Sacrifices of the Second Sibling (or third or fourth or fifth)

Mr. Ornery dances around the kitchen floor. “I love my teacher. I love Miss P,” bubbles out over and over again. I sigh inside, knowing that the week, the season, of Miss P is coming to an end. Sometimes I let him dance. Sometimes I remind him that he’ll be leaving Miss P’s class and his friends. Sometimes I let him sit in the sadness of “I don’t want to leave Miss P” as he falls asleep at night.

Four months ago he left the day care center where he went almost every single weekday of the year since he was 6 months old. He entered a new school – new “authority figures,” new friends, new routines, new expectations. And believe me – it took him a LONG time to adjust. But he did. Because he’s strong, he’s bubbly, he’s the class clown, and he’s just so darn cute! – the girls swoon already, he asks “if you’re in love do you kiss a girl?,” and the little fairies gather around him when he enters a room.

But four weeks ago, I was asked to “transition” my eldest, Super Tall Guy, out of the school. He didn’t “fit,” they didn’t want to work with him anymore, they had a symphony “orchestra” to coordinate, he was an electric guitar. Mr. Ornery is the bystander. The one who gets uprooted almost before he has his feet under him. Just as he’s coming into his glory. Just as he’s figuring out who he is and who he’s becoming.

Star Student of the Week

Star Student of the Week

I mean, when you are 5 – what is huge in your life?  Your family – though he often says he needs to find a new one (you know, one that won’t ask him to pick up his clothes or put his dishes away). And his school. That’s it – that’s where life is when you’re five. And his world is about to be completely and totally changed….on behalf of the needs of a sibling.

So part of me hurts on behalf of Mr. Ornery, knowing that he is happy where he is and I have to make the decision to move him. In the larger scheme of life, I know there are many times a parent has to make decisions that dramatically alter their children’s lives – moves to new cities/houses/schools, arrival of new siblings (Super Tall Guy is still not too thrilled that boy #3 arrived and stayed), addition of a pet or loss of a pet. The list goes on. There are also more dramatic times of when the needs and happiness of siblings are affected by other sibling needs, especially if one sibling has chronic health problems. We had a small window of that when Super Tall Guy had to return to the hospital after his tonsillectomy and I thought about how unsettling it was for the younger boys to watch us rush out of the house late at night and not be home the next day. I am so thankful that our kids are generally healthy, yet having multiple kids does lead to multiple unpredictable situations.

The good thing is that the boys are young and they’re resilient. And they’re resilient because they are loved and they know they are loved and they still have a great support group around them. They have family, they have friends, they have neighbors, and a new church family. They are also resilient because they have had prior experiences of shifts in schedules and environments and have made it through them. They will likely handle this transition to a new school better than I am going through it.

Super Tall Guy’s teacher told me that she talked to him on his last day of school and explained that finding the right school was like trying on shoes. Sometimes you have to try on a few pairs before you find the right one. Well, we’ve tried four of them already – Montessori, daycare center kindergarten, cyber school kindergarten, and private

Frustrated second grader

Frustrated second grader

Christian school. We’re moving into the public school system – the one school that will not say, “I’m sorry, your child doesn’t fit here,” but that says, “All children fit here.” That’s where the boys need to be – where they will “fit” and thrive and grow.

It will be a big change for both boys, but hopefully it will be their last big change — at least for a few months 🙂 and I have high hopes for them that this New Year will bring some great new joys and friendships and happiness.






Roll of the moody dice

It’s not really quite possible to describe the “typical” amount of chaos that just hangs in the air at our house. I suppose that if you are neighbors, you probably hear it quite regularly. I suppose that if you really wanted to experience it, you’d offer to babysit all five boys by yourself for the day for free (haven’t found that person yet). Or if you’re brave enough, you would stop by for a couple hours….get a hefty dose….and tell yourself, “Wow, I am so lucky to live alone/only have one kid/only have two kids/(fill in the blank!)”

We’re not really loud and chaotic all the time, though. Generally, after 9:00 pm, you could actually give us a call and maybe hear just one little squeaky voice in the background. You could also stop by around midnight when I’m up working in the office….and it’s pretty quiet right now. Super Tall Guy will come stumbling down the steps any minute to be tucked in again and The Little Guy is slated to need someone to “cover me” around 3:00 am and again at 4:30 and then likely at 5:42….or he could be up for good at that time.

But in these few, entirely delectable quiet moments of the night (when I’m energized by Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz…mixed with Chocolate Therapy delight….a combination I just discovered yesterday and is guaranteed to add a few pounds to my slowed-metabolism midriff), in these ephemeral glimpses of peace….

