Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Breakfast Club

At breakfast the other day, all four kids were sitting around the table eating cereal together.  K started a little question game that entertained the little ones.

"Raise your hand if you're 5 years old."

R raised her hand as high as possible and said, while waving it back and forth, "Me!"

J also raised his hand.  When R noticed this, she scowled at him and waved her had even harder.  "No, me!" she insisted.

"Raise your hand if you're 2 years old."

R raised her hand, "Me!"  She looked around the table and was quite satisfied that no one else was raising their hand.

"Raise your hand if you're 9."

Again, R shot her hand in the air, saying "Me!"  And she told S very firmly NO! when she raised her hand to the same question.  By this time, all the kids were focused on R and her reactions rather than the actual proper responses to the questions.  So they gladly let R believe that she was, indeed, the only one at the table who was 2, 5, 9 and 11 years old.

So they started asking other questions.

"Who likes ice cream?  Who wants to have a cake at their birthday party?"

R continued her "Me!  No, Me!" responses to each and every question.  And she was quite put out when anyone else tried to raise their hand.

So then K decided to change the game in a subtle way.  Such a subtle way that the 2-year-old would likely miss it.

"Who wants no Christmas presents?"  R gladly raised her hand.

"Who wants to go in the lava?  Who wants to be burned in the fire?  Who wants to jump off a cliff?  Who wants to get eaten by sharks?"

"Me!"  R replied to each question with a big, enthusiastic grin.  The three older kids were laughing uproariously and exclaiming in disbelief over R's answers.

"Who wants no candy?"

Finally the question that brought the game to its abrupt conclusion.  For R finally caught on and just sat there, looking around the table at her siblings.  Looking for all the world like that was the most ridiculous question in the world.  Because seriously, what 2, 5, 9, or 11-year-old child would ever want NO candy?!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Father's Day

We've been doing some much needed painting around our house, trying to get it all out of the way before the baby comes.  It has all gone pretty well.  Until we chose green for the kitchen, that is.  The paint chip looked great.  It was a nice color, it looked good against the cabinets and the tile.  That paint chip lied.  Because it DID NOT look good in the least bit once the room was finished.

I loaded up all the kids and kept them out of the house for hours while Shaggy painted . . . and painted . . . and painted . . . and painted.  When we came home, the whole room was done--with the first coat, at least.  But as soon as I walked into the kitchen, a horrible, sick feeling hit me.  I knew that the color WAS NOT going to work. 

But because Shaggy had spent his entire Saturday working on it, I had to start out with subtle comments and then work my way up to the whole, "we really have to repaint this."  He went through denial, frustration, apathy, despair until he finally came around to admitting that he really didn't think it worked, either.  Kinda made me wonder why he bothered to finish painting the room in the first place.  Part of a wall should have been enough to realize it wasn't the color that it needed to be.  But I wasn't home, so he just kept truckin' along.

This last weekend was supposed to finish off the painting for us.  We were SO looking forward to being done, to putting the house back together once and for all.  This was a very unwelcome setback.

So we figured, at the very least, we better acknowledge his sacrifice, even though it ended up being in vain.  The girls came up with the idea to make a rice krispy paint scene.  Which was nice and easy, as well as pretty fun to make.  Not to mention the fact that it went down really easy.

K even made a roller, though we ran out of our green "paint."

My kids are unbelievably lucky to have such a terrific dad.  He has so many skills, a huge creative streak, and loves to be totally involved with his kids.  I'm not sure how I lucked out to have such a great guy in my life, but then again, why look a gift horse in the mouth?!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Bravest Kid I Know

Flashback to one year ago.  J was finishing up preschool.  He wasn't talking to any of his classmates.  He mostly only nodded or shook his head in response to his teachers.  He ALWAYS had a hard time when I dropped him off at school and often when I picked him up.

This picture of him with his teacher, was taken on the very last day of school.  THAT was how comfortable he was in that environment AFTER going there twice a week for nine months.  Not so comfortable at all, really.  And yet, he went every time, and even claimed that he really liked preschool, that it was fun.  "Funner than staying home."

That was the year I realized just how brave J was.  It would have been so much easier for him to just stay home.  For me to have let him just stay home.  He wanted to keep things comfortably the same.  Avoid any scenarios that would cause him anxiety.

