me,” the argument continued.

“I am your mother,” I repeated countless times.

In the heat of the anger, the tears, and the chaos, I finally calmly asked, “Do you need to see your birth certificate? It has my name on it.”

Immediately he quieted. “Yes,” he whispered and followed me upstairs.

He sat on my floor against my bed as I pull out the fire-proof safe and got the key. He sobbed that kids at school had said there’s only one way to be someone’s mother and that’s to birth them. He railed against adoption.

I pulled out The Little Guy’s birth certificate. “See, under ‘Mother,’ there’s my name.”

Same for Mr. Ornery’s birth certificate.

Same for you.

“Well, I’m just going to tear it up,” he yelled. “Tear it up a hundred times,” I countered, “It will still stand. Always and forever, I am your mother.”

We’re going to wrestle about this quite a few times, I have a feeling. In every kids’ life there are times that we challenge our parents’ parenthood or angrily state that we want to go live with someone else, you know, because their “Mom is so much nicer.” But when it comes to adoption, the stakes are even higher. It was a choice I made in a court of law to “become” a mother but it doesn’t change the fact that the child has a sense within that there’s “another” mother out there somewhere. Another mother that “could” be Mom or “should” be Mom or is somehow missing from their life. Even without meeting their birthmom, my boys have to come to grips with the fact that they are being raised, and cared for, and loved by a woman who doesn’t look like them, doesn’t share the same genes, didn’t actually birth them.

Super Tall Guy is the first to express this internal wrestling. It took an all-out physical fight to uncover the core of his distress. Each boy will need to deal with the issue in their own way, just as I find myself needing to deal with it.

I woke up this morning on Mother’s Day, listening to the sounds of three boys stirring. Three boys who call me Mother. Three boys who have new birth certificates with my name in the “Mother” line. What a journey this has been.

Some days I can’t figure out how I got here. Some days I know that I haven’t assumed the mother role completely. The sacrifices. The exhaustion. The endless nagging and battles. The toys that creep across the floor in the middle of the night and sprout between the cracks of the hardwood.

Some days I look at my friends’ comments on all the great trips they are taking, the movies they are watching, the hot coffee they are sipping. I warm up my coffee for the third time and pick up another toy to put it in another spot from which it will sneak out another time.

But some days I cry with pride at the orchestra recital, cheer myself hoarse at the soccer field, and fill my heart with joy as I watch boys tear through Christmas wrapping paper. I wouldn’t change this for the world!

Happy Mother’s Day to all Moms, but most especially to those who have raised their right hand and sworn to be Mom through the ups and downs and received a brand new birth certificate with their name on the “Mother” line!

Screeching into the Preteen Years

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

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

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

“Leave me alone,” he grumped.

“You’re not serious.”

“Leave me alone.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Power of Pixels

(Wow – somehow time got away and I haven’t written for awhile, despite the fact that there are 4-5 “posts” running through my head and drafted in some form or another. An article I read today prompted me to finish up this one!)

It wasn’t until I looked up that I realized what I had been doing. I was idly scrolling through something on my phone and looked up to find that I was in the presence of my boys but not in the present. A very small flicker, a short reflection, a moment in time when I was not connected with them. Nothing bad had happened while I wasn’t paying attention, but that was the point. I wasn’t paying attention. Do my boys know that I’m not paying attention?

When they were younger and “smart phones” were new, I definitely made sure that I was focused on them (the kids, not the phones). Of course, there was also much more to pay attention to – the first step, the tip of the plate of spaghetti onto the floor, the endless bedtime routine, the careening down the wooden stairs, the first two-wheel bike ride. Yet as they all approach school age, my focus has drifted and I am less attentive and more distracted by something that easily slips from my pocket to my hands.

Today the boys lounged on my sister’s couch for a couple hoursscreen creating and blowing up each other’s structures in Minecraft with a mixture of joy, frustration, and plenty of noise. They would have continued much longer had we not kicked them out to the pool. As we walked over, I thought about my discontent with their “need” for screen and yet my clear modeling of the use of a screen for me. They swim. I look at my screen. They create Indiana Jones adventure routines. I look at my screen (until they’re ready to perform, that is).

This is not to say that I need to be “attending” to them at all times. If we pay too much attention to kids, they have no space or time to learn to entertain themselves and develop skills and confidence. I certainly let my boys spend tons of time out of my line of sight and out of my ready input into their activities. The question is, am I showing the boys that I am spending my time wisely or am I modeling ways to “waste” time and attention with short blurbs and snippets of culture.

