focus, part 1

focus, part 1

When Boone was three, he had some awful bedtimes. During that three year old summer, he would be OK during the day, but as soon as the first hint of nighttime was in the air, it was like a switch would flip. His eyes got wide, his body went tense, and it was like he wasn’t in control of himself anymore.

It was rough. But, I theorized, he was THREE. And adjusting to a new baby brother. And one day, he’d grow out of it.

When Boone was four, the awful bedtimes continued. The same wide eyes and tense muscles, the same nightly stress for his mama. “He just needs to be in school full time,” I thought. “He’ll do much better when he gets worn out from learning all day.”

When Boone was five and started kindergarten, we had some bedtime peace. After school each day, I’d ask “what did you do?” And he would mumble something like “I don’t know” and shrug when I’d ask him where he left his lunch box. Or jacket. Or shoes.

But, clearly, this was an adjustment. He was still adapting, right? Adapting to a full time school day, to school rules, to… everything. I was noticing that other kids were telling their parents everything that happened throughout their day. Boone still wasn’t… but that was hardly anything to worry about, I decided. He was excelling at academics; one of his class’s top readers, top spellers, top workers.

When Boone was six and in first grade, his teacher said to me, “he’s clearly very smart, but his focus is not there.”

Umm… what?

WHOA.

WHOA.

My smart angel precious baby child wasn’t focusing well? At first I dove into some heavy denial (maybe she’s just remembering days he was kind of sick, maybe she’s confusing him with someone else?), but then I thought about the bedtimes. Then I thought about the times he couldn’t tell me what he did during a day of school. Then I thought about all of the lost lunch boxes and clothing items. Then I remembered when my husband Jason, the pediatrician, said, “you know, I think Boone has ADHD.”

I’m very open about my own mental health. Depression, anxiety, and meds are not topics I’ll shy away from.

When they’re about me.

But with Boone… I didn’t want him to bear labels and stigmas so young. He wasn’t at an age where he could “own a diagnosis,” or so I thought, and I did not want to push that on him. And besides, didn’t ADHD give kids unbridled energy? And if he had ADHD, could he do all of the things he does, like speed through novellas and ace spelling tests? In first grade he was doing multiplication worksheets, for crying out loud!

Too cool for school (and focus issues…)?

So, like any reasonable person would do, I cried and stressed out and ate chocolate and avoided making decisions for as long as possible.

But then I realized the problems weren’t going away, despite every “focus hack” I found online or in books. While Boone could sit and read an entire book, if he were told to do something he didn’t want to do, it was an epic battle of wills. It didn’t matter if he was capable of, say, practicing piano, or writing a short journal entry, if he didn’t want to do it, it was a struggle. And not just a little, tiny, let’s talk about it struggle. Nope. It was three year old bedtimes all over again.

So I made an appointment with our pediatrician (who is not Boone’s father, by the way, going for unbiased opinions here) and after some surveys with Boone’s teacher, Jason, and myself, it was clear: Boone’s focus needed help. We had an official diagnosis of ADHD and a plan to trial some low dose medication.

My questions still lingered. Where was all of his energy? Oh yeah… at bedtimes. How could he read so fast? Oh yeah… he was choosing the books he wanted to read. What about the multiplication?! Oh yeah… even though he could solve the problems, getting him to sit down to work on it was a chore, to put it mildly.

I had a little more research to do, but I was ready to help my son reach his full potential in any way I could. I filled a prescription for Concerta, said a prayer, and began to watch and wait.

For part two of this post, come back to this blog NEXT WEEK, Wednesday, September 27.

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all the things i do not know

I like knowing stuff.

And based on how many questions my kids ask me each day, I mean, it’s a good thing. Like any modern day mom, I answer what I can and google what I can’t. And this little arrangement has made me the smartest person in our family — according to our kids, anyway. On most days. Unless daddy bought donuts – or took the boys to a park – or, generally, is home.

