Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Bully Issue

When J(15) was in 4th grade, we started to get the sense that she wasn't happy in school.  By the end of the year, we were noticing she wasn't herself and friendships weren't coming easily to her.  Over the course of the next two years, we came to the conclusion that she was being bullied and the school was turning a blind eye to the problem.  Our final solution (after NO support from the pubic school) was to take her out and enroll her in our Catholic high school for 7th grade.

J's public school principal told me I had raised my daughter in a bubble, needed to cut the apron strings, and a slew of other cliches that never helped the situation.  In the back of my mind, I really thought maybe I had screwed up.  With that in mind, I made J a deal:  Give the new school a try.  If it was still tough, we'd explore other options.  By the second week of school, she was going to sleepovers and thriving.  In the three years since leaving public school, we have seen a new person emerge.  She's happy, confident, and seems to enjoy school as much as any 15 year old can be expected to.

I've taken several things away from this situation:

- Not all principals are created equal.  I have a great friend who is a principal in another district.  She coached me through dealing with this in a positive, calm way and couldn't understand why we weren't getting results.  She would edit anything I put into writing, making sure I wasn't letting my emotions get in the way of my requests for help.

-  Kids aren't always equipped to fix "these things" on their own.  We tried that approach.  We tried coaching J through things, giving her skills, and letting her deal with it on her own.  Only, when it's one kid facing an entire clique, it's really hard to put the skills, guidance, and advice into practice.

-  In my experience, parents are far too quick to deny their child could be less than perfect.  (One of these days I'll write about how we dealt with K(12)'s attempt at bullying.)  In my opinion, if you don't know your child is doing something rotten, you don't have a chance to correct it... which isn't to say parents should run around tattling.  But parents should be able to calmly say, "Our kids are having a difficult time getting along.  How can we help them with this?" without it turning into a massive ordeal.

-  Schools aren't really equipped to deal with bullying yet.  No one seems to know how to stop it or what skills kids need to cope with it.  And this is a problem.

-  Catholic schools are a blessing even if paying for them is truly difficult for us.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

And Also...

... OtHello Kitty cracks me up.  No one else in my house seems to appreciate my humor.  Or my lack of iPhone photo skills.


The Catholic high school my daughters attend requires the kids do a specific number of volunteer hours as part of their Theology grade every year.  The junior high requires 12 and the high school expects 16.  My kids?  Over achievers.  J(15) had 125 last year and plans to aim for the same this year.  K(12) is just starting her first year there and her goal is 50 hours.  They're both over 10% of the way to their goal and they still have 11 months to go.

J(15) with her various end-of-year awards, including her Gold Award for 100+ hours of community service.
There were tears - Proud Momma tears.
In support of their efforts, I mentioned their goals on my Facebook page.  I have a bunch of friends who work for non-profits or who are teachers or principals - exactly the kind of people I want my children to be around.  Just a quick note about the girls looking for service hours opportunities and it was met with several offers for later in the summer as friends are setting up classrooms (and also when the girls are going to be on baby overload, so that works perfectly.)

Then my friend Jim dropped me a line.  Jim is the director of development for Olivia's House.  Olivia's House is an organization for children dealing with grief.  It's probably where I should have taken the kids after we lost Andrew.  They needed something more than just a fairly dysfunctional, grief stricken mother and a father wo was holding everything together while still working 50+ hours a week and commuting like a mad man.  But I didn't because I couldn't get out of bed, let alone think about helping the kids face their grief when I was barely able to function through my own.

So Jim dropped me a line.  Olivia's House needs help with yard work and office cleaning - exactly the kind of stuff the girls can do.  The kind of stuff we can do as a family, really.  

Maybe it's time we find a way to honor Andrew in some way other than by remembering him and dusting his urn every few days.  And maybe this is the first step toward doing that.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Holding Hands

Holding hands is a promise to one another that, for just a moment, the two of you won't have to face the world alone.


G(8) won't hold my hand in public any more.  Not when we're crossing a busy parking lot, not when we're looking for a seat in church, and most definitely not when we're anywhere near other kids.  I've spent the last 15 years holding the hand of a child in some capacity or another.  And in a few months  weeks, I'll have two new hands to hold.  But in the meantime, it's a strange, lonely feeling to reach out and not be met by the grip of a sweaty, sticky little hand.