Sitting in a local coffee shop to squeeze in some work before a meeting the other day, my eyes wandered to the preschool girl in the chair nearby. The mother’s friend was engaging her in a conversation (“when does school start? Is your daddy working today”) while looking down at her own cell phone instead of the child. While the adult brain knows that it can multi-task the response to the text and attend to the answers of a little girl, what is the girl’s perspective? Does she know she is only getting a fraction of the attention? What is the adult modeling to her?

So how can I fault my boys as they start to show more hunger for screens? The power of pixels captures the eye and the brain. The problem is, more and more research is showing just how powerful and damaging that screen can be for the brain. In fact, a recent New York Times article referred to it as “digital heroin.” It is addictive and can interfere with engagement with other facets of life and most importantly with relationships with others.

Time to change. Time for me to put down my little addiction and pick up a book (or that board exam material I should be reading). Time to talk to my little guys a bit more about why I restrict their screen time (and it’s not because I’m “Mean Mommy”).  Time to think more and be more conscientious and get around to instituting that Game Night weekly. It’s going to be a continuous challenging battle, but it’s one I must fight. Wish me luck 🙂

 

 

 

 

Thank Goodness the Last Day Approaches!

Another school year coming to a close. I’m probably a little more excited than the kids! Super Tall Guy quietly mentioned this morning, “I feel bad for you, Mom.” Thinking he might be remorseful for having woken me up in a very annoying manner, I replied, “Why’s that?” He answered, “Because you have to keep going to work all summer and don’t get to just stay home.” So very true. So very sad.

But despite going to work during the day, I will have much less work at home in the evenings! I will no longer make a turkey and provolone on “white” bread (PB&J goes on “brown” bread) every evening and ponder what else to throw in the lunch box. Puppy is going to miss the crumbs from this daily event, but I sure won’t!

I will no longer call boys in from the neighborhood baseball game (“But it was just my turn to bat!!”) to do homework. I will no longer have to supervise homework progress, erase mistakes and require correction, and unfurl rage-crumbled papers and smooth them out to begin again. I will not be collecting quart-sized containers of yogurt, washed and labeled to take in for class experiments. I will not run back into the house for the cello every Monday morning and worry about it on Tuesday as well. I will not stress about who has which afterschool program and who’s going to be picking them up today.

And, I am thrilled to avoid the daily review of the double behavioral charts of the first grader and the need to sign-off on the “smiley-face, frownie-face chart” (later converted to the “positive star chart”) as well as the green-yellow-red calendar square requiring my initials, not to mention the occasional “super bad behavioral slips” received by the first grader. I will not receive a phone call about detention in a 6-year-old for at least the next three months. And, I will no longer lay awake at night pondering why Mr. Ornery has had such an extraordinarily ornery year and what would be a better way to help him.

Super Tall Guy in his early morning lull this morning also whispered,

Apparently I might have accidentally recycled some homework before I should

Apparently I might have accidentally recycled some homework before I should

“I might even miss school this time.” That was a shock! He actually enjoyed third grade. He enjoyed his teacher. He got along with his classmates. He made tremendous improvement in developing responsibility and taking on the role of a student. He surprised me numerous times with information about which project was due when and “I probably should do a few questions tonight, Mom, so that I don’t have a whole bunch to do the day before.” Huh. His IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting took about thirty minutes. (“Making progress.” “Doing well.” “Keep it up” ….slight tweaks….done!).

Mr. Ornery’s IEP meeting took about three hours and we wrapped it up when we realized kids were being dismissed at the end of the day and my two were waiting in the office. If you think parent-teacher conferences are exhausting, try a whole afternoon with a table full of education staff – principal, learning support teacher, reading specialist, speech therapist, primary teacher, school psychologist – going over in fine detail all the “issues” your child is “struggling” with, the biggest of which is “school.”

Mr. Ornery does not like school. Mr. Ornery is not a “student.”  Mr. Ornery is a class clown. Mr. Ornery acts out. Mr. Ornery rushes through his worksheets because he wants to have them “done” so he can go outside for recess. Mr. Ornery asks whether he got on red the day before so that he can figure out if he’ll get outside for recess today. Mr. Ornery doesn’t want to sit still. Mr. Ornery wants to smell his smelly-markers. Mr. Ornery does not want to be in school.