Either way, if the kids have questions, I have answers. It’s a good arrangement that only makes me want to lock myself in a closet with headphones to get a break from the constant “hey mom?”s some of the time. And that’s pretty good!

And then I was putting Boone to bed one night…

“Hey mom?”

Here we go…

“Where do people go when they die?”

“Oh, um, Heaven, if they believe in Jesus.”

“What if they don’t?”
“Um, Hell, I think.”
“OK well do they go straight to Hell? Because I have heard people say that. Do they meet Jesus first and then Jesus sends them there? What if Jesus forgets I believe in Jesus and accidentally sends me there? Will you be in Heaven when I get there?”

We have now reached the point in the conversation where I basically look like this:

I am a believer. I believe that Jesus died so I could spend eternity in Heaven. I believe John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not die, but have eternal life.” But I don’t have answers for like… any of Boone’s questions there. I haven’t died. I haven’t personally met someone who took a death vacation and gave me the slide show presentation of afterlife pics. But Boone looked at me so expectantly. So hungry for knowledge. And these are good questions! I didn’t want to dismiss them. So I sent up a quick help me prayer, and I responded.

“Buddy, I don’t know.”

“Um… what? You always know things.”

I told him no one has all of the answers. But that I believe in Jesus and I believe I will go to Heaven when I die. I don’t know what Heaven looks like, I don’t know if you and I will be the same people we are now. I believe you will go to Heaven too, if you believe in Jesus, and do not worry, God won’t get your beliefs mixed up. Then I let out the big breath I had been holding in and I asked, “hey Boone, what do you think about all of this?”

Jonah has questions also.

He basically echoed a lot of my sentiments and said his fair share of “I don’t know”s. He ended with, “but you know what? I think I’ll see you there, and we’ll be the same, you and me.”

I grew up with a very black and white view of salvation. Believe in Jesus = Heaven. Don’t believe in Jesus = Hell. End of story. Any lingering questions about Heaven of Hell were answered with “it’s perfect!” or “it’s terrible!” and that was that. It wasn’t until I was much older that I started to really own the questions I had about my faith. Until I wrestled with these thoughts, I don’t think I really had the same understanding about my faith. It wasn’t personal.

I want my children to believe everything I believe. It’s true. They’re my little human copies, right? I want us to be on the same page about everything. But I know that won’t happen. If my father’s deep love of olives on pizza (double olives on pizza – WHAT) is any indication, kids just don’t always follow in their parents footsteps. And if kids did just blindly follow, would my dad like that I ate his terrible olive pizza even if I hated it? Maybe, I mean, because he’d probably have been able to order it more, but I think he’d be happier if I ate it because I truly enjoyed the nuance of the rubbery seawater taste of those awful little black and green fruits? Nuts? Fungi? What the heck are olives, anyway?

Back to my point. I want Boone and Jonah to share in my beliefs, but I want them to make it personal. They need to think and hear and choose for themselves. And in order to help this along… I have to say “I don’t know.” I will tell them what I think. But I will be honest about what I know — and what I don’t.

For someone who lives with answers at her fingertips, it’s hard to admit what I don’t know. Especially to the little people I’m raising. But I truly believe to help our children find the answers, we’ll have to admit that we don’t have them.

what i learned on my summer vacation

what i learned on my summer vacation

It’s officially back to school time for us. My big kid started today, and my little kid starts tomorrow. Second grade and preschool, respectfully. I kind of thought by the time I sat down to write this post it would be full of HALLELUJAHs and WOOHOOs, but you know what? It’s bittersweet.

Weird, I know.

I love school. I particularly love back to school. There are some kids who thrive in being away, being social and interactive outside the home, and my kids are those kids. I can plan fun summer activities every single day until I collapse (which is usually the case) but it’s always more fun when someone else does the planning. So you could say we’ve been ready for the first day of school since… the last day of school.

I started summer thinking that it would be awful. That despite our fun planned activities, our house would be a tornadic disaster (check), kids would complain about our fun planned activities (check), bedtimes would be a joke (check check) and I would generally hate summer (…not check).

