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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Grandma's Magic Lamp

My brother got Grandma and Grandpa's Magic Lamp after they passed away. This is huge. And I'm a little jealous, I have to admit. My brother offered me joint custody of said lamp, but I decided it would be silly to cart a little old lamp on a two hour drive once a month. Right? Grandma had two of these Magic Lamps, so I think a cousin got the other one. Cousins, you've been warned: I may need joint custody of your lamp also.

So here's the deal. When you're a missionary kid, a "Third Culture Kid" (TCK) you live a different kind of reality than many other people. From the time you are a child, you see the world in a different way. Your eyes, your soul, have been opened by suffering you have seen. You know that it's a little insane to have 372 brands of shampoo in one aisle in one store, when many people who live in your village in Africa would be lucky to choose from 2 brands. Or even have a store in their village. Or even a shower. You understand the world on a bigger scale than people who have been lucky to live in the same place for a long time. It's not good or bad to be a TCK, or someone who has spent their whole life in one place. It's just the way it is. Wherever and however you grow up shapes you to be who you are today. My brother and I are missionary kids. That shaped us to be who we are. And to marvel at the crazy, amazing things America has. And to never take the magic of this life for granted. Especially the Magic Lamps.

Our family came back from Africa about every two years for a furlough in the States. We would see our extended family. We'd stock up on clothes and other items you couldn't get in Africa for the next two years that would be shipped out in barrels. We would see snow during those America Months. We would go to American schools (Not so fun, by the way). We would get to have ice cream that didn't taste like cockroaches! We got to watch TV whenever Mom and Dad let us! We actually had a TV! And electricity! Crazy and amazing. 

But I don't know if anything was as crazy and magical as Grandma's lamps.

Grandma's lamps turned on if you just TOUCHED the lamp stand!!! You didn't have to flip a switch. You didn't have to turn a knob. You just touched the lamp and POOF on it went. You could touch it with one finger, a couple fingers, your whole hand, or even your foot. And it would come on. So first, my brother and I had to come to terms with the fact that Americans have electricity ALL day EVERY day, and they can have lamps on whenever they want! Crazy and amazing. Add to that the magic of the lamps in Grandma's guest bedroom, and it was lucky we didn't have a stroke from amazement. 

I remember we would fly to Grandma and Grandpa's house from Africa. It was a long, long trip with a lot of airplanes. When we would get there, they would pick us up at the airport and drive us to their house. I remember just being completely flabbergasted because of how many lights there were in the middle of the night- car lights, street lights, stop lights, restaurant lights, gas station lights...crazy. And amazing. And overwhelming. 

I remember laying in one of Grandma and Grandpa's guest bedrooms, trying to get to sleep, and hearing cars zoom by on  the street outside. That is not a sound I heard in Africa. First, there was only one dirt road in our little village- you took it into or out of town. There were about three cars in the whole place too. So there was no zooming of cars outside your window while you slept, and if there was they wouldn't make the same sound because the roads weren't paved. I loved the sound of Grandma's guest rooms. I loved the sound of outside the house. The cars going by. I loved watching the light bounce from the cars' headlights, cutting my dark room in half with brightness through the curtains. 

I have two favorite sounds, besides the obvious ones like my children's laughter, silence when the house is asleep, etc. My first favorite sound is rain. I know, I know, everyone says "Oh, rain is my most favorite sound." It's so cliche. But I'm talking about a different kind of rain sound. In Africa we had a metal roof, so you could hear every little leaf that dropped on it. An African thunderstorm in the middle of rainy season was quite an event to hear! You could also hear all the lizards running across the roof while you were trying to sleep, that was always fun and relaxing. Not. But I love the sound of rain. I'm always mad when it rains here because the sound is so muffled on our nice, insulated roofs. Give me a metal roof and I'd be a happy girl.

My second favorite sound is when I'm in my cozy, warm house and I hear a snow plow go by. Again, not many of those where we lived in Africa-- two blocks from the Equator. I don't know what it is, but I love that sound of plows. It makes my heart swell with happiness and joy. 

