The Runaway

Today was LLM’s preschool picnic. It did not go great, but we survived. His preschool is near our house and it is a nice day, so the kids biked. When we left the picnic to ride home (LLM and BabyGirl on bikes, me walking) LLM rode ahead…he rode waaayyy ahead. He actually rode all the way home…It is about 3/4 of a mile on a bike path…that crosses a busy road. And he crossed it. Alone.

When I arrived home, breathless with blistered feet from running in flip flops, he was in the house, completely calm, bike in the garage. I had been about 10 seconds from calling 911 and telling them my 6 year-old was missing.

I took my time calming myself before trying to talk to him about what had happened. I reminded him of our biking rules. I reminded him about cars and the busy road. I told him I was scared he could have wrecked and I wouldn’t have been there. When I said these things to him, he went into a rage. “There were no cars!” “I forgot the rules!” “I was thirsty.” “I didn’t crash!” And on and on and on. He was furious. Throwing things, stomping, screaming til he sweat.

His obvious shameful feelings are heartbreaking, yet I know they do nothing to deter him from making the same mistake again. Or doing something else, equally dangerous, and that I know good-and-well he knows better than to do.

Knowing better and doing better are so separate in his brain sometimes, we have learned. Actions and consequences are disconnected. Impulsivity often reigns. When he is calm, like when I first got home to him, I think reality hits him and he is overwhelmed with the shame of his actions. He can’t deal with it. Me talking about it with him only heightens his sense of shame so he rages to avoid me. It’s a vicious cycle.

And that’s not even the hardest part. The hardest part is that in about 15 minutes he is going to wake up from a nap and I will need to treat him like it never happened. Not to say we won’t have some new boundaries for biking, but the terror I experienced running home, the anger I felt towards him, the frustration welling up as I relive it…I will need to tuck all that away. I will need to sweetly greet him and make him a snack. I will rub his back and make sure to make eye contact with him. We will pretend like it never happened.

He needs a clean record to escape his overwhelming shame. He needs a loving big person providing for his needs, affirming that he is good and safe and precious. He needs boundaries that he can be successful keeping. He needs forgiveness when he hasn’t asked for it. 

I do too. Loving him like I need to be loved reminds me of a God who extends mercy to me everyday.

I need this radical grace as much as he does because I’m every bit as much of a runway.  

“Words can’t describe the way it feels
When mercy floods a thirsty soul
The broke inside begins to heal
And grace returns what guilty stole

And in the shadow of that shame
Beat down by all the blame
I hear You call my name saying it’s not over
And my heart starts to beat so loud now
Drowning out the doubt
I’m down, but I’m not out

There’s a war between guilt and grace
And they’re fighting for a sacred space
But I’m living proof
Grace wins every time
No more lying down in death’s defeat
Now I’m rising up in victory
Singing, hallelujah

Grace wins every time”

Grace Wins by Matthew West

Changing the Script

So we gave homeschooling a try and turns out…it’s not for us. At least not at this time. There were some good parts, but overall it was not a good fit for the dynamics of our family. (This is the polite way of saying: it pretty much sucked all day er’ry day.)

It was a really tough decision to put the kids back in school. I felt like a failure. I felt like a quitter. I worried what people would think. I spent lots of time berating myself…telling myself that I am rash. That I am fickle. That I am weak. Asking myself if another mom, a better mom, could handle this thing that I couldn’t. I made a list in my head of the ways that if I could change, maybe I could make this homeschooling thing work. The kids liked homeschooling….so that meant I was the problem. If only I could be more patient, more creative, more disciplined…if only I wasn’t so…..me, then it would work.

And then one day, driving down a road I drive down most every day, a thought hit me:

What if what I’m telling myself is not the truth? What if I’m exactly what they need?

What if instead of telling myself I am fickle, I praise God that He made me willing to try new things until we find the one that works.

What if instead of telling myself I am weak, I acknowledge thankfulness for a community with great schools and dedicated teachers who welcomed my boys back and made them feel as if they’d never left. I recognized that what we were doing at home was not sustainable, and I sought help. That’s not weakness, that’s strength.

What if instead of berating myself for being rash, I trust my instincts and feel good about making the changes I know are for the better.

