Carried Away

Today our middle school will hold the 6th grade dance, the one-and-only dance of the year for 6th grade students. Which reminded me of this story I wrote a year ago, when Tween played an unexpected center stage role in tween-age drama. It felt too raw to post then, and too likely to cause offense among the already carried away adults. Today I am grateful we have a lot less drama (of this sort, anyway) in our lives.

I got a call today from the school counselor regarding an issue with my 6th grade son. She said there had been rumors, and he had admitted to being the source. Allegedly, he and another boy had planned to get a girl to ask a boy to the 6th grade dance this Friday, all as a joke. The boy has special needs…

No one should be the butt of a girl-likes-boy-NOT joke, especially not a child who has other issues. That’s bullying, obviously unacceptable. It’s also completely out of character with who I know my son to be. Could it be a bad judgment call on a new-to-him awkward social situation? Perhaps.

Except it never happened, at least not like that.

Concerned that my son would hatch such a plan, I promised the counselor I would talk with him. So I did. But he didn’t want to talk about it. Not At All. Siding with the adults, I took that as a sign of guilt. I continued to push, and he burst into tears. I took that as a sign of shame. He kept saying, “But Mom, we were joking!” and couldn’t understand why that upset me.

I explained again (and again–cue Charlie Brown’s teacher’s voice: “Wa wa wa wa wa…”) what I had heard from the counselor, and how that didn’t seem to line up with what he was saying. I asked my son if he was lying, to the counselor or to me. He begged to just get back to his homework, tears rolling down his cheeks.

Minutes later I received a call from another mom. It seems the 6th graders had inflated in their minds this once-only 6th grade dance into something akin to a prom. They thought they needed dates. What about the slow dances? Boys were asking girls to the dance. Girls were asking boys to the dance. Everyone was talking about who was going with whom, and who should ask whom, and what if so-and-so asked so-and-so.

Parents were calling parents: do I need to volunteer to drive my son and his date to the dance? (No one drives to an after-school dance). Should we have a conversation with our daughter and your son to set expectations? Obviously they’re too young to date so we want to be clear she can dance with whomever she wants.

Egads, people, it’s a 6th grade after-school dance! We all need to take a deep breath.

This is the drama surrounding the rumors attributed to my son.

On Monday, only four days yet eons ago to the pre-teen brain, back when he truly believed he must have a date to the dance, my son and a friend had a quiet conversation in math class. They said something like, “What if Girl A asked Boy B?” They weren’t going to talk to Girl A; she wasn’t going to ask Boy B to the dance; neither child was in their math class, just random names that popped to mind. The whole conversation was conjecture, something to talk about during a few spare minutes. Let’s consider: why do 6th grade boys talk about anything? Sheesh, who knows?

Apparently an adult overheard them and told another adult who told the counselor. What the adult didn’t overhear was, “What if Boy C asked Girl D, or Girl E/F/G asked Boy H/I/J…?” You get the picture. The adults didn’t.

Rather, the adults thought a) the students were hatching a plan and b) that the plan specifically included Girl A because she is cute and Boy B because he has special needs. The counselor then invited kids from the math class into her office, two by two, asking about the rumor, until two someones copped to the conversation.

Mind you, it was only a rumor because the adults talked to one another. The kids had been oblivious.

My son had NO idea Boy B had special needs. In fact, when I asked if he knew the boy had special needs, he didn’t even understand the term. He has no classes with the boy, he doesn’t know him well, and his impression is that “he’s nice.”

Another miscommunication: my son had told the counselor he and the other boy “were joking.” To his 6th grade mind that meant, “We were having a meaningless conversation.” Joking as in, light-hearted, of no consequence; NOT joking as in to poke fun at, to prank.

But the well-meaning, overly-conscientious adults interpreted the situation as a mean-spirited prank. Which is why everyone was surprised that my son was at the center—this doesn’t sound like something he’d do at all.

