Changes in the New Year!

The moment my sister carried out her son’s small vault, the tears welled. I didn’t expect to be crying. But it had been four very long and stressful weeks –  eldest son “let go” from his school, looking for a new school for the 3 boys, looking for new house in the right neighborhood to get to the “right” school that can handle “behavioral” problems. The stress gave way. I had visions of the boys not seeing each other anymore. Of Mr. Ornery never becoming a great gymnast because he doesn’t have The Flipper to keep encouraging him (I know – insane). It felt like the beginning of the end – such a huge change in the status quo, years in the making.

It wasn’t about the gymnastics – it was about a change in the boys’ relationships. It was about a change in the adult relationships. In the true sense of the phrase, I am a “single mom.” But I rarely think about it that way – because I have such a beautiful family. In essence, it has been more like two parents with five boys…..and incredibly supportive grandparents (incredibly supportive)! We have been one big (and mostly) happy family.

But suddenly, the “singleness” hit and I was afraid and so sad. It was the day after Christmas. My sister was making good use of “vacation” time to get the move done. Friends came over to carry out the couch. My father spent countless hours putting together a dining room table and chairs. My mother flitted around doing everything and anything.  I, however, was frozen in denial, dipping into sadness, punctuated by jealously (why do you get to move into the sparkling clean cute townhome with a master bedroom and your own private bathroom that likely won’t have “tinkles” on the toilet seat and gobs of kids’’Sparkle Fun’ toothpaste lining the sink?!?), sprinkled with shock at all the rapid changes.


“It will be good to have some quiet,” she said. I nodded. It’s impossible to explain to anyone the mind-numbing, energy-zapping level of NOISE and motion that exists within the walls of this house with 5 boys ages 3 to 8. Super Tall Guy likes to poke at kids to get a response. The Flipper and Mr. Ornery either swing from the pull-up bar or set up gymnastics floor routines through the living room/parlour area. Mr. Trouble exists as a constant threat to everyone approaching his Ninja Warrior Nunchucks or swinging light saber. The Little Guy doesn’t know he’s little as he excitedly tackles Super Tall Guy to the ground and wrestled around while the dog squeals and hides when moving bodies collide into hers. It’s nonstop. It’s pandemonium. In an effort to survive,  I proclaimed the Holidays to be unlimited “screen time” (or there’d be no sense in calling it a “holiday” for anyone!).

A little bit of quiet. The truth is – it’s probably what we all need. A chance to let the boys develop a little bit of themselves as an individual instead of constantly in relationship to or in reaction to another child. A chance for my sister and I to figure out a little bit more about how we can parent our own children without all the clutter and chaos of who hit who? Who’s tattling on whom? Who’s fault is it really? Who’s toy was it first? (Like you even cared about that Nerf gun anyway…. until The Little Guy picked it up!)

It’s likely a really good thing for everyone to have a little more space. And, as my sister reminded me, it will just be a temporary time until we can figure out the next step. And, I still have the Thai house guest here at “the Big House” for another month, so I still have back-up help and am not completely “single” :).

It’s just been some crazy stressful few weeks. I’m super proud of my sister for just jumping in and getting everything together to create a new home for herself and the boys. And we’ve tried not to visit too much as New Yearthose walls are too flimsy for my boisterous boys (but come summer….when she can walk to the community’s swimming pool….she might need to adopt a few more little men!).

The schedule is going to be a lot to juggle as the three older boys begin in a new school in the morning. And there are going to be a great many kinks and glitches to iron out. But I have a terrific family and much hope in this New Year of New Beginnings!





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.






Sick Mommy

Sick Mommy = Grumpy Mommy.  It’s pretty guaranteed.  The problem is, the boys haven’t figured this out yet.  As in, “you know, Mom doesn’t seem to be feeling well….perhaps we should just be really nice little angels for a couple days.”  Nope, instead it seems to be, “hmmm, funny how Mommy can’t talk much right now and definitely can’t yell at us, so….”

So….it’s been a long week….from my perspective.  Mostly, the problem is the energy level.  When I first get a cold, I don’t feel like doing anything…including entertain kids for a few hours and argue with them about going to bed.  I’ve been trying to be very low maintenance this week.  So when I picked up the boys after a late meeting on Thursday evening and Micah said “let’s go to McDonalds; I want a hamburger,” I didn’t even question it.  No cooking? Perfect.  And you want to watch a short TV show afterwards – even better.  Okay, now get to bed.

Finally by this afternoon, I was noticing a return of my energy.  By 6 o’clock when I looked over at the couch, and saw Noah sitting upright completely asleep, I was thrilled. I could get an early run in.  Usually I can get the other two to sleep and then I try to find a way to entertain Noah while I run on the treadmill. (Sometimes this involves his favorite treat of sitting on the floor and watching a video on the iPad, but usually it involves telling him to find some toys and then yelling at him every few minutes to “get away” and “don’t touch the treadmill.”  Definitely not a peaceful way to exercise!)

Tonight though was golden – I’d have all my boys to bed by 7:15 and get to running early.  And I did…it’s just that Noah then woke up at 7:24 crying that his eye was still hurting him.  The boys are big fans of “playing” football at the same time that the Steelers play.  This usually involves their aunt throwing around the ball and all of them screaming and yelling and diving for the ball…. and me yelling “hey, I’m trying to watch the game here!”  Well, at one point in the chaos, Stephen’s hand hit Noah’s eye.  He cried, I comforted him, the game continued.

But now, two hours later, he was crying again about his eye – definitely not a good sign.  I gave him some advil…and looked up the hours for the express medical center on my phone as I rocked him.  Hmmm, open until 8….time now 7:35….off we go.

