Friday, November 30, 2007

On a Lighter Note

Under the category of "Not for the Squeamish ..."

One of the, ahem, joys of parenting a four year old is that you get to be privy (pardon the pun) to little jewels like this:
"Mom! Come look at my poop!" (And you come, pulled like a lump of seaweed at low tide, yielding without resistance to the fate for which college simply did not prepare you ...)
"Wow, [beloved child], that is QUITE a bit of poop!"
"Yeah." Pause. "It's a CITY of poop." Pause. "A whole WO-WULD of poop."
Indeed, dear one. Indeed.

Sprouting (LONG)

OK, where to start. Those of you who blog/journal and maybe have a tendency to procrastinate like yours truly, do you ever find that you put off writing about the things you most need or want to write about, simply because of the time and effort, real or perceived, that are involved? It's easier to just throw out a tidbit here or there but not get down to what's really going on.

So. This is one of those times. I am making myself sit down and get this on paper (let's not be technical), because I think that once I do, it may stop rubbing at me like the little canker sore on the end of my tongue is doing right now.

There are a few major things going on under the surface of my mostly ordinary-looking life right now. A lot went on during our Thanksgiving travel, mostly in the context of family interactions, caring for my parents, learning to communicate well among the siblings, etc., and there's no way I can catch up on all that here. At the same time, it was a season of spiritual refreshment for me, partly from the conference we attended over the weekend, partly from seeing and fellowshipping with some friends, mostly older, I hadn't seen in a while, and partly from some unexpected divine intervention and care we received during the travel home (I may post more on that later). I guess I tend to be sort of down on myself about my "spiritual condition," comparing myself unfavorably to others although I know in my head that that is not God's heart. I even accept, at times, the subconscious lie that somehow the Lord does not love me quite as much as others, who are more faithful, more victorious, more blah blah blah. I actually had a very honest discussion with Him about this a couple weeks ago. :-) But because of the care we received through a few people and thus indirectly from Him, I realized as I crawled into bed last night that I really had gotten the reminder I needed of His full and free and unstinted love for me, for us.

So anyway. Before we left for the trip I had an experience with a friend (?) of mine that was just, well, difficult. It was good, I think, but also painful, but also releasing from a stress I have been under for months regarding our relationship. I'm going to try to be as concise as possible here. We became friends a year ago, after discovering that we were neighbors, both Christians, and both homeschooling moms of children who were of similar ages and got along quite well (although she has four and they're all girls, but hey, close enough). For the first 3-4 months I really sensed that she was pursuing a friendship with me -- not aggressively in any way, but taking some initiative. We had some very good fellowship together and our kids had a great time playing. Besides, you can't beat proximity, and I had been praying for a friend who was close by and was sort of "in my life situation." Then I started sensing a change, as if she were sort of backing off -- I won't go into details or supporting evidence here, and part of it was just my intuition. I sometimes thought I was crazy, since when I did see her she was always very sweet. Because I have no interest in chasing someone down or making repeated invitations or offers of help if they don't seem that interested, I backed off as well. We remained friendly, but inwardly I struggled with feelings of not knowing where I stood with her, not knowing why I felt such mixed signals, etc. I probably would have just dropped any effort to get together or have some kind of friendship if my kids, especially Eliza who really needed friends (she is sometimes a third wheel with Ian and Oscar), had not asked frequently about playing with them. How to you explain to your kids that you're getting a vibe from someone, despite her amiability, that there's some sort of line in the sand?

So we finally talked. And it was hard. It had been a friendly phone chat about this and that, including their taking Eliza with them to their AWANA club, and then at the end I just asked her something that led to a protracted discussion that went from the very general "I backed off because I felt God was calling me to do certain things with my time and that meant less time for other things [e.g. hanging out together]" to the somewhat more personal "I felt like I didn't want to take the place of God in your life [i.e. by trying to meet your needs]" to the very personal, which I can't even recap here but the gist of which is that she basically believes that I am too lax as parent, as evidenced by the fact that I give my children choices (guilty as charged!) and by a couple incidents when I did not publicly reprove my 7-year-old son for teasing his younger sister or for voicing selfish feelings (example: "Eliza got new shoes and I'm jealous"), and that therefore my children, or more specifically my son, is not a good influence on her children.