And what if instead of wondering if a better mom could do all that I can’t, I trust that the God who made something from nothing, who organized the elements into living, breathing creatures, didn’t make a mistake when He gave my kids to me. It wasn’t chance that landed me as LLM’s mom any more than it was chance that made the heavens and the earth.

I am exactly what they need.  My abilities, even my weaknesses, and their needs are perfectly matched.

Dear mommas….you are exactly what they need. You. Not an improved version of you. You, how God has gifted you specifically. Even what you might view as your weaknesses, God can use them for good, and He promises to do exactly that. 

Change the script in your head. You can do this. I promise.

One Year

Dear LLM,
One year ago I put on a white dress and walked up the big hill to the
courthouse. I spoke the second most-important “I do” I have said in my
life. One year ago was a day I waited for, prayed for, and will never
forget. One year ago, we adopted you.

If I woke up this morning, and the past four and a half years were
erased-the hardest 1642 days of my life so far-I would scrambled to
begin them again. I have lost nothing I wouldn’t trade for you in a second.

You are the strongest, bravest person I know and you are 5! Imagine
what the future will bring.

Tomorrow you will put on your Spider-Man costume, carry your pink
plastic pumpkin (you love pink!) and go door-to-door asking our
neighbors for candy. It is your favorite day of the year.

It is mine too, but not because of the candy. I will remind you it’s your
adoption day, and you will run past me, onto your next adventure.

All is as it should be.

I love you, my darling boy.

The Promise of the Feast

A few weeks ago, I was pretty sure I was pregnant. 

The thought kept me up at night and I lay in bed googling “signs of early pregnancy” and wondering how life would change if my hunch was right. How would we do it? And what would people think? Particularly after I have spent the past couple months telling the internet what a rough time I’m having with the kids that I already have. Would people think we are irresponsible? Crazy? Stupid?

And how would I manage? The months of puking that accompany pregnancy for me. Followed by the years of interrupted sleep. My attention spread between 5 baby birds, all with mouths wide open, all so urgently needy. And what would another baby do to my marriage? So many days I have so little left to give to the man who loves me so well…could we do it all again? Could we manage?

How would I have enough?…

Tonight we got home late after dinner at our friends’ house. It was nearly 10pm and as we were rushing the kids to bed, the big boys began complaining that they were hungry. They headed towards the pantry for their go-to snack-granola bars-and were upset when I shooed them from the kitchen and told them to go downstairs to their beds. My oldest looked at me dejected, snaggle-toothed in the way 9 year-olds are, eyes red from pool water, hungry like a teenager even though he still sits on my lap some times. He whined, “It’s just that I’m so hungry.” 

“I know.” I said. “Now go downstairs to your bed.” Reluctantly he obeyed. I followed him down, past his room and to the storage room. I went in, and took a Costco box of granola bars down from the shelf, opened it, and took one to him in his bed. 

“The box in the pantry was empty. You didn’t think I’d send you to bed hungry, did you?” I asked him with a smile.

Is this not how I am with my God? I cry that I am empty forgetting He is the storeroom. I fear a future wherein I run out, forgetting His promises.

I wasn’t pregnant.

But on Labor Day afternoon the our phones rang.  “A 10 year-old boy and a 7 year-old girl need a place to stay, tonight. Can you take them?”

We talked for about 5 min and called back with our answer, “Yes.”

But to look to the seeds and believe He will feed us? When what he gives doesn’t look like near enough? When it looks like less than a handful instead of a plateful, a year full, a life full. When it looks inedible. 

These seeds, are they food? It looks like a bit of a joke.

To hand someone seeds for his swelling, panging starvation, and ask him to believe in a feast? Is this what everyday faith is? 

Behold! For those who have learned to see-He gives, He gifts. He gifts with seeds as small as moments, grace upon grace, and the unlikely here and now, it shall sustain you, feed you.  Do not distain the small.  The promise of feast is within the moments. Our enough is always in the now because He never leaves us.” -Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts Devotional

Follow up: The kids we were asked to take were able to stay with a friend of their family. For their sake, this is preferable to them being placed with strangers, such as ourselves. We look forward to the next time we can say “Yes.”

I’m Going Soft

When driving around with the kids, I typically have my radio set to one of our local Christian radio stations. It seems like they have less commercials than other stations, my six year-old loves to sing along, and I get annoyed if I’m trying to listen to the news or a story on NPR and the kids keep interrupting with questions/fighting/general neediness. So Christian radio it is.

