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Be a Probiotic, Not a Piranha

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As a shy extrovert, I’m a bit socially awkward. People are my joy, but initiating conversation with strangers and mere acquaintances takes bravery on my part. It’s been nice living in a part of the world where people are friendly and greet one another easily.

While shy, I am a reader of body language. Sometimes it registers at the gut level, while other times I deliberately look for people’s cues. What I’ve noticed around our little town is a growing number of people not meeting my eye, not greeting me with their usual friendly hellos, and hoping with every lean of their body that I won’t approach for a chat. Don’t worry; the shy person in me reads that and stays away. Nobody deliberately chooses rejection or fake interaction.

I discovered months ago that the town gossip and the ring leader of the local mean girls is a mommy peer who decided I was sub-par. I learned a long time ago that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s okay. But this got to me. My first reaction was to feel superior. My second reaction was pity. Her life must be so sad and empty if she finds purpose in harming or controlling others. It didn’t take long to discover that neither attitude was helpful, so I simply chose to enjoy my life and the genuine people in it. Brene Brown taught me that she’s probably doing her best, so I just let it be.

This “letting go” only lasted a few months.

These days, I’ve increasingly observed formerly kind and cordial people no longer look me in the eye. Gone are their neighborly hellos. Now, they gently turn away when I’m in the vicinity.

I have to ask myself why certain people are pained at the possibility that I might join their cluster of conversation. Well, duh. The gossip.

You know what? It hurts. I have feelings, and my feelings are hurt.

I chose to finally own that and had a good cry that last night.

My husband is a good listener and he believes in me. He was afraid the rumors could be lies about our family. But our family is great! There is no fodder there. So it must be me, right?

I love truth and justice, and I wish I knew what was said to make formerly friendly people avoid me. Surely, I could speak truth into that! If they were gossiping about real traits of mine, maybe owning it would diffuse the feeding frenzy. And if it’s lies, perhaps a dose of truth would counteract things. [Just say it: “Sure, Pollyanna.”]

So after the good cry, and an hour’s escape into a TV show, I started doing what I do:

research and pray.

[Okay, if I’m honest, I spent some time last night imagining how I’d write the evil villain into a future novel. I mean, it’s not smart to mistreat a novelist. They. Will. Write. You. In. But, no. I’m bigger than that. It was entertaining to imagine, though.]

After praying before bed and all morning, here’s what I decided to do:

  1. Pray for my “enemy,” the likely source of all this.
  2. Pray for the lovely church in town. It’s is a common denominator in the gossip and the people subtly shunning me. Gossip is a disease that undermines the health of any group, and a common tool of the Enemy of All Things. I can intercede for the health of that church, it’s people, and their friendly pastor.
  3. Employ my pen. God gave me this pen. I will use it for good. Hence, this post.

What will I do with this pen? A call to action.

Let’s start a movement, you and I. An anti-gossip movement. It’s not just a small town problem. One of my dearest friends is dealing with the same thing, and she lives in the megalopolis we call the East Coast.

If gossip is a disease, let’s combat is like we do a disease.

  1. PRACTICE GOOD HYGIENE

What do we tell our children? WASH YOUR HANDS.

Don’t be attracted by others’ dirt. Don’t spread dirt. Don’t wallow in it.

Wash your hands of gossip. Don’t participate. Don’t use it to hold the attention of listeners. You probably already don’t do that. But how about this:

Wash your hands of impending gossip. You know the look somebody gets when they’re about to launch into somebody’s business. Shut them down. Give them a cue to zip it. And if you can’t think of one, walk away. Don’t feed on that chum.

  1. USE A PREBIOTIC

Are you familiar with prebiotics? They feed the good microorganisms in your body. They create a hospitable environment for the healthy bacteria we call probiotics.

It’s hard to develop healthy eating habits. If you’re not used to things like leeks, jicama, asparagus, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and sauerkraut, then it will take some time to introduce these prebiotics into your diet. But if you do so, you’re creating a healthy environment for the probiotics, or the healthy gut bacteria that is key to many aspects of your health.

How does this apply socially? Well, create a healthy environment.

Whatever groups you participate in, be it church, gym, clubs, neighborhoods, etc., let it be known that you won’t feed off of other’s personal lives and you won’t entertain those who do.

Make it socially uncool to do it. It could take some time, but you can influence the environment of any group you’re a part of. Do your part to make it a hospitable environment for good, honest connectedness to happen.

