18
January

a son like mine

Fall 2013 272Having a son like mine means…

…making sure that the fettuccine alfredo he ordered is not garnished with parsley, but is completely homogenous in color.

…finding out if a medicine can be flavored before the doctor prescribes it.

…carving out plenty of time for homework and sometimes writing the answers for him.

…explaining figures of speech or euphemisms.

…knowing that a bath may invoke a tantrum if he sees a speck of dirt in the tub and perceives it to be a bug.

…not being offended if he smells everything on his plate before trying it.

…macaroni and cheese is always on the grocery list.

…picking out pants at the store that pull up and down easily without a lot of buttons, snaps or fasteners.

…understanding that there is a difference between “Toy Story”, “Toy Story 2″ and “Toy Story 3″, and not being offended if you are corrected by him.

…being corrected…a lot.

…accepting the fact that hugs may be one-sided sometimes, but he wants them just the same.

…planning ahead and sharing the plan the night before so everyone is on the same page.

…having an expert in the house when it comes to remembering which team is playing which team in football, what the player’s number is and who won the last time the two teams faced off.

…never having to wonder what he really thinks.

…laughing every day as honest observations are revealed and shared about the world around us.

…resting in the confidence that “I love you” is always, always sincere.

…loving someone more than you ever thought you could.

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17
January

The Dream

children_holding_hands02

This was one of the best mornings I have ever had as a music teacher.

That is a huge statement, yet even as I reread it, I stand behind its enormity.

Today was Folk Dance Friday, a new tradition that my teaching partner, Ruth, and I began at the beginning of this school year. Most Fridays we have taught “Alabama Gal” or “Down in the Valley”…circle songs or partner dances that teach the kids life skills, like making choices (partners) and how to look other people in the eye and say, “thank you for being my partner”. Almost every Friday something special happens as we see children who normally struggle with social interaction smiling, holding hands and being “chosen”, some for the first time in their lives.

Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and we will have a holiday. This week we just so happened upon a Folk Dance that was co-written by Martin Luther King, Jr. called “Alabama, Mississippi”. Our musical notes explained that he had co-written the song with Bessie Jones, who was known for her tambourine playing as well as her music writing and her work with children.

Our second dance today was to be that song. Before we taught the dance, I brought the children to the Smart Board where a picture of MLK, Jr. was projected. And I explained his significance to them. I told them about that period of American history, when life was certainly not “equal”. I explained to them his belief in non-violence and how “sit-ins” and marches through the streets slowly began to wake people up to the enormous wrong that was a way of life. I described to them that a crippled, old black woman carrying groceries would have to make her way to the back of a crowded bus while young, healthy white men sat in all the front seats, glaring at her with hatred as she caused a delay in the bus leaving. I described how young, black men and women were spit on, called names and treated worse than animals.

The children sat silently and listened. This is new to them. It is not their reality.

I finished my introduction with quotes from the “I have a dream” speech. Then we got up and danced.

We sang and danced in one big circle, holding hands. Children of all nationalities, religions, races, and family situations. Ruth and I chose several children to come to the middle and play tambourines, in honor of Bessie Jones.

When we finished the children sat down.

“Boys and girls”, I said while choking back tears. “It occurs to me that we are fulfilling Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream this morning. As we are dancing together, holding hands…I think he would be very proud to see this.”

And the children began to clap. We all clapped together. And class was over.

“I have a dream that one day…little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

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1
June

Where It Is Safe

path

This morning I hit the path of Cullen Park for the umpteenth time since last year. With the exception of two or three weekends, I have checked in at the park every weekend since the marathon in January. The park is really pretty and it provides me with an opportunity to run in nature, with the smells of honeysuckle and pine, blooming flowers, red birds and the occasional darting deer. It’s lovely. The path is also marked with mileage and provides a perfect 6-7 mile run on the weekend. Since most of my week day runs are in my neighborhood, Cullen gives me a chance to break up the monotony of the pavement and the cars and the noise.

Today will be the end of my season at Cullen Park.

I have never been an “outdoorsy” person. Prior to beginning this running lifestyle, I preferred to stay inside. For me, summer meant more time inside. Houston is hot and humid and I find swimming pools kind of disgusting. I could elaborate but that one is for another day…

It was around mile 4 that things went wrong today. This was when I started noticing flies darting past my face. This is just a part of running with sweat dripping from your face in the woods, and I can deal with this for a while. However, like our honeymoon snorkeling adventure, which started with me saying, “Oh, look how pretty the fish are!” and morphed within 30 minutes to “OH MY GOD, THEY ARE ALL TOUCHING ME!” the flies start to get to me after a while. No problem, I thought. I will just try to make myself like an animal that has a tail. They get rid of flies by shaking their tail, right? So I adopted a new form…running while flapping my arms around like two tails.