Hmmm….seems like I should be able to think of something profound to write about. Huh.

Ah, yes – brain reconnecting now…

The thing about these quiet moments is that they absolutely never happen when the boys’ eyes are open. Even if you put on the most engrossing movie possible, you’ll only get 138 seconds of stillness before The Little Guy loses attention and moves on to beeping the walkie-talkie followed by the predictable, responsive barks of “Quit that!!” “Be quiet!” “I can’t hear!” “MOOOOOOM!!!”

The other day I thought about this constant flurry of activity and how the escalations and dips really vary depending on so many things and a great deal on the personalities and quirks and behaviors and current moods of each boy. (Oh….it’s 11:21 pm…and there’s The Little Guy whispering, “Mommy…I want you to cover me.”  Must go tuck….Will be back….)

The days are a game of chance….a roll of the dice. Five dice constantly being shaken. If the mood is good (a number 1 or 2), those 1-3 boys escape up to the toy room, drag out the bins of train tracks and set up an elaborate system in the tiny hallway at the top of the stairs and demand that no one remove it or trip over it trying to go downstairs.


If a 5 or a 6 is thrown, the sour angry pesky rage kicks back at a brother who accidentally brushed passed. The seething narrow eyes find their prey and deviously trip the happy 1 or 2 bouncing down the stairs seeking someone to admire the train track at the top.


It’s almost impossible to predict from one moment to the next. How will these dice get along? When will the next shake-and-roll jostle the current interaction patterns? How much can we the parents control this chaos?


A couple weeks ago, I took my boys to a friend’s house for the Fourth of July. We stayed up for the community fireworks and the “family” fireworks party at the grandmother’s house afterwards. We played hard the next morning and returned to Pittsburgh happy, yet exhausted (moods teetering, dice weighted heavily).  My sister took her boys to spend the night at another friend’s house and they got home a few hours before us. The moment we walked in, the battle lines were drawn. The brothers chose family sides. A constant exchange of verbal and physical attacks ensued followed by an occasional retreat and regroup. It didn’t take long before adult-intervention was clearly needed to separate the spinning dice.


(By the way, we’re not even going to add the variable here of our new little completely unpredictable, nonverbal canine pal….who can get all the dice wound up and running squealing around the indoor Victorian home track!)

So….my job as a parent is to monitor the current playing field. Re-shake when necessary. Remove a couple dice if needed. Tip an angry 5 to a more content 3 range.

And when all else fails…..cheat.



The Little Guy

Sometimes I think it must stink to be “the Little Guy” in this household. At just barely cruising along the 3rd percentile line for height and weight, Seth is just starting (at age 2) to fit into 18-month size clothing, while Kenny (age 3) is rapidly overtaking Noah’s clothing (size 4) and Noah is trying to push Ryan out of his 5T size….while Micah just laughs at all of them from his 4 ½ foot, 76 pound frame. And then he flicks the wind in Seth’s direction….and Seth blows over.

And yet, Seth doesn’t take any crap from any of them. He’ll jump right onto Micah and goes for the throat – well, the face actually….and just as effective. He’ll push Kenny right back, while stumbling to the ground. He’ll screech at Noah when a toy is taken. And….hmmmm….he and Ryan pretty much ignore each other.

Tonight the “older” boys (Micah and Noah) spent the night at their grandparents. I ran a couple errands with Seth and found myself making silly faces and blowing bubbles on him and chatting away with him. He rarely (RARELY) gets that kind of attention that Micah got ALL the time when he was little and Noah got a ton of. Now in the car, the other two are so busy talking over each other (9.25 minutes post) that I can barely hear, much less talk to, Seth.

I tucked him into bed tonight and sat beside the crib/bed (one side has been removed due to climbing hazards) and sang him to sleep. I can’t remember the last time we had one-on-one at night  – probably sometime when he was a tiny baby….yep, like at 2:00am when I would feed him and we’d both fall asleep!  I stayed with him until his eyes closed, watching him breathe and thinking about how little time over the course of the day, if I were to actually measure it, he would have with me, with undivided attention.

Probably….regretfully….really miniscule. I spend a great deal of time managing and strategizing how to manage Micah’s behavior and emotional outbursts. I am constantly trying to outwit and outpsych the 4-year-old who is trying to push me over the edge. I often look at Seth and say “oh, hello, little guy.”

