Stephen received a handmade blanket and stuffed lion from the knitting group at our church.  He immediately took to the lion, stroking it when he was upset.  I told him when I was his age and I broke my arm, my aunt gave me a stuffed lion and it helped me feel better when I was sick.  I still have my lion, who I named Aslan, and he reminds me of that time and when I was comforted.

Tonight, Stephen was thinking of names for his lion.

“Hero,” he decided.  “Because he’s my hero here.”

“That’s good he’s helping you,” I said.  “People made it special so that it could comfort a child in the hospital, and that turned out to be you.  It found the right person.”

“Our class made something to give to children in the hospital,” he said, stroking Hero.  “I didn’t understand then how important it was.  But now that I’m a child in the hospital, I understand the impact.  I never knew I would be a child in the hospital!  And I didn’t know how it would feel, and how much you need special things like Hero.  People don’t know how a little thing they do might be really important to someone else.”

“Yes, that’s why you should always be kind to others.  You never know what it might mean to them.  And you never know when you will be the one who needs help, and everyone needs help at times in their life.  Right now our family needs the help.”

So thank you to the strangers who knitted Hero with loving hands, thank you to the strangers who are praying for our family.  Thank you to our friends and family who are praying, bringing meals and helping with kids and hugging me and texting and facebooking me.  Thanks to everyone rallying around us as we experience being the family who needs help.  You are all meeting us in our time of need, and we are blessed.  Thank you, my heroes.


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That’s not fair!

“Life’s not fair.  Didn’t your mamma teach you that?” My mother would ask whenever we protested that something was unfair.

My twin sister was dubbed the “Family Fairness Monitor,” always on the lookout for any hint of unfairness.  My parents developed tactics to ensure fairness in every area of life.  For Christmas, we got the same things but in different colors.  When it came to picking who got to do something first or where we sat in the car, Beth got first choice on even numbered days, and I got odd days.  Whenever we split food, one of us cut it, and the other picked which half to take.

I find it harder to monitor family fairness with different-aged children with different needs.  And evens/odds doesn’t work with 4!  As a parent, you do your best to treat everyone “fairly.”  But I’ve been struggling more with the unfairness I can’t control or fix.  Last week, we attended parent/teacher conferences and it highlighted a lot of unfairness.

Stephen has always effortlessly achieved straight-A’s.  He aces spelling tests but he’s never studied for one.  He learned to read music in approximately 60 seconds.  He scores ridiculously high on scantron tests.  His teacher last year commented she’s never seen a number that high in one of the areas.

Then there’s Adrian.  He aces spelling tests, but only after copying the words three times every day starting on Monday.  He misses a day of study, he misses words.  He gets A’s and B’s….with a lot of effort.  His teacher said he masters the concepts, but he needs extra practice.  He struggles to read music after a year of piano.  He did not score well on his scantron.   And then, of course, the poor child’s visual impairment which can’t be fixed and may or may not be part of the problem!

Ever since the conferences, my heart aches.  I hate that I can’t fix this unfairness.  I wish they could all start from the same starting line.

My natural reaction to the unfairness is to try to brush it aside.  What’s the point in worrying and blogging about fairness?  Of course life is not fair.  Too damn bad!  Suck it up, buttercup.  Quit whining and get to work.  What God didn’t give you, you earn with your sweat.

But still…I see a gifted son and a struggling son.  And I am learning the value of respecting feelings in their own right.  So I will allow my heart to speak, even if there is nothing “to do” about it.  My heart feels sad.  And feelings don’t need to be fixed, they just need to be.

I don’t have an answer, I don’t know why life is unfair.  I don’t know why kids with the same parents in the same house get the deck stacked so differently.  I do think the response is tough love.  But before cold logic and Tiger Mom take over, I’m allowed to feel my feelings for a little bit.  I feel sad.

Because dang it, it’s not fair!



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Flying Frontier

We recently bought plane tickets to visit Eric’s parents in Florida.  Frontier has a great deal on the flight….but you have to pay piecemeal for everything else you want.  EVERYTHING.

