Birthdays

Today happens to be my handsome hubby’s birthday.

We took a vacation day so we could spend a three day weekend at the farm.

July is a big birthday month for his family.  His mom kicks us off at the beginning of the month.  Luckily, this year we were at the farm earlier this month to celebrate with her too.

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We have a niece and nephew with a July birthday.  Then his dad’s birthday hits and finally his!

I’ve come to love farm birthdays.

Now I love to throw a big party, and Lord knows the trio have had their fair share, but there’s something about birthdays with dirt smeared blue jeans and summer-hot-cheeks and homemade cakes served up with an ample scoop of ice cream.

I love to bake.  I don’t have nearly the time at home.  But almost every time I’m at the farm I get to bake.  Bake and write.  Two of the best things ever.

So after an easy lunch of sandwiches, chips and fruit, the whole crew, save two of the three five year olds, took naps in the heat of the day and woke to celebrate my father-in-law’s (belatedly) and husband’s birthday with coffee, cake and ice cream.

I tried my hand at Tres Leches again because it is Bray’s favorite dessert and it really turned out.  I had baked it in the morning while the crew were out fishing, Lord help us they caught an alligator (I may never adjust to the bayou), so it had plenty of time to chill.

We lit four candles, to represent the last digit of his age, and sang happy birthday.  After we cut big slices of the yummy goodness, we sat around the well worn table eating and talking while it was too hot to venture out.  Grandpa opened his birthday presents, and daddy asked to wait until his birthday rolled around this morning to unwrap his (it killed the kids who LOVE to open daddy and mommy’s presents…).

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Talk turned to their various plans and while two ran to check on the peppers they’d picked earlier to use for supper, dad and grandpa and the eldest ran to town for boat supplies.

I loaded dishes and then watched the beautiful summer storm roll in.

This is a life I could never have envisioned.  I had none of this growing up.  My clothes were always pressed and my hair was always fixed.  I read instead of catching frogs behind the shutters.  I took piano lessons instead of baiting hooks and baling hay.

It’s still stops me in my tracks: the space my kids have access to and the bravery they show working cows and holding a line with an alligator at the end.  They dream bigger and plan fearlessly and adventure more because they see a big world and know the grandeur of God.

They’ve still got a momma that screams when the frog jumps on her sandal and begs them to back further from the dock, but I’m learning and letting go a little more every time.  And I’m certainly  embracing every moment of our stripped down birthday parties – the beauty of a handmade cake, the birthday song sung off key with gusto, and a celebration filled with those you hold most dear in life.

The New Mom Movement

Sometimes, you just want to write a post to irritate everyone.

Ahem, actually not so much.

Hence this post sitting in the queue for a bit.  Then I decided to be brave and put it out there.

I love this new mom movement going around about not judging each other for the different ways we mother.  LOVE IT!  Primarily because I’m prone to guilt and work full time, and I appreciate you not judging me for what little bit looked like when we returned my suit to Dillard’s yesterday.  I didn’t have the energy to redo her ensemble.

I am opposed to judgment.

But I wonder if this whole “no judgment” movement has given us a pass where we should be trying harder.

Here’s a couple of examples I read about or hear in speeches.  Example A, I’m a busy mom so I don’t often worry about cleaning my house.  I live in the moment and pride myself on sticky floors and legos everywhere because it means I spend more time with my kids than I do worrying about my house being messy.  Example B, I’m a working mom so I outsource every possible mom activity I would perform if I didn’t have a career.  I order cupcakes, don’t bake them.  I have a housekeeper, lawn man, pool guy, tutor, sitter, personal shopper, etc.

Did I just make the entire mom population unsubscribe?  Wait!  Let me first disclose, my house is regularly a wreck.  IN ADDITION, I have a nanny who helps clean my house.  See?  I’m not judging.

But here’s what got me thinking after talking to a woman who career coaches other women.  Do we need to abdicate responsibility for everything?  What does that teach our kids?

