Occasional Digging Required

It was mid-afternoon when his mood had turned suddenly foul, his behavior bordering on the improper.  He was lashing out for no good reason and frequently hiding his face in his hands.  It was clear something was brewing, but he wasn’t talking.

So I waited.

And I waited some more.

Meanwhile his behavior escalated, and it was obviously time to dig.

I told him I didn’t want to take his actions at face value, that I wanted to find out what was causing him to engage with his family so uncharacteristically.

He seemed relieved—knowing a consequence was not imminent.

And then he started to cry.

His younger brother was getting an award, and he admitted that though he was proud he was also extremely jealous.

He said he was crying because he didn’t like the fact that he felt jealousy, didn’t like the way it made him feel.

Reason does not customarily reside with intense feelings.  So, telling my nine-year-old son that he has had plenty of recognitions and that there are many more to come would never have sufficed.

So I asked him what specifically he didn’t like about jealousy.

He said he hated that he felt that way when underneath it all he really was so, so proud of his brother.

He said he wished he could control his feelings.

But of course he can’t.  We can’t.  Feelings are often irrepressible and generally ill-timed.

So, I asked him to consider attending his brother’s award ceremony and simply aim to control his behavior—and then  just see what happens, see if his feelings change because he made a conscious decision about his behavior.

And he did.

And so they did.

Simple as that.

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A Day in My Life: February 2014

The second in my attempt at this series, this one was a bit more challenging than the first.  In January, I chose a day that seemed to lend itself to photography–a Saturday, the one day in the week that breaks the perceived monotony, the one that features predominantly the photogenic men in my life.

For February, though, those participating were instructed to photograph on the 4th of the month–which in February 2014 was a Tuesday . . . a Tuesday in February in New England.

My first thought was probably the same thought every New Englander has when he or she contemplates a typical Tuesday in the dead of winter: Yuck!

I was fully convinced there was nothing out there worth the effort I needed to expend to click the shutter 14 times.

And then there was this.

And I realized I was wrong.

The view greeting me in the morning as I made lunches and prepared breakfast.

The view greeting me in the morning as I made lunches and prepared breakfast.

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The secret to somewhat smooth sailing with three boys under ten: lay it out ahead of time.

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My oldest in denial that he has to wake up. Bacon will change his mind.

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The gorgeous footwear required for the day. Carrie Bradshaw I am not.

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On my left as I walk down my front steps . . . I see buds but not enough to convince me spring is coming anytime soon.

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On my way to work . . . no denying it’s pretty, but at this time of year, that’s about all I can say about it.

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This is my desk at work. It’s a mess, but it’s a faithful representation and has served me well. Twenty-four years as an English teacher and not showing any sign yet of slowing down!

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These shelves sit to my right at work and have all my favorite English teacher toys–a Virginia Woolf finger puppet, Socrates, Shakespeare, Austen, Queen Elizabeth I, and Poe plush toys–you get the idea!

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Driving after work to pick up my four-year-old from preschool. There is a 15-minute window between when I get out of work and when I need to pick him up–just enough (and sometimes barely enough) time.

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The eyes of my four-year-old and a face I have been waiting all day to see

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Next stop . . . picking up my fourth- and second-grader, big backpacks and all.

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My husband has been recently laid off. The good news is is his job search can be conducted from our dining room table.

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Ah, my latest post for my column “Different Drummer” on ADDitude.com. This was a tough piece to write, but it seemed to resonate with a lot of readers, so I’m happy I did it.

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I leave you with this . . . our neighbor, the true matriarch of our neighborhood, died recently, and her porch, which was once decorated with the objects of her life, is now clean and bare. I am struck by this in ways I still I haven’t processed, which means I had to write about it.

Visit Kristina Knight’s blog to see her take on this project. 

“He Knows” on The Creative Mama

IMG_5638My oldest son’s growth continually staggers me because it seems to come in spurts and out of nowhere.  One day he is as he’s seemingly always been and the next he is a newer, more mature, discernibly taller version of himself.  There is never a warning—despite what logic and past precedent should dictate—which makes it all the more poignant. 

Inspired by a recent trip to the Providence Children’s Museum and, yes, the dentist, the full piece is here on The Creative Mama.

Another First

IMG_1881Tell me about the day you first saw me.

Edgar, age eight, asked this of me last night—a seemingly, deceptively simple question that is, in truth for him, anything but.

Living with undiagnosed ADHD, then a virtual loss of two years of his early childhood due to epilepsy, its accompanying seizures, and the side effects of the ultimately miraculous medicine that helped to bring those seizures to an end, Edgar has never lived anywhere but in the present.

The past and future have had very little meaning for him, and he has held them in even less regard.

It sounds charming, romantic and poetic even . . . a dreamy blue-eyed boy doing nothing more than following his bliss, the very personification of carpe diem—quick to forgive, and, yes, to forget.

But there is nothing charming about that same child asking you on a sunny May day if Christmas is “tomorrow” or in the middle of summer vacation if he has “school today.”

As a society, we regularly extol the virtues of living in the present and have collected all manner of pithy sayings about the dangers of dwelling in the past and the pointlessness of worrying about the future.  But it is because we have the luxury of understanding these concepts, of appreciating the fact they exist that we can chide ourselves when we go too far astray from this moment.

But when you are burdened with a condition (or two or more) with which your body—if not your mind– is forced to contend, getting through the day is sometimes the best you can do.  Living in the present isn’t a New Age luxury; it’s a mandate and often nothing more.

So, when your eight-year-old child, who has been diagnosed with and treated for ADHD, has experienced more than two years seizure-free, and is now medication-free in terms of his epilepsy, looks at you and finally asks about a monumental event from your past, his past, your shared past, this is very big news.

