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A Simple Look at a Not-So-Simple Life

Archive for the category “Children”

Monday’s Child: Locks of Love

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My Mia has the most beautiful black hair I’ve ever seen. She has been stopped in stores and restaurants by people commenting on it. Except for a few small trims, she hasn’t had it cut in a couple of years.

We’ve been talking for a long time about whether she might want to get her hair cut and make a donation to Locks of Love. We’ve talked about Locks of Love, what it does and who it helps. She decided that’s what she wanted to do. I wanted to make sure that she was sure, so since the beginning of summer I would ask from time to time if she was ready to get her hair cut. I waited until she consistently answered yes and then began pestering me about when we could do it before taking the plunge.

Last Saturday was Hair Day. She was so excited!

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She had so much hair that she was able to donate 11 inches of hair and still have enough length for a shoulder-length cut.

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And here’s the final result. Shorter. Cooler. She loves it because everyone tells her it makes her look older.

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I may be biased, but dang, that kid is cute!

Monday’s Child: Growing Up

My youngest daughter spent the week on the farm with her grandparents. It’s a fairly new thing for us, having Mia go away without her brother. They’ve been joined at the hip for almost seven years now. Mia, the youngest, is the more independent, more differentiated of the two. This is her second trip to the farm alone. Gus was given his chance to go a few weeks ago, but he refused to go without his sister. He grieved mightily when they went separate ways last Sunday. Each day he got a little stronger. This is not what he wants, but it is very much what he needs.

I sent my little girl away looking like a little girl. Somehow she looked so much older when I picked her up. Can a single week do that?!

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One of my favorite stories from the week that my mom shared with me is this one: Mia was sitting at the dining room table in one of the wooden dining room chairs. It squeaked and cracked and made a lot of noise. She asked her grandmother why. My mom replied, “Oh, this dining room set is as old as the hills! It must be at least 30 years old!” Mia looked thoughtful for a moment and replied, “Well my mama is 45 – no, 46 – and she doesn’t make that much noise!” (I’m thinking my child hasn’t followed too closely behind me when I climb the stairs. My knees put an economy-sized box of Rice Krispies to shame!)

I’m a happy mama with all my children back home!

Like a Kid

You know what I think is so neat about kids, especially the younger ones? They love life and get excited about everything. Every single day is an adventure. Every new or unexpected experience is like a gift. They don’t know what to expect or even what could be, so they are rarely disappointed. Whoever is with them is their favorite playmate. Whatever toy is in their hand is their favorite toy. Their favorite memory is right now.

The older we get, the more we know. The more we know the more we expect. The more we expect, the more often we get disappointed. The more we know about what’s “out there” beyond our reach, the less satisfied we are with what’s “right here” in front of our faces.

My kids and I had a great July 4th. We were with friends. We had ocean and sand, two pools and a lazy river. The temperature was not too hot and there was a great breeze all day. None of the four of us sunburned. People-watching was at its best. Fireworks on the beach – a wild combination of professional fireworks and everybody else’s – were chaotically beautiful. Road travel, although very late going home, was uneventful. I couldn’t have asked for more.

Only I could have. I didn’t get everything I wanted for the 4th. I didn’t do everything I wanted to do or see everybody I wanted to see. In the middle of all the fun, there was an abiding sense of longing for what wasn’t happening. It made for a bittersweet kind of day.

Sometimes I wish I was a kid again.

Monday’s Child: The Family Run

I’ve been going to the gym and/or doing morning run/walks for awhile now. This summer, however, my oldest daughter decided that it was time for her to get physical too. While I’m perfectly content – happy even – to exercise alone, Anna isn’t happy doing much of anything alone. “Come on, Mom. Run with me.”

We don’t make great running partners. I like to run in the morning. She likes to run at night. She’s 26 years younger than me, skinny as a rail, and has such long legs that even when I match her step-for-step in pace, she still gains a considerable lead. Not to mention that if two of us go out running, the other two have to come along as well. It may not be the most productive exercise time for me, but it is interesting.

