Saturday, March 14, 2020

He Saw Only Light

What a week.

The memes that floated around the internet a week ago announcing the pending uncertainty that came with having a time change, a full moon and a Friday the 13th all in the same week, now seem to have been hauntingly prophetic. For all that transpired this week, pandemic pandemonia, an unprecedented plunge of the stock market, and for me personally, an EF-1 tornado that struck our property Thursday night, how convenient it would be if we could only blame it all on the moon or some other superstitious aligning of mystical occurrences beyond our control.

“God saved us”, my son said Friday morning when we surveyed the damage surrounding our home. Timber snapped and uprooted only a hundred yards from our house made me think of the twenty-inch diameter red maple standing just outside Dominic’s bedroom.  It could have been that tree, I thought, and it would have landed squarely on top of his crib while he slept.  But it didn’t, and for reasons either totally random or completely unrandom, depending upon your faith perspective, our roof and the red maple outside his window were spared, and so was he.  I like to think that his guardian angel held the tree up while the mantle of the Blessed Mother shielded our home from the 100 mph winds that went just to our north.  After all, Dominic was baptized on the feast of the guardian angels, and his room is adorned with angels on every wall, and I certainly was praying many Hail Marys as I waited for the storm to pass. In that context, it makes sense that, as my son said, God saved us, or at least as much sense as blaming it on the full moon and Friday the 13th.  

I did my usual Saturday morning grocery run today, and walked down aisles stripped of hamburger meat, mac n cheese, soda, cleaning products and of course, toilet paper.  My two oldest, both 9 now, pushed their own cart this time, filling it with food to put in our local blessing box.  They are using the money they make by selling eggs from their chickens to pay for the groceries.  I was so proud of these two boys, walking like little men, thinking about what kind of food people would like most, and trying to do the math in their little notebook so as to not go over budget.  While I had been thinking of people’s greed and need to hoard, my two boys were thinking about people’s need and what they could give.  Just a few years ago, I never would have predicted this kind of behavior from my boys, nor from society.

We’re keeping our Lenten calendar up-to-date as best we can, with one of the kids marking off each day as it comes.  Today is day 16 of Lent, yet it feels like it has been much longer, thanks to the events of this past week. I have struggled with staying focused on the liturgical season when surrounded by such intense drama.  Even if I abstain from media outlets, the anxiety builds when world events hit so close to home.  Last Sunday morning, my husband and I had to explain spiritual communion to our sons, when we told them we would no longer be able to receive the Eucharist on the tongue.  Joah began sobbing at the thought of not being able to receive the Blessed Sacrament, as if he’d been told that his beloved dog had gone missing.  How difficult it felt to ride out the storm when our view of Jesus walking on the water was being so obscured by pragmatic directives. 

Years ago, when I worked as a wildland firefighter, there would be times when I served on a fire crew for weeks at a time.  Working in often remote locations, subject to smoke and grit and dust and physical fatigue, combined with an element of risk that was always there on the fire line, members of the fire crew would gradually begin to show their true colors.  It never started that way, of course.  Coming together as a crew, we’d present our best selves at first, well-rested, fed, showered, motivated.  The first week would be filled with camaraderie, the second, would be similar.  But somewhere around day 16, things would begin to turn, and in-fighting, grumbling, anxiety and competition would begin to emerge. I recall one instance when a particular crew member decided to self-isolate and refused to eat, sleep, or communicate beyond necessity with the rest of us.  It was her coping mechanism as she waited for our 21-day fire detail to come to an end and she could go back home to her safe space.  And come to an end it did, and she along with the rest of us, returned back to our homes with matching paychecks that indicated matching experiences, but it had been far from that.

"Perspective is everything", the wise financial advisers are telling us now as we wait to see if the next Great Recession begins.  Perspective is everything, every time.  I need to remember that on this day 16 of Lent, as the effort of two weeks of presenting my best self begins to leave me feeling spiritually exhausted and desiring to self-isolate.

Last night, we ended the day by lighting Joah’s baptismal candle and renewing our baptismal promises with him, as he celebrated the anniversary of his baptism.  I remember that day 9 years ago so well, how he screamed the entire time, how the priest, annoyed by my baby’s incessant crying, quipped that we should “take our cry-baby home”.  I remember the covered statues in the church that day, because it was Lent, and how people in the parish questioned us for having a baptism during the Lenten season.  It just didn’t seem appropriate, they thought.  They had lost their perspective. 