Because he didn’t.

What IS in character is to make and keep peace at any cost. When pushed, he will accept even undeserved blame. He admitted he had spoken “the rumor.” He thought he had explained himself by saying we were joking. He didn’t understand and didn’t ask why everyone was so upset. In his old-soul way, he sees that adults get all bent out of shape over things that don’t warrant it, and he wrote the situation off to that. He didn’t tell me about it not because of guilt, or shame, or lies, but because to him it was truly No Big Deal.

Yet a few stirred-up adults spent a whole lot of time stirring up a whole lot of students trying to get to the bottom of a situation that never was.

On the one hand, I get it. In the too recent past, the school dealt with a fairly serious bullying issue. In the more distant past, the school had a serious abuse issue. They have to act on suspicion to prevent harm and protect students.

But there could have been a simpler solution. The administration must have been aware that the 6th graders had misunderstood the dance. A counselor or administrator could have taken a few minutes in the math class under suspicion or, better yet, in each of the required 6th grade Core classes, to explain the dance: No dates, all group fun. No suggesting or speculating or joking that anyone ask anyone, and we certainly don’t want anyone humiliating anyone by pretending to ask someone, because that would be bullying, and not in character with our iKind school, and would carry consequences. Any questions? That could have solved the problem, minus the student interrogation and accusations.

I am bothered that an overly suspicious adult in a petri dish culture of fear put into motion a chain of events that led to me accusing my son of being both mean and a liar. Neither is true (and my heart knew it), and I have asked my son’s forgiveness.

The real irony? He’s not even going to the dance. He has other plans.

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chronic…peace?

My sister has battled a chronic illness for 12.5 years, one that almost killed her at first and kept her in a medically-induced coma for most of the next five months. She has been in and out of countless doctors’ offices and in the hospital too regularly. It’s quite possible that, in any given year, she sees more medical personnel than I have in my entire lifetime, and I’m her Big Sister.

Coco missed most of her oldest son’s first year of life–my parents and other sister helped to care for him while she was comatose–and her second son is more-than-miraculous given he was unintentionally conceived while she was taking drastic drugs. Her sons have never known their mom without a life-defining illness and they, with their dad, have proven incredibly resilient. We wish they hadn’t had to.

Summer before last, my dear friend had emergency eye surgery to repair a torn retina. Surgery should have fixed the problem, but for the last year-and-a-half she has been in and out of the doctor’s office two-five times per month. She has had additional emergency surgeries (one resulted in 472 laser blasts to her eye). She has received second and third opinions. She has had more than one allergic reaction to medications that have resulted in additional doctor’s appointments. Almost weekly she has had to change her activity levels and schedule to accommodate healing, and she has been advised not to travel more than two hours from the nearest retinal surgeon.

She finally switched surgeons for a more aggressive approach and endured an invasive fix-all surgery. Surgery successful, and she had post-op complications. Months later, even more. “Wait…” might be the most difficult word to hear when you thought you’d already done everything necessary.

Our Tween has cyclic vomiting, a migraine variant that, for the most part, bypasses the headache and sets him off hurling. Daily, and regularly, until the school day’s over, at which point he feels (mostly) fine. It sounds like faking, but no kid would intentionally vomit this often or violently. He loves school, and he would much rather be there than running for the toilet.

It came on 2.5 years ago and at first we thought it was an odd flu. When Week Two, punctuated by an entirely-well weekend, repeated the exact pattern, and then the whole thing repeated a few months later, we began looking for other causes.

A year ago–after his worst-ever cycle, three weeks of morning-to-bedtime puke–his neurologist put him on a preventative med that worked: he had an entire migraine-free year! Exactly a year later, it seems to have stopped working.

He is now in his third cycle of this school year. Different from every cycle before this fall, they are less violent; he can go back to sleep; and they last only a few days. He has missed thirteen days scattered throughout eight weeks, which means he’s missed one-quarter of the current school year. He likes his teachers and classes; he has friends; he wants to be there; and migraines have laid him flat.