But MY goal for him was totally and completely incompatible with that.  I wanted him to grow, develop, and eventually, to become self-sufficient.  So I had to push him forward, no matter how hard it was for either one of us.

And he did make progress during his preschool year.  Inch by inch, he scooted closer to the carpet where they had circle time until he was finally able to join them, sitting shoulder to shoulder with his classmates.  After the first couple of weeks, he cooperated in doing all the schoolwork that was asked of him.

Well, except for when they wanted to make a life-sized J out of paper.  No way was he going to lay down and let them trace his body shape.  But he did think it was really funny that another boy in the class pretended to be him and lay down on the paper to be traced.  And he was quite proud of the giant paper J he decorated.  It hung on our door for weeks and weeks after he brought it home.

For anyone else, his progress would have seemed minimal.  For the spectators watching the end of the year performance, it was hard to miss the one kid who turned away from the audience as much as he could, who refused to sing, refused to make any hand motions other than a very tiny twirl of his pointer finger.

But for us, the fact that he stayed up there and didn't just plant his feet and grow roots before he even stepped onto the stage--that was huge.  The fact that his pointer finger made any motion at all in front of hundreds of strangers--that was huge, too.  The fact that he learned some of the names of his classmates and his teachers and would talk about them at home . . . well, that was tremendous.

Tiny things that most kids never even spend a second thinking about would send J into terror mode.  But he never let that terror stop him in his tracks--at least not for too long.  Day in, day out he faced his fears and pushed through them.  He fought a battle within himself.  An unbelievably tough battle, for the ability to control his anxieties.  And little by little, he began to win that battle.

Fast forward to the fall of last year.  Kindergarten loomed ahead of him.  We didn't have to send him.  He could have stayed in preschool for another year.  He hadn't even turned five when the school year started.  But we felt it would be best to keep up the momentum, to build on the progress he'd made in preschool.  So we signed him up, hoping and praying that he would be able to handle school on a daily basis.

There were three different kindergarten classrooms.  But only one of which we felt that he would be able to thrive in.  So I took on the role of one of those pushy parents who simply won't settle for anything less than what they are convinced their child needs.  I wrote a most convincing and persuasive letter to the principal which served its purpose and landed J in the right class with the right teacher.

His first day, he didn't even look back at me as he filed into his classroom.  I felt triumphant for him.

 Throughout the year, he had his ups and downs.  But we managed to get him to school every day that he wasn't too sick to go.  At home, he used his teacher's name freely and would sometimes tell us stories about what the other kids said and did.  He was SO excited to take his bear to school for the teddy bear picnic.   And once he was in his classroom, he walked his bear all around the room, so the bear could see everything.

He went through a lot of different emotional stages as he not only learned to better control his anxieties, but also to shed some of them.  He would sometimes talk about college and adamantly profess that he would never go because he was going to live with me forever.  He would occasionally ask if Daddy could move out so he could just live with me.  For a while, he insisted on giving me "fifty hundred" hugs and kisses before he went to bed and would hug me randomly throughout the day.  He even played the word game where you express just how much you love someone in terms of distance, size, or physical feats.  But he was always adamant that he loved me "tons" more than I loved him.

 I felt like celebrating when he told me  "I like going to school, I just don't like getting ready," and  "A day at school is better than a boring old day at home."

 As the end of the school year came around, we were faced with a field trip to the zoo.  Earlier in the year, I had to accompany him on the bus for his field trip. There was no way he would have gone otherwise.  But for the zoo, I decided to meet him there and have him ride the bus with his class.  I wasn't sure it would work, but he did great.  He didn't look the least bit ruffled as I surreptitiously watched him climb the stairs and take his seat.

 Because I had R with me, we didn't get much of a chance to stay with his classmates until we caught sight of them later in the day.  J made sure we stuck with them like glue at that point.  Later, as we were driving home when it was all over, he told me,  "Mommy, I never want you to come with me to the zoo for a field trip ever again."

 Now I would venture to guess that most parents might be saddened by that statement from one of their children.  I might have felt a little bit sad by it had it come from any of my other children.  But when J said it, the only emotions I felt were pride, joy, and gratitude.  But of course I played it cool and merely responded, "Ok, baby.  If that's what you want.  It's kind of fun to go places with friends, isn't it?"