Very big.

Almost as big as the day I first saw him.  Edgar 2

Almost as big as the love I immediately and viscerally felt from seeing just a blurry paper photocopy of his hospital picture on an early evening in my living room in September 2005.

Almost as big as the moment I first held him in my arms in a visiting room at our adoption agency and knew that I would never, could never let him go.

I told Edgar last night about the day I first met him and watched him beam—with love, yes, but also with understanding, understanding that has necessarily eluded him for far too long.

And I saw in his eyes he—he—for the first time finally understood how big this was.

Sometimes a Porch Is Not Just a Porch

IMG_5455I have driven by this porch now dozens of times since our neighbor passed away.  Before that probably thousands.

At one time the porch contained the many objects of my neighbor’s life—the things that made her happy, the many items she obviously wanted to see each time she walked into her house, what she wanted to present to passersby as the myriad representations of her self.

And lately, each time I have driven by it, I have been struck by its emptiness, by the bleakness.  It looks hollow, and sometimes I have felt hollow looking at it.

Others might drive by, others who didn’t know her, who never knew this porch before this moment, and see cleanliness, order, a house fastidiously kept.

But they don’t know what it once was, what it once represented—how one day everything—in all its eccentric glory–was there and the next it was gone.  How could they?  How can any of us know when looking at anything what it once was or what it means or has meant to another?

It is easy to wax existential at times like these—to think about how one day we’re here and then one day we’re not, how one day our stuff is here and the next it is not.

But stuff is, of course, just stuff.  And though we spend our lives coveting and collecting material objects, what’s indelible, what remains after we’re gone is our sense of spirit, what we’ve imparted to and done for others.  The inanimate is ultimately and merely a representation of the animate, of what matters.

My neighbor’s life–robust and lively and filled with humor–made a difference in the lives of so many, including mine.  And for me, her porch will always hold memories of her–who she was, what she valued.  She sat on her porch and took the time to talk with others.  She connected with and cared deeply about the world.  She lived life until the very end.

A porch devoid of stuff but filled with spirit.

Now I get it.

And how fortunate I feel.

 

The Truth of Life with Three Boys

DSC_0020As the mother of three boys, I have fielded my share of queries regarding what life here at home must be like—questions about the noise, the messes, the expense . . .

Though I am far from an experienced Mother of Three Boys, this is what I can share now, nearly a decade into parenthood and almost five years with three.

Truth, or myth?  Here we go . . .

With three boys you must have your hands full.

MYTH, SORT OF:  I have never really understood why this expression seems to be put side by side with parenthood.  Even before children my hands were full with working, graduate school, avocations, and charitable work.  Parenthood, and parenting three boys, has not changed that.  The hands were full before, and they’re full now.

Your house must be like a fraternity.

SOMEWHAT TRUE:  There is a tremendous amount of scary, very scary cleaning involved with having three boys (and, I suspect, three girls, for that matter).  And even though we are endeavoring to teach them to clean their own messes and organize their own belongings, that is a serious work in progress, and we are so not there yet.   DSC_0022

It must be hard being the only girl.

MYTH:  It actually isn’t, for me, anyway.  I mean, there’s the cat, and one of my dogs is a girl, but, honestly, parenting a human with two “x” chromosomes is not and has never been essential to my happiness.

Your grocery bill must be astronomical.

TRUTH:  I can barely discuss the amount of money we have spent and spend at our local Stop and Shop.  It’s nothing short of horrifying—and my children are still so far from the 3000-calorie-a-day teenage boy years that I can only imagine what’s on the horizon.  I need to win the lottery.

You must be exhausted. 

TRUTH:  Of course, I’m exhausted.  Any parent of three boys under ten who tells you he or she is not exhausted is either lying or . . .  is lying.  Period.

DSC_0046There must never be a moment of silence in your house.

MYTH:  Right now as I write this my two oldest are playing a game together, and my youngest is embroiled in an episode of Sesame Street.  It is not loud; in fact, it’s quiet enough I can put a sentence together that is cogent enough for public consumption.  It’s not always this blissful, but it is quite far from the rave I think some might imagine.

They must wrestle/jump/run all the time.

MYTH:  In a small Victorian home burdened with large furniture and more than a dozen bookcases with sharp edges, the space for these shenanigans is limited and not remotely safe.  So we stop it the second it starts because it’s either that or the emergency room; and we’ve seen enough of that, thank you very much.

You must not be able to have anything nice.  DSC_0014

SOMEWHAT TRUE:  Check our wall trim and you’ll see the dings.  The lampshade in the living room is crooked for reasons I don’t fully understand.  The couch in the playroom, unless it is swathed in its cover, is a horror show of stuffing and torn fabric.  Three boys live here, there is no mistaking that, but a few nice things have escaped their youthful fervor.  I’m hoping this bodes well for future nice things—once I win that lottery I spoke of earlier.

But the biggest truth of having three boys is the one that is the most obvious: Three little boys, brothers with limitless imaginations and unbridled capacities to love, have changed our lives in ways we never could have anticipated, in ways that cause us to sometimes wonder how we ever got so lucky.

My Son Is Not an Addict, and I Am Not a Dealer

DSC_0005“The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word narcotic as “a drug (such as cocaine, heroin, or marijuana) that affects the brain and that is usually dangerous and illegal.” If you’re the parent of a child with ADHD, who, after profound and often heart-wrenching consultation with medical professionals, has determined your child would be helped by the use of a small dose of stimulant medication, it’s apparently a word you have to catch when thrown at you where you would least expect it: the pharmacy.”

Please visit ADDitude to read the rest of this post.