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life bumps

change, life bumps, parenting

Lights On

Ever since the beginning of September, Jack has been having a rough time falling asleep.  At first we just thought it was some funky stage he was going through of trying to be extra difficult for the sake of tormenting his parents and robbing them of their evenings.

After this parent torture strategy kept up for longer than a few days, Tim and I tried to dissect the situation a little more than we had done previously.  Something had to be going on.  At the same time, school had just started so we thought maybe he was having trouble in class or at recess.  According to him, this was not the case.  He adored his teacher and sat next to his best buddy in class.  The two of them happily played “Fly Up” at recess with all their other cohorts.

Finally the light bulb flew on.  It wasn’t what was going on with him, it was what wasn’t.  Ever since day one of his life, he’s fallen asleep with someone else around.  In the first five houses he lived in, he shared a room with Luke.  They always chatted a while before slowly dropping off into dreamland.  Luke is like me and can fall asleep in seconds.  Sometimes Jack would still want to discuss their latest obsession (i.e. dinosaurs, Transformers, Legos, Pokemon) but Luke would already be out.  It took Jack a while to fall asleep, it still does.  Even when Luke was unconscious, Jack took comfort in knowing he was not alone.  Safe, with his brother by his side, he relaxed and calmly fell asleep.

When we finally moved to a house that had more than two bedrooms, we gave the boys the option of having their own space.  They gave this great thought and decided the usual Boys’ Room would split into Luke’s Room and Jack’s Room.  Now, even though though they had their own rooms, every single night they would decide who’s room to sleep in.  When Tim and I peeled ourselves off the couch after binge watching our latest show, we would peek in and find them both happily sprawled out, sleeping peacefully side by side.  I remember thinking so many times how much I loved that they slept together.  I knew it wouldn’t last forever and I would mourn the tradition when it stopped.

When we moved into this house, both boys still wanted their own rooms.  Jack with his queen bed and Luke with the bunk bed.  But in the setting up of Luke’s bed, some tired bolts finally gave out.  Only half of the bunk was set up that first night and he decided he actually liked his room with just the one bed, so we kept it that way.

For most of last year and into this one, the boys continued their nightly routine of sleeping together.  And then in September, Tim went on his scheduled business travel.  He was home on the weekends, but essentially, he was out of town for five weeks.  Whenever he travels, the boys sleep with me.  I actually hate this practice, because all of the thrashing, stealing covers and little body heaters, but I can’t ever tell them because they love it so much.  They have doubled in size since we started doing this so now, every night they switch off.  One sleeps in the bed with me and the other sleeps in the sweet recliners we have set up in our room.

After Tim’s forever long travels came to an end, it was time for the boys to go back to their own rooms.  At this point Luke had decided that he wanted to sleep in his own bed, without Jack.  Without. Jack.  I don’t know why it took me so long to figure it out but Jack has essentially never slept by himself, like ever.  It broke Jack’s heart, and mine, that this night time routine was changing.  Luke was growing up, becoming more independent, and we couldn’t make him sleep with his brother.  He needed his own space and I am so proud of him for realizing it and saying it, rather than resenting his brother and continuing the standard bedtime practice.

Luke was ready for a little separation, but Jack assuredly was not on board.  This night isolation was essentially forced on him and he did not appreciate it one bit.  Of course, I don’t know why it took me so long to figure this out.  And of course, even after I figured it out, I had no idea how to help him transition to this new way of doing things.  Genius parenting going on here, I tell you.

One night, when we were all still scrutinizing the dilemma, Jack completely freaked out and broke down.  There were tears and body shakes.  We told him it was time for bed, Luke wanted to sleep alone and he could not sleep in our recliner.  When he stood in our doorway and looked down the hall, 10 feet away to his dark room, the fear and anxiety flowed out of his pores.  Panic set in and he could not make his body move to get into his dark, cold bed.  Luke, being the compassionate kid he is, came out and said Jack could sleep in his room.  We vetoed that solution because we knew he really didn’t want his little brother sleeping with him anymore.  It might have fixed the problem on this specific night, but tomorrow we would be in the same exact predicament.

Tim and I were tired.  Tired of dealing with this issue, tired of not having our precious alone time in the evenings. We agonized as we watched Jack go through these stress and anxiety attacks.  Exhaustion had set in for all parties.  Neither parents nor kid thought clearly, but we all knew something needed to change.