I could not keep this up as my arms have not had as much strength training as my legs over the past several years, so I had to stop flailing around. Plus, I almost knocked someone off their bike. Anyway, that was when I noticed it. A wasp. Easily the size of a silver dollar. Well, at least a quarter. It was on my tail. (Not my arm tails, but my backside.) I swatted it away from my butt and ran on. It came back for more. This thing was chasing me. I ran faster and resumed my arm tail flailing. It stayed with me. I tried to remember what people say you are supposed to do…was it run away??? freeze like a statue??? Maybe that was what to do when you see a bear. I could not recall, so I stopped and stood very still. It landed on my back. I wiggled my shoulders in terror. It flew off and landed on my leg. Clearly, freezing like a statue was not the flying insect remedy. Rats, that must have been for a bear.

That is when I lost my mind. Meaning, I started talking out loud to the wasp.

“WHY ARE YOU PICKING ON ME???” I questioned the non-speaking insect. It did not answer. (Don’t be ridiculous.) I started back up with the flailing arm tails. Then I saw two, poor, unsuspecting people on bicycles coming down the path.

I cannot imagine what I looked like. I googled “flailing in terror” to attach something at this point, but nothing comes close to the truth. Imagine a crazy lady running out of a burning barn…with her hair on fire, and you might be pretty close.

I had grabbed a stick up from the ground at this point and was whacking myself with it as they came towards me.

“HELP ME!” I screamed. ”PLEASE HELP ME!” I yelped out the details of the situation and I think I said something about it “not leaving me alone”. Anyway, I handed the stick to the man, who reluctantly got off the bicycle, probably thinking I was a homeless woman who had stopped taking her required medication.  I begged with him to please just hit it off of me. He looked all around and said calmly, “There is no wasp. But you do have a swarm of mosquitos around your legs”.

Relief flooded my soul. And then I thought, “Wait, I have a swarm of mosquitos around my legs.”

“You should probably just keep moving,” he said. That’s polite language for, “please just go away and let me finish my bike ride, crazy lady.”

I thanked him (I think) and then started running back towards the exit of the park. I felt something on my back. I swatted and yelled out loud, “I AM LOSING MY MIND!”

And everyone around looked at me sympathetically as if to say, “Lady, you are way past that point.”

I got back to the car, waved goodbye to nature and drove home where I completed the remaining miles I had committed to running today. I must confess that I halfway expected to see the wasp pop up in the back seat of the car ride home, like the zombies always do in the movies. “I’m baaaaaack!” Thankfully, this did not happen.

When I think about it, it was around last year at this time that I retired from the park because I was being swarmed by flies. I will be back once the weather cools off…like in November. Until then, I will stick with the neighborhood and its careless drivers.

You know, where it is safe.

 

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11
May

My Little Activist

juliasprotest

The little girl above is Julia, age 8. She was holding her own personal sit-in, in protest of the Outdoor Learning Center.

No, I am not kidding.

It was a second grade field trip and I was a chaperone. As we were led into the large room, which boasted tables of various animal pelts, the children were encouraged to “move through the room, feeling the pelts.” All of the kids excitedly began exploring the room – saying things like, “This one is a skunk!” “Ooh, feel the squirrel!” Well, all but one child.

For a moment I lost sight of Julia. I scanned the room of children and could not find her. And then, I looked over into the back area of the kitchen and spotted her. It was my Julia. And she was sitting against the wall, crying, with her eyes closed.

“Baby, what is wrong?” I inquired lovingly.

“I am NOT going to pet these poor animals’ skins. I am praying for all the animals who lost their lives for THIS!”

I didn’t know how to respond. I think I might have laughed. My natural inclination was to say, “Oh, just go feel the pelts!” But this child has her own feelings and convictions. Shouldn’t I encourage her independent thinking? Or should I, rather, encourage her to do what she was “supposed” to do at that moment, according to the powers that be?

I debated within myself, and finally decided to allow her to sit there and pray while I walked around and said, “cool” with all the other kids.

This was the first of many moments like this for my little activist.

She has made calls to the Nickelodeon channel, to express her opinion about one of their shows which made fun of blondes by suggesting they are dumb. I overheard her conversation in the other room…

“…I am a blonde and I am in the Gifted and Talented class, and my mom is blonde and she is a music educator. This is a stereotype that you should not be encouraging…”

They told her they would take it under advisement.

She posted a complaint on the Bratz website about their brand being a “poor role model” for girls her age.

They gave her a short, cutesy reply about how “Bratz girlz show their independence…just like you, Julia!”

She gagged a little. But we moved on.

Then most recently, I took her to a UIL One Act performance of a local high school. I didn’t do my due diligence in investigating the play, but assumed it would be OK for all eyes since it was a school function. It was “The Children’s Hour”…and I was wrong.

The play ended with a suicide (off stage), but you could hear a gun shot ring out before the stage went dark. The lights came up to reveal my child sitting in the fetal position crying (not unlike the picture above, only a bigger kid.)

I was horrified. I felt terrible. We talked about it on the way home and I thought she was OK.

The next morning I went for a run. When I got back, Julia was all smiles.

“Mom! I called the theatre department and told them that we did NOT appreciate that play…” I tuned out at that point because I work in the district and was quite appalled that she had spoken for me to someone else in the district.

