You know, when you decide to attend choir practice even though you have a cold, but find out the next day that it was actually COVID, now the 65-year-old choir member who sat beside you has to reschedule his eye surgery because he was a close contact. And since the healthcare systems are so backed up dealing with people with COVID, his surgery is pushed further and further out as his eyesight deteriorates.
Or when you know you have COVID, but you still let your elementary school son go to a friend’s house for a playdate, saying, “Oh, just wear a mask.” And three days later your son has COVID, but so does the friend. And now the friend can’t attend his upcoming competition even though he’s been doing really well in the sport and was very much looking forward to the competition.
But, if you’re one of these people who don’t even “believe” in getting tested for COVID, so while sick with cold symptoms, you attend a sport competition with your child, now your child has COVID and so does a best friend on the team. Now the friend is too sick to attend school and can’t get into remote learning for a couple days and is falling further behind academically at the end of the grading period, thus shifting his academic trajectory. Furthermore, every other kid and family member who was exposed has to spend the next week in the worry of checking for symptoms and getting tested, if they can even find a testing site given the current surge of cases.
When people use the phrase, “We’re in the together,” it’s not just that we need to bond together against this “virus,” it’s that we need to realize how interconnected we really are as human beings. We need to understand that the very decisions we make for ourselves or our family members have a ripple effect that affects the health and the well-being of others. That our decisions have altered another person’s ability to access health care, access learning, or access fun and joyous experiences.
So whether we like it or not; whether we believe in it or not; whether we want to do it or not; none of that matters. What matters is that we need to see each other as precious human beings whose very lives veer onto a new course based on the interaction they have with us. And if we’re passing COVID along, that new course might be a short-lived bout of feeling miserable and missing out or it could be a debilitating shift in the trajectory of life or even the end of life itself.
So what burden do you want to shoulder today?
The burden of being kind and considerate or the burden of hurting another human being?
It seemed like we were in a pretty good space. Healthy and active kids. Busy but joyful Christmas. Ice skating daily outside during the break. All seemed like a nice little time away from school and a break from work. The random deep cough of the Little Guy, especially right after physical activity, nagged at me for a couple days. And so I did a home COVID test (negative) and a second one 24 hours later as recommended (negative) and thus felt pretty comfortable hosting the grandparents and sister and nephews for New Year’s Eve. Felt pretty comfortable taking the younger boys to see SpiderMan No Way Home on the first day of the New Year. Felt pretty comfortable until about 11:00 pm when Super Tall Guy called me from his room with the words, “I don’t feel good.”
Thus began the mental gymnastics of COVID which are so incredibly draining. Thoughts of what testing to do? Where to go to get testing? When can we get appointments? What’s the best timing of when to do testing? Who have the boys been around? Who do we need to notify as contacts? What upcoming events and plans need to be cancelled?
At 11:41 that Saturday night, I got an appointment for COVID testing for Super Tall Guy and The Little Guy and off we went to join hundreds of others in the parking lot of a vacant mall the next day. And then we started the waiting game for the results. Normally, this service kicked back results in 12 hours. This time, we waited through Monday, what should have been the boys’ first day back to school. We waited through Tuesday, through Mr. Ornery and I getting tested since he had started with symptoms and I figured I was DEFINITELY exposed to plenty of snot. And then the dreaded, but somehow expected, red bar showed up when the phone pinged me that the results were ready.
Thankfully, I had been to the store to stock up. Thankfully I have lots of friends around texting to see if I needed anything. Thankfully, a friend dropped off chicken noodle soup that first day, which not only tasted great but felt like love. Thankfully, other friends and neighbors have made dinners and dropped off treats that have brought joy. Thankfully, I also have many friends that I can text and ask questions of and bounce thoughts off to help me think through all the scenarios. Thankfully, I have everything we need….except the peace and quiet I was expecting of boys returning to school at the end of break!
It took another three days for results of the middle child to return positive as well. Three boys, fully vaccinated, with COVID. Thankfully, their symptoms ranged from bad cold and exhaustion to barely a cough in the youngest. Thankfully my test came back negative so I could leave the house to restock bread and milk. But being surrounded by illness, and experiencing some slightly stuffy nose (Am I stuffy? Am I imagining this?), I just keep wondering when I will get it.
