It starts again…

Children portraitI know. It shouldn’t be a big deal. They go off to school every effing year around this time…

But things change, you know?

Two years ago, we sent Turbo off to third grade at a new school… and we watched him struggle. The funny thing was, he didn’t know he was struggling–or he did, but he pretended not to care, acted like he didn’t notice. His teacher figured out fairly fast that he was ‘active’–that he would be a distraction to other kids. She learned that he wanted to be funny, that he had a hard time controlling his impulses and that he often spoke when he shouldn’t. She found out fast that he liked to get up and move when he was supposed to sit still. She found out he didn’t really sit still. Ever. That wasn’t in his repertoire.

Turbo is social. And energetic. And funny.

But to her, Turbo was noisy. And distracting. And inappropriate.

And you know what? I get her point. He wasn’t the kid that teachers are relieved to see walk through their door. Instead, I know my kiddo was one of the ones the teachers warned each other about. From kindergarten through that hard third-grade year, I was on a first-name basis with the administration. I took a board-level position on the PTA at his first school to try to buy him a second chance in Kindergarten, for crap’s sake…he was going to be suspended. For teachers, and for me…he was a challenge.

He was a bright, shiny, energetic, little boy-shaped challenge. And some teachers don’t want a challenge. Every time I came to his third-grade classroom, Turbo was sitting alone. His desk was against a wall, or next to the teacher’s, even though I’d told her a few times I thought that exclusion was detrimental to his self-esteem. From grades K through 3, I had to listen to Turbo tell me he wasn’t smart, that he was a bad kid, that he couldn’t listen like the other kids did. He knew he was different…and so did we. But we didn’t know what to do.

For Turbo, being different like that made him mad. He spooled up quick if someone challenged him at school, and he always felt on the outside, so he was defensive. He was explosive at home, too. So we took him to a counselor to talk about anger.

And that led to a recommendation to have him “worked up.” I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew something was, and that was why I took that recommendation. It wasn’t easy. It took six months to work through insurance and talk to lots of centers and doctors that didn’t do neuropsychological workups. I was told no such thing existed. I was told I’d been mis-referred. And then we found the right place. We drove two hours to get there, and Turbo spent a day playing games and taking little tests…

And after another three or four months, we’d gotten the results and gotten placed with a center locally that treated ADHD with behavioral therapy and medication. And that was at the beginning of fourth grade. And that year? It was a whole different experience. Maybe it was the diagnosis. Maybe it was the 504 plan. Maybe it was the medication… but Turbo did well. His teachers worked FOR him instead of ignoring him or trying to work around him. And he excelled. We ended last year with good grades and a kid who didn’t call himself bad anymore. We ended last year with a kid who understood that he has unique challenges, but that he also has a family and a support system willing to help him navigate those challenges.

We go into fifth grade prepared. And for the first time since beginning elementary school, Turbo told me that he’s excited to go back to school.

We spent some time with friends tonight–an end-of-summer BBQ. It was nice, and a great end to summer. And I watched my two little boys jumping with their friends on a trampoline, watched them being little and relatively innocent–watched them on the eve of their fifth and second-grade years… and I was profoundly grateful.

We have challenges. I know we’ll have more. But for now, I was grateful that we’d stood behind our little guy, we’d given him tools and help when he needed it. And that made him confident enough to look forward at the new year with hope instead of dread.

I hope that you’re able to sort through the challenges your small people bring home to you. We’ve got other challenges, too… Lunchbox is a whole other can of worms, I assure you. Parenting is hard. We haven’t figured it all out, and I don’t think we ever will. But I’m going to appreciate this small win. Today I have two kids eager to enter a new school year.

Sleep tight, kiddos… who knows what the year will hold?

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Vacation Grown-up Style

Howdy y’all! (that’s what folks say around here. We’re mid-Atlantic, but there are plenty of those crazy not-to-be-mentioned flags flying about up this way…) That’s a whole other topic.

The topic today is controversial, at least if you’re a parent: Vacation.

As far as I can tell, there are two types of these: The with-kids and the without. At the risk of being pegged with rotten vegetables and called a bad mom, I will tell you that I am a huge proponent of the latter. At least while kids are of the not-yet-ten-years-old variety.

We have lots of friends who have taken kids on vacation, and they have lots of great things to say. These great things usually include:

“We didn’t see them the whole time!”

“They were totally taken care of, completely entertained.”

“They did their own thing. Fantastic.”

Is it only me that starts to wonder why you’d want your kids with you on vacation if you don’t see them the whole time? There are lots and lots of all-inclusive family resorts and cruise lines that offer kids’ clubs and activities designed to relieve you of your parenting burden so that you can enjoy your trip in the relative peace that comes with lack of responsibility for tiny people. But if your goal is to NOT see your kids the whole time you’re on vacation–or even MOST of the time–then why on Earth would you take them along?