J has been engaged in a battle with social anxiety for nearly four years.  It has caused him to be noncompliant, to shriek, to throw tantrums, to have meltdowns, to freeze, to deny himself comfort, to avoid a tremendous number of fun things, and to retreat into himself.  It has been a not-so-fun roller coaster ride for our entire family.

But on that day, the day he realized it would be fun to enjoy something with friends WITHOUT me around, that was a milestone of momentous proportions.  It was a day where it was easy to see just how much his brave little heart had accomplished.

At the kindergarten program last week, J was standing comfortably on the stage, shoulder to shoulder with his peers.  He didn't seem to mind at all that there were hundreds of strangers staring up at them.  He zeroed in on my face right away and gave his trademark smile, the one he uses only when he's out in public.  He grins, then immediately tries to hide it by forcing the corners of his mouth down.  But you can still easily see that he's smiling, even though he's trying his best to suppress it.

 He proceeded to make all the hand motions for the songs they had prepared.  He even sang some of the lyrics--the ones he could remember.  And then, the most surprising thing of all, he walked calmly up to the microphone when his turn came and said,  "I'm J, and I want to be a soccer player."  He didn't clench his teeth, making his words unintelligible.  He didn't turn away and speak so softly that you couldn't hear him.  He said it loud and clear, for the whole room to hear.

Most of us have to face our fears at various points in our lives.  But J has had to face them on a daily basis for years.  And he didn't quit, he didn't give up.  He marched on, step by step, gaining ground slowly, but steadily.  THAT is what courage is all about.

Mary Anne Radmacher said,  "Courage doesn't always roar.  Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I'll try again tomorrow."

And that's what J has done all these years.  He's gotten up and tried again, day after day.  And I couldn't be more proud of my son, the bravest kid I know.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Bye-Bye Penny

After a month of running a zoo with 4.5 little monkeys, 2 dogs, 2 lizards, and various creepy crawlies, we decided the puppy had to go. 

It wasn't her fault, of course.  But it just proved too difficult for us to accomodate her puppy behaviors.  Especially now.  With a baby on the way.  A toddler testing the limits of her independence.  And a very long house fix-it list which includes painting various rooms.

As Shaggy loves to point out to me, Charger was a better dog with Penny around.  And it's true.  Undeniable, in fact.  He has way too much pent up energy without his dog buddy to wrestle.  He's downright annoying at times.

But still, our house is much calmer with only one dog.  Gone are the shrieks of, "Penny, NOOOOOO!"  I haven't once walked into the kitchen to find a dog on my table.  There are no new dog teeth marks on ANYTHING.  We haven't had to replace the fence on the other side of our house.  And no kids have been knocked over by dogs who are playing a little too rambunctiously.

It was a tough decision.  We all loved her.  R even told me yesterday, "Penny was my favorite.  But she won't come here anymore."

We're hoping the rescue group can find her a great home where she has another dog to play with, and someone who has the time and energy to train her properly.  A place where she'll be better off than here.  Or at least that's what we tell ourselves when we want to feel better.

We've also been finding great . . . ummm . . . "consolation" . . .  in the realization that R seems to be channeling the essence of Penny.  Or her mischevious nature, at least.  In the last week, we have found her on top of the coffee table, standing on the back of the sofa, on top of the kitchen table, on top of the dresser, on top of the kitchen counter, most of the way up a ladder, and standing IN my bathroom sink. 

And believe me, she was up to no good in each and every one of those places.  We're sort of wondering just how long Penny's spirit will be haunting us.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Only Boy Woes

There are times when I feel a little bad for my one and only son.  Having two older sisters, he has had to endure quite a bit of pink.

Maybe too much.  But for most of his life, he didn't mind at all.  I'm pretty sure it bothered his dad a whole lot more than it bothered him.

Pink water shoes.  Yep, he wore them for the entire summer that year. 

They fit him, and they weren't falling apart.  I just couldn't see the logic behind buying a new pair just because of the color.  He certainly wasn't complaining.  Of course, it helped that he was a little fuzzy on his colors at that age.