So the mental gymnastics continue. How are the boys doing? Are their symptoms resolving? When do they go back to school? Literally every night I lay in bed counting on my fingers: “Okay, so symptoms started Thursday, so Friday is day 1, Saturday is 2, Sunday is 3…..” and then next boy, “Sunday is day 1, Monday is 2, Tuesday is….” Will I get it as well? When will I get it? Might be nice for me to have it and be done with it. How will the boys get caught up on school work since they haven’t had the energy to do the remote learning that they could have done? So much time spent in numerous calls and emails with teachers and school nurses.
And then there’s the emotional struggle over and over of keeping kids home and isolating as they start to feel better. No, you can not hang out with friends. No, we won’t be going ice skating or to the swim meet or to the store or anywhere else. No….No….No…..slamming against But, Mom….But Mom….But Mom…No….No….No….(repeat).
COVID brings not only physical illness but mental strain to the whole family. Even if this Omicron variant is said to be “mild,” it has caused quite a bit of disruption. It has required an exorbitant amount of time and energy in this family. It has occupied my thoughts and my heart.
So yes, I can be thankful that we are all vaccinated and have weathered this storm pretty well. I am tremendously thankful for the support of family and friends. But I also have to acknowledge that my experience this past week is being played out in thousands and thousands households across the country every single day. And for some of those families, the physical and emotional strain is much much worse. And the physical and emotional strain on our health care providers and health systems is currently much much worse than previously.
And my heartfelt plea is that we all continue to try to do the best that we can to protect one another through vaccinating ourselves, masking up when out of our homes, keeping kids masked in schools during the surge, putting in the mental energy to make wise decisions, and continuing to be kind and gentle with one another.
It’s just that 2021 didn’t feel very different than 2020. It’s just that we’re still in the midst of a pandemic. It’s just that time stood still and flew by at the same time (which could explain my lack of writing for 6 months….sigh….). It’s just that the world feels a bit more nutty than it did a few years ago and I lost my ability to process through writing for a bit.
So when the world argues about how best to handle a pandemic, I find my voice as an advocate for the health of children. I find myself speaking up at local school board meetings (even if they won’t listen to physicians) and speaking out on local news (even if it just matters to my patients – “hey, doc, can I have your autograph?”). It’s been a tough year wading through the constant streams of COVID close contacts, testing, information, misinformation, selfishness and politics. There are ways to make our kids feel safer and prevention is key if we’re ready for it.
So when the world seems scary due to repeated threats on schools, I patiently explain to school staff what a “trauma brain” is and how even if the threat is not deemed to be “real,” it sure is real to children who are hyperreactive to threats based on brain wiring. Thirty years ago, we would never have worried about a school shooting or written an excuse note that reads, “X is staying home from school today because he is super worried about a potential school shooting.” It’s been a rough spring and fall of school juggling the boys, but they are hanging in there. There are ways to make our kids feel safer and prevention is key.
So when the world seems hectic and confusing, I take the boys on a mini-break to the middle of the state and allow life to slow down a bit. We play mini-golf and enjoy ice cream. We splash in the river and get sore muscles from skipping rocks for hours. We make s’mores and talk about the farms and vast land around us compared with the tightly packed neighborhoods we live in. There are ways to make our kids feel safer and prevention by understanding ways in which we are all the same and all different is one of the keys.
So when the world struggles with reconciling the racism and discrimination that is ever present, I seek to find ways to be conscious of my actions and those of my children. I facilitated small groups of medical students learning about racism in medicine and reflecting on the book “Medical Apartheid.” And when a swimmer calls out to my son, “Hey, there’s a black kid in the lane next to me; someone hand me my phone to call the cops before he shoots me,” I don’t sit idly by and say, “Knock it off.” I take the situation as high as I can to educate others about how powerful those words are. There are ways to make our kids safe and prevention through anti-racism can go a long way toward helping kids feel loved and valued.
And as we approach a new year, I sit with The Little Guy beside me (coughing up a storm, but COVID negative times two, repeated at home more than 24 hours apart), Mr. Ornery is in bed upstairs resting from the mild concussion he gave himself yesterday ice skating backwards super fast, and Super Tall Guy is hanging with friends (as all teens should) for New Year’s Eve!
