the lies i tell myself, part 2

the lies i tell myself, part 2

“Hey mama, do you think if you won a national handwriting contest you’d be on the news?”

“Uh, what?”

(Sigh) “MAMA. Let’s say you enter a handwriting contest and you win. Would your picture be on the news? I’m doing a handwriting contest at school, and I’m worried if I win, my picture will be on the news. If a bad guy with a gun saw my picture, he could try and shoot me for my prize money!”

I wish I could write here that I just made this little exchange up. But I didn’t. This was what Boone asked me before going to bed one night, and it caught me totally and completely off guard. I stumbled through platitudes like “we live in a really safe place,” and “no one at school wants to put you in any danger.” He was tired, thankfully, and decided it was OK to participate in the handwriting contest after all.

(I didn’t point out that the winner of a national handwriting contest probably has more thoughtful penmanship than my son, who occasionally forgets the”e” at the end of his name.)

(In his defense, this is some pretty solid cursive.)

Now is where I sadly point out that this conversation about school and guns happened prior to the recent school shooting in Florida.

And so, knowing that my sensitive, anxious child would possibly hear about this tragedy within his own school, it got me thinking. I had just told him no one at school wants to put him in danger. We just said we live in a safe place. How many parents of students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School had had similar conversations? I had no idea what I’d say to Boone. I had no idea what we would talk about. I didn’t know how to alleviate fears while answering questions, to simultaneously prepare him for and shield him from the world. And it led me to the the next lie I tell myself:

As a parent, I need to have all of the answers.

Growing up, I was privileged to have not only great parents, but also a rich community of caring, invested, intelligent adults. As far as I was concerned, these people did have all of the answers. Logic would only follow that when I was an adult, I’d have all of the answers too. Even as a child, I loved answers. I craved knowledge. I couldn’t wait to have everything figured out.

Hi, I’m Jennie, I’m 33, and I have very little figured out.

So when I sat down with Boone to talk to him about the shooting in Parkland, I glossed a bit over the gory details and reminded him about what to do if he ever sees a gun (go away from it and find a grown up you trust) and if he ever encounters a stranger acting suspicious (again, grown up you trust). I also winced a bit as I talked about what he’d do if he were ever in a scary situation like that at school: listen to your teacher. Don’t tell jokes. Stay quiet and do exactly what the grownups say. He accepted all of this much easier than I thought he would. I felt pretty great about all of my answers. And then…

“Mom, what if I die?”

Oh, blow to my chest.

I said, “Everyone dies sometime. You’ll probably be very, very old. You’ll have lived a full and awesome life. You’ll be ready. And then you’ll go to Heaven! Which is the best place ever!”

“OK, cool. Well, what’s Heaven like?”

Guys, I don’t know what Heaven is like. I’ve never been there. And I could have quoted some scripture about pearly gates and streets of gold, but this is not what Boone was after. I know this because of his follow-up questions:

“And what will I do there? Will I ever come back to earth? Do you think once everybody dies, God will just start the earth over again? Will there be dinosaurs again? Can I see them from Heaven, do you think?”

I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know

A small part of me wanted to give him something concrete. I wanted to give an answer for every question, but I didn’t have an answer for every question. So I used an old teacher trick to buy some time: “what do YOU think?” Then I realized I needed to teach my son something. Something that isn’t related to the violence or the afterlife or dinosaurs.

“Hey bud… there are some things we can know the answers to. 2+2 is always 4. Our dog is a mammal. These are facts we know. And then there are other things… things nobody really knows. You can think about those things as you grow up. I don’t know what Heaven is like, exactly. But I do know that I will go there when I die, and it will be better than anything I could ever imagine. And I do know that I will always do everything in my power to keep you safe.”

And we hugged, and we moved on, and I felt halfway decent until I realized tomorrow will likely bring another crisis I don’t have answers for. And when he’s a teen, getting his heart broken? Forget about it. I don’t know anything.

And I think that’s OK. I never want to communicate to my children that we can’t know everything so we shouldn’t try. I want them to know they can be 33 and still asking questions without answers. Learning doesn’t stop when we graduate from school. And I need them to know that not knowing something? It’s never a flaw. It’s an opportunity.