Long-legged Anna generally leads the way. Gus, usually in his Nerf ammo vest and camouflage hat, runs back and forth stalking bad guys. Sometimes he runs point in front of Anna. Other times he lags behind the rest of us. Mia is a good runner – for sprints. She can fly like the wind and catch up with her older sister. Then she poops out and walks to catch her breath, often falling  way behind. Then there’s me, trying to keep my legs moving, gulping for oxygen hidden somewhere in the thick, humid air, and doing my best to keep all three kids in sight. Sometimes I’m right with Anna. Sometimes I’m at the back of the pack where I can see all three. Sometimes I’m doubling back to join Mia, who has fallen too far behind.

It’s quite different from my solo exercise experiences, when I can get lost in my own thoughts, go at my own pace, and set my own route. It’s fun, though, to watch my kids each doing his/her own thing, in his/her own style.

Anna is strong-willed and determined. She pushes hard, past the point where I would want to stop for a breather. She holds herself erect. It’s only by watching her closely that I can tell when she’s wearing down. Her stride shortens and there’s a tell-tale kick to the outside. But when she’s on the home stretch, look out! That girl can move!

Gus hardly recognizes that he is exercising. His imagination is so lively that it’s nothing to him to keep going as long as he sees the “enemy” around every corner and behind every bush. He can drop to the ground, do a quick roll, pick off a few imaginary insurgents, and be back on his feet with little effort. If, however, I was trying to get him to run straight sprints or do calisthenics, he would wear down and quit in short order. Let him get lost in his own world and he can go forever.

Mia is amazingly fast. Her short little legs are a blur as she takes off in a sprint. I hope to see her on the soccer field or on the track leaving competitors in the dust one day. Her endurance will build, but I’m careful with her because of her asthma. Our first night out she seemed tentative. I was afraid she was having asthma trouble, but when I checked her, I heard no wheezing. We had a long talk about the difference between being out of breath and having an asthma attack. She seemed surprised to realize that all of us have trouble breathing when we exercise hard. That made her feel better and she’s since lost that tentativeness.

And me, I’m kicking along trying to keep up with all the kids, looking out for their safety, hoping that I won’t miss a single second of their joy or a single indication of their need – all while trying to stay in touch with myself and my body. That’s what I call a real workout!

Productivity FAIL

My session has graciously agreed to allow me to work from home one day a week during the summer to make life with kids a little easier. I’m excited about that day at home, anticipating that I will use it primarily for my continuing ed intensive writing project. I had high hopes for my first summer work-from-home day. I was going to pack up my notes, my laptop, and my kids and head to our local library. Once there, they would happily peruse the bookshelves and/or play on the kids’ computers while I set up shop at one of the tables and proceeded to be amazingly productive.

Right.

Problem #1: There was a recycling program for kids and the place was packed out! So for the first 30 minutes I joined my Gus and Mia and watched the show. Fun, but not productive.

Problem #2: Anna sent a list of titles to look for, which I decided to do before settling down to work. If I had just looked for those 4 titles alone, it would have been fine. But books! So many books! The temptation was overwhelming.

Problem #3: The magazine rack is near the tables. I saw an issue of Health magazine that I hadn’t seen before. Hey – it’s cheaper to glance through it at the library than it is to buy it!

Problem #4: For the first time in the history of trips to the library, my kids were ready to go long before I was. What happened to the children who always need a few more minutes to look? What happened to the children who always beg to play the computer games?

I haven’t decided yet if I dare to give the library another try next week. In theory, it should be one of the best places ever with kids along. In reality . . . we’ll wait and see.

Monday’s Child: Our Home Is Not Broken

In early 2003 I interviewed a half dozen adoption agencies in my search for the one that I would use to grow my family. I remember one interview in particular at a Christian agency. After getting information about their international programs, I asked what the domestic adoption picture would look like for me, a single mom. I remember the woman drawing herself up straighter in her chair and saying, “Well, we like to place our children in homes with both a mother and a father. If we were unable to find a suitable two parent family, which never happens, only then would we consider placing a child in a broken home.”