So, if your line of vision was someone’s knee caps….and the people whose bellies you had visual access of were constantly trying to flatten you to the floor….do you think you might develop an annoying screeching whine as an attention-getting mechanism? And if you feel constantly ignored and yet having to defend whatever object is in your possession from sudden attackers, what kind of adult would you grow up to be? Strong and Stubborn?

I’m wondering if I might need to be a bit more patient with Seth…..

And I know for sure that he could use some more one-on-one time….rather than my pure surprise that he’s made it through another day in the middle of the boy madness and is ready to be tucked into bed.

And if he would cool it with the 5:30am wake-up times, he and I could become best of buddies…I’m pretty sure!

The True Story of the Beach Vacation

… as told by the 2-year-old….I mean, who else really knows the truth!

  • When you say, “we’re going to the beach today,” is there a way you could have explained hours and hours….and HOURS in a carseat?
  • The words “water” and “waves” don’t exactly convey the truth of a huge expanse of ice bath. And really, “here comes a little wave” greatly depends on your perspective ….because something that hits me squarely in the chest seems a bit like a typhoon.
  • When I say “bandaid,” I don’t mean that you should put one on my badly skinned knee…and I certainly don’t mean you should rip off more skin in removing it. I’m actually trying to tell you that my boo-boo really hurts. That is blood, after all.
  • “Night, night” and “nap time” are NOT two of my favorite words, even if they are yours.
  • You know those two right-footed over-sized plastic shoes I wore the whole trip out because you didn’t pay enough attention to me (kid number 5 – geesh!!) – you think they might have something to do with the wounds on my feet? Or are you just going to label me “Banged-up Seth” and add more bandaids?!?
  • It seems to me that the brothers are making some choices in flavors at Yums Yums Ice Cream and you’re going to give me a tiny bit of vanilla again? I mean, really, is it my fault that the chocolate stained the white shirt? Who put that shirt on me anyway?
  • So it took you four days to “realize” that you had a size 1 wetsuit in the swim bucket that actually fit me? Well, yeah, I look adorable – I’m also finally warm, thank you. Days and days of mind-numbing teeth chattering pain….and now I’m “adorable.”
  • Apparently I didn’t see the big hole that sent me flying into that rock and “owwie” actually means “I’m hurt.” Yes, this is blood on my hand. What….it’s two hours later and you’re going to act shocked that the middle part of my front tooth is missing?!? Really?!?
  • You may think he looks like a nice dentist but I don’t think I need any gloved fingers in my mouth. Okay, Sunshine Dentistry, the balloons are a nice touch.
  • Have you tried to eat a pretzel rod with half of your tooth missing?
  • When I say “gaglassh,” I am not referring to your glasses, nor my desire for a pair of sunglasses, nor a giraffe…or grass….or anything else you’re coming up with.  Why do you tall things think that you know everything?
  • At what point did I not make myself perfectly clear that I don’t want to have my picture taken on the beach this morning?
  • Well what do you think? If you tumbled down a staircase 10 times your size, do you think you might be a bit ouchy too? And you want me to tell you where it hurts?!?
  • Wait – you’re going to refer to me as “23 pounds of spunk”…. ”loud”…. ”stubborn”…. ”persistent”…. “independent” – gosh, look what I have to put up with – 4 rambunctious boys and you!  (see also the older brother’s view a couple years ago:
  • I don’t really find it funny when you smugly say “I only have to understand half of what he says since he’s two years old.”  Didn’t I hear somewhere that you haveExhausting parents a degree in development? I’d also like to know when that pediatrics degree is going to help me any – let’s look at the bandaid….tooth….stairway incidents, for example.  Who gave you those degrees anyway?
  • So, you think it’s cute to road trip with me wearing a shirt saying “My parents are exhausted.”  It’s more like “My parents are exhausting!”  So happy to be home – put me to bed, “peas.”

Visit from our first foster child!

I don’t know ­how you’re supposed to get anything done with 5 kids around. I don’t know why I ever expect to. I keep thinking that weekends should be “productive”….and then I’m in the middle of one and just hoping to survive!

I keep reminding myself that with five swirling storms, it’s pretty unlikely that I might sweep a floor or mop the kitchen. I mean, why even try? So this weekend, we decided to up the ante and try having 6 boys around – 8, 6, 6, 4, 2, 1!

Maddox, our first foster boy and now 8, spent the weekend with us while his adoptive parents were out of town. I remember the day I went to pick him up when we first met him. I had been thinking in my head “hmmmm, an almost 1 year old – how bad can that be?”  I opened the door and he was running around his aunt’s house with a bottle hanging from his teeth….and I knew right then he was going to be one active boy. He was a delight while he stayed with us.