There are so many interesting and magical things about everyone's childhood, and mine is no exception. But the thing that always epitomized America, Grandma and Grandpa, coming "home," were Grandma's lamps. My brother and I would argue over who got to sleep in the Magic Lamp Room. We would sit for a long, long time, turning those lamps on and off. 

One thing about being a TCK that's a really big bummer is that sometimes you can't go back to the home you grew up in. I grew up in Central African Republic and Cameroon, places that are tormented today by violence and civil unrest. I can never return to my childhood home. That is a hard thing to know, that you can't take your husband to your old home, you can't show your kids where you grew up. It makes me long for Africa when I think about how I can't go back, it'll never be the same. That time and that place are gone and the only people who really know what my life was like are the people who shared it with me. Telling someone what it was like when I grew up in Africa doesn't do it justice.

Which is why I'm so glad that my brother got Grandma's Magic Lamp. I'm glad I get to visit my brother and sister-in-law, and sit in their guest bedroom and touch that Magic Lamp and remember the magical moments of my childhood. There are very few things that I can hold onto and say "This is from when I grew up." But that Magic Lamp is one of them. So, my brother, when I disappear into your guest bedroom for a while, know that I'm loving the memories that come back with one touch of Grandma's Magic Lamp.

My Red M&M

Aidan is like a red M&M. (Red because that's my favorite color, and Aidan's.) A red M&M has a bright, beautiful, hard shell on the outside of it. The shell protects the sweet, melty, perfect inside of chocolate. Aidan is like this. Aidan is beautiful, inside and out. He has a shell, like an M&M. Many times when you're talking to Aidan, it seems like what you're saying is just bouncing right off that shell, and not getting inside where you need it to take root. Sometimes that shell is very frustrating. It seems like my little M&M is not listening. Not paying attention. Not following directions. Not learning the skills he needs to navigate the world. Sometimes that beautiful shell seems to protect my little M&M too much. Sometimes I want more chocolate and less shell. I want to crack that shell right open and have free access to more of Aidan.

But then there are times when I experience the glorious, intuitive, sensitive, wonderous "chocolate" part of Aidan. Sometimes you think what you're trying to communicate to him has just bounced off his shell, when actually you've made it into the perfection that is Aidan's soul. He has heard you. He has understood. He gets what you're telling him. He processes it and it makes sense to him. And he shows you how funny, smart, creative, and loving he is.

The other day, Ella, Aidan and I were driving around town, running errands. Ella and Aidan were chatting in the backseat. Aidan said something very nice to Ella. Then he turned and looked out his window, and stated almost under his breath, but with pride, "Well. I think I really just filled up Ella's bucket!" I said "What, Aidan?" He said that in his handwriting group last week, which is run by an OT and counselor, the counselor had talked to the group about how if you say something or do something nice for someone that fills up their "bucket" and they feel happy. If you say something mean, it makes them sad and makes their "bucket" empty. 


So not only had Aidan been paying attention when the counselor was talking about buckets, he had taken in the information. He had processed it and understood it. And THEN my little M&M had used this information and made it his own, and in the process had made his little sister's bucket overflow.


Sometimes that gooey "chocolate" center that is my Aidan's soul is just so perfect, it blinds me to see it. Aidan blinds me with his goodness, his sweetness. If I am ever half as good, as intuitive, as perceptive as Aidan, I will feel like my bucket is very very full.

My Aidan is like a red M&M. Perfect in every way. The perfect ratio of hard, protective shell to melty, glorious center. You just can't get enough, once you've experienced my little M&M. He makes the world a more joyful place by being in it. 

Snow Day. Again.