Handful of fellow mothers who read this, have you ever been here? Are any of you, too, imperfect parents of imperfect children? Do your kids take you down a peg or two in public? Do they sometimes miss the memo about Not Reflecting Badly on Mom Lest Her Stocks Plummet? Or are yours already released from self and on their way to glory?

Needless to say, my feelings then and since have ranged considerably, from humility to hurt to anger to understanding to whatever you call the feeling you have when you're thinking, "this is totally ridiculous." As I said to her then, she may be right, and I may be off in my parenting, and I will pray about it (I did.) And of course, it absolutely makes sense to have some degree of discernment about our kids' companionships, sure. I wouldn't, for instance, feel good about my kids spending time with kids who swore or sassed their parents. On the other hand, when I'm having those, shall we say, other moments, my thoughts run along these lines: 1) I choose not to raise my children in a box, and I decided long ago that if I only allowed them to play with perfectly mannered, pious children who never needled their siblings, never hit, whined, etc., eventually we'd be a very lonely family indeed (oh, and my kids couldn't play with each other, either, by those standards). I believe that I'm responsible for some discernment (see above) but also that God is a God of grace, and His grace is bigger than my ability to control everything that my children see and hear. Ultimately, even if I do everything "right" and they never watch TV or play with guns or have secular friends or see billboards on the highway or whatever, there's a huge X factor here, two actually, and they are God's mercy and my children's free will. 2) Yes, I do give my children choices -- in the small things, that is, because I believe in giving them lots of practice in making choices and experiencing either the satisfaction of making a rewarding or neutral choice, or the pain/disappointment of making a poor choice -- while they are under my roof and it is safe. I do not see that as compromising our parental authority. They may not choose to hit each other, draw on the walls, talk disrespectfully to us, play with matches, run naked through the streets, play computer games all day, etc. They may, however, choose whether to ride their bike or scooter to the park, whether to do math or history first, whether to go outside without a jacket in borderline weather, etc. 3) Children with ADHD have, as a hallmark of their characteristics, tremendous difficulty with impulse control. Expecting a child with ADHD to think about what they're about to say or do and how it's going to be received is like expecting a nearsighted child to read a chalkboard or a dyslexic child to pick up a book and read. Can it be done? Yes, I think so, but it's a very SLOWLY learned skill and requires tons of patience and coaching (which I tend to do more privately than publicly). I understand that it would be very difficult to perceive that if one had no personal experience -- i have often said that I needed a boy, and a boy like Ian, to "break me in" and save me from being the kind of judgmental parent I would have been had I produced only [mild-mannered] girls (not saying that SHE is, just saying that I know I would be, and that there's no substitute for experience). Fortunately, I am blessed to be around other moms who enjoy my kids, take them with a grain of salt, and are honest about their own struggles with their imperfect children, and I hope I can be that way to others as well.

Now that some time has gone by, I would say that the sting has gone out of our conversation (which we did end on a positive or at least cordial note, I would say). I actually feel some relief, as if I can move on now. I no longer feel any need or desire to seek out spending time together, because I realize what a stress that would evoke for everyone involved. She doesn't want to worry about what her girls will be exposed to, and I don't want to be on eggshells about my child supplying consistent evidence that he is not yet transformed to a selfless being. We will probably never see eye to eye on certain parenting issues, but we did agree to pray for one another, and maybe that's all God had in mind in bringing us together in the first place. Perhaps the most positive thing that's come out of the whole experience for me is just seeing that I will never be as sweet, pious, and exemplary a Christian and a mother as she is, and I may never have nursing home ministry with my children or do most of the things that she does, and I respect her portion, admire her deeply as a person, and by His grace, love her as a sister in Christ. At the same time, this experience has reminded me, poignantly, that God's goal is not for me to be a perfect Christian, and that for me to have that goal would actually have the potential to cause grief and strife with others who do not meet my standards. He wants a group of people, vitally related and connected to each other without judgment or regard for each other's shortcomings, who express HIM together. We don't replace Him in each other's lives -- we ARE Him in each other's lives! I have been the "victim" of so much love and kindness throughout my life that is so undeserved that it points me back to Him. When someone gives my kids a ride somewhere when I can't return the favor, and does it with grace, that's Jesus, "God manifested in the flesh" to me. When someone gives my kids and me a ride home from the airport, jumpstarts my van, and cleans out my nastified turtle tank before leaving with a promise to pray for my exam-taking husband, as one of our church elders just did three days ago, that is Jesus to me. I could go on and on, but that's the gist of it. My personal relationship with God is very real and dear to me, but I am SO glad that it's not JUST "me and Him." I'm glad He flows through us to each other. And I'm glad we don't have to meet a standard to deserve it.

