Saturday, May 30, 2020

What Will I Tell My Dark-Skinned Son?

It’s back in the news again, and no, I’m not talking about coronavirus.  I’m talking about racism.

I made the mistake last night of catching up on the weekly news before bedtime. With my husband and two of my kids gone on an overnight trip with their cousins, I was having difficulty falling asleep, so l dove into the headlines.  And there it was, another tragic story about a white cop and a black suspect.  I read the story and it all seems plausible and just so terrible. The suspect is dead, the cop has been fired, and questions are being asked. Was this racism, or something else? I try not to take sides.  I have family members who are second-generation law enforcement.  I want to show them and all law enforcement the respect they deserve, just as I respect those who serve in our military and government and who work tirelessly for justice so that we may live in peace.  Our freedoms would evaporate without them on the frontlines. 

But I also have family members who are dark-skinned, one of whom is my son.  He slept next to me last night as I read about the rioting, the anger, the vengeance, and the lack of compassion on both sides of the issue. These injustices seem to be occurring over and over in our country, particularly for young men of color. How do I prepare my son for a society like this? 

I am white, but I did not come only from white people.  I came from ancestral origins partly known, partly unknown.  My father remembers his great aunt, who was the sister of his grandfather.  He tells me about how she was regarded as a black woman because her skin was so dark, which was the physical reflection of her Native American ancestry. I remember my grandmother refusing to wear short sleeves on hot summer days for fear of tanning, and she encouraged me to do the same.  She told me the stories about the murder attempts made upon her father, her grandfather, and her uncle, all of whom were considered second-class citizens by a community that knew well their ancestry.  But that was a hundred years ago now, and we’ve moved beyond that kind of racism in our country.  Or so we think.

Four generations removed now, I have light skin. As a result, I have never been the victim of racism and so I do not know what that feels like. However, I am a woman in a male-dominated career field, a Catholic in the Bible Belt, and the parent of special needs kids in a trans-racial family, so I do know what prejudice feels like.  And years ago, when I was discerning whether or not I should parent a child of another race, it was many of those experiences that came to mind and convinced me that I could do the job.  Although he and I do not share the same ethnicity, he and I can share what it feels like to be unfairly judged and marginalized, and as painful as some of my own experiences have been, I realize now that going through them was God’s way of preparing me for being his mother. Or so, I hope.

What I will tell my son is that prejudices can seep into us when we do not even realize it, beginning at birth and continuing throughout our life. By nature, we notice differences in the world around us, and particularly in the people around us. This is how we learn and it is a good thing to recognize those differences. Our diversity in thought, experiences, shape and form, among other things, makes humankind in general stronger and more resilient, and our survival as a species depends upon such diversity. The pandemic we are currently in will not be the end, not by a long shot, of humankind, and that is only because of our physiological diversity.  My children know the biological reason for variations in skin tone and we leave it at that.  But not all children are given such simple, scientific explanations for our differences, and so they are too often left to figure things out for themselves, creating fertile ground for the seeds of prejudice to be planted by well-meaning individuals filled with misunderstandings.

I will tell my son that racism is subtle and well-hidden.  The sweet little old lady in the church pew. The friendly neighbor next door.  The doting grandmother.  The chummy co-worker.  The friend who preaches “inclusiveness” and “tolerance” on social media.  These and others very well may carry within themselves racist or sexist persuasions that they will disclose only within their closest circles.  I will encourage him to ask God to reveal these people to him, and I believe that as he matures, he will develop that “sixth sense” that clues him in to such people, a sense very familiar to those who are part of a minority segment of society.

I will remind him that racism goes both ways, and that he must be mindful of any tendencies he may have to show bias toward others.  Shortly after we adopted him, we introduced him to our Hispanic friends. I recall them passing him around, loving on him and snuggling him, and one commenting that they wanted to take him home.  Jokingly, we replied that they could do so if they brought him back, to which they replied somewhat seriously that no, he should not come back to us. It gave me pause.  Did they feel sorry for our son, to be adopted into a white family? Was this a thinly disguised comment intended to express a deeper feeling that only they could raise him properly because they all shared the same ethnicity?  The preference our Hispanic friends show towards our Hispanic son compared to how they treat our non-Hispanic sons, is obvious.  It doesn’t upset me, but it is racist.  However, I recognize it for what it is.  There is no ill-will in their hearts, yet, having been the recipients of prejudice that I can only imagine, I know they must feel somewhat protective and concerned about my son. It is human nature to be drawn to those most like ourselves, and I am grateful that my son has these friends who share his ethnicity in his life.

I will remind him that his outer appearance is what people see first about him, and only those who want to know him better will ever see beyond that.  And I will remind him that some people will never want to know him better, and that this mostly likely is a response to their upbringing and personal experiences and has absolutely nothing to do with him. I will also remind him that only Jesus can change such a heart, and that he should pray for them and love them anyway.

