Wednesday, December 22, 2010

We've Dyed and Gone to Playsilk Heaven

I've shared some more about playsilks in a previous post. Now we are finally ready to dye!

I used the ideas from the Artful Parent's blog about dyeing with Kool-aid, but I changed a few things. I also have some other comments to add.

First I soaked the silks in a pot with some hot water and some vinegar for about thirty minutes.

In the meantime, I gathered up a bunch of containers. The kids put three packets of Kool-aid in each container and I added a splash of white vinegar. My rudimentary understanding is that the acid in the vinegar helps to set the color. Maybe someone who understands the process more can comment.

I kept water going in my stock pot and in my tea kettle so I had a fresh supply of hot water all the time. When I got some hot water, I'd pour it in the container and stir to make sure the kool-aid was dissolved. We didn't do that with the first one and there are some purple spots in the middle of the blue. Then we added a silk to the container and stirred and waited.

Another interesting point of information I learned is that Kool-aid will dye animal fibers but not plant fibers. So if your silks are hemmed with cotton thread, the cotton will stay white. I understand a lot of people dye wool yarn with Kool-aid as well.

Hannah had never seen Kool-aid packets until we went to a friend's house and she used drink mix packages to color salt dough we turned into Christmas tree ornaments. Upon questioning Hannah, I realized she has no other concept for Kool-aid other than as a colorant. That makes me giggle.

We left the silks to soak while we kept adding water and silks to new colors and jars. Different colors soaked in faster than others, which is something I had already read about. The lemon-lime turned a nice shade of green and the surrounding water went clear almost immediately. The lemonade was also fast. The purple and blue took a lot longer and the water became cloudy instead of clear. I just left them until the water lightened up a bunch or the color looked nice when I pulled the silk up.

We discovered the more water in the container, the more room the silk had to move around and that gave a much more even dye job. We had one orange one that didn't get stirred much and was in a small container. So I dyed it again with three more packets. It was more vibrant and the dye was the most even of the bunch.

Also, remember to have your children wash their hands after dealing with the Kool-aid powder, before they touch anything else. John helped me spread out this yellow silk with purple powder on his hands.

They are hanging up to dry in places all over the house and back porch. After an hour, the first ones were mostly dry. I can't wait to get them down and play with them. Oh, and they smell positively lovely, as well.

Here is a color guide.

Ice Blue Lemonade=Blue (The lighter blue was done with only one packet, the other one had three)
Cherry=Red (We only had two packets of cherry)
Lemonade = Yellow
Lemon-Lime= Green

Play Silks

I've heard about them for years. When I checked the prices of some ready-made play silks, I decided I could keep them in the realm of things I'd heard about. But... I kept hearing and hearing and hearing... and those silks I had looked at were absolutely gorgeous.

So finally I considered getting some and asked friends about the idea. Surely my 11-year-old son was too old for them. But then again, he had really enjoyed trying to juggle silks at a children's museum a while ago. I decided to get some as the sharing gift for Christmas for our three children (11-year-old boy, 4-year-old girl and 11-month-old girl.) A friend had mentioned you could get blank silks from Dharma Trading Company and dye them with Kool-aid. That was certainly much more affordable. Plus, I thought John would at least enjoy the dyeing process.

I ordered four 21.5" squares, two 44" squares, and two 22" X 90" pieces. It was a whopping $32 plus shipping. They shipped fast. I got them in about three days. We gathered up some kool-aid.

The children were a little confused about what they were when they opened the package. I was quick to defend them, "They look boring now. Just wait, tomorrow we are going to soak them in Kool-aid and turn them into bright colors. You can make them into all sorts of things, including forts..."

Hannah went back to her other gifts. Cote chewed on some packaging. But John rubbed some of the silk against his face for a few minutes. He hopped up and ran to his room with one in tow. He quickly tied it around his neck to make a cape and ran all over the house.

A few minutes later, Hannah attached one to her grandmother exclaiming what a beautiful princess dress she was wearing. Hannah got assistance tying one in a sash around her self. That sash quickly turned into a rebozo for carrying her baby doll.

I have high hopes for this toy, if there was this much creativity and enjoyment when they were still boring white.

I have separated the dyeing experience into a separate post. If you've heard of playsilks before, I would heartily encourage you to consider doing something more than hear about them.

Here's the post on dyeing : We've Dyed and Gone to Playsilk Heaven

Friday, December 17, 2010

Are you ready?

Theo and I had a date tonight. It was so refreshing to spend time alone together, even if we did use the time to finish up some Christmas errands. We were in the car, having a lovely conversation. We discussed our how our days had gone and our plans for Christmas travel as well as some odds and ends we still needed to pick up.

One of the gifts we have for the children is a set of blank play silks. I reminded him that we needed to pick up some kool-aid packets for to use as coloring for the silks.

About that time, he veered into the turn lane to prepare to cross three lanes of on-coming traffic. He drew his breath in sharply, grabbed the steering wheel and said, "Are you ready to dye...?"

Now you have understand this was spoken, not written. What I heard was a crazed husband about to dart across three lanes of traffic, asking if I was ready to die. I told him in no uncertain terms I was indeed, NOT ready to die.

When I realized it wasn't a death threat (not his style) or some sick joke (definitely his style), it was very, very funny. We've been laughing about it all evening.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Holidays Aren't Happy for Everyone

Guest Blogger: John Laughner

Please welcome Mr. Laughner to the blog. He has written a few stories before. You may recall the robot suit series and the misdeeds of ThunderBlot. He returns with his take on man versus nature. Please enjoy.

It was two days before Thanksgiving and Tom, the turkey, was on old McDonald's farm. Tom was afraid of being eaten for Thanksgiving, so he hid in the hay field. He was scared the farmer would find him. He was shaking and hunched down. He thought about what it would be like to be eaten.

On Thanksgiving morning, the farmer awoke to look for his turkey and he was gone. He looked in the barn, down the driveway, and under the porch. He gave up and ate sausage instead. He knew the turkey chickened out.

Tom came back when the farmer came out to get some milk from the cows. The farmer looked at Tom and said, "I really wish I could have eaten you. At least there is another family that wants you for Christmas."

The Holidays Aren't Happy for Everyone.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

'Cuz That's How I Roll

I found an activity for John and I to spend time together. It's kayaking. Actually it's quite popular in Chattanooga, as evidenced by the fact I saw 20-30 boats in a swimming pool at our university last night during our first roll class.

First we were instructed to put on these skirts made out of something like wet suit material with a large misshapen rubber tutu hanging off of it. Then we put on our PFD's. (That's lifejacket to the uninitiated.) We learned a little about different boats and drain plugs and where to put our knees inside these boats.

Then our new friend/instructor, Liz, took us to the edge of the pool and explained how we were to get into our boats. Saving the details, I'll just say getting in a kayak is not exactly like getting into a canoe. John's first attempt could be called a full immersion baptism into a new sport. I was a little more graceful. I only lost my balance on my second attempt to mount my giant kazoo.

Liz explained very matter-of-factly that our first skill to learn was called the "wet entry". Yep, that's exactly what it sounds like. Now that we had tried so hard to get into our boats, we were now going to get right back out of them. She demonstrated leaning forward and leaning to one side to roll upside down and then "pull yourself out of the boat just like you pull off your pants".

John flipped and apparently got his pants off just fine, which is a relief because he's not that coordinated about undressing on land. Then it was my turn. I surfaced, thinking that wasn't so bad, to find my long-time friend's son, row up and congratulate me for a job well done. Yes! I smiled, thinking I do a great job falling out of perfectly good boats!

Liz demonstrated, with the easy balance and coordination of a mountain-climbing Olympic gymnast, how to get back in our boats from the water. I indulged her and attempted several times even though she insisted I didn't have to. John was delighted to find I could not mount the plastic torpedo and spent the next hour and fifteen minutes trying to do something his mother couldn't.

Meanwhile, Liz moved onto showing me how to attach my skirt to the boat. That was fun and made me feel like a real kayaker. The next step, of course, was how to fall out of the boat when the skirt was attached.

