Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Remember the Bad Times Too

*Just a little note that all the tests came back fine. I am dealing with negotiating some food issues and that will take a little time. I wrote this little piece when I was waiting on results and yea, maybe I'm not so good at waiting. And my mind wanders. 

Even as I await the results of the test that will tell me if I will die early, I fight falling into cliche. Quickly the things I’ve dreamt of peacefully slip away. The African safari, spending an extended time on a Hawaiian beach, the many books and stories I want to write….. they quietly retreat and I don’t even feel sad for them. These were things to fill my life after the main act.  My husband and children were always all I ever wanted. And I got them. The End.

Except I wasn’t quite done with the main act. There was more I wanted to do with them. Maybe  not necessarily do, but I wanted them to know more. More about me, more about what I know, more about life.

I am glad I know my path. I am glad I won’t grow old alone- that has always been a fear. I will leave this world when it is largest for me. I feel a relief to know that I wasn’t lazy or worthless the last few months. The illness justifies all I’ve felt.

But I don’t want my children to remember me like this. It will get worse, but I don’t even want you to think back to now and think this is what your mother was like. I hate the fatigue that has taken over my life and prevented me from being the Mother I am in my mind. I need you to know all the things I wanted to be for you.

You won’t remember but Sally was a tiny baby and the older two were two and four years old and we were driving down the road and I saw the biggest turtle I have ever seen slowly making his way across the road.  I made Daddy stop the car and I got you out to watch the turtle on his long slow journey across the road. Daddy was worried about traffic and safety, which is good - but I wanted you to witness the beauty and awe of this magnificent creature crossing the road.  I wanted to always have time to slow down and wonder in awe with you.

I wanted you to remember the spring day it had been raining all day and we walked with umbrellas and raced leaves in the curbs on the streets. I want you to remember all the hours we spent swimming at the beach. I want you to remember bike rides. I want you to remember snuggling in the morning before the day starts. I want you to remember how we can just sit and laugh and laugh. And I definitely want you to remember that I can still do a cartwheel.  I love the way Sally brags about that to her friends and their mothers.

Even if its impossible to remember all the conversations we’ve had, I want you to remember that we had conversations. We talked about hard things. All the times I’ve talked with you about your questions related to sex and your bodies - that was not easy for me. But I made myself do it. I would rather you ask me than ask the kids at school. That cool relaxed attitude I have? I am white knuckled on the inside…. but I don’t want you to know that. When you ask from the bottom of your heart why people don’t want gays and lesbians to be able to marry if it doesn’t even affect them…. it breaks my heart as you learn of the intolerance in this world, but it makes me proud that you are thinking about it. And when you want to buy condoms and open them to see what is in there? I calmly say, go ahead. While I’m dying inside. Not only because of the discomfort, but because how can you be old enough to ask? And I thank God for my little one who saves me from being so old when she says that those (condoms) are for removing the hair from unwanted places on your body. And I thank God for her big sister who told her this, trying to protect her little mind.

I want you to remember the feel of these conversations, because I always want you to have them. Stay open. Connect. Ask the hard questions. Try to find the answers, even though they don’t always come. I’m sorry I don’t know how mankind started. I don’t know which theory is correct. And yes, if Adam and Eve were the first couple, their kids would have had to reproduce together. And I’m so glad you would be overwhelmed if you were picked to be the first man on earth. That is a perspective I hadn’t entertained before. And never ever lose that empathy that allows you to think of things from perspectives other than your own.

I want you to remember our sunset picnics on the beach in Sanibel. I want you to remember the mountains of Tennessee. I want you to remember the intense stifling wet heat of Louisiana and Mississippi. I want you to remember skiing on the mountains in Colorado. But don’t lose sight of all the gifts close to where you are. Find the beautiful places close to your home, wherever that may be. Get fresh air; its always healing. Turn off the screens. Know yourself. Deeply. You will change. That is good. Learn how to soothe yourself. You will need it. Play music - it is the only activity that engages your entire brain at one time.

Remember the games we played. The fires we built. The hours we sweated and cried over homework. Remember when I tried being the Tiger Mom? Ha. Remember the time Daddy and me toilet papered your rooms for April Fools Day.  Remember sneaking in my room and sleeping on the floor next to me. I secretly loved that. Remember when you were sick and throwing up all night - how we talked and snuggled and how I held your back and I washed your face with a cold wash cloth. Don’t remember it because it makes me look good but remember it so you can do that for your child.