That feeling came over me again. The “just go feel the pelts!” feeling.

Julia challenges me. See, I am a PLEASER. I am a “go with the flow”, “don’t cause a ruckus” person. And Julia is a mover and a shaker. She is someone who can change the world. And that never ceases to make me uncomfortable.

There is a bumper sticker that I have seen many times, which reads, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

Indeed.

But it is sometimes hard to be their mother.

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14
January

The Unlikely Marathoner – Race Report

Yesterday, at 12:58 p.m., I crossed the finish line at the Chevron Houston Marathon. Looking at these words, it almost still seems unreal. But it happened. I have pictures!

My journey started way before the 26.2 miles. Three years ago, I was not a runner. At all. I went for walks in the evening somewhat frequently, and a couple of times a year, when I wanted to “get in shape”, I would add a little jog into the mix. I can still remember coming home from one of those outings and bragging to Michael, “I ran almost a mile!”

For years I had watched Michael taking on physical challenges, to push his limits, to test himself, to conquer fears and be the best he could be. After his first Ironman finish, I told him, “You really inspire me!” I said it a lot. But that “inspiration” didn’t look like anything much. I decided to step out of my comfort zone. He encouraged me, “You should sign up for the Houston Half.” I remember laughing in his face and saying, “HA! I only run if I am being chased!” I thought of that the next year, as I began training for that Houston Half Marathon. I thought of that as the two of us ran side by side through the finish line of the Houston Half Marathon.

People asked me after that when I would run the full marathon. “I have no desire to run the full! I cannot imagine running for nearly six hours. Good grief. Why would I want to do that???” Still, the thought lingered in my mind. I signed up for the lottery…and was chosen. It was a feeling I can only imagine would compare to those of Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games. I wasn’t sure if I should cheer or cry. I think I did a little of both.

I signed up for Katy Fit, a running club that had helped me reach my half marathon goal the year before. And I started training. I was religious in my training, in getting my homework runs done, in rolling out my muscles at night, taking my glucosomine. I was really starting to want it, to begin to believe that I really could do it. I told everyone I knew. There would be those early mornings of training, when it was dark and cold and rainy…I would think, “WHY did I tell EVERYONE I am doing this???” Some days that was my only motivator, my pride! But it worked. I ran and ran and ran, logging the miles, preparing for the big day.

Ten days before the race, I became obsessed with the weather forecast. Houston can be tricky. January in Houston is a crap shoot. Sometimes, it is just crap. Shoot. I checked three different websites daily…hourly? I would get excited when the chance of rain was lower on one site. Then it would change on another site. Michael teased me about just wanting something to worry about. He would tell me, “Just worry about  the things you can control.” It was hard. I am kind of bad at that.

Thursday morning, I woke up to a big surprise. Michael had posted affirmations all over the house – on cabinets, on doors, in the bathroom, on the mirror. “I will be strong…I will smile….I will run and enjoy the day….” I read them over and over. I was ready. I knew I was.

I enjoyed the carb-loading on Saturday morning – a great breakfast of pecan waffle, bacon, coffee…we headed to the expo where I picked up my packet and my race bib. I bought my 26.2 mile magnet for my car. We had a wonderful, exciting day! The kids were taken to my mom and dad’s house for the evening and I came home. And the nerves kicked in. Oh. my. goodness. What. have. I .done? I teased Michael, “Can we just go back to the waffle part of the day?” He whistled “The Final Countdown” while I got my stuff in order. My friend Staci called and wished me luck. Her voice and words gave me more courage.

Michael and I watched some recorded shows and I got ready for bed. I didn’t sleep great. I was so anxious. When I opened my eyes at 4:15 a.m. Michael greeted me with, “This is your day!” I gave my feet a little rub and thanked them in advance for carrying me to my glory moment. I also told them in advance I was sorry for what was about to happen to them. And I got out of the bed.

I went to the front door and looked outside. Cold. Drizzly. Dark. Started my breakfast, which was oatmeal, toast with jelly and some coffee. This would be my last meal before the big event. I hoped it would sit well on this day, as it had for many training days.

At the George R. Brown Convention Center, we looked for my Katy Fit crew. I found my half marathon friend from last year, Nan. We hugged and wished each other good luck. Then I found my marathon friends – Lori, Scott, Amanda, Leah, Carol…we would be in this together. Most of us were first-timers to the full.

Michael was great. He had lots of funny things to say, which made all of us feel more at ease. He walked with me to the starting corral. He reminded me to smile and to take it all in and to enjoy it.

The wind was blowing and the rain was picking up as the gun went off. “Welcome to the Jungle” was playing over the loudspeaker. Boy was that right. Michael waved goodbye. I blew him a kiss. And I started running.