Apparently, the goal of kayaking is to view the river from an upside down position. Anyway, it was again with the pulling off of the pants analogy. Only, to my estimation, this was more like tugging and yanking off your wet, skinny jeans when you are still way too early postpartum, while holding your breath. Simple, Liz, very simple.

Satisfied at my remarkable ability to fall out, we moved onto flipping over while staying in. Apparently, it's all in the hips. She demonstrated how to use the nose of someone else's boat to hold one's head up to breathe while one's boat is still capsized. This only added to my theory that this sport is somewhat akin to inverted snorkeling.

Now, I was supposed to flip my boat back to right while keeping my head resting on the nose of her boat. I'm going to call that "underwater boat yoga". When my boat was flipped, I was to once again sit up. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

John was still trying to mount his kayak from the water.

When I had sufficiently flipped my hips, it was time to discuss kayaking distress. Aha, someone involved with this sport had, in fact, figured out that too much hanging upside down from a capsized boat could be too much of a good thing.

I was instructed to flip completely upside down, bring my hands out of the water and bang loudly on my boat three times. That would alert my kayaking buddies I was finished holding my breath and needed their assistance. Then I was to rub my hands back and forth along the length of my boat.

At that point, my "buddy" would ram the nose of his or her kayak into the side of mine. I would then take hold of said boat, assuming my hands still have gripping power after a potential direct hit, and pull myself to the correct angle and lift myself to breathe and perform that little hip-flipping stunt we had already practiced.

Liz waited and smiled in that encouraging way that says, "I know what I've just asked you to do is complete insanity, but I have training and certification so I know you will do it. Plus you did sign the waiver."

I'm fuzzy on the next part. I remember banging my hands on the boat. The rest was done completely by instinct or guardian angel (I'm not sure which).

I found myself upright once more, hearing distant and water-filled sounds of "Good job. Would you like to do it again?" But all I could do was think how it felt like I had tried to Neti Pot the entire pool. I finally understood the reason behind those nose plugs I saw on other kayakers.

Liz gave me some upside-down reprieve to work on my paddling skills and tried to talk John into trying something other than taming his florescent green bucking bronco. I paddled around amidst all those kayaks feeling somewhat like a plastic toy in the bathtub of an overindulged child.

My sinuses dumped a fair amount of chlorinated water down my throat and my hearing had returned so I decided I was up to attempting the "buddy rescue" again. In my mind it should be called banging-on-the-boat-while-drowning-and-waiting-for-the-miracle-to-happen.


She had training and certifications and I HAD signed a waiver... She also had pity on me and lent me her nose plugs.

Ahh, that was much less like drowning than the first time.

John paddled around and fell in on accident a couple of times. (Why not on purpose like a normal kayaker?) But it was obvious he was ready to go. So we drained our boats and returned the rest of our equipment and got dressed.

He really thought this sport was for the birds. (Weird, swimming, upside down birds, I suppose.) But I bought him some hot chocolate on the way home and now he's gung-ho to go back next week. I am too. Right after I purchase some noseplugs.

****Update**** I've been reminded it's actually called a wet exit, not a wet entry. I blame it on losing the hearing in my clogged ears and adrenaline pumping through my veins. I recommend if you want to learn about kayaking for real, you don't do it through my blog. ****

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Laundry Update

A couple of people have asked how my new hamper system was working after my laundry post.

It's better. It doesn't take away the laundry pain completely. If nothing gets folded, it is still easier to find in separate baskets. I discovered that everyone has different time frames they need clothes. Hannah has enough clothes she doesn't need me to do laundry for a loooong time. The baby has lots of clothes but she goes through them quickly and because they are separated, I'm better about stain treating them and remember to check them over before they go in the dryer.

Theo and I hang all of our clothes except shorts and underclothing so I started doing a little presorting and just washing tops and bottoms and I realized we have enough underwear to go twice as long and get a full load of socks and underwear. And because our clothes are big...each item I hang up makes a big dent in the basket.

It also takes a lot of the emergency out of the laundry. One or more of us use to discover there wasn't anything clean to wear but I might have already had a load going. I wasn't sure if the load in the washer had what was necessary or not. I would frequently find myself in dire need of pants only to find out that the current load had three of my shirts and no pants.

It's easy to determine what needs to be washed and prioritize. I'm still not getting things folded fresh from the dryer but the piles are small, homogeneous, and they don't scare me, so I don't put them in the corner next to the bed, hoping they will magically disappear.

Last night I had a load of clean diapers sitting on the floor at the foot of my bed and a load of kitchen laundry (we don't use paper napkins or paper towels except rarely) was on the bed. I normally would have shoved the stuff off the bed and cowered beneath the sheets dreading my domestic duty.

But, I thought, eh, it's just a stack of towels and napkins. I'll see how fast I can get them done. It was less than five minutes. I tackled the diapers during the day today when I had a spare moment and it really didn't take a long time.

No, it's not perfect. But I currently have all the clean laundry put away before I need to start more. You can mark my grade card with a "shows improvement" and a big ole smilie face.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Laundry Epiphany

I've heard it called Mt. Washmore. And while mountain is an accurate description, my mountain is always Foldmore. I can process my laundry through the washer and dryer like nobody's business. It's the next step which revels the lesser part of my character and forces my husband to play a game he calls laundry gopher when he looks for his outfit for the day. It's a game, he assures me, that he is not fond of.

Before you suggest her, yes, I'm friends with Ms. Flylady. Okay, well, acquaintances with her. I know I'm not supposed to have a mountain to fold because I'm supposed to fold it right after it comes out of the dryer. Tell that to the baby who is trying to climb the piano. It just ceases to be an emergency for me once those clothes are clean and dry.

I see the pile (and that's just half of it) and quickly remember that I have many, many other pressing duties. Yep, just about anything other than face those menacing, wrinkled piles of cotton.

I had an epiphany today, though. It came from my mother-in-law, who we store in our basement. (Don't judge. She has a rockin' three bedroom apartment down there. Your mother-in-law should be so lucky.)

A week ago, she threw some of my niece's clothes in with a load of our laundry. I went outside to supervise the girls in the yard. When I came back, I found her folding the load.


She's always so nice and always wanting to help but I find it really embarrassing. One, when anyone comes in and helps me with housework I feel it is a commentary on my competency. Second, those are my underwear, eeek!!! Third, she never let's her place look like mine or her laundry pile up.

But, whatever she thinks, she's never mean. She's always encouraging. She's really a great mother-in-law. I've enjoyed having her living with us for years, yes, voluntarily. I don't know why I'm embarrassed. She's watched me give birth. Twice.

So today, I made a comment about working my way into the pile of clean clothes and telling her the washer was available. She said she was thinking when she folded that load last week that it took FOREVER. She had said to herself, "Wow, I know why she gets behind on this!"

That made me pause. She thought it was daunting. Why? She doesn't have trouble with her own piles of laundry. What was the difference?

I realized, occasionally, I'll do a load with just tops and bottoms for Theo and I. Those are so easy to deal with. Each item makes a dent in the load and they are all essentially the same to handle. That is more like her laundry.

I know I love diaper laundry. (Sounds weird to my disposable loving friends, I'm sure.) It's streamlined: a pile for covers, a pile for prefolds, a pile for wipes. There are no decisions involved, just a repeated motion that completes the task quickly. Even loads of towels and loads of napkins and dishtowels are easy.

So, I've decided, I'm doing each child's laundry separately. John does his already but I help him fold. It's not bad because it's all sized the same. He does pants. I do shirts.

Starting tomorrow, even the baby is getting her own laundry hamper. We'll see if this will make things better. Regardless, I paid with a little embarrassment and got some empathy and a ray of hope in the never-ending laundry cycle.

What do you do to make folding laundry easier?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Dangerous friends

I have friends who have homeless people for friends, volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center and do all sorts of other good in our community. Those friends inspire me and challenge me. I think part of me wishes we'd stop getting close to them. They take risks and do dangerous things. Too bad that Theo and I really like them and they keep teaching us more ways to love people. They love Jesus and that love spills out onto everyone around them.

It's easy to just feel guilty and try to justify all that we have. We are pretty good stewards of our money and Theo works very hard. We give a good percentage of our money to charities and missions. But I'm no longer worrying about those justifications.