Thanks for checking out this week’s lie, and aren’t you pleased to know I tell myself so many there’s another new lie for you next week?! If this resonated with you, please feel free to like, comment, or share.

the lies i tell myself, part 1

My son, Boone, is seven. He’s incredibly bright, he loves potty words, he is, at times, extremely inattentive, and he’s an overall cool kid. For the first three years of his life, he was an only child. I was home with him full time, and we filled our days with play groups, story times, and any other kid-friendly thing that got us out of the house. And while we played, I helicoptered hard.

(Look at that toddler Boone baby. He can make no mistakes.)

I know we’re all familiar with the hovering, overprotective helicopter parent. And I think many seasoned (read: tired) parents agree that our kids can really benefit from some distance. And even as a new parent, I was aware of this. Which is why I helicoptered discreetly. I might have looked calm and nonchalant, but in reality I was side-eying everything Boone did. If he took a toy, I was quick to remind him to give it back. If he started to wander off while a librarian read a book, I would pop up to collect him and bring him back. I made quiet toy bags if we went out to restaurants so he wouldn’t bother other customers. I didn’t do this for him. I did it because I believed a cruel and unfair lie:

The lie that my child’s mistakes were my mistakes.

I just really believed that if I was parenting correctly, my son wouldn’t be rude to other kids. He wouldn’t talk back to other adults. He would be, even at three years old (or younger!) a little model citizen in public.

So I was obviously quite delusional.

Time, experience, and Boone’s little brother all worked to cool me off a little bit. I began to allow Boone to play without my reality-tv level of surveillance. I’d cringe when a situation arose, sure. I’d bite my tongue after asking him “what happened?” when we were still in public and launch into an intense line of questioning when we were in the car.

But you know what really perpetuated this lie? The fact that Boone was – is – a pretty good kid. It’s always been easy to look at the good parts of his behavior and think “yeah, I did that.” And that’s why, when Boone got his first referral at school, I screamed “WHAT THE HELL?!” and cried for an hour.

Yes. That’s really how I reacted.

Yes, really.

A note for those who don’t know: at my son’s school, a referral is a piece of paper that goes home to be signed by the parents. It explains the problem the child had, how it was handled, and if anything else needs to be done. OK, so now you’re probably thinking ok, if she screamed and cried this must have been really bad, right? Did he punch a teacher? Steal donation money? Burn down a classroom?

Umm… uh… OK. Well… ah, he was at recess, you see, and a recess monitor told him and another boy to not climb a hill. He did climb the hill. He spent the rest of recess on a bench. There was nothing further.

YES. THAT’S REALLY HOW I REACTED.

YES, REALLY.

Hindsight, yeah? In the moment, here was the perfect little newborn that I raised who was TOTALLY RUINED because I somehow couldn’t get him to listen to authority figures. How could I have led him down such an unholy path? I was clearly an unfit mother. There go the Ivy Leagues. “We’re sorry, Boone; we can’t accept you into Harvard because of your first grade referral. Pity.”

This is so insane I’m almost embarrassed to share it with you all. But I do so because every single day I watch moms and dads beat themselves up over the choices they’ve made for their kids. Public schools or private or homeschooling? Screen time or no? Local, organic veggies only or food rewards? Music lessons? Sports? Are we doing enough? Are we doing it right? Are we ruining everything?!?!

First of all: if you’re questioning and doubting and overthinking? You’re good. Please, believe me; you’re good.

Secondly – and this one may come as a surprise – your child is actually a completely different person than you. I know. I know. Let that one sink in. You could do everything correctly (oh, you won’t – this is a hypothetical; anyway) and your child will do whatever he wants because that’s how he’ll learn. And it’s frustrating and infuriating and also real life. And hey, maybe if your child doesn’t test authorities in first grade, he’ll try it when he’s much older and the stakes are much higher. Some lessons are better learned early on.

So don’t believe this lie. You will make mistakes, surely. But they’ll be your mistakes, and you’ll learn from them. Just like our children, if we let them.

Come back next week for the second lie I (used to) tell myself… and, until then, try not to tell yourself too many.

5 steps to fabulous (school lunches)

5 steps to fabulous (school lunches)

Everybody has their “thing.” I didn’t know my thing was going to be creating fun school lunches day after day, but here I am, killing it. And you can too!

I’ve written about some of my favorite lunch-packing hacks before, and you can find them here and here. Today’s post is meant for the parent who wants to quickly throw together something that looks as good as it tastes. I assure you, I don’t spend hours on lunches. I don’t shape cooked rice into tiny teddy bears with black sesame seed eyes. I don’t buy a lot of extra ingredients. This is easy, achievable, and (just trust me here) fun.