  1. USE A PROBIOTIC

Probiotics fight the bad microorganisms. They are key to good gut health, which is key to your overall health.

How can you be a social probiotic?

Honor the vault. Brene Brown talks about the vault being the place where a friend can share their intimate details with you and know that their details are safe with you. You won’t share their details with others. You won’t treat them like fish food. You are not a piranha. When your friends know this, you can develop a healthy connection with each other. You can support one another. You can cheer on their successes and genuinely be happy for each other.

Spot the piranhas. You could choose to avoid them. But why not do your community a service and re-educate them? Show them the difference between feeding on others and true connectedness.

You can set boundaries. Tell them what is okay and what is not okay. (I also got that from Brene Brown. I’ve been a Brene Brown junky lately.)

Here are some sample boundaries you can set:

It’s okay to celebrate others’ victories.

It’s okay to share public stories to learn from others’ life journeys.

It’s okay to share details from your own life, good or bad, and to clarify for me whether this is public or private information.

It’s not okay to talk about things a person told you in the vault.

It’s not okay to celebrate others’ hardships.

It’s not okay to tear somebody down to make yourself feel special.

A piranha shares information told them in the vault. A piranha would share your information. Brene Brown says that people who gossip are trying to hotwire a connection with others. Sadly, if you build a common ground of hating the same people, you’ve created a counterfeit connection.

Be aware that gossip has two sources:

  1. cluelessness. The gossip doesn’t realize they’re about to harm you by spreading your info.
  2. maliciousness. This is the attempt to achieve social power.

I know I’ve inadvertently spread the clueless kind. For that I am truly sorry. I’ve never done the latter, but I believe the mean girl clique of the local high school grew up to be the mean mommies. It hurts to be their chum, to feed off whatever the ring leader is saying. I am not fish bait and neither are you.

If you know the source, you can fight the bad like a probiotic.

Be a probiotic, not a piranha.

 

ADHD: The 4 Letters That Set Me Free

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The psychiatrist said, “You can’t parent ADHD out of a child,” and I wept.

Why? Because this one fact re-wrote my entire history as a parent: It’s brain chemistry. No behavior management skill can undo ADHD.

 

He released me from all the condemnation, both from myself and others.

It wasn’t my fault.

As I now journey backwards through various moments in parenting, I can see myself and my boys with new eyes. Come with me.

*                                  *                                  *

My natural tendency is to blame myself first. It doesn’t take much to make me confirm my self-blame at the heart level. A comment by somebody who I respect. A dirty look from a stranger. Even without knowing it, I’m looking for somebody to say, “Yes, you’re to blame,” and that sticks for a long time.

*                                  *                                  *

I knew I was going to be an amazing parent. So much so, that I was a strong self-advocate in the adoption process. Give me any questionnaire, any interview question, and I would give you all the evidence to back up the fact that I would be God’s gift to parenting.

I was a sought-after babysitter as a teen. For years, I babysat 6 nights per week, all the while maintaining good grades in school. I had clientele. Some of these parents even asked my advice on parenting.

I was a talented teacher. Granted, I taught middle school, high school, and community college. But I always maintained discipline and respect in the classroom. I was strict, but treated students with respect. Principals told me in every evaluation that it was apparent how much I cared for my students. This was going to translate to good parenting, right?

My own parents were great parents. There is so much they modeled to me that they did right. For me, their main talent in parenting me was instilling strong self-esteem. Though I was picked on a lot in school, I never once thought there was anything wrong with me. The mean words hurt deeply, but I always thought something was wrong with the bully. I valued myself..

But then came the reality of parenting.

By the time my two boys were mobile, I felt like a fish out of water. My attempts at guidance and discipline simply didn’t work. I had no idea how to do the behavior management with the boys that others were so clearly natural at doing. I couldn’t remember how I had been so effective all those decades earlier when I was a babysitter. And, clearly, whatever I did in the classroom with teenagers didn’t apply to my toddlers.

I’ll never forget the bossy mom who came to me at the indoor playground and said, “Here, let me teach you how to do a time-out.” I must have looked as clueless as I felt. With my permission, she took my kid and made it look both consistent and easy. From then on, I managed the same… some of the time.

*                                  *                                  *

When my boys were one and two years old, I signed them up for a music appreciation class. It was held in a ballet studio. The perimeter of the classroom was all mirrors and barre. The teacher tied vividly colorful chiffon scarves along the barre.