Tim is much better in these situations than I am.  Selfishly, I first see all the amenities this little phase is taking away from me personally.  When Jack drags out bedtime, Tim and I don’t get our much needed time together.  We miss out on watching four episodes of our quality shows like, The Bastard Executioner and Game of Thrones.  Tim understands Jack’s anxiety.  Don’t get me wrong, he still gets frustrated, but he doesn’t show it to Jack.  His patience takes over any selfishness.  I love watching him in action; I glean so much.  He gets what it’s like to be a little brother who can’t sleep in the same room as his best friend anymore.  He understands how lonely it is to fearfully fall asleep in a dark room.  He knows how it feels when panic crawls into your thoughts.  When angst creeps into your bed and lays down beside you, it’s really hard to relax enough to fall asleep.

As parents we always want to affirm what our boys are experiencing.  The fear and panic are real for Jack.  Saying, “Well, you shouldn’t feel this way Jack, we are right down the hall” will not help him.  He already knows this, but still does not want to be in that room alone in the dark.  We don’t want to downgrade his reality, but we do want to give him strategies and resources to help pull himself out of this paralyzing hole.

With this approach in mind, we calmed him down the night anxiety came to attack.  Of course, an hour past bedtime was not the optimal time for this conversation, but here we were, our after-the-boys-are-in-bed time already dwindled down to mere minutes.  We were frustrated, he was afraid, change was desperately required.

We reminded him that no amount of freak-out would earn him a ticket into either our bed or Luke’s.  We told him that his fears were completely normal.  We felt what he felt when we were kids, and sometimes adults.  Normal, your fears do not make you weird.  We are afraid sometimes too.  We get it.  Now that we had established that fact, we needed to come up with solutions.  He suggested us coming and laying with him until he fell asleep.  Nope, sorry.  That was almost the same situation we were trying to get away from.  We suggested reading with the lamp on until he felt drowsy enough to put the book down and close his eyes.  He agreed, but said he wanted more than the lamp, he wanted his main room light on.  Okay, that was doable.  Tim told Jack how when he feels lonely in hotels, alone on business trips, he packs the pillows all around his body.  Jack wanted to try this so I immediately went to the hall closet to scrounge around for some extra pillows.  These strategies seemed viable.  Hope began to wink her lovely eye.  We may actually get out of this disheartening stage and live to tell the tale.

That night he fell asleep, alone in his bed with four extra pillows, the overhead light blaring and a book just slightly slipping out of his hand.

Panic revisited the next night, but it was drastically dialed down.  Again, we set him up with book, pillows, light.  The formula worked so we kept with it, night after night.  Jack of course, still drug his feet when bedtime rolled around.  The fear still there, but it was manageable.  He had some weapons for combat.

A couple weeks into this new routine, I suggested turning on the little lamp beside his bed instead of having all of his room lights glaring.  I told him it was good for his body to slowly get used to going to sleep in the dark.  Distress shown in his eyes.  He did not like having corners of his room covered in shadow.  That night he tried it, but I noticed later as I walked down the hall, his bright overhead light had been turned on.  He was calmly passed out with every possible light on.

For the next couple of days I pondered how I was going to wean him off this over-illuminated bedtime custom.  And then my own lights came on.  Why did it matter if he fell asleep that way?  We had acknowledged his feelings, we came up with strategies together, why mess with the plan?  Yes, most kids go to sleep in the dark or with a little night light, but Jack isn’t most kids.  He’s our Jack and I wouldn’t trade him for any kid in the world, anxieties and freak-outs included.  I’m sure this is a phase that will last a while, but that’s just what it is, a phase, a short snippet of time.  He probably won’t be a teenager or adult who has to have the lights on when he falls asleep.  And who cares if he is.  There are many fights to pick and this one is not a worthy battle.