Because these cycles have been different, we don’t know what to expect. Which means we don’t know what to do and our lives feel on hold.

On Tuesday I talked with my friend after yet-more disappointing news. On Wednesday I talked with my sister as she anticipated difficult doctors’ appointments. On Thursday, when Tween returned to bed rather than school, I heard my own voice say what my loves had said before: “I just want my life back!”

So I have been praying, “peace of Christ,” my new mantra. When in the car, I turn the fan on my face to remind myself that God wants to blow His Spirit, His peace, into my life.

I pray peace for Tween, as we expect anxiety is a likely player in his migraines (though he can’t articulate it). I pray peace for Guy, who so desperately wants to fix things that he gets angry when he can’t. I pray peace for myself as I day-after-day take short days in the office to come home and work nearby my kiddo, who by that time is usually attempting homework sans class instruction. I pray peace as our plans for days and dates and celebrations fall to the wayside of illness.

I pray peace for my sister. I pray peace for my friend. I pray peace for our world…

I want my life back…and yet this, for now, is my life. No bother comparing “old normal” to “new normal,” today is life and this is what I get. Peace of Christ. Peace of Christ, friends.patricksbreastplate

Meatless Monday – Apple Pie Oatmeal

Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out
Stressed Out, 21 Pilots

I’m no singer but, like many mamas, I sang my babies to sleep. I even made up my own lullaby for Baby Teen which became Baby Tween’s lullaby as well. It was part of our ritual, a favorite few moments at the end of each day.

I don’t sing to them anymore. And there are absolutely times when any one of us might agree to take a spin on Hermione Granger’s time turner, back to those good old low-stress days.

An acquaintance inquired after Teen the other day. She said, “Every time I see him he seems so stressed out.”

He’s a high school senior attending a top 1% school in an extremely competitive, achievement-oriented community. So, yes, he is stressed out. And, bummer.

Unfortunately but not surprisingly, Back to School week did not go swimmingly. No, swimmingly is for summertime: fun in the sun, no set schedules, no morning hustle-bustle, and most importantly, No Homework, just learning and reading for fun. And far fewer arguments.

School Day 1 ended with a parent-child shouting match. Topic: stress and stress avoidance.

School Day 2 included Tween promising that he didn’t need his trumpet until next week. Later, a text that read: “I need my trumpet RIGHT NOW!”

School Day 3 we forgot high school late start day, so Teen arrived to school an hour early. You’d think by senior year we’d all be dialed in to the school schedule.

You know what helps?

Hanging on to gratitude, a regular priority with renewed back-to-school emphasis.

I am grateful for…

Smart, strong, healthy, energetic boys who will be and do well in this world despite adolescent bumps.

Good schools, albeit imperfect.

A fantastic Day 2 conversation with Teen to make up for the previous day’s shouting match. We shared a sweet half-hour talking through pros and cons of different decisions and how each might affect his days, senior year, and whatever comes next.

Tween’s Day 2 homework: a half-page explanation of “What Makes Me Special.” I think this should be a regular assignment for all humans. We are special, and we should gratefully appreciate the characteristics that make us so.

Consistent day-to-day routines: exercise after drop-off, bedtime reading with Tween. What a gift that he still enjoys reading aloud with Mama at 12 years old!

Also, a healthy, hearty breakfast made once and quickly warmed up to enjoy throughout the week. Sure makes the morning rush more delicious!

The kids add Craisins, I add fresh fruit

The kids add Craisins, I add fresh fruit

Apple Pie Oatmeal
Serves 4

Boil three cups water. Add 1 cup steel cut oats (I use Bob’s Red Mill) and 1 cored and diced apple. Return to boil and reduce heat to medium. Cook for 10-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 1 tsp cinnamon (or pumpkin pie spice). Serve with a sprinkle of cinnamon, Craisins, raisins, or fresh fruit, and a splash of non-dairy milk. Recipe can be easily doubled.