Maybe he thinks he's ready to face the world alone.  I'm not sure sure I am.

G(8) getting his bunk set up at Cub Scout camp earlier today.  He already looks more grown up than I'm ready for.

Friday, June 15, 2012


I was thinking about the changes we will face as a family once this baby arrives in August.  His birth really decreases his siblings summer by about 3 weeks.  Starting in July, we have the "one hour from the hospital" tether to deal with, too.  I don't want this to be remembered as The Summer of the Baby.  That's probably unavoidable, but I want there to be at least some other memories associated with these fleeting warm days.

With that in mind, I asked each kid what they'd like to do with their summer.  Their answers surprised me.

G(8) was quick to come up with a list.  It was mostly reasonable:  fishing, camping, go on a boat, go to the beach, get a rocket, visit Fort McHenry, and see the Declaration of Independence.  Oh, and become a big brother again.  This boy is obsessed with Thomas Jefferson, so I would like to make the trek to the National Archives to see the D of I.  But between a weekend of camping and a weekend at the beach, I just don't think I can swing that one.  I can tackle a bunch of his other goals, though.  We did the rockets yesterday.  We're going fishing with my brother and Dad today.  He leaves for camping with Cub Scouts on Sunday.  The following weekend, he's heading to the beach for a soccer tournament.  Fort McHenry is only 49 minutes away, so we may try that in July and still safely stay within the "one hour tether".  So I can handle his goals, for the most part.

We found a book on Thomas Jefferson at the bookstore.  He's a happy, happy kid!

K(12) was a little more reluctant to come up with a list.  She wants to go to the beach and camping.  Those are great choices because they are already planned.  Then she completely threw me:  she wants to go mountain climbing.  Mountain.  Climbing.  (Let's switch topics for just a second.  Let me list my fears:  Needles, snakes, MY KIDS IN HIGH PLACES.  I can't cope with them hiking in the rocky local park.  I can't handle high dives.  I panic.  I don't mind heights for myself, but when my kids are in high places, I Freak. Out.)  I think K caught my initial reaction and then threw in "sky diving" for good measure, too.  We settled on seeking out an indoor rock wall.  I'm thinking this place is going to be our best bet.  It's only 45 minutes away, so I'm still safe to give it a try after the traveling at the end of the month.

J(15) doesn't have a list... yet.  She is going to high adventure camp in July where she'll do white water rafting and actual mountain climbing and zip lining.  She's getting a lot of volunteer hours in through church and Scouts.  But as for actual 'stuff I want to do', she hasn't given me a list.  I guess I can't force her to... but I'm hoping she comes up with a few social things to do so she doesn't spend the summer in Cyber Land.

My goals for the summer?  So boring... painting, cleaning, organizing, and sleeping as much as possible.  Oh, and to keep the kids busy, of course!

K(12) caught the tiniest Sunny I've ever seen... and it promptly jumped out of her hands.  

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Things They Teach

I spent a whopping $10 on a rocket kit for G(8) yesterday.  It covered a Cub Scout elective (probably not as they intended... I'm sure Scouts expected us to do something complicated and spendy, but baking soda and vinegar is what they got.)  And, as usual, Toys R Us completely failed to impress.

It was very nice of J(15) to take time from her busy texting/Facebook schedule to help her little brother out.

The thing is, G wasn't upset with the lack of success.  You can even hear him say, "That was the best one yet!" at the end of the video.  I need to be more like him... more in the moment, happy with his own definition of success.


David came home and promptly schooled us in the art of rocketeering.  We didn't reach heights of 50 feet, but we did get a good 25-30 feet, accompanied by a beaming, happy G howling at his father's hatred of vinegar.  I stand corrected!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Use the Force?

A major thing happened last night.  Two major things actually.

First, J (15) spend 5 hours volunteering at the church carnival without either parent being there.  And the world didn't end.  Second, I made the decision to let her boyfriend (who was also volunteering) drive her home.