But, dear babies, as hard as it is for me to write, please don’t only remember the good times. Please remember the hard times too. Please remember when I wasn’t perfect. Please remember when I yelled at you, when I ran out of patience, when I could take no more. Remember the times I had to walk away. Remember all the deadlines I missed. Remember when you had to wear dirty clothes to school because there were none clean. Remember wearing mismatched socks. Remember eating cereal for dinner. Remember when I cried and fought with Daddy.

Because when these things happen to you, I will not be here to remind you of them. I don’t want you to feel like a failure or a freak when you aren’t able to keep up. When you aren’t able to be super human. You see, my plan was to be here for that.  I was going to tell you my stories of my shortfalls, to come to your aid and help when things get tough in real life. . Because they do. For everyone. Not many people will let you in on their pain, and you might feel lonely and depressed. You will make mistakes. You will lose your temper. And I want you to know thats OK, thats normal.

I wanted to share with you my faith. I haven’t done that enough.  It is strong, and non judgemental. And always questioning. Maybe thats why I haven’t been able to share enough. I tried to give you the freedom to learn how you really feel and believe, what resonates within your own heart. I wish I had shared, wished I had known really, that my faith is much like that of my grandmothers and my father. They are the quiet, strong believers whose faith is between them and their God.

So, my little blessings, try to remember it all. Be gentle with yourselves when you can’t. Life is cake for dinner and life is brussel sprouts for dinner. The key is to have balance. And the other key is knowing you will never have balance. Grandma Patsy always told me that nothing too good or too bad lasts for too long. Remember this little nugget when things are tough. But, most importantly, remember it when things are going well. Practicing gratitude in the moment imprints happiness on your soul that can last a lifetime.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


If you were in a small group of people you knew casually and, as an icebreaker activity, you were asked to arrange yourselves in a line in order of your birthdays without talking, how would you respond? 

I know there are many responses to things like this.  I personally love this sort of thing. There is a specific task to be done in a finite amount of time without the drain of small talk. My daughter was asked to do this and I’m not sure of her response or how she felt about it. But I do know that it wasn’t easy for her. 

She was telling me about it matter of factly, not with any negatively charged emotions. Maybe, just maybe, she is learning to accept herself without judgement at an astonishingly young age. Maybe she is just accustomed to things being challenging and she was being her regular persistent self. Maybe she was sitting back watching and trying to become invisible, or trying to figure out her approach. 

You see, she is dyslexic. 

An immediate response might be, “Well, that doesn’t have anything to do with reading.” And that is a correct statement. But dyslexia, I’m learning, is so much more than that. 

I have found it difficult trying to write about our journey with dyslexia because it is so all encompassing. And frankly, it wasn’t a journey I would have chosen. 

We live in a mostly wooded area and, at certain times, the sun will shine at a certain angle and these beautiful streaks of light will shoot through. Even amongst our busy lives, these streaks will stop all of five us and we just stare in awe. Either mesmerized by the beauty or trying to figure out how it happens, the light pierces us in ways we can’t explain.

This is sometimes how I feel about dyslexia. It’s always there and we just live our lives and accommodate it when we need to. But, every now and then, I recognize something so beautiful, so different, so engaging, so magnificent that it stops me in my tracks. 

We don’t often think about how we think. Or how our world is organized. Names of the months or names of the days of the week are actually quite arbitrary. We could call Monday “abacus” and it would still mean the same thing. It would still be the first day of the school or work week, the day after a family day or the day after a day of rest or the day after Church. 

This is an insight into how my daughter thinks. Her thinking is not linear; she thinks in three (or more) dimensions. She thinks in ideas and feelings and colors and smells. 

Trying to memorize anything without context is an exercise in futility for her. She is 13 and can not tell you the order of the months of the year. The closest approximation she can give you is the seasons. Winter. Spring. Summer. Fall. And these compartmentalized nomenclatures are probably just a bridge to communicate with the rest of us who have everything so ordered. 