In the midst of the craziness….we plant flowers….because that is the way we make the world a more beautiful lovely place.
My focus: Power. Strength. Love. Connection.
One day at a time…being aware of the power and strength within myself to love others and build new connections.
May your 2022 be filled with much Peace and Joy as you plant flowers.
I don’t understand what you don’t understand about mental health, but I do really think you need a little more education and training apparently. You see, a mental health crisis is just like a physical health crisis. Being sick impacts all of life and every single decision we make. When you are informed that one of your students is experiencing a mental health crisis, it sure would be nice if you took that seriously and actually helped the student, rather than adding to their stress and traumatizing the whole family by your actions.
It’s been two months since my son experienced a mental health crisis and while I’ve been busy on several fronts – finding him help, getting evaluations, starting treatment, fighting the school to understand mental health, demanding emergent IEP meetings, finding an advocate, demanding better IEPs – it has taken me awhile to process everything that happened and to share it.
The reason that I do share this personal story is to encourage other parents who may be going through similar situations and to offer support for those facing scary times, heart-wrenching times, frustrating times, and to provide hope. I thank those who offered me hugs and advice and hope over the past two months.
Laying beside one’s sweet growing boy in bed at night listening to him ask if kids his age (newly 12) commit suicide is agonizing. “Yes. They do,” I respond. It’s been a few hours since he talked about jumping out of the window to end his life. We’ve driven down to the psychiatric hospital but were not ready to go in. We’ve talked to someone on the crisis line. We talked about his big sadness. We’ve talked about hurting.
And, we’ve talked about the fact that he can get some help and that he will feel better. But right now it feels pretty awful and it feels pretty overwhelming. And it feels pretty surreal, like something that happens to other people but I wasn’t expecting within the walls of my house. And it feels pretty scary because I know it’s up to me to chart the path forward and figure out what to do next.
But after lying there and waiting for sleep to come to him, I got up and paced the house. Then I moved the big bean bag chair under his window and gathered up my pillow and blankets and eventually dozed off. I was a mess. We had driven thirty minutes into the city to the hospital, all the while I had thought he would ask to go home as I explained what might happen, including being admitted and me having to leave him there alone. All the while, I thought he would change his mind, but he didn’t. It was me who decided after the security checkpoint viscerally scared me that we needed to go home. And it was me who lay panicked wondering if I was doing the right thing.
The next morning, I reached out to family members and changed plans for the day so I could keep an eye on Mr. Ornery. I thought through what safety measures I needed to do and finally got the power screwdriver and put screws into the window frames so the windows in his bedroom could only open six inches. And I reached out to the counselor at his middle school so that she could touch base with him first thing in the morning. I let them know of this depression and suicidality and the fact that he wasn’t on any medications for his ADHD disability. I emailed his learning support teacher as well since we’d been communicating about medication changes over the past few weeks. I was assured they would take care of him.
I spent the day Monday in a state of stress and worry and researching and making phone calls. I called his pediatrician, his insurance company, the special program for teens with depression and suicidality (they didn’t think he was “bad” enough to warrant their services). I sent him to school to try to keep his life stable and hopeful, but I worried. Finally, I hit bottom and texted a friend mid-afternoon who I knew had similar experiences and said, “I need a hug.” Thankfully, she has great hugs. I got him an appointment at the pediatrician office on Thursday, but first available for evaluation was two months away. I kept talking with as many people as I could to get recommendations and to get help sooner.
Meanwhile, by Wednesday, Mr. Ornery’s apparently now heightened limbic emotional system decided it would be quite fun to create a boxing match with one of his best friends in the middle school bathroom. His underdeveloped and currently untreated executive functioning skills (ADHD) had no chance of stopping an apparently very appealing idea. The incident had gathered a crowd of boys in the bathroom and one of them recorded it. It wasn’t long before a teacher found them.
So he jumped in the car late after school in a state of panic. He had gotten into trouble at school and he was stressed because he didn’t even know what “suspension” meant. And in a typical “normal” mom fashion, I immediately began yelling at him for making a dumb decision. “What do you mean you got a suspension?” “How could you?” “Why would you do that?!?!?” Suddenly it hit me; in his current stressed state of mind, why would I even have expected him to make any good decisions at all. We sat in the car and cried together.