J is my ADHD kid.  Brilliant child with a bright future ahead of her - honors classes, dedicated to community service, love of theater, just all around interesting kid.  However, every now and then her ADHD rears its ugly head and she makes some rash decisions.  So usually, in an event like the carnival one of us sticks around in the background, keeping an eye out for her inner spaz.  Only last night it was pouring and we were working on the latest bedroom transformation, so I just left her there.  How much trouble can she get in, really?  It's our church, for heaven's sake!  And everyone knows her, right?  So I cut the apron string a smidge.  And I think she felt awfully grown up.

The driving part was hard.  She didn't ask, but it certainly made my life a little easier, so I made the suggestion.  The boyfriend seems very harmless and he had his younger brother with him, so they weren't alone.  We live about 4 minutes from church.  It requires a left-right-left series of turns to get up the hill and into our neighborhood with a top speed of 35 mph.  If it hadn't been dark, she really could have walked.  She texted me before they left and twice in the car:

J:  We're in the parking lot.  Heading out now.

Me:  Be safe.  Be smart.  Wear your seatbelt.  Come straight home.  I love you.

J:  I KNOW Mom.

Me:  You don't know.  You think you know, but you don't know.  SO just listen to me for a change and I will see you in 5 minutes.

J:  Okay, Mom.

J:  We're on our street.

And then she was home and the boy walked her to the door, chatted with me for a minute (nice kid!), hugged her, and was on his way home.... his mother can deal with the stress of highway driving in the rain.

Clearly she's growing up.  Clearly she's dealing with it very well so far.  Clearly I'm not the massive, panicked mess I thought I would be (okay, so I was a little worried) about all of these changes.

But now I want her to go to the library's zoo program with us.  I let her do all kinds of grown up things last night and watched her handle them extremely well... and part of me immediately wants to force her to do something her 8 year old little brother isn't even very keen on.  This growing up process is tough on both of us and I'm not going to force her to go.  I remember reading that teens spend a lot of their teen-time making huge leaps toward independence and then immediately retreating back to their childish pre-teen state.  I didn't realize parents went through the same process.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

All Too Well...

G (8) went to the dentist last week.  I sat alone in the waiting room, paging through magazines designed for housewives and middle aged mothers, calmly thinking how I don't fit into either of these categories.  (Denial.  I haz it.)

Out strolled Dr. B.  Or Jack.  Or Dr. Jack.  I don't know what to call him, so let's go with Jack.  Out strolled Jack.  He looked around and seemed pleased with the fact that we were alone in this media filled waiting room.  And then.  He.  Spoke.

Jack:  How's he brushing?  (Translation:  You're a horrible parent.)

Me:  Oh, well, we remind him to brush twice a day, but I don't hold his hand while he does it.  (Translation:  Dude, I lost a baby in September and I'm pregnant again.  The sheer fact that this kid has a toothbrush is a testament to how much I do NOT suck.)

Jack:  Well, we have some cavities in some baby teeth.  (Cue the dramatic music.)

Me:  Huh.  Well, what're we going to do about that?  (Because clearly, you have the degree, you should have the plans, right?)

Jack:  David is going to bring him in.  *YOU* are not to say the following words to him:  needle, drill, pain, recovery, or trauma.  (In other words, he knows I'm a spaz.  And he's right.  He's the guy who writes my scripts for anti-anxiety meds when I need a filling.)

Me:  Okay.  But when you use the needle to drill into his skull, how much pain will he be in during recovery and will it traumatize him for the rest of his life?  (That took skill, man.  Nailed it.  Hit every single "no" word.)

Jack:  (Smiles and rolls his eyes.)  Seriously, though, this is a Dad thing.

Me:  Sigh.  You guys have all the fun.

Had I had this conversations 18 months ago, it would have been tragic.  I would have probably lamented my failure as a parent.  Oh!  Woe is me!  My darling son has a cavity... or three.  The world is ending.  But strangely, it just isn't that... horrible.  It's life.  It happens.  They're baby teeth and this is a major lesson in his little life.

Plus, I don't have to take him.  Doctor's orders.  Sometimes being a spaz has its perks.

Stuff I've Found to Work

I read another mom blog last night.  I tend to read it because her children are so much younger than mine and it reminds me vividly of what we've gotten though and what we're going to revisit in the coming years.  Her children are bundled together, slightly closer than my three oldest children.  She's currently dealing with what I always called Fibber McGee syndrome and she's Freaking Out Big Time.