Apparently our school district, along with many many others, will be in school until the middle of July this year. We've had so many snow/cold days off from school, I'm sprouting some serious gray hairs. I know some moms glow when there is a snow day for their kids. They ooze happiness, having their nest full an extra day. In theory, I am one of those moms. I do enjoy my children. But in reality, I'm running out of things to keep my kiddos busy, it's too cold to go outside, and if I have to play one more 4-year-old game or listen to my boys fight over one more wii controller, I'm going to lose my mind. 
Scooby, on the way to see the psychiatrist

We had last Monday off for MLK day. We had 3 chiropractor  appointments, 2 pediatrician appointments, one psychiatrist appointment (to which my sweet little girl decided to wear her Scooby Doo costume...classic), and one dance class. Oof. It was a very long day. We discovered that Jonah and Ben have sinus and ear infections, which explains some not-so-fantastic moods and behavior. (As an aside, I think the pediatrician needs to start paying me, because I brought the boys in, told the doc what I thought they had, and sure enough, I was right. Think how much money I could be making!! The doctors don't even need to do anything except use their funky little flashlights to shine in dark crevices, and tickle the boys' tummies. I did their job for them!) They're on the road to recovery from that, but then this past weekend Aidan came down with something that he kindly passed to Jonah. Again, they're on the mend and will (THANK THE SWEET LORD IN HEAVEN) be able to go back to school when it reopens tomorrow. Today we only have four therapies and one doctor's appointment. Easy peasy. We've had 3 tea parties, made cookies, played playdough, played house about 32 times, played a lot of video games, and yesterday was the Official Bath and Haircut Day. All children and animals got clean- shocking, I know, and Aidan and Ollie the dog got haircuts. All spiffed up for spring. Spring will come eventually, right?
This morning I was loudly, persistantly asked to come to the kitchen to make my children breakfast. Usually they fend for themselves, grazing on the delicious items I have provided in the pantry. There is a gluten-free shelf, which Jonah chooses to ignore even though the foods are mostly for him, and a regular-food shelf. So I was a little irritated to be called to the kitchen when I was in the middle of trying to actually take a shower to get ready for our day. I told Ben I'd be down in a few minutes. To which he responded " Then I'm making my OWN grilled cheese!!" Uh, what now? The kids are learning to cook, which I am all for, since it's a great skill to have. But we still need supervision for all things that tend to be on fire. ADHD brains sometimes don't work carefully when there is exciting temptation to start fires or try burning different materials. Trust me, I know this for a fact. I told Ben he'd better not start the stove by himself! As he ran toward the kitchen.
So I came downstairs to see what my kiddos were into. Showers are overrated anyway. Ben had started a domino effect of demands for "grilled cheese for breakfast!" And Ben requested tomato soup. This is one thing I'm flexible about. As long as it's pretty healthy, I don't care if the kids eat lunch food for breakfast. We eat breakfast food for dinner sometimes, so what's the difference? (It drives Daddy crazy when the kids want mac and cheese for breakfast. It makes me giggle inside. He gets all puffed up with indignance that a human is eating pasta -or a turkey sandwich, or a jelly sandwich, or a Lunchable- for breakfast. It's pretty cute.) I made a round of grilled cheese for everyone, along with tomato soup. By that point it was almost 8am. The day was almost half over! (I wish) 
Ollie's a good snuggler when you're a sicky
My heart tells me that I should cherish these days of togetherness. It's a special time to play together, relax together, have fun together. But my brain and body are a little bit pooped from having so much togetherness. There is something to be said for going to school every weekday. Bless the moms who feel sad when their kids return to school after snow days. I feel nostalgic for the days together, but I don't feel sad. Our snow days are a little like mine fields- someone could explode at any minute and I'll have to diffuse the situation as fast as possible. You never know when an explosion will happen, where, or how long it will take to get everyone calmed down. It's a lot of stress. When the explosions do happen, I do my best to maneuver all the kids involved on to other things, other places, other activities. When we have a lot of time together, stuck in the house because it's too cold to go out, everyone is a little on edge. So our school routine will be welcomed by us all tomorrow.

One little gem of loveliness: the kids were all fighting because Ben and Jonah were supposed to have counseling this morning. All of the kids wanted time with the therapist. I texted her- heads up! They're all fighting over you! I told the kids they had to do whatever the therapist said, so if she said only Ben and Jonah could play, then that's what would happen. With no arguing. To which Ella rolled her eyes in a way only a 4-going-on-13-year-old can do. The therapist laughed when the kids all clambered to her in the waiting room. She said she could see them all at once and have a big family chat. Without me! Before we got to therapy, Ben asked if he thought if our therapist could handle all four of them without me. I laughed. He's so funny and sincere and sweet. I told Ben I'm sure our amazing therapist can handle them all. And she did. With grace and beauty, of course. And I got to sit in the waiting room by myself for 45 minutes. A little piece of heaven.
Tonight as I lay watching TV in our bed, with 3/4 of our kiddos sprawled around and on top of me, I thought about how I do cherish this. I cherish the sweet, warm, calm, snuggly times so much. They go by fast. One day you're rocking your little baby twins to sleep, one in each arm, and the next you're snuggling with a whole bunch of little people who are almost as big as you! I'm not sad when my kids go back to school after a very long weekend, but I am sad when these close family moments end.
Family Tea Party

