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Monday, October 21, 2013

A Smile In Our Hearts

Some mornings our family runs like a well-oiled machine. Not many mornings, but some. And on those mornings I feel as though I'm singing an opera with the angels and we're all incredibly, beautifully in tune. 

This morning happened to be one of those mornings. I've realized there are two keys to having a peaceful morning: one thing is that all the boys have to be in a semi-decent mood, which is something I cannot control. The second thing is that I have to be able, and willing, to help the boys with things that easily frustrate them. Things like getting dressed, putting socks on, putting shoes on, finding something for breakfast, brushing teeth, putting everything for school into their backpacks. If there is any disorganization, any frustration, anything that overwhelms any of the boys, all bets are off and the morning takes a turn for the worse. But today, all my children woke up rested and ready for Monday. Aidan didn't refuse to get dressed like he normally does, or stall with indecision about what to have for breakfast because his meds make him not hungry and nothing sounds good. Ben didn't refuse to get out of bed or complain of not feeling well, like he does most mornings because he doesn't want to face school. He only took 20 minutes in the bathroom, getting dressed and carefully spraying each armpit with an entire bottle's worth of deodorant, instead of his typical 45 minutes of prep time. When I went into Jonah's darkened room to rouse him this morning, I softly sang "Good morning Jonah" like I always do. As I opened his curtains, he THREW back the covers and said "HA!" as he revealed that he was FULLY DRESSED!!! Miracles do happen, people. We didn't have to fight about putting his clothes on this one morning. What a gift.

When Alex was done taking his shower and getting ready for work, he came down and was on dog/kid duty while I took a shower. Alex took Aidan to the bus stop, which went well (!) and then went to work when I came downstairs after getting ready. Well-oiled machine, people. Ben and Jonah went to school fine too, which is another miracle. I didn't hear a single complaint about the day. Incredible. I even got a half cup of coffee this morning before Ella and I had to rush out the door to her preschool field trip! 

This morning, all my children's moods were calm and relatively happy. I was available to them for whatever they needed. I went back upstairs for Ben's socks, because that totally stresses him out- having to go to up to his room for a forgotten something. The boys have always been that way about going upstairs once they are downstairs. I was there when Jonah needed help tying his shoes. I was able to help all the boys get all their items into their backpacks for school. I helped them find their coats (except Jonah who had left his at school on Friday, and today after school when he still had not located the coat he said he thinks he lost it, actually. Gr.) and hats. I basically ran interference all morning. Which is typical, but the kids were calm AND I was calm, which is sometimes not that typical. 

Alex and I both struggle when it comes to things like how much to help the boys get ready for the day. They are chronologically old enough to get ready for school independently. But emotionally and mentally, they just aren't there many days. We have realized that if we help put socks on a boy who is already frustrated, we can avoid an hour-long meltdown. If we find and hold a coat open for a boy's waiting arms, we can avoid the frustration of our son being overwhelmed at the mere idea of tackling the coat on his own and having a meltdown. 

We chuckle at the irony of how our 4 year old is in many ways much more independent than any of her brothers. And she is starting to realize that she is different than them, in ways I didn't think she would notice until she was much older. The other day one of the boys was having a meltdown. In exasperation, I said to Alex (I didn't realize Ella was listening) "Why do they all have so many problems all the time?" Ella piped up "We don't ALL have problems! Just the boys. Just Ben, Jonah, and Aidan. I don't have so many problems. You don't have so many problems. Daddy doesn't have so many problems. Just the boys." Huh. Ya got that right, sista. 

My daughter is incredibly perceptive and intuitive and wise. When she sees me stressed out, she rubs my arm or gives me a hug and says "I'm sorry you're having a tough time, Mommy." She is so empathetic and compassionate. My boys have all these qualities too, but there is an ease with which Ella experiences these characteristics. I don't see her struggling with life the way all her brothers have to. Life comes gracefully to Ella.