My son is only three, but he has already been the victim of prejudice and racist attitudes due to his dark skin.  From the moment we brought him home, we have faced the stares, the comments about his “beautiful skin”, the desire of people to run their hands through his hair, the questions about his ethnicity, the subtle biases shown by some family members who don’t give him quite the same kind of attention afforded to his brothers.  As his mother, I hate it, but I also try to understand it.  We can’t let racism anger us.  It is an injustice, for sure, but like poverty, it will always be part of the human condition.  Over my life, I have experienced many grave injustices due to my gender, my religion, my cultural background, my values.  Most of us have.  My sons will, as well.  I pray that it does not turn them into angry, bitter men, but rather, makes them even more sensitive to those who are also victims of such. I pray that they will become bridge-builders, and witnesses to life and fighters for true justice. But most of all, I pray that if I, as their mother, must mourn their loss due to an injustice grounded in prejudice, that I will rise above a desire for vengeance and instead, imitate the Blessed Mother when she cradled her own cherished son who was killed for the same reasons. And in the nights to come, when darkness draws near and I cannot go to sleep, rather than catching up on the news, I think I will talk to her, instead.

“Lord, send forth your spirit, and renew the face of the earth. “
Psalm 104

Saturday, April 4, 2020

7 Quick Takes - Easter Is Near

Linking up with Kelly over at her blog today.  Thanks, Kelly!

Well, let’s start with the obvious.  I debated about whether this blog post should be about sharing my deep thoughts regarding the COVID-19 crisis or whether to just keep it light and share about some of the wonderful things that are happening around here.  I’ve decided that with all that’s going on, and with the approach of Holy Week, we have enough hard stuff to dwell on, so I’m going to go with an upbeat post this time around.  I’ll save the deep thoughts for later.

Happy April!  Springtime has hit Appalachia in full glory.  Our mountainsides are blushing with the many shades of green as tulip poplars and the big-leaf magnolias spring forth (pun intended!) their new leaves.  Interspersed among them are the purple hues of the blooming redbuds, the white of the serviceberry (“sarvusburry” if you’re a local) and the cream of the dogwoods, each bringing with it a cold snap timed with the bloom.  This past week, we fired up the woodstove again as we passed through “redbud winter” and in a couple more weeks, it’ll be time for “dogwood winter”.  By the middle of May, “blackberry winter” will have many scratching their heads, wondering how it could possibly be so cold in May, yet “blackberry winter” in May is as predictable as the springtime.  My mid-western city-raised husband laughs at these local colloquialisms that I grew up with, but has come to accept that mountain folk have their own colorful ways of explaining the world around them.

Photo I took on St. Joseph's Day just as the sun started to peak out of the clouds.

In our own social distancing/ homeschooling/ homesteading way, which really hasn’t been much different than our life before COVID-19, we’ve been celebrating the feasts and fasts of the Lenten Season.  At this point, I want to send a big thank you to Kendra at Catholic All Year for her continual inspiration in helping us keep the faith at home.  I follow her blog religiously (pun intended again!) for her perspective and ideas and lately, it has been invaluable as I’ve searched for ways to have church and now Holy Week at home.  Thank you, Kendra!

St. Joseph’s Day is always a big deal at our home and this year, I attempted gluten-free cinnamon rolls.  They weren’t terrible.  Succeeding at gluten-free pastry making has been my last big hurdle in this gluten free lifestyle that we adopted three years ago in order to improve my children’s mental health.  I try to avoid xanthan gum and other additives, so have yet to find a gluten-free flour mix that I’m satisfied with when it comes to baking, but I’m getting closer.  All that to say, these cinnamon rolls were devoured by my family, proving yet again that even a hockey puck would be a delicacy to a 9-year-old if you just smothered it with butter and sugar! 

A few days later, we celebrated the Annunciation with some fresh flowers in the home, and ribs for supper, both definitely not something we’d do during Lent.  And, as he did on St. Joseph’s Day, God blessed us with a beautiful sunny day, which was not part of the weather forecast, as we’ve been plodding through day after day after day of rain since last year ended.  I was so grateful for some sunshine and much needed Vitamin D that obviously couldn’t come at a better time. 

All that sunshine brought out the dandelions and of course, we had to have some for dinner!  My kids love to eat fried dandelion flowers and we never have leftovers.  Picking them this year seemed especially significant considering the amazing health benefits found in all parts of the dandelion plant.  Combined with a little sunshine, I’m hopeful that our immune systems got a much needed boost during the past couple of weeks.

With the cancellation of public masses across the country, our family has been doing “home church” and it has been very successful!  Tom and Joah normally play the music at our church for mass anyway, so we have the advantage of still having live music just as we would at mass every Sunday.  We follow a dry mass outline very similar to the one Kendra recently described on her blog, and Tom gives a little “homily”, which is usually an explanation of the Sunday readings and gospel.  We get dressed for home church just like we would if we were going to mass, and it has been a good way to teach the kids that we don’t dress up for church so that others can see us, but rather, because Jesus can see us.   Of course, it’s not even close to being the same as going to mass, but it has certainly helped us keep our Sundays still feeling like Sunday.  For Palm Sunday, we are going to use some fronds from a yucca plant growing on our property and process around the homestead.  I suppose the chickens and dog will enjoy joining us!  I suspect maybe there were a few feral animals in the procession when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, so I guess it’ll be somewhat authentic.