Rule #1: Kids were not allowed to touch the barre or hang on it.

My boys entered the classroom and immediately went to the perimeter. They put handprints all over the mirrors, making silly faces at themselves or enjoying the grubby smudges they made. They touched the pretty scarves, hung on the barre, and ran from one corner to the other. The other kids huddled in the center with their moms.

Rule #2: No touching the stereo.

As they explored the room, my boys found the stereo system with its knobs and lights, and were all about touching it. Of course, I tried to intervene. I tried to convince them that this was a NO.

Rule #3: Don’t touch the teacher’s guitar.

The elegant older lady who taught the class would bring a bar stool to the middle of the room, near the mommies and kids, and play songs on her guitar. My boys wanted to touch it. They were impulsive about this. I tried to hold them back, but sometimes the urge was too strong for them. They wriggled out of my grasp. The teacher hated this. It was as if she’d never had a kid try to touch her precious guitar.

Rule #4: Sit and listen quietly when the teacher talks, sings, or teaches.

Yeah, my boys never accomplished this. Sitting still? Nope. My oldest was the king of blurting. Man, did that teacher get annoyed.

After the first class, I thought our boys must be smarter and more self-assured than the other kids. All the other kids stuck close to their moms. My boys explored. I’m a dog lover, and I know that curious equals smart when choosing a pup. So I thought, if a curious puppy is the smartest puppy, then my boys must be smarter than all the other kids. And as the other kids stuck with their moms, I thought my boys must feel so secure in themselves, so confident, that they could run all over a strange classroom without worrying where I was. Steve and I must be doing something right to have such confident little guys, right?

After the second class, I thought it was a shame that all these other mommies and kids were just like Stepford families. The other kids sat so still, were too timid to answer questions, and didn’t get up unless invited. My oldest blurted answers while everyone else was still thinking things through.

[Am I showing my age at this reference? Have you seen the 1975 thriller, the Stepford Wives? If not, here.  There was also the more recent Nicole Kidman remake. These two trailers give you the gist: one & two.]

After the third class and beyond, I realized that I had no control over my kids. When I had one firmly in my lap, the other one got up and ran around. It didn’t matter to my kids that everyone else was sitting and listening. My kids couldn’t transition from movement to quiet stillness, while the other kids complied in moments.

I wondered what these moms were doing that I hadn’t figured out. Did I miss something while I was off gallivanting around other countries while my girlfriends were home in the States having babies? Was there a skill I had forgotten or never learned that all these mommies knew? I simply couldn’t figure out what they were doing differently.

About four or five weeks in, my oldest got kicked out of music class. He was devastated and hurt. We tried coming back the next week. You know, getting back on the horse and all that. But the rejection was too much for him. Returning was traumatic. Honestly, the teacher felt more enemy than ally to me as well. She let us quit and even gave us a partial refund. I think she was just relieved we weren’t coming back.

I chatted with other moms at playgrounds and events. We all had similar research into nutrition, developmental stages, and other mommy-ish things. So why were my kids so unruly when their kids could rein it in?

I asked about the possibility of ADHD at well-baby doctor visits, but I was told not to worry about it because it was all age-appropriate behavior that I was describing. It wasn’t supposed to be an issue until they started school.

*                                  *                                  *

At some point, I started to think my job as a mom was harder than that of other moms.

I blamed being an older mommy. I was 42 when we adopted our first, and 43 for our second son’s birth. I was tired. It must be because I was old, right?

*                                  *                                  *

Our oldest could re-program our phones at 10 months. Two months later, we were told he had the attention span of a four year old, and that we didn’t need any more Early Childhood Intervention. We’d signed up for ECI in case something cropped up. There are lots of variables with adopted kids, and one of our boys had a traumatic birth, so we wanted professional eyes on our little ones in case there was something they needed that we were clueless about.

Our first son knew his letters, colors, and shapes before his second birthday. He could count to 20 by two-and-a-half, though he didn’t grasp quantities until later.

I didn’t initially intend to put a three year old in school, but my husband and I decided that it would be a crime not to give him all the benefits such a brilliant mind needed. His birth mom had read at a college level in sixth grade. My husband and I knew our baby was smarter than the two of us put together, despite the multiple Master’s degrees between us. So I started looking for a Montessori school because our kid was a self-taught self-starter. Makes sense, right?

Spoiler: Montessori and ADHD don’t go well together.

