Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Dear Halloween Candy Hander Outer...

Dear Halloween Candy Hander Outer,

I'm a parent of two children with sensory processing disorder. They are DYING to go trick-or-treating. Their Dad has taken the entire day off work to help them get ready. We have been marking the days until Halloween in our family calendar for over a month. But listen please, because as excited as they are, it won't be easy for them. It can be fun if you'll help us, but fun in the way I imagine climbing a rock wall is fun. In an "I overcame this colossal challenge and gained vast amounts of confidence that I CAN DO THIS" kind of fun. (And in the "I'm now exhausted and need a very long nap and break from the world" kind of fun).

This is the first time my daughter has asked for a Halloween costume (a pink bunny rabbit). I don't expect she'll be able to wear it all night. Their father and I have already discussed what the kids will be able to handle and planned for a short evening and small amount of going door to door because too much walking makes my son tired and too many unfamiliar faces make my daughter anxious and upset. Too much noise bothers them both. I know my sensory kids want so badly to participate, but are completely overwhelmed at the same time. Be kind. My daughter won't speak to you. She probably won't say "trick or treat" and she *might* whisper, "thank you." Talking to you is too much for her. Her brain is working harder than yours ever will just to be able to process the sights, sounds, and smells she's bombarded with.

My son will be exuberant for the first half hour, then a switch will flip. He will pull most of his costume off, stomp his feet, and demand to be taken home. He'll do it because it's 'too exciting, too loud, too busy.' He has poor hand-eye coordination for his age and struggles to pick out specific objects in a 'busy' background. If you tell him to choose his own treat, it's going to take a while. My daughter doesn't do peanuts. Don't be offended if she doesn't take a piece if your candy or if we have to put something back. We're not upset you only have Snickers; we're just trying to keep her safe. She will accidentally knock your bowl over or grab too many, not because she's greedy or rude, but because she has a hard time with motor-planning and self-regulation. We will skip your house/business if you have flashing lights or fog machines. They freak my kids out and my daughter doesn't like the fog 'smell.'

If we see you toward the end of the night, we will all look a little harried, a little exhausted. But we'll be happy, ecstatic even, to have made out this far. Because we're making memories too. They'll be a little different from yours. Our experience will be as unique as our trick-or-treaters. Just remember, it's their holiday too. They deserve to wake up the next day like everyone else with a tummy ache that the only remedy for is eating chocolate for breakfast. And with a little understanding from you, they will have memories of a night of fun rather than fear. All I ask is your empathy and acceptance. Lose your preconceived notions and gently give those kids without a costume hiding behind their parent's leg a piece of gum or maybe a sucker. If they don't take it, ask mom or dad what they like and give it to them instead. You'll probably make the whole family's night and I guarantee they'll talk about you as they eat that special treat on the way home. Because it's their Halloween too.

Thanks for listening,
A Mom Whose Kids Can't Wait for Halloween

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Mom

I am a stay at home mom. Hear me roar. Well, maybe yawn and repeat myself over and over until these wild animals I call children take some sort of heed. (Or at least until they fall from that high place while choking on that piece of food and holding a sharp object and roll into a nest of angry wasps knocked loose by their fall.) Because only then will my children truly understand why I wouldn't let them climb on the top of the fence with a sandwich in one hand and a homemade stick shank in the other right next to the roof that has a wasp nest hanging from it. The irony? I'll be too busy driving to the emergency room and monitoring swelling and blood loss to say, "I told you so!" The following are my humble opinions on what the stay at home life is like and my experiences and may or may not be relatable to you. Either way, they are mine and if you don't like them, you're not required to believe them to be true. Isn't individuality a beautiful thing?

I've had people say they envy me. I always wonder at this. What do they think I do? Is it the endless amounts of chores that are never done or the crushing weight of knowing your children's future successes are entirely dependent upon how you conduct yourself in these formative years that these people wish they had? I chose to stay at home, and therefore chose everything that goes along with it.  Don't belittle my choice by expressing jealousy without first doing some thoughtful and empathetic reflection.

 I think of parenting as both the most selfish and selfless thing I'll ever do. Staying at home means I have put a career on hold, often forget to eat meals, and put my desires for adult interaction on the back burner in order to better serve the needy little humans clinging to my leg. Did I bring them into the world? Oh, very selfishly so! Have I given up multitudinous aspects of my life and self to better attune myself to their needs so I can advocate and support them to ensure they thrive and develop? You have NO idea!

