Monday, May 20, 2013
Written in February 28, 2007, when we added Child #14.
The call just came. Actually, it came yesterday afternoon. Due to circumstances beyond her control, the seven-year-old sibling of three of our current long-term foster children needs a new home. I knew that we would take her because our mission has always been to keep sibling groups together. But our routine life is so busy, I don’t even get a chance to tell my husband until early the next morning, just as he wakes up.
“Honey, I forgot to tell you that we have a new child coming next week," I mention casually. "Actually, we know her. We have been taking her siblings to visit her and she’s the one that stayed here at Christmas and a few other times this past year."
“Okay,” he murmurs, as if I just announced that I was going to run to the store to pick up another 4 gallons of milk for breakfast.
This is so strange. When did adding another long-term child to the family become so routine that the entire conversation takes less time than brushing my teeth?
“She’ll be here March 6.” I tried to get the current foster mom to hold on until March 21 so that we can have a little more time to adjust to our latest models -- our 2-week-old grandchild and our 20-year-old college student that just moved back home -- but it doesn’t work out.
“How does she feel about it?” he inquires.
“Oh, I think she’s excited. She’ll get to be with her siblings and niece and she loves them,” I say hopefully.
So, we are now officially parenting 14 children, plus a grandchild at least 2 weekends a month.
The new one is a real cutie – but active. Things will be very different in a few days. She will arrive in the midst of the unstoppable routine of our daily lives. Yet another child joining us with no preparation, no real thought… just an acceptance that we are parents again.
People keep asking me if I feel stressed. I should be. And usually I am. But right now I’m just taking each minute as it comes. There is a point at which it is no longer possible to remain in control. To plan. To predict. I don’t know exactly which child caused me to realize this – but I finally did.
More times than not – which is better than when I was younger and I thought I had it all under control – I can actually remember that lesson and I just go with the flow.
Postscript: In 2011, we adopted this child and her siblings.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
My 20-year-old is devastated with her life right now. Due to circumstances beyond her control, she’s had to temporarily drop out of school and she misses college life. She’s also worried about relationships. One relationship in particular.
I give her some wonderful advice straight from the bible. "Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" Matt 6:25-27 NIV
Unfortunately, she asks me the obvious question. “Okay. But how am I supposed to do that?”
“Aww crud. Why did you have to ruin the moment and ask me such a difficult question when I had a pat little answer all ready for you?” I ruminate.
Sometimes mother’s don’t have enough of whatever it takes to look smarter than we really are. I can usually manage it, but this time I just stared down for a minute thinking to myself, “When I’m really upset, I can’t stop worrying. It seems easy when I am not worried. When I actually know that I’m not in control. But it is so darn difficult when I think I should have everything under control.”
How much sense does that make? Such great logic from the mind of a former attorney (me). Okay, so I’m giving her good advice, but I have absolutely no idea how to execute the plan when there really is something that bothers me.” My mind continues with a free flow of ideas but I have no pat little answers this time.
What is a mother to do? I simply look at her and say, “Actually honey, I have no idea. It’s a whole lot easier for me to tell you what to do than to actually do it. But I know it’s good advice because God said it. Does that help?”
“Yea. But how am I supposed to do that?” she repeats as if I have said nothing to appease her worries.
I pause again and my then 16-year-old, whose sitting in the next room yells, “Mom, I think she’s saying, ‘The concept is grasped. It’s the execution that is a little elusive.’”
Friday, May 17, 2013
A Letter to My Pre-Teen and Teen Children: Written To Clarify My Own Thoughts, But Documented So That One Day You Might Understand Me Better
Note: This letter was written 13 years ago, very early in my foster parent journey and shortly after we added four young teens to our family (ages 11-14). I didn't think about it much then, but because each girl professed to be a Christian when she came to live with us, it didn't feel like we were forcing our religion down their throats. They were searching for answers. Today, my strong views might be viewed with more skepticism or criticism.
As I re-read it - having fostered and and adopted another 30 or so kids, I realize I have mellowed somewhat, but my views have been fairly consistent. I still parent according to the needs of each child, and I expose them to the world when I think that they are ready, but because what I thought was based in Truth, not much has changed.