If asked what are the first three months of the year, her thinking may go something like this: My brothers birthday, sledding outside, beautiful snow, white, red, Valentines Day, fondue, Florida, smell of the ocean.  And this is only if she has to put words to her thoughts. She thinks in ideas, in actions she has done or will do. She thinks in shades, pictures, emotions and scents. 

She not only thinks from left to right and right to left, but up and down and down and up and diagonally. When she was younger, I might say we were going to play with Elise on Tuesday. Tuesday meant nothing to her so she would clarify, “Is that swimming day or dance day?” Or find another way to describe the day. If I answered dance day then she may need to clarify further, “Is that the dance day Daddy is coming home or the next one?”  

Her being my starter child, I thought this was normal, if I even thought of it at all. When she asked to go to the green and white grocery store with grapes I knew exactly what she was talking about because it was the color of their sign and their logo had grapes. Again, either I didn’t think about it or thought it was normal. But the next day when we went to the store with my three year old, who was almost five years younger, she questioned, “I didn’t know we were going to Lunds.” We just thought it was quaint that she already knew the name of the store. 

Even now, at 13 and two weeks into her new tennis season and new coach, she doesn’t know his name. She knows his mannerisms, his quirks, she knows who he really likes and who he is still unsure about. She knows if he is off, ie: didn’t have enough lunch or maybe the heat is getting to him. Without being in her mind, I can only guesstimate much of this. But I think it frustrates her to have to encapsulate a person or a location or a month into only a name.

So when the students were using their fingers to count the months of the year to communicate with each other silently and trying to figure out birthdays, she was at a complete loss. She couldn’t tell you August was the 8th month if she was allowed to talk to the other kids, much less in silent gestures. I think someone finally just asked her birthday and put her in the line. 

Unfortunately, she must live in our world where things have to be named and days and months have to be ordered. Sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously she is learning to change the way she sees things. I know she must do this but it is a double edged sword. When I get a glimpse into the sunbeams of her inner self, I secretly hope that she never, ever will learn the names of the months in order. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Dear Teachers

Well, here they are. My babies. Now you get them more waking hours than I do. And you get the fun hours, not when they are tired and crabby (for the most part.)  And you get them separately, away from their siblings, where there will be no bickering, punching, or kicking amongst the three.  Lucky you.

Lets just put this out there from the start: None of them will be your star students. I tried really hard to do some of the things you asked us to do for the summer. It started well enough but gradually went down hill as the summer progressed. Since they all have reading disorders, none of them like to read. I hate saying that, but I’m gradually accepting this truth. I made them all sit down and read as much as I could this summer. I saw them holding the books. One or more of them may or may not have been hiding some electronic device behind the covers of the book. But my seventh grader read both of the books she was required to read and she did the written summary for one of them.

I bought them each a grade level appropriate math workbook.  I might be able to return those and buy you each a coffee. But we took a big road trip and we each estimated how many miles we would drive in each segment, and we calculated the differences in each guess and we talked about our reasoning for each guess. We watched the gas prices and tried to figure out how much each day cost in gas. We also made a game of guessing how much each meal cost on the road. We may or may not have opted for ice cream for dinner because that was the best option financially. (ahem).

We also played the license plate game and found all the states except Delaware, New Hampshire and West Virginia. We talked about the capitols of all the states and talked a little about what states were close to other states. A friend of mine made a copy of the map of the United States and had her kids find the states on the map.  I wish I had thought of that but I didn’t. Then they would understand there really is no state called Idakota.  But I think its kinda cute she thinks that.  She will learn soon enough.

They were actually quiet and awed when in the presence of moose. They were within reach of a buffalo, but I wouldn’t let them touch it. They wondered for days what it would have felt like. They became eagle eyes and could spot a goat on a little ledge on the side of a mountain. They summited a mountain and knew what it was like to be on top of the world. Two of them loved it, but one didn’t and learned that, for now, she felt safer hugged by the valley.

They may not be super enthused to be back at school, but they are tan and sun kissed blond and healthy and had smiles on their faces this morning. They were outside every day this summer, but they also vegged in front of the TV many afternoons. They all took actual showers for the occasion..... in our house, not in the lake. We spent time on the lake and at many sports. We spent more time than ever together as a family since Daddy was out of work this summer. I hope they remember it as a good one.