Fast forward a few years.  J finds himself with a nice rainbow pink care bear umbrella.  The girls had moved on to adult umbrellas since they fit in their backpacks.  So J inherits this one.

For most of his Kindergarten year, he has used it happily.  I've never heard him complain about it.  He didn't seem embarassed by it even when his classmates caught sight of it.

But his father . . .  well, he reached a point when he just couldn't walk his son, his ONLY son, to school with a pink, care bear umbrella.

So we bought him a new one.  It's blue.  With wonder pets.  J loves it.  And Shaggy no longer has to be embarassed by his pink-umbrella-carrying son.

For the record, Shaggy is also tremendously relieved that J seems to have outgrown the dress-up phase.  At least the part where he'd raid the dress-up box in the girls room for the pinkest/purplest, frilliest, glittery things to put on.  He has graduated to superhero capes, explorer hats and such.

But that still left the pink, barbie scooter.  Which J would ride at every opportunity.  He loved the speed, he couldn't care less about the color.  He even had me bring it to school sometimes when I picked him up so he could ride it home.

Shaggy didn't particularly care for this pink scooter, either.  But as scooters generally cost more than umbrellas, he didn't press the issue.

It would seem from all of this, that I am especially partial to the color pink.  I assure you, nothing could be further from the truth.  I am NOT a huge fan of pink--unless it's mixed with a lot of orange. 

So why all the pink stuff?  Well, I would often find myself at the store shopping for the girls, ready to buy umbrellas, or scooters, or water shoes.  And I would stare at the dismal TWO choices in front of me.  Pink vs. blue.  Barbie vs. Spiderman.  Care Bears vs. Hot Wheels. 

And I would unfailingly choose the item that the girls would actually like.  For them, there was no social expectation, no peer pressure.  They simply liked girly things and would shun whatever didn't happen to fit into that category.  So I was stuck buying the girly version, weather I liked it or not.

When J came a long, he grew up surrounded by all these girly things.  And it was perfectly normal for him to like them.  Because his mother, at least, never made a fuss about it.

For a good year-and-a-half, his self-proclaimed favorite color was pink.  It was quite amusing watching Shaggy cringe every time J made that announcement.  But he knew better than to make a big deal of it.  I had made it crystal clear that J should have the chance to change favorite colors if and when HE was ready, not because he was shamed into it.

This is a pink kazoo that he chose from the treasure chest at school.  He claimed that it helped him go faster on the scooter.  So he rode up and down the sidewalk all afternoon, on his pink scooter, blowing heartily on his pink kazoo.

Well, earlier this year he gave up pink.  His favorite color is now blue--or green, depending on the day. 

He also began showing signs of being embarassed by the pink barbie scooter.  At least when I would bring it to school.  At home, he still didn't care.

Then there came a day when we were walking home from school and he spotted a fluffy dandelion.  He stopped to pick it and told me, "My teacher says that if you blow on these and make a wish, the wish will come true.  Really.  She said it."

Not wanting to interfere with his high regard for his teacher, I asked him if he wanted to make a wish.  He didn't hesitate.  "I wish for a new green scooter to be in the garage when we get home."

That would prove a little tricky.  So I explained that it sometimes took a few days for a wish to get to the wish fairy.  And then it might take her a few days to make the wish come true.

My ploy worked.  He did check the garage when we got home, but didn't seem overly disappointed that there was no new scooter waiting for him. 

Over the course of the next few days, he didn't forget about the wish like he sometimes does.  So I really couldn't ignore it.  Luckily, the event provided Shaggy with the perfect excuse to go buy J a new scooter. 

It ended up being blue, instead of green.  But J didn't seem to even notice the wish fairy's mistake.  It's a brand new scooter.  It's his.  And it's a WHOLE LOT faster than any Barbie scooter EVER.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Work of Eternity

I was at the zoo the other day, on a field trip with J’s kindergarten class.  I was pushing R in the stroller and talking with another mom when she asked me about my pregnancy.  She shook her head and said, “Three?!  You’re brave.”  I laughed and told her that this would actually make five.  To which she responded quite seriously , “You’re crazy.”  She wasn’t smiling.

I am not oblivious of the looks I get when I’m out and about with my whole crew.  Sometimes we’ll get the sympathetic and understanding smile.  But more often I catch people trying to count just how many children I have with me.  And when they notice my belly bulge, they often stare harder or shake their heads.