October 7, 2000
As I sit here, away from the challenges of everyday life, I find myself thinking of my role as the mother of our family. Perhaps this letter is more for me than you – but I hope that you will keep it in a special place and read it from time to time. I want it to be a reminder of my hopes and dreams for your life. Also, I know that some of this won’t mean much to you now. But I want to say it over and over again so that one day it will make sense.
Let me begin with our roles, which may not be clear at this stage. As I have told you before, I consider you my daughters and I treat you that way. To me, that means that even though I don’t know whether you will be a part of our family for six (6) months or 60 years – my intent is to give you the same love, opportunities and guidance that I give the children that I know are mine forever. Likewise, I expect the same of you that I do of them – that you do the best that you can.
That places me in the role of mom. I know that I could never replace the relationship with your mom, nor would I want to do so. That is a unique and special relationship what deserves to be protected, which is what I will try to do.
But, in our rather unique family, I am the mom and our relationship is that of mother and daughter. And that is what I have been thinking about. Why am I doing this job? What are my goals as a mom for nine (9) children?
In general, my goal is to provide a safe, comforting, loving, nurturing home where you can learn, make mistakes and eventually make your own decisions about your life and the directions it will take. To create that environment, I must protect you from others who may hurt you. Sometimes I even have to protect you from yourself.
That may be difficult for you to understand because at some level, each of you feels capable of taking care of yourself. That is normal and a good sign that you are like most other teen-agers in our society. The good news is that if I am able to protect you from the opportunity to make poor decisions for a few more years, you will discover for yourself how much more mature and wise you will be once it is time for you to be independent and make your own decisions. (In other words, you will realize that you don’t have all the answers!)
I told you a few weeks ago that some of the issues I am dealing with are new to me and that ya’ll need to understand that I am not perfect and not every decision that I make will be the “right” one. God didn’t make me a perfect mother, but I do believe that He is the one that made me your mother for this period in your life.
God tells us that He knew you before He formed you in your mother’s womb and he set you apart. Jeremiah 1:5. And For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD , plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
God knows everything that has or will ever happen to you and He has you exactly where he wants you right now. Your job is to stay within God’s will and His protection. When you disobey or ignore God, things do not go well for you – because you are living the life you want, not the one that God had planned for you.
I have no idea why God planned for us to connect at this point in our lives – but I believe that He has a purpose. Our job is to follow His lead. He doesn’t tell me exactly what to do everyday, but He does give me guidance – when I’m willing to listen.
For example, I know that I [along with my husband] am responsible for “training and teaching” you in the way you should go so that “when you are old you will not depart from it.”
I also know that God has a plan for your protection, which depends, in part, on your obedience to the rules and boundaries that dad and I set for you. Basically, that means that we love you and that we use the wisdom God has given us to parent you. If you follow the rules and stay within the boundaries, you will be protected from what can harm you. If you choose to disobey, then there is no protection and you are likely to get hurt.
Now, we understand that you will test those boundaries and push their limits and that is part of growing up. But, if you choose to ignore the limits, you are choosing to take risks that are not okay with God.
So, what does all this stuff mean to us? I look at it this way:
You are teen-agers and you have already experienced more in life than some will face over a lifetime. You have been exposed to much that is horrible and terrible in this world and you have not seen enough good. My choices for you are designed for the purpose of showing you what else is out there.
So, when I say “no” to Halloween parties because we are in the midst of spiritual battles, I’m not trying to hide it from you. I’m trying to teach you what it took be 35 years to learn … sometimes and sometimes all the time, it is dangerous. Moreover, if you fill your mind with the bad stuff it will continually come back to haunt you. Satan loves the bad stuff and he wants to use it against you whenever he can.
I know that you have seen every movie possible. I understand that prior to living with us you had no restrictions whatsoever on what you watched or participated in. But this is a new opportunity and new expectations.
That means that when I allow you to watch the hacksaw murderer chase the young girl through the woods and kill her – I allow that visual image into your head. Then, when you are alone one night, Satan can use that image to terrify you when there is no rational reason for you to be fearful. That may sound crazy to you, but you must trust that I speak from experience.
There is a verse I have heard all my life and it never mean much to me until this summer. It says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me – put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippeans 4:8.
Ironically, when I opened a friend’s bible to copy that verse, the following words were handwritten in the front: “Change you thoughts and you will change the world.”
What I realized this summer, just weeks before your joined our family, is that it does matter who your friends are, what you watch on television, what books you read, what you see in movies, and how you think, because these experiences become a part of you. If you fill yourself with the bad stuff – the bad stuff is what you get. If you fill your mind and heart with good stuff – you get more of the good stuff.