STEP 1 — K.I.S.S.

In the immortal words of Dwight Schrute from The Office (US):

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“Michael always says, ‘keep it simple, stupid.’ Great advice. Hurts my feelings every time.”

I know this post is about taking your three second lunches and turning them into *maybe* five minute lunches but y’all, you have to keep it simple. (Stupid.) (Sorry.)

Come up with some easy things that 1) your kids like and WILL EAT (this is important) and 2) you can quickly make. For me, it’s quesadillas, sandwiches, “lunchables” (crackers, meat, and cheese) and DIY pizzas. I usually have this stuff on hand and it’s really easy to throw together. I will also sometimes do hot dishes like mac and cheese or soup in this cheap Target thermos. It’s worked really well for us for over two years. I try to add a fruit and vegetable each day, as well as a small dessert item or yogurt. The drink is always water in a refillable thermos.

STEP 2 — MAKE IT FUN!

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Quesadilla + pumpkin shaped cookie cutter = perfection.

Anyone can cut a quesadilla into quarters, but use a cookie cutter instead and hey! It’s fun. A cookie cutter can also add fun to sandwiches, pita bread, and pancakes (if you’re packing a brunch).

If fairs have taught us anything, it’s that people love food on sticks. Your school-aged child is no exception here. I’ll use Wilton brand “Treat Sticks” (found near specialty baking items) and use them for fruit kabobs, deconstructed sandwiches (a small square of bread, cheese, meat, more bread, etc.), or anything, really. I’ll put cooked chicken nuggets on the stick just for the fun.

STEP 3 — FIND A TRUSTY LUNCHBOX

really thank a teacher lunch (other is taco)
The above picture is a Planetbox, and this one is a Bentgo Kids.

Or brown bag it. You gotta do you. If you are going to purchase a reusable container, there are so many options available out there. You can really use anything from reusable snack and sandwich bags to small Tupperware containers to one of a variety of bento boxes. I like the bento box variety because it helps with portion control and it’s fun to look it (see Step 2).

My favorite bento boxes are from Bentgo Kids (specifically for kids in Pre-K – 2nd Grade) and Planetbox (for older, hungrier kids). PRO TIP: Buy two of whatever lunch receptacle you purchase. That way you can pack one while one’s at school – OR – have a backup in case your little angel absentmindedly forgets to bring one home.

NOTE: The boxes I suggested may seem a little pricey. I can assure you, from a quality standpoint, these hold up. However, as I said, there are so many options available out there — please don’t think these are the only ways to go!

STEP 4 — ADD SOME LOVE

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I am a huge fan of Lunchbox Love cards. They are sweet little cards with notes of encouragement on the front (or they are blank so you an write your own message) and jokes or trivia on the back. My now-second grader has loved these in lunches ever since he started eating lunch at school.

Of course, you can simply write your own little note on a piece of paper or napkin and throw it in. Add some jokes or trivia from good old google and you are set!

STEP 5 — REPEAT!

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And then one more time! Then one more time! Then-

As mentioned in Step 1 — find your simple staples, make them fun, pack them well, add some love, and then DO IT AGAIN. Every single day doesn’t have to be a brand new lunch. Lunch repeats are the best, especially when you can make them quickly and your kids like ‘em. If I try out a new design or a new food and it comes back home, barely touched, I’m not sending that again anytime soon. Kids don’t have forever to eat lunch at school. If they don’t like what they have, chances are, they won’t eat. And that leads to hungry and cranky students for the rest of the day. Believe me when I say no one wants that.

I hope this has helped inspire lunchtime creations of your own! If you’re looking for more inspiration, look for my lunch pics on instagram @jennievanderlugt or Facebook at Premeditated Mama. Happy lunching!

 

focus tips and focus tricks

Hello! Thanks so much for joining me into this look at childhood ADHD. If you’re here for the first time, welcome! This is the final installment of a series on childhood ADHD. If you want to catch up, you can find my personal experiences mothering a child with ADHD here: focus, part 1 and focus, part 2. You can also find a post on ADHD from the perspective of a pediatrician (and a dad) here: focus, md.