Last night, that child who screamed through his baptism, and who sobbed last Sunday because he couldn’t receive the Eucharist, and who picked out groceries for the hungry this morning with pure joy in his heart, that child beamed as he watched the flame flicker on his baptismal candle.  As dark as his world is sometimes, at that moment, he saw only light.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

7 Quick Takes - Leap Year 2020 Edition

Wood frog, the first frog to emerge from winter

Happy Bonus Day!  At least, that’s what I call February 29.  How awesome that we all get an extra day this year, and how even more awesome that it occurs on a Saturday. Win, win!  I asked my kids last night what we should do on this bonus day.  The votes were #1 no school work, #2 no chores, #3 play all day.  Well, they’ll get 1 out of 3 (no school work), anyhow.  Dream on, little ones.  After all, it’s Lent. 

Considering this day doesn’t really count, so to speak, I decided to take advantage of it to catch up on ye ole blog here.  My husband (my most faithful blog reader) thought my last blog post was my best ever so I thought about just stopping while I was ahead, but who am I kidding. This month was my 6-year blogiversary so how could I quit now??  I’m not sure I agree with my husband’s assessment of my latest post, but I will say that it was one that took me two years think about before I was ready to write it.  Needless to say, my perspective on parenting has done a complete 180 in the past 9 years. How easy it is to make our children into our idols and eagerly anticipate when they will reflect our “good parenting” for all the world to see!  I was well on that path until God gave me Teflon children, upon whom no traditional parenting method sticks.  So, for Lent, I am working on seeing my children as they are, accepting their limitations, trying to see the good, hard as it sometimes is, and ignoring a judgmental world that seeks to find satisfaction in comparing everyone to themselves.

So, speaking of the good, here is the best part of every February for us.  Joah turned 9!  I am now the mother of two nine-year olds for the next six months.  Try explaining that one to people!  For his birthday, he requested chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.  Easy enough, until you consider that the kid is gluten-free, dairy-free, and tolerates very few eggs.  Thankfully, through a vegan friend, I have learned so much in the past few years about how to accommodate his diet restrictions.  Joah loved this chocolate cake I made for him!  The frosting is also amazing and had no sugar in it.  Instead, we used dates.  He was a happy kid! For his birthday, we actually were visiting my sister, who has 7 kids, including three boys 10 and under, so they alone made a party.  It was complete mayhem.

I often say that Joah is the one who has taught me the most about true love.  It is he, more than my other children, who has required the greatest sacrifices, and who challenges me to rise above my own desires in order to meet his.  In turn, it is Joah who has the softest, most sensitive heart for those he cares about.  Two days after Joah’s birthday, we always remember the birthday of our little Karol Elizabeth, whom I lost in miscarriage two days after Joah turned one.  Joah has often referred to the fact that he shares his birthday with his sister in heaven.  This year, amongst all the chaos around the quick trip we made to visit my sister, I completely forgot about Karol Elizabeth’s birthday.  But not Joah.  The morning of her birthday, he walked up to me and told me it was an important day.  When I asked him why, he reminded me it was Karol Elizabeth’s birthday.  God love him.  He didn’t want her to be forgotten.  We decided to visit her grave and sing happy birthday to her.  It was the least we could do, but for Joah, it was huge.  Karol Elizabeth would have been 7 years old now.  This coming week, on March 3, we will be celebrating the birthday of her brother, Isaac Anne, whom we lost in miscarriage one year after Karol.  I am sure Joah will not let me forget.  God bless all my children!

And one more thing about Joah.  Something that we adoptive mothers think about a lot is how our adopted child will feel when they get older and start to understand what being adopted really means. We have never kept Joah’s adoption a secret from him and speak to him openly and positively about it whenever the subject comes up. Two years ago, he was able to re-unite with his birthmother, a true miracle and answer to lots of prayer.  Now that he’s even older, he’s coming to terms with the sense of loss that I believe every adopted child must face eventually.  I know it is a struggle for him sometimes and my heart breaks for this part of his life that I can’t “fix”.  This year, as we did last year, our family spent the first two weeks of February writing love notes to one another and hanging them up in the window, where they look sopretty. Then, after Valentine’s day, I take them all down and turn them into little books for each person in the family.  This year, as I read over the little valentines hanging in the window, I saw this one written by Joah.  I do not know what prompted it (other than perhaps a yummy supper that he liked), but needless to say, it touched me and his dad so deeply.  In spite all that I sometimes think I’m doing wrong in the parenting department, little things like this remind me that there is always hope and that God will take care of the things that I can’t.