This is not a popular opinion, but here it is. I don’t think kids are equipped to really enjoy travel until they are past the whiny self-centered, food-driven ego stages that generally occur before they are about ten years old. I can really only go by my own spawn, and by stories related by others…but my kids would have just as much fun staying home and going to the pool with us for a few hours as they would staying in a hotel or tiny stateroom on a cruise and doing exactly the same thing. My kids don’t remember details. Like, at all. So taking them anywhere to do anything like “sightseeing” would be silly. If we took them on a cruise, I would bet money that they would be unable to tell you which ocean we sailed upon at the end of the trip, or recount what color the water was. And there is little chance that I’m going to be paying to tote them off to a cash-fueled Disney-themed week of Princess and castle-inspired kid crack-fest when all they’re likely to remember is that they didn’t like the funnel cakes and couldn’t find a good straw at the restaurant.

It comes from my upbringing and innate selfishness, I guess. My parents left us routinely when we were kids, for two weeks at a time. They flew off to exotic island destinations, just the two of them, and came back tan and smiling at each other in a way that I really didn’t understand. They did this every year that I can remember, leaving my brother and I with babysitters and relatives and whoever they could shanghai into watching us. (though, of course, we were ANGELS).

When I was a kid, it pissed me off. I didn’t like being left, and my Grandma was super overprotective. But now that I’m a mom, I think I understand. And my parents were frank with me, telling me that having time alone together was critical to our family, whether I knew it or not.

There was a time when I asserted to my dad that I was the MOST important thing in his life–my brother too, of course. And he told me I was wrong with no apologies. “Your mother,” he said. “Is the most important person in my life. You and your brother are number two.” Man, that pissed me off.

But now I see that taking time away from your kids–however you can do it–is absolutely critical to a marriage. You chose each other, long before children were involved. And if you can’t remember why…well, then you’re lost.

The Major and I took five days away this summer. And it was the first time in about eight years that I got to just sit next to him and laugh at a silly joke. It was the first time in eight years that I got to read a book start to finish without an interruption, without a priority making me feel guilty about it. And it was the first time in eight years that I looked over at the guy I married and remembered WHY. If the kids had been there, even if they’d been shuttled off to some all-day distraction, I wouldn’t have been relaxed enough to be able to enjoy any of that, or to enjoy the freedom of having space and time to ourselves. To just BE together.

My parents did eventually take us on their trips. We went to lots of islands, learned to scuba dive, and to appreciate less-than-luxurious accommodations in luxurious locales (my parents were both school teachers). But the important thing, I think, was that I never expected that they would take us. It was a privilege — one we accepted and earned eagerly after so many years of wishing we could go. And even as a twelve-year-old on my first vacation (to Maui), I knew that what I was experiencing was something special. Because I hadn’t been dragged along on countless trips that I couldn’t possibly appreciate. All those solo vacations they took were actually great for me, and undoubtedly great for my parents. For me, they created a sense of gratitude. For them, they helped solidify a strong foundation that has them still married after almost 50 years.

I’m not big on parenting advice, but I’ll offer this: Go away without your kids. Once. And don’t call home. Take the time to remember who you are at the basic level, who you were when you fell in love. Take the time to recall what your marriage is about… because if it’s all about your kids? One day you’ll wake up and find that you’re lost.

Things I Never Thought I’d Say

As a mom of two boys, I have accepted that I will be the singular force acting in the name of cleanliness in our household. I know and accept that I will be the only person within our home who notices the crap on the floor, the crumbs on the couch, and the Lego brick that has been sitting on the stairs for the past three weeks. (I leave things like that there to see if someone … ANYONE else … might notice and pick it up.) I’ve come to terms with that.

And my response has been to let go quite a bit. I’m not nearly as anal as I once was. I don’t mop the floor every other day, or even weekly at this point. I insist on picking up clothes and books, but the playroom is pretty much an untamed wilderness that I will not attempt to navigate. It’s like little kid Las Vegas in there. What happens in the playroom … you know.

But you gotta draw the line somewhere, right?

This morning I entered the boys’ bathroom (mistake number one) to hang up a towel, and noticed yellow puddled stains on the lip of the tub and down the side. (I should note here that I knew immediately that it was urine, and that really didn’t phase me. Having little boys means that urine ends up in many near-potty locations, as it seems that boys and their parts get distracted pretty easily and cannot focus on getting things where they belong. I’m used to mopping up around the base of the toilet, and even on the walls in immediate proximity.) I called the small people in to look. And then I had one of those moments where I found myself saying something that I could never have predicted, when I was young, single and naive.

And it reminded me of all the other things I never thought I’d hear myself say. For your entertainment, I include a list of these here for you today (warning, it seems that much of our lives revolve around poop and nudity. If you’re easily offended, look elsewhere):

THINGS I NEVER THOUGHT I’D HEAR MYSELF SAY

10. We ALWAYS wear pants at Red Robin!

9. Please don’t touch your weiner while we’re doing math.

8. No pooping in the bathtub!

7. Why is there poop on my Christmas hand towel?

6. We ALWAYS wear pants when we have company!

5. Did you poop in Daddy’s closet?

4. Why are you paying with Play-Doh naked?

3. Did you drink a whole bottle of maple syrup?

2. Good job wiping your own butt!

1. We don’t pee on furniture! (variations of this have included: …in the potted palm! …in the front yard! …in the neighbor’s planter! …into the bathtub! …on the rug!)