We are blessed. We are richly and lovingly blessed. When I move past the guilt and the justification, I am becoming joyfully grateful for what we've been given. It's okay for us to enjoy it. But I will not close myself off from the world and revel in my riches. There's a whole world that He died to save and I've been busy hiding from as many of them as possible.

It's starting to sink in that Jesus really meant for us to do those things He mentioned. We are supposed to take care of the poor (amongst other tasks) and not sit around and wait for the government or some other organization to do it for us. It is affecting my heart and therefore starting to change more of my outward behavior. An example of that is illustrated in my Bowl of Rice post.

Then it rained the other day. It rained really hard. It was cold, dreary and the most rain I've seen in a long time. Normally, I would have only thought about how we were going to have to stay inside the whole day.

But something new struck me. I had images of people stuck out in that rain, huddled down in the cold dreariness with nowhere else to go. My gratefulness welled up and I thanked God for the blessing of our water-proof shelter and prayed for the people represented by those mental images.

I posted my thankfulness in a status update and my dangerous friend mentioned visiting his less fortunate friends and needing to check in on them. Theo and I finally had a chance to discuss it today. We have plans to send some money to our friend's ministry to help buy some tarps. (Pretty soon, we are going to have to meet some of these friends.) We were casually having this conversation at lunch with the children present. We've had a lot more talk about homelessness and hunger lately.

We finished our lunch and started to clean up. John disappeared. He's not generally a fan of cleaning up. When he returned, I asked where he'd been. He held out his hand with some wadded up dollar bills and said, "Here, I want to give this to the poor people."

I've been crying off and on, ever since. My John who's need for security based on his early life experiences, causes him to hang on to material possessions and obsess about food and to never fully trust in our love as his parents, brought the money he works so hard to attain with a look of tender compassion on his face. As we change and become more generous, as our hearts melt for Christ, his does too. A lesson I've tried for years to instill in him sprouts dramatically when I begin to finally practice what I preach.

Want to see some of the friends of my friends who John wants to help?

A Bowl of Rice

A few years ago, our family drastically switched from eating the Standard American Diet to one of mostly whole, unprocessed foods. We still eat a lot of food and we still spend a lot of money for it. Our total food bill didn't increase because we used to go out to eat very frequently. We don't go nearly as often now but we buy a lot of food and it is high quality.

I've been concerned about waste for a while. When we started losing lots of weight, I eschewed the "clean your plate" philosophy. It's a wise move for someone recovering from obesity. Sure, some food might go to waste but I frequently stated the excess was going to waste on my body or outside of it. I knew my body didn't need so much excess. But that was just the beginning of my journey.

Last year my father saw someone speak about how the French use 8 inch plates and Americans use 10 inch plates. He changed his mindset and lost significant weight. For a few months, I've been using smaller plates as much as possible.

John, for any number of possible reasons, is obsessed with food. I learned a few years ago, I could give him lots of snacks before dinner but it was never enough to fill him up and he would complain how little was available at dinner. I found if I took the same amount of food and put it all together on a plate, his eyes widened at the prospect of all that bounty.

When I switched to smaller plates, no one complained, not even John. In fact, everyone seemed more satisfied after meals. It was like they were happy their plates were so full. Sometimes, I even serve food on saucers for lunch. Still, no one seems to notice. Sometimes, like today, the kids gasp with joy because they think they are getting so much food. Complaints about being hungry before dinner have remained the same.

But then...

A few weeks ago, a friend posted a message on Facebook from The Simple Way about 50 Ways to Become the Answer to our Prayers. Number one and number forty-three impacted me. The first one suggested fasting and remembering the two billion people who live on less than a dollar a day. The latter mentioned eating only a bowl of rice per day for a period of time and remembering those who are starving.

I realized It wasn't a good idea to fast and nurse at the same time, so I opted to fast seconds at meals. I reasoned that there was no possible way to eat a full plate of food, even a small one, and still be actually hungry. Now, I finish most meals without a full feeling.

I find myself thinking how I'd really like to have just a little bit more of such and such. Then I say, sometimes out loud, that what I just had was way better than one bowl of rice all day. Then, I find I've really had enough. My stomache doesn't ache and I feel quite nice, actually.

I've started to talk more about the hungry with the children. I've been conscious of how much food I put on our plates and not just try to fill them up. Our meal time prayers include prayers for those who don't have as much to eat.

My plan is to see how much we are saving by eating less food and find ways to feed the hungry with the difference. I've found my appetite has seriously diminished and that I slow down and savor my food more.

Theo and I had a date the other night. At dinner, at a Mexican restaurant, Theo chose to forego his combination fajitas and chose from the pic two combo that came with rice and beans because his appetite has been affected too. I almost chose the pick two but realized the rice had butter (Cote's food allergies govern many of my food choices). I decided to order a la carte. I ordered one tamale and an order of refried beans. It was actually too much food! And our bill was $13 when it would have normally cost around $25 - $30.

Today, for lunch, I made quesadillas with shredded cheese and leftover grilled steak. I sliced steak that John didn't want the other night (it was about four ounces) in the food processor and mixed with some cheese. I've been able to use the mixture to make quesadillas for two separate meals for both kids. My 8 oz steak will end up feeding me about four different meals.

I served a total of three small quesadillas, one apple with peanut butter, a large handful of spinach, a few cherry tomatoes, one carrot and some salad dressing for lunch today. I fed myself and my three kids with that amount of food.

Before you think I'm cheating anyone, go back and look at the picture. No one went hungry. We had plenty. There was no waste on the plates or on our bodies. No one complained. Instead of "rounding up for the hungry" at the grocery checkout, I'm going to continue rounding down at my meals. It's better for both of us.

What are your thoughts on ways we could all help those less fortunate than ourselves?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

All By Myself

The other day, John wasn't feeling well, so he took a nap. My mother-in-law offered to watch Hannah and my visiting 4-year-old niece for a little while.

And then Cote fell asleep.

Clouds parted.

Music played.

I was going to nap but it felt cheap to waste the moment on sleep. So I took a bath. I was giddy as I fantasized about my garden tub. I ran toward my bathroom, stripping as I went. (Ok, I know, you didn't need that image. But I had to paint a picture to express my excitement. You will have to deal with it.)

I enjoyed about 15-20 minutes of luxurious, hot, steamy water AND silence AND solitude. I felt like I was getting away with something illicit when I realized there were absolutely no plastic toys floating in my water. I sneered at those toys as they wished they could join in the fun. "Not today, my friends, you only get to watch and eat your little plastic hearts out."

Cote cried and I realized my activities (or lack thereof) must come to an end, but as I quickly wrapped a towel around my body I found myself creating a parody of Eric Carmen's "All By Myself."

My new lyrics aren't a complete redo of the song but I've been singing them for three days and they make me happy. I know some of my Mommy friends will appreciate them. If I had some sort of musical ability beyond that of being able to totally rock the melody of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on the piano, I'd perform it for you.

All by myself, I took a bath 
All by myself today at four 
All by myself, and I wanna PEE 
All by myself...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Not-so-happy Anniversary

**Miscarriage discussed**

I was on the phone with my mother. I was hiding in the bathroom. My miscarriage was a few weeks behind me and I was angry. I called her because I was blindingly angry and I knew that anger was one of the stages of grief. I was angry that I was in that stage. She reminded me that it was a stage of grief and her reminder made me angry.

What was the good of knowing the stages of grief if I couldn't somehow acknowledge what was going on and pray and skip that part? I mean, logically, it seemed like I could do that. Unfortunately, it just doesn't work that way.

It's like a developmental stage. Head control. Sit up. Crawl. Walk. You gotta go through them. Well, granted, some skip one or two but only because that is determined by their own personal physiological development.

I remember watching my mother place a toy in front of my cousin's four month old baby. It was made for older babies, but she could tell he was interested in it. In an act of curiosity and kindness she brought it over to him. It was obvious he knew what to do to activate it and was very motivate to play with it. Unfortunately, his motor skills didn't match his cognitive skills and it frustrated him greatly. In the end, it was a greater kindness to take the toy away.