I love my kids. I feel like that’s a necessary thing I should say. But I’m a full time stay-at-home-mom married to a doctor with a crazy schedule. …and I’m an introvert. To sum up: mama needs a break.

But I am premeditated, so I went into summer with lists and plans and dreams and goals. And yes, my house was a mess, and my kids complained, and bedtimes were insane, but we sucked the marrow out of summer. We swam, biked, ran, camped, played, snuggled, read, drew, fished, boated, watched movies, ate snacks, roasted marshmallows and hot dogs over a bonfire, had picnics, and, honestly, we had fun every day.

Don’t get me wrong: some days I wanted to rip my hair out. Some days I wanted to find that swear word book about going the BLEEP to sleep and read it with a ferocious intensity. Some days we watched more screen time than is recommended. Some days we stayed in pajamas all day.

If this doesn’t sum up summer in one photo though…

I think my problem with summer is that well, for one, I don’t like being hot. But for two, it’s an up close and personal reminder of how big my kids are getting. The first time we go to the pool, I’m reminded at how much better they can swim this year. The first time we mini golf, I’m blown away at how quickly they can sink the ball. I know these changes take place over the school year also — and to some extent, exclusively — but when we’re doing the same summer activities year after year, it’s like a real life time hop. I see them this year and I can see every year that came before. And it’s a lot for my heart to handle.

So I have decided, my new plan for summer vacation is to overdose on it. To continue to do ALL OF THE THINGS so that during the cold school year the memories of our fun can keep me warm.

But for now, I will leave the planning up to the teachers, I will trust others to protect and care for the hearts of mine that live outside of my body. I’m sitting in a quiet, clean house, drinking coffee and enjoying the quiet.

But also… I kind of miss the noise.

how to survive your summer in 51 easy steps

1. Make a plan called “How to Have the Best Summer Ever!”

2. Realize on the second day of summer that your plan is garbage.

3. Make a new plan called “Our Carefree Summer!”

4. Don’t tell everyone that your new summer plan is actually called “Dear God help us I miss the structure.”

5. Send your three year old back to his room every morning at 6:00 am.

6. Purchase a fancy color-changing clock for your three year old that will glow green when he is allowed to leave his room in the morning.

7. Say “Stay in your room until your clock is green” every five minutes starting every morning at 6:00 am.

8. Coffee.

9. If June: buy expensive mineral sunscreen and have your children stand like statues while you slather it on like spackle.

10: If July (or mid to late June, whenever you crack): buy cheap spray sunscreen and mist in your child’s general direction. Ask them lovingly to “close eyes and pinch noses.”

11. Just come to terms with the fact that sand will be everywhere.

12. Cry a little bit when you see the first back-to-school display.

13. Cry a little harder when your six year old learns super soakers are a thing.

14. Wine.

15. Teach your kids that the “S Word” is “Snack,” and we do not swear.

16. Glance into your child’s room to see clothes and sand and toys and books and bedding everywhere. Then say a different kind of “S Word” and just shut that door. Shut the door.

17. Try not to look too excited when your kid says he’s tired. “Do you want to TAKE A NAP DO YOU WANT TO TAKE A NAP?” Nope, he’s good now.

18. Visit every park that’s ever existed. Pack every vegetable and cracker and fruit you’ve ever owned. Listen to children complain about being bored and hungry.

19. Attempt to put your child to bed when the sun is still very high in the sky.

20. Try to explain daylight savings time and end up crying and exclaiming that it really, truly is bedtime, no matter what it looks like outside.

21. More wine.

22. Curse the “young adults” next door who are being loudly unsupportive of your belief that it is, in fact, bedtime.

23. Send your kid back to his room.

24. Send your kid back to his room.

25. Send your kid back to his room.

26. Go to sleep.

27. Wake up; send your kid back to his room.

28. Make a mental note to research how tiny humans function with so little sleep. You never will, though. You’re too tired!