And not to be left out, the end of February is also a milestone for this little guy, who hit the 3.5 mark yesterday.  Maybe it’s because he’s the baby, but it just feels like he is growing up faster than the other two ever did.  He may be 3 but he talks like a 4-year-old and is a real chatterbox.  Sometimes, it just goes on and on and I have to ask him to please stop talking!  Seriously, he’s probably going to be the most extroverted one of the family, which is a good thing.  I’ve always said he’s been the cherry on top of my sundae and that hasn’t changed.  I wish so much that I could keep him little forever, but he’s not going to have any part of that.  I recently gave away the diaper changing table and we have replaced it with a small table and chair that I hope to use for Dominic when we start formally homeschooling him.  It’s so bittersweet giving away the baby things but I am old enough now to recognize when it is time to let go and move on, and that time has come for me and my husband.  I’ll never have the large family I once dreamed of, but I am beyond thankful for the three children whom I have here and my three in heaven. 

Performing his favorite chore...crushing egg shells to feed the chickens.

And of course, it all started with this child, the first one I got to hold in my arms.  As my oldest and least “needy” kid, I feel like I don’t give him the attention he deserves, and he’s now closer to being 10 than 9. My first decade as a parent is coming to a close.  I often think about how I have been a parent now for as long as I tried to become a parent and struggled with infertility.  Both decades transformed me into who I am today, for better or worse.   None of it has been easy, and all of it has tested me in very uncomfortable ways.  I wouldn’t want to go back to any of it and in most ways, I am glad those days are behind me.  Perhaps that is a good thing.  Perhaps that is how God prepares us for our final destination, making sure we always keep looking forward towards being in heaven with him.  Maybe it is best not to want to go back, not to want to cling to the past, but rather, to keep looking forward with hope and to be thankful for the coming day, that inevitably brings us closer to our last day here and our first day with him in heaven.  This year for Lent, I am thinking of that.

Standing knee deep in water last week, looking for frog eggs.
That apple didn't fall far...

Thank you to Kelly for the link-up!  If you’d like to take a leap back, you can find my Quick Takes for leap day 2016 here.  Or you can go check out other great Quick Takes at Kelly’s blog here. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Why I Let My Kids Play With The Kids Who Don't Behave

This post is in honor of St. John Bosco, whose feast day is January 31, and who had a soft spot in his heart for the kids who didn't behave.


It was one of those conversations that I’ll never forget, and it completely changed my perspective on parenting.

“This is hard,” she began, and I knew at that moment that this phone call from one of my closest friends was not going to be pleasant.

Two days before, she and I and a couple of other mothers with small children had gathered at the playground for one of our weekly play dates.  We’d formed a tight-knit group of friends who were all stay-at-home moms navigating the challenges of parenting young children.  We all had so much in common. We believed in letting children learn through play, we loved the outdoors, we practiced healthy lifestyles, and we all wanted to instill in our children a sense of adventure.  Even more, we were all transplants in this small community where making new friends was difficult, so we greatly valued the friendship we’d found in each other.

But that day at the playground, everything changed when my son got rough with my friend’s child at the top of the slide.  I saw none of it, as I sat on a blanket with my 8 month old and fed him crackers, but my friend saw it, and it frightened her as she watched her 2 year old nearly get pushed off the top of the slide by my 6 year old.  Nobody got hurt that day. My son was reprimanded by me when I learned that he was bullying at the top of the slide, and then he and the 2 year old played nicely the rest of the morning.  But for my friend, who had witnessed my son’s aggressiveness and extreme behaviors before, it was enough.  She was calling me now to tell me that she would no longer be allowing her children to play with mine.

I hung up the phone and my husband walked in.  I looked at him and began sobbing as I shared the conversation with him.  My son saw me crying and when I explained to him that his closest friends would no longer be playing with them anymore, he began sobbing, too.  “Why?”, he'd asked.  “Because of the way you behave,” I told him, and he just looked puzzled.  My heart broke, not only because I had lost one of my closest friends, but also because I knew my son had no idea what he had done wrong.  I couldn’t tell my friend it wouldn’t happen again because I knew it could, and there was nothing I could really do about that.  No amount of consequence, discipline, or reprimand was going to turn my special needs child into a child like hers.

That was the end of that play group.  The other moms and my friend continued to meet for play dates after that, but we were no longer invited. To my friend’s credit, she at least had the courage to call and explain to me why she was ending our relationship.  The other mothers simply became silent, and the efforts I made over the next few months to continue those friendships went unrequited. I had thought we had so much in common, but I now knew there was one very big difference, and that difference had changed everything. 