The idea made me think of our Build-A-Bear experience the first night some of you joined our family. If you built a bear and filled it with soft cotton or fluffy feathers you would have snuggly, comforting bear that you could sleep with, cuddle and lay your head upon. But if you fill your bear with rocks and thorns and sticks, it may still look like a cute, cuddly bear – but you wouldn’t get much joy or pleasure from it, nor would it be capable of giving it – even if you wanted it too.
That means that I may say “no” to a book that you want to read, a television show, a place you want to go or something else, even when you can’t see what is wrong with what you want. And the fact is, I may be wrong. But for now, while I’m trying to protect you, I can take the risk of being wrong because I know that a missed opportunity will not hurt you, but saying “yes” could hurt you. I want to fill you with soft cotton and cuddly feathers, not rocks, sticks, and thorns.
The same applies to dating and relationships. Some of you have already experienced more in your sexual relationships than God intended, but that was your past and God forgives those who ask Him. Some of you have been abused and that has distorted the way you view the sexual relationship God had planned for you. But these are simply facts, nothing more or less, unless you make them that way. Once forgiven by God, sin no longer exists and will not be held against you.
But what you do now that you know that God intended for you to remain pure for your husband does matter to God and to your future husband. Of course, you could fall into sin again and still be forgiven, but there are usually natural consequences related to your sin that God does not necessarily prevent; for example, pregnancy, disease, loneliness, and feelings of unworthiness. These natural consequences will affect the course of your life.
All of this is really the adult way of saying that I don’t want to keep you from relationships with boys so that I can control your life. I do so because I know that you, like most teens, are not ready for the responsibility and emotional commitment to a boy that is not going to be your husband. I know that you must find a way to get your own needs met without a serious boy/girl relationship (I don’t just mean the act of sex.) I believe that friendships are the only form of relationship that you need right now. Anything else is really a poor substitute for what you really need – which is a relationship with God.
Okay, so I admit that it all sound a little preachy – but I’m trying to explain to you why I do what I do in the hopes that you can see how it relates to my hopes and dreams for your future and my responsibility to teach and train you.
Which brings me to another thought, you asked me if someone could be in the middle of really bad stuff without much (Christian) guidance or direction and still turn out okay. The answer is “Absolutely.” But success is the exception, not the rule. This is because when we act alone we tend to follow our own human desires rather than God’s plan … not to mention that we are battling Satan without asking for God’s help. That means that it is much more difficult and highly unusual, but certainly not impossible. Moreover, your success is attributable directly to God.
The reality is that going through the experience may be a blessing that ultimately leads to a stronger, Godlier person. Remember, God always takes the bad and can turn it to good. A verse keeps going through my head:
Consider it pure joy my friends whenever you face trials of any kind, for the testing of your faith develops perseverance and perseverance must finish its work so that you will be complete and full, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4
So to answer the question, I believe that if you were still with your parents and you relied on God’s help you could still become a strong Godly woman.
However, something just occurred to me: God didn’t keep you with your parents. He placed you with our family – so he must have had a different plan for your life. You will still face trials of many kinds in our family – but they will be different that the trials you would have faced had you continued to live with your parents or another foster family.
I don’t know what that really means for you or to you, but just realizing that God could have left you where you were, but he chose to put you with us might mean that you need to be seeking out God’s plan for your life in the situation that you are in right now – as a member of the Lee family.
Perhaps your stay with us will be short, or maybe it will be forever. However, we can’t dwell on the length of our time together – only on what we do with the time that we are given.
I can’t take away what you have already experienced in your relationships, sexuality, failures, and abuse. However, I can provide an environment where you can grow and mature and learns from those experiences. I can do that by setting boundaries, listening to your wants and needs, teaching and guiding you, watching you, checking up on you (even when you don’t want me too) and by following God’s lead.
Ultimately, when you are ready, I want you to choose a path for your life and decide your own beliefs and values. But, until you are ready, I’m asking that you trust me and dad to guide you – knowing that we may make mistakes and poor choices, but that we are trying to follow God’s lead and we are acting out of love and commitment to you – knowing that only certain paths will lead to happiness and contentment and all of them involve God.