The beginning of the Houston Marathon is a big hill. As my group started out up the hill, the rain started pouring. Sheets of cold rain pounded us, soaking our clothes, our shoes and socks. I stepped into a puddle, drenching my left food in cold water. My pants became heavy. And it was cold. “Oh well, at least we don’t have to worry about the weather any more. It is what it is”, I said. Inside I was terrified. I had training runs in the rain. But never this long of a run. What if it rained like this the whole time? “I don’t think I can do this for six hours”, I thought to myself.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to. The rain let up and after about an hour or so, stopped completely. The plan was for Michael to meet up with us on his bike around mile 9. At that point, the halfers would have turned around and we would be able to see each other better. He had filled his backpack with a general store for runners – gatorade, chews, Stinger waffles, salt pills, Tums, Advil, jelly beans, flat Coke, and MORE. Before I saw him, we had stopped for a quick visit to the porta potty. I had used a wet wipe from my belt to wash my hands, and somehow in that process, my three Hammer Gels had fallen out of my belt. This was significantly awful, because I had trained with Hammer Gel and knew the effect it had on my body, particularly, my digestive system. The cardinal rule of long-distance running is, don’t EVER try anything different on race day. Now, what would I do?

My friends offered me things from their own stash. I turned them down. “I will see Michael just ahead. I will wait for him.” Another mile came and went. The clock was screaming at me, “It’s PAST TIME to take in nutrition!” I needed it every 45 minutes. It had turned into an hour. A medical tent was ahead. I yelled to them, “Do you have Hammer Gel?” They did not, but handed me a Stinger Gel. I had tried it once before with good results, so I took it. Around that time, we saw Michael.

“Hey sexy girlfriend!” he said as he approached on his bike. I did not feel sexy at ALL, but appreciated the smile that his greeting brought. “I hope you are talking to me”, I answered teasingly. I told him about the gel and he handed me two from his backpack. I knew I would be OK. I started to feel better, but the whole experience had shaken me quite a bit.

We were approaching mile 13 at this point. People started yelling and cheering to us, “You are halfway there!” I know they meant it encouragingly, but my friends and I agreed, it sounded more like a curse. My legs were telling me, “HALF?????” Most people talk about “hitting the wall” around mile 20. For me it was mile 13. This was when my mental fortitude was tested. I began to think I had made a mistake. The fear began to creep up again, as it had in the beginning. A mother pushing her older child in a wheelchair came alongside me. This mother was running the marathon with her handicapped child. I was humbled. I was embarrassed for doubting myself. My completely healthy self. I spoke some words of encouragement. And I kept going.

I passed a man who had written on his jacket dates that he had served in the Army, dates that he had battled with PTSD, dates marking various health crises that he had faced – heart attack, cancer…here he was, running beside me. I told him what an inspiration he was to me. I thanked him for his service. And I kept going.

Mile after mile we ran. We ran in silence for much of the way. Our training runs had been filled with jokes and frivolity. This day felt different. We just ran, side by side. Every mile, Michael would pop up on his bike. “You are looking strong, Melanie”, he would encourage. I started to feel strong. We passed mile 17 and I began to really gain momentum. We were in the single digits then, and I knew it was possible.

I saw one of our Katy Fit friends, Stephanie, who had trained with us until injury took her out. She came and stood in the cold rain to cheer us on, in the race that she was meant to run as well. I saw my friend Margaret, whose children had made me a poster. I saw my mother, Julia and Zeke, who had stood outside for an hour in the cold waiting to see me for a quick moment. I saw my friend Jennie, her husband Mitch and son Alex. They cheered for me like I was Lance Armstrong. I felt stronger with every familiar face. And Michael. Michael was always there.

At mile 19, my legs were really cramping. Michael gave me a salt pill, which really helped. Mile 20. 21. 22. We were getting closer. My legs were not hurting worse. Once they got to a certain level of hurt, they just hurt the same anyway. Mile 23 I took some jelly beans. Unsure of how they would do in my stomach, I decided just to chew the sugar out of them and spit them out. I had about three handfuls of those. I had some flat Coke. The sugar really helped.

My friend Lori and I were running side by side when we turned the corner onto Allen Parkway. We both got teary as we turned the corner facing the buildings of downtown. “WE ARE DOING THIS!” I said to her. “Yes, we are, girl!” she answered.

Michael took several of my water pods from my belt and told me he would see me at the finish.

And Lori, her husband Scott and I began our last half mile.

Determined not to be doing an ugly cry at the finish line, I wiped away a couple of tears before I got there. It was really a surreal moment for me. After all, I had said just three years before, “I am not a runner!” I tried to make the finish line last as long as possible. I gave high-fives to people in the crowd, lining the way. I waved at my family. I smiled. I loved it.

As they put that medal around my neck, it was the perfect ending to an amazing day. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. And it was totally worth it.

Will I do it again? Well, I have learned to never say never. As of today, I think I will stick with halves. But we will see.

I was excited to share my news with my students today at school. Feeling quite proud of myself, I said to one fifth grader, “I ran the Houston Marathon yesterday!” “Did you win?” he asked. “Well, no, but I never quit!” I answered. “Oh, well, maybe you will win next year”, he answered.

I thought about my finish time of 5:58 and laughed to myself. I thought about telling him it wasn’t about winning, it was about trying and never giving up. Instead I just answered, “Maybe!”