I had tried to explain that to my friend that day on the phone.  I tried to explain that my son would never want to hurt anyone, that he has moments of anxiety that take control of him.  I apologized for his behavior that day at the playground and all the many times before.  I assured her we were working on it, that we were seeing psychiatrists, doctors, therapists, and that we were still trying to find the right cocktail of medications and diet changes that would help. I promised to try harder to keep an eye on him on play dates.  I agreed that she had every right to be upset.  I understood why she’d want to put distance between her children and mine.  I really did.

That was the last time we really spoke.  She retreated to her world of neurotypical children, and I retreated to mine.  After that, I stopped trying to form friendships with mothers of young children.  We stopped going to story hour at the library, stopped having friends over to play, took our kids out of CCD, and didn’t even consider having them involved in Boy Scouts or most other group activities.  I was grateful we homeschooled for many reasons, not the least of which, I would not be getting phone calls from the school about my child’s behaviors, and rumors about my children would not circulate in the public school system of our small town. 

I isolated myself and my children, convinced that no mother would want their children influenced by mine. They did not live in the world I was living in and would not understand.  So, instead of finding friendship with other mothers of young children, I began to look for friendship with older women who did not have children at home.  I was blessed to find a few, and these sweet older ladies accompanied me and my kids on hikes, field trips, and sometimes just visited my home to play with my boys and give me a break.  They did not judge my kids or throw away our friendship, in part because they were past the days of raising their own children (days that they truly missed), and in part, because they valued their friendship with me and weren’t just in it for their kids.

As time went on, my son’s behavior slowly began to improve.  Two years now since that phone call, I’m proud to say that he plays well with others and is a real charmer.   The anxiety is still there, but he works hard to keep it in check, especially in social situations.  With time, we are optimistic that he will get even better at channeling it in less destructive and aggressive ways.   We have started having friends with young children again, we've returned to CCD class, and we go to the library programs regularly.  They love having friends over to our home to play, and they look forward to homeschool co-op every week.

But I will never forget that phone call.  The pain that came when another mother, for whom I had the utmost respect, decided that my children were a bad influence on hers, was a blow that I never saw coming.   We were both giving 110% to parenting our children, and her children reflected that, but mine did not, and that hit me like a ton of bricks.  For two years after that, I felt like a parenting failure, and both I and my family suffered as a result.

Of course, I am not a parenting failure, although if you judge parenting by the way a child behaves, you may think that.  I’m the mother of very special children with very difficult challenges.  It’s not pretty and it is not fun. There is very little joy in parenting such difficult children.  Raising children with these issues is not something I chose, nor wanted. But in the process, I have learned such a very important lesson.  My entire perspective has changed now when I see a poorly behaved child. I feel empathy for that child, and in particular, for his mother.  Much like nobody wants to be a drug addict, nobody wants to be the parent of one. No child wants to live in a perpetual state of dysregulation and mental anguish, and trust me, nobody wants to be the parent of one of those, either. But sadly, the number of all of these types of situations is increasing at significant rates.  How are we going to respond?

I don’t think completely separating ourselves from those who are not the “kind of people we want to be around” is the best answer.  This is not what I want to teach my children.  Right now, I do not tell my children that they can not play with certain kids, and I am most grateful for any mother who allows her children to play with mine.  I do not cut off friendships if someone is not living the kind of lifestyle that I agree with, or raising their children the way I think they should.  Do I have a duty to protect myself and my children from physical and spiritual harm?  Of course!  But surely we can find ways to do so without completely severing relationships and segregating ourselves.  Boundaries are important, but there is always a cost when we put them in place.  Too often, we are quick to move away instead of towards those who challenge us. 

Yes, I am still relatively new at parenting and as my children mature, and little problems turn into big problems, my perspective may change again.  But for now, I let my kids play with the "bad kids".  I let their interactions become “teachable moments”.  I recognize that many of these young children struggle just like my kids do with mental health issues that aren’t easily resolved, but also, that aren’t contagious. I want to remain friends with the mother whose child spit on mine, or whose son pushed mine, or kicked him, and I want to offer her my empathy, not disdain.  I do not condone or ignore the behaviors, but I understand where the behaviors may be coming from because I have been on that side.  I have been the mother of the kid who can't behave, and it has taught me my greatest lesson in humility yet.

St. John Bosco, pray for us.