According to the National Association of School Psychologists, school personnel have a responsibility to responds to suicidal thinking and to never ignore warning signs, which include direct and indirect suicidal threats as well as changes in behavior. In addition, they note “severe disciplinary action” to be one of the “situations” that may increase suicide risk.
I made the school aware of my son’s suicide warning sign. I let them know that he was struggling and in a fragile state. Instead of keeping him safe, they provided a “suicide risk factor” on his third day in their presence and within five days of an active suicide threat. I kept him home for three days so that we could both calm down.
Every single night, I asked my son three questions:
Do you still feel like hurting yourself? Yes.
Do you feel safe at home? Yes.
Do you want me to sleep in your room tonight? Yes.
I slept on the floor in his room for twelve days before he said, “I guess you could sleep in your own bed tonight.” I had made numerous phone calls to try to find treatment for my son. I had consulted with physician colleagues. I had spoken with parents who have had children with mental health crises. I got him an appointment with his pediatrician to go back to his original ADHD medication to help bring some focus to his thinking skills before we could find a child psychiatry appointment. I really did think that the school would be supportive and helpful. I was shocked to find them instead exacerbating the crisis.
I asked for an urgent IEP team meeting to review the situation. I came prepared to show how my son’s brain was sick and unable to make good choices. The principal was unwavering. He was involved in a “fight” (whether or not it was just boys pretending) and would therefore be suspended as soon as he returned to school (thankfully a “quarantine exposure” gave him another week to stay home). He was not, in her mind, acting on “impulse” since it took several hours to complete this goal. She had absolutely nothing to say about his mental health. From the schools’ perspective, he was “fine.” He told his teachers he was fine. He told the counselor he was fine. He seemed to be “fine”….as if a 12-year-old boy would share big, scary feelings with teachers.
And as I still wrestled with how adamant this principal was that he should be punished, I was floored by her words: “It’s better for you to hear from the school that he is being suspended for fighting, than to be called by the police when he is caught shoplifting.” There it was. He had been tagged as a trouble-maker, a problem child, a bad kid …. on the path to criminality and “thankfully” the school is just trying to nip that in the bud for me. What is it about him? Is it his slightly brown skin of being a multi-racial child? Is it his ADHD struggles? Is it his energy and creativity and playfulness? What is it about my good-natured, soft-hearted and loving son that has screamed out – this kid is destined for trouble? What is it that makes a principal completely discount an emotional and mental health crisis and focus only on “bad behavior,” despite the clear relation between the two?
A week after our school district held a community event to sing the praises of how much they help children struggling with mental health, they punished a kid’s disability in the midst of a mental health crisis. When I was stressed and floundering and scared and most in need of help, my son’s school hurt him more.
Now that we’ve had evaluations and started treatment and my beautiful boy is feeling better, I am driven to change this system that refuses to acknowledge the role of disability on behavior and completely ignores the impact of a mental health crisis. I will work to change a system that will not consider how the stress of a world-altering pandemic, ugly politics, and visible racism happening concurrently has affected the children in their care. A system that pretends we can all just keep going, expecting children to show up for school and do their academics as if the world around them didn’t just crash on its axis. There is a better way.
Recently Dr. Abby Schlesinger (Children’s Hospital child psychiatrist) was interviewed about the marked increase in the number of children and teens needing mental health care which has overwhelmed the capacity of the system to provide that care. One of her colleagues, Dr. Justin Schreiber, also provided an update to the pediatric community in May 2021 about the impact of COVID on the mental health of children. He noted that children are expressing overwhelmingly more depression and anxiety symptoms based on activation of their fight-or-flight system of stress. While the mental health services are struggling to meet the demand, Dr. Schreiber encouraged the pediatric community and the school communities to acknowledge the toll of stress from the pandemic on children and to support children’s mental health. I sat and listened to his webinar, taking notes, and immediately emailed him to say, “What can I do to help the schools understand this?”
I had been so focused on the older son’s clear expression of stress through numerous physical issues (stomach pain, diarrhea, headache, etc) that would make him stay home for 1-2 days every 2-3 weeks, that I didn’t realize how difficult the year was for the middle one.