Thankful Thursday – Kickin’ the Door Shut & a Happy Dance!

school's_out_for-53737

By 12:20pm tomorrow, both our boys will be done with this school year.

Hallelujah!

This has been a particularly rough year for a variety of reasons. Junior year for Teen, filled to the brim with cultural stress even when our immediate little family wasn’t topped to our own stress limit. Unfortunately for all of us, his school counselor didn’t take time to look up at the student sitting before her when she advised he take certain classes (he shouldn’t have taken) and absolutely wouldn’t allow others (completely in his wheelhouse). All year long we have been paying for the mistake of not standing up to a school administrator while there was time. What a painful lesson we have learned…

Sixth grade for Tween, which means we now have one year of middle school under our belts. You’d think “experienced parents” might have this down but different kids transition differently, which makes for a different experience all ’round. We used to say that Teen leaped through 6th grade like a series of belly flops–fun in the air, painful on impact, everyone gets splashed. Tween has been way less adventurous and more consistently bewildered by the new demands on his life. A’s for effort, though, as this kid has been diligent in his hard work, sometimes doing two to six hours of homework per night (yes, WAY too much, and darn that slow processing!)…and then forgetting to turn it all in, or losing it (in his backpack) for weeks. Sigh.

But tonight I am truly grateful. Grateful we are done, mostly. I have been ready to kick the door shut on this year for, oh honestly, months. At least weeks. And yet I am also grateful for the free and fantastic education in our competitive small town. Grateful for the collateral lessons of organization, communication, self-advocacy, assertiveness, creativity, persistence, and more.

I am grateful for my children, these beautiful, amazing, creative gifts from God, each their very own unique human being. And I am grateful that for the next ten weeks we will not argue about homework. I will not have to wake them earlier than their bodies want to rush them out the door. I will not have to hurry them off to bed to get enough rest for the big day, big test/project, the next day’s measurement of their (supposed) worth.

I am grateful for summer and its lazy days slower pace. I am grateful for the adventures that await us individually and as a family–trips to San Diego and Mexico, Oregon and Monterey/Carmel as a family; Boy Scout camp for both boys; high adventure risk-taking for the Eagle Scout-Teen.

I am grateful for summer’s organic learning. Books to read just for fun. Scout badges that will precipitate new experiences and open their minds to new discoveries. Time to hike and climb and explore…just because.

I am grateful for a season of rest. I am grateful for friends we enjoy all year long, friends who have done this year with us, and who will now stretch out into this rest with us. For field trips and day trips ahead. For bowling and roller coasters and movies and beach days and swimming. For glasses of wine and laughter. For concerts and picnics in the park. For worship with our church family.

I am grateful, and so I have been doing my own crazy happy dance all day. Psalm 149:3 says, “Praise his name with dancing…” God has held us close during this chaotic year. He has gotten us through, and He has provided rest just ahead. Want to happy dance this joy with me?

Thankful Thursday – Middle School Music

bandWhen my kids were in elementary school, I’m not sure I could have predicted how much I would enjoy middle school band concerts. Teen skipped school music altogether, but Tween got bit by the band bug, particularly the trumpet. He loves it, he seems to have aptitude for it, and he’s got two pretty incredible teachers: one at school for five instructional hours plus after-school jazz band; and another, a professional jazz musician and a funny, generous guy who musically hangs out with Tween a few times a month.

This week I attended the spring band concert. Due to a work commitment I got there late, just as the 6th grade band (Tween’s group) began their final piece. Still, I smiled ear-to-ear through the 7th & 8th grade band performance.

There’s a big jump between elementary music (one hour a week) and middle school music (5+ hours a week). Whereas before we strained to hear music between squeaks, now we hear melody and harmony. And the similar jump between 6th grade band and 7th/8th grade band sounds tremendous.