So, this is my letter. As I said in the beginning, I wrote it to you – for me – in part to figure out why I feel so passionate about my responsibility to you kids.
Although I may be ornery and cranky at times (okay, a lot of the time), I want you to know that I consider each of you a Gift from God that I must treasure and protect.
I Love You,
P.S. Although dad is not likely to write you a letter like this, we talk about our children every day. We discuss what’s best for each of you; what we do wrong; how we can best help and more. This letter is about my role as mother; however, I can’t (and don’t) do any of my jobs without my husband. He is a key element in this family.
Thursday, May 9, 2013
The Story of My Life
(Written 6 years ago. Not much has changed. Except my age and the number of children.)
The sight of my 44-year-old body alongside my husband’s 55-year-old frame lying on the floor with a flashlight focused under two bookshelves and a computer table is a picture I don't recommend putting into your head. But we're on a mission. Together. Come to think of it – we haven't been alone together in quite some time.
Anyway. We're looking for a lost book. I didn't lose it. It must have lost itself. I'm absolutely positively sure that I had it in my possession just a few days ago. It was sitting on my desk on top of 6 piles of "Needs You/Requires More" stuff. Isn't that the story of my life? The papers are on my desk because they aren't in the trash, which is where all the unnecessary stuff goes. I'm sure the book is not in the trash, but I look anyway.
I'm a determined person. I don't like to be beat. Especially by a lost book that I know I saw on my desk. My mind won't stop racing. I retrace every step since last Saturday. That's a heck of a lot of steps. I vaguely remember wanting to read the book before teaching my class, but I never actually read it. I suggest that the kids look in the car.
My mind won't let me let this one go. I've been looking for 4 hours – not straight mind you – but for 4 hours every spare thought is on the location of the book. It’s not just about the book anymore. It’s the principal of the thing.
I even offered to pay $2 to the lucky finder. Before I could get the word "pay" out of my mouth, I have 4 volunteers – including my husband. Money is scarce around here. But my sanity is even more scarce. It's worth the entire two bucks.
You can tell a lot about perseverance and determination by this task. Three of the four lookers spend the next 15 minutes looking diligently. In the car, under tables, over the river, through the woods. But then they fizzle out.
Only one remains in the race. Poor kid. I mean that quite literally – she really wants the two bucks. And she continues to look for the next hour. I wanted to give her the money just for her determination. But I was scared that she would stop looking and I just wanted to find my book.
One day later: My astute readers surely recall my mentioning that the kids looked in the car . Actually, three kids looked in the car. But when I put my belongings in the car the next morning, guess what I found between my seat and the middle compartment?
Okay. I admit that my vague recollection was accurate. I probably picked up the book and took it to the car hoping to read it in between driving, teaching and shopping. But that's not the point. How could three kids spend a combined total of an hour and forty-five minutes looking for a book that was the first thing I saw when I got into the car? I think that's the story of my life?
I could look on the bright side. I got some quality time with my husband.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Life has a funny sense of humor. Today, while searching for something I had written earlier about mothering foster children, I ran across this letter. It was written by Heather, our first adopted daughter, who died in a car accident a little over two years ago. Her words reminded me of the struggles we had in our relationship, but also the importance and value of sticking around through all the challenging times when what I really wanted to do was run away and hide from the difficulties. I would gladly trade all those hard times for a little more time with her.
May 6, 2009
She’s the mom of way too many, the greatest debate coach in the region, and the best person I know. I could say no words that would truly explain what I think of you.
I don’t think I noticed how much you meant to me until I found myself begging God that you wouldn’t give up on me. I know that our relationship still isn’t perfected but I trust that God has it in His hands.
Mother’s Day is such a hard day for me, because I feel like I’ve never been the daughter to you that you’ve always wanted. I guess…I guess I get a taste of how you feel only just one day a yr. Because I know I always make you feel like you’re not the mom I want….
Can I take it all back? Can I please just erase anything I’ve ever said to hurt you or tear you down?
My life…has been a mess but now that I’m finally turning it around I hate that I’ve caused you any trouble. All the late night conversations and dealing with my teenage yrs…
Not only do I not know how you do it,but I don’t understand why you still do!
But that mom, that’s what I’m sooo greatful for. I wish that I could express that to you every day....
I wish for a lot of things though… I wish that you had more time alone with yourself…so you can think and get organized.