Life is stressful in any given year. But on top of all our normal stresses, we all have been coping with a new and foreign stress. Where I thought my boys seemed resilient and coping well, I learned that’s not always the case. It seems to me that we need to offer to those around us (and particularly our children) just a little more grace and a little more understanding, a good serving of true empathy and some actual concrete help for those who are struggling.
Know that there is help and that healing is possible. That’s what I cling to.
Did you know that the “clock” app on the iPhone has a red second hand that ticks slowly along its course? I watched it the other morning, making its way through time. That’s what I’m doing right now, making my way through time. Time. Time for a neighbor friend’s COVID test result to come back….
There are moments in time when we do really stupid things that we later regret. When we slip up and can’t figure out where our brain was at that moment. Moments like when you bake cookies and decide to deliver them to a neighbor with aging parents just to “check on them.” But you forget that you should not “check on them” inside their house when it is COVID time and you didn’t bring a mask.
For when you “check on them” and spend too much time inside, you meet the definition of “significant exposure.” And if you have significant exposure you find yourself in a “triage protocol” trying to figure out the chances of getting an infection and the guidelines for what to do to prevent the spread of infection. The problem is that you don’t actually fit into the protocol until you know if your neighbor is actually positive for COVID. And to find that out….you have to wait….you have to pass the time.
Passing time waiting for test results is passing time in self-quarantine. What a delightful word. This is different than the “stay at home” that you just finished for two months. This is “stay in your house and don’t even go to the grocery store” type of situation. This is the don’t take your child to the neighborhood pool, don’t take him to his golf lessons, don’t run to get a cup of coffee, don’t move the car from the driveway and just stay home.
This is the beat-yourself-for-being-so-stupid kind of situation. The “you’re a physician, for goodness sakes, you idiot!” kind of situation. The “how could you possibly jeopardize the health of others?!?” kind of situation. The wake up at 3:00 am and beat yourself some more type of situation (It’s not healthy or helpful….but it is what it is….). The apologize profusely to dear friends with whom you came into contact in the first two days type of situation (where you feel embarrassed and awful….and awful and embarrassed).
As much as The Little Guy rarely has a meltdown, he had a meltdown on Day 1. He was sad. He was oh so mad at me. “Why did you do that?” he asked over and over. “I don’t know, buddy,” was all I could say. “I’m so so sorry.” I wanted to hug him, but I also didn’t want to hug him as my brain kept yelling to stay away from the boys (an impossible scenario). But we made the most of the first day. Because I didn’t drive my car to work that day to see patients, I had more of a sense of being available. I actually said “yes” when he wanted to do an experiment in the kitchen by combining ingredients and spices and anything else he could find (and tasted it and spit it out). And, I said “yes” when he wanted to start power-washing the back deck (though he soon got tired and articulated that it was me who was actually “obsessed with power-washing”). By the end of the day, he remarked that he had had a good day after all.
Day 2, however, was a day when it was possible that the test result could come in and The Little Guy asked me every hour or so whether I had heard anything. It was getting hard to wait and make our way through time….but that’s what we do. I worked, he watched TV, Mr. Ornery and Super Tall Guy continued their video game addiction, and we all waited…. But somehow we were all getting along better and interacting more and enjoying our time. And my heart was heavy for my neighbor who was feeling unwell, stressed about her parents, and waiting ….alone….in her house….waiting….
Waiting, though, is tremendously hard on an action-oriented person who likes to have answers. Waiting is hard when you know that some tests come back in 15 minutes, some in 24 hours, some in 8 days (and that it doesn’t have to be this way if we had a coordinated testing system). Waiting is hard when it’s wrapped in the frustration of an inadequate national response to a deadly virus that marches its way through communities causing stress and angst and illness. Waiting is hard…..
Day 3,…..we wait….
Edited to add: At exactly the moment I pushed the “publish” button on WordPress was the moment my phone buzzed…. ” Negative” — Talk about “Time”!
By all accounts, I am a highly-accomplished woman. I have a college education, a PhD and a medical degree. I am an executive director, a physician and a co-founder of a successful non-profit. Despite being an introvert, I have strong social skills and am adept at networking and building community. I have many friends and a wonderful family. I know persistence, determination, resilience and hard work.
And I know the Failure Demon. The one that sits upon your shoulder and provides the 40,000-foot macro overview critique of all your deficiencies and failures.