If you know me well at all, then you know that I hate confrontation so much that I will endure a lot of guff to avoid it. On this occasion, however, it was too much guff for me to swallow. “Ma’am, I realize that my home is a single parent home, but it is not a broken home. My home was broken when I lived under the same roof with a husband who verbally and emotionally abused me and who contributed almost nothing to the care of our daughter. That was a broken home. And my experience tells me that there are just as many two parent homes that are broken as there are single parent homes that are broken – maybe even more.” Then I drew myself up straighter and marched myself right out their door.

Yes, I know that the ideal family consists of a father and a mother, both loving and involved in their children’s lives. I want that for myself and my kids more than I can express. But do not assume that because my family isn’t ideal, it’s broken!

A few months ago I had a conversation with a mom about the sports her children play. She indicated that they enjoyed the baseball crowd of parents better than the soccer crowd of parents. “When we’re in the baseball stands, we’re with families that are more like ours – you know, two parent families. For some reason, the soccer stands seem to be full of single moms. You know what I mean.”

Well yes, I do know what she meant. I happen to have been one of those single soccer moms in the stands for two seasons out of every year, for twelve years. I was there every single game, even if it meant standing on the sidelines in a dress and heels because I would have to leave in the 3rd quarter to go perform a wedding or a funeral. I took my share of turns bringing snacks and drinks. I carpooled other kids to and from practices and games. I was team parent several seasons. I even coached one year. In my daughter’s entire soccer career, I missed only one game. She was in 10th grade. It was the first year I participated in the MS Challenge Walk and I had to leave early in the afternoon to make the long trip down for the event. I got a cell phone play-by-play from another soccer mom during the game, and then another one from my daughter after the game.

Do not tell me that because I am a single mom, I am somehow an inferior parent, giving my kids a less-than-ideal home. (Can you tell I feel strongly about this?).

It is true that being a single parent is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It is exhausting. It is stressful. It is overwhelming. I cannot afford all the extracurricular stuff I’d like to provide for them. Our evenings after school/work during the academic year are way too short. I can’t put on the big birthday parties. But I love my children. I take care of my children. I do everything in my power to give them a safe, stable, loving home. Even if it does half kill me some days, I think I do a pretty good job.

Father’s Day was hard for me this year. Anna spent the day in Columbia with her father and grandmother. I am so grateful that she is of the age that I am out of that loop and that she can handle her own meeting plans with him. I spent the day with Gus and Mia, trying to give them a good Father’s Day. They call these days that the three of us play together “Mom and me” days. We ate Mexican. We went to see a movie (Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer). We walked in the mall and bought new things for them to read at the bookstore. We called my dad, whom they call Daddy, and wished him a happy Father’s Day. It was a good day. For them, our life is completely normal. For me, a lucky girl who has a great dad, I know they are missing something I can’t provide by myself. One day I hope that will change, but for now I am The Parent, providing for them the best I can.

Call us a conspicuous family. Call us a unique family. Call us a single-parent family. Just do not call us a broken family. Our home is not broken.

Chores

For years I have operated under the “sometimes it’s just easier to do things yourself” theory. I think it’s also known as the “if you want something done right, do it yourself” theory. Back in the days when I was married, it was the “get this done before he has the chance to tell you all the ways you do it wrong” theory. Regardless of what you call it, it reflects a need for control. It results in being overworked and harried.

I’ve been known to complain about all I have to carry on my shoulders as a single mom. Once I’m done being a professional at work all day, I have to come home and manage the house, the kids, the meals, the chores, the bills, etc. It feels like too much. It is too much some days. Finally one day recently I got smart and asked myself why I was doing everything by myself. I decided to make a few changes.

I got Anna to fix supper. She did a great job! Did she go about it the same way I would have? No. Did it drive me a little crazy? Yes. Did I say anything? Absolutely not! (I refer you back to the “get this done before he has the chance to tell you all the ways you do it wrong” theory above.) She is also very helpful with the younger kids. She’s also one of the best personal assistants at work that I could ask for.

Soon after that, I taught Gus how to change the cat litter. Did he spill the dirty litter in the carpet on his very first unsupervised attempt? Yes. Did it drive me a little crazy? Yes. Did I fuss about it? No. Did he get an extra lesson in sweeping and vacuuming? You bet! He also gets a kick out of taking care of the trash and the recycling.