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Porcupine Prickles

We made it through the holidays. We spent great time with family and friends, and celebrated all our usual family traditions. All without too many meltdowns, so that was good. School has started back up, and of course our world has turned upside down with school starting back up. Some of us are really struggling.

Before the holiday break from school, I spoke with the school social worker who works with Ben about my concerns with the level of his anxiety at school. The social worker really got my Mommy Porcupine Prickles all up. She began by saying that first of all, there is no way Ben can fit his body into his locker. And if he did, another student would surely tell a teacher. And if he was crying at recess, another student would surely tell a teacher. She said she isn't sure what Ben wants my reaction to be by telling me these untruths. She isn't sure what Ben's motive is for telling me these things that couldn't possibly be true. At school he seems happy and isn't a behavior problem, so she's not sure what the deal is.

Excuse me??

First of all, when you're a social worker, especially at a school, I think you should be more tactful, respectful, and sensitive. This person has known my child in one setting for four months, I have known him for 11 1/2 years. Who do you think has a better handle on the nuances of Benland? And there are much gentler ways of saying you think my kid is lying to me in order to manipulate me. It makes me so irritated I wish I had been able to continue being a school social worker myself so that this wouldn't happen to other families.

I told the social worker that first of all, I have seen Ben's locker. She had said she had doubts that I had seen it. And if Ben wanted to squeeze in there, he would find a way. But that isn't the point. Regardless of whether Ben's physical body fits into his locker or he just thinks about how he needs to escape into it in order to deal with the stressors of school, it doesn't matter to me. Whether he sobs at recess, or tears up in a bathroom stall, or just feels like crying, doesn't matter to me. What matters is that my kid is struggling so much that, at home, he is sometimes in tears from the anxiety. He is eaten up from the inside out from anxiety. When he is overwhelmed by his homework, he puts up an angry front so that we have to spin our wheels trying to get him to calm down, instead of facing his homework. What matters to me is that I don't know how to help my child when he is not with me or able to reach me by phone. The social worker doubts that Ben is struggling as much as I think he is. Way to be social-workey, Ms. Social Worker. You're supposed to be our number one supporter and help my child deal with his stress at school, not be yet another strip of red tape, another person I have to convince of my child's (apparently invisible) special needs, in order to get help.

During our conversation, I got my anger under control and explained to the social worker what I'm seeing and what my concerns are. I said if you take away all of Ben's crutches, you leave him with no way to cope. He needs help. So we agreed the social worker will continue to check in with Ben. I told her it is not unusual for Ben to say that everything is fine at school and not ask for help. This is normal for Ben. He only asks me and Daddy for help, and usually only lets me into his heart to know how much he really struggles. But the social worker needs to let him know that she is there for him as a support if he wants it. That's all she can do, I understand. It's frustrating, but at least I got her to agree to see Ben, which is the least I can do for him at school.