Mr. Ornery does not have any intellectual or learning disabilities according to all the evaluations. Mr. Ornery has “other health impairments” affecting his learning. So Mr. Ornery now has a “positive reinforcement” IEP to help him make gradual progress toward the goal of being a good student – sitting in his seat, taking his time and putting his full attention to his work. Mr. Ornery’s IEP states he needs to have frequent structured break times. My greatest triumph is that the IEP prohibits taking away recess as a “consequence” of behavior. His first-grade teacher sighed and muttered under her breath at that, but it makes no sense to take away active gross motor time for an active kid and take away the physical activity that will prime his brain to learn more for the afternoon.

It took a very long time to walk through the template for the IEP and make decisions about goals and how progress would be measured. Having some background in education and psychology and medicine, I felt I was keeping up pretty well until we got to the question of whether to keep him in a “regular” classroom all day, or pull him into a “learning support” room for most of the morning for the language arts. So much new jargon and arguments for and against each situation and then the room turned to me and asked, “So what’s your decision?” “Oh, you don’t have to make it right away – the sooner the better – but you can think about it for a few days.” And I replied, “What am I thinking about again?” Done. By that point, I was done. I couldn’t figure out if they were the experts and knew what they were doing, or if I was the expert and knew what we should be doing. All I could think about was what a huge responsibility this was to figure out by myself and how do people who have less formal education and training in this arena advocate for their children?

“Of course,” says the learning specialist, “all this may change if Mr. Ornery comes back as a different kid next year.” I mean, he could come back as a “Tom” or “Jerry.” But I’m pretty sure the “suggestion” was if his mom gets him a diagnosis of ADHD and gets him on a stimulant. Maybe that would solve the issue of “school.”

Yes, I sure am looking forward to the summer break. But I’m not sure any of these “issues” are going to disappear this summer. “Four more sleeps” and then this year is done!

A letter sent

He shoves his way into our space, barreling as if he could open up a path by sheer determination and wrath. My glasses shift askew as The Little Guy ricochets into my hunched body attempting to tie the shoes of Mr. Ornery. One should not have entryways so small. One should not have massive frustrated boys.

Face on fire, I stand against my enemy. I grab at his shirt and shove him back. He stumbles over one of many scattered shoes. “Just stop,” I yell. Just stop.

There is no space.

There is no room.

There is no breath.

We stare each other down. Until we can breathe again. Until we can hug again.

A firm grip that says, “I’m sorry.”

 

There are good days and bad moments. There is much joy and much pain. It hurts my soul to see how powerful the rage is and how powerless I am against it in the moment. Each time we get better and I learn and try to teach him, yet deep inside I so often wish we did not have to go through these battles. I wail, “why does he have to be so hard?”

Yet these battles fuel me to try to figure out how to help these boys. They intensify my ferocity in defending their very nature and core. They push me to learn more and try to support more.

While acknowledging that I am challenged by trying to deal with Super Tall Guy’s intensity, I sometimes give no grace to others who struggle with it as well. Might I be holding them to higher standards? Might I be expecting too much from them as if holding a degree or years of experience teaching other children should have prepared them adequately for these boys? Maybe we all need more grace in figuring this out together.

I never sent the Open Letter to the Coach at my son’s gym. I paused and gave it some space. Instead I sent him this letter today:

I wanted to let you know that I could tell you were frustrated with my boys at the Halloween Party and I’m sorry about that. I know that they get wild when excited and feed off the energy of others.

I don’t know, though, if you know that these boys have some special needs. They aren’t physical that you could see, like a limp, but it’s within the brain as a result of prenatal injuries and stress on a forming brain. My sister and I committed to adopting and raising children who had been abandoned and we are always so grateful to find help and support in others.

To me gymnastics is an excellent sport for boys like mine because it works on developing self-awareness, self-control and self-discipline and a healthy, fit body. It teaches them to tone down the “dysregulation” that is within. And what makes that work is awesome male role models who are willing to teach and coach, like you!

So I thank you for being Coach to my boys. Hopefully they will continue to progress and one day we will all look back with pride and say “Wow! Look how far these guys have come!”

Because maybe, just maybe, this “village” that it takes to raise these kids is learning and growing together and is not always perfect. But we will only get to success by forgiving, encouraging and working together.