I wish that I wasn’t so self absorbed and was actually more of a help then a pain…
But those are just the many things you realize as you grow up. I’m sixteen yrs old. Young and beginning on my journey to face the world alone….it’s kinda freak.
What am I gunna do without you?
You’ve emotionally guided my every step for so long and created the foundation I lacked - it’s overwhelming to think I’m gunna have to do it all by myself one day.
Those are the days I’ll be thankful for you the most. God didn’t give me a mom who did everything for me on purpose. He gave me you. Which is sooo much better.
As much time as I spend questioning God, I think he laughs under his breath…He’s just got it all worked out.
He gave you to me to teach you patience, I’m sure. I think I’ve presented you a completely different aspect of life.
I still remember the first night I met you in Missouri (she was 6-years old an in an adoptive home that didn't want to keep her). You didn’t phase me a bit. I thought you’d be gone in no time. I played that game way too many times, I knew how to win.
But life has proven me wrong. I can’t win everything and I can’t do it all by myself.
This is just a letter I’m writing you that will get read a couple times and put under a stack of books or something…but I just want you to know…you mean the world to me mom. I’m way lucky to have you, even if I wouldn’t have picked you out for myself. I pray that our relationship will heal over the years and that one day I’ll be able to understand how much you love me. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.
There’s lyrics are all over the page of songs that say things that make me think of you. But here’s one of my favorite songs that I have dedicated to you. Every word of this song is to you.
How Have We Come This Far by Wavorly
In the beginning when all this was something new
I was younger
They say when you’re older you have it figured out
Did I take it for granted?
How do you see right through my faults?
Turning around was never so hard
Until I found us far apart
Turning it over I’m left to wonder
How have we come this far?
Hands that are reaching
To a world that’s turned away from you
Truth that is sobering
Your love will never cease finding the lost ones
Letting go of all my pain
Falling down is oh, so hard
I am torn, I am bruised
Finding grace in every scar
I am whole, I am new
I love you,
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Today I proved I’m human. Flawed. Screwed up. Exhausted. Weary. And in desperate need. It has been an emotional roller coaster all day long.
For the past few days, one of my girls has been reliving past memories. Asking questions. Wondering whether she was loved. Thinking about all the what if’s.
Yesterday, she cried. A lot. Today, she and I processed and she let out some really hard things that have been locked inside for quite a while. She was able to speak and write words that she has never let out before. As a bonus, she told me that she was really glad to be part of our family and that we were great. And I got to be there when it happened. That is special and important. But it is also hard and draining. So, in a weird way that was both a high and a low.
One of my younger children, who is just beginning to understand what it means to be adopted, is rebelling against the idea that I’m in the role of mom to him. He has called me Nanna since birth. I raised his mamma as a teenager and we didn’t know then that she would not parent her children.
Anyway, we talk about her frequently, although he has probably only seen her 20 times in his life. He is trying to discover whether there is any power in shouting at me when he is being reprimanded, “I am not your son and you are not my mother.”
I hear those kinds of words fairly routinely in my house. Each adopted/foster child goes through that stage at least once (ages 5-8) and sometimes twice (ages 12-15). I usually don’t take it personally, but today was already a hard day. I ignored it and didn’t respond – so as not to give it power -- but it hurt. Intellectually, I know that he is simply trying to divert the conversation away from his trouble. Thankfully, that strategy requires a certain level of intelligence, which I value, but it still sucks. That was a low.
I threw my low back out a week ago and have been struggling to bend over to pick up stuff and carry children. My 8-month-old is crawling, standing and eating every single item he can find to put into his mouth. Keeping the floor clean is a full-time job and I need more help than ever from my kids.
This morning, I was determined to get out of the house without leaving a mess behind. After a full day of teaching at our home school coop, I have to come home and start dinner the second I walk in the door. Walking into a mess knowing that I can’t put the baby down feels overwhelming.
So I make what I think is a simple request to 4 children ranging in age from 2 to 13. “Please use these laundry baskets and pick up absolutely every single item that you can see and place them in the basket. That includes toys, clothes, trash, beads, food, paper, bottles, cups, shoes, diapers, headbands, rubber bands, paper clips attached to paper airplanes, cat hair … everything. If you can see it with your eyes, I want it picked up.”
If the 2-year-old picked up one item and everyone else picked up the rest, it would average about 10 items per child. That doesn’t seem unreasonable to me.