I chose a good school that had both Montessori and traditional Pre-K classes, and we enrolled our son in Montessori. His main teacher was loving, huggy, and nurturing. Her assistant often came out to give me feedback on how our son was doing.

At the end of his first week of school, the teaching assistant said, “You still have your boys in high chairs, don’t you?” Her judgy tone said I seriously had no clue what was developmentally appropriate, so I was ashamed when I answered, “Yes.”

“Your son can’t stay in his seat, especially at lunch. You’re going to need to stop using the high chair so that we can get him used to staying in his seat on his own.”

Steve and I instantly implemented this. After all, we wanted our discipline at home to back up our son’s needs at school. And the needs of the teacher and the class. Having been a classroom teacher, I know how one kid can throw off the focus of an entire classroom. I didn’t want my son to be that kid.

Looking back, I realize that we had done a good thing keeping our kids in their high chairs. I wish I had kept those chairs around for crafts and projects. Our oldest loved Play-Doh and could sit in his high chair for 45 minutes, happily playing and making things. The moment he asked to get down, we would clean up and he’d get down. He also loved coloring, gluing, etc. in his high chair.

After we got rid of the high chairs, his attention span for things like Play-Doh was a good five minutes. Max. Projects were now a thing of the past.

Our second son ate less after we put away the high chairs. There was something about the seatbelts in the high chair that helped him focus on his food. To this day, he eats better in his car seat than he does at the dinner table.

Our kids now hated coloring. They despised board games and anything else that required instruction or sitting long.

*                                  *                                  *

Our oldest started getting the occasional time out or “lonely lunches” in school. The assistant teacher continued to come outside after school to share his disruptive behavior with me. I trusted her as an expert in early childhood education and discipline, and asked for feedback and advice. I opened my heart to her. I trusted her. I believed she had my son’s best interest at heart. And I think she did in the beginning, before she got tired of all the redirection and disruptions.

We started reading parenting books like Love and Logic. Each promised to revolutionize our kids’ behavior. Each had sparks of hope, and we gleaned quite a few valuable things, but our kids were never revolutionized.

Despite all the measures I took to prevent it, I lost our oldest at the Discovery Center, at the mall, and at an indoor playground. After the time I found him in the parking lot, we quit doing things that didn’t have enclosures and gates unless we had a 1:1 adult-to-child ratio. It was just too stressful to constantly fear for their safety.

When I got brave and went back to doing outings on my own, I started a mantra for the kids to repeat over and over: HAVE FUN, AND STICK TOGETHER. It was fairly successful, especially because the penalty for not sticking together was that we had to go home. But I did spend my entire time redirecting my boys. It was mentally and emotionally exhausting.

Personally, I got high strung about parenting. Especially in public. I was wound so tightly, I’m sure most people in our community witnessed me shrieking at some point or other. It became common to get dirty looks from other mommies. I guess it’s not really a wanted behavior to have a shrieking mommy around.

At some point, even little things set me over the edge. I knew I had to work on myself and my responses. It took a long time –months? A year?– to stop the shrieking. I was so worn out by the end of the day that I dreaded the work-intensive bedtime routine.

I figured out that I was physically ill from gluten intolerance, and that eating my kids’ leftovers (pancakes, waffles, PB&Js, grilled cheeses, toddler munchies) was making me sicker and sicker. While going gluten free revolutionized my energy, joint pain, brain fog, and other physical issues, my kids’ behavior didn’t improve under a stronger, kinder, more rational mom.

The huggy Montessori teacher moved to another school the following year, and the assistant teacher became the head teacher. My darling, brilliant son began to spend much of his school day in time out. If he wasn’t in time out, he was in the principal’s office. He was denied unit culminating activities like exploding the volcano, because he “didn’t deserve to be there.” I trusted the teacher, and agreed that misbehavior needed consequences, but by October I started to wonder why this teacher was continuing consequences that didn’t have any results. Didn’t she know more than I did about early childhood?

We all knew how incredibly intelligent my son is. We all agreed that he knew better. So we thought he was being defiant.

Spoiler alert: This is what ADHD plus Strong-Willed-Child looks like.

I started to feel ill every time my son’s teacher came outside to talk to me about the issues of the day. My son knew better. His behavior was due to inconsistent parenting. We needed to be consistent at home if he was going to succeed at school. This was her feedback for months and months. My self-esteem plummeted.

We tried more parenting books. We tried an online parenting class. We tried parent-teacher conferences and making behavior plans.