Tonight I taught Mia how to load the dishwasher. Do I have that down to an art? Yes. Does she do it like I do? No. Am I going to complain or correct? No, even if it does drive me a little crazy. She also loves feeding the cats and watering our one and only flower – the one she gave me for Mother’s Day.

I don’t know if I’m a control freak or if I just hate asking for help so much that I’ll be a doormat before I call for backup. I do know when I do let go, when I do ask for help, I’ve been pleasantly surprised not only at how much lighter my load feels, but also by the discovery that others people can achieve equal or better results, even if they don’t do it my way. (By the way, this is true at church too. Ironically, this was the post on the Acts 16:5 Initiative blog today.)

Teach. Let go. Trust. Observe. And finally – enjoy!

What took me so long?

Monday’s Child: Why Po Made Me Cry

***Spoiler Alert***

It was a completely innocent attempt to keep the kids entertained on the hot Memorial Day holiday. A quick check online indicated my only option for a kids’ movie was Kung Fu Panda 2. Hmmm. Didn’t sound like anything I would particularly enjoy, but Gus would love the action and Mia is pretty much game for anything. The movie kicked off with silliness, fun, and animated kung fu action. It wasn’t until Po’s dad entered the story that I realized I was in for more than I had bargained for. You see, Po is a panda. His dad is a goose. “That sure doesn’t look like his dad,” Mia whispered.

Uh oh. I’d marched my two sweet adopted children into an adoption-themed movie without doing my homework or preparing them (or me) for it. Goodness knows that the theater industry isn’t known for being sensitive or wise in its typical treatment of adoption. I wasn’t too worried about Gus. As I’ve said before, he’s mostly oblivious to adoption issues. Mia, on the other hand, goes through periods of grief and struggle. I reached over to pat her leg. She wrapped her arms around my arm and put her head against me. I held my breath and prayed for the best.

For a little while, it didn’t look like the best would come. After Po learned that he was adopted (something you would have thought would have already happened to a panda who called a goose “dad”), he went on a quest to find out who he is and why his parents left him. His insecurities about his true identity affected his abilities to do the things he did best and his worries invaded his every thought, sleeping and awake. He dreamed that he saw his parents and he called out to them. They turned to him and instead of embracing him, said that they never really loved him anyway. Lord Shen, Po’s nemesis in the movie, told him on more than one occasion that his parents abandoned him because they didn’t want him and didn’t love him.

My heart was breaking because Mia has asked questions about why her mom didn’t keep her, and whether her family in Guatemala loved her. I knew the fears displayed larger than life on the big screen in front of us were the same as the ones of the big heart in the child beside me. I cringed and cursed myself for not researching the movie. And I started to cry a little.

As the story unfolded Po, aided by the soothsayer goat, learned the details of his story: how the village of pandas was attacked by Lord Shen and the wolves because the soothsayer had foretold that his defeat would come through a creature of black and white. (This part of the story was reminiscent of Herod and the Slaughter of the Innocents in Matthew.) Po was a baby bear and both of his parents went to heroic measures to save him. Both were killed.

I found the telling of this backstory to be excruciatingly painful. I could feel Mia tense around my arm. I tried to keep my tears from falling on her. She was too wrapped up in the movie to notice them. It was the words of the soothsayer to the shocked, grieving Po that began to turn this adoption story around for me. She said to him: “Po, your story may not have a happy beginning, but it is not in the end who you are. It is who you choose to be.” It was a poignant moment. I cried a little more.

Armed with the knowledge of who he was and where he came from, Po was able to take on his nemesis from a place of strength. He defeated the enemy and saved China. But that’s not the end.

Po returned home to his dad, the goose. Poor dad had been worrying about him – not just about his safety, but also whether the knowledge of his adoption had ruined their relationship forever. Po looked at his dad and said, “I found out where I came from. I know who I am.” His dad’s eyes filled with tears. “And who are you?” he asked nervously.

”I am your son.”

With this, I became a weepy mess.

I felt Mia relax. As the movie credits rolled, I tried to dry up the tears. As we left the theater, Gus said excitedly that his favorite part was all the fighting, and then he began imitating the kung fu moves. Mia reached out and took my hand and said quietly, “That was a great movie, Mom.”