Her Freak Out in yesterday's blog got my wheels turning.  We went through that.  We still go through that.  But I've kind of figured it out.  Each kid has a tell.  Typically when confronted and caught in a lie, K can't look me in the eye.  G blushes.  And J is either the greatest liar on the face of the earth or doesn't need to lie because I have no clue what her tell is.  K is the easiest to detect.

So what other tricks have I found over the last 15 years that make life a little easier?  And what do I still struggle with on a regular basis and need to work on?  Hm.

1)  Follow Through.  Don't threaten to do something if you know you can't follow through on it.  For instance, don't threaten to call the school to find out what the homework really is if you know there isn't anyone in the building who can answer that question.  Think before you dole out consequences.  The second a kid detects you're full of BS, you've completely lost the battle.

2)  Ask yourself:  Is this a hill I want to die on?  Only make it a battle if it's truly important.  When J flops herself downstairs wearing what is easily the most ratty, splatter painted, ill-fitting jeans she owns and we're on our way to Mass, it drives me insane.  The easier thing to do would have been to discuss the clothing the night before, but she's 15.  WHY do we have to go through this every week?  So I have to decide - in that very moment - how important is what she's wearing.  I'm probably far too guilty of making this a battle of Devil's Den far more often than I should... at least she's going to Mass, right?

3)  Allow them to fix the problem themselves.  

Kid:  I want a cookie!
Me:  Huh.  Good to know.
Kid:  Cookie!
Me:  I do so enjoy cookies.  (Going about my business.)
Kid:  Can I have a cookie?
Me:  Oh look, your shoe is untied.
Kid:  May I please have a cookie?
Me:  Ooooh, that's what you're making noise about.  (Then either choice A, depending on the kid and the circumstances)  The next time you would like a cookie, you need to remember to ask using your good manners.  You just showed me you have them.  Here's a cookie.  (Or choice B, again, depending on the kid and the circumstances.)  Are you nuts, kid?  You just marched in here and demanded I drop everything I'm doing to give you a cookie?  No, you can't have a cookie, but you can have an apple.  And the next time you want something, start with the decent manners you just proved you have.  It works much better that way.

This allows the kid to recognize the problem and fix it on her own.  I don't have to yell or correct or really get involved at all until they've remedied the situation.  It's important to note, however, that this method has its flaws.  For instance, if you've just gone through this routine 1,346 with one kid and a different kid starts in with the same demand in the same tone, you run the risk of your head exploding.  It's also important to note that you need to spend years 2, 3, and part of 4 starting with the basics and consistently teaching (through modeling) how to ask for something properly.  This method really doesn't work until they're in the late pre-school stages and beyond.

So those are things I think I have a handle on.  Now if I could just figure out how to make K less destructive, G less quick to anger, and J more willing to study, I'd be absolutely perfect.  Oh... and if I could keep my garage clean and the basement from being taken over by laundry and the dishes from piling up and shoes out of the kitchen....

Sunday, June 10, 2012


8 weeks to go.  Eight.  Barring any complications or other surgeries taking my place, I will see my son in fifty six days.



There's so much to be done between now and then; it feels overwhelming.  The biggest project is almost finished in some ways, but just beginning in others.  We live in a four bedroom house.  It's not huge and it's not really intended for a family of six.  However, we're going to make it work because it's what we have and it's what we're going to have for many years to come.

Once we knew we were having a boy, we had to settle on bedrooms and shuffling the kids between them.  Finally we settled (and by "we", I mean "I" because no one else was willing to commit to making a decision) on putting the girls in the larger bedroom over the garage.  Together.  My daughters.  Oil and Vinegar.  Day and Night.  North and South.

Again.  Yikes.
The early stages of the project.

Bye-bye little girl pink.