I prayed my brains out every day, and this, I believe, was key to the upturn in our lives.

A friend who was once a preschool teacher told me that my son’s teacher needed to record what sort of things set off his negative behavior. If there was an unwanted outcome, what was triggering it? She also said my son needed more MOVEMENT, not more time-outs. The big shocker? She told me that there are no time-outs in Montessori.

Wait. WHAT?!?!

This teacher’s position as my favorite consultant slipped a little. Was she even qualified to teach Montessori? I was frankly afraid to ask.

Then, when I was so stressed out by my son’s misbehavior and my inability to parent it out of him, I was ready to snap. The teacher came out to the school lobby one day in January, and got me so wound up with her criticism of our parenting, that I started to cry. In public. I am not a crier. I was simply at the end of my rope. And then my sons both acted out, and my oldest got in my face, and I smacked him. In public. In a school. She told later that I was lucky they didn’t call CPS on me. Now I was afraid to criticize the teacher because I might get accused of being abusive.

And then my son’s teacher said something that I knew as 100% false. She said that my son was acting out –in January—because we told him that my husband’s military career was likely moving us that summer, and, therefore, my son believed his behavior didn’t count now because we were moving anyway. Seriously, that’s what this woman said. First, does a four year old think long-term like that? No. Second, if every military dependent misbehaved within months of a change of duty station, then we’d have an outbreak of suspended and expelled kids around every military base in the world. I was insulted on behalf of every military family out there.

This utter bull crap was a gift. Now my #1 child behavior consultant was no longer credible in my eyes. I started to weigh all her other feedback, and she fell short.

Conferences with her and her new assistant bore little fruit, so I asked for a conference with the principal. The principal did some observations and concluded that Montessori wasn’t a fit for our son. By mid-February, he was in a regular preschool class. He learned more from February to May than he had in all his time at Montessori.

[Note: I respected the principal for not throwing the teacher under the bus. When I’m a teacher, I like to know that my boss has my back. While I personally felt the teacher had done a lot of damage, the principal never blamed the teacher in my presence. Instead, she gave me the outcome that was in my son’s best interest, and that’s what counts. He was moved to a better situation and he learned a great deal in the new classroom.]

*                                  *                                  *

I haven’t said much about our second son’s traits, but his distractibility was intense. While I was told for a long time that it was age appropriate, our pediatrician heard me describe ADHD at the checkup right after his fifth birthday.

Here are some examples:

  • I could put a toothbrush in his hand, with toothpaste on it, and he’d forget he was supposed to brush his teeth. Something would catch his eye at the bathroom counter or in the mirror.
  • I would give him 1-3 simple tasks, like Potty-Hands-Teeth, he would chant the three with me, and I would come check on him twenty minutes later. He wouldn’t have done a single one.
  • Sometimes, he would forget he had food in his mouth. It would stay there for ages, un-chewed, until somebody noticed and reminded him to chew and swallow.
  • Heaven forbid I would send him to another room to get something. He would disappear for ages, distracted by things along the way.

It’s no wonder his preschool teacher had so much trouble trying to teach him how to write his name. Something would distract him, even there seemed to be no distractions present.

*                                  *                                  *

I will spare you the continued journey and jump to the final defining moment.

In the summer of 2017, when my boys were nearly 5 and 6, I observed my youngest having hyper focus and it was getting worse. I used to have to walk across the room, tap him, and make eye contact before he could hear me. By August, I had to do a deep-tissue squeeze to break his hyper focus before speaking to him. It was mostly with the television and during his hour of tablet time, but it would also happen when he was lost in another activity or toy. By September, he would wet himself while playing on his tablet, and he had no idea he had peed. Once, he even pooped himself and had no clue that it happened. That’s how intense his hyper focus was.

I have a Master’s Degree in Secondary Education. Though my one semester covering Special Education barely scratched the surface, and I never quite figured out how to help the students in my classroom with ADHD during my 3 or 4 years of teaching Middle School, I did remember that hyper focus is a trait of Attention Deficit Disorders.

I asked the pediatrician about the hyper focus during our annual September checkups. She referred me to her in-house psychiatrist. He gave us a questionnaire for us to fill out, and one for our younger son’s preschool teacher.

Upon reading it, I realized that our oldest son also had a lot of the characteristics, so we did forms for both kids.

One of the questions asked about whether going to the mall with my children instilled a fear that they’d run off and get lost. On a scale of one to five, I wanted to rate that a HECK YEAH.