I have two beautiful children. They are healthy, generally happy, and intelligent humans who are learning to think for themselves and discover the world around then. I'm very lucky to have them. But you want to know something? I forget that once in a while. When the car needs servicing and we can't afford it on one income. When I dreamily research graduate school and am subsequently plagued by fears that by the time I go back, it will be too hard to start over. When I feel like I'm one load of laundry or sibling fight mediation away from losing my sanity. When I sit in a board meeting in a volunteer position I hold and rather than productively contributing, I spend the evening repeatedly apologizing for my children who've decided to interrupt by attacking the facility director with hand puppets as he attempts to present his monthly report. I'm lucky that I get to stay home with these kids. That does not mean I never want to pretend they're not mine.

I wasn't always this person you see with a purse full of wet wipes and an endless knowledge of children's television. I used to be a free spirit with a short fuse. I once held multiple jobs while going to college full-time. I've had lovely and interesting experiences in my life that have nothing at all to do with my children.

I will not always be what I am today. I am just crazy enough to hope that one day, I'll have a career and life that doesn't involve spending the majority of my day in the kitchen. But I will never forget the joys and the turmoils of being a stay at home mom.

The truth of it is, some days I feel inadequate, unimportant, irrelevant. Some days, I'm pretty sure I could run the world singlehandedly. It's the best of times and the worst of times. But it's my time, and though the minutes are years and the years are minutes, one day that time will be up. I'll look back on it fondly (I hope). The bad times won't seem so bad and the good times will seem to have been better. My kids will one day realize I'm not only their mother, I'm a person. Then I'll tell that funny story about the time they nearly choked on a sandwich and impaled themselves on a stick when they fell off the fence into that wasp nest. And the beat will go on.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Home is Where the Meltdowns Are

It's been a tough week at our house. We're coming down from a summer vacation high that's leaving us all crashing and burning. Routines have been upended, sleep schedules disrupted, and normalcy has flown out the window (quite possibly landing on another planet). We vowed at the beginning of summer to keep things as normal as possible. And we tried. We really did. But between extra library programs, random play dates, extra time spent with family, traveling, and some unexpected events, our day to day suffered immensely. Which means, we suffered, but particularly our daughter.

She has SPD or sensory processing disorder. She's a beautiful, introverted, intelligent, funny child who thrives on sameness, routine, repetition, and always knowing what comes next. This is typical of most sensory kids. When your world feels out of control because of your inability to process what's happening around you, the need to feel safe and in control in every other aspect of life becomes paramount. So when things are feeling jumbled, overwhelming, and scary, my daughter likes to come home. Her small body loses tension when waking in the door. Home smells the way things are supposed to. Home is where you know what is in every room. Home is where you can reach the soap to wash her hands as many times as necessary to make them feel clean. Home is a haven of safety and familiarity. It's where you can arrange your play food and baby dolls until the world is in order again. And for a child who processes the entire world differently, a world that more often than not is scary and senseless, home might possibly be the only place she feels truly secure and accepted. As Martha Stewart said, it's a good thing.

Home also happens to be where the meltdowns are. You may have heard parents of special needs children talk about these meltdowns. They are not temper tantrums. No amount of cajoling, bribery, or comfort can make them stop. A true meltdown is the total shut down of all reason and a child's way of screaming, "I can't handle this!" All children can have meltdowns, but in my opinion, meltdowns caused by routine disruptions and sensory overload are the worst. When faced with sensory overload or stimuli they can't understand, sensory kids experience a fight or flight reaction. For my daughter, in public, this means flight. For example, in a crowded grocery store, her body tells her, "hide, hide now and it will all go away!" The sensation of overload does not disappear though. Oh no, it lurks just beneath the surface waiting for a safe time and place to turn viscously into a 'fight' response. In our house, this has meant kitchen barstools being thrown across the room by a very slightly built two year old. I've lost plenty of necklaces and had all of my favorite coffee mugs thrown down and broken in the throes of an at-home meltdown. It means screaming, kicking, slapping, spitting, sobbing (at times to the point of retching), and lying in the floor limp while wailing as if there is nothing good left in the world.