We will do our best in school this year but it wont be perfect.  We know you want them to learn so much and you just can’t do it all in school. I know you don’t know how to respond to me when I say my kids may not always complete their homework. Please try to understand we still want to spend quality time with them. And they are playing some sports, which we think is good for them. But if they tell me they want to go fishing or play outside with friends or lay on the grass and watch the stars..... we will probably say go for it. Especially while the weather is still nice.  We also think its important they get enough sleep. Since they already spend 7 1/2 hours doing school work, we are trying to help them learn balance in their lives.  Don’t worry - they will learn accountability and responsibility.  We believe in that-- but we have lots of values we are trying to teach them while they are young and  there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Finally, one of our biggest goals is to help them find their passions. Most of the time, they will all do exactly what you ask of them. If you ask them to read for so many minutes or so many pages, they will probably do it.  And they will stop right at that minute or right at that page. They have dyslexia and don’t enjoy reading; it is really, really hard for them. I would love to see them loving something they are doing; something where they lose track of time and pages and exactly what is assigned. Chaucer spent three years on and off trying to write to infinity. While this may have seemed ridiculous and we could tell him over and over it wasn’t possible, I remember when you gave him extra credit and excused him from his regular homework for him to work on this ridiculous task. Did you understand what you were doing? That he was learning to find and explore and be passionate about something? How did you understand his fascinating relationship with numbers and space? I love how you supported him like that.

So, here they are, with all their imperfections. I give them to you with a prayer, a bit of a sigh and a few tears. I’m excited to see what they are like when you give them back to me next June.

Friday, June 28, 2013

One Breakfast, Every Breakfast

I always try to look back and see how it started. For some reason, I think I can look back and find a point where something could have been different. 

This is not a lifetime story, but an every day, at least once a day story. 

Today, I heard Steve and Sally chatting in the kitchen while I was getting dressed in my bathroom. Soon after, I hear the bickering that includes Chaucer. 

It’s often the girls screams that get to me. Although I know deep down that they are struggling like Steve and I are struggling. What do I do when he walks by and hits me? I know its not hard; it doesn’t hurt.  It is aggravating and annoying, not abusive. What do I do when he snatches my cereal bowl? 

With us parents, he isn’t as physical.  It’s directed elsewhere. Kicking the counter as he sits on the stool.  We try to ignore it. But he does it louder and faster and louder and faster and LOUDER AND FASTER AND LOUDER AND FASTER AND LOUDER AND FASTER until we can’t ignore it and ask him to stop. And he will stop because I don’t think he really wants to be doing it.  And he really isn’t trying to be annoying.  

After he has stopped for about a minute, he will start tapping his cereal bowl with his spoon. First he taps the bowl, then the counter, then the cereal box. We are trying to ignore it, because it really isn’t that bad, and we don’t want to constantly be negative. But then it gets to be louder and faster and he’s tapping more things and wiggling his body and he just can’t stop and the milk ends up spilled all over the counter. 

So there is fussing about that and telling him to JUST BE STILL.  He is up because the milk is on the chair and walking around the room eating bites. We tell him to sit down and he sits down but forgets thirty seconds later and is trying to eat part of his breakfast while he is walking the top of the back of the couch as if on a high wire. He hasn’t eaten much, he is barely at an acceptable weight and soon his medicine will kick in. 

The medicine that will calm him. The medicine that will help him control his body.  The ironical (is that a word) medicine that is a stimulant, yet slows our boy to a normal speed. The medicine that we fret about giving him, wondering what the long term affects will be.  The medicine that makes him not hungry. The medicine that makes him go all day without eating.

His attention deficit disorder also makes him not able to read his body signals, which affects everything from eating to running to talking. So at some point, our happy boy turns instantly into a starving, crabby, not functioning human being because he hasn’t had anything to eat. 

With his medicine, he is successful at home and at school.  He doesn’t get yelled at, fussed at, and most interactions are positive and he is able to be the person he wants to be for about 6-8 hours. He has dyslexia, and school is not his strong suit, so this medicine is nearly a miracle in this sense. 

He is very physical, and very athletic.  His medicine slows him down, makes his reactions slower. This is not a bonus in the sports arena. Except it helps him focus, and stay in the game. 