Kids will keep you humble. :-)

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17
August

A New Dream

It was my second day of in-service for Katy ISD.  As I sat with the other four “new” teachers at lunch, our stories flowed freely as we went through the process of getting to know each other.

“I was teaching in Austin”, once teacher shared.

“I had a great choir in Dallas”, another continued.

When it was my turn, I told them about my eleven years away from the public school classroom. I told them about my last two years, teaching private lessons – having my own schedule – making my own rules.

“Sounds like my DREAM job!” one of them exclaimed.

“It was my dream job too…” I remember when I started Melanie’s Melody.  The joy of being my own boss was staggering! My days would be shaped by my own hands. I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember my overwhelming sense of pride looking out at the room filled with students and their families at my recitals. ”I did this!” I would think to myself. It was awesome.

It wasn’t without a price, however. I thought about my busy afternoons, my long commutes, the time away from Julia and Zeke. I thought about my sweet mom -  having to act as disciplinarian instead of being free to be “Nana”, helping with homework, dealing with after school emotional melt-downs, having to be the ”bad guy”. This new job means I will not only be in the role of teacher…I will be fully in the role of mom. This job will put us all in the same place every day! I will have the opportunity to teach both of my children’s music classes. I will be Julia’s choir director! We will have the same schedule and the same holidays. I can help with homework. I can make real dinners. We will be together!

I smiled and continued “…but I guess my dreams changed.”

Funny how life does that.

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21
July

The Exorcism

“TELL ME I AM THE BOSS, EVEN IF IT IS NOT TRUE!”

This is what he screamed at me during the four hour episode I am now calling “the exorcism”.

It is a ridiculous statement, really. And even more ridiculous when being said by a little boy to his mother. That little boy is mine. But on this day, and on many days as of late, I don’t always recognize him. My little boy is sweet. He is my “easy” child, compliant and agreeable. This new little boy who lives in our home, well, he’s angry and difficult.

It was a hard week. Beginning on Monday with defiance, anger, disrespect…more anger. I talked to Michael at lunch time.

“I think we need to check and see if our insurance covers behavioral therapy”, I pleaded.

Michael answered me with logic, which is his forte and greatly needed in our household.

“I don’t think this is related to Asperger’s. It might be manifesting itself through the lens of that, but think back to when this behavior started…” I began to think it through as he continued. “This started because we have been changing the rules on him. We are calling him on his behavior and it makes him mad. This is classic strong-willed child stuff. We have to stick to our guns…and eventually he will ge the message.”

I took in his words, determined to “stick to my guns”, no matter the cost. But I was still unsure. Maybe he cannot help this. Maybe this anger will just get worse. This is the hard part of having a child on the spectrum – differentiating what is an autism apple…and what is just an apple. So, I cannot blame all of this on the Asperger’s. Although, the Asperger’s and I must share the blame. Because of Zeke’s delays, sensitivities and reliance on schedule and routine, I have been allowing him to call the shots for a while. Sometimes, I am aware of it, as in the case of deciding where to eat lunch. A typical exchange might go like this:

“Where are we going for lunch, mom?”

“I don’t know, Zeke. I was thinking about Panera.”

“No! I don’t like it. It’s yucky.”

“OK, well, where do YOU want to go?”

And that’s where we go.

Sometimes, it is not that obvious – the surrendering of authority. Sometimes, I just let the reins slide gently from my hands to his. Instead of being a mother, I have settled into the role of pacifier. For the cause of peace. So there is no tantrum. So the proverbial apple cart remains stable.

I did better with Julia. I didn’t worry about her.  Julia is great at adapting. Adapting is really hard for Zeke. So, over time, I…we, adapted to him.

Trouble with this is, he has to learn to adapt. And in the name of love, for the sake of peace, I have been robbing him of the chance to practice that skill that he will desperately need in order to thrive in his life.

When we know better, we do better. So, we have changed the rules in our home. And it has rocked Zeke’s world (and mine) something terrible.

———————–

The exorcism happened on Wednesday this week. On Monday night, after a battle of wills reminiscent of a scene in “Breakfast Club”, Zeke lost games for the week, followed by TV for the week.

As he was logging on the computer on Wednesday, I quietly reminded him that losing games included computer games.

“That’s stupid….That’s a stupid rule.”

My mind began to race through possible loopholes that I could present to him. Maybe there was a way he could earn computer games back…this is what I do, you see. I hate conflict. And no one asked me about that before I had children! No, I had to stick to my guns. There’s a new sherriff in town…even if she doesn’t really feel comfortable in the gear.

He got louder. “DID YOU HEAR ME, MOM?? THIS IS A STUPID RULE!”

Zeke is nothing if not consistent. And I knew he would not tire of repeating this if I did not respond to it.

“Zeke, I understand you feel like it is a stupid rule. You lost games because you did not obey mom and dad. Next time, I hope you will make a different choice.”

“I WON’T!” he shouted.