I was learning a very important lesson. We all develop in our own way, on our own timetables. Just knowing the stages of grief would not exempt me from them. You know what? It still doesn't.

Oh, I've learned all about loss. It's part and parcel with raising a son with the particular issues mine has. It's part of my training and my interest as a foster parent. It's part of my training as a special education teacher. It's part of my experience as a parent of a child with special needs, the aunt of a child who has battled stage four cancer and the experience of grieving three babies I'll not meet this side of heaven.

One of the things I've learned about is anniversaries. No, not the happy wedding anniversary kind. I'm talking about anniversaries of losses and traumas. Children who have experienced the loss of a parent, even very early in life (early enough they can't remember) experience difficult emotions on the anniversaries of that loss. Even if it isn't the same date, it will be the same time of year.

We can move on. We can pray, forgive and work through them. But the scars usually remain. Why are they still there? I don't know. Maybe to remind us of our human frailty. Maybe because of our human frailty.

We don't know how those scars, physical or emotional, will manifest themselves. But eventually, given enough time, we get familiar with our scars and learn to deal with them.

When I experienced my first miscarriage, I read a lot about miscarriages and joined forums for women who had experienced such losses. You never know what will trigger a wave a grief, especially if the loss is recent. Shortly after my miscarriage, I cracked an egg for breakfast and I was immediately overcome by tremendous sobs. For a dear friend of mine, it was a big glass of iced tea.

I found holding babies and baby dolls to be very comforting, which surprised many people around me. On the other hand, I thought baby showers were going to be okay but I found them to be immeasurably torturous. I excused myself so I didn't traumatize the poor mother to be. I almost refused to have a baby shower when I was pregnant with Hannah because baby showers were so hard for me.

Many people warned of the emotional trauma that may accompany the due date. That date came and went with a somber acknowledgement but no worse than many days.

But as I approached Thanksgiving the first year after my loss, I became increasingly out of sorts. I experienced mood swings and an unidentified sense of anxiety. I found myself withdrawing from activities. I found myself unable to accomplish every day tasks and it made me angry. It went on for a few weeks.

A few days before Thanksgiving, when I, super-party-loving girl, declared I didn't want to participate in the holiday. I didn't want to get together with family. My husband kindly dug my hand out of the melted heap of tears and angst. He held my hand and asked WHY I didn't want to celebrate. He already knew the answer that I didn't and he wanted me to realize it on my own.

The year before, I found out the day he left the country for a mission trip that the new life I was so excited about inside of me was no longer alive but my pregnancy was continuing for a while nonetheless. I was waiting for a miscarriage. My husband returned after two weeks and it still had not begun.

I was finding I was able to breathe occasionally. I found an amazing outpouring of support as people stepped up to fill in the gap while my husband was away. We went to Thanksgiving dinner at my grandmother's house with a sense of bittersweet thanksgiving. I was cramping a little on the drive, but that had been happening for several days by then.

I was sitting at the dinner table, enjoying the loving company of my family. Someone made a light-hearted joke and I found myself able to laugh and enjoy it for the first time since my news. The physical action of the laugh coincided with the beginning of my physical loss. My laugh ended in a gasp. It was several hours before things calmed down enough I could leave the bathroom and ride home to continue the experience. It was what I had wanted and dreaded for weeks. It was cleansing and traumatic at the same time.

I was experiencing a grieving anniversary. It wasn't what I expected. I wasn't even thinking about losing my baby. Oh but the scar was aching. And it aches every year, usually, about this time. It happens to varying degrees depending on what else is going on in my life. It's happening right now.

So please understand that I'm extra sensitive. If I say things that seem harsh, please know that I don't mean them and I am trying to be aware of my extra sensitivity and moodiness. One minute I find myself overwhelmed by the most mundane of tasks, and other times I'm my normal gung-ho, lively self.

Last night, my husband wrapped his arms around me as I tried to express how I was so thankful for my babies and that it wasn't due to thoughts of this specific baby anymore and it wasn't fair that this was still happening and causing me pain six years later. But mostly I sobbed.

And today, the sun shines and I think sweet thoughts and the friend I thought I lost yesterday because of a super sensitive move on my part said she wasn't angry and willing to reconcile this morning.

I love Thanksgiving. I love that my thankfulness is all the more poignant for me each year, because of this experience. But I hate that old aching scar. (By the way, I experienced another loss over Thanksgiving two years ago.) Usually, it gets a little better when I realize what is going on.

I always try to remind myself to get ready beforehand but life seems to be going so well, I can't imagine a very large wave of grief striking out of nowhere. But sometimes it does. And it's usually more after a year when the anniversary isn't so bad. Last year I was pregnant with Cote. I've found pregnancy does a pretty good job of distracting me. But the next year takes me by surprise, maybe because I think "Last year wasn't so bad. Maybe I'll be exempt this year".

There are some who say I should just get over it. I'd sincerely love to. But I think comparing it to labor and not fighting the waves and understanding this process is necessary for some reason, helps me to grow and release an unbelievable amount pain slowly and safely which could not be dealt with in a few "acceptable" weeks right after my loss.

Monday, November 8, 2010


The events involving the glue gun, the subsequent blog post, as well as the responses to it via facebook and the blog have given me the opportunity to further hone my parenting skills. I don't know what I was hoping for when I posted.

A lot of emotions went through my head before I wrote that entry. One emotion was admiration for my son's creativity. Another was fear for his safety and, as my dear sister-in-law was not shy to mention, the safety of my home and everyone in it. Yet another emotion was the enjoyment of experiencing yet another story I can share with the world.

I guess I was kinda hoping for some kind of King Solomon-split-the-baby-geniousness that would drive the point home and ensure my son would never sneak behind my back and do something potentially destructive again. Oh, and because it was still fresh for me... also, I would have enjoyed a side order of vindication.

The truth is that this particular incident happened between nine months and a year ago. (We are certain it was in our old home but he didn't get the K'nex until Christmas.) In the life of a child, that is a very long time. The particular situation and development that led to this particular crime simply no longer exists.

John is not the same person he was a year ago. But, as some of you point out, consequences exist regardless of how long ago the event happened. We certainly don't want to teach our children that if they remain in hiding long enough, they can dodge their responsibilities.

The wonderful discussion and observations by people who love my family caused me to reflect. And that's always an opportunity for growth.

Given time to reflect, I have to examine my purposes. Whenever I discover one of my children has done something wrong, I have a desire to dole out a punishment. (Or get back at them...) And conversely I desire to dole out a reward when they have done something right.

What I have learned in 9 years of parenting, is that punishments and rewards aren't necessary for every behavior. One can praise and reward too little as well as too much. It is the same with punishment.

When I was in college, we talked a lot about behavior and discipline. One important discussion was the definition of punishment. Punishment is a consequence enacted after a behavior which lessens the likelihood of that behavior happening again.

Upon remembering this, I realized I don't need to punish John for sticking a plastic toy in a glue gun. The liklihood of that specific infraction happening again is unbelievably low. Whatever experiment he was testing, he completed. He satisfied his curiosity. He won't need to do it again.

So I have to look at what is the real issue here. The real issue is that he broke a stated rule and then lied to cover it up. That part we're going to work on. And guess what, we have lots of opportunities around here to practice.

If we are talking about a police/societal situation, we can't deal with intent. We only have the law. But in this case, I'm a parent... and my job is to teach. So intention is actually very much to the point. I desire my children to operate morally and be responsible for their decisions.

The beauty of homeschooling and having my children with me so much is that I have a chance to see these character flaws magnified in our daily lives so that it becomes obvious they must be dealt with. Ironically, these are two areas (breaking stated rules and lying to conceal) we have been focusing on with John for a few months.

The consequence of this pattern of behavior is already being dealt with. The discovery of this particular act just solidifies our need to stay the course. But one thing it did bring to light was to remind me of John's need to experiment physically with things.

So we had a talk with John the day after my blog entry, reminding him that we have rules for his safety not to curb his joy. We talked about practices that we have in place to remind him how important it is to obey. We also expressed our understanding of his need to find out how things work.

So we have a new class at Laughner Learning Labs called things John wants to know. And we will endeavor to walk him through the scientific process to ask questions, hypothosize, test. And if something doesn't work, we are going to help him research why.