He doesn’t like his medicine.  Not because of how it makes him feel, but because he knows we don’t like to give it to him.  He knows we are torn; we wish he didn’t need it. He wants us to be proud of him.  He wants to please us.  He senses that it is a bad thing to need this medicine. 

At a conference we attended yesterday, my eyes welled with tears at what my child is going through.  He wants to feel normal. He wants to settle down.  He wants to do well.  He doesn’t want to have a million negative interactions.  From what I understand, the serotonin (I think) needs to get from cell to cell to help us make good decisions, to help our brain function fully, to help us concentrate. In the ADHD brain, the serotonin can not make this transfer.  That is why stimulants help.  They stimulate the chemicals in the brain to make this transfer from cell to cell faster, which in turns make them able to make better judgements and stay focused. He literally needs stimulating to slow down. 

So when he is jumping, or kicking his foot on the counter, or tapping things, or chanting...... he is literally trying to jump start his body.  He is not trying to be annoying.  He doesn’t understand what is going on. 

So, back to him now not sitting at breakfast.  He has had several admonitions already and he hasn’t been up 15 minutes. He is upset and says he doesn’t want to eat. This happens many mornings.  His Dad is telling him he needs to eat.  He is a very little guy, and we know  he wont eat the rest of the day. They get into power struggles nearly every morning. 

If we give him his medicine before breakfast, he won’t eat at all.  The alternative is these struggles every morning. For several months, we had him sit at the table by himself to eat breakfast, away from the girls.  This seemed to work better for everyone, until I was talking with him one night in bed and he told me how much it hurts him not to be able to just sit and have breakfast with his family before he goes to school. He feels punished and isolated. 

I often feel like a terrible parent who can’t control her kids.  I have tried so many things. Somehow I need to change my attitude. I need to accept we have a different family and are fighting different challenges than most.  I am embarrassed that we can’t sit down and have a meal even though our kids are 12, 10, and 8. I need to let go of what others think. Almost every meal is a struggle and a negative, barking experience. 

My husband and I went to a talk on ADHD and executive function. They talked a lot about the make up of the brain and the things that didn't happen with ADHD - like self talk, and the synapses that didn't transfer from one cell to the other to help make less impulsive decisions and that adhd brains had normal feelings but not normal responses and other stuff like this. What we really wanted to know was how to keep Chaucer from dropping his dirty socks on his sisters breakfast plates and how to make sure he had shoes on by the time he got to school and how to teach him the difference between his backpack and a garbage can and how to walk past another person without trying to trip them.

I tried to google ADHD and always get descriptions and symptoms or technical brainy information.  Today I was searching for anecdotal experiences that might sooth my aching heart.  I couldn’t find any, so I sat down to write one of my own. I am having trouble closing this out.  There is no redemption here, no solutions. Just an ever present desire to help my family and my children. I take a minute to breathe deeply and show gratitude for our family. These challenges are better than walking through the world alone.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Searching for a Balance of Truth and Hope

Lindsey wrote an interesting, heartfelt essay about perceptions, misconceptions, and assumptions. Some comments were supportive, others enlightening. One stood out to me. It said something along the lines of why would we want to read about all the grueling crap (her words were more eloquent than this) - we already have this in our lives and don’t need to read more - its neither lovely nor inspiring to read. 

I remember a discussion years ago about Billy Joel’s song “Goodnight Saigon.” It never became a big hit in the United States or England, despite the powerful emotions it evoked. They were painful, too much of a harsh reality.  

In a writing class, the teacher gave some advice to a classmate. “You have had some bad things happen to you, but you can’t vomit on your readers.  They have had bad things happen to them as well. You must provide some sort of resolution or they will leave.” 

A therapist once told me that those that have harmed you must have a way out. There always has to be a way for them to make amends to you, just as there has to be a way for you to make amends to those you hurt.  There must be a way to move forward or everyone is stuck.

We all need hope.  We all need balance, and are constantly searching for it. We choose who we read. I try to choose writers that offer the right balance of truth and hope and light for me.