So Caroline is crying, quiet time is over, and I have to go. If you're still with me and haven't been blown away by the extreme length or "Jesus references";-) of this post, then bear with me for one last thing. I can't quote it exactly, but I was reading Jan Karon's newest delight, Home to Holly Springs, and in it she quotes someone, maybe G.K. Chesterton who said something like, "From every cut branch, new life sprouts (springs?)". (Wish I had the book with me to quote it right.) I think my experience with my neighbor was like a cut branch to me. It hurt. It forced me to reexamine myself and to let go of something I was holding onto that was weighing me down. But I feel like there is the beginnings, maybe even just the hope, of a sprout there -- something unexpected, something I can't even grasp yet.

In the meantime this branch is holding tight to the Trunk.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Knights and Damsels

The kids are on a Battleship kick today, after bringing the game home with us from my parents' house (we just spent a week there for Thanksgiving). After reading about the Hundred Years' War and then some about Joan of Arc, and letting Ian carry out his idea of drawing a scene from the aforesaid battle while I played Phonics Roadblock with Eliza, I decided to let them count Battleship as math for today. Actually, I kind of negotiated that one with Ian -- he suggested it could be the math lesson ("there are numbers in it, Mom!") so we did five minutes of flashcards, with him taking giant steps around the room every time he got one right, and then got right down to sinking each other's submarines and destroyers.

I've been a bit lax in my child development reading lately, but I could swear that there's some sort of testosterone burst that occurs in seven-year-old boys. Ian is suddenly very interested in knights, Vikings, and battles, and not just because we're studying medieval history, although for once I feel like my "plan" has dovetailed nicely with a passion of his. He loves the armor, the weapons, the idea of tactical battle strategies, etc. In fact, while we were in Boston he was obsessed with playing this game called Legion Arena on the computer. Something about Roman armies and elephant cavalries and Praetorian guards and whatnot. This is all pretty new to us, and rather bemusing, but my sense is that it's all quite normal. It's just odd, really, to have so many days go by with hardly a word breathed about dinosaurs ...

(Oh, and by the way, the reason we were able to have such a studious morning is that Caroline was on her weekly trip to story hour at the library with another friend and the toddler for whom she nannies. Eliza is pretty good about going along with what Ian's doing (then again, she does have those behavioral things, like resistance to getting dressed in the morning, or what I call "trauma-dramas" over -- to my dull senses -- minor things, that make me wonder whether I'm lumping her together with her brother too much) . So, not every day is like this; rarely can I sit down and play 30 minute of Battleship, but it sure is nice when it happens!)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Where We Stand

I've been feeling for a while, since I posted about the test results I guess, that I should write something of substance about our decision about how to handle Ian's schooling in the light of the diagnoses and recommendations. If you've been reading this blog, you know that one of the things we were urged to consider was putting him in school. Now, it didn't take long before we both reaffirmed our belief that we have no interest in putting him in public school, nor does it make sense that their "special accommodations" could possibly be more "special" than the one-on-one attention he gets her at home (or make that, one-on-three!). We did consider a couple of the several part-time private schools found in Austin that offer a middle ground between homeschooling and private school. There's even one tiny one that caters specifically to children with learning differences, from giftedness to autism spectrum to ADHD to sensory issues and all kinds of other neurodevelopmental differences which I had no idea existed until about a year ago! There's another one whose director faithfully attends our homeschool support group meetings and is obviously a homeschooler in her sensibilities, if you know what I mean. Small, homey, mixed-age, not far away, a slot open in his class, etc.

BUT, each of these options entails more cash than we can conscionably lay out at this stage in our lives (i.e. while Tim is involved in slave labor as a grad student), and as tempting as it was to throw financial wisdom to the winds, neither of us felt right about doing it. I guess we just felt like it didn't sit right inwardly to accelerate our slide toward debt, to make even more financial sacrifices than we already are, in order to accommodate ONE member of the family in way that really has no guarantees. It seemed like if that was the path we were meant to follow, there would be a clear way to do so. (And that is more information than I generally share about finances, but there you go.)