It has been an ongoing joke between my husband and me. The songs are pretty repetitive and sometimes the talk is…well, pretty hokey. I know they are trying to “keep it clean” but sometimes my cheese-o-meter starts going off during some of the banter between the radio hosts.

But lately it has been getting to me.

A few weeks ago I heard a song I really liked and wanted to know who the artist was, so I pulled out my smart phone and used the Shazam app to identify the tune. Much to my surprise and chagrin, the song was by Michael W. Smith.

What.the.what?!  (It was Sky Spills Over, if you are curious.)

“Get it together, Mary!” I thought to myself.  

But it’s happening more and more. Yesterday, even the hokey banter got me all teared up. The host was talking about dropping his daughter off at college and I lost my stuff driving down Third St.  Not that I have a heart of stone, but I generally find this particular host super-annoying and overly dramatic.  Apparently now I love that kind of crap.

And it’s not just the radio. Recently during church worship I’ve experienced a phenomenon I’ll call “Desire to Dance while Waving my Hands and Crying.” What is happening to me?!

The biggest change I’ve noticed is that this time last year I was counting down the minutes to back-to-school. The thought crossed my mind to put the baby in daycare and go back to work full-time. I was ready for a change.

And I got one. But it is not at all what I expected.

Next week, we will begin homeschooling. My kids, all my kids, will be with me ALL.THE.TIME. Last year, I think this would have made me want to breathe into a paper bag. This year, I can’t imagine it being any different.  

I want to be with them. Sure, they often drive me nuts and I constantly feel overwhelmed with LLM’s behavior and Baby Girl’s todderliness, but I’m not trying to escape.

I’m leaning in.

And the only explanation I can give is that God has softened my heart towards my kids. He has changed my desire and I am so thankful.

I’m going soft.

And I am so grateful.  

The Day I Left

Yesterday I took the children on a short road trip to visit a friend and her family and to go to a 3-day conference for families who home school. This will be our first year home schooling, and I was excited to learn and gear up for the upcoming school year. 

We got off to a promising start: the drive thru employee at Chick Fil A mistook my order for a boring diet Dr. Pepper for a delicious Chocolate Milk Shake. I had gorgeous views of the sun setting for most of my drive and the kids did pretty well in the car (a rarity for us.) We arrived safely and I was happy to see my friend. 

The trouble started at bedtime. 

The big boys went to bed okay.  LLM was being a pest while in the same room with them so I moved him into the room with Baby Girl and me and he settled down pretty quickly. 

But when it came time to lay BG down for bed, she became increasingly manic and could not settle down.  This happens every so often with her, particularly when we are in a new place.  But I was happy to be spending time with my friend and BG was being adorable so I wasn’t getting too stressed about it.  I mean, she had to settle down and sleep at some point, RIGHT?!

Except that she never did. She dozed off a few times between midnight and 4 am, but never really slept.  Which means, neither did I. At 4am, fearful she’d wake LLM for the day, I took her downstairs and we passed the time playing kitchen and baby dolls while I intermittently nodded off and worried about the day ahead. 

Around 8am, we all headed off to the conference, and Baby Girl promptly nodded off in the car.

While I attended the conference, the boys went to camp and BG went to nursery.  Drop offs to camp and nursery went smoothly and I was only called out once to help LLM with a nosebleed/tantrum. 

But all day I was growing more and more anxious about the night to come. When BG has extreme trouble sleeping, it often happens for a few days in a row. You’d think she’d crash at some point, but you’d be wrong. Hyper-vigilance is no joke.  Even though we’ve had her since she was less than 3 months old, sometimes my Baby Girl just can’t settle down and feel safe.   There was no guarantee she’d sleep any better the second night, and I didn’t think I could handle another night with no sleep. 

And while LLM had an unusually good day on the day we packed and drove out, and an okay-for-him day at the conference, there was no guarantee that would continue. I couldn’t imagine another sleepless night, a cranky toddler, and LLM having his typical troubles.

So I left. 

I told my friends I was heading home, packed up the kids, went to my car, and held back tears til we made it to the interstate. 

I felt tired. So tired, but I was also proud. 

I was proud that I set my limit before my breaking point.