Herein lies one of the paradoxes in most writing: You can not tell the whole truth if you want to get to the real truth. I consider truth to be infinite.  Truth is relative and multi dimensional. In the written word, it is about the writer and the reader and their own previous experiences. I can write the sky is a beautiful blue that is a replica of my daughters eyes. You may look at the sky and realize its the color of your fathers eyes and may take you down a road of wonderful memories.  I have chosen the truthful path of a pleasant connection I have made. 

Just because I didn’t tell you that the blue is also the color of the water that a dear friend drowned in a few years ago doesn’t mean it isn’t there and I didn’t think about it. I might tell you about it later, and I might not. Short essay writing, blog posts, even books are just parts of the story.  That is all they can ever be.   

Monday, June 3, 2013

No Lost Irony

The irony is not lost on me of my latest consequence to my almost 13 year old daughter. The end of the year middle school celebration is a trip to Valley Fair, an amusement park full of rides and all other sorts of stimulation in which no one over the age of 20 should be subjected. My daughter does not want to go. 

I know, I know.  Some kids don’t like that sort of thing.  They are nervous in groups or it could get overwhelming. Some kids don’t have that sort of stamina. And blah, blah, blah other reasons. My kid IS NOT one of those. She is very social, has tons of stamina, and has always needed less sleep than anyone I know. 

But something happened this year. She stopped wanting to do group things, whether they were school sponsored or not.  It took a little while for us first time parents of a pre teenager to figure it out.  And by figure it out, I mean to take notice of it. She did a few things, but for the most part she stayed home.  

She is a complicated being and refuses to fit in any box that might help us understand her better. Although she is social and energetic, she often sits on the edge and watches.  She loves being in range of the action, loves to feel the buzz. But she likes to scope it out, watch others, get a good feel for whats going on in the fray. I must remember that she has always been like this.  She didn’t walk until she was 16 months old, but when she did she stood up and walked across the room and never fell. At her earliest Easter egg hunt, she stood and watched all the kids gather eggs rather then get eggs herself.  When she was learning to ski, her favorite part was hanging out in the lodge and watching everyone around her. 

I must remember that she was in the same small campus with the same few kids for seven years and middle school is a new routine, new kids, new campus. So, she has probably just been following her normal mode of operation as she gets acclimated to middle school. 

She is also an extrovert that has an incredible amount of energy that is not easily harnessed. This means that as a young child, she never played with toys but would rather us sit and juggle for her. Her energy is more emotional than physical. She loves to be engaged with people ALL THE TIME. 

When they were little and home all day, we would often do different activities together, like go to a park or go to a zoo or a museum.  When we came home, my other two children and myself would need to decompress, doing our own quiet thing.  My oldest was never able to do this.  She would be so energized by the outside world that when we came home, she had twice as much energy as before. She would go from me, and then to each of the other kids ready to do another major endeavor - write a play, make an obstacle course, wash cars, have a home art show. And we wanted to sit and read or have a quiet snack on the deck and watch how the leaves fell from the tree. 

Friday night, I took her to a friends dance recital that was amazing.  It was two hours of incredible dancing with loud, electrified music.  She wanted to stay afterwards and hand deliver six roses to each of her six friends in the show.  She wanted to congratulate them and inhale the after show excitement. They were all going out for ice cream afterwards and I just didn’t have the energy.  She was disappointed but handled it well and thanked me for taking her. 

I came home to melt into facebook or mindless internet surfing while she started cooking a full dinner at ten pm. She kept asking and wanting to review each piece and I had to pay attention to every move she wanted to try to emulate.  I always feel bad about these moments because I don’t want to deflate her.  I try to find the energy.  Finally I asked her, “Do you know what introverts and extroverts are?” 

She replied, “Yea.  Introverts are bad. And extroverts are good.” 

I smile and wonder if I even have the strength to go there. I try. “Well, no.  Extroverts love going out to events and get energized by all the activity and people around them.  It makes them want to do more.  Introverts can go and enjoy it, but they are recharged by coming home and being quiet and alone.  Thats what gives them more energy.” 

She replies, “Like I said.  Extroverts are better. Of course those things give me energy. And excite me.  Why would anyone want to be alone after something like that?”

I didn’t expect her to get it, but I thought an introduction was appropriate. I just told her the two were different and neither was better.  I asked her just to start noticing the difference. 