I suppose, by the world’s standards, I have A LOT of kids.  And I suppose I would be more inclined to explain my choice to have this many children, if the opinion of these people mattered to me at all.

But it doesn’t, not really.  I notice it, but it doesn’t affect my attitude in the least.  I know several families who have six kids, and one who has eight.  Yes, eight.  And they are some of the happiest and most productive people I know.  I may not be eager to join their ranks, but I certainly applaud their efforts.

So I don’t agree with so many of the bystanders in the grocery store.  I don’t think I have an outrageous number of children.  I disagree with the people who make snarky comments about the planet's ability to support a growing population.  Or about social irresponsibility, thrusting too many children onto society.  Or even how there's no way we'll be able to support all these kids through college.

I think I have, or will shortly have, just the right number for me.  A family of seven . . . wow . . . ok, so maybe it is rather large.  But I maintain the belief that it’s the right fit for us.

Do I feel ready for another baby?  Well . . . not really.  But do we ever TRULY feel ready?  I don't think so. We just make the best decision we can with the information we have.  And we pray.  A LOT.  And then we pray some more, just to make sure we understood.

The decision to try for another child was a struggle for me.  I wanted to be done.  That was the easy choice for me.  But we just couldn’t ignore the feeling we both had that our family wasn’t quite complete.  Even though I was itching to get rid of all the baby clothes and toys and carseats and other paraphernalia, I felt that there was someone else, some sweet little soul looking down on us and waiting to join our crazy family.  So when I finally ran out of excuses of why now wasn’t the best time, I allowed myself to be open to the possibility.  It was only then that I was able to lay all my excuses at God's feet and say,  "OK, I'll follow your plan for me.  Instead of the one that I might have made for myself."

And it did take me a while to come around, I will be the first to admit.  But I’ve known for a long while, somewhere deep down, that there was another child for us.  Two Easters ago, I found some great baskets on sale, so I got new ones for all the kids.  But I didn’t just buy four of them, as logic would have dictated.  I bought five.  Because I knew, even if I wasn’t ready to admit it, that we weren't quite done having kids..

I have friends who think I was crazy to ever have more than two.  And while there are days that I agree with them, they are outnumbered by the days I can see the benefits of having a large family.  My older girls are learning lessons about patience, tolerance, selflessness, responsibility and joy that they would miss if we had stopped at two, or even three kids.  J, whose whole world revolves around his immediate family, is learning lessons about sharing, socialization and play that he can’t learn outside our home because he refuses to engage with most other people.  And little R, well, she’s learning that she has a whole mob of people who love her and help take care of her.  And she entertains us all in return.

Do I think everyone should have a large family? Of course not.  Most parents, I think, have an intuitive knowledge of what their limits are.  And they use that knowledge to make the best decision for their families.

As I was struggling with the decision to have another child, I didn't stop to consider what the world would think.  I didn't base it on how I will pay for their college education or how conveniently they’ll fit into my life.  Honestly, kids NEVER fit conveniently into someone’s life.  Our lives are changed and molded to fit around their needs.  Which is good for us--or good for me, anyway.  I’ve long felt that motherhood is my refiner’s fire.  It’s hard, uncomfortable, and utterly exhausting, but it’s the process that is slowly and agonizingly purging many of my flaws.  They’re being melted away through the mothering process.  And I truly believe that I will emerge from this experience a better, stronger person.

Provided that I survive it, of course, with my sanity intact.  Which, in all honesty, may come into question in the coming months.  Nevertheless, I will soldier on.

A few months ago, I heard someone talking about raising children and the struggles that go with it.  He said, “This is the work of eternity.”  The phrase stuck with me, expressing some truth that resonated with my approach to family.  We are raising the next generation, who will raise the generation after that, and so on.  What we do within the walls of our homes not only impacts the future, but shapes and defines it.  I believe that there is NOTHING that I can personally do, that will make a greater difference in the world than raising my children.  All FIVE of my children.

So why am I writing all of this?  Mostly just for myself, to remind me of why I’m doing this, of why I’m willing to endure the newborn phase one last time.  Something to think about during all the sleepless nights in my future.  Heaven knows there will be enough of them!