I love watching kids develop creativity. Seeing pimply, gorgeous, awkward kids count furiously and focus ferociously. Wiggle just a little because the rhythm moves more than their instruments. Kids learning about art and together creating beautiful music; learning to express their thoughts, heart, soul, drama through a productive medium. Music has created a safe place for the one kid in a sea of white shirts who forgot and wore blue instead; for the darling who wears a tiara because she is royalty; for the hipster who wears a fedora because: jazz.

Tween is exceptionally bright but not yet easily suited to classroom achievements. He’ll get there, but he’s only in 6th grade. For now, I am thrilled he gets excited to go to school because he has Band 1st period. For at least one hour of every school day, he works cooperatively with teacher and classmates to create something bigger than each individual contribution. No tests, no pressure, just FUN. Well, maybe some pressure, as he has to do his part, and sometime his part is a solo. Still, making music is mostly just fun. He’s learning so many valuable life skills beyond music while simultaneously learning to appreciate, enjoy and play fantastic music. It makes the other, harder, less fun parts of a middle school day bearable.

Because: music.

And I am so thankful!

The Kids are Okay

We have completed Week 2 of the school year and I can happily report that we are all doing OK! At least mostly. I think.

We’ve only had…
…one lost backpack,
…one slept-through alarm clock,
…one forgotten bike lock combination,
…one forgotten lunch box,
…one “oops, I forgot to turn it in” homework assignment,
…a couple “oops, I forgot to do it” homework assignments,
…one seven-hour homework marathon (A+ for persistence! And Fail-on-Mom not checking on too-long quiet child),
…one minimum day during which Tween and friends went into town for lunch – a tip-toe into independence – where he purchased one authorized half-eaten sandwich and drink and $20 of unauthorized gum and candy (ew!),
…daily rush-to-get-everyone-out-the-door miscommunication,
…and one soccer ball to the face, resulting in smashed glasses, two hours at the eye doctor (all good!), dilated eyes, and a late night of all-hands-on-deck homework.

Dilated crazy eyes!

Dilated crazy eyes!

There have been highlights, too. Like Day 1 of junior year when Teen allowed me to read him the biblegateway verse of the day, a Psalm, and then proceeded to read his favorite Bible verse to me, also a Psalm, including explanation as to why it was his favorite verse, what it meant to him and what it says about who God is – in general and in his life. Miracles like that do this Mama’s heart good!

Also, twice this week Teen has chosen to hang with me, sometimes talking, sometimes not, sometimes showing me videos he thinks are funny, giving me a glimpse into his mind and his world. Okay, so he’s been stalling on bedtime, but he’s also been choosing Connection with Mom on his schedule. Cardinal rule of parenting teens: be available when they’re ready to connect.

And Tween and I have still found time to read aloud together. One day soon he might figure out that he’s “too old” for this and decide that he prefers to read silently and alone, but I hope not. It’s an easy connection place, shared story making for shared experience. Plus, snuggles.welcome-back-to-school-clipart-2

Last night we attended Back to School Night at the middle school. Having done this before – albeit five years ago – sixth grade doesn’t seem so intimidating this go-round. We know our way around the school and many of the teachers are familiar, as are the courses and expectations. And yet… Teen experienced sixth grade as a series of belly flops, fun in the air and painful when you smack down hard. We know Tween, too, will take his share of risks and flops and that the pain will radiate to the whole family. It happens. By design.

And yet… We know Tween’s strengths and limitations. We know his gifts and challenges. We can anticipate where he will excel and which teachers will suggest a conference in the near future.

The temptation to give in to the anxiety can be overwhelming. But I don’t want to live in fear. I want to delight in my children.delight

Glennon Doyle Melton affirms that all children are gifted and talented, their lives containing glittering Christmas gifts, and God decides when they get to unwrap their special gifts. School insists that all children excel in the same ways at the same age, but that simply is not the case. Clearly kids are not all the same, as people are not all the same – and thank God! The world would be so boring, so inoperable, if we all shared the same gifts.