Another great thing about Ella is that although she sees differences in how her brothers struggle and react to life, she doesn't see these differences as negative. It is hard for all of us to be in the presence of a boy who is raging or freaking out with anxiety. But Ella loves her brothers with her entire soul. She is kind and sensitive towards them. She rubs their backs, if they let her, when they are sad or angry. She 'gets' them in a way I have never had to teach her, it just comes naturally to her. I see myself in her in so many ways. I know she loves her big brothers with the kind of solid, warm, unshakeable love that I also feel for them. I love that about Ella.

I have started to teach Ella how to handle the stress of a brother's extreme meltdown- by going to a different room with the brothers who are not having a problem, or going to her bedroom to read a book so she doesn't have to listen to all the yelling and crying. I have also seen how important it is to look her calmly in the eye when the world is crumbling around her, tell her that no one is mad at her, reassure her Mommy is fine and her brother is just very upset right now, and that she can go to a different room so she doesn't have to be a first-hand witness to chaos. Often the brothers who are not involved in the big problem take Ella with them and go play somewhere else in the house. That is something I never taught them to do, they just instinctively know to take their sister and head out of town. I realized I have to help Ella understand how to protect herself from the extreme-ness of our family, because she is so sensitive and feels so much. Sometimes it is very difficult to juggle the needs of all of my children at one time. Sometimes I feel schizophrenically discombobulated because while I'm firmly talking above a boy's tantrum to help lead him to peace, I have to make sure the dog isn't using my carpet as his toilet because he's freaked out, and calmly remind Ella she is safe and loved (she can sense if I'm truly not calm and then that freaks her out even more), and get the unaffected kids out of the room, all the while making sure the kid who is having the problem is safe and attempt to de-escalate him. I wish I was an octopus. I need more hands. 

Ella is a gift to all of us because she reminds us of what is possible: pride in being independent. She reminds us how to be compassionate and love unconditionally. She lets me see what it is like for a child to develop a bit more typically. She gives me hope that one day all my children will not struggle with the little things in life like they do. Because when you struggle so much with the little things, like brushing your teeth, imagine what a struggle the big things are, like going to school. 

This morning I think Ben, Jonah, Alex and I were still coasting on the 'high' of yesterday. Yesterday we bought the DragonSpeak program for our computer. We have had the app on our iPad, but it never worked well. So we gave in and shelled out the big bucks to get the real thing. It. Is. A. Miracle. It's a program that has the human wear headphones with a microphone, and the program types what the person says. For children with a disability like dysgraphia, which affects writing in a major way, this is an absolute miracle. For the first time EVER EVER EVER, Ben and Jonah both completed book reports yesterday ALL BY THEMSELVES. First time ever. Did I mention EVER?? You have no idea what a true miracle, what a gift, what a respite this was for me. I feel shackled to our homework table every single day. Not only do I have to sit there with each boy as they complete each assignment because of ADHD distraction issues and anxiety issues, I also have to write down most assignments for them because of their writing disabilities. It's frustrating but I do it because it's the only way I can get my boys to re-route past their frustration and anxiety and actually complete their homework. So having Jonah and Ben both complete a major writing assignment all by themselves was simply amazing. 

Once in awhile we uncover a shining, perfect gem of a treasure, and yesterday that happened. This morning we were a well-oiled machine, Mommy and Daddy tag-teaming it so that six people and one dog's needs were met and no one had a meltdown. I wish this happened more often, where we begin the day without meltdowns, because it sends all six of us off into the day with a smile in our hearts. It's a lovely way to begin the dawn of a new day.

I never count on two mornings of bliss in a row, but instead when reality comes back to smack me in the face, I will remember with gratitude the morning that was perfection. I will rejoice in the little victories. I will cherish Jonah's startling "HA!" as he wiggled with pride from under his blankets this morning, fully dressed down to the socks! 

Here's to the well-oiled machine making a comeback tomorrow morning. Here's to all six of us heading into another day with a smile in our hearts.

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