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?!”

One Nation, Traumatized….

5:00 am.

I rolled over and found myself on crowded streets of the North Side area of Pittsburgh. People pushed past me on their way to wherever they needed to be. Suddenly someone up ahead signaled an “active shooter” situation. Those around me and I ducked into the nearest building. Minutes later, so did the gunman. Trembling with fear, we found ourselves in a hostage situation. A couple kids, a couple adults, and me….huddled together. A sense of doom. A push into another room. Smoke in the air. Chaos around. We were moved from room to room and building to building. Shots rang out. Fear. Pain. Darkness. Darkness. Darkness and sandwiches.

5:21 am.

I startled awake, heart pounding, sweat beading, mind racing. I lay there for hours aching in my deepest soul.

I have not known a single victim of any terror attacks or mass shootings, yet I am traumatized by what is happening in this country. Traumatized by news that rocks my soul. A toddler, a kid, a pregnant woman, numerous family members gunned down as they sit in worship. Hundreds of people dealing with physical and emotional injuries from bullets barraging a country music concert in addition to the 56 dead. Families grieving. Loved ones crying. Thousands of people dying every day by gun violence.

I shield my young boys from the trauma. I try to shield myself from the details of the trauma. Yet, miles away, tucked under a down comforter, safe in my home, I am traumatized in my sleep by the pain that touches so many lives.

For years I worked hard to open Jeremiah’s Place, a crisis nursery, to join the work of preventing child abuse. The premise behind the work was the vast amount of research showing the imprint of “Adverse Childhood Experiences” on later physical and mental health. The accumulation of traumatic events during childhood has long-lasting consequences. And this is not just being hurt or abused yourself, but witnessing violence. The research is irrefutable. The anecdotes are real. Soldiers experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. Victims of violence experiencing PTSD. Even intense medical experiences, such as time in an intensive care unit, when very ill are now shown to be linked to post-traumatic stress disorder. And now the rising rates of gun violence and mass shootings add to the trauma and stress for children and adults in this country.

We know the consequences. We see the pain. We hear the stories. Yet the rates of individuals traumatizing hundreds and thousands of innocent people are rising steadily. We as a nation are experiencing repeated and heart-wrenching trauma. It’s common now to hear people ask, “Is there no where safe anymore?” “Where will it happen next?” “How can I find work in another country where my kids and family can be safe?”  We now talk about how to teach people to prepare for mass shootings and protect themselves. We train teachers to handle school shootings. We drill medical staff in hospitals to handle huge influxes of wounded patients.

When will we consider prevention instead? When will those who are elected to protect and care for the population stop claiming an inability to do anything about the violence and make a change? When will we stop pretending it’s just related to mental health issues when the evidence argues against that? When will we acknowledge that this country has a problem with a culture of violence, particularly against those perceived as powerless?

We walk around every day hoping it won’t happen to us. Praying that our kids will be safe in their school after boarding the bus. Praying that our family, our friends and our neighbors will come home safely every night.

“In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate,” Dan Hodges, a British journalist, wrote in a post on Twitter two years ago, referring to the 2012 attack that killed 20 young students at an elementary school in Connecticut. “Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.” (What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings)

This is not the world I want to live in.

This is not the world I want my sons to contend with.

I will continue to work and labor to Be the Change! I don’t have concrete answers for you or for me. But I do know that there is some pretty serious work that needs to be done. I do know that there are some huge shifts in how we look at other people and how we treat other people that need to occur. I do know that I will not give up.

I do know that there are some steps that can be taken. Stay educated on what is happening. Make calls, write letters, or visit your representatives to encourage them to protect the innocent. Join a group like Everytown for Gun Safety or Moms Demand Action.

Reach out to neighbors and build your community. Volunteer where your passion guides you. Stand for others and promote dignity and respect.

Hope never fails.

Love will prevail.

Be the change.