Another question was about the inability to stay in their chairs during meals. Another HECK YEAH.

We filled out our questionnaires, got them back from the teachers, and the psychiatrist shared his observations with us.

He explained that most kids walk into a strange room with a strange adult and cling to their parent. Our boys walked into the psychiatrist’s office, explored every corner of the room, touched things, picked up the psychiatrist’s belongings, sat upside down in the wingback chair, blurted questions, and the son I thought might be ADD and not ADHD (H = hyper), had climbed the built-in bookshelf nearly to the ceiling in order to retrieve a basketball. The psychiatrist said that he observed classic ADHD behaviors, and that the H applied to both kids.

He explained impulse control and distractibility.

He explained that our boys didn’t have an on/off button like other kids. ADHD means that our boys can’t get into line immediately after playing hard at recess. There’s no ability to switch to “settle down” from active mode. It has to happen gradually. And they can’t go from physically active or excited to bed without a long process of settling down.

He explained brain chemistry.

And that’s when he told me that behavior modification works for issues like a child being Oppositional, but that

YOU CAN’T PARENT ADHD OUT OF A CHILD.

And I wept.

I heard the months and years of self-condemnation in my head, and realized that it was the voice of the second Montessori teacher. I knew I needed to forgive myself for all my mistakes and realized I could never have fixed the ADHD with my parenting. I knew I needed to forgive that teacher for her bad advice, for all the time outs, for all the times she excluded my son, for all his hours in the principal’s office, for the “lonely lunches,” and all the other times he was treated as unworthy. I needed to forgive her, even though it was my mind that turned her into the voice of condemnation.

I longed to call the school and ask them to educate their teachers about ADHD, to help parents recognize the traits, to teach teachers how to better educate a kid with attention deficits. Once a person understands the disorder, then can stop blaming and judging the parents.

I look back at all this time and realize that, every time my husband and I tried a new parenting method, we executed the method as flawlessly as humans can. My husband and I were as consistent as parents can be. However, because I am always the first one to say I’m at fault, I FOUND inconsistent parenting in myself and my husband when I was told that my son’s behavior was due to inconsistent parenting. I made the facts match what I had come to believe. Does that make sense? I was told I sucked as a parent (not in those words) and so I believed it. I owned it. I was on a merry-go-round of self-condemnation.

And then we got the diagnosis: ADHD.

And we researched it.

And I had a new set of lenses through which to look at my children and at myself as a parent.

Guess what? I’m a pretty darn good parent. Not flawless, but good enough to say it’s my calling like I believed all along. God chose me for these boys. And he chose them for me. And we are a team. I adore them. Always have. But now I understand them better. I’m growing in my understanding of their needs. And I can nurture them and build them up and do my best for the damage previously done to their self-esteem.

Through all of this, I thank God for my even-keeled, intelligent, kind, consistent, affirming husband. The boys and I needed him.

I’ve discovered an amazing team member in my son’s Kindergarten teacher. She is a godsend. Add to her the psychiatrist, pediatrician, and the best reference tool on the planet, and we’re in a pretty good place. Here’s a link to the reference book that has the latest research. It answers most of my questions.

The book has given me insight into their needs. It has dispelled myths on parenting, medication, and other issues. It’s backed with decades of research and the experience of professionals with medical and psychology degrees. It has taught me to think more scientifically about what I read.

In our house, we now experience peace and fun most days. I have some parenting habits to undo, things that don’t work for ADHD kids, but overall I’m more affirming, more confident, and more encouraging than ever. I know this parenting gig is not all about me, while much of this post has been. But parenting is a journey, and we need to understand ourselves to better parent our kids.

We do projects again. My oldest son likes coloring in his free time. He’s rather artistic, in fact. And my youngest does Math for fun these days. Our little athletes are coachable now!

I feel like I know my sons better. If it’s possible, I’m more in love with my boys than ever.

*                                  *                                  *

Do you have a child who might have ADHD? The sooner you can get help, but more chance you have of it not trashing his or her self-esteem academically or socially. ADHD can get lonely for a kid.

I’m still learning, still forgiving, still need to read the rest of the ADHD reference book.

But the victories. THE VICTORIES!

I breathe easier these days.

The Gentle Strength of Mr. Rogers

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The word that is my guiding star in 2018 is GENTLENESS.