At this point, the soundtrack switched to Ozzy. And off the rails we went.

He yelled. He kicked. He hit the TV. He spit on the floor. I sent him to his room. He refused to go. I counted. I threatened. I swatted. Nothing seemed to work. He threw a handful of Leapster cartridges at me. “Bombs away!” he chuckled as they hit my back. Trying to remain calm, I picked them up and put them on top of the refrigerator. “You have lost those now,” I said.

“NOOOOOOO!!!”

I picked him up and took him to his room. “I am not going to be around you when you are acting this way. You are going to stay in here until dinner time.”

He did stay in his room, but only so that he could throw clothes out of drawers, fling toys at the ceiling fan and kick his door. Repeatedly.

“Zeke, you can be mad. But you have to stop destroying your room. If you don’t, I am going to take your blanket.”

I should tell you, the child loves his blanket. It is the companion piece to his thumb. I don’t remember a night that he has not slept with it. His affection for this particular item should have been enough to nip this in the bud. However, he was in too deep at this point. So, he answered instead with, “FINE!”

I took the blanket and put it in my car’s trunk.

“That’s FINE, MOM. Take my sheet too.” So I did.

I also took the comforter, fitted sheet and pillow case. Anything that he could suck on with his thumb.

He continued to rage.

“I WANT GAMES BACK. I WANT GAMES BACK. THIS IS A STUPID RULE!!”

Finally, he was quiet.

I invited him to come out and join us for dinner. “I want cereal”, he said.

“I made cheeseburger macaroni tonight, Zeke.”

“I hate that. I want cereal. Give me cereal, mom.”

I knew full well what was coming. I could have given him cereal, but I knew that I had to stay at the helm for the rest of this day’s journey. A bowl of cereal would have pacified. A b0wl of cereal would have kept the peace. But, a bowl of cereal made him the boss. And I couldn’t have that. Not on this day. Not ever again. So, I stood my ground.

“Our family is not having cereal tonight. We are having what I made. If you don’t like the macaroni, you can eat the carrots and the blueberries.”

He poked each item with his fork. “I hate this….and I hate this….I only like the blueberries.”

So, he ate blueberries. And then he was sent back to his room to get ready for bed.

I came to his room once I had cleaned up the kitchen. “Zeke, you are not the boss of this house. I have let you be the boss sometimes, and that was mommy’s mistake. Mommy and daddy are the bosses, and you will obey us the first time, even if you think the rules are stupid.”

“TELL ME I AM THE BOSS, EVEN IF IT IS NOT TRUE! Just tell me, mom. Just tell me that I am the boss.”

“No, Zeke. You are not the boss.”

“Tell me, mom. Please just tell me that.”

“No, Zeke. I will not tell you a lie. I will tell you that I love you. I will tell you that I am glad you are my son. But I will not tell you a lie. You are not the boss.”

There was no holy water flicked upon his face. But even so, his anger began to change into sadness as the consequences of the day began to sink in. We followed our regular tuck-in routine. We said his prayer. I read him a story (“Snuggle Puppy”) and sang him my love song.

And then I left him for the night, lying on a bare mattress, a belly full of blueberries and regret.

(I would like to say at this point, I did come back once he was asleep and cover him up. I am not heartless, you know.)

And that was the exorcism. It was not pretty, folks. It was hard. As I read this, it sounds like I was tough stuff, major mommy-material. But remember, my wimpiness is the reason we are having to go through this re-teaching process. I had a rock in my stomach the entire time and cried many tears in the bathroom during this day. The worst part is, it might not be the last time. But I am proud of the progress that was made, even though the fruit may not yet be seen. There was good work done on this wretched day. A new trail was blazed – a trail that we will continue to travel on as Zeke grows up.

Lessons learned today: It is never too late to be the mom you want to be. And Tony Danza is not the boss.

I am not Catholic. But I think even the pope would have been proud.

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11
July

Saying No

“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,  but whoever hates correction is stupid.”

That is from the Bible, y’all. Proverbs 12:1 to be specific. I must tell you, I don’t think I have ever met a kid who would admit to loving discipline. But, I also never met a kid who wanted to be classified as stupid. Could we say then that kids don’t always know what is best? I think so. And that is precisely why they need parents. Parents are willing to say no.

No one likes to hear ‘no’. What I did not completely realize before I became a mom is – saying no is not much fun either.When I was growing up, I can remember two verbal reminders that were repeated at least twice a week. From my mom: “Act like a lady.” I was never very good at that. (snort!)  From dad: “Act as pretty as you look.” (That one might be open to debate, but I liked my dad’s better.)

With Julia, there is no real catch-all phrase, except maybe, “Save the drama for your mama”… but why would I say THAT? The “trouble” with Julia is, she is too blasted creative. So, I have to say things that most parents would not say, like, “No, you may not use food coloring in the ice trays.” Because she is never at a loss for ideas, there are days when I feel I must constantly correct / say no  = disappoint her.

Yesterday was one of those days.