I am grateful he is a sensitive boy who feels all the feels.  Yes, I hate to see panic cripple him, but how cool is it that we get to strategy plan with him together?  Some of this angst may follow him into adulthood and that is okay.  Remember, fears are normal.  New ones may pop up here and there too.  Others will fade away as the years compile and his height towers over me.  He is an ordinary and unique kid.  His worries are ordinary and unique, but so is his courage.  He is a spunky and tenacious boy who is afraid sometimes.  I hope he will end up being a man who is stronger because he knows that fear and anxiety are commonplace.  I hope he will understand he doesn’t have to be paralyzed by them.  There is no sense in ignoring or covering them up with the Machoism Lie.  Yes, trepidation and apprehension are real, but so are bravery and confidence and courage.  Sometimes fears cripple us and push us down, but that is not the end.  Courage does not come in pretending anxiety does not exist, it comes when you still take another step in spite of it.

Knowing when and how to ask for help is heroic.  Knowing when to unapologetically fall asleep with the lights on is brave.  Life will throw ugly things at Jack, internally and externally.  I hope he remembers to look for the light switches.

family, life bumps, memories

For My Mama Addie

My Mama Addie is gone.

A few years back she started to slowly slip away.  The glimmer in her eyes faded gradually.  I think she’s been gone for a while now but her body hung on.  She was ready to go but I have a feeling she stayed for us, her beloved ones.  She knew we needed a little piece of her to cling onto for a little while longer.  She lingered here because we weren’t quite ready for her to go.  But who is ever ready to say goodbye to someone like her, with her quiet grace and her stubborn beauty.

There’s never a good time to say goodbye.  It hurts, no matter how long or short the life.  Her’s was a long life, but it still feels too short.

Now, all that’s left here with us are the memories and the love she spread.  All my thoughts lately begin with, “I remember…”  And that is her gift.  She is gone now, but her love is not.  Love never dies and it never fails, as long as we continue to pour it out as she poured it into us.

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The memories pile up and for that I’m grateful.  The grief is hard but those snapshots of the past help the loss and the wallowing feel productive.  They make the waiting in this deep dark expanse a little more colorful, especially when it feels so bleak.

I remember a cupboard in her kitchen she left empty for Ryna, Mickey and I.  As she worked her culinary magic, we would play inside that tiny spot.  Sometimes we would chat, other times the quiet bound us together.  Both were good, both were needed.  There is holiness in the verbal back and forth just as the quiet is sacred.  One working, three playing, no need for the words to muddle the space between.

I remember the summer before my sixth grade year.  I had already spent my school clothes budget when I saw the-coolest-shirt-that-ever-was at The Bon Marche.  Somehow Mama Addie found out that I desperately wanted, needed, that shirt.  You see, grandmas don’t have to stick to school clothes budgets like parents do.  They’ve put in their budget years.  They’ve earned their spoiling rights and get to do whatever the heck they want with their checkbooks.

Mama Addie asked me to show her this glorious shirt.  I made sure to explain how practical it was, with it’s light-weight, versatile fabric.  Blue and gray stripes that would match absolutely everything currently hanging in my closet.  Also, even though it wasn’t a coat or a sweatshirt, IT HAD A HOOD. I am not even lying, this fashion miracle was real, and I wanted it bad. Ingenious design, super cool, it was everything a sixth grader wanted in an article of clothing.  This was THE shirt for me.

After hearing me plead my case, she grabbed that shirt off the rack and marched up to the register. She didn’t mess around, a business transaction needed to be completed and nothing could distract her.  Her eyes smiled as she passed that purchased gem into my hands.  She always appreciated good fashion.  It didn’t matter if she couldn’t understand the younger generation’s style, she took my word for it.  Shopping isn’t for the weak-hearted.  And neither is grandmothering tweenage girls.  She rocked both; she was a brave woman.

She may or may not have bought me that shirt so I would finally shut up about it.  Most likely though, she purchased that gift because she knew I loved it and she loved me.  That was her kind of logic.  Love logic.

Please note: I wore that shirt the first day of sixth grade and for picture day.  I put it into the weekly rotation as many times as I my mother would let me.  Also, my friends and teachers may have been worried that I only had one shirt that school year.  Even though that striped beauty was a frequent flyer, I never, ever, wore it out to play.  As soon as I got home from school, I changed into a lesser play shirt because there was no way I was ruining it.  That shirt was valuable, priceless actually, my Mama Addie bought it for me.