Today’s post comes largely from you, dear readers. I sent out requests on social media asking any of you with experience with ADHD (either for yourself or for a loved one) to answer two questions: When did you first suspect ADHD and what made you think it was a possibility, and What did you do to manage it? The responses from all of you were fantastic, so thank you so much for sharing! I’m keeping all of the submissions anonymous, but please know that just about all of these could have come directly from me (but they didn’t!). ADHD seems big and scary, but progress can be made and success can be found — especially in community.

A recent drawing of Boone’s. Intentionally upside-down. Appropriately so, I’d say, give our topic.


Thanks for being in this community.

Without further ado:

When did you first suspect ADHD? What made you think it was a possibility?

“When my son was in kindergarten, he would get completely wrapped up in a TV show, and we would have to physically block his view or remove him to get his attention. He was very impulsive. He has NEVER been a good sleeper, it could take hours sometimes to get him to sit still and relax enough to fall asleep.”

“I could watch my child read a whole book by herself and finish worksheets in no time flat by the time she was in kindergarten, but I could never get her to remember really simple things like bringing her jacket or lunchbox home.”

“When I was younger, I was at the top of my class, but focus was always a struggle. Looking back now, I am so thankful my parents had me tested because it taught me that my mind doesn’t work the same way everyone else’s does, and that’s not a bad thing.”

“My mom suggested she noticed some attention issues with my third grader for a while now, but I brushed it off until his teacher said she was concerned because he is so far behind and he really struggles to say seated and focused.”

“We suspected it at age five. Our child couldn’t do anything that wasn’t very plainly scheduled out. Free time was a disaster.”

“I was diagnosed around age ten. My parents had to remind me to stop, wait, count to ten, and reorient myself.”

“My adult son was diagnosed in seventh grade. He was always hyper as a child, so my husband and I suspected it as early as age three.”

What did you do to manage ADHD?

**Note: I’m not including medications in this list, though several people (almost everyone) included them in some way in their management plans. Medications can and do help, as I’ve mentioned already, but that’s a conversation you’ll need to have with a medical doctor.**

“Structure, organization, verbal rewards for good choices.”

“I needed to create a quiet work space without distractions for my daughter so she could focus on her schoolwork. She also does her school work at the same time each day.”

“Routine, no red dye, cognitive behavior therapy.”

“We would do homework in small increments and pause to literally run around the house a couple times and then back to homework. Also, working toward rewards would inspire him. He would also need detailed instructions. ‘Go clean up your room’ never got him anywhere. ‘Clothes off the floor and downstairs, bed made, vacuum…’”

“I found yelling and getting worked up did NOT help. As frustrated as I would get, I needed to talk to my daughter in a really calm and clear voice, giving simple but direct instructions once she was giving me eye contact. She needed really clear guidelines and structure.”

“We use a board in the morning to help him remember what he needs to do and I’ve started writing reminders on his hand on the key things to bring home from school everyday. L for Lunchbox, C for Coat, etc. We also have a 504 plan (Individualized Education Plan) at school so his teachers are aware of his struggles.”

“I think the best thing my parents ever did was always tell me that having ADHD did not mean I couldn’t do just as much and be just as successful as everyone else; it just meant I’d sometimes have to do things in a different way.”

If you have anything you’d like to add, please do so in the comments! I’m grateful for the dialogue and awesome notes I’ve received from so many of you. This concludes the Premeditated Mama ADHD series, but I’d always love to further the discussion with you one on one! If you aren’t already a member, join the “Premeditated Mama” page on facebook and let’s continue this journey together.

focus, part 2

This is the second part of a two part series. If you haven’t read part one yet, you can read that here.

 

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Once we had Boone’s diagnosis and medication in hand, he and I sat down to chat. He had complained to me about having to do school work before, so I started with that. Our conversation went something like this:

“Hey Boone, you know how  you have trouble getting your work done at school?”
“Yep.”
“It turns out you have something called ADHD. Your brain has a difficult time focusing on things. So even though you know how to do your work, it’s harder for you than other kids to actually sit down and do it.”

Boone was quiet for a little bit after this. I didn’t know if it was just his trademark stoicism, but I didn’t want to let this conversation die. So I turned the tables and spoke about me.