School is out this week and I am not ready. Several life changes have taken over the last month and I am not as prepared or, sadly, as excited as I usually am for summer. Yesterday, she needed so much and was so full of energy that it almost brought me to tears wondering how I was going to handle it this summer. 

So, yesterday, she could not entertain herself for longer than 10 minutes without needing me.  And then, when I couldn’t or wouldn’t oblige, the typical mouthiness of a preteen started to take over. After several warnings, I issued my judgement:

You will go to Valley Fair on Tuesday with the school. I need that last day of energy gathering before the launch into summer.

So, no, the irony of my child’s consequence of being forced to go on an all day, end of the year fun celebration to an amusement park is not lost on me. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

It's Not Fair

Earlier this week, a group of boys chose to play a stupid game that some ten year old boys might play.  It’s called “pantsing” in which one tries to pull down the pants of another.  Several kids did it, several kids got “pants-ed”.  My son happened to pants a child who, while actively participating, got very upset that it happened to him. He told his mother, who told the school.  The end result was my son having to miss an end of the year all day school trip and stay behind with the associate director of the school. One other child also had to stay behind.  The others involved did not have to stay behind or have any consequences. 

I agreed that he should have punished.  This was a very safe place for him to learn the lesson that actions have consequences. I did not agree that he was the only one to suffer the consequences because all the boys were playing. 

“It’s not fair,” I said to the director.  A woman I admire and have known and trusted for years, she could not hold back her disbelief that this 42 year old woman was using the words of a first grader. So she took an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper and filled the page with these words:  KNOWING WHEN TO STOP.

My son was waiting outside because I didn’t want him to focus on the not fair part.  I wanted him to focus on his actions and only he is responsible for them; and another child was hurt and embarrassed by his actions. The director asked that we be silent as she delivered his consequences. He walked in and sat in the hot seat, read her piece of paper, and kept his eyes down as she explained that he was getting consequences because he didn’t stop.  

I left the school in a hurry because I was angry, frustrated, sad, and couldn’t get over the fact that IT WASN’T FAIR. 

Over those three exhausting days, I had some very rich conversations with my husband, friends and son.  I called friends whose opinions I respect and literally cut and pasted some of these conversations back to my son.  I saw my son open, learn, evolve in front of my eyes.  

When I first asked my son about it, he responded, “But Nathan told me to do it.” I got to reiterate my regular mantra that “You, and only you are responsible for your actions.” This actually wasn’t that rich of a conversation because it was more like my regular preaching and him putting up with it.  I still have hope that one day it will seep in and register. 

But it was an opener. He asked, “Would you have called the school if I had my pants pulled down?”  

I pause and think before I slowly answer. “No.  But I would call the school if you were really hurt and feeling unsafe and thats why Mike’s mother called.  I would have asked you more questions so I could understand the circumstances. Once I understood that boys were all playing a game and laughing and having fun and then you got upset because it happened to you, I would tell you that now you know not to play that game. I would give you a hug and tell you that I am so sorry you got embarrassed, but I would point out that was part of the game you chose to engage in. I would ask you to think about this the next time a situation like this arose.”

My son then said, “Mike always does that. He always plays and then when he doesn’t like it or he gets tagged or something doesn’t go his way, he goes and tells and we get in trouble.  That’s why no one wants to play with him.” 

I refocused the discussion on his choices. “Do you understand that one of your classmates was hurt, humiliated, and embarrassed because of your actions?” My son  just wasn’t able to go there yet. 

“Mom, it was a game. It happened to Nathan and Jake and Tom. They didn’t cry. They laughed. Mike (the victim) even laughed so hard when it happened to them.  The only reason it didn’t happen to me is because I was wearing tight pants.” 

I tried a different lesson. “So you still don’t know how it felt to have your pants pulled down.  You don’t know what it feels like. Every person is sensitive to different things. These were his feelings. Yes, he was involved. Yes, it was his actions that put him there. But he also had valid feelings that he may not have been expecting. We all have our touchpoints and they need to be respected.” 

The ease of these many conversations ebbed and flowed over the three days. Some topics were easier than others. I was angry about the consequences and angry about how this child and mother and the school handled it.  I was trying to teach my son that people handled situations differently, yet I was mad they wouldn’t handle like I would. 