Early last week, I saw the video that’s going around Facebook of Fred Rogers testifying on behalf of public television to ask for federal funding. The senator in charge initially looked like all he wanted to do was brush off Mr. Rogers. Mr. Rogers kept going, gently saying what he had to say. When he was done, the hardened senator awarded him millions of dollars and turned the tide for public television funding.

The testimony brought back memories of the influence Mr. Rogers had on my self-esteem when I was 3-5yrs old. He truly was my best friend. As memories returned for a few days, I decided to show my sons (5 & 6yrs) an episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. I didn’t expect them to like it. There’s nothing high-tech about it, nothing slick. And yet, my boys were riveted. My 6yr old is especially absorbing his message of love and belonging. I didn’t expect this. I assumed I would have grown out of Mr. Rogers by 6 if my family hadn’t moved overseas when I was 5.

I changed our “no technology in the car for Lent” practice to “nothing but Mr. Rogers.” The boys are eager for new installments of the show.

Listening to his gentle way of talking to children is rubbing off on me. He’s not just speaking life and love into the hearts and minds of my sons. He is also helping me grow in my one word: GENTLENESS. I hope they keep their interest in the show far beyond Lent, because I need his influence too. He’s a true example to me.

 

Taking Every Thought Captive

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“To take every thought captive means being the master of one’s thoughts and passions instead of being mastered by them. It made sense to me; that was what I needed to do. Ineeded spiritual help, because I was locked, however unwillingly, in aspiritual battle. The solution, Paul advised, is to “[put] on the armor of God” (Eph 6)” –Dawn Eden, The Thrill of the Chaste

 I am listening to JK Rowling’s The Order of the Phoenix while I’m in the car this week. While I’ve read the Harry Potter series and listened to it in audio form countless times, it must have been quite a while since I’ve listened to this 5th book in the series. While I still remember the major plot points and moments of character growth, so much of the journey is new and fresh lately.

I had forgotten that a Dearborn gave his life fighting Voldemort. While this story is fiction, I’m still proud to have my maiden name among those who gave their lives for good. I had forgotten that Mr. Weasely nearly died for the same cause.

Right now, where I am in the book, Harry is studying occlumency. This is the magical act of closing one’s mind against legilimency, or someone trying to access your thoughts and feelings for either information or the attempt to influence.

Voldemort in the Potter books represents true evil, a fantastical Hitler or Satan figure. Voldemort’s mind and Harry’s have an accidental link dating back to when Harry was a baby. Teenage Harry has used this link to inform those who fight for good as to what Voldemort is feeling or planning. Voldemort now has figured out that he can use this link as well. While using it to spy on Dumbledore once or twice, Voldemort realizes that he can mobilize Harry by feeding him misinformation. This is much like the junk handed to us by the Father of Lies in our real world.

While studying occlumancy, Harry needs to learn to recognize the source of his thoughts. Is it Voldemort feeding him lies and playing on his emotions? Or is the source his own negative self-talk? Either way, Harry must learn both discernment and self-control. We as children of God must learn this ourselves. Self-mastery is simply growing into adulthood. If our drives master us, then we are not fully mature. If we can master ourselves, then we achieve adulthood.

The Potter books teach good citizenship and Judeo-Christian values. The connection I am making here is the concept of “taking every thought captive.” Today, it has led me to Holy Scripture:

2 Corinthians 10: 3-7

3For, although we are in the flesh, we do not battle according to the flesh,*4for the weapons of our battle are not of flesh but are enormously powerful, capable of destroying fortresses. We destroy argumentsb5and every pretension raising itself against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive in obedience to Christ,6 and we are ready to punish every disobedience, once your obedience is complete. 7 Look at what confronts you. Whoever is confident of belonging to Christ should consider that as he belongs to Christ, so do we.

While the Potter books are fantasy, Harry and the allies of good are battling against evil that includes prejudice, harming others, and following self-serving leaders. We, in the real world, are also in a battle. We need to discern the origin of harmful thoughts. Is Satan feeding us lies about the worth of ourselves or others?

I am battling lies that tell me I can’t control my own tongue. In an attempt to rein myself in, I have given up cussing for Lent. While I mastered this in my 20’s, I have gotten bad in recent years. I am ashamed to say that my children know some awful words because they heard them from me. It’s time to stop this for good. First, I recognize the triggers: stress, hunger, and the kiddos’ misbehavior. Next, I need to recognize the lies I have been believing. Among those is the lie that I don’t have control over my tongue when pushed too far.