People who see us in passing at the store or maybe see us once a week at storytime see my daughter as a shy, slightly quirky, but generally pleasant and smiling little blond haired cutie. It might be why SPD is sometimes thought to be unreal and why some say it's an 'invisible' special need. Through therapy, techniques, sensory diet, and modifications, my daughter can usually, and I mean usually, hold things together when we're at the store these days. Mostly, mostly gone are the days when we would have to leave because she was kicking items off the shelf and screaming until she was out of breath. A trip to the store is still a majorly overwhelming task. It's hard and the sounds still hurt her ears, the lights are still too bright, the people still stand too close. It isn't a safe place, but it's a place we have to endure at times. But my daughter knows a secret. There is a place you can safely and completely lose control. It's a special safe place. So when a meltdown is inevitable (after a change in routine or schedule disruption, or an overstimulating experience or day of errands), and though my heart breaks with every one, (as I sit with her in a bear hug while she kicks, slaps, and sobs as though she'll never recover), it brings a sense of peace knowing that we've created a home where she understands it is not only safe but absolutely beautiful to be yourself. The good, the bad, and the meltdown.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

"Aren't You Afraid They'll Be Weirdos?" and other questions about homeschooling

We are a homeschooling family.  If you've been here before, you probably know this.  If not, hi, hello, we are a homeschooling family.  As we were nearing the end of last year's school time, my husband and I started perusing curriculum options for the next year.  Ultimately, we made our choices and decided to continue 'schoolwork' through the summer.  Our oldest is working at a second grade level and our youngest is now considered (by me) a pre pre-schooler (by which I mean she is mature enough to participate in almost all school activities, but lacks the ability to sit still for a full lesson so she flits in and out of the room, alternating between coloring in her journal and putting her pretend pigs to sleep in a book.)

Reading picnic.

This will be our third year homeschooling big brother and little sister has been tagging along all the way.  In three years, we have fielded many questions, speculations, criticisms, and admirations from all manner of people.  We have had strangers at pharmacies and restaurants give us their opinions as well as suggestions and support from family.  We've navigated explaining homeschooling to acquaintances and co-workers, as well as the cashier at the grocery store.  As a family, we've been lucky enough to have friends that love us for homeschooling, and to have connected with families who share our love of it and our children have made invaluable friends. Unfortunately, we've also endured our fair share of snide remarks and heard plenty of conversation about how horribly detrimental homeschooling is for a child's intelligence, development, mental health, sociability, and overall well-being.  If you are a homeschooler, homeschoolee, teacher, parent, student, or prospective homeschooling family, I have compiled a list of five questions you will most likely be expected (albeit, at times, by someone whom you owe absolutely no explanation at all) to answer and answer well because the world's opinion of homeschooling depends on it!! (Not really, it will mostly be an elderly couple you've met once or maybe a gum-smacking store clerk who is a proud product of 'regular' school.)  But I digress.  On with the list.

1. "Aren't you afraid they'll be weirdos?" 
Making careboxes for the elderly.
This, in our experience, is probably the most popular of the anti-homeschooling arguments.  My husband actually had a co-worker rail him during a discussion at work on whether or not it was "good for kids" to be homeschooled. This father adamantly stated that his son would be going to public school because he "didn't want him to be a weirdo."  Apparently, this father had the notion that learning academic lessons as well as moral, social, and emotional lessons at home was going to turn our son into someone on par with the character of Renfield in Bram Stoker's Dracula, and that one day, we would inevitably find our small son talking to the moon out of his window whilst he dined on flies he caught in traps of his own invention.  Rather than use that illustration of the ludicrousness of the co-worker's argument, my husband politely explained that obviously, homeschooling is not for everyone, but it was the best choice for our family and we enjoyed the extra time spent together and familial involvement in all aspects of our son's (and daughter's) development.

2.  "But when will they have a chance to socialize?  Aren't you afraid they'll have no friends?" 
Attending an indoor children's concert at the library.
In discussing this questions with our homeschooling friends, the consensus has been that our homeschooled children have absolutely no trouble at all making/keeping friends and that they actually seem MORE capable at social interaction with children and adults of all ages.  They aren't taught that 'kittygarteners are babies' or that 'adults are only there to make rules and get you in trouble.'  In our experience, they generally lack pre-conceived notions about age, race, and gender.  They play together, they accept new friends, and they interact well with babies and the elderly.  (I know, sounds awful right? *sarcasm*)  Still worried about socialization?  Then just read this list of 'extracurricular' activities any one of the children in our homeschool playgroup attend weekly:  church, churh camp, softball, soccer, 4-H, Awanas, library programs, playdates, HIPPY, parents as teachers... shall I go on?  Socialization does not have to be done in a school environment.  In fact, as a former public school student and teacher I will say, it's sometimes best NOT done in a school environment.