29. Buy school supplies far too early. Think about teachers. Mentally send them a fruity cocktail. They earned it, man.

30. Start planning activities that are an hour or two away, just for the air-conditioned kid-buckled driving time.

31. Watch your kid swim the entire length of the pool underwater, when last year he wouldn’t even go down the slide.

32. Realize that summers really go pretty fast, even if sometimes they seem kinda long.

33. Remember it’s your three year old’s last summer before he starts school — preschool, sure — but school nonetheless.

34. Watch your six year old ride a bike without training wheels, after summers of complete bike apathy.

35. Sit in the grass with your kids and catch fireflies long after they should be in bed.

36. Think “this summer thing isn’t so bad.”

37. Get up too early, stay up too late, overplan the warm July days you have left.

38. Vow to do the same when it’s August.

39. You’ll sleep when you’re dead, anyway.

40. (Or when school starts.)

41. (Or when daylight savings time FINALLY ENDS.)

42. Stop rolling your eyes when people say, “oh, they’re only young once.” Even though they’re actually young for like 12-18 years or however you want to gauge it.

43. I mean, they are only young once.

44. At least, they’re only six and three during summer once.

45. So decide to just “soak it all up.”

46. Except for the sand.

47. I mean, you’ll soak that up anyway without even trying.

48. Maybe invest in some industrial strength blackout curtains.

49. Buy lots of coffee and wine.

50. Embrace your summer fully.

(51. And pray for all of the teachers. Their time is coming. You know it, I know it, they know it; pray, just pray, just pray.)

Happy summer to all, and to all a good bedtime. (Or wine.)

let them be dads

Hi, moms.

This one’s specifically for you. But it isn’t about plans or hacks or solidarity. 

It’s about dads.

Moms, if you’re like me, you stay at home with your kids. I know a lot of you are like me, so maybe I’m speaking directly to you here. I’m going to drop a major truth bomb here. It’ll blow your mind. Get ready for it:

Dads are dads.

Dads are cool.

Did I just hear the sound of your mind exploding? I told you. Dads are like, a totally different thing. They aren’t moms. They aren’t you. But sometimes, when you see them wrestling on the floor with your kids, you might think, That’s too rough. That encourages violence. That’s NOT how we play.

And then, all well intentioned, you might say something like, “isn’t that getting a little rough? Let’s calm down, OK?”

Or – or or or –

Dad’s given you a night alone in the basement. Pre-kids this would sound like a weird torture horror movie thing, but post-kids, it’s heaven. You settle in with your wine and whatever show you’re binging and start to relax. Then you hear it — a THUD from above, a scream, the pitter patter of running feet, a naughty giggle. You sigh, put the wine down, and think I should help out up there. And so you do. The little one runs to you, and the big one cowers a bit and says “sorry.”

Or – or or or or –

On your way out the door for a long awaited girls night, you hug and kiss the kids over and over again and then you hand Dad a piece of paper with writing all over it. Is it a love note? A poem, perhaps? A rundown list of his very best qualities? No, it’s a list of reminders, more reminders than you would give the hired help, i.e. a BABYSITTER. “Don’t forget the kids love the cherry toothpaste and hate the strawberry toothpaste. The tubes look similar. Check them.” “Little likes his bedtime routine to go pjs, teeth (cherry toothpaste!), book, prayer, song, night-night hug, lights out.” “Don’t let Big talk you into letting him read longer! He’s been doing that lately. He needs his sleep.”

Now, moms. Please raise your hand quietly to yourself if any of the above scenarios has ever happened to you.

*Raises hand timidly inside the Biggby in which I am writing this post.*

It’s dad, keeping his boy safe from the big scary Dory (who promises candy but isn’t really delivering).

Look. My husband, the father of my children, is a quality human. He’s smart, funny, kind, and he’s a fantastic dad to our boys. He also happens to work a job that keeps him away from home quite a bit, so the day to day care of our boys falls mostly on me. I’m usually the one who knows why one of them is grumpy — I know who had a hard time getting to sleep, who might be developing a cold, and why the little one is constantly yelling “BADOONGY FACE!” (It’s from The Book with No Pictures, and if you don’t own it, you definitely should.)