My house deal fell through this weekend. It’s been six weeks of sleepless nights stressing about whether it was the right place for my family and finally shifting into preparing mentally to move. The boys were excited, talking about how they would arrange their rooms and all the fun space they would have to play. And the yard. Sigh, the yard.
Failure Demon points out that I’ve been looking at houses for over a year. I keep talking about wanting to move and get the kids into a different school system and yet I can’t that done. No house has been the right one and the walls of this rental townhome are closing in on us.
Failure Demon likes to point out deficiencies like this when I’m trying to focus on studying. Failure Demon reminds me that despite being a nearly straight-A student my entire life, despite passing every prior standardized test I’ve taken with relative ease, I have now failed my Internal Medicine re-certifying exam twice. I have one more chance. I am in a “grace year” and I’m running out of time. Failure next month will change me from a “Med-Peds” physician to a pediatrician. Failure will change my current employment at a medical office providing care for under- and uninsured patients. Failure will change my income and the ability to afford such things as a house for the boys. Failure will have a ripple effect.
Failure Demon reminds me that part of all this stress of choosing a house and choosing a school district is the stress of trying to parent alone and make important life decisions on my own. Failure Demon points out that my life-long goal of finding a partner, a soul-mate, a friend, a spouse is still unmet, still in the failure category. Failure Demon chuckles.
For Failure Demon points out that solo parenting isn’t even working out so great, is it? The threatening letters from property management to inform tenants that “all children must be supervised at all times when outside” have now escalated to an email asking for a meeting with the property manager next week. Apparently there’s been a report of Mr. Ornery lighting smoke bombs in the back yard while “unsupervised” the other night while I was at work. Mr. Ornery is ornery; there’s no getting around that. But Failure Demon knows that I am stretched and that trying to keep track of everything spins out of control sometimes.
Failure Demon struts and nods smugly. Failure Demon smiles haughtily. Failure Demon loves to torture all of us.
But you shall go away, Failure Demon. I will sit here for a moment. I will sit in peace. I will let the sadness of losing the house pass me by and then I will begin again. I will pick up my phone and study more exam questions on that handy app and I shall do my best. I will give my boys a hug and rejoice in their health and their creativity and their love of exploration. I will shake off that demon and rise again.
For I have confidence that “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God.” And God’s Word is that we are loved. That we are made perfect through Him and that there is no failure when one walks with God.
So go away, Failure Demon. For Christ reigns, friends surround, and there is much work to be done.
I guess the first thing would be that I got out for a run after putting the kids on the bus (school day number 2!) this morning and that gave me time and mental “space” to think about all the things I’m thankful for! After about the top 11+, they are not really in any particular order (kind of hard to compile the final part with a five-year-old talking incessantly in your ear while wearing an Olaf costume).
A loving and forgiving God who picks you up and fills you up in all the many moments every single day! 🙂
Super Tall Guy– within all his grumpiness, irritability and anger, he is sweet and loving and trying every day to do his best.
Mr. Ornery – ornery as all get out, but such a sweet, creative, snuggly delicious little boy!
The Little Guy – the most resilient, tender, kind, extroverted being I’ve ever met who approaches the world head on. He’s a game-changer!
My parents – their unconditional love, missionary heart, and constant encouragement has meant the world to me. And their current support of my sister and I in our parenting is priceless.
My sister – she started us on this journey of parenting and I will never forget that! Love her.
My brother and his family – such a faithful, loving big bunch. Wish we lived closer.
All my other family scattered around the States and the world! So thankful for them and the love they share.
My best friend from college – her boys are just two days older than my three and we commiserate and support each other practically daily.
Countless friends who are always there in so many different ways from all my educational experiences (a TON of education) and a wonderful medical community of friends and so many other places. I am so grateful!
Our Cavadoodle Mitzy – she’s such a gentle soul….and patient with the boys….soooo patient with the boys!
My health – enough to try water-skiing again last month and getting out to run.
That my boys are physically healthy (though behaviorally they drive me nuts!!)
A developing church family.
A fellow foster parent who made parenting a newborn possible ten years by offering to do childcare for Super Tall Guy until he was 6 weeks old and could start at daycare. She made our “story” possible.