I have been fed lies from Sebastian’s former preschool teacher (that we are inconsistent parents, that his lack of impulse control is due to poor parenting) and from the Father of Lies himself. More than a year of negative feedback from this woman who knows nothing of ADHD, who misread my son because he’s intelligent and “knows better.” I trusted her “expertise” in preschool aged kids, and swallowed all of her negative feedback. It’s my natural bent to blame myself when things go wrong, so her feedback stuck. My mind and emotions became a stew of self-condemnation with her voice in my head. The Father of Lies enjoyed incapacitating a child of God.

Now that I know the source, I can practice occlumency by shutting out the negative sources. I can focus on Truth, on Scripture, on the love of God and the fact that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. It’s going to take breaking habits. I think this self-condemnation (that I’m not the talented parent I thought I would be) is at least three years old. That’s a long habit to break.

Step 1 was recognizing the source and the lies.

Step 2 is reprogramming the thoughts to be positive, affirming, and in line with God.

Step 3 is changing my actions, reining myself in.

I can do this.

God has given me tools. I have a strong mind. I have a supportive husband, and the support of a loving tribe of friends. And I have this nifty Lenten practice that I like to call Sweet Thankfulness:

Once a day, I find a spot to be alone. I put two pieces of chocolate (white chocolate for me) in my mouth. In the time it takes for the chocolate to melt, I turn my thoughts to things I’m thankful for, all the while letting Jesus love me.

If I can do this in my mind for the duration of chocolate melting, then I can infuse my day with it. Before I know it, I will have reprogrammed my mind with God’s help.

The fantasy genre of literature is a great tool for helping our minds understand the spiritual realm that intersects our concrete world. Today, I see that occlumency is the scriptural concept of “taking every thought captive.” I need to learn it as much as Harry does. I trust that I will.

My Sons Say and Do the Darndest Things

Everyone’s kids do. I tend to transcribe conversations to my Facebook page. I thought I’d share a few here.

Sebastian is 4 and Pieter is 3. Steve is my husband.

 

The boys woke up from their naps and I let them have 1 piece of candy each.
Sebastian chose one and handed it to me demanding, “OPEN IT!”
I gave him the “teacher eye” and he knew what I meant right away.
“Please.”
I gave him a big smile and opened his wrapper.
Sebastian got this look of annoyance and said, “Use your words, Mommy.”
Touche, kid.

 

Pieter was looking at the farm animal magnets on the fridge.
“Wow, Mommy, cows have a lot of penises.”
I pulled a Scooby for a moment before I realized what he was talking about. “Those are actually the cow’s boobies. I understand why you thought they were penises. It sort of looks like they’re in the spot where a penis goes. They’re called udders on a cow.”
And then we practiced saying the word udder for quite a while.

 

A moment after good – morning hugs:
SEBASTIAN: Last night I was thinking a lot about sausage. Can I eat some sausage today?
ME: Why, yes! We just happen to have sausage. Let’s make it for lunch.
SEBASTIAN: Mommy, what’s sausage?

 

STEVE: I missed you guys!
SEBASTIAN: [Asked something I didn’t hear]
STEVE: You had Mommy snuggles, brother snuggles, and Brianna (babysitter) snuggles.
SEBASTIAN: But you had snuggles from airport guys.
STEVE: NO. I don’t snuggle with airport guys.

 

Getting ready one morning…
ME: Pieter, I need to promise you a bath today–no ands, ifs, or buts.
PIETER: Mommy, don’t say butt.
ME: Okay. No ands, ifs, or other prepositions. Is that okay?

Pieter nodded.

I guess I don’t know a preposition from a conjunction that early in the morning. Let’s hope my flubs are forgotten by the time he needs to label parts of speech!

 

 

Pieter got “new” hand me down boots. He didn’t them off until…
ME: Pieter, take your boots off the couch. A good cowboy always listens to his mom.
I turned my back for a sec and when I looked back, he’d put the boots on his hands.
PIETER: Mommy, they aren’t boots anymore. See?!

 

All of those conversations occurred in January 2016. Let’s see what February brings!

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19 Short Stories to Entertain & Inspire

Birds of Passage

The anthology of 19 Edgy Christian Fiction stories is now available!

It’s called Birds of Passage and is available in paperback and Kindle. Here’s a description:

“An edgy Christian fiction anthology with wonderful stories from 19 diverse Christian fiction authors – stories that entertain and inspire. A rare and unique collection. 100% of the net proceeds from the