First thing in the morning and last thing in the evening, we have our kids clean.  We clean right along with them.  Each one has to make their bed in the morning and put their dirty clothes up and clean the table.  In the evenings, they have to clean up the play room and unload the dishwasher and make sure their bathroom and bedrooms are tidied up.  I am imperfect about this but want to teach our kids responsibility growing up.  If they don’t learn it at this early age, they will struggle against the assorted responsibilities of home and work as they grow.  Then we hoist our kids incapable of participating in household duties on some unsuspecting spouse.

When I married my husband, he was tidier than I was.  He cooks, cleans, launders, and is entirely self-sufficient.  I want clean, respectful, responsible and independent kids.  House chores, and living in an environment that reflects we respect ourselves and others, help our children learn those valuable characteristics.

Let’s tackle the outsourcing.  Our kids have two parents with full time, often stressful, jobs.  There’s no way the kids could have done swim team (or anything) this year had we not had a nanny.  She’s been with us since they were born, is like part of our family, and is a practical and financially appropriate decision for a family of five.  I am sad thinking about the day we won’t have her anymore.

I do worry we career moms are taking outsourcing too far though.  The woman I mentioned told me she recommends her clients outsource everything: for example, the kids will never remember you baked homemade cupcakes for their school party so just pick some up at the store.  While I’m not beyond picking stuff up at the store, I beg to differ.

My kids know the time and effort I put into doing things for them.  Now that they’re five, they’re in the kitchen baking with me.  For the Christmas party, we made festive fruit ka-bobs with green grapes and red strawberries and white marshmallows, and they had fun helping and plating the treats for school.  For grandmother’s birthday, we all baked a cake together and wrote (very poorly) her birthday message in icing.  I showing them I love them by carving time out to do something for them, AND we’re getting to spend time together while they learn the basics of cooking.  Now it may not be cooking for everyone – it could be artfully collaborating on a sign or mowing the grass or fixing up a car or whatever the practical task may be that gives parents time with their kids and teaches them a practical skill.

This is not about judging moms, thank heavens because I would lose, but it’s about drawing a line in the sand on the slippery slope of it being about us instead of them.  Each individual mom has to decide what works for her and her family.  For me, it means I don’t clean toilets or do laundry which is a huge gift most folks don’t have and which frees me up to bake those cupcakes.  Maybe it’s doing laundry together as a family while you listen to silly songs.  Whatever it is, it’s important to remember I became a mom for a reason.  If we start outsourcing everything about being a mom, what will they remember us for?

I want to teach values of respect for our house and our things by encouraging them to clean up from a young age.  I also need to remind myself that being a mom means sacrificing a lot, all the time, which means less sleep and broken necklaces and markers on the wall, but after spending years praying for these three, I wouldn’t exchange it for anything.

The Angry Kids Follow Up

Thank you for sharing your stories with me.  I heard from so many moms who have struggled with kids that had big episodes of anger and rage.  I’ve talked to some that are at the beginning of trying to figure out what to do and others that have tried almost everything.  Because of the messages I received from the Hard Stories: Angry Kids post earlier this week, I wanted to share what I’ve learned thus far (and I’m still at the tip of figuring our situation out).

Causes Identified:

This was wildly diverse. There were various medical issues identified in kids that struggled with serious anger/rage episodes. Among the issues raised by moms I talked to were: highly gifted (high IQ) children, Asperger’s Syndrome, family history of mental illness, sensory processing disorder, or simply more highly sensitive children.

Recommendations:

1.  Universally the first one was to see your pediatrician. We have done this once, but I’ve made another appointment. Hopefully you have a pediatrician you trust like I do and like many of the moms I talked to did. Make a list. Either go in alone for a session with your child’s doctor (my course), or write down every single symptom you’ve seen (no matter how embarrassed you might feel!) and send the list in advance so you don’t have to outline issues in front of your child.

2.  Many moms recommended, and found great value in, seeing a therapist/psychologist.

There were assorted options of what these therapy sessions looked like. While the all sibling group didn’t work for us, it sounds like most parents that tried therapy did do it one on one with the child and counselor with a follow up with the parent.  (One mom shared that a peer group didn’t work at all for them because their child picked up more bad behavior, though I’m sure this isn’t a universal experience.)