So, be prepared. He's been wanting to light an aluminum can full of dry leaves on fire for a while. He thinks he can make a fire starter. Sounds like a perfect subject to start studying. Safety will be our first consideration, of course. I guess you could say we've decided to fight fire with fire.

Do they make baby-sized safety goggles?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Halloween Scares Me

Halloween scares me. It scares me because I can't make a firm decision one way or another about whether I should participate in any way as a Christian. During my childhood, I alternated years of costume wearing, only wearing Biblical costumes and stoic avoidance of acknowledging the day was even happening. It seems my parents were just as confused as I am about how to handle Halloween.

Every year, I am presented with deeper and darker tales about how evil it is and how its celebration has Pagan roots and how some of my friends will not be participating in something Occult-ish. You may have firm convictions regarding this. For that, I envy you. (Yes, it's as okay to envy your convictions as it is to covet someone's prayers.)

Here's my problem with those arguments: what about Christmas Trees and Easter Bunnies? Every time I encounter an article or argument about the evil origins of Halloween, I'm smacked upside the face with the equally evil origins of Easter bunnies and Christmas Trees. (Seriously, start digging....)

And yet, many of the same people who are living, dead set against Halloween because of its Pagan origins, decorate cakes with bunnies at Easter, decorate and hunt eggs and bring evergreens into their homes each year at Christmas. (Yes, I said living dead in discussing Halloween)

And the argument is, of course, that those activities have been appropriated by Christians. We have our own spiritually acceptable ways of looking at Christmas decorations. Even the fertility symbol that is the egg and the Easter bunny have been adopted as representations of the empty tomb. (Actually, I can't remember why we justify the bunny.)

As far as I know, we aren't called to celebrate Christ's birth but we are called to remember His death, burial and resurrection. And we pervert the memory with a bunch of silly antics that, upon closer inspection, turn out to be not so silly and all the more disturbing.

If we must have some traditional activities to participate in on Easter, the last thing we should be doing is eating HAM! We should be eating lamb with bitter herbs and either actually spreading its blood on our door posts or at least doing it symbolically and thanking the Lord that He became our Passover Lamb. Has it ever occurred to anyone that the Person who fulfilled the Mosaic law might be offended by our flouting it on the day we celebrate His rising from dying for our inability to follow such laws?

But this same Lord spoke to Paul about all of us Gentiles and explained that circumcision was unnecessary and why it was okay to share in salvation while still being unclean in our choice of foods.

If we can choose to ignore the original meaning behind symbols for holidays we consider to be Holy, perhaps we can choose to ignore the meanings on another day. (Or again, maybe we should drop them all.) I agree, worshipping and fantasizing dark spirits or using superstitions like lit, carved pumpkins to "protect" ourselves from evil is a bad idea when we actually should be relying only on the Blood of Christ. I leave those arguments for people who have more ambiguity about those things.

On the other hand, carving up a pumpkin and putting a candle inside is an endeavor innocent enough in itself. (Though some of my friends shy even away from doing that. But Christmas trees are ok. Seriously, look into the original reason people brought the trees inside in the first place.) And let's not forget that Jesus was, by any evidence, not born on December 25th. Or even at that time of year. That date was chosen simply because it DID correspond with a dark holiday already being celebrated. How's that for situational ethics?

So, let me say, I've come to the conclusion that however I feel about Halloween, I must also feel about most of my traditional, cultural expressions at Christmas and Easter. Intellectually and spiritually, if I must give up one, I must give up the others as well. And since I've not come to the conclusion that is necessary, I choose to participate in some things that go on at Halloween.

I choose to participate in a cultural expression where we get to dress up. There is no other culturally acceptable time during the year where so many adults put on costumes and get so playful. I'd be in favor of costume parties once a month, not tied to any spiritual overtones... just a chance to pretend and be playful.

We don't dress up to confuse the spirits. We dress up because it's fun. We dress up to amuse and impress each other with our creativity. My baby will be an octopus and I will be the ocean as I carry her this year. How cool is that?!

I choose to dress up and to minimize my children's exposure to candy. In reality, the need to have gobs and gobs of candy is the scariest part of Halloween for me. I mean, my family was given a certain deliverance from obesity and gluttony by choosing to avoid processed foods and refined sugars, yet, you all say that part is harmless. Celebrating the macabre? I'll leave that to your conscience and your own blog.

I choose to forego ghosts and ghouls and the decidedly nightmarish things associated with Halloween. I choose to pray for those in a lost and dying world. I choose to do that on more than one night per year. I also choose to be in the world but not of it. I try to live according to my conscience, the conviction the Holy Spirit brings.

I thank you all who remind me to be careful in my behavior each year as this date approaches because I would hate to continue to participate thoughtlessly. But I also urge you not to fall prey to superstition yourself and allow Satan to own a day of the year because of fear. Why does he get October 31st? Why does he get costumes and candy?

For those who argue that church Fall Festivals and Trunk or Treat programs are simply teaching our children that they need something just because the world is having it, you're right. I don't think we should have be having alternatives simply because the world is having something. But on the other hand, cultural appropriation seems to be something we're fairly comfortable with in most situations.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

To Punish or Not to Punish?

Ok, so, I have a hypothetical question for you...

Yeah, you're right.

Who am I kidding?

It's not hypothetical at all.

It didn't happen to a friend of mine. It happened to me, today. Well, I found out it happened today. The event happened a while ago. I think I need your help.

Hannah has a beautiful crown she received as a party favor from a friend's birthday party. It was broken by a sibling. We can't remember who. It may have been both. But that's neither here nor there. The point is that it needed repair.

After a twenty minute stint where I fought valiantly to open a previously used (and now sealed) tube of super glue with a 9 month old sitting on my lap, I decided perhaps super glue wasn't the correct tool for the job. I announced my defeat energetically, "Aha! What Mommy needs is the glue gun!" The stupid, faulty tube of super glue is now in the trash.

Immediately, John opened his own trusty tool box (pictured above) and proffered his glue gun. This tool kit is a thing of beauty. It has been useful numerous times over the years. He used Christmas money to purchase it, years ago, when he was still too young to really use it. Hmm, I suppose he's still too young. So it resides in the school room where he is under strict orders to not even open the box unsupervised.

Always pleased to find some way to let John provide assistance and feel useful, I readily agreed that his glue gun was the perfect solution. Immediately, my Mom-dar went off.

"John, where are the glue sticks?"

"Someone must have taken them out of there."

Interesting how Someone is always an available scapegoat... but then again, I do weird stuff I can't always remember, so I may have been the guilty party. John plugged in the gun and offered to fix the crown for me. I wasn't prepared to hand over the reigns just yet (plastic tiara stakes are pretty high). I was already thinking of another project where he could try his hand as using the tool.

The first thing I noticed was that the gun was taking a long time to heat up. Already five minutes had passed and there was no molten pool on the sacrificial piece of junk mail. On closer inspection, I realized the little metal rest was missing. Someone's name was once again invoked.

At last I saw a little purple goo at the tip of the gun. My heartbeat quickened as it recognized foul play while my head still rationalized, I don't remember having purple glue sticks... I inquired as to the origin of the purple goo.

"Oh... I thought you knew about that. Remember, I melted one of my K'nex pieces through there. I'm pretty sure you said it was ok, but you may have been absorbed with the computer or something."

Plausible deniability plus blame shifting. GOOD. Almost as classic as Someone.

So, what do I do, now? Is there a plastic melting, sneaking statute of limitations? We have no idea when it happened. But to me, it happened today. Should I super glue him to his bed? Too bad the tube is permanently sealed.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Someone's in the Kitchen with Dina

...and she's probably fed up with all that infernal banjo strumming!

Some say the kitchen is the heart of the home. It is very true in our home. It's the center of activity. Stuff and people are always coming in and going out. There is the constant processing of groceries, food prep, cleaning, cooking, cleaning and eating. (And cleaning.) And my children are always close to my heart, which means they are always in my kitchen.

Sometimes I love having them in there with me. Sometimes I consider hiring a nanny (just for meal prep). I wouldn't give up cooking. I love it too much. But, alas, I view training them as my job, so they are eagerly invited to be present, welcomed to participate and required to help clean.