3.  "Oh I could NEVER do that!"
It's this comment (that almost always comes from parents), and more than any other, makes me question what people think homeschooling really involves.  Homeschooling, for our family, looks almost nothing like "real" school. We read, we sing songs, we color, we paint, we build things, we read, we write, we study art,
Helping Daddy plant a garden.
we listen to music, we create, we think, we imagine, we read...  Of course, all those things can happen in a formal school setting.  Of course they can, and do.  However, our family greatly loves being able to sit around the table having "book club" and discussing the latest chapter of the book we are all reading together.  One of my son's favorite activities is to do "geography" with his dad. (This includes looking up places on the map and using google maps to find streetviews of them.)  They discuss what the climate is like there, what animals they might have, and whether or not Daddy's ever talked to someone from there at work.)  For us, homeschooling does not simply involve sitting down to work three or four hours a day.  It means learning where the fruit at the store comes from, how many hours it is until dinner time, how to be safe when walking in a parking lot, and how to treat everyone with kindness and compassion.  There are always going to be days when you feel you haven't done enough or are simply overwhelmed with planning lessons on top of household duties and the stress of life and parenting in general...but as a family, we are far less stressed knowing that we are in it together and continually support one another in the entire journey of life.

4.  "At least you have a teaching degree." 
Baking bread doesn't take a teaching degree.
I hold a bachelor of science degree in elementary education, grades K-6.  I know another homeschooling mom who holds a master's degree in teaching.  I know another mom who has no degree at all.  Are any of us "better" at it?  Nope.  We all have different styles.  Our family's style is an ecclectic blend of classical education, Charlotte Mason philosophy, free-play, and books I love and want my children to learn to love too.  Other parents I know use boxed curriculum because they enjoy the fact it is aligned with their religious beliefs and has pre-planned lessons and tests.  One mom I know likes to use a Montessori approach when teaching her toddler.  Some of us do school in our living rooms, kitchens, playrooms, outside. My teaching degree has helped me in homeschooling about 2% of the time.  In college, my student advisor and beloved professor told us over and over:  The parent is the expert on their child. Never, ever forget it.  Parents, you know your child.  You know their interests, likes, dislikes, and what they are capable of.  Who knows better how they learn than you? Your children are unique individuals who deserve recognition and validation for being such.  Do I need a teaching degree to acknowledge that fact and subsequently teach them in a way they understand?  Absolutely, irrevocably, NOT.

5.  "I envy you." 
Splatter painting.
I'm a stay-at-home mom.  Our family homeschools our two wonderful, lively, and rambunctious children.  My son is advanced for his age with all the attitude and liveliness of a six-year-old.  My daughter is a beautiful soul with the face of an angel and the destructive capabilities of an F5 tornado, along with some special needs that must be accounted for in every aspect of her daily life.  Is it easy?  Should everyone do it?  No and NO.  As a family, we've made many sacrifices to homeschool.  I respect other family's decisions not to homeschool, to choose private school, public school, to work full-time/part-time, go to college, use daycare.  Whatever works for your family; DO IT.  Two parents working full-time did NOT work for us.  It was the most dismal time in our nearly ten years of marriage.  We LOVE homeschooling and how we live now.  A homeschooling lifestyle comes with many challenges, as does any other way of living.  I get rubbed the wrong way when someone says they envy my job.  Because it's often followed by statements such as, "If we didn't have a mortgage payment..." or "I SO wish I didn't have to work..." or the worst I've heard yet, a comment directed toward a good friend whose family recently made the decision (and financial sacrificies necessary) for her to stay at home with their special needs child: "Spoiled!"   Our family doesn't judge or envy parents who choose public school or private school or montessori or daycare, who work or don't work, etc.  We don't get jealous of families with nicer cars or newer homes than ours.  And if you're really that envious, perhaps it's time to make a change.

Even pretend zombie families like to go camping.

Homeschooling may or may not be for you.  Homeschooling is for us.  It's for our kids.  It's for my husband and myself.  And in our experience, those 'things' your family gives up are repaid a thousand fold to get to be an active participant in all aspects of our children's growth and life.  So, if you see me in the park on a Tuesday morning, notebooking about the insect life under an oak tree; respect what our family has done to get there, rather than envy my lack of hours on the clock.  When you see my kids romping with ten other kids of all ages, worry not for their socialization; admire their flexibility, creativity, and acceptance of one another.  In line behind me at the store, when my sensory girl is running circles around me and hanging from the cart handle; instead of asking how do I DO it every day, smile at her and remind yourself that you don't know her story.  Rather than be annoyed when my son insists on paying for his own toy, admire the fact that he could count out his money on his own.  If you truly want to know more about homeschooling, ask us.  I know fifteen people who would love to talk your ear off about it.  Just ask us thoughtfully, respectfully, and kindly.  We'd do the same for you.