“Ok….do we want to pay for our seats?”  Eric asked as he booked.

“No,” I said.  “It’s fine, I don’t care where we sit on the plane.”

“It’s not just that.  If we want to be guaranteed seats together, we have to buy them now.”

“Are you serious?” I asked.  “They won’t automatically put us with our kids?”

“Not necessarily,” he said.  “I guess we should buy them.”

“No no, I’m not PAYING to sit with my own children.  That’s crazy!” I replied.  “After all, someone will probably trade with us if we don’t get put together…

Wait a minute, this could be great!  Maybe the kids will get put in the back of the plane and we can sit by ourselves!  Hahaha!  Who would pay to sit with 4 boys on a plane anyway?  In fact, this is a business opportunity!  If other people want to trade seats next to our kids, they can pay us to sit with them!  How ’bout that, Frontier!”

Eric looked at me like I was crazy.  But he didn’t buy seats…..

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Because you let him get away with too much.  So you have to be harder on him.  But don’t be too hard on him because then he’ll feel unloved.  So make sure you hug him and tell him you love him a lot.  But not too much because then he’ll turn into a sissy.  So make sure you’re strict but loving.  If you’re too strict he’ll act out in rebellion.  You must quash rebellion immediately to establish yourself as the supreme ruler of the household.  But don’t spank him or he’ll grow up to be a serial killer.  So go easy on him.  But not too easy because then he’ll be a spoiled rotten brat.  If he’s bad, put him in his room for time out.  But then he may associate his room with negative energy and require years of emotional therapy.  So when he comes out, tell him you love him and give him a hug.  But don’t hug him too long or he’ll become needy.  When he acts needy, don’t give in.  Then he’ll live in your basement until he’s 30.  But if he doesn’t think you’re there for him when he does need you, then he’ll lose basic trust in humanity.  Give him a small hug.  Make him do chores.  Read him a story for quality time and put him to bed early so he knows he can’t get away with anything in this house.  Be consistent at all times.  Except when you’re not sure what do to and you want to keep him on his toes.  You’ve got your *loving* eyes on him.

Do all this very carefully; do not raise a sissy or a serial killer.

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Let’s be real: parenting isn’t all about cute pictures on Facebook and 10-steps-to-a-better-kid blog posts.  Sometimes you read the books, you go to the seminar–you even write the freakin’ advice, and then you still screw it all up.  And your kid acts so crazy you have no idea what to do.  So that was me last week.

I was taking the kids to movie night at school.  Adrian’s first fit I didn’t even totally understand.  It related to blankets and which blanket he wanted to snuggle and which blanket he wanted to sit on.  I think it meant he wanted to take 10 blankets he couldn’t carry.  So I said 2 blankets and 1 pillow is enough.  Snuggle and sit as you will.

This obviously caused an Adrian freakout.  But I left Adrian tantruming on the floor and got the other kids ready.  He eventually pulled himself together and got in the car.  Then tantrum #2 because he couldn’t buckle his seatbelt.  So I got out to help him and saw– he was barefoot.

Babe, you have to wear shoes to this thing!  Go get your shoes!

I don’t want to!

Well, if you want to go, you have to wear shoes.  The school makes you wear shoes.

More Adrian freaking out.  Screaming, flailing.

That’s when I lost my cool.

FINE, if you’re going to act like this, then you can’t go AT ALL!  FORGET IT!

FINE I’ll get my shoes!!!

He stomped out of the car, slammed the door shut, screamed at me to unlock the front door, slammed that door, and ran inside screaming.  He did come out with shoes eventually.

Then I did some awesomely poor parenting in which I told him ten times he couldn’t go but then when he freaked out at school I let him go mainly because I didn’t have a better idea what to do with him and I wanted him gone for the evening.  I know you shouldn’t give into tantrums, I know that.  But I flushed that wisdom down the toilet and taught him to have a bigger tantrum next time because mommy lets you have your way if you scream louder.  And then I cried.  *sigh*

I don’t know how to deal with that kid and all his freakouts.  So I feel discouraged, defeated, failed.  Am I doing something wrong?  I want to punish him, but then–is it my fault?  I behaved badly too; I got angry, I said things I shouldn’t have said.  I put him in Kindergarten too early, I probably didn’t nurse him as long as I should have, do I love him enough?  MOM GUILT!