Parenting – An Endless Quality Improvement Cycle

jump zone

Landing zone of every pillow in the house, effectively blocking the front door

Lately I’ve been contemplating some of my extraordinarily ineffective means of parenting. I mean, I’m particularly effective in letting them bounce around the house in underwear as often as they’d like; empty all the Tupperware onto the floor and “feed” each other bowls of milk as “puppies,” and stack all the pillows at the bottom of the step to land from sliding down the stairs on a toddler mattress.

But I’m amazingly ineffective on a wide range of issues. Eliminating swear words from my eldest son’s vocabulary is driving me absolutely nuts, for instance. I’ve attempted rewards, punishments, endless grounding, extra chores, “paying” me all of his saved up money, and even washing his mouth with soap. Yes, everything.

I’ve realized recently that parenting is a Quality Improvement Cycle taken to the nth degree. You just never get anywhere. Plan, Do, Check, Act….didn’t work…. Plan, Do, Check, Act ….didn’t work…repeat.

PDCA-Multi-Loop

Take for example, the very simple act of getting out the door to go to school:

  • Plan – We need to leave at 8:40 for school. I’ll start getting the boys ready at 8:15.
  • Do – “Boys, get your socks and shoes on.”
  • Check – Nope….not a single one has responded
  • Act – Recognize the lack of progress and move to next iteration

Next iteration:

  • Plan – yell louder
  • Do – “BOYS, I SAID SHOES and SOCKS NOW!”
  • Check – Nada
  • Act – “I mean it, let’s go!”

Really?!?!

  • Plan – put a consequence on it
  • Do – “Boys, if you don’t get your shoes and socks on right now, you’ll have a time out in your room after school.”
  • Check – one out of 3 has one out of 2 socks on
  • Act – raise blood pressure by 5 points

As noted, “A fundamental principle of the scientific method and PDCA is iteration—once a hypothesis is confirmed (or negated), executing the cycle again will extend the knowledge further. Repeating the PDCA cycle can bring us closer to the goal, usually a perfect operation and output.”

However, one must realize that while “iteration” certainly applies to parenting, repeating the cycle does not necessarily move you closer to the goal of “a perfect operation.” It tends to move you closer to insanity and glasses of wine, but rarely closer to perfection. You might, however, get close enough to approximating your goal that you are able to leave the house:

“Check:”

  • Super Tall Guy appears to have on shoes without socks, one shoe tied and one hopelessly knotted
  • Mr. Ornery has boots on and as he does not have “phys ed” on his school schedule today, I’ll let this slide
  • The Little Guy has found shoes, they are on the wrong feet, but as that is his “norm” about 98.4% of the time, we are OUT the DOOR!

Now, back to planning my next attack on the sailor mouth issue….

Why #MommyFail is no longer for me!

It’s been a spectacular week for Mommy Fail. Case in point, it’s Saturday and I’m finally getting around to writing this week.

I would want to blame the week on Mr. Ornery for waking me up at 3:00 am last Sunday morning screaming that his throat hurt. Forgetting that I have the “medicine bag” in the closet in my room, I went down to the kitchen to grab some ibuprofen for the feverish boy. MommyFail #1 – entering a kitchen at 3:00am is guaranteed to wake up a 4-month-old puppy who can’t understand – for the next 1.5 hours – why it is NOT “play time” yet?  I hate puppy whine when I’m trying to fall asleep.

Then I pull the poor kid out of his pajamas and drag him in the car to the doctor’s office since there’s morning walk-in hours and realize I’m way beyond empty. We pull into the gas station and I realize the wallet is NOT in my purse – MommyFail #2. Back home to get the credit card, back to the gas station, off to the doctor’s office….all the while, I’m wondering why I didn’t just let the poor guy lie on the couch while I called in the antibiotic myself!!

Hours later I feel bad that he’s still miserable despite the ibuprofen and his fever hasn’t budged much and I’m wondering where the Tylenol is that The Little Guy and tylenol-wpI just bought a few days before. Look all over the house. Can’t visualize taking it out of the grocery bag and putting it anywhere. Tylenol in the “medicine bag” expired 17 months ago (MommyFail #3) and hours later, I offer Mr. Ornery some ice cream…. Huh, there it is.