**The views presented on this blog are my personal opinions and are by no means intended to represent the feelings of all homeschooling families.**

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Top Five Things Parents Should Do When They Don't Know What to Do

This is the story of parenting lessons learned during a long, grueling, exhausting, and exasperating day.  On this day, we were up and out of the house early and on our way to the doctor for both kids to undergo allergy testing.  Not only did this mean they would both be receiving numerous needle pokes and having blood drawn, but it meant we would be in the car for 5+ hours for the trip there and back.  (Yes, we live in the middle of nowhere.  It might not even be on the map.)  A rough day for anyone, made doubly so by my children's special needs.  Our daughter has SPD, or sensory processing disorder. Our son has High-Functioning Autism or Asperger's Syndrome, as well as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and severe anxiety.  Anything that throws off our routine is the devil to us; needles and long car rides send us spiraling into oblivion. 

Sooo, I could tell you the whole story of how the day went, but that would take an inordinate amount of time which none of us have.  Instead, I will relay the highlights/lowlights of the day in the form of this countdown.  I call it "Top Five Things Parents Should Do When They Don't Know What to Do," otherwise known as "Things You Can Do to Stay Sane When Your Children Are Going Berserk."  Enjoy.

5. Deep Breathing.  If you don't know how or what this means, I advise you invest in a yoga DVD or check out a deep breathing technique video on YouTube. Real life example of the merits of this technique:  My SPD daughter despises car seat buckles.  She might as well buckle with a cactus wrapped in poison ivy.  (Yes, seriously.) Every time we got into the car yesterday (a total of three or four times), I was forced to buckle a shrieking, kicking, stiff as a board, spitting, purple in the face toddler into her car seat.  She broke my necklace.  She spilled our drink from lunch.  She threw sour candy all over my husband's immaculate car.  She spit snot in my mouth.  She screamed that she
could buckle herself, then when I let go of her, proceeded to sit maddeningly still and stare out the window without moving a muscle toward actually buckling (in total shut down mode).  When I touched her, she instantly turned on again and proceeded to flop fish-like to the floor of the car and throw cookie debris she found there.  Did I mention how immaculate my husband's car was?  Cue deep breathing.  It took some long deep breaths to calm myself enough to force her back into that seat.  No amount of reasoning was to be had.  I had tried every trick in my book (as well as several pages borrowed from other mothers and our therapists) to convince her.  In the end, it came down to my upper body strength and some long inhales through the nose.  We both lived and rode all 5+ hours safely buckled into our seats. 

4. Calm Yourself First.  You know the safety steps on a plane?  If you've ever flown with a small child, the flight attendants come by your seat to specifically tell you to put your oxygen mask on BEFORE you put one on your child.  It goes against parental nature, but the logic is, you cannot help your child if you die from lack of oxygen in the attempt.  Same reasoning applies here.  Let's face it, if you're freaking out, chances are, so will your kid.  The logic that follows is this:  Calm yourself before you attempt to calm your child.  No amount of 'calming' words or gestures given by an adult on the edge of a breakdown/meltdown/freakout are going to help a child on the edge of the same.  Learn by this example of what NOT to do:  After the initial round of needle pokes, the doctor decided my son (the hypersensitive sensory avoiding one) would need additional inter-dermal allergy testing.  That meant, you guessed it, more needles and bigger needles.  When the nurse came in with a tray loaded with eight large syringes, I literally gasped out loud.  BAD idea. I tried to recover by assuring my son it would hurt but not TOO bad.  Too late.  He'd heard that gasp loud and clear and nothing I could say or do was going to make him forget it. Ever heard the term "autistic meltdown?"  Insert one here.  He proceeded to flip.  I mean truly flip.  It took two of us to hold him down so they could finish.  To top that off, they had to re-test one more time for an allergen he was especially allergic to.  I was out of the room with my daughter for this one.  My son didn't flinch this time.  He calmly sat in his aunt's lap and let the nurse insert the needle under his skin without ever making a noise. (Did I mention I brought an entourage to this appointment to help if needed? I did.)  I won't go so far as to say the first freak out would have been avoided had I not gasped aloud, it probably would have at least been curbed.  Moral of the story:  Keep Calm and Parent On.  Literally.