I saw the razor and shaving cream before I got to the check-out line. Thankfully. “What is this?” I asked her, upon the discovery. “I want to start shaving my legs”, she said very nonchalantly. “My friend shaves hers”, she added, mistakenly thinking that would add weight to her pseudo-request.

“Absolutely not”, I retorted, while quickly imagining eleven morbid possible scenarios revolving around Julia handling a razor. “You are too young.”

She is, right? I don’t remember shaving my legs until much later…at least one more year. I think.

I smoothed out the rough edges of my answer with an additional, “it won’t be long” and “be happy you don’t have to do that yet!” She was disappointed, but we returned the items and finished our shopping without any more on the subject.

In the car, she asked to call a boy from her class last year. This poor boy has received multiple phone messages from her over the past six weeks, and to no avail. As of today, he has not called back. Mind you, he told her on the last day of school to call him – and gave her his number. But, he has not been impressed by her uncanny ability to follow through…and follow through…and follow through…

“Absolutely not”, I said. Then I added, “you may not call him again until he calls you back. You are phone stalking.”

“Fine!” she said. “I will just delete his number!” Her finger hesitated a moment over the delete button, I suppose thinking I would cry out in desperation, “No! Don’t delete it!” Hardy-har-har. “Good idea”, I said.

She wanted to “invent” something in the kitchen with food coloring. Nope.

Her friend invited her to go see the Katy Perry movie. I read the parent review. Double nope.

She asked to walk her friend down to the corner of our street and back. Finally! Something I could agree to! We live on a very busy street, but I allowed it, on the grounds that she go straight down and back. This should have been a direct path, one that would allow me to see her at any point in the journey.

Imagine my surprise when, after a few minutes, she emerged from the side of our house, after walking around the entire block. Now, this may not sound like a big deal to many of you. But, we are all too aware of the dangers that are in the world, particularly to pretty, already-somewhat-flirty, ten-year-old girls. We could have easily just let it slide. After all, she did go “down and back (home)”. But, we had been clear. And as we told her, if we had needed to look for her, we would not have known she might be on a different street. One day she will be driving a car (good Lord!) and we need to know that she can stick to a specific directive without deviation.

We met her at the door with…more correction.

As I tucked her in that night, I felt very aware of the amount of “no’s” that the day had held.

“Daddy and I have a very important job, J. And that is to protect you – protect your body and protect your mind. And we are going to do that. You may feel like you need to be mad about that. And that is OK. But, we are going to do our job. Because that is what God expects us to do.”

“We really love you”, I added.

Even in the dark, I could see her smile.

“I know you do, mom.”

And so tomorrow, we do it all again.

 

 

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10
May

The Perfect Mother

When my children were very little, I was part of a moms’ group at church, led by a very wise, experienced mother, who was also a licensed therapist. I remember asking her, “Am I being a good mother?” I guess I expected her to run through some kind of checklist or read to me from Proverbs or something. Instead, she just said, “If you are asking that question, you are on the right track.”

Somehow, that answer was exactly what I needed: the encouragement to keep going and the freedom to make my own way.

Whether we like it or not, there is no job manual for this most important gig. There is no such thing as a “perfect mother”. We are all just doing the best we can with what we have. And life is not perfect. It is messy and wonderful, disorganized and beautiful, precious and hard and fleeting.

I love my children. Sometimes, my children drive me crazy. I long to be in their presence. I crave time alone. It can be difficult to maintain a healthy perspective in the midst of these contradictions.

When my children were babies, my control freak flag was flying high. I felt like I needed to do everything perfectly. I made sure that every baby food meal was balanced – a fruit with the cereal, a green vegetable with the meat and rice. Mind you – it was all just mush in a jar – but it mattered to me.

It mattered way too much.

One morning, my sweet husband got up early to feed our daughter. His entire goal was to allow me to sleep late. I stumbled into the kitchen to find him feeding Julia her cereal, along with something orange.  It wasn’t peaches. We were out of peaches. Could it be? No! I looked at him as if he were feeding her ground up glass and nails. It may as well have been – it was, CARROTS!

“You can’t feed her carrots for breakfast”, I chided. I snatched the bowl from his helpful hand and washed the carrots down the drain. I replaced the carrots with pears, an acceptable breakfast choice just as Michael was leaving the room, himself going back to bed. I know.  I’d like to chalk that one up to Postpartum something or other, but I think there might be a statute of limitations on that related to when the child has cut teeth. We laugh about it now. Sort of.

Can you relate?

Now that both of my children are much older, I have relaxed into my role. I can see things more clearly. Encouraging appropriate side dishes is not nearly as important as encouraging grateful hearts.  I also learned that kind gestures from husbands are to be appreciated, not critiqued. And carrots are a great source of Vitamin A! Perspective has begun to bubble to the surface as I have begun fine-tuning my role in this great adventure called motherhood. Their Creator is in control. God holds them in His hands. So, I don’t have to be perfect. He already is.

What a relief!