Today, I'm making Garlic Soup. Cote and I are a little under the weather. I'm a firm believer in the healing power of garlic and homemade chicken broth so I'm following my friend Mary's advice and finally trying this recipe.

Because he's had years of training, I actually trust John with many food prep activities. Since I was busy helping clean up Cote from another round of regurgitation, I asked John to chop the potatoes. He chopped potatoes and celery and assisted with other activities when I made it back to the kitchen. He's obviously a wonderful help in the kitchen.

Hannah, I have my hopes, will eventually be a major help as well. She always brings a chair over and stands at the counter, involved in everything possible. If she sees me get out garlic, she finds and brings me the garlic press. She offers to stir and pour. Sometimes she stirs and pours despite my admonitions not to. She is always a willing taste-tester.

She's thrilled when she sees stock simmering on the stove. She eats the carrots wilted by hours of simmering as I let the chicken cool for deboning. That girl can debone a chicken almost as fast as me. She puts the bones in the correct bowl, rightly separating the refuse from the valuable meat. Unfortunately, she believes the place for the good chicken is in her mouth. I have to work quickly to stay ahead of her and not lose too much chicken to her "wages".

Tonight, she was working diligently. Suddenly, she straightened her body and looked intensely at me. She said, "Mom, this chicken is having a homebirth." I was never able to discern what exactly caused her to make that connection but I did laugh. It reminds me she is experiencing a lot of life and learning all the time.

About that time, the soup started to boil and I asked John to stir it and turn it down. He asked what temperature I wanted it. I said if it was high, then to turn it down to medium. He quickly complied, noting, "Yeah, high is to get things hot. Medium is to keep it going. And low is just for amateurs."

Despite my frustrations, I am always glad that I have invited them into the heart of the heart-of-my-home, letting them participate rather than simply witness. They make me laugh and I see them learning. And well, they teach me things as well. Cooking with children in the room heats things up and keeps them going. Cooking by oneself, well, that's for amateurs.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Free for All

We are a family who loves to play games. We have an armoire full of boardgames, cardgames and puzzles in the school room. Tonight, I settled down to play a game with the kids for the first time in what seemed like forever. My first thought when we began playing Yahtzee! Free for All was Why don't I do this more often?


I have a four year old and a nine month old.

Playing board games with them around is less like entertainment and more like character training. Tonight, Hannah deemed herself fit and ready for duty in the vacant seat at the table. I patiently encouraged John that she would only play as long as she could keep herself in line. My other charge was wide-eyed and in full octopus arm mode as she made for those tasty looking dice.

I found myself saying, "Oh, it's my turn again?" Then I held Cote close to my body while I shifted that side from the table and rolled my dice. I examined them to realize I had three sixes and a one and a four. Suddenly, I realized that Cote had snaked her hand around my body and was drooling as she lunged nearly out of my arms in hopes of attaining a forbidden cube.

It was at that moment, Hannah reached over and decided she didn't like the card she'd earned on her last turn and decided to exchange it. I ordered Hannah to stop and threatened her with eviction from the game. I slid the dice a little further from the edge of the table and promptly picked up those three sixes I had and rolled them again. Oh well, at least no one was choking and no one was being throttled.

This scenario played out a few times with minor variations and I remembered why I always say the baby has to nurse at game time and suggest that Theo and the kids get started without me.

John was very patient with the whole situation but I felt vaguely as if he was making the most of it. I know I couldn't possibly have been able to count but it sure seemed like he took more than three rolls a time or two. I think I also noticed a four turn into a five to become a yahtzee. But what do I know, I had bigger fish to fry.

Shortly before her four-year-old attention span led her to forsake our game, Hannah really got into the role. She cupped her five dice gleefully in her tiny hands and shook for all she was worth. As she threw them on the table she blurted, "I'm gonna take my baby to Venice!"

I began to laugh hysterically and wonder what had inspired that outburst. I asked her if she said Venice (just to be sure) and she nodded. She repeated, becoming even more animated, "I'm gonna take my baby to Venice, Son!"

John just smiled patronizingly at me, "Dad said last time, 'I'm gonna take my son to Vegas, baby!'"

I decided he can. I'll stay home and nurse the baby.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Confessions from the Land of Everything is Okay

A few years ago, I had a Sunday school teacher who said during a discussion that we needed to not complain or show sadness or be depressed around non-believers because we need them to see we aren't in the same boat with them. The theory was that they want to come over to our boat.

It seriously rubbed me the wrong way. Immediately, I protested. We are in the same boat! They are looking to see how we deal with it, not pretend that all our worldly troubles go away the moment we accept Christ.

So, that's how deep our faith is? That we must fake who we are and what life is like in order to convince others that following Christ is worthwhile. That sounds more like a Pharisee than Christ to me. Though my spirit screamed NO, and knew it was wrong, my flesh has operated that way most of my Christian walk.

The Bible says that we are to confess our sins one to another. It also says the rain falls on the just and the unjust. We aren't promised that we won't mourn, but that we do not mourn like the world.

Yes, sin is deeply intertwined with our illness. It is a result of the Fall. We live in a sinful world and all struggle and our afflicted by sin and with sin. I don't know if what you are dealing with is the result of specific sin you committed, or your ancestors committed or simply so that God may demonstrate His power, or maybe it IS because you are faithful (Anyone remember Job?) or just because the rain falls where it falls.

Regardless, I can share your burdens. I am in the boat with you. I am both an amazing, wonderful daughter of the King and a miserable wretch of a person. Why is it when we are rescued by Christ's love, we don't turn around and bring our fellow boat riders with us? Is it because we are actually trusting in something other than Christ's redeeming love who takes us where we are and how we are and continues to work on us?

My recent blog entry regarding John's Bipolar got a lot of response from dear friends. Apparently, I've not been living transparently enough. James 5:16 (NIV) says, "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."

God's Word Translation says "those who have God's approval" in place of righteous. What is righteous? Abraham believed God and it was counted as righteousness. Abraham was granted approval by God and certainly wan't perfect. Maybe we'd have more healing if we had more sick people (people who admit they are sick).

Our deepest relationships are with the people who know us best. They are with the people who see us with bed head and bad breath and love us anyway. We Christians are supposed to be brothers and sisters but no one lets their guard down to get comfortable enough to live together. Only Christ can rescue us from these problems in our lives so lets show our Daddy our boo boos and let him make them better and stop worrying about what the one in line near us might think. Did it occur to you they are in need of His help too?

So I'll follow my sister Jenifer's lead.

I am Holly. I am smart and capable and extremely lazy because of it. I don't have to work as hard as others at many things so I sit back, procrastinate. I'm used to doing things right (or so they appear right) so I avoid doing anything that seems hard to me. I don't want you to know I'm not perfect so you only see me do the things I'm good at or confident about. And I judge people who don't do as well as me. It makes me feel better about my shortcomings. (For a little while.)

I have been miraculously delivered from many emotional issues, physical issues and morbid obesity by an answer to prayer in how to change my diet a few years ago. I lost 80 pounds easily, painlessly as long as I obeyed what I knew to be right. I still struggle with desires and an unwillingness to admit that just a little won't hurt me. When I have a little, I have serious obsessive, compulsive eating problems. I dream about food and will result to lying and sneaking to get what I want when I am in that mode. I've been doing a lot of "just a little bits" lately.

I love my children desperately and am thrilled to be blessed with them and desire God to bless me with more. Sometimes when they don't do what I want, I scream at them and threaten them, use my size and authority, in the hopes they will fear me and comply. It never works well (other than the fearing part). :( Not cool, I want you all to think I'm super mom. My kids already know I'm not but they do love me.

I have been gifted with the ability to write well and I'm afraid to commit to doing it more and working on getting published. I have seen God do amazing things in me and the people around me but have been unwilling to devote daily (weekly even?) time to prayer and Bible reading. I am afraid of all the very serious needs of people around me and what I may have to do to help, so I try not to pay attention. Love my happy little bubble.

