Monthly Archives: May 2013

Quiet and loud

“Some coped with their times of fear and worry by becoming awfully quiet. Some would become noisy.” from Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

Being parent to children who express emotion on the radical ends of loud and quiet is both exhilarating and disconcerting at the same time. The two that currently reside in our home would qualify for the label of extreme ends of a spectrum, especially in times of fear and worry.

For one, times of unexpressed stress lead to verbal and physical explosions of many hues and for the other, we have no idea that things are going awry until there is almost total emotional shut down. Neither place is healthy, comfortable or good for any of us.

So, the challenge as a mom is to pay more attention in the moment. To pick up on the subtle, sometimes almost imperceptible cues that fear and worry are ramping up. Because the clues are so different for these two children, it takes an almost detective like approach to each of them as individual beings. Sure, I mentally assent that “each child is a unique and precious soul”, but to really live that out and allow them to be so is often challenging. What works for one may miserably fail for the other, as far as a mom response to their worries and stress.

I recently heard Dr. Marcy Axness, a parenting researcher and educator, say that in the world of parenting, the “biggest bang for our buck” is to learn to be more present. It is so much easier to be distracted and unavailable emotionally to our kids. The ways to do it are numerous and constantly calling for time, attention and energy.

When I truly stop, listen and am genuinely present to our girls more often during the day, odds increase that I pick up on the pre-meltdown clues. I can then more readily help myself and then my child use tools to calm down rather than escalate. An ongoing pursuit in our home, for both the quiet and the loud.

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When tornadoes hit

My first clue that something happened was a facebook status that said “praying for Oklahoma”.  My heart and mind jumped to natural and man-made disasters – which would it be this time?  I quickly popped over to my favorite online news source and there it was.  Devastating tornadoes that had wreaked havoc and changed families, schools and communities forever.  Unlike the recent tragedies at Sandy Hooks Elementary School and the Boston marathon, this one fell under the category of “act of God” and not of man.

 I’ve been a mom for 25 plus years.  Yet when these kinds of things happen, I still wonder and ponder, “what and how much do I tell my children?”  We are well past the “just protect them from the bad news” phase of life.  Honestly, that was too much of my modus operandi as a younger, less mature mom.  I didn’t – and still don’t, by the way – know how to fully process and deal with these kinds of things, so how in the world can I help my children do so?  Regularly these days, our ten year old daughter picks up the newspaper, sees a compelling picture and asks, “what is this about?” There are things going on in this world that I’d rather not discuss with a ten year old.  But sometimes I don’t have much of a choice. 

 All children have very active imaginations and come in and out of developmental stages of fear.  At some point, they all realize that this life and place that we live is not entirely safe.  People die, including parents, bad things happen and life is just like that.  Children who have lived through trauma have a heightened sense of anxiety around such losses and the grief side of life.  They have anecdotal evidence in their very own lives that bad things do happen.  And when the event in question is deemed “an act of God”, simple, pithy religious answers won’t cut it. 

 So as much as I’d like to reassure and promise my children that this kind of thing would never happen to our family, such a response would be delusional and dishonest.  Truth is that shortly before we moved into our current home 21 plus years ago, a tornado flattened the Walmart less than a mile away.   We are not immune from the suffering and sadness of this world. 

 With my kids, I am moving from being reactive in the face of disaster to being more pre-emptive in dealing with the difficult side of life.  As parents, it is our job to address, in age appropriate ways, the sorrowful and difficult side of life with our children.  That doesn’t mean that we share with them every awful and horrendous thing going on in our world.  And sometimes they will catch wind of things before we are able to proactively talk to them.  Then we do our best to receive their questions and thoughts and help them through the uncertainties. 

 This morning, I decided to be the one to tell our girls about the Oklahoma tornadoes (chances are very high that they would hear of it in school today) and then answer their questions from there. They weren’t easy questions and I struggled internally with answers.  The truth is I don’t have any “wrap it up in a bow” kind of explanations for this kind of thing.   After a short exchange, I told the girls that I’d like to pray out loud as we drove to school.  After the warning by our rational thinker child to please not close my eyes while praying, I said something to the effect of , “Dear God, please be with the people in Oklahoma who have lost family, friends and homes.  Please send people and resources to help them in this time of great loss and grief.  If there is any way that you desire for us to respond, please show us how.  Amen.” 