Today I needed to fail and be okay with it, rather than push through and “succeed.”

I needed to accept my children’s limitations, and not begrudge them. 

Could I have stayed? Probably. I’m pretty accustomed to being tired and anxious, but white knuckling motherhood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

And when I stopped just trying to push through, when I accepted where we were instead of wishing for where we could be, I noticed some amazing things:

My child with Aspergers said to me, “Sorry you have to hold everything” when he noticed I was loaded down with bags and water bottles when all the kids went to the bathroom. Unprompted empathy is a BIG DEAL around here.

I saw LLM handing Baby Girl veggie straws in the back seat. Unprompted kindness is a BIG DEAL around here.

My super social six year-old who I knew would be upset not to spend two more nights with his friends said to me when I explained that we were going home early, “That’s okay! You never know what’s going to happen so you gotta be okay with whatever does!” Going with the flow is a BIG DEAL around here. 

Today I saw my children differently. Instead of seeing who they aren’t, I honored who they are. And they are amazing.

Today, what I left doesn’t compare to what I gained.

Now… off to get some sleep!

No One is Coming for Us

Recently LLM has been playing a game he call “The Mommy T Game” (not her real initial.) This game involves LLM pretending he is a baby and asking me to pretend I am Mommy T.  In the “game” he cries and I am supposed to ignore him. He asks for a bottle, I am supposed to tell him we have no milk. He asks to get out of his “crib” (he makes a pile of blankets) and I’m supposed to say “No!” This game also involves a lot of pretending to drive around in a car.

It’s hard for me to play. I hate pretending to neglect him, and I struggle with the reality that this is what he chooses to do when we have one-on-one playtime. I realize I am incredibly lucky to get this glimpse into his past experiences or perceived past experiences, but honestly, it bleeds me dry.

Many days, I feel like at a very base level he doesn’t trust me.  When we play this game, I am reminded that he has good reasons not to.  There was a time in his life that I couldn’t protect him.

Some days I can’t help but feel like I’m paying for someone else’s mistakes. Some days I have so much anger towards the people who failed him that I want to scream.  Some days I do scream.  

Some days I feel like I am absorbing the generations of pain that had set out to manifest in my little boy.  The Lord saw fit to change the direction of his life, but all that crap still has to go somewhere.

And I wish I could just absorb all the crap for him with a smile but instead it feels like now I’m rotting too… And I just don’t know how much longer we can keep doing this when we don’t seem to be getting any better.

We have sought help many places, and we continue to do so. And I am thankful that we have adopted during a time when parents and professionals are learning so much about how trauma affects the brain. I am so lucky compared to the legions of loving parents who have gone before me, trying to heal invisible wounds that had no name.  I cannot imagine doing this type of parenting without the support and resources that I have at my disposal.

And yet many days it is so very lonely and bleak…

We visited the pediatrician last week about an issue I’m unsure is physiological, behavioral or both.  The doctor offered little help, saying we needed to resolve another issue before addressing this one…Yeah, I know…that’s why I’M HERE! sigh…

As my son’s play therapist left this morning her last words to me were “He is very perplexing.”  Gee thanks…  

We saw a psychologist who, after hearing LLM’s story responded, “Haven’t we all had trauma?” Yeah I suppose we have, but we aren’t all diagnosed with PTSD before we’re out of diapers….

When no one’s offering solutions, only more referrals and I only have enough hope to struggle through the next moment, and I know that I’m the only one losing sleep, getting fatter and feeling myself fade, frantic for guidance about what our next step should be the realization hits me…

No one is coming for us.  

No doctor. No counselor. There’s not an essential oil or perfect diet that is going heal these particular hurts.

No one is coming for us.  

And that’s ok.

Because He already came. 

He who made the mountains, watched over my sweet boy crying for milk. He who created coral and octopi, sunsets and Redwoods, who owns eternity forwards and back, has not missed one second of our pain. And while I can’t fathom why He has allowed it, I choose to defer to His great plans for our lives. I believe He set aside his glory to suffer for my sins, for all sins, and that means I’m fighting a battle that has already been won. 

I’m forgiven, so I can forgive. 

My pain has been absorbed, so I can absorb LLM’s.

I may feel like the bottom line, but I am not.  I couldn’t be if I wanted to.