I have a wonderful husband with his own flaws and have attended lots of marriage conferences and read books. I think we have a great marriage that will last but must admit I haven't given it much attention. So I've allowed some hurts and miscommunications to get in the way and I've turned apathetic toward my dear one and have chosen to spend more time with just about anything than my husband. Because there have never been problems, we've not devoted time to marriage preservation that we should. We've been married for fifteen years and have become nothing much more than roommates lately.

I'll have you know that the answer to our way of eating came after a period of confession about my eating and my inability to do it on my own. So there you have it. There are some of my flaws that I'd really prefer to keep to myself. Please heal the wounds in my life, Dear God. When I admit these flaws it keeps me from ignoring them. Let me know what to let go of and have the courage to work on the parts that I need to work on. Give me righteous brothers and sisters who can both pray for me and hold my hand, keep me accountable while we ride in this boat together. Make me righteous so that I can return the favor.

Friday, October 8, 2010

What my kid can do that your kid can't

So I posted today on Facebook that I love Fridays because John knows he gets to play video games after school so he gets up and starts working before I even get out of bed. I listened to a webinar yesterday about the lies that homeschooling moms believe. One lie is that no one else has the troubles they have and everyone else's children are further ahead. Facebook can exacerbate the problem when people are posting about their wonderful vacations and children's progress.

I realized very quickly that I tend to post only the good stuff. I'll have you know that our struggles in parenthood and fosterparenthood have been harrowing. I am THRILLED when good stuff happens and I have to share it with someone because I'm so excited. I focus on what's good because that gets me through the day.

Let me give you some history. John spent 8 months in the foster care system before we met him. During that time, one social worker indicated that he was in more than 20 homes though the record states it is less. John has been diagnosed and treated for Reactive Attachment Disorder and Bipolar Disorder.

Despite my hippie biases against pharmaceutical intervention, my boy takes very a powerful atypical antipsychotic and lithium each day. There are side effects both short term and long term that make my head spin but we opted for something that would limit his tendency to unstrap his seat belt and beat me with objects while I am driving. He once covered my eyes while I was driving because I told him he was going to have to eat dinner before dessert. (Which was always the case.) Then there were the two times he tried to get out of a moving car because he was so desperately angry.

I've had the police called because I was restraining him while taking him out of a store to keep him from hurting himself and me. I told him to stop climbing on the furniture in the store or he would need to ride in the grocery cart. Then he tried to pull a glass shelved baker's rack over on top of himself. He's told me before that he wanted to hurt me with a knife and that he wanted to hurt himself with a knife. He was mean to the cat. Simple disappointments or overstimulation would lead to rages that lasted for hours.

I've requested police assistance and he has run and hidden from them. One policeman kindly suggested I might consider medication for him. Yeah, well, the one he was on was being weaned down because he'd been stable and we wanted him on as few medications as possible. The doctors and I now refer to that medication as the "anti-police" drug. We don't need police intervention when he's on it.

And trust me, it isn't a matter of consistency. Theo's grandmother once noted, "Why does he behave like that? Throwing fits? He knows they never give in."

He's had imaginary friends that we eventually realized were visual hallucinations. He had days and weeks at age 5 that involved him rocking, staring out the window and crying all day. He's had times where I've woken up at three in the morning to find him doing experiments involving light bulbs. He once decided to build a ray gun by sticking metal wires into an electrical outlet. And there are other issues I'm very reluctant to talk about in public.

To say there have been dark times would be a grave understatement. There have been prayers upon prayers. I've read so many books on raising boys and overstimulated children and on bonding and attachments and Bipolar. I've literally loaned out enough of those books to other mothers in need that I could be considered a public library. I take what works and move on.

Frequently, what works only works for a while because this isn't behavior related. It is a mood disorder. It isn't based on rationality. Behavioral intervention works when people are actually making decisions. Nearly anything would send him into a panic. Flight or fight isn't really a decision, it's an instinct. We've done bonding activities that have offered some help to calm him down. By the way, there are plenty of books out there about what to do if your child is being bullied but I found nothing about what to do if your child was the bully.

When John wasn't panicking he was a well-behaved and very reasonable child. That's why it was so hard to watch him go through this. I only once experienced that kind of rage where my eyes turned dark and I could feel myself detach from my senses. It was during one of these dark periods of John's severe instability and I had just experienced my first miscarriage. There was no thinking. There was only anger and then there was extreme embarrassment and guilt afterwards. My John used to experience that rage within himself daily.

Medication staved off the worst of the worst of the symptoms but I still had never seen him stable. Then an answer to prayer came when we agreed to change our diets. It wasn't with the idea of helping his Bipolar, it was seriously where we were led by God. Within three weeks we saw him stable for the first time ever. Nevermind that I had asked numerous health professionals about nutrition and they all said, "Well, it won't hurt him but it won't make any difference in his behavior. I'm very pleased to say that they were wrong.

As his moods settled it became evident that some of the struggles John had with learning weren't all related to mood. After great efforts at home (I am a trained special educator, afterall) we finally decided to get some testing. Turns out that John's written expression skills and visual motor coordination are in the .2 percentile. To help you grasp that concept, I'll say that at that time, my 10 year old boy and my 3 year old girl could have drawn pictures and you wouldn't have been able to guess which one was the artist. It was handy in that it reinforced my decisions to have him answer me verbally in most subjects and to eschew cursive handwriting for typing.

But how do I get from the picture I've painted here, to the amazing, confident, well-balanced boy I'm getting to know today? There have been a lot of little helps and strategies and medications and good whole foods that have helped but I'm going to have to answer with a big I. DON'T. KNOW. But recently, I'm starting to have some suspicions.

Despite using myriad phonics programs and my own adapted reading plans and timed fluency exercises, my fifth grader was struggling to read at a second grade level this spring. And we were happy because that was progress. He was two and a half years behind in math. It was hard to get him to write his name more than once a day.

Yet, suddenly, he'll be only a year behind in math by Christmas and he's typing 9 words per minute and starting to write paragraphs on paper. And he's blasted past a fifth grade reading level to being able to comprehend and tackle pretty much any popular fiction on the shelf.

I wasn't sure if he was understanding a book he's been reading this week but he answered all the comprehension questions I could throw at him. I still thought that he might be getting the big concepts but not technically some of the words. Those thoughts were proven false when I started to read a chapter aloud to him last night and he indicated he had read to a certain point by saying, "Start here, Mom, where it says 'He abruptly...'".

Oh.... ABRUPTLY.... nevermind.

Let's not forget he's mostly a cooperative, normal 11-year-old boy. He has his moments which need correction. He still occasionally panics. But I now have a young man who gets up early on Friday to complete his school work as fast as he can, most of it independently. He used to go into hysterics when he just knew we were going to start anything challenging. He does his own laundry and is a huge contributing member of our family. His obsessive compulsiveness is well under control. He's a pleasure to be around. He does spat with his sister.... Oh wait, that's normal! :D

I thank God as I contemplate where John is now. And I remember a few books I read by Raymond Moore which highlighted studies that said boys specifically (it happens earlier in girls) reach some sort of developmental coordination around the age of 10-12. He said you could basically give a child no formal education up to that time and they could easily then catch up to their peers within six months. I nodded my head at the concept and felt pressured to pressure an education on my sick son.

I've done nothing new educationally in the last six months but to keep moving ahead with him at his own pace. But that pace has drastically accelerated. I think he's suddenly developmentally ready. I realize the One who made him, designed him well. It's hard in our society, but we really do need to lovingly and tenderly wait. Through no greatness of our own, our children will become who they are meant to be.

We can't teach them to walk but we can clap our hands when they try. We can pick them up and encourage them when they fall. They grow and learn, we've just got to love them, feed them, and present them with the next challenge. Be gentle on your children and yourself. They are individuals made by God. He put your family together and has equipped you to meet their needs. So let's stop comparing them.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

For a limited time only

Few words strike fear in this mother's heart like "Hey, Mom, I've got an idea." Today, after a moment of panic, I looked toward the speaker of those words and found a purple Bumbo chair clamped firmly to his head. This kind of thing happens when a creative, ten year old boy has two younger sisters. Wary of his intimidating headgear, I listened as he said, "If you had 18 guys with Bumbos on their heads, you could really move some furniture."