He also showed us the classic case of foster parenting. He stayed with us for 10 months and then returned to his biological mother. A few months later, she would stress out and turn to drugs for comfort and he would be placed into foster care. After 10-12 months, he returned to his mother and months later, he and his sister came into our care (that’s when we lived for about 8 months with one 3-year-old and 3 one-year-olds!  And I’m complaining now about being busy??).  Again, the mother worked to get her kids back….again she lost them….but this time they were older and starting to act out themselves in more serious ways….and eventually were placed in “therapeutic foster homes.”  (It is this first foster family that popped into my head the moment I heard the concept of a crisis nursery – and thought that the biological mother just needed a crisis nursery – some place to take the kids for 2-3 days so that she could breathe and get things done…..and so began my quest to open Jeremiah’s Place).

It was hard to “lose” Maddox three years ago. It was hard to understand how a judge would decide to take this boy from his “biological” mother and the woman he thought was his “mother” (my sister) and place him with his 4th family in 4 years. And at the time, we had no idea what the future held….so it was amazing that as soon as he was adopted, the forever mother called to reconnect with Kathy and so began some visitations and then this weekend.

Over the past 2 years or so, Micah and Ryan have talked a lot about Maddox. They remember him and they also remember an idealized version of an “older brother.” This weekend was not anywhere close to an idealized existence as they all had to figure out how to share space and attention and the iPad and the rooms and the Wii remotes and the younger two boys who thought this strange new being was a super hero of some sort.

And Noah just walked around asking, “What’s his name again?”

Foster parenting asks you to hold a kids’ heart in yours so tightly for an unknown period of time and then let the child loose into the world without possibly ever knowing anything about him/her again.  But sometimes….sometimes you have the joy of loving them again.

It’s Mommy’s birthday – be nice!

It’s my birthday today and I was wondering if I’m going to be retirement age before I get to blow out my own candles again.  By that time, I probably won’t have enough breath to blow them all out.  I’ll have spent it over the years yelling at the boys to stop picking on each other.

I did try that feeble attempt today.  “It’s Mommy’s birthday. Can’t you be nice to each other for just one day?”

  • Can you please stop squirting each other with the water gun in the back seat of the car?  Wait a minute, why do you even have a water gun IN the car?!?
  • Will you please stop trying to knock each other out of the way as you clamber into the car, squeeze through a doorway, rush for a cup of milk – pretty much go anywhere or do anything?!?  Why can’t you take turns?
  • Can you please stop yelling that Noah’s fire truck noise is giving you a headache while you play your DS?  Can you please stop yelling that Micah’s DS is giving you a headache while you repetitively push the siren button on the fire truck?  Can you both please stop yelling as you are definitely giving me a headache as I drive!
  • Can you please stop wrestling around under that quilt in the middle of the kitchen floor?  Can’t you just wrestle peacefully in the living room?!?  But don’t break anything.
  • Can you please just behave like Seth does?!?  He doesn’t get into trouble. (“But, Mommy, Seth doesn’t do ANYTHING yet!”  I know – isn’t it great?)
  • Can you please go back to sleep?  It’s only 5:46 am and it’s my birthday!  Oh wait – here’s my iPhone, watch something.  (This is called the night-owl, single-mom get-a-bit-more-sleep strategy.  That one additional hour of sleep on the weekends is so precious that sometimes I don’t even know what Micah is watching!)

I think if you had asked me twenty years ago if I ever imagined myself in this place – single woman with three beautiful active boys – I would have said “no way.”  But if you ask me today if I’d change that, I’d say “no way.”  Even if I do spend much of my energy pulling them off of each other, reprimanding them, encouraging them to use “nice” words, picking them up, putting them down, moving them from one spot to another, buckling them into the car, unbuckling them out of the car, changing diapers, changing clothes (and no, not interested in washing brown stuff from underwear even on my birthday!), putting them into high chairs, taking them out of high chairs, carrying laundry to the basement, carrying kids’ clothes back up from the basement, throwing baseballs, throwing Frisbees, chasing them around the yard, chasing them around the inside house loop, pulling them off the staircase for the thousandth time, following them up the staircase for the eight-hundredth time, brushing teeth, reading just one more book, patting backs and singing lullabies….even with all that, and more, in a single day, I wouldn’t change it.

Those boys are my birthday blessings and I love them.