3. Take Cues from Your Kids.  There are times when the best choice is to just follow the lead set by your child.  Example:  Our SPD daughter is a sensory seeker, with marked under-responsiveness to pain (among many other avoiding/seeking/modulation/regulation issues).  When having to have blood drawn, the nurse asked me to hold her in my lap to keep her still.  My daughter refused.  Instead, she sat very still in the chair (alone) while I helped hold her arm straight with one hand.  She looked on with mild interest while the nurse took an IV needle and vial to take blood out of her tiny arm.  The nurse was in shock that she sat so still and quiet.  Had I forced her to get into my lap, I absolutely guarantee that a meltdown would have ensued.  My daughter was nervous, not of the needle, but of the unknown.  I had explained what would happen the best I could, but it was an abstract thing for a very concrete brain to wrap around.  In her short three years, she has developed incredible coping skills.  I used to think it was withdrawal, but it isn't really.  Watching her in these moments is like watching an out of body experience.  She's there, but she's also somewhere else.  Had I tried to wrestle her into my lap, the full-body contact would have made it impossible for her to center herself and cope with the experience.  So I let my tiny little girl sit alone in a hard plastic chair with a great big needle in her arm.  And it worked.  No tears.  No meltdown.  No concern on her part at all.  All I had to was follow her lead.    

2. Surround Yourself with Support.  I brought my mom and sister with me yesterday to the appointment.  Not just for the kids' sake, but for my own.  I needed them there to lend some support and dispel everyone's nerves, as well as for the help in holding them down!  We were able to have a nice lunch and enjoy at least part of the day because of their company.  When we finally made it home in the evening, my husband was able to help get the kids bathed and settled down for the night, as well as helping to unpack the lunch, snacks, and other items that had accumulated in his car (his poor, formerly immaculate car) throughout the day.  After dinner, I had a chat with someone whom I consider my closest friend.  We don't get together nearly as much as we'd like, but this girl is THERE for me.  We have only a couple of "friendship" rules that we both abide by.  The first:  no judgment; only support.  The second: silliness.  Always silliness.  So when I messaged her with a story about accidental  traveling sensory bins and the need for extra wine, she listened.  Not only did she listen and commiserate; she laughed.  Which brings me to my next rule.

1.  LAUGH.  Laugh hard.  Laugh loudly.  Laugh often.  I have a feeling that many people I know think I might not take this whole parenting gig as seriously as I should.  There is no other heaviness or seriousness to compare with the thought of being in charge of another human being.  Not only in a physical capacity, but also being co-head supervisor of their cognitive, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being.  It is the most terrifying responsibility you will ever imagine.  So terrifying and so serious, that in fact, if we were to look at the gravity of the job for very long, parents everywhere would crawl into holes, caves, and ravines hidden from the world, never be seen again.  Serious?  Absolutely.  Hilarious?  Even more so.  Real life examples:  My son was having a huge, major panic attack about those needles.  He was melting down and continued to do so even after they were finished and out of the room until my mom had the presence of mind to crack a joke about the pet store having dog underwear.  He laughed, and just like that, the world righted itself and the panic was gone.  The meltdown faded and laughter took its place.  My beautiful soul of a daughter decided in the car on the way home that her day had, in fact, been too much to handle and she needed a major sensory outlet.  NOW.  Her solution was to take the plastic storage container that had their snack of strawberries in it.  She quietly and surreptitiously snuck the container into her lap, pulled the lid off, and proceeded to squish every single strawberry into pulp.  By the time I glanced in the rear view mirror, there was nothing to be seen but pink paste dripping from my daughter's clenched hands.  I reached for the wet wipes, while realizing I had none.  (I was in my husband's car, remember?  The immaculate one?) Oh. Crap. I dug in my bag with one hand while navigating traffic with another (no time to pullover, that pink pulp about to start to flying) and found...an extra pair of my son's underwear.  At this point, my sensory-seeking baby girl was about to get uber-upset because while she loves the initial sensation of mess-making, she also LOATHES being dirty.  Before the screams started in full-force, I executed a one-handed, behind-the-back swipe of her arms and hands, while simultaneously whisking the "mess" in the container away unnoticed and substituting an orally regulating bag of crunchy chips.  Go ahead:  Laugh.  It was freaking hilarious.  It was ridiculous.  It was outrageous.  It was totally necessary.  But if I hadn't started giggling when I saw that strawberry covered fist in the air, I would have lost my mind.  The day was pressing down hard and my patience and mental state were flagging.  That giggle saved our lives.  Because when they heard me, the kids started to giggle too.  And then, well... we drove on into the sunset.  
 What else?