Moms, you know the reactions.
Groans loud enough for childbirth.
Whines: “I picked up stuff yesterday.” “I dooon’t waaaant tooo.”
Complaints: “My leg hurts.” “I’m hungry.” “It is too hard.”
Idiotic statements: “I don’t see anything.” “We finished already.” “I ammm working,” as the child sits in the middle of the floor playing with the one piece of trash he has managed to locate.
Challenges: “You can’t make me do this.”
Tattling: “Mom, XX isn’t working.” “Nanna, YY just called me a name and won’t help.” “Moooommmmm, she is throwing stuff behind the couch instead of the bucket.”
Must I go on? If you aren’t wanting to pull your hair out simply from reading this, then you are deaf, or you can’t imagine what whines, screeches, groans, complaints, challenges, tattles and idiotic statements actually sound like to a weary mom’s ears.
I snapped. Like the television show with the same title. I needed to vent some of my built up impatience. My snapping usually involves shouting as loud as I can, cursing, and if I’m truly desperate --throwing some object as hard as I can to the floor. Today, it was one of the laundry baskets, which was still empty after 10 minutes of prodding, directing, arguing and shouting.
Actually breaking it is a plus. But it didn’t break this time. Damn. Sometimes it feels good to release my pent up energy by breaking a $3.00 laundry basket. In the scheme of things, it’s a worthless item that can be replaced. I’m passionate and Italian. Throwing a temper tantrum like my 2-year-old is a guilty pleasure. Shouting and throwing things were part of my life growing up and while it certainly made an impression, I was never afraid that I would be hurt. So, on the high/low scale these were lows, but I must admit that slamming the basket to the floor felt really good.
For those of you who were traumatized as a child (or an adult) by a loud, legitimately crazy unsafe person, I’m sorry. I’m not actually unsafe or crazy. I just feel that way sometimes. For those of you who are concerned about the psychological damage to my kids -- rest assured, my kids are NOT terrified by my shenanigans. The little ones hardly notice because they are too busy focusing on themselves, which is part of my frustration to start with. The older ones finally take notice that I have reached my limits and suddenly become sympathetic to my plight. If I reach the point where I cry – which is extremely rare – they all become silent and suddenly helpful.
If I was a manipulator, I would simply cry. But I’m not. And I can’t cry on demand anyway.
Ironically, I feel like crying traumatizes my kids far more than my shouting and cursing and slamming things. Perhaps because seeing me cry is associated with really bad things – like the death of my daughter. Or perhaps it is so rare, that it shocks them. I’m supermom to them. Crying makes them realize that I’m human and fragile and have limits. Crying means that I have really, truly reached my limits and they become afraid that I won’t be able to continue this pace taking care of all of them. And based on my conversation with my adopted daughter today, that is what scares them the most. The thought of losing me.
Today, I cried.
The odd thing is that even snapping, I’m in complete control. My moves are motivated by incredible frustration, but calculated to release the most internal energy while creating the most drama and attention I can get. In a house where there is drama about serious things that involve life or death – my outbursts seems look stupid.
Please, don’t think I’m justifying my actions or recommending that you try this. This won’t make it into a parenting book. But, if an occasional temper tantrum helps you and allows you to cope without hurting anyone, you know it.
I’m simply being honest. I know that other people out there have reacted in a similarly ridiculous way at some point and may feel like a failure for doing so. Sharing my faults does not scare me. Maybe it should, but I don’t have time to worry about that.
For the record, there are also periods in my life when I simply can’t pitch a fit because there is a child in our home that feels unsafe and does not yet know or understand that rage does not always result in physical or emotional harm. I make it a point to know my kids. I know their issues. I would never knowingly allow myself this guilty pleasure when it would put a child at emotional risk.
So, after snapping, I put myself in timeout. I sit in my comfy chair and refuse to listen to a single person, or feed them, or talk or do anything. I try to sink into my own little world to calm down. I automatically login to my computer to read or write or stare. I never know. I just need an excuse to look at something.
And what is the first thing I see? An email from another friend suggesting that I would be a good candidate to teach biblical parenting classes. Ironically, I’ve been playing with the idea of becoming a professional parenting coach to bring in a little income to help meet the costs of raising so many children. I’m already one of the people mom’s tend to call when they need help or advice, or they simply need to affirm that their mistakes don’t make them a bad parent. Anyway, I’m in the idea stage on that.