At one point, I realized the director was not going to change her position and the group would not be treated the same. I had to come to peace with it.  I could not let it absorb me anymore. I decided to use her lesson. My son does get in the middle of things, and yes, he does need to learn when to stop. This is an issue for him. Painful and frustrating, but the truth. We had long talks about KNOWING WHEN TO STOP. That very night he took my daughters head bands and started shooting them like rubber bands at her.  She asked him to “please stop” several times. I came up and gently reminded him that knowing when to stop is the lesson we are working on.  He responded immediately and picked up the headbands. 

My goal as a parent is not only to protect them, but to teach them to make the right choices when I am not around. He did not respond to his sisters requests, but when I used these words with him, it hit home  immediately. I explained to try to remember these words and listen to others. 

When I tucked him in bed, he spoke of thinking about stopping.  He was remorseful, but not saying much, but not wanting me to leave. I said I was thankful that the director took the time to write that down for us and explain that part.  It will help you as you grow up. I spoke of a pack mentality and how we sometimes make decisions in a group that we wouldn’t necessarily make on our own. I talked about the challenges coming his way the next few years.  I said there would be situations involving drinking and drugs and he could come back to this moment and remember  his lesson about KNOWING WHEN TO STOP. I talked about listening to girls and being physical with them and he better KNOW WHEN TO STOP and listen to her words.

He said, “Mom, I just don’t understand why I have to stay back and the others don’t.  It’s not fair.” Ahhhhh. My touchpoint. I had spoken with a friend earlier that day about this and I used her words. “Let’s try not to use the word fair. Fair is relative. Everyone has different ideas about what fair means. I will tell you this.  If I was the director, I would not have made that decision. I would have had all the boys have a consequence. But I am not the director.  She is and it is her decision to make and we have to abide by it because she is in charge.”  He has not mentioned this again.

The next afternoon I picked him up from school and we headed out quickly.  I was a little tired of all the deep conversations and the mood of the week, so I said, “Did you pants anyone today?”  My very funny lighthearted boy seriously told me, “It isn’t funny, Mom.” 
He was clearly hurting so I needed to turn it back on and be present for him. 

“Here’s the deal, Mom.  I feel really bad that Mike was embarrassed and hurt.  I really do.  And it doesn’t feel good that I was the reason he felt that way.  But I am still mad. I am mad that I have to stay back and the others don’t.  I am mad that he plays and then runs and tells.  I am mad that I am taking all the blame.  I wanted to apologize to him but I didn’t know if I could because I was mad.”

“What do you mean, you didn’t know if you could?”

“Well, would it still be sincere? If I have mad feelings while I’m saying I’m sorry. Can I have both of those feelings at the same time?”

My eyes became an instant dam.  It took everything to hold back the tears. How was he able to verbalize this? I finally said, “ Yes.  I think you can hold both feelings at the same time.  As a matter of fact, you just helped me to understand my feelings. That is exactly how I feel.” 

As I was driving him to school today, to spend the day with the director while all his classmates attended the field trip, these were my words:  “Here is my assessment of the week:  I think a group of boys was playing a silly game, and boys will be boys. I don’t think it was as big of a deal as its turned out to be. I think we are lucky that we got to learn some good lessons and have good discussions. We cried tears together and we got mad together and at each other. You got to learn about knowing when to stop and will always have that lesson in your toolbox.”

And finally I said:

You are my son and I love you deeply. I love your personality.  I love how happy and carefree you are.  I love your boundless energy and your endless enthusiasm. I envy the way you can instantly join  any group and have so many sets of friends. With that personality comes its challenges.  You will be impulsive. You made a mistake. You will make more mistakes.  Forgive yourself.  I love how you are able to admit your culpability, make amends and move on. Your integrity is inspiring. I love how you engage in life and I would not trade your personality for anything. I know it will be a tough day for you and I’m sorry. 

He gave me a hug before he walked into school and said, “It won’t be that bad, Mom. I love you.” 

And all of a sudden, I realized that IT’S NOT FAIR. None of the others had the opportunity to learn such lessons this week. None of the others had so many rich conversations.  No one else got to stop time and watch and experience both the magic and the searing pain of the deepening of their child’s soul before their very eyes. Yes indeed, IT’S NOT FAIR.