Growing up as a missionary kid in Thailand as it had such an impact on my life and is my forever home in my heart.
The opportunity to travel throughout the world (though the passport became unused once the boys arrived….).
Friends around the world thanks to my parents’ wise decision to have foreign exchange students when we were in high school.
Living in the U.S. where we have so many opportunities.
My eldest son was at it again, torturing his younger brothers. You know the drill, he’d fake throwing a football at them. They’d scream. My ears would ring. We were running late. I was tired and stressed. I did the calm “please” technique to alter his behavior. I tried the old “counting to three” technique without any change in his aim. So I got up and removed the hard ball from his hands to which he replied, “You b**ch.” Yes, my son has learned words that I didn’t know until I was an adult. But, contrary to his desires that morning, such disrespect for his mother earned him a serious consequence of being grounded from outside play and the worst punishment of all (in current scale) – “no trampoline today.”
Reflecting later, I realized that one of the front runners in the political field this year is a man saying the very things to which I dole out serious consequences. I am working hard to shape my young boys into caring, considerate, compassionate men and I have before me the very antithesis of this behavior seeking applause from his supporters.
“I love the old days, you know? You know what I hate? There’s a guy totally disruptive, throwing punches, we’re not allowed punch back anymore…. I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell ya.” –Donald Trump on how he would handle a protester in Nevada, sparking roaring applause from the audience, February 22, 2016
Here, one of America’s most “powerful” men (only because people seem to want to equate power with money) is expressing his desire to punch another human being in the face in response to an action. What do I tell my boys over and over? “We use our words. We do not hurt other people.” “Hands are for helping, not hurting.” It is in their very nature to respond physically. My boys are always wrestling. They are always walloping each other. It is with time and with love and with constant correction that I shape them to respond to each other with kindness, to see another’s point of view, to control their temper and their bodies, to seek peace and reconciliation. It is an exhausting process and yet I persist because it matters.
“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s, like, incredible.” –Donald Trump, speaking at a rally in Sioux Center, Iowa as the audience laughed, January 23, 2016
There were 23 mass shootings over the course of 20 days starting February 19th, from California to our neighbors here in Wilkinsburg. Across 17 states, 128 people were shot and 42 died (from Esquire). There is unspeakable grief for at least 42 families. And, this is just “mass shootings” and doesn’t count the shooting deaths of just 1 or 2 people (like the remarkable physician in Texas who was killed by her husband last week, leaving two young children behind). Should one of our most visible “leaders” be promoting violence, the kind of violence that kills people? The kind of violence that takes kids from their parents, parents from their kids, brothers and sisters from each other, best friends split forever? Violence that leaves emptiness and pain in the hearts of so many. Violence the type that I talk to my sons about and ban them from video games that make it seem realistic and that disassociate it from the pain and consequences it produces.
“Women: You have to treat them like s–t.” –Donald Trump (italicized quotes from a recent compilation)
I don’t even know where to begin on this one. I am a single woman raising three incredible sons whom I adopted from the foster care system because there are kids in this country who need a family and need love. And I am trying my hardest to raise my sons to respect people – all people, men, women, children, people of different backgrounds, people of different faiths, people of different skin tones (because our household is a blended tone one), people of all walks of life. In fact, I am teaching my boys not to treat anyone like s—t!
I am a lucky, lucky mother. My children are young. They do not watch the “real” TV, they watch episodes of Pound Puppies and Octonauts. They are not exposed to the news. They probably don’t even know that Donald Trump exists. I am lucky. I do not have to explain (yet) how a grown man who is displaying so many things that every parent works to correct in their children is getting so much attention. I do not have to explain why people are afraid and how their fear is driving their praise of this behavior rather than disgust. I have time to prepare.
But, one day we will talk about this complicated mess. And I only hope that on that day, I will have a much better role model that I will be pointing my sons to and saying, “My boy, that is the kind of man you need to be. Strong and courageous. Kind and compassionate. Empathetic and understanding. Humble and willing to serve. Be the man God has created you to be.”
The other day, I made a little video on my phone of my youngest boy. Of course, I had to have him repeat his question for the video because the first time he asked, I didn’t have any video recording running. I should just run video nonstop at my house. After all, I have three boys – feel sorry for me.
