A letter sent

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

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

There is no space.

There is no room.

There is no breath.

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

A firm grip that says, “I’m sorry.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


“Conditioning our children”

“Green and green” is my mantra to Micah now as I drop him off at kindergarten.  They are using the “stoplight” system – green is good, yellow is your warning, red is trouble.  At the end of the day, the teacher puts a “face” (smiling green, flat-lined yellow, frowning red) on a sheet of paper that comes home in the folder.  I pick up Micah and look at the sheet every day and we talk about the day.

Last week was rough….On the previous Friday, Micah was yellow for school and his after-school teacher wanted to “talk to me” (so far, I’ve never been excited to have a teacher want to talk to me….maybe they need to start making up some good stuff, because I’m starting to get Pavlovian conditioned to not want to walk into the after school building to pick up Micah!).

Anyway, on Friday he was yellow and yellow.  I said “aw, that’s too bad, Micah.  I did plan to take you for a surprise treat at Rita’s if you were green and green.” He sobbed…literally from the bottom of his heart sobbed all the way to the daycare center to pick up the brothers.  He wasn’t upset about the treat – he was upset that I didn’t tell him about the “reward” ahead of time.  He thought it wasn’t fair to “surprise” him like that.  I thought as I drove along – all those years of training, 7 years of grad school in psychology learning that “variable-ratio schedule of positive reinforcement in operant conditioning” is best (ie, “Variable-ratio schedules occur when a response is reinforced after an unpredictable number of responses. This schedule creates a high steady rate of responding.” http://psychology.about.com/od/behavioralpsychology/a/schedules.htm) – all for naught.  My son is tearfully telling me that psychology doesn’t work for him!

So now we’re back to “green and green, Micah, green and green….and I’ll take you to Rita’s.” Monday – yellow and yellow.  I spend a long time talking to the afterschool teacher about Micah being a “boy boy” and that after 5 hours of academics in kindergarten, the only thing he wants to do in afterschool is play (worksheets and more worksheets and sitting at a table with his head down along with the rest of the class is not really what he wants to be doing).  Yes, I agree that he needs to listen to his teachers, but I’d like to know that his teachers are also striving to match a 5 or 6-year-old’s developmental stage.

Tuesday – yellow and yellow.

Wednesday – red….hmmm, apparently Micah has decided to become the class clown with “potty words.”  Yes, Mr. M., I do inform Micah that those words are inappropriate (I think at the same time about Micah and Ryan sitting at the dining room table every night cracking each other up with pee and poop stories….).  You know, Mr. M., I do think he’s doing it for (ahem) positive reinforcement, I mean, there wouldn’t happen to be a group of boys sitting around him cracking up, would there?  Right.  (Psychology at work.)

Thursday – yellow and green…progress.

Friday – green and green!  Wahoo – Rita’s!!  We stop.  We get an ice cream cone for

This machine is outside our local fire station!

him, a guava ice for me.  We’re so happy.  He eats half and throws it away – it’s too cold for ice cream he informs me as we walk through the farmer’s market across the street.  Kettle corn – now that’s what we need.

So, are you going to get Pepsi or Coke out of this machine?  How do we match our expectations for our kids with the reality of how they function?

“Good Mommy” vs. “Bad Mommy”

You know it’s bad news when the daycare center calls you within 2 hours of dropping off the kids.  It’s pink-eye.  Oh, is that why the eye was fused shut last night when I tried to roll Micah over at midnight….and then again this morning?  Well, it didn’t look pink to me!.

So, it was an unexpected day off of work with the eldest son.  We went to the doctor’s office and walked out with a couple prescriptions. I told Micah that we could get some popcorn and an Icee at Target when we got his medications filled.  He turned to me with sparkling eyes (one red, of course) and said “you’re a good Mommy.”

I smiled – the promise of a treat makes me a good Mommy in his eyes.  And we did have a nice afternoon.  I bought him his first pair of cleats for flag-football.  I treated him to an Icee and pizza.  And, since it was his “special day” as he soon designated it, we wandered around the pet store for awhile too.

I thought about how Micah calls me the “good Mommy” when I’m treating him – or providing that “special day” for him when he gets to have a say about what we do (“let’s go to the playground”…. “let’s play basketball”….).  But more often, I am the “bad Mommy” – the one who enforces the rules.  The one who tells him to stop yelling in the house and to settle down.  The one who makes him return to the bathroom over and over to brush his teeth or wash his hands.  The one who demands that he uses “please” and “thank you” in his conversations, and now we are working on “excuse me.”

The “good” and the “bad” depend greatly on one’s perspective, of course.  I’ve been thinking about this in the nation’s educational system as well.  I recently heard a news report about the “dumbing down” of our education all the way through college. Teachers are becoming more concerned with teaching to the tests than with actually teaching the students.  College professors who seek tenure only reach that goal if they receive good evaluations from students.  So, they begin to water down their expectations so that the students like them and give them higher satisfaction ratings on evaluations.  This is great in the short-term – the students are happy and the professors get promoted. But this type of “good” teaching gets us nowhere in the long-run.  Now we are graduating generations of students who have less knowledge than previously – and definitely less independent critical thinking skills.  We are graduating students who have not been asked to work hard, who are not held responsible, and who feel entitled to an easy life.

So, it seems to me – if I am actually going to be a “good Mommy” in teaching my boys – a large percentage of the time, I will actually be a “bad Mommy” and will maintain that high level of expectation so that one day they will be strong, determined, independent, and thoughtful adults.  And I will be so proud of them.  So watch out boys – tomorrow it’s “bad” Mommy all over again.