As parents we have a responsibility to regularly, daily, more often than not, communicate to our kids that they are okay. To do that, we have to truly believe it. Deep down in our guts we have to know that, whatever bumps our kids take throughout a day, they are and will be okay.

We each have the opportunity to delight in one other, but so often we should on each other instead. Like this talented mom, who condensed Things Moms Say in 24 hours into a less-than-3 minute song. Funny, and True, but if our kids only hear these things we all miss out.

I am making anew a decision to delight in my kids. I want their first and last glimpse of me during a day to be smiling, loving, delighted. I request that they “Kiss your Mama!” as they depart for the day and arrive home again, a sweet connection to remind them I will always be in their corner. Sometimes it’s forced, but it’s a good habit nonetheless. I want them to know that, Yes, You are Okay!

Of course I want my kids to do their very best. But their best may not always measure up and that has to be okay, too. I will continue to advocate for my kids as only a Mama can, but I will do it in faith that God created them exactly the way He intended them to be, with their own delicious blend of sweets and savories. They may not be to everyone’s taste, but they will always be my favorite flavors.love not worry

At times it will be a struggle to resist the temptation to fear. To not let their bumps reflect on my ability to parent, or my self-esteem. To be my kids’ rock rather than a puddle of my own worries. To stand strong against this competitive culture and its constant comparisons one to another.

Stand with me and let’s delight together in our children. Their uniqueness can make us laugh, can cause us to think new thoughts, to wonder – with awe – at who they are and who they will become. So much better than worry, don’t you agree? The kids are okay.

 

Diary of a Confused Kid, Day 1

It felt like we had become stick figures living out a chapter from Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

wimpy kid

Tween rode his bike home from his first day of 6th grade – his first day ever of middle school. He beat me home from work by just a few minutes, long enough to dump his bike on the front lawn and hit the bathroom. When he’d put away his bike, we flopped on the couch together to chat through the day: how were his teachers, classes, friends, new friends? Anything exciting or interesting?

He wanted to show me my homework, the first day of school papers parents have to sign, so he needed his backpack, the brand-spanking-new backpack with the brand new binder, notebooks, and school supplies. He couldn’t find his backpack.

Commence extensive search. We searched the living room. We searched the garage. We searched the front and side and back yards. He called the friends most likely to have seen his backpack at the end of the school day. We drove to school, where we checked the bike rack. We checked his last period class, where his very kind teacher said it had not been left behind. We talked with the custodian who promised to keep an eye out for it. We searched the bushes. We checked with the front office, where someone made a note in case it turned up. We checked the lost and found in the gym; the gym was locked as there was no lost and found on Day 1 of the school year.

We returned home and double-checked yard, garage, bedroom, and bathroom. Baffled and about to droop into the couch, we gasped: there on the other side of the coffee table, a mere few feet from where we began our search, sat the backpack.bkpk

Think someone feels overwhelmed at this transition? That’s right, and he does, too. Yes, I’m joking, but truthfully the kiddo hasn’t slept well in at least three nights. Last night we had tears. My normally cool-as-a-cucumber kid is showing me his soft seeds.

Fortunately, I kept my cool throughout the Great Backpack Search. I couldn’t imagine where it had gone, nor what we might have to do to replace it by tomorrow, yet I also knew that any sign of stress on my part would only amplify his frustration.

All’s well that ends well, and I think we’re going to be laughing about this one for a while. In fact, I suspect it might become a metaphor for the belly flops we’ll endure over the next few years:

But, Mom, I tried…! (whine, shuffle, sniff)
Yes, and keep trying. Remember the backpack? I’m sure the answer is right in front of your feet.

It always helps to keep a sense of humor. Thank God for the Wimpy Kid forging a path for this Confused Kid (and his mom).