And because I know these things, I assume I know our kids better.

And I realized, one evening, watching Boone (Big) and Jason (Dad) bond over The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker for far too long far too late in the evening… 

That I’m the mom.

And he’s the dad.

And I have to let him be the dad however he wants to be the dad. Sometimes I struggle with finding a balance with our personality-opposite boys. I feel like I should take what I’ve learned and share these things with my husband, instead of allowing him to figure it out on his own or, heaven forbid, find a completely new balance original to him. 

Moms, we can’t perpetuate this stereotype that dads are Tim Allen-style grunters and goofballs who pop in for a quick joke and spend the rest of their down time souping up the lawn mower. If you are lucky enough to be part of a two-parent home — and here I’m expressly talking to any kind of two parent home: two moms, two dads, mom and grandma, etc — you have been given the gift of live-in help. And a live-in perspective that differs from yours. 

When we stop the rough housing, rescue our kids when we’re supposed to be relaxing, or leave a list of reminders before we go anywhere, we’re basically saying to our partners, “I’m better at this than you.”

Teamwork = dream work, of course.

I, for one, don’t want to be better. I want us to be equals. Parenting is hard, and I don’t want to be the only one in charge all of the time. So, one more time for good measure:

Dads are dads.

Let them be.

the long con

If you’ve ever seen any heist movie ever, you’re likely familiar with the long con. Designed, as the name implies, for long term implementation, the “long con” is some form of deceit that sets up over month or years, truly earning the victim’s trust. Perhaps it’s the shifty troublemaker who superficially befriends an old wealthy woman, convincing her to leave all of worldly possessions to him when she inevitably passes away. Perhaps, in a nutshell, it’s parenting.

This is what parenting looks like.

Boone has all of the potential to be an amazing human adult someday. He’s kind, he’s smart, he’s funny. But right now, he’s also six. And stubborn. And strong-willed. And truly lacking in the focus department. We, as parents, fight battles with our kids everyday, and sometimes we forfeit. Kids refusing to wear pants? Hey, if we’re aren’t planning on leaving the house anyway; fine, go and be free. I’ve also been known to occasionally turn a blind eye (or ear) to the verbal explosion of potty words. The old saying is true: pick your battles.

But parents, sweet parents, you know as well as I do that we cannot constantly wave the white flag. 

A few weeks ago I was flying solo at church with my boys. My husband works a lot of weekends, so this isn’t particularly unusual. But on this Sunday, I was scheduled to sing with the praise band. Before I can continue, can I just say? I love singing with the praise band. I love adding harmonies to songs of praise and watching the congregation engage in the worship experience. But when I sing, I want to be fully present. And this Sunday a few weeks ago… I couldn’t be. Boone and Jonah ran around wildly while I tried to rehearse. I worried about them instead of letting the words of praise wash over my soul. When I could finally bring Jonah to his classroom, I thought things would improve. But instead, Boone continued to run around. To complain. To distract. I threatened to take away his screen time for the day — it made no impact. I tried to reason with him — to absolutely no avail. So I took away his beloved, newly purchased, hot-item-of-summer, the fidget spinner. I put it in my back pocket while he whined and protested. I was tempted to just give it back and say “fine, THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE, TAKE THE %$*#ING FIDGET SPINNER” (because I, a loving Christian mom, am not above swearing through clenched teeth in church, but Jesus loves me). But I didn’t. I left Boone with my friends who probably deserve a medal and I went on stage to sing.

This is what parenting looks like, too.

God… I prayed, this… sucks.

You won this one, He responded, so keep going.

I won?! I’m seriously worried Boone will rush the stage for the beloved fidget spinner while I’m trying to lead the church in worship. I do NOT feel like the winner here. 