Sometimes I get so frustrated with myself. How could I forget so much? Why haven’t I taken care of x, y or z yet? How is it that it’s been over 2 years and I never thought to change The Little Guy’s name on his social security card (you know, until the IRS is breathing down my neck!!)?? Why can’t I keep this all together?

Well, instead of MommyFail…it’s most likely a bad case of MommyBrain. There’s just too much to juggle. There’s work (which itself is a juggle and a particularly busy week was upon me). There’s after school activities of my 3 boys and my sister’s 3 that my mom and I oven laundrytouch base about every afternoon to figure out the taxi strategy. There’s homework, laundry, house-cleaning. There’s grocery shopping and car inspection overdue. There’s a puppy (I mean, really, why???). There’s relationships and friends. There’s stress and exhaustion. There’s sleep deprivation. There’s just a lot.

It’s not Mommy “Fail”…it’s Mommy hanging on doing the best she can at the moment. So I smile and laugh and thaw out the Tylenol. I sit on the couch and let sick boy cuddle and try not to look at the pieces of fuzz on the carpet. I try to remember to cut myself some slack and remember all the other mommies (and dads) who are out there doing the same thing and juggling the same chaos. It’s a lot of work and it’s constant.

So…no more MommyFail for me. From now on, it’s MommyRocks!  (Sometimes. Not all the time. But a good part of the time 🙂 ).

 

And then a little more chaos!

It quite likely could be said that some people seem to thrive on chaos. Given the way things seem to be going, it is highly likely that my sister and I are that type of person. We seem to invite it in to our house. Let’s see – there was Super Tall Guy, The Flipper, Mr. Ornery, along came Trouble followed less than a year later by The Little Guy. If five boys in a five year range weren’t chaotic enough….we added a sweet (yet apparently fragile) Bichon Terrier to the mix.

Now we add again.

Let’s just say that we spent almost the entire weekend rearranging two rooms of the house. The small third-floor room used for storage (since my “family” essentially lives in what might have been an attic) has pretty much been moved into my bedroom. This tiny space has now become the new “toy room” (and Super Tall’s dressing room).

Spending so much attention on this process sometimes leads to

  • A bit too much screen-time distraction for most of the boys,
  • A little bit of creativity for one of the boys,

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  • Not the healthiest of meals (ahem) for some of the kids,

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  • Finding some “great” clothes in the backs of closets,IMG_5316
  • And apparently misplacing the dog, as noted by a very unhappy neighbor.

But we managed to convert the former unrecognizable heap of a mess of toys into a beautiful guest room….(we sat in an exhausted heap in front of the TV this evening arguing over who had to get up to get the remotes…sigh…!)

IMG_5360

….for Wimon ….a woman from Thailand….a friend of a friend of my parents (you see what being Missionary kids does?!)….who is arriving late Wednesday evening to begin an English as a Second Language program in preparation for a doctorate in physical therapy. She’ll be staying with us for a “bit.”

I use Lego play as a way to coax a few words out of strong, silent Super Tall Guy. We talk about a new person arriving in the house. Someone who probably won’t speak English very well. He pauses and says quite quietly “I might laugh when she speaks.” “You just might,” I reply, “because it will sound different to your ears. She’s going to be so happy to learn from you” (and please, please….don’t you boys start chanting your usual body parts chants!!! Or run downstairs all “carefree” after your baths. Or burp and “putter” as if she’s family!). “Oh, she’ll be here for Halloween,” he exclaims excitedly. Yes, that should pretty much blow her mind in her first two weeks of culture shock. “And Christmas,” he continues eagerly. So far, it seems like this might go pretty well….

…though I’m thinking that we might have to quiet down the household a little…actually, I’m hoping that she might quiet it down a bit 🙂 !!

Sometimes I wonder “what am I going to write about this week?” And then, there always seems to be something….always another adventure!