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28
February

The Mother’s “Blessing”

When I was in the throws of adolescence, my mother gave me a “blessing”.You may have been given this blessing at some point too.  It went like this: “I hope one day you have a daughter just like you.” Being full of wit (she called it “sass”, but whatever), I would respond like this: “Thank you. I hope so too.”

And God listened. Oh boy, did He.

She wanted to paint her nails blue. That is how it all started – the epic drama that was our morning.

Problem was, we were out of nail polish remover. I had told her this fact before she started. “It’s OK”, she responded. dismissing my concern. “I don’t need any remover.” And she did not. Until she accidentally got the dark blue polish on her hands.

I was first alerted to the problem when I passed by the sink and saw her standing there holding out what looked like the hands of a mortally wounded Smurf. Her face reflected her panic and concern.

“MOM! I can’t get it to come off!” Poor thing was trying to wash off the paint. . . with water. The water was, of course, only spreading the paint around and then hardening it up on her hands.

The clock read 7:40 a.m. School drop-off is promptly at 8:05. There was still time to run to the corner CVS for some remover. I was willing to do it and we were all ready to go.

I don’t remember how it happened, but at some point during the five minutes that followed, it became all my fault. And I was not having it.

“Get your back pack and go to the car”, I instructed.

“I am NOT going to school like THIS!” she retorted while thrusting her blue disaster in my face.

“You certainly are going to school. Get your back pack and go to the car.” I was clear and calm. No, I really was.

“FINE. I will go the car. But I am NOT taking my back pack!”

Huh????

This is one of the curiosities of the universe. How does this have any bearing on the current situation? Why do children believe that sassing their mother disrespectfully is going to help anything get better? And why would they want to dig their heels in on something that is actually going to cause THEM problems?

Sure enough. She stomped out into the garage, leaving her back pack in the living room floor.

I know she expected me to bring it out to her. But I did not. As I got into the car, I glanced back at her in backseat. She had worked herself up into a real lather – a dark blue one – and was ready to fight. I put the car in reverse and backed out of the garage into the driveway. I thought I might call her bluff that way and surely she would snap out of it and want to go back in for her stuff.

“Are you sure you don’t want to get your back pack?”

“NO! I am going to use my free homework pass and buy my own lunch.”

“You won’t have your water bottle or your snack. How do you have lunch money?”

“Well, I don’t. I will have to borrow money from the cafeteria, which means I will get a peanut butter sandwich like they give poor kids.”

“Is that what you want to do?”

“YES!”

A moment of silence.

“Julia, I am going to ask you one more time. Are you sure you don’t want to go in and get your back pack?”

“I need to go in, but I am just going to get my homework.”

She disappeared into the house for a couple of minutes. When she came out, with her back pack, I tried to look away and not smile.

“I am taking my back pack, but NOT because you told me to.”

“Why are you making me the enemy?” I asked.

She started to cry. “Because then YOU will win. And I will LOSE. . . again.”

Oh brother. I remember that feeling SO well. It was almost like I had climbed into a time machine. And on that back seat was sullen, pouty Melanie Fudge, trying hard not to give in to reason. Trying to stay mad. Longing to hug my mama, but aching all the same to fight. I felt a wave of empathy wash over me. Bless her heart. Growing up is so hard. And here she was – between a rock and a hard place. All she had to do was apologize, ask me for help, show appropriate respect. And she would almost rather eat the free lunch, not have homework to turn in and go to school with hands covered in Smurf explosion than to raise the white flag.

Such a tough age. I remember it well. I didn’t make her suffer. But I did make her choose.

“Julia, I love you. And I will do anything in my power to help you. But you will not treat me this way. I told you this morning that I did not have polish remover. You made the choice to continue with the nail polish. And now, I am offering to take you to get some nail polish remover. However, hear my words, I will not be punished for your bad choices. You owe me an apology. And then, if you would like my help, you need to ask appropriately for it.”

Her face reflected the struggle. She looked like she was trying to lay an egg or like she smelled a rotten one. And then, her countenance changed completely. To one of peace.

“Mom, I am sorry. Will you please help me?”

Before the words were out of her mouth, immediately I stretched out my hand to take hers. “Absolutely!” I said with a smile. God truly gave me the strength in that moment to respond to her in that way.

We drove to CVS. I waited for her to stand outside and clean her hands with the polish remover. The Smurf remnants disappeared as quickly as the bad mood did.

The drive to school was a perfect opportunity to recap and put the whole situation in a spiritual light.

“Julia, this is an example of grace. Because I love you, I forgive you when you are sorry. No matter what you do. I will always forgive you when you are sorry. That is the way God treats us because of Jesus. Even when we don’t deserve it. He says, ‘Come on back home, you stinky prodigal. I love you.’”

She smiled at that last line. Because she knew I had just called her a stinky prodigal. And because we both knew that we were both, at times, playing that role.

It’s funny how these moments in parenting feel like hours, yet the whole experience took place in less than twenty-five minutes.

But these are the moments that shape our children. These moments shape their relationship with us. They shape their relationship with God. They shape the relationships they will have one day with their own children.

And they certainly make us appreciate our own mothers too!

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