Moms of younger kids found the success with play therapy.  Moms of older kids talked about the value of having a independent third party that taught coping skills – particularly for attention seeking kids, many of these children are, having their “own person” helped.

Coping with the outbreak:

I felt such relief to hear how so many moms struggle mirrored my own. Moms shared that a discipline or reaction which worked one time might not work again. From taking away electronics to a full body hug, what once gave respite may not work a second or third time. Most shared trying to discipline with a spanking during an outbreak only made it worse. Similarly, moms shared if one of the parents (or other kids) became angry in response, it only served to fuel the episode, so try to make every effort to remain calm even when you feel at your wit’s end.

One mom told me she found some relief by removing everyone else from the room. I shared my struggle with removing him during an angry episode because of anger-fueled strength, and she said she and her husband would take the other kids and leave to play in one of their bedrooms with a big show of what fun they had while the child having an episode could not join in until he calmed down.

The focus of these responses, and even post episode discussions, is not to stop your child from feeling angry. Everyone feels angry and it’s appropriate and healthy. It is the child’s reaction to the anger which has to be addressed. The key is getting these particular children to channel the emotion into something less destructive to the family.

I’ve read anger and sadness are closely linked in children. In fact, anger is often a surrogate emotion for any number of true feelings like helplessness, anxiety, sadness, embarrassment or hurt. Remembering that fact helps free me up from trying to pin down why my child is getting so angry and rather understand the variety of triggers may be because this particular child uses anger to cope with all those other emotions.

Certainly, right now, I feel the outbreaks are beyond my skill set and finding a third party to help him, and me, learn how to react and cope would be tremendously helpful.

I’m praying for all you mommas struggling with this issue, and I know how it can wear at the fabric of your family.  I continue to welcome your insight and feedback and we find our way.  Thank you for sharing.

Hard Stories: Being Selfish

I was torn.  Little bit kept wavering on whether she’d stay at the main house or the bayou house, and the baby was wailing because of an injured ankle.  I started the car, it was already late because we had so many fireworks to pop, and tried to load the boys.

Little bit said she would stay with her grandparents, and the remaining four of us set off across the pasture.  The car parked at the back door with me still in a quandary over whether to stay with the boys or go back to the main house.

I got the baby settled in a chair with a wash cloth and icepack and decided to head back.  The boys were tearful and asked me to stay.  I said I’d come back if little bit was still dressed.

I drove back across the pasture with my headlights full of bugs in the dark night and lugged my bag into the main house.  Little bit was happy as a clam in her p.j.s “making her beauty” with grandmother, her pink blanket already settled in between her grandparents pillows.

She brushed her teeth and told me she would stay in their room.  I decided to stay put, and I washed my face and laid down in the guest room, alone.

And cried.

I didn’t stay where I was most needed mainly because I was angry at my husband.  As the night had worn on, we had a silly argument, and I could tell he was angry at how I responded.  I started the fireworks with the kids before he came out, and we didn’t interact for the rest of the evening.  I wasn’t particularly interested in staying with him.

Had we been home, we’d have gone to sleep in the same room, maybe angry, but we’d have slept in the same bed.  Yet here I had an out.  Another house and a paper thin excuse that the one child with two adults might need me specifically.

The baby with the injury and the eldest with his pleading, and even my husband who had taken my bags to the other house earlier, were the ones who really wanted me with them.  And I left for selfish reasons.

I had also had three glasses of wine over the course of the evening, and I can make foolish decisions when my brain is fuzzy instead of fueled with the clarity of action my faith requires me to take.

I had also shared a story with my mother-in-law about the first time I saw my father after the divorce, quite sometime as the case was and in less than ideal circumstances, and I had never spoken the story out loud before, not even to my husband.  I somehow managed to feel the wounds fresh on my heart all these years later.

I can still be selfish.  I can still be foolish.  I can still be wounded.

It was not an irreparable action.  Yet those selfish, foolish, wounded-fueled decisions in marriage and parenting can add up if you don’t watch it.  It becomes all too easy to write off the instance as “a one-off” and not ask for forgiveness and determine to do better the next time.  Then those costly one-offs add up to more distance and more damage.