I'm sure he noticed my raised eyebrow and dubious demeanor. Let's face it, he also saw the "I'm totally going to blog this" look. (We'll just call it "wry". )

He dropped to all-fours and pressed his baby-equipment-clad head firmly against the couch. He struggled for a few minutes butting heads with his formidable, upholstered enemy. My wariness migrated to complete maternal, slap-happy giddiness as I found myself laughing enough to shake the baby sleeping in my arms.

Breathlessly he expanded the explanation, "Now. Imagine a guy here, there, and there and some others around the couch and I'm sure we could move this thing." By then, Hannah was getting impressed and ready to buy this couch-moving miracle product for three easy payments of $29.95. "Yes, John! You could! And a guy there and a guy there and a guy there," she squealed. Note to self: never let her watch infomercials.

Then my purple-festooned son got that deal-clenching gleam in his eye. He lowered his voice soberly, "Of course, you could wear a helmet but they might crack. Bumbos don't crack. But they also aren't manly..." I'm sure it'll be even less manly when I tell him Cote peed in that chair last night.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Waltzing Contentment

Tonight, I find myself oddly content. I don't mean to imply my life is hard by using the word, "oddly". I realize I have so many material things and societal privileges to be thankful for. But I also know that depression doesn't need a reason to set in. So tonight I am thankful for sore feet and a crying baby because those things help me to focus on the things that are important.

I am reluctant to say Cote's first tooth is nearly ready to burst forth. I've been wrong before. But I gotta tell you, it seems a lot more serious this time. I know the bottle of Oragel says that fever and a runny nose aren't symptoms of teething, but, hey, Bottle, you aren't an experienced mother of three. I know teething when I see it. Or I know it when it has hit me upside the head since eleven last night and my sister proposes it might be the cause of the tiniest Laughner's recent angst.

But a persistent, teething baby makes you pull out all the stops and focus on her: her needs, her comfort, her pain, her sweetness, her utter dependence on her Mommy to make it better. And suddenly all the busyness stops. The kids are in bed and I find myself longing for a moment to read a new book and to put my feet up and take a breath before our week begins. Yet, the baby won't nurse. Won't sit. Won't sleep. Won't cuddle.

There is nothing to do but tie the baby on in the best baby accessory ever. I could do without just about every other material baby equipment, including diapers. A good baby carrier is absolutely necessary. The sobs immediately soften.

My husband sits down at the piano and works his musical, Daddy magic. I find myself dancing barefoot with a worn-out, hurting baby in my dining room cum school room. The lights are dim. The light from another room glints off the light fixture which now seems a lot more like a chandelier. The baby's head becomes ever more unstable until it drops heavily against my chest and she sighs as sleep brings welcome relief.

My limp, sweaty baby helps me to focus my thoughts without the distraction of Facebook or Instant Netflix on the two children asleep in their beds, my husband playing piano and singing and my God who is the author of my contentment. I have purpose. I am reminded. Sometimes it take a little pain to see the beauty in something. It is perspective. Not the teeth. Not the trouble.

Nothing but a moment to hear sweet music and find your body swaying and to offer comfort to another soul to realize the singular purpose of your own, particular calling; to know the love of a Father who cares when we hurt, even if it's something so minor as a tooth.

Philippians 4:12 "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want."

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Minnesotans Mean It

We are spending a week in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We frequently travel with Theo hither and yon while he speaks at and attends conferences across the U.S. and, very recently, even in Canada.

This morning, I drove our rental van to drop Theo off at the conference. Betty, our GPS, does a fair job of guiding us to our various destinations and we were following her well-informed advice this morning. Unfortunately, something about the streets in Minnesota have confused her. Since we arrived on Saturday, she's attempted to direct us the wrong way down a couple of streets. This is unusual behavior for Betty.

The worst part is when you don't obey her unvariably chipper yet authoritarian digital voice, it's kind of like when a mom has PMS and the kids are driving her crazy and she grits her teeth, tries to demonstrate self control, and wears a very thin veneer of NICE. Yeah, there's an edge. We all know it, Betty.

She violently spits, "Recalculating! Recalculating" from her speaker and an hourglass spins ominously while she "thinks" about what to do next. Sometimes u-turns ensue and great stress is had by all.

This morning Betty directed us to turn left where there was a clearly marked sign indicating "No Left Turns 7am-9am Monday-Friday." We found ourselves sitting at the intersection at 8 am, Monday morning. There was really very little traffic. Theo says, "Oh, I know it says no left turn but there isn't much traffic and I'm not sure how easily we can contend with a recalculation. Just go ahead."

I shrugged. I'm sure it was a similar gesture when Eve showed that new fruit to Adam in the garden. I turned left. And about 400 feet later, I saw a post man step into the middle of the road and hold his hand out in a stopping motion. I look questioningly at Theo because I've never seen a postman stop traffic before. He said, "Oh shoot, he's pulling you over". Still confused as to the identity of this man I say, "Why would he do that?"

"Because you made an illegal left turn."

Oh.... the postman is an undercover cop!

I pulled over and rolled down the window as he approached. I took note of his uniform and badge and marveled how closely it resembles a postal service uniform in Tennessee, but none of that mattered as he asked for my driver's license and insurance. My insurance card was, of course, where it always is. It was in the glove compartment of my van, in Tennessee.

He took my license to his police car, which actually was an undercover car, so you know I'm not completely crazy. As he started to walk away he said to keep looking for my insurance card. I was pretty sure we couldn't see Tennessee from here but Theo and I diligently scanned all the various cards in our wallets.

The officer walked back to the van and cavalierly stood in the middle of the streetlike a man who pulls people over without lights and a siren, and reminds us of the THREE signs indicating we were not to turn left. I was actively tucking my tail between my legs but Theo started to play the dumb tourist card by stating we were following the GPS.

With a stern glare, Mr. Officer raised his finger to his lips in a paternal shushing gesture and said, "It is my turn to talk. Your turn to listen." Yep, that definitely trumped the dumb tourist card. Theo's tail was now roughly looking like mine.

He was capitally unimpressed we were unable to produce our insurance card. Theo offered to call our insurance agent. Another glare. Seriously, Theo, just let the guy talk... "In Minnesota, we don't talk to people on the phone. I never know who I'm talking to. In Minnesota, you must always have your insurance card. Get it and keep it with you."

There was no "have a nice day" or "drive safe" or so much as a "you are free to leave". He returned to his post on the sidewalk to watch for the next person who dared to turn left at the wrong time of day.

Theo apologized to me several times before we dropped him off and we had to explain multiple times to the children that we, yes, had done something wrong and got in trouble. It was a very humbling lesson to realize we had read a rule and chosen to ignore it and then got caught right in front of the kids.

But I was able to use it as an object lesson. We talked about listening respectfully to members of authority. We talked about accepting responsibility for our actions despite the fact that someone else told me to do it. We talked about Adam and Eve.

Every couple of hours during the day, Hannah's barrage of questions started again. "Mommy, tell me about the law." I dutifully explained my misdeed and how I was very sorry and I was going to behave now. I also explained how God wants us to obey the laws of man as long as they don't go against His law.

"Mommy, do you remember when you and Daddy got in trouble but John and me were being good kids in the back seat?"

Yes, Hannah. I'd really like to forget.

"What did you do?"

Hannah, I turned left when I wasn't supposed to turn left. The sign said no left turn 7am-9am Monday-Friday.

"Does Lava melt everything?"

She's a three year old. I have no idea how lava was related but it came up every time.

Even John was tired of hearing about it and tried to answer at one point, with exasperation in his voice... "Mommy turned left when the sign said..."

When it came time to pick Theo up, the litany began once more. I called Theo to tell him we were on our way and that I was, in fact, exactly where I had been pulled over this morning. John looks surprised and confused, "Pulled over? Why?" Mommy's voice began to sound a little like Betty's. In a sweet yet barbed tone I staccatoed, "I. Turned. Left. When. I. Wasn't. Supposed. To."

Yeah, he dropped it. Smart boy.

As we pulled into the garage at our condo, Theo started to remark that I was a little close to the mirror. "I think you've done enough back seat driving today, don't you?"

Yeah, he's a smart boy, too.