So I guess we decided to take that as a leading that we should concentrate our efforts on managing here at home.

Here are our baby steps so far:
1- Reaching out to the very vocal and active hs'ing community here in Austin, which, as I predicted, responded with all sorts of advice, experience, empathy, etc.
2- As a result of #1, joining a local support group for moms who homeschool kids with various learning differences.
3- Reading up on ADHD, learning differences, and homeschooling with ADHD -- found a great book with a funny title that has lots of practical suggestions like ideas for learning games: "How to Get Your Child Off the Refrigerator and onto Learning." (Example: we throw a beanbag back and forth while doing math facts.)
4- Looking for ways to gently incorporate more structure, such as using a whiteboard every morning (different from the morning-routine whiteboard) to write down the 4-5 academic things he's expected to do that day before poring over the Lego catalog, playing computer games, drawing medieval jousts or invented Legos, playing with Oscar, reading Calvin & Hobbes, etc. When we do them, he gets to erase them. When the board is clean, he's free to direct his own learning. Also, I'm trying to remember to give a preview of the day at breakfast time. Next goal is to give him a weekly calendar on Monday -- another mom sent me a template she uses with her son, but our printer is out of ink! :-(
5- Continuing with taekwondo.
6- Getting an evaluation from an occupational therapist for the sensory issues and motor skills -- she's coming tomorrow morning to the house.
7- Looking into family therapy and social skills groups.
8- Making sure he gets outside a lot, easy to do these days with our balmy weather.
9- Trying out a liquid supplement that's supposed to help with attention. Just started it so jury's still out.

OK, having written all that makes it sound like a lot, I suppose, but I don't feel like anything's been done very dramatically. And believe me, there are still many moments and many days when we want to pull our hair out! But it feels like just putting one foot in front of the other, doing the next thing, knowing there's so much more to learn but grateful to have a nudge in what's hopefully the right direction.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Today's Breakfast

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or anguish or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword [or cranky toddlers, or throbbing headaches, or difficulties with children, or stressed-out spouses]? ... In all these things we more than conquer through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities nor things present nor things to come nor powers no height nor depth nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is Christ Jesus our Lord."
- Rom. 8:35-39

Monday, November 12, 2007

"Can I Ride Pwince?"

So we sort of thought, rather naively of course, that bringing Caroline out to Elgin, where my in-laws live and keep a herd of horses, last Saturday for a pony ride would give her the desired fix, and possibly quell the insistent fires of her longing for horsie rides. Silly us. She is now asking us several times a day, "Can I ride Pwince?" "Where's Pwince?" "Is he in the bawn?" "Where's his bwush?" (She got to watch her cousin groom the pony before the ride.) Unfortunately, the concept of "Saturday" is hard for an almost two-year-old to grasp. So, we'll just lather, rinse, and repeat for the next five days!

Also on that note, we were discussing in the van on Sunday morning the idea Ian and Oscar had about getting her some small Breyer horses for her upcoming birthday. All I said was "we could get her a couple Breyers," not even mentioning what they were, and for the rest of the ride it was "I want a couple BWEYERS!"

She sort of reminds me of Ian at that age, when he was all about Thomas the Tank Engine. Eliza has a different temperament, and I don't think she's ever had a real obsession. Caroline's intensity, however, is mercifully somewhat modulated. That is, except when it's 8:30 p.m. and after an hour of our best efforts, she is hysterically overtired and is indicating, with not the slightest hint of modulation, that she does NOT want to go to sleep (have I ever told you how much I despise Daylight Savings Time?)

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Social Thinking

A friend of mine just sent me a link to this website, called Social Thinking. Funny thing, that's exactly the same curriculum used by the woman who teaches one of the two social skills classes we're considering for Ian. (As in, we're debating between two very good options.) Looks very intriguing!

My brother politely wondered aloud about this social skills thing last weekend, upon observing the obvious fact that Ian has no trouble making friends. He can make a new friend just about any time, anywhere. It's the other stuff -- the reading of cues, the awareness of boundaries, the control of impulses -- that has always required TONS of coaching from us, and I am so ready to have some positive outside input!