Reading this email at this precise moment is like a slap in the face. “Oh sure. You would make an excellent teacher of all things biblical right now. Sure. Like people need advice from a loser like you.”
And isn’t that exactly how the Enemy wants me to feel? Like a failure. Like a person who has reached her limits can’t be good enough to work for God.
I succumb to that feeling, but only for moments. Life continues and I must move out of my misery. Ten minutes is about all I get.
In spite of my threats not to do anything, we are now late for coop. I rush to make 4 PB& J sandwiches and throw in some graham crackers and a special bag of chips.
But I have a plan. It’s devilish. It’s brainy. It’s fun. I have no idea if it will make an impact on a 4 and 5-year-old, but my older girls will surely understand.
The boys start whining that they are hungry. I tell them I will feed them with the same enthusiasm that they helped me pick up everything.
Initially, the irony is lost on them. They say they are hungry. I say, “I don’t feel like feeding you right now.” My two older girls catch on immediately and the three of us start eating in front of them.
More whines, “Nanna, we are hungry. Can we have a sandwich?”
I say calmly, “Nope. I really don’t want to feed you.”
“Naaannnna! That’s not fair. We are hungry. Give us a sandwich,” they plead.
“My back hurts and I can’t reach you all the way in the back seat,” I proclaim.
We stop at a traffic light. I get my 9-year-old to pass back a tiny little bite of sandwich for each of them.
I casually say, “I’m feeding you the same way you picked up for me. A little when I feel like it.”
The younger one throws the tiny bite down and shouts, “I want a BIG one.”
I start to speak and my 4-year-old interrupts me, “Naaana, I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to my TQ.” He knows he’s lost the battle with me, so he turns to his big sister.
She looks at me for confirmation and then says, “Hey buddy, I’m on mom’s team here. I can’t help you.”
My 9-year-old retorts, “I’m with mom too. And that wasn’t very smart. That’s all you are going to get now.”
This continues for about 15 minutes. I use every excuse or complaint that they gave me when I asked for their help, mimicking their tones. My 9 and 12-year-old girls are entertained.
Finally, I ask, “How does it feel for me to make a bunch of excuses and refuse to feed you?”
The 5-year-old begins to catch on to the symbolism. Meekly, he says, “I get it Nanna. I’m sorry for being mean to you. I should have helped.”
Honestly, I thought the irony would be lost on him. But he’s a smart kid. I give them each a sandwich.
That was a high. And entertaining, in part, because my two older girls were playing along with me.
Somehow, the car conversation turns to his earlier statement that I’m not his mom. He begins to speak and starts to say, “My …m…,” but he stops himself to question whether this will be hurtful to me.
Recognizing his thoughts, I intervene, “It’s okay to call her mom. She is your mom. She is my daughter. I will never get upset because you call her mom.” Relieved, he finishes his thought, trying to figure out if he went home with his mom or with me from the hospital.
Actually, it was both. He rode in my car and his mom and dad were in a separate car. The plan was for them to follow us to our home and for us to take the traditional “coming home” pictures for his scrapbook. But, when I turned right out of the hospital, they turned left, and they never came. I still don’t know why.
Nonetheless, I have little credibility in the mom conversation, so I ask his 9-year-old sister to give it a shot. She turns around in her seat and looks at him, “A mom is the person who raises you and takes care of you and disciplines you. A mom feeds you and pays for things. A mom is there for you. Our mom is the one that gave birth to us. But Nanna is the one who does everything a mom does. When I was your age, I called her Nanna just like you. But I don’t call her Nanna anymore. I call her mom.”
That was a high moment. And it was only 11:40 a.m. Only 11 more hours until I can go to sleep.
To Be Continued…
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
My husband and I were driving back from the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. In case you don’t live in the south or aren’t a football addict, the Alabama/Georgia game determined who plays Notre Dame in the National Championship game in January. This is BIG. And by BIG I mean that the outcome of this game determines my husband’s mood and mindset for at least the next month and perhaps for the next year. (I don’t mean to be a spoiler, but Alabama won!)
This is a big deal for me because it gave me a reason to go with my husband to Atlanta for the day without a single child – something that rarely happens. And by rare I mean hardly ever. After 23 years of marriage and a total of 53 children, we only get to be completely alone about four or five times per year. Last year, two of those times were on the days of his colonoscopy and the subsequent removal of 12 polyps. I’m serious.