The process of getting the room ready was a month long chore.  First, I let them pick colors.  (Okay, first I picked colors and watched them roll their eyes.  I quickly realized I had to give up control if this was going to work.)  They agreed on purple and orange.  It's just paint, right?  And they're 15 and 12, so I couldn't expect them to like the neutral tan I had chosen.  I removed the pink, floral wallpaper border.  Then David patched and sanded the walls.  The ceiling presented a heck of a problem.  J had plastered it with posters and over the years, the tape and become a gummy, gooey, nasty mess and refused to come off the ceiling without  a serious fight.  An entire weekend was spent experimenting with adhesive removal products.  We finally found that wallpaper glue remover was our best bet.

Hello... interesting... combination of colors.

Then up went the orange.  Holy moly.  Orange.  The purple wasn't nearly as shocking in comparison.  The Pepto pink wasn't giving up without a fight and we still had to use two coats for each color even though we'd gone with the more expensive paint with built in primer.

Our Siamese got in on the act... and we didn't paint over it.  It's our Elliot seal of approval.

Finally we tied it all together with a rather colorful boarder:

Channeling our inner hippies.

Now it's done and the beds are moved.  I ordered matching bedding.  We hung bright curtains.  The beds are on risers so we can have plenty of storage.  So it's coming together and looks really cute, despite the interesting color choices.

Tonight is the first night they'll share their "new" room.  The true test will be to see how they sleep.  K is a night owl.  She has been since birth.  We've actually taken her to Johns Hopkins for a sleep study because at 4 years old she would only sleep 7 hours every night.  They said she's fine and this is just the way she's wired. I often wonder if I had given birth to K first if we would have had more children... she's definitely been a challenge since day one.

(As I'm writing, K just bounds through the front door, yelling and taking over all the energy in the house.  She's been away for 2 days.  She spent yesterday in DC with her Girl Scout troop and today was spent with her best friend at the local swimming pool.  Hopefully she's exhausted and will make their first night peaceful.  Although the girls are already arguing because apparently there's a wet bathing suit on J's bed now.)

J is a sleeper.  She always has been.  She was sleeping 8 - 10 hours a night by the time she was 6 months old.  She woke up starving, of course, but she wanted - needed - to sleep.  Where K is chaos, J is calm.  Where K is noise, J is quiet.  And that's not to say J is perfect.  The girl can shriek like nothing I've ever heard and her tendency toward silly is much greater than average .  But across the board, J has always been an easier kid.

I'm trying to set serious expectations for both of them.  J has to allow K to have some say in what happens in the room.  K has to not destroy things or poke holes in the drywall.  (That's another story.)  J has to understand that K owns half the room now and while it's not easy to give up that space, K gave up her entire room without pouting.  Compromise is going to be key... that and remembering that J leaves for college in 3 years.  (And don't even take me down that road.  I don't know quite how I'll manage to let her go.  I like having her here and the thought of her being on her own already makes me cry.  But another day.)

Tomorrow I will - hopefully - start to work toward moving G into his new room (K's old room).  But we also need to clean the fridges, the basement, put away laundry, organize the garage... I'll never get to all of it.

But we got to this and in that I will find some peace.

Friday, June 1, 2012

IVs and Memories

I have the Stomach Bug From Hell.  It's evil.  I landed in the labor hall for a few hours yesterday, tethered to an IV because I was severely dehydrated and all sorts of other unpleasant medical stuff that I pretended not to hear.

It was extremely busy.  I guess we all know what the whole world was up to 9 months ago because there were nurses rushing everywhere and very few beds available.  I ended up waiting in the waiting room with expectant grandparents for 20 minutes or so before they could even get me into an exam room.  Once they'd gotten me changed and the initial exam was over (no signs of labor.  Woo.), they sent me to the antepartum wing... to the same room... and the same bed where we found out we'd lost Andrew.  And in an uncontrollable flood of chaotic emotion, I relived that entire day in about 3.2 seconds.

The nurse was kind enough to hook me up to the monitor as quickly as she could and within a matter of minutes, this baby (who has a name, but we're not telling) was busy making us laugh with hiccups and wicked soccer kicks and occasionally running away from the nurse as she readjusted the belt.  I still felt the sting of our loss, but it faded a bit over the several hours I was there.

I worry about that happening with Andrew.  His little brother will be our focus, changing our family, reshaping it.  And that's good.  I know it is.  But I don't want to forget the little boy who wasn't meant to be; the little boy who still makes me cry.  I don't quite know how to wrap my head around it.