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I remember her always being classy, always put together.  Perfect make-up, perfect curls, perfect outfit.  All of that on the outside though, was just a reflection of the beauty on the inside.  Her true beauty shone out through her eyes.  Bright blue and sparkly with the skin wrinkling around them, evidence of her creaking, contagious giggle.  The outfits, the make-up, the hair, all these were just accessories to the real Mama Addie.  She was an in-the-background kind of lady.  A get-things-done-without-complaining person.  A you-need-something?-here-you-go woman.  She had big ideas and beliefs, but she would only share those within the small circle.  She was like the coffee she used to drink, strong, fragrant and bold.

She loved to fill bellies and give gifts.  Her love came in fresh baked bread and strawberry freezer jam.  Her love was spread through homemade fateman and krumkake.  I learned to count through Skip-Bo games at her table.  Later her handwritten numbers on shipyard ledgers taught me the ins and outs of budgeting and bookkeeping.  We spent hours playing Hand and Foot and other card games her friends had taught her.  Her table was always open to us.  Whether it was filled with food, cards or conversation, she never turned us away.

I remember she used to rock me to sleep on her voluptuous “pillows” in that creaky old glider.  I drifted off to sleep in the comfort of her lap and to the sound of the waves crashing outside onto the beach.  Later on, when I was older, I still occasionally stayed over at her house. I was a little too old and too big to be rocked to sleep so she tucked me in after a story and crept back downstairs to clean up and retire to her bedroom.  One of those nights, I woke up scared in the black of night, so I tip-toed downstairs into her bedroom to tell her.  Part of me still knew that, although her lap had shrunk and I didn’t fit on it anymore, I still needed the comfort she always provided.  I had grown, but I still needed her.  I slowly opened her bedroom door, but the excruciatingly loud snores coming from her side of the bed frightened me even more so I scampered out quickly and ran back into bed without waking her.

She would hate that I called her out on the snoring.  She wouldn’t have said anything verbally, instead, she would have spoke with her eyes.  Her brow furrowed, her chin set.  That stubborn scowl spoke volumes.  It would let me know that I was in trouble now.  Then a few seconds would go by, the shiny eyes would return, the corners of her lips would curl back up and all would be forgiven.

Even though she was quiet lady, she was bold.  One time she went shopping and bought a really fancy dress.  Next, she proceeded to tell my cousin that she bought it to wear to his wedding.  Granted, he hadn’t even proposed yet, but she was antsy for things to move along.  She wasn’t always direct, but you got her message anyway.

It was the same way with her love.  It wasn’t always spelled out but you got the message anyway.

In her lifetime she didn’t receive world-renown attention.  Her name won’t be written in any history books.  She would have hated that spotlight anyway.  Instead, she quietly, stubbornly, and sometimes sternly, loved her family and friends.  She loved her husband, raised her two boys, welcomed their two wives and spoiled her three granddaughters.  She loved Tim from the start and got to have flashbacks of her own early mothering years while watching our two boys toddle and wrestle around.  She loved us all fiercely and for that she will always be in the spotlight of our hearts.  Her name, forever recorded in our own personal history books.  She left her mark on us, that is her legacy.

Her brave love was not for the faint of heart.

She was spunky and quirky and classy in the best way.  I like to humor myself in thinking she passed some of that down to me.  When I grow up, I want to be like her.  Humbly giving, selflessly serving and relishing in the joy that is found in family and friends.

Good thing she taught me to love by her strong example.  Good thing she still gives her gifts and teaches me lessons in the form of memories.  Good thing she passed down her stubborn heart, or else I would crumble underneath the weight of her loss.

There is no conclusion to her life because we are still here.  Her love is still here.  Her spunk and stubbornness live on.  I just wish she was still sitting at the table with us, dealing out those cards or piling food onto our plates.

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life bumps, parenting

Sensitive

I die inside as I see him through the chain-link fence.  He’s on the inside and I peer in from the outside.

He’s sobbing and he doesn’t want to set foot inside school today.  Panic registers in his eyes as he realizes his friends are fast approaching.  He doesn’t want them to see his tears or his red, puffy face.  The extra panic adds more angst which brings even more tears.

The bell rings and he’s still facing my direction, his back turned away from his classmates and the entry door.  His eyes are begging for me to come and save him.  I want to run through the gate, grab his hand and march triumphantly back home.  I want grab his shaking body, hug him and whisper, “It’s okay.  You can skip another day of school.  We’ll just head home and hang out, just you and me.”

I want to rescue him, but I don’t.