 As I drove back home after dropping them at school and heard a brief news report on the Oklahoma devastation, I shed tears.  Just sorrowful tears – not mixed with anger and confusion like when the tragedies are man made, though I certainly would get any “mad at God” tears others may have.  When I returned home, I picked up the newspaper, and skimmed through it as usual.  Because of the graphic picture on the front page – see below – I did decide to recycle it right away so that our girls would not see it, at least not on their kitchen table.  We don’t watch tv news in our home.  God of mystery, whose ways are not my ways, I hope that as a mom, I was faithful on this day.  Amen.

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Positive intent and the Target clerk

She and her sour look are almost always there when I enter the store.  I wonder what has or is going on in the life of someone who presents such hardness and grouchiness toward customers.  Once when she was “rude” to me, we got into an exchange of words.  This  was complicated by the fact that my then 5 year old was observing everything that I said and did.  Yes, I felt somewhat justified and better in the moment when I let some words fly, but a sinking feeling was close behind as I then had to explain things to my daughter.  Owning my own role in a heated exchange and then returning to apologize for my part in the fray happened next.

In Conscious Discipline, Becky Bailey teaches about a concept called, “positive intent” or seeing the best in others.  Theoretically, this makes sense to many of us, but in practical everyday living and parenting, it can be downright difficult to practice.  Rather than approaching our children or anyone else we interact with as “pushing my buttons”, “just trying to irritate me”, or “out to get me”, we can choose to see it differently.  As Bailey says, we really don’t have a clue what is going on inside of someone else and what motivates them to behave as they do.  So, since we can only guess the motivations and thoughts of others, we might as well make them up in a positive light.  Positive intent is approaching others with the conviction and belief that they are just trying to take care of themselves in the best way they know.   Sometimes with children, that can look like a raging fit or an icy silence.  The ultimate goal is to teach healthy ways of expression, but that takes a lot of repetition, time and energy.  We will be more successful with that when we approach our children or any one else in life with the underlying belief of positive intent.  Bailey says it like this, “The truth is that we make up motivations.  How we choose to make them up effects both the person we attribute the motives to and ourselves.  If you make up negative motives you will be guarded, ready for defense or attack.  If you make up positive motives, you will be relaxed and calm.”

Definitely easier said than done, but after putting this idea into practice every now and then, I see the truth and wisdom in it.  So, the other day when I had an encounter with this same Target clerk, I walked away in a state of calm and peace rather than frustration and embarrassment.   I brought three reusable bags up to the register.  She chose the smallest of the bags and with great determination and effort, stuffed all of the items into this one bag.  I offered another bag at one point, and she actively shook her head and with seeming delight said, “no”, she was going to get them all into the one bag.  On some days, that would have irritated me.  On that day, I was in a relatively zen kind of place and told myself, “she likes a bagging challenge, she is saving Target a nickel or two, maybe she gets a bonus for this kind of thing, maybe this is what keeps her job interesting for her.”  Making it all up for sure, but in a more positive intent light.  It was a much nicer walk out to my car on that day.  And I didn’t have to go back in and apologize for anything that time. 

The well packed bag:

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It really was quite a feat to get it all in:

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The field trip that almost wasn’t

Much planning and preparation went into this big day. A 4th grade field trip to the coast including a cool aquarium, lunch on the beach and exploring a WWII battleship. Our 10 year old daughter is a planner and preparer. Lunches were made, backpacks packed, cooler ready to be filled in the morning. The last thing she said to me as I tucked her in for the night was, “you will wake me up in the morning, right?” “Absolutely”, I replied – “you don’t have to worry about that.”

And in my mind, I set the alarm for 4:45 am. But it was only in my mind. I rolled over at 5:20 am and was jolted out of the bed. I ran to my daughter’s room, quickly confessed my error and she jumped out of bed. If two people have to adapt to this situation, we are fairly equipped. 25 minutes later, we were on our way having showered and with breakfast in tow to be thrown down on the way. We made it. And I am so glad we did.

When our boys were in elementary school, I went on my fair share of field trips, but I didn’t enjoy them the way that I do now. I was more of a PTA leader kind of mom – PTA does some great things, but honestly that was more about doing things that made me feel good than supporting my kids. Juggling three field trip schedules rather than two created a fair amount of field trip stress for me. It is nice to be in a place in life where I look forward to spending my day with a bunch of kids. They truly are amazing people.