He’s sitting with friends. They will watch him. I will watch him too. Just focus on me.

And this is when I realized the children aren’t raised in a day. Bad behaviors aren’t corrected once and then forever perfect. I stood on the stage and sang “Holy Spirit, you are welcome here,” but I knew the Holy Spirit was already present, watching over my moody kid. And when I sang the line “your glory, God, is what our hearts long for / to be overcome by your presence, Lord,” I was, completely, overcome. When I sat back down, I felt the fidget spinner in my back pocket. I understood that the long con of parenting is simply soldiering on, day after day, because children grow up. Through correction and discipline, even when we feel like they aren’t reachable, they learn. They absorb. It is our resposibility to keep aiming to win the battles we can, but also to realize that even when we cannot, parenting is a long game. 

We probably won’t see the final version of our kids, even if we watch them get married and start families of their own. We are all constantly adapting  and evolving, or we should be. But if we color whatever phase of parenting we are in with the thought that it is not a quick fix, I think we’ll realize the long game really is the way to go. 

Don’t let the hard days of parenting be the only ones you remember. Instead, see the difficult days as stepping stones in a part of the long con – the con to turn your crazy kids into tolerable human beings.

And this is also what parenting looks like.

You were a crazy kid once.

Somebody long-conned you good.

Pass it on.

a quick word to my summer sahms

Hi, SAHMs.

(Not-SAHMs please feel free to keep reading. I don’t want to alienate you. I just can’t claim to really know your experience, so I wouldn’t be so bold as to write you about it… ok great, thanks.)

SUMMER IS COMING, Y’ALL

It’s the end of May, ladies. You know what this means, right? It means, if you live near me, the end of the school is shockingly close. (If you live somewhere else, your child’s school year may already be done, and I’m sending you strength, mama.)
Look. I love my kids. Nothing in the whole world gives me greater pleasure than watching them laugh, successfully tie their shoes, paint an avant-garde masterpiece, or run toward me for a hug. These are the moments, friends… these are the moments we cherish.

We also love waving good-bye as the school bus carries them away for eight hours.

(Homeschooling SAHMS please know that I consider you to be heaven’s strongest angels, sent to earth for familial superiority. Rock on, gals.)

I’m in introvert-mom, and I used to feel guilt at having to “take a break” from the mom life I really and truly hold dear. There just comes a time in the day when my brain starts to shut down. No amount of sleep can stop the fatigue of people-ing from setting in, and it takes all I can do to keep from screaming “I CAN’T, I’M WASHING MY HAIR!” at the sweet bundles of life I helped create. During the school year, I do have a toddler at home, but when I feel the weight of the interactive world, I can put on a television show. I can declare it nap time. I can, occasionally, find some quiet play that the little one can do independently (in a perfect world, but every now and then, people surprise you). In the summer, I have two kids who want to do very different things at all times. 

(If you have more than two kids, LORD HAVE MERCY.)

The little wants to stick to an early, school-day schedule, and the big wants to sleep in and go a little slower. Between the two, the time for me dwindles, and each night I find myself collapsing into bed, equal parts physically and mentally exhausted. 

Are you there too? Are you anxious about the long, warm, routine-free days? Me too. I get it. So here is my promise to you: I will never, ever judge your social media. If it’s sunny and perfect outside and everyone’s posting pictures of the beach, but you post a picture of the blanket fort you made in your air-conditioning with the blinds shut and the lights off? I support you. If you cancel our play date because summer is wearing you out? Don’t even feel bad. If you send me stress-texts all day about how crazy everyone is? I’ll send you wine, virtual or physical, once your littles are asleep (and immediately before you are). In this summer, let’s support each other even if we all work on surviving in different ways. 

And, for you? The best gift you can give yourself is grace. Your summer may not be pinterest-perfect. You may find yourself tearing up a bit when the “Back to School” signs return to Target, and that’s OK

And remember, if you need a fellow in-trenches mom to vent and drink wine, I’m your girl.

Happy summer!