Maybe it was a good thing after all. But next time, I’m researching the movie first.

Monday’s Child: Summer is a-coming

This is the last week of school, or the last part-week. The kids are out today. They have full days Tuesday-Thursday and a half-day on Friday. Then it’s on!

I have very mixed emotions about summer. I was a teacher for 10 years and a student for many years before that, so I’m a pro at counting down the days until summer vacation. Only I’m not a teacher anymore. I don’t get summers off anymore. I now have a college kid and two young kids with lots of free time on their hands. Well, the college kid not so much – she is working some. When Anna was the kids’ age, summer wasn’t a problem. Even though I was no longer teaching, my church job at the tiny church was not so demanding, my time was flexible, and I already worked mostly from home. And there was just one of her. Now I’m in a church that is much more demanding of my time, I have to keep office hours, and there are two of them. Finances are tight and childcare/camps for two are prohibitively expensive. Help!

So far I have two, maybe three VBS/day camps lined up. There is the possibility for a half-week music camp. My parents are wanting the kids to spend time with them some. My session approved my request to work from home one day a week during the summer. So on non-VBS/day camp/grandparents weeks, that leaves three office days with the kids tagging along. Bless them. There’s not much for them to do at the church.

So – movies, puzzles, art projects that can be done largely unsupervised, books . . . Any other suggestions? This could be a long summer.

How many days until school starts back again?

Monday’s Child: Color Blind, Part 2

So the hot discussion has been this for trans-racial adoptive families: how do you honor your child(ren)’s heritage while establishing your family? Do you enroll them in language classes? Do you integrate native dishes into your family’s dinner menu? Do you intentionally set playgroups with other children of shared ethnic heritage?

I don’t know if there is a right or wrong answer to these questions. So much depends on the child, on the family, and on the age of adoption.After my children came home, I decided not to make a big deal of ethnicity. We talk about it sometimes. We eat some of the native dishes and fruits that Anna and I ate while in Guatemala, but my youngest children never ate those things. Mia was just a baby and Gus was apparently on a powdered milk diet for his first 20 months of life. Still, I see how they naturally seem to love the fruits like papaya, mango, and bananas, all of which we enjoyed fresh on our trips back in ‘04.

The fact is, my son sometimes fails to realize that his ethnicity is different from mine. At the beginning of the school year, he told me that there were four Hispanic children (“hixpanic,” by his pronunciation) in his classroom. Then he named the four. “Gus,” I said, “you have five Hispanic children in your class.” He looked puzzled, named them again, and said, “No, just four.” You should have seen his face when I added to his list, “And Gus!” It was like a brand new realization dawning.

Mia has been much more sensitive to her adoption and her ethnicity. Her sensitivity has lessened in recent months, to the point that we had a humorous incident just last week. Gus, Mia, and I were eating at our favorite Mexican restaurant. The kids tend to get extra attention at Mexican restaurants, for obvious reasons. The waitresses especially are prone to ask about them. There’s a 50/50 chance that they will be disapproving of our multi-ethnic family. Adoption is not popular in Mexican culture. I have received a cold shoulder and less than ideal service on a few occasions. Sometimes though, they are delighted. Our waitress asked me if the children spoke Spanish. I told her not really, except for counting and a few words.Then she asked if they were Mexican. It told her they were born in Guatemala. She smiled big and went on her way. After she left, Mia wanted to know why she asked those questions. I replied that she knew they were both Latino and she was curious about whether they shared a country and a language with her. “But how did she know we’re Latino?!” Then she realized and said, “Oh yeah. Because of our skin.”

This incident reassures me that the assimilation of our family runs deep. It doesn’t matter that Anna is blonde and fair or that Gus and Mia are black-headed and olive-skinned. They are all my children – thoroughly, equally, and forever.I forget myself sometimes and find myself wondering how people know we’re an adoptive family. I hope I’m not doing them a disservice by not making sure they are fluent in Spanish already or plugging them in with others from the Guatemalan world. Sometimes it’s just all I can do to get us to school and work, fed, and wearing clean clothes, you know?

Still, this I know. My children are happy. They are healthy. They are loved. They are accepted for who they are, inside and out. Isn’t that all any of us really need?

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