 Author's Note:  There is a little strawberry on my husband's back car seat (did I mention the upholstery was cream colored?).  But there's a little strawberry on everyone's fabric of life.  Sometimes, we can get it out with stain remover. Other times, it sticks - regardless of the amount of scrubbing applied.  No one ever plans on it getting there.  But, most of the time, the story of the stain is worth more than the fabric itself.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Seeker

She lives on sour patch and the smell of bleach. She frequently has head bruises from running into things. She can swing and spin for hours. She's under responsive to pain and becomes angry when she's overwhelmed. You couldn't keep up with her if you tried so you walk a step behind and hug her tight when she asks. She will punch you one minute and cling to you the next. She's a runner and she's fast. A free spirit and a veritable whirlwind of odd energies. When you see her stomping toward you, you're never quite sure what to expect. She's full of surprises and frustratingly inconsistent. She's in constant motion and amazes you with what she knows. Her fears seem irrational; her preferences bizarre. She's absolutely gorgeous and has no idea. She dresses strangely, if at all. She's determined and obstinate. She thrives on routine and enjoys having her time preplanned. She will clean and straighten for hours.  She is your best friend and your worst enemy. She makes her mind known, letting nothing hold her back. The majority of the time, she is fearless. She is an all or nothing girl. If she can, she will do it by herself. If she had her way, she would carry a dog with her everywhere she went. She loves makeup but knows no excess. She turns three soon. In three short years, I've learned 75% of my life's lessons from her and am humbled by her daily. They call her the seeker. And she's totally changed my life.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Thursday Club

I'm sitting in a quiet house this morning.  Hard to believe right?  It's gray and a little rainy and the kids are peacefully busy with their own pursuits, giving me some time when if I was honest with myself, I should be cleaning something, but here I sit instead.  This morning stillness is a far cry from yesterday's scene.  Because yesterday was library day, therapy day, and playgroup day.  It is the day of the week when everyone in the house gets out of bed knowing they'll be completely spent by bedtime that night (in my case, long before bedtime).  After a rousing story time and Valentine's exchange party at the library, an hour of fairly intense sensory therapy for my daughter, and a few errands run in town, we came home to wait for our friends to arrive for playgroup.  Sugary snacks and lots of free-play time abounded for the remainder of the afternoon while all the rooms of my house became filled with children and babies of all sizes and the sounds of wild and imaginative play came from all corners.  (Have you ever noticed that those sounds can actually be quite disturbing?)  When not peeking in on our kiddos or chasing down the latest escapee up the stairs, the moms generally congregated in the kitchen for some much needed adult interaction.  You see, all the moms in our playgroup are, like me, stay-at-home moms.  I think I speak for all of us when I say, at time, we don't get out much.  Some weeks, looking forward to Thursdays is what gets me through Monday or Tuesday.  Weekends spent with my family are the ultimate perfect time for me, but those Thursday hangouts with other moms who KNOW is pretty invaluable as well.
So yesterday evening as I put away toys, found Legos in unexpected places, and put away the leftover snacks (why did I make SO much puppy chow??), my thoughts turned to all my mom friends and how each of them brings something different to the figurative playgroup table.  In my head, I liken us to "The Breakfast Club" of moms if you will.  You know, the rebel, the brain, the jock, the princess?  Okay, maybe not that dramatic, but the concept is the same.  Before I had children, I did not know these women.  If not for my children, I probably would never have had the opportunity to meet some of them.  And as I listen to their various threads of conversation and hear them share passions, interests, and sometimes gross and hilarious anecdotes, I am reminded of how unique our walks of life actually are.  It's easy to lump us together when you see us at the park doling out Capri Suns and calling to our kids to "put the grasshopper down" or "don't hang off that slide!"  And I don't think any of us mind too much when we get the stereotype of "Stay-at-Home Mom" and most people who see us out and about assume we're all pretty much of the same breed.  That's okay.  In fact, I'm honored to be associated with such a wonderful, strong, and fierce collection of ladies.  They are my friends and I love them.  However, it's easy to forget to respect our individuality as well.  Yes, we are all moms and in our playgroup, we all stay home with our children.  BUT.  That, my friend, is where our similarities end.  For real.  There are some things that some of us have in common in addition to mommyhood.  But being moms who happen not hold jobs outside the homefront is the only string that ties us ALL.