“Boone, did you know I take medicine because I have something called Depression that makes my brain think I’m extra sad sometimes?”
He nodded.
“So it’s almost the same — you’ll take some medicine to help your brain focus, just like I take some to help my brain not be sad. Does that make sense?”
He nodded again, and since he looked like he was digesting this information, I gave him a minute. And then —

“Hey mom?”
I was sure we were about to have a hugely deep moment here. He’d ask tough questions, I’d give clear answers, we’d bond, we’d relate, we’d really share a moment–

“Hey mom, do any of those mosquitoes live in Michigan?”
OK, this is not what I expected. “Um.. what?”
“Those mosquitoes. YOU KNOW. THOSE MOSQUITOES.”
“Um, honey, I don’t know. There are mosquitoes here, but–”
“NO. MOM. The mosquitoes. The mosquitoes that make babies sick if they’re in their mom’s tummy.”

OK our conversation about ADHD somehow turned into one about Zika? What is even happening here?

“No, buddy, we don’t have those mosquitoes here.”
“So one didn’t bite you when I was in your tummy?”
“What? Honey, no.”
“So the mosquito didn’t make my focus not work?”

A part of me wishes I could say I fictionalized this conversation for the purposes of this blog, but I didn’t. My heart broke that he thought this diagnosis meant something was just plain wrong with him.

I told him ADHD doesn’t mean your body made some sort of mistake. It’s just means you’ll have to learn and do things differently than other people, but we’re all different in some way. This is one of the things that sets him apart. It’s not good or bad, it’s just different.

In the end, he agreed to try the medication, which I gave him the very next morning. Here’s where I’ll include that the week we tried the meds, he was in an afternoon camp at a nearby zoo. The first two days of the camp, before we’d started the Concerta, I’d said “Hey! What’d you do today?!” when I picked him up and he would, characteristically, mumble “I dunno.” But on this day, the third day of camp, the day he took medicine in the morning, he answered:

“Oh! It was great! I finished an art project I started yesterday, it’s SO cool, I can’t wait for you to see it. It’s drying. And we played a game called ‘Poison Dart Frog’ which was so fun, I want to teach Jonah how to play it. Except we probably need more people, so the next time we have all of our friends over for a bonfire, I’ll teach it to them. And we fed the budgies! It was a great day.”

And it was my turn to mumble a response.

The rest of the car ride was comfortably quiet, one of us asking or answering questions every now and again.

Since the start of this medication, for us, I’ve seen nothing but improvement. In addition to the medication, however, we have also implemented new methods for his continued success. He has very clear chores expected of him each day, he has a quiet space to work on homework, and for the most part, he stays on a very regular schedule. This is much easier to do in the school year, but that’s where we are, so we are sailing smoothly.

Before I go any further — we are a fortunate case. I have friends who have personally trialed several different medications and have yet to find the sweet spot. Our only negative side effect is that Boone occasionally has a hard time calming down for bedtime. This is still nothing compared to the hard bedtimes we had before medication, but it is noticed. That said, I have seen other kids have emotional breakdowns when they begin medications such as this. What works for one won’t always work for another — all I can share is what we have experienced.

Boone’s biggest accomplishment so far came in an email from his teacher. She wrote, in an email, that Boone was keeping up with his work at school. He brought home papers that were not only legible, they were completed far beyond the bare minimum. Just yesterday, he brought home his snack saying he didn’t want to stop what he was working on to take a break and eat it. THIS IS A BIG DEAL. However, I’m happy to report that he is also still bringing home his fair share of silly comics and drawings. He is still trying to play songs from The Legend of Zelda by ear in between piano practices. He is still our creative, inquisitive, intelligent boy, just with a little extra medicated help.

This makes me reflect on how I, as someone who has taken an antidepressant for three years, am calmer and more at peace in general, but can still unleash a lot of emotions at, say, a church worship set, or a particularly striking Hallmark commercial.

When used correctly, medicine can help us be our best self. It isn’t a crutch, or an “easy pill” — it is simply the missing puzzle piece. 

We are just at the start of this journey. I can’t speak to how middle school, high school, or even upper elementary will look. But right now, for at least a little while, I can see how second grade looks. And I like it.

If you or someone you love can identify with Boone (or me, for that matter), please speak to your doctor and see if there’s something that could help you. It might be exactly as simple as it was with Boone. It might be a heck of a lot harder to find something that works. But if you can have a similar payoff — if you can see this person that you love live their best life — it’s worth it. It’s very, very worth it.

Come back NEXT WEEK to hear from the resident Premeditated Pediatrician (I call him “husband”) who will give you the official doctor-y rundown on ADHD and what it means from the medical side. In TWO WEEKS you’ll find tips and tricks from parents JUST LIKE YOU. We’re all in this together. Share this post and grow our village!

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.

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.