Am I the only one who wishes these classes were around about twenty-five years ago? :-)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Resolution of the Week

There is some serious what I would call "guy noise" going on behind me -- Tim and Ian are playing an online video game from the Lego website that consists of knights assaulting a medieval castle (can I count that as history for the day?) and there are all manner of groovy music, clunks, thumps, splats, etc., punctuated by the sound effects coming from the guys themselves -- "aw, sweet!" "ooh!" "arghh!" -- and then something probably only Ian would say, "I know, let's fetch that other guy." Fetch? Sometimes I think my child belongs in another century!

OK, so on to the topic at hand. My parenting goal for the week was inspired by this post, (it's long, and the part I'm referring to is quite a ways down) and I can sum it up in just two words: Just Say Yes. Wait, that's three words. Anyway, of course I don't mean I'm remaking myself as a permissive, anything-goes kind of parent. I'm not saying YES to hitting, refusing to cooperate, name-calling, using "good" instead of "well" (as in, "I did good") and other moral issues. :-) I'm talking about the times when I find myself blurting out "No" like some kind of automaton that's had the Parent Program installed and needs to find the override button. I'm talking about the "no"s that arise from my own laziness (let's call this Situation A), or even the projection of my own personal preferences onto the requested outcome (Situation B). Example A: It's 8:50 p.m. and Ian comes to me with a cardboard box, imploring me to help him carve it into a castle (he's found directions on that Lego website). Truly truly, I just don't feel like it. Then I realize that I hardly ever put much effort anymore into participating in his inconvenient ideas and schemes, and why not set aside the glass of ice water I was about to fling on it, and just get out the scissors and do it? Example B: Eliza asks if they can sleep in their new hideout, i.e. an empty cabinet they discovered, and I think it's a bad idea because they'd be way too cramped, but hey, why not let them figure that out for themselves? (They forgot by bedtime anyway.) Or this morning, Eliza asked if she could have butter on top of the cream cheese that I had spread on her pumpkin bread. I open my mouth for the automated "no" (after all, that just sounds gross to me, butter WITH cream cheese), but just in time, realize that in fact I *can* let her make her own judgment as to the pleasantness of various bread-spreading permutations.
So, stuff like that. I guess I just get tired of being a wet blanket sometimes, especially when there's no good reason for it.

Saturday, November 3, 2007


It's so quiet here tonight, that I did something I haven't done in a long time. Caroline was having a hard time settling down (could've been the whole M&M cookie she consumed at our Music Together Family Fun Night) so I went to the piano and played some of my favorite lullabies from our Music Together songbooks - gorgeous classics like "Shenandoah" and "All the Pretty Horses," which she loves because it mentions horses. I love playing just for the fun of it, but if I try during the day I get "help" from my backup musicians within two minutes, and I appreciate the communal spirit of things, but it does, to quote Bertie Wooster, play merry hell with the rhythm (not to mention the melody). And I don't usually think of playing at night, but Tim and Ian are out at a lock-in at the Tae Kwon Do place.

Can you believe it? He's at a lock-in and he's only seven! Up until 2 days ago, I really didn't seriously consider letting him do it (it's not just me being protective; we were in Houston all day at a wedding, which was partially an excuse to meet up with my dear brothers; besides, I honestly don't know how he'll do on very little sleep; besides, in MY day (cue the crotchety old voice) lock-ins were for teenagers, and they were not attended by me!). But when he heard in class that it involved pizza, popcorn, and a movie, he was SO on board. Not sure how he feels about the origami lessons. :-) And Tim is with him, in case he decides he's not up for the whole shebang and wants to come home before his coach turns into a pumpkin as the clock strikes midnight. But when I talked to Tim on the cellphone a couple hours ago, there were raucous relay races in full swing -- something about a wheelbarrow, I believe -- and it sounded like Ian was helping himself to the community-building, which is good for him. And the teacher promised me that the movie will be G-rated, the video games, brought in by some of the kids, nonviolent, and the sugar minimal. She also treated my questions about said topics with the utmost respect. I like her.

Oh, and I have my dear friend Jessica to thank for helping me think this might be a good idea. A year or so ago she told me she was letting Jacob spend the night at Greenville Gymnastics, and I thought she was pretty cool, and daring, for doing so. Even though I haven't seen her in person in almost two years, I still have my "What Would Jessica Do?" moments!