As I was mulling all this over and crying in the car, I thought: That’s it!!  He’s grounded!  At times, “grounding” has struck me much like spanking: an ineffective technique parents lash out with when they don’t have a better idea.  But the more I thought about it, the more I thought, yes, that is the answer.  I’m feeling run-over, helpless in the face of Adrian’s tantrums.  I can’t control him and his emotions.  But I can control me and what I do.  I don’t have to take him to the park, to swimming, to cubscouts, to movies, to grandma’s house.

It makes me feel bad because part of my idea of being a good mom is giving my kids lots of opportunities to do things and spend time with friends.  But those things are also privileges, privileges I don’t have to provide if I don’t feel like it.  And I’m allowed to have feelings too.

So I told Adrian he’s grounded at least one week.  And after a week, I said, “I will take you to do fun things again when I feel respected.”  So we’ll see how long that takes.

In the meantime, I’m going to take some time to get grounded myself.  I tend to spread myself thin, like most moms spending so much time thinking about the kids and fulfilling their needs I forget about my own.  But when I don’t put on my own oxygen mask first, I am left gasping for air as I struggle to care for my family.

After a stressful Friday, I grounded myself on Saturday.  I stayed home.  In the afternoon on a beautiful day, I unrolled my yoga mat in the yard; an island in a sea of swirling boys.  I turned on my music and began my practice.  All the “mommy, can I….I want….I need….can you….” I turned away.

“I can’t help you right now,” I told them, taking a deep, cleansing breath.  “I’m grounded.”






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Say Yes

“Mom, look at me Mom!”  Yelled Will, as he successfully pedaled his bike down the sidewalk.

“Wow, good job buddy!”  I yelled, clapping my hands.  “Reid, would you like to try your pedal bike again?  You can do it too!”

“No!” He cried, “It’s too scary.  I scraped my elbow.”

“Will fell down too,” I said.  “But he tried again and look how good he’s doing.  You can too, you’re so good at balancing on your glide bike.”

“NO,” Reid pouted, gliding away expertly.

I watched them rolling around the cul-de-sac, thinking that the only difference between them was that Will thought he could, and Reid decided he couldn’t.  Their skill levels were the same, but Reid’s mentality was holding him back.

Now, a month later, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Reid “can’t” and Will has gotten better each day because he said “I can.”

I wonder how many times we hold ourselves back because we decide we can’t.  Last year, my mom called to ask me if I wanted to go to the Bahamas for a week.  Like any sane person, I replied, “Mom, I have 4 kids and 3 jobs, of course I can’t go to the Bahamas!  That’s crazy!”

But after we hung up, I reflected on what we’d experienced the year before.  My mom had been ill to the point that I thought she may die.  I truly thought I would lose her, and it was terrifying.  I remembered the lesson I learned when she recovered and we got a second chance: you don’t know how much time you have with the people you love.  So say yes.

I called her back.  “I changed my mind.  I’m coming to the Bahamas!  I’ll work it out somehow!  I’m in!”

My Dad invited me to add a scuba dive to the trip, and in my emboldened spirit, I said yes to that, too.  You can read all about my failed scuba experience here !  So am I a hypocrite?  I failed scuba diving.  I know I am physically capable of doing it, I decided to say yes, I decided to be brave.  But that wasn’t enough.  I couldn’t because I mentally couldn’t.  How much control do we really have about what we decide we can do?

Since that scuba trip, I’ve been torn: did I do the right thing in trying?  Should I have known better and stayed on the beach?  But watching my kids and seeing what they “can’t” do, knowing the only person holding them back is themselves, I think we should get off the beach and go for it.  Even if it turns out we’re in over our heads.