Ironically, this year, two of our four dates happened the week of the SEC Championship. On the Monday before the Saturday game, one of my adult children called unexpectedly and said to my husband, “I have the day off. You and Mom go out for the day. I’ll babysit everyone.” We ran. We still don’t know what she really wants, but we decided to deal with that later!
We had little money and nothing to do, but we left the house and stayed gone until all the kids were in bed. It was thrilling.
The football date is all for my husband. I enjoy sports, but I honestly believe that it is “only a game.” I know that these are treasonous words in the South. And some might question whether I actually am a born and bred Alabamian. I am. But I was raised by Notre Dame fans. Anyone see any irony in that?
Anyway, my husband obsesses about football for a good portion of each year. He thinks about it. Prays about it. Analyzes it. Reads about it. Memorizes stats. Pays attention to the recruiting season and is a walking encyclopedia of everything Alabama.
About 15 years ago we were at an Alabama game – in the days before so many kids when we used to have at least one date a week….. hmmm maybe that’s how we got all these kids. Naaah.
He bought a program. That is when we had money to waste on programs and I still went with him to most of the games.
Anyway, he was reading the program and there was a page of scores from past games. I don’t remember the exact details, but he looked at the program and said, “That was not the score of the 1972 game. It was blah v. blah!” I stared at him in disbelief. Keep in mind that he was challenging the printed program stats in a game that had been played more than 20 years before.
Really?!? Are you kidding me? My facial expression says it all. “ I believe you because I know you. But really?!? How is their room in your brain for that kind of mindless detail? And how can you retrieve it instantly?”
In all fairness, my husband is a numbers guy and he has provided for our mega-sized family for 23 years without a single complaint. Nonetheless, neither of us can keep up with our anniversary each year. He can’t find anything in the refrigerator or bathroom unless it jumps into his hands. And he intentionally stays out of the loop on the details of the kids’ educational needs unless it involves math – which is his category. He’s a good man, a great husband and a loving father, but the fact that he knows AND CARES about such minute details from 20 years ago totally amazes me. I really just don’t get it. Really.
But something BIG happened to me today.
The difference between our reactions to some things are quite telling. I get wound up thinking about, trying to predict, and control the outcome of my daily interactions with my children. I’m always calculating how to impact my kids. How to get them to care. How to get them to see the value in things. I have learned not to “worry” in the usual sense of the word, but there is no doubt that I spend 23 of every 24 hours focusing on the issues related to my children. Not much else crosses my mind. You might say I obsess.
During the game we are amongst 75,000 people. My husband has been talking non-stop all day about predictions, calculations, his thoughts, the thoughts of others, his thorough review of all the experts who pontificate and attempt to predict the outcome of the game, as if they have some special gift that allows them to know what will happen in a game that has not yet been played. He knows every detail and every factoid.
At the game, between shouts and screams loud enough to scare a raccoon out of our kitchen (true story), he’s biting his nails worried. He seems to think that he can change the outcome of the game by thinking and talking about it non-stop.
He looks at me. I’m standing and cheering and yelling and having fun. But, I’m not at all worried. He asks me why, and suggests, “Because you don’t care who wins.”
My response was simple. “No. Because worrying doesn’t help me or them. I know that I have no control. I know that all my worries won’t change the outcome of this game. I know that if they do what they are supposed to do. If they do what Saban has coached them to do, it will all turn out fine.”
He smiled. “It’s all about the process for you, isn’t it.” My husband and children have heard me say that a billion times. I value the process as much as the result because that is where character is revealed. Winning can be based on luck or prayer or circumstances, but how we react to the process reveals our heart. And from my view, if we aren’t playing for the heart, then what value is there in competitive sports for our children?
That’s when it dawned on me. Why is it so simple and easy to recognize that fan worry has no impact whatsoever on the outcome of the football game? No amount of planning or shouting on my part will change the outcome of the game. Other than participating in crowd noise, the only way to actually have an impact on the game, is to have a relationship with and/or authority over the players.
So, why do I feel at complete peace about an Alabama football game and recognize that if the coach has done his job, I can remain calm?
However, I can’t seem to recognize that if my husband and I have done our job, worry and obsessing alone won’t change things for my children?
Touche', my dear. Touche'.