I really struggle with how else to help Ben and Jonah with school. Like everything with them, they are not motivated by anything. Bad grades don't really bother them. Jonah is motivated by teachers getting upset with him, he wants to avoid that because he wants everyone to be happy with him. Ben hates it when teachers are "upset" with him, but it's not enough to motivate him to get homework done. So many times with so many things, people say to me "Just make them do           . Just MAKE them brush their teeth. Just MAKE them do their homework. Just MAKE them put away their important things so they don't lose them. Just MAKE them pick up their dirty laundry." Yeah right. Have you met my boys? It's virtually impossible to MAKE them do anything. It's like working with a minefield. At any moment, they can become overwhelmed or frustrated and explode. And then you have a major meltdown on your hands and life for the entire family grinds to a halt because you have to handle the one that is out of control. And they're old enough and big enough to not be able to MAKE them do much. I don't know how else to help them with life, other than what I'm already doing which isn't very successful. I hand them toothbrushes coated with toothpaste. Alex and I lead them through homework, hand in hand, one step at a time. Some days I have to help them get dressed. All this because I know they can't handle "normal" life. When we try to force them to handle it, they get completely overwhelmed and we get stuck in Tantrumville for up to hours. They just can't handle it. Over the years of being their mom, I've realized, and try to remind myself daily, that it is not my fault that they are this way. It is not because I'm a bad mom, or I didn't parent them right, or I do too much for them so they're lazy. They have neurological disabilities that make life very hard, frustrating, and overwhelming for them to complete daily living tasks many days. Sometimes they can handle these stressors that I take for granted easily, when all the stars align: when they have had just the right amount of sleep, when they are not sick at all, when they are in a good mood, when no sibling has frustrated them, when life feels easier to them. But honestly this rarely happens. Which makes me tired. Sometimes I think about what it must be like to have children who don't take 400 medications and vitamins and supplements, who don't have diet restrictions, who don't have behavior issues you have to constantly be prepared for. I wonder what that's like.

When I get down in the pits like this and worn out, I make myself look at all the positive things. Like this: Ben, Jonah, and Alex went to a camp with our church youth group last weekend. They were all very excited about the trip. The night they got there, it was a winter stormy night. The roads were dark and icy, cars were getting stuck, it took a lot of time and patience to get to the camp. They finally arrived safely. I got a call at 11:30 from Alex. He said Ben wanted to come home. Ben was inconsolable. I talked to him on the phone for a while, trying to calm him down. His anxiety was out of control. He insisted that he had to come home. When he is like this, I just have to keep talking and talking to him until something clicks with him and he is able to calm down. That night he was sure that if he went to sleep, something bad would happen to him or me. He missed me. He needed me. He wanted to come home to be with me. No matter what I said, he wasn't calming down. The fact that Dad was right there didn't make any difference. 

Finally, I said that sleep would be Ben's escape from worry. Nothing was going to happen to him or me while we slept. Instead, Ben's body and mind would rest, rejuvenate, and it's impossible to worry while you're sleeping! I said this over and over, and suddenly I could tell I'd found the Magical Thing that hit home for Ben. He started calming down. He eventually agreed to spend the night and see how things were in the morning. 

Ben had a total blast that weekend. He hung out with new friends and old. He got to do fun, crazy things in the snow. He got to worship in a different, awesome environment. He was so grateful that he had gotten to go, and stay, at the camp all weekend. I knew that Friday night when the guys called that this was an opportunity for Ben to work through his anxiety and succeed. I knew there was no way he could come home- the roads were too bad anyway. And I knew once he got through that rough patch, he would have a great time the rest of the weekend. And he did it. He was proud, I was proud. Daddy was relieved.

Last week, after fighting with the boys to take a shower for days, I finally lost it. I had even filled up the tub for Ben to take a bath! I yelled at them about everything. I get so frustrated and worn out, having to drag them through all the things that they should just be doing on their own now. So it was not a proud Mommy Moment. I said fine, be stinky and disgusting. I can't do anything else to convince you to take care of your bodies. I'm done.

The boys went upstairs to our bedroom, where they hang out and watch TV before bed. Later, they came out. Jonah had agreed to take a shower the next morning. Ben was all clean. ALL CLEAN!! He said he had wanted to surprise me. He had made Jonah watch the door so no one came in, and he hadn't let the water out of the tub after he was done because he didn't want me to hear the water draining and have his surprise ruined. He knew I would weep with happiness and relief. He knew just how to make my day. 

Sometimes there are beautiful, glistening moments like these that shine through the rest of the crud of our struggles. I try to focus on those things. Sometimes I even succeed. 

One step at a time. One foot in front of the other. My mantra. Time keeps ticking whether we're struggling or not, and these moments lead to other moments. We'll get through all of this, and more, right?