That would not help him in the long run.  Instead, I try to smile as I tell him, “You can do it.  It will be alright.  You are brave.”

I’m fighting back my own tears now.

I have an overly sensitive child.

Overly is the wrong word.  That implies there is too much.  His sensitivity is his greatest strength and there can never be too much strength.  Highly, greatly, exceedingly, extremely, immensely.  Those are better descriptors.

Jack is exceedingly sensitive.

He excels in this area, but you see, he lives in a world that devalues sensitivity, especially in boys.  All the messages are telling him that those tears, the sadness and despair, are markers of weakness.  The preaching on toughness has no room for tears.

Lies.  Those messages deceive.

This morning’s routine had changed.  With the weather change, we walked to school instead of driving.  Altered plans trigger Jack’s sensitivity.  I could have prevented this hardship.  With the hustle of morning chores, showers and packing up backpacks I forgot to tell him, until the last minute.  The two second warning threw him.

Transitions are hard too.  Sunday nights and Monday mornings are rough.  He mourns the end of two full days of family time.  He loves his friends and mostly likes school, but the shifting of gears is difficult.  I get it.  Starting the work week is hard for most adults.  I hate changes in plans too.  Attachments to foreseen events and planned out agendas brings comfort.  I understand it all because I too have to mentally prep social inundation.  The craziness of school must be jolting after a peaceful quiet weekend.

The difference between Jack and I is that I have had more time to develop coping skills.  I know that flexibility is also an important skill.  I have learned ways to push down the anxiety when plans change.  Jack is just starting to be introduced to an environment where some bending is necessary.  There is nothing wrong with favoring routines and plans, but we live in a world with others who are not like us.  Sometimes sticking to the plan can be selfish and self-serving.  Flexibility forces one to look outside of themself.  Both flexibility and routine are needed, but there has to be a balance.

The morning all makes sense.  He was sick and had already stayed home the previous day.  His throat was still scratchy and starting the school week pushed him over the edge.  He felt all the feelings and his life was crumbling to pieces.  On the walk to school, I could see it coming.  It started with the slow, dragging footsteps.  His lower lip trembled when he told me it was just too windy out today.  The tears started to fall and, “I’m just so tired, Mom.” His blues were attacking.  When the sobs came he stopped, dead in his tracks.  “I don’t want my friends to see me crying.”  And it snowballed from there.

I didn’t tell him he shouldn’t cry or shouldn’t feel sad.  No one has the right to boss his feelings around.  The “You shouldn’t feel ______,” undermines his sensitivity.  And remember, that is one of his strengths.  I can’t take it away from him.  I don’t want to squash it.  He needs it; the world needs more sensitive ones.  Others may devalue that great quality, but Tim and I don’t.

Our world needs people who feel.  It’s when the numbness arrives that tragedy occurs.  We need more little boys who grow up to be men who don’t stuff down the feelings.  We can’t just suck it up all the time.  We’ve deceived ourselves in thinking that strength is being numb.

Think about all the progress we’ve made as human beings.  The kickstarters felt that something was not quite right.  When they felt, they used it to spur on action.  They let themselves sink down into the despair, then they rose up and ushered in change.

Jack’s sensitivity is powerful, but it puts up road blocks at times.  It paralyzed him this morning.

After years of teaching, I know the cut-and-run strategy works.  The child continues to cry, spiral downward and won’t transition until the parent leaves.  But it is so hard to do as a parent.  I want him to know that I support him, but I also want him to develop skills to survive in this ever changing domain.  I want him to learn how to successfully accommodate change.  I want him to understand how to effectively transition.  All these things are vital, but that great sensitivity cannot be lost in the process.

I know he will be fine once he walks into that school door.  It will take a while to calm the flutters.  The day will continue on and he will bounce out the exit door at the end of the day, chatting it up with his buddies.  Every time he gets anxious, it always happens that way.  The more he conquers, the more he’ll understand that he will make it through.  I hope he pauses and acknowledges that the sadness is important too, just as important as marching into the school building.

The one two combo of sensitivity and bravery will take him far.  I hope he becomes a man who sees strength and importance in both.  He will change this world for good.  He’s already changed me.  He’s taught me that what others perceive as weakness can be our greatest ability.  I am proud of who Jack is becoming and I am proud to call myself his mom.

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Humor is one of his other strengths.