There is hope.  In the midst of the I can be’s… (add your own laundry list of less-than adjectives).

I can do all this through Christ who gives me strengthPhil. 4:13

So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.  And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.  Romans 11:5-6

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ JesusPhil. 1:6

There is grace for a new day.  So I can be forgiven.  I can start anew.  I can do it better.  I can be selfless, and wise, and healed.

 

This week is about the hard stories.  The ones I’m not particularly happy to share.  But if we don’t start talking about the hard stories, how we will find our way to the other side?

Hard Stories: Angry Kids

I’ve struggled the past year with a particular aspect of parenting one of my children.  I haven’t ever written about it because I’m not sure I have any solutions and there’s a degree of shame parents experience with the hard issues.

Then, over the past weeks, I have encountered mom after mom who is experiencing the same struggle.

It never fails to surprise me because I never read about it.  No one ever really talks about it.  But because I’ve begun to open up about my struggles, out of desperation maybe more than anything, I begin to hear the exact same story repeated back to me.

The child’s age and gender varies.  The stories come from moms parenting boys and girls alike.  The children’s ages range from three on into the teen years.  Which makes this a struggle some moms have just begun to get a handle on and some moms have spent years honing their responses.

This is the story about the worry and confusion and guilt and frustration when trying to parent an angry kid.

These stories, including my own, are not about a child with a temper.  We’ve seen that.  We know the solution there.  The truth is, I was a nanny and babysitter and church nursery provider for years and never saw it.  I now realize those kids may have had the same struggle as my baby does, but you don’t often see it in public.  At least, in our case, you rarely see it in public.  We’ve had a couple of very explosive experiences, once with our pediatrician, but apart from that they happen at home.

All the moms I talk to know it happens at home “because they feel most comfortable with you,” as well as all those other things people say to make you feel encouraged about the hurricane that hits, but it’s not helpful.

For a while, we were convinced it was the work of asthma medicine causing our son’s outbreaks, and we had the studies to back it up.  After months of natural allergy treatments, we were able to back him off all asthma medicine (his is ultimately a minor case), and he hasn’t had any asthma treatments for over a year.  There was a pause, but still the explosions come.

For the moms who have multiple children, and most of the moms I’ve talked to do have other children without this same issue, the situation can wreck an evening at home trying to parent all the children and get things accomplished.

There is no ideal reaction when the meltdown occurs.  Reason never works.  Anger in response doesn’t work and, if anything, it fuels the reaction to greater heights.  Removal of the child during an episode is challenging, because you can never get him to stay where you want him, and trying to move him, when the anger fuels an incredible strength, can be nearly impossible.

The other children lose the attention they were receiving from their parents.  Often everyone loses a privilege or experience because you can’t reward the angry child.

What have other moms done?  There have been assorted therapy sessions which I wish moms would talk about more because sharing could help tremendously, but it still seems to be the dirty little secret of parenting.  Like it’s somehow admitting failure.  I’ve heard about family sessions and individual sessions and play therapy and a number of options.  We tried therapy a couple of times, but with other children involved in the session the behavior didn’t come out (and it’s an expensive option when you’re not getting closer to a solution).  Some moms do try to remove the child to their room, and have had more success, and keep them away from the rest of the family so the anger outbreak is less disruptive.  Those moms recommend talking about what happens in the child’s head when the child is calm but not to try reasoning when the episode is happening.

From my experience, and talking with other moms, we generally cannot find a consistent trigger.  One day it could be complimenting another child leads to a complete disruption while another day it could be exhaustion and another it could be losing a privilege because of an initial act of disobedience.

For me, it is not a daily experience and therefore even hard to predict.  Most moms seem to have the experience I do with their angry child also being incredibly loving, giving, sensitive, and prone to heartbreak.  These are kids whose nerves are right there on the surface.  We mommas are in love with these precious ones.  We are also at a loss for how to keep the anger from swallowing up our family on the hard days.

This week is about the hard stories.  The ones I’m not particularly happy to share.  But if we don’t start talking about the hard stories, how we will find our way to the other side?