Today, I got to sit and look out at this beautiful sight:

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I got to take in a beach volleyball game:
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The joy of seeing and putting toes into the water was in the air – some experiencing this for the very first time:

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I got to ride in one of these and get a kick out of seeing my daughter head for the back of the bus with her buddies – all girls for now:

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I had three incredibly creative 10 year olds to lead in an adventure filled exploration of this:

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We had great fun in the belly of the ship. We carefully went down steep ladders and steps:

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We pushed buttons and checked out all the mechanical features of this massive ship:

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And when a little recreation was in order, “butt sliding” and hanging from the rafters were in order:

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We are now on our way home, and most of the chaperones are slumped over asleep. A few kids have joined them. I caught my second wind nap between lunch on the beach and the battleship. I met some interesting people. It confirmed my deep belief that teachers are some of the finest human beings on the planet. A couple of times my sweet girl broke away from her friends and slipped her hand into mine. She is now chatting away in the back of the bus. It has been a great day.

Preparing to go back

China 04 015Ever since our girls came home in 2004 and 2005, I have wondered, worried, fantasized and dreamed of what it would be like to take them back to their country and culture of birth. Our two adoption trips, two weeks each, gave us a very broad brush experience of this ancient and beautiful people and place. Living in China as  citizen and the experience of claiming home in a place where the majority of people look as they do and speak the language expected is just the tip of an iceberg of losses for our girls. This place also represents the place where, no matter how we try to gently present and speak of it, an earthquake sized shift happened in their very young and innocent lives. Their birth parents were not able to parent them – the reasons are still fairly shrouded in mystery, but the outcome is clear. They now live “somewhere between” China and the USA, in a home where they are cherished and adored, even if they don’t always feel so. We all do the best that we can in a story that began with tremendous loss and grief.

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That time to return is fast approaching for our family. Bird flu is throwing a slight uncertainty on the trip that we began talking of 8 1/2 years ago and planning in the fall. But it is looking like a go. We have done our best to prepare ourselves and our girls. Sunday afternoons have been spent trying to learn a small fraction of the vast geography, history and culture of this incredible land. We could do this every Sunday for the rest of our lives and never truly be ready. We have opened up to questions and fears – the biggest one is getting separated from us.  We have contingency plans in the highly unlikely event that this happens.  Because of rising anxiety in our daughters and selves, we have decided that we will pause on the learning and just focus on meeting emotional needs the best we can as the trip speeds toward us.

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We have a big laundry basket filled with things to pack – right now they are just thrown in together in a jumble. Long lists have been made, travel arrangements verified and visas received.   Packing and concrete travel preparation are the easy parts.  Tending to emotional needs is more elusive and doesn’t fit onto my long to do list. Our introverted quieter child has struggled but had no words to express as of late. I have done my best to be attuned to her needs, but that is sometimes quite the challenge for me. It was a huge relief earlier this week when we were able to truly listen and speak to one another during our own unique communication dance.  The message was that while she does want to go to the town of her orphanage, she is not ready to go to the actual place of her orphanage – walking through that door is too scary. There are deep heartfelt reasons for this, even if they can’t be communicated with many words right now.  We will absolutely honor and respect this. Our other daughter has begged to go back to her orphanage, meet a special nanny and search for her birth parents since she was 4 years old. But the closer the trip gets, the more she seems to wrestle with which pieces for her are adopted child fantasy -reality is becoming slightly clearer. We will support her in every way possible to make the journey back that her heart desires. She has an escape clause up until we walk through those doors. The bottom line for each of them is that they must be the ones to decide how much and when they are ready to go – just this one step closer to the scene of their life earthquake.

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As I sit in a favorite local coffee shop to write this down and clear it from the sometimes overwhelming circuit it is running in my head, three beautiful Asian women sit down in the booth right in front of me. I believe they are Korean – my Asian identification skills are weak but improving – and the joy and excitement they are expressing as they chatter away in their native tongue is contagious. Our girls will never be able to do that in their homeland or in their current country.  But they do have a similar experience when they get together with other international or trans-racial adoptees. They feel safe, understood and a special connection is evident. They, like many immigrants and people in general, will cobble together a sense of home as they journey on in life. Our homeland trip will be a chance to make ties and to break ties.  Each girl will have her own personal experience, as will each of their parents.  Our hope is that this upcoming trip back to China will provide a little more peace, a little more identity, a little more vision of “true home” as they continue down the path of making sense of their lives.

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