I was in the kitchen baking and The Little Guy came up and asked, “Mommy, if I make this noise (something between grunting like a pig and clucking his tongue or some concoction of extreme annoying noise) when I’m near you, would you say ‘Stoppit’?”
They’re actually 4 words in total, but they roll of my tongue so rapidly and frequently that it seems as if it’s just 2 words after all.
I can’t even count how many times a day I say these simple “words” but clearly enough that the boys identify them as frequently used enough to completely ignore them. And they are right – these words are entirely ineffective.
The other day, Super Tall Guy lay on the floor wiggling and kicking around his feet. I kept repeating “quitit” “Quit IT!!”….he kept moving. I kept getting frustrated seeing all the papers that were being scattered and how he was kicking into Mr. Ornery also rolling around on the floor. “Quit it!” and yet he was not stopping.
Clearly my words were not helping him understand what his behavior was and why it was such a problem. “Super Tall Guy, please stop moving your feet around. You are messing up my papers and kicking your brother.” “Oh,” he replied, “I didn’t know.” My first thought was ‘how in the world would you not know? Don’t you feel yourself knocking into things?!? What’s wrong with you?’ But that question is not helpful. My commands were not helpful. I needed to educate him on exactly what was the problem and help him see how he was affecting the world around him.
“Yes, Little Guy, when you make that noise near me it makes my brain feel really crazy and Mommy doesn’t like it. But you can make that noise in another room if you want to.” Now the Little Guy can make an association between his behavior and how he is affecting the world around him. He can also choose to make annoyingly obnoxious noises in another space if he would like (for example, beside his older brothers who just punch him or start copying him!). What he now knows is that Mommy doesn’t just yell “stoppit” and “quitit” all the time for no apparent reason.
I mean, I do. I do say them all the time.
But the first step to change is admitting you have a problem.
I walked into Brighton Music Center last week. I thought I would be carrying a big bulky cello with me to return the rented instrument. For the past several months, Super Tall Guy has said “I’m quitting” every single week after cello and then orchestra practice at school. Every single week. “I hate missing recess” (happens rarely). “I hate taking it on the bus” (not even once a week does he do that). “I’m not going to practice” (that’s true – he hardly ever took it out of his case at home).
And every week, I would reply, “You can’t quit yet. You chose this instrument. You have to stick to your commitment until your concert in January.”
The next rental payment was due the day before the concert. Super Tall Guy spent the day grumping, “I’m not going to wear those shoes, they’re too tight.” “I’m not dressing up.” “I don’t have any dressy long pants.” “I’m wearing my tennis shoes.” “I’m not going to the concert.”
I wondered if it would be okay to return the instrument the day after the concert. We’ve never had an instrument in the house other than the piano which is definitely out of tune and woefully neglected by the only individual who can create a tune on it. I just didn’t want to pay a month’s worth for just two days of cello use.
The day of the concert was the first day of real snow of the season and we braced ourselves against the wind walking to the auditorium. Kids wandered up and down the aisles. Parents searched for rows that had enough empty seats to meet their “save me a seat” requirements.
Tuned and ready!
Super Tall Guy meandered to the front to join the throng of kids waiting to have instruments tuned by very patient music teachers.
And then they began. It took a few notes, but soon each song became recognizable. Most of these third graders started four months ago without any musical ability. It was not until last month that they started to use the bow rather than just plucking the strings. It’s an impressive feat for a music teacher to turn 70 rambunctious 8 and 9-year-olds into musicians.
“Well, Super Tall Guy,” I queried as we stepped out into the night, “What did you think?” “It wasn’t bad” – and voila, we’re not taking the cello back yet, I thought to myself! “Maybe some day you’ll be playing Cello Wars Lightsaber Duel!” “Nah, it makes blisters on my fingers.” Ah, sigh….
I’ll just rejoice in the fact that I’m plopping down a check on the music store counter instead of an instrument and hold out hope that he’ll persist for a bit longer with the cello (maybe at least until the Spring Concert). And I’ll be grateful for a passionate music teacher who inspires new musicians, a committed homeroom teacher that sends reluctant kids down the hall to practice, great music stores that make it possible to try instruments, and a school that supports musical arts. And the PianoGuys who end their Cello Wars video with the Jedi Mind Trick “you will start cello lessons now”….