In our "breakfast club" of mothers, we have a little bit of it all.  An Earth MaMa, a Preacher's Wife, a Down-to-Earth Country Girl, a Crafty Mom, a Peaceful Soul, and a Farmer's Wife.  I'm not exactly sure where I fall, but I think it would probably be something like The Darkly Comic bordering on Just Plain Weird One.  Our interests, habits, and personalities vary greatly and the differences range from quite superficial right on down to differences in how we view the very fabric of the earth and our entire philosophy of life.  Some of us buy organic, some of coupon.  Some of us homeschool, some chose public or private education for their children.  Some drink coffee in ungodly amounts, some prefer their caffeine cold, some even prefer water.  Some are openly religious and discuss it freely, while others are a little closer to the vest and less likely to chat about our spirituality.  Some just can't seem to stop talking (GUILTY!), and some prefer to listen and speak only when there's something worth saying.  Some of us are visionaries, some are planners, some are just ready to take action.  And I wouldn't have it any other way.  These lovely ladies are my friends, my support group, and they've got my proverbial back.
Yesterday, I counted at least three meltdowns, a couple of small tantrums, one panicky moment where we thought we heard a child scream but was actually a very intense dragon roar, once when we thought a child might have eaten an unidentified substance, three times where it was time to go home and someone couldn't find their shoes, a dozen mini cupcakes eaten, six half-drunk beverages left on my counter, innumerable toys and dress-up items found under the beds, and once when I thought I had lost another mother's child but actually found him playing in the empty bathtub (whew!).  What you can't count are the years it added to our collective motherly lives to have a time and place where we can turn our kids loose for a few hours.  You can't count the value of letting your child play with friends unattended because they never argue.  There is no tangible measurement of being able to say without batting an eye; "Here, hold this!" and the "this" is a four-month-old infant.  We are here not just to attempt to somehow turn these unruly balls of youthful energy into functioning, independent, compassionate adults, but to lift each other up, to laugh with one another, to support one another ESPECIALLY in those moments of meltdowns or difficult to navigate situations that pop up ever so inconveniently.  We are human beings.  We are not perfect, neither are our children.  We err.  We do stupid stuff.  We make mistakes on a daily-freaking-basis.  BUT.  The bottom line is we are ALL mommies.  We are stronger than the average human being.  We carry with us a patience that is superhuman but that still wears thin and frays at the edges.  Our walks of life and parenting choices are as unique as we are, but at the end of day, I like to think we can rely on each other to be a safe-haven of non-judgment and buoyant support.  And that is why, as totally exhausting as Thursdays are, they are my favorite weekday.  It's why I secretly look forward to library and playday as much as my kids do.  Because individually we are: An Earth MaMa, a Preacher's Wife, a Down-to-Earth Country Girl, a Crafty Mom, a Peaceful Soul, a Farmer's Wife, and a Goofy Weirdo.  Together, we are greater than all the parts standing alone.  We are mommies and we're pretty dang awesome.   

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What I am is...not who I am.

I am a lot of things.  I am things that are obvious.  I am things that are subtle.  I have passions that I lay out for everyone to see and some that I keep closer to the vest.  I am silly.  I am impulsive.  I am out-going.  I am a nature lover, an animal lover, and borderline tree-hugger.  I like going to the grocery store.  I make lists for everything.  I am a conversationalist.  I try daily to be open-minded and non-judgmental (and fail just as often).

I am NOT a lot of things.  I am not slow to anger.  I am not overly patient.  I am not always the person I want my children to think I am.  I am not always kind.  I am not always happy.  I am not always thankful for the beautiful things in my life.  I am not always as excited as I should be to see my kids when they wake up in the morning or my husband when he gets home at night.  I am not a perfect (or even always a GOOD) parent.  I am not conservative.  I am not good at self-editing or filtering (though I think I am getting better). 

From a parenting standpoint; what am I?  I am a mother who, at times, feels like she cannot stand another minute in her house alone with her children or else she will go absolutely insane, never to be seen again except feeding birds in the park and talking to stray cats as if they were her late grandfather...

From a parenting standpoint; WHO am I?  Today?  I am an overwhelmed, exhausted young parent who is unsure of every parenting move I've ever made.  I am not enough of anything and I'm too much of everything.  I am a mother who loves her children more than her own life.  I am an advocate for their health, their education, their potential.  I am a parent of two very different children that need me to be very different things for them.  So at any given time; I am a teacher, I am a therapist, I am a mother, I am a maid, I am a cook, and I am a refuge when the world is just too much.  I am a listener, a holder of hands, a feeler of foreheads and a bandager of broken hearts.  I am a scheduler, a facilitator, a chaperone.  I am a decision-maker, a questioner, a second-guesser.  I am everything to my children and nothing at the same time.  I am a parent trying my hardest to raise independent individuals who are confident in their own abilities and choices while being unsure and terrified of my own.  And at the end of the day, that's a comforting thought.  If ever I feel sure of myself and fully confident that I have done "the right thing" for my children, I will immediately know I am failing.  If I ever go to bed NOT feeling at least a little bit like a screw-up, I will be sure I am one.  Parenting and life are like that.  They are an endless journey of questions.  Some days, I have no answers.

Are you sure you know what you're doing Mom?  Nope, no idea kid!
In my life, I am a lot of things.  For my kids' sake, I hope that an over-confident parent who has all the answers is never one of them.