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You know that lady….angry yelling mom?  You know, you saw her at Walmart last week.  You heard her shrill voice coming over the back fence in your neighborhood.  You heard her at preschool drop-off.  And then one afternoon, you realized….she lives in your house.

I think we’ve all had that moment (all, right?  Not just me is it?) where we realize, “oh my gosh.  I’m angry yelling mom!  I don’t want to be angry yelling mom!  What have I become?”

Now I’ve written before about challenges with Adrian, here, and he’s still challenging!  A little discouraging to look at the date on that post…we’ve progressed, but Adrian is still Adrian.  He is loveable, fun, energetic, and sweet…until you want him to do something he considers “not fun,” aka chores.

Therefore, my carefully crafted summer daily chore/reading/math spreadsheet did not go over swimmingly (!? I know, right?  Who doesn’t love a good spreadsheet??)  Conflict ensued.  As I worked to hone my parenting skills, Adrian worked to hone his chore-avoidance techniques.  Alas, if he spent as much effort and creativity on actually doing the chores as he did on avoiding them, he would be a scholar and my house would be so clean.  But no.  His top defiant strategies:

  1. Little Deaf Boy–He can’t hear a word I say.  And he lost his chore spreadsheet again.
  2. Tired Helpless Baby–He’s too tired to do chores.  He can’t do it himself, he’s too little.
  3. Slacking/lying–“I did all my chores, Mom!  I’m going to go play!”  All smiles, until you open his closet and look under his bed and discover his toothbrush is bone dry.

So we ended up in many fights.  Fights.  After which, I’m like, I just got in a fight with a 6 year old!?  What is wrong with me?

Now the kid’s gotta do chores.  Like everyone in the family, he has to participate as a productive member of the household.  BUT also part of the bigger picture….what is more important, having the floor vacuumed or having a positive lifelong relationship with my son?  How can I maintain my expectations for his responsibilities without losing our fun relationship?

My mom sent me a podcast about “strength based parenting,” here.  I decided to try reframing our discussions from that standpoint.

One Sunday afternoon, we came home with a van full of groceries.  I told the boys to bring the groceries in the house.  Reid and Will trooped diligently back and forth with bags, while Adrian rolled tragically on the floor.  He had banged his knee earlier in the day, and now, as soon as it was time to do some work, he was suddenly handicapped.

“My knee hurts!”  He cried.  “I can’t walk!”

I rolled my eyes.  “You can walk just fine!  Get up!”

“Nooo….my knee hurts too much!”

“You’re fine!  Get up and get the groceries!”

“I’m too tired!  They’re too heavy!”

“You had enough energy to run around Walmart driving me crazy!  And if the twins can carry a few bags, so can you!  Let’s go!”

I shooed him out the garage door.  He stomped to the trunk.  I helped Reid carry another bag inside.  Still no sign of Adrian with groceries.  I went outside and spotted him hiding behind the shed.  Instead of going after him, I decided to let him be; I was tired of fighting.

The twins and I finished bringing in the groceries.  I thought about how to deal with Adrian…early bedtime?  Timeout?  Extra chores?

But I decided, no.  I’m tired of all the conflict with him.

He slunk in after the trunk was empty.  He looked meekly at the floor.

“Hi, Adrian!” I said.  “I’m glad you’re back.”  I hugged him.  “You know, you’re my big boy.  I really appreciate all your help around the house.  I need your help.  Thanks for being my helper.”

He smiled.

“Do you think you could help me put the groceries away?  I would appreciate it.”

“Sure, Mom!”  He said, giving me a squeeze.  “I’ll help you!”

He eagerly began unloading bags.  I smiled.

There are no magic parenting bullets, and I’m not expecting Adrian to do chores happily any time soon.  Whatever parenting techniques I use, I know there are tantrums and resistance ahead.  But I also know that I don’t want to have a relationship defined by conflict.  And I know my Adrian is a sweet, kind, big-hearted boy with many strengths that I can focus on.

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