So that has been my therapy during these challenging and scary times, i.e., keeping things as much the same as possible.  Sure, it could all change tomorrow, but that is nothing new.  No day comes with a guarantee, but the seasons do, and in this season, we are planting our potatoes, celebrating the arrival of the hummingbirds (they arrived yesterday!), picking dandelions, wondering at wildflowers, and trying to stay close to Jesus by not tearing each other apart.  And lest I dig into my deeper thoughts, as I have already promised not to do, I will stop there.  The sun is shining outside my window and I have yucca fronds to pick.  Happy Palm Sunday!   Easter is near. 


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.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

2020 Vision

Every day a new day.

This post is inspired by Donna over at her blog and by Kelly's latest link-up, both of whom are encouraging us to share a vision of our coming year.  I like this idea much better than making a list of resolutions.  Creating a vision for the new year seems like a creative way to move forward, with room to make mistakes but not losing the overall image of where (or who) I want to be one year from now.  Resolutions, however, sound so, well...resolute. 

I suppose in looking forward, I must first look back.  Hindsight is 20/20, the saying goes (no pun intended).  I am not one who tends to reflect much on the past, being more accustomed to always being motivated by my to-do list and what I want to get out of each day, and planning my days, weeks, months accordingly.  The time goes faster that way, and feels less wasted.  Years speed by.   In 2020, my baby becomes a preschooler, my eldest child becomes a tween, and my husband and I are on the cusp of completing our second decade of marriage.  I could use the cliche', "Where did the time go?", but I know where it went.  I pushed it away.

2019 was a challenging year.  I turned 50.  My marriage was rocky.  My child was diagnosed with autism.  My circle of friends grew smaller. My husband traveled a lot.  My children fought a lot.  I lost my part-time job.

And I responded to all of this by pushing time away.  It was easy to do.  I had no shortage of distractions to keep me busy.   My rule of life ruled me.  Cooking, laundry, gardening, homeschooling, cleaning...I devoted myself to meeting all my family's material needs in 2019.  I tried to fool myself into believing that this would be enough, and that if I just worked hard, the end-product would be a loving, peaceful home life. 

But as I end this year, I recognize that in my frenzied 2019, I created not a peaceful home, but an anxious home.  My children are strong in body, thanks to the clean diet I  work so hard to follow, but are weak in spirit because they have a mother too busy to play with them, and who forces them to pray.  My husband is well cared for, with clean shirts and three home-cooked meals a day, but is sad because he has a wife who nags and sets unattainable standards for him to reach. And me, I just keep pushing the time away, making it go faster and faster, because parenting is hard, and marriage is hard, and friendship is hard, and special needs are hard, and solo-parenting is hard, and teaching math is hard, and the faster time goes, the sooner it will all be over. 

And soon, it will all be over.  In 2019, my father turned 80, and my mother falls asleep now during our conversations, and I think a lot about the day I'll get the dreaded phone call that one of them is gone.  Already, I am going to too many funerals for friends who are my age, dying of cancer, heart disease, strokes.  My network of professional friends, built assiduously during my career, has become a network of retirees.   The new friends I make now all tend to be either younger or older than me by a decade, or two, and are restless and searching for their happy place and so, do not stay here in this remote corner of the world very long.  I say goodbye too often and resist making new friends who I know will likely be moving on in a year or two.  In 2019, it felt like a lot of things were ending.

When I started 2019, my vision for the new year was to use my time wisely and to make the most of every minute of my day.  It was a noble endeavor.  I exercised more and my body is stronger now.  I cooked more, and my family benefited.  I cleaned more and our home is tidy.  I scheduled better and we got more done.  I grew more food than I ever had before, and our pantry shelves are stocked full of wholesome goodness.  Perhaps it is a mid-life phenomena, but in 2019, time became not my enemy, but my friend, because by maximizing how I used my time, I felt like I could maximize my life.  And that gave me what I craved; it gave me control. And where there is control, there is peace.  Or so I thought. But somewhere in 2019, I forgot to relax.  I forgot what Pope Francis once said, how important it is to "waste time with our kids".  And not just with my kids, but with others, too. 

So, that is my vision for 2020 in a nutshell.  I want to waste time.  I want my children to see me take time to pray instead of hearing me telling them to pray.  I want my husband to hear more compliments and fewer requests from me. I want to waste time with him like we did years ago when we'd just talk on the phone about nothing for hours.  I want to make new friends, even if goodbyes are inevitable. I want to visit my parents more, and listen to them repeat the same thing over and over because they forgot they'd already said that. And I want to write more stories, because someday, when this is all over, all that will be left is what I took the time to write down.  The time that feels so wasted right now.