Mind you, I am a doctor.  And the last thing a doctor wants 5 minutes before the end of their shift as they set their eyes on home is a new patient.  But here we are.  And I’m feeling really bad about it (and hoping they are not thinking that I’m a really callous mother who kept telling her boy – oh you’re fine – until the end of the Steeler game and then, whoosh, into the car and off to the doctor’s!!  Just because the timing is suspiciously similar, doesn’t mean that’s what I was doing).

Noah was a brave boy and turns out he does have a pretty nasty corneal abrasion (small tear to the cornea).  So, I felt justified for having to keep the doctors and nurses late and felt terrible for Noah in all that pain and with a mother telling him, “shhhh, you’re fine.”

I got him tucked back to sleep around 9 and headed down to the only 24 pharmacy

Tucked between Mawzi and the beloved "Blue Blankie"

Tucked between Mawzi and the beloved “Blue Blankie”

around.  It’s a pretty unique experience in the heart of Oakland on a Sunday evening.  A homeless man sits at the edge of the parking lot asking you to bring something on your way out.  I pass by a woman in her pajamas picking up her medications, the college student sitting in the magazine aisle leaning against her backpack and reading an assortment of magazines spread upon the floor.  I get in line right before a tattoo-clad, earlobe-drooping young man and stand behind a very distressed woman trying to get a prescription for birth control.  She’s having trouble making sense of the fact that her prescription is at another pharmacy and they’re closed and the pharmacist can’t do anything for her and even if he called the doctor, they probably wouldn’t care.  She’s spiraling into irrational frustration when I step in to say “sorry to bother you, but I am a doctor, and yes, he’s telling the truth.”  I somehow say the right words, she leaves, the pharmacist thanks me, the tattoo man concurs that the emergency room is way too busy tonight and she wouldn’t want to go there but he had to get his seizure meds which ran out and he wants to get his drivers’ license so he needs his meds so he doesn’t have a seizure…..and I am just thrilled when they call my name and I can take some drops home to my son and pray that they will guard his eye against an infection.

And I sit here now thinking about how thankful I am.  That I could jump in my car and take my son for medical care and my sister doesn’t even flinch when I yell upstairs that I’m leaving.  That I do know where the 24-hour pharmacy is and can get to it even if it is a strange place at night.  That Noah is safe and back in bed (and I’m praying will sleep through the night).  And that despite my stuffy nose, I am not too sick anymore and shall try not to be grumpy with any of the boys tomorrow.  But it certainly is always something.

Awakened…by the foster care system

It’s almost 7 am on a Saturday morning.  Six-year-old Micah has already been appeased by Netflix on my cell phone and it’s a dark rainy morning so I’m loving the chance to drift back to sleep.  Suddenly, though, I open my eyes to see my sister standing over me, “Lynne, there’s a case worker here to pick up Seth for a visit.”  I’m awake.

And I’m mad.

It’s Saturday morning and apparently they decided to schedule a visit for an 18-month-old boy with his birth mother whom he’s never actually seen, who is in the county jail, and who has no chance of ever being his parent because of her repetitive mistakes.  He doesn’t need to see her.

If this isn’t infuriating enough to me – the fact that no one ever told me that they scheduled the visit has definitely pushed me over the edge!

I throw a sweatshirt over my jammies and grab Seth and a change of clothes for him.  While I change him, Kathy is packing up a diaper bag (her foster boys have gone on visits before – she knows exactly what to put in it).  I rush him out to the case aid at her car in the alley and inform her that “heads are going to roll” come Monday morning (or Tuesday, since Monday’s a holiday).

She’s empathetic.  She just does the driving.  She had no idea that I didn’t know.  She also has no idea how to buckle a baby into a car seat….nor how to install the car seat in her car….and yet she’s paid by the county to transport young children daily! (ahem, get down off that soap box too, Lynne!)  Seth is crying in her arms as I try to buckle in her seat.  I take him back and say “give me 5 minutes to get dressed and I’ll follow you down there.”

Twenty minutes later, I’m feeding quarters into the meters outside the Allegheny County Jail.  I’m shaking my head that for poor people coming to visit a relative in jail, getting 5

The jail entrance…where we sat for 20 minutes.

minutes on the meter per quarter seems sickening.  We walk inside.  The case aid finds a locker to put all the stuff – “Including the diaper bag?” I ask.  Yes.  I sit in the cold lobby with Seth on my lap and start to feed him some breakfast as we had to be there an hour early anyway.  He’s making a mess — spilling Kix all over the floor and bench. I’m cowered over him in a most protective way.  People are putting all their items, including any “hoodies,” into lockers and going through the metal detector.  The case aid enters through the detector to check in and wait for me inside.

We finish the yogurt and the aid comes back out.  “Well,” she says, “I’m glad you came down with me.  There’s no visit.  They didn’t put mom’s name on the list.”  I’m reminding myself to take deep breaths now…and yet letting a few out with relief.  One error after another has spared this tiny little boy from a very traumatic morning.  And yet, some judge, somewhere in his cozy house with a cup of coffee this morning, without ever a clue as to the disruption and pain he “court-orders,” has deemed it appropriate for a woman sitting in jail to spend one hour with a boy she birthed but can’t parent.

Yet, who is advocating for the child?  And who is advocating for the foster parents who step forward to care for unwanted children, yet whose lives are turned upside down over and over again?

Some day, I’ll look for answers. But today, I gave Seth some mighty tight hugs, strapped him into the car safely, and brought him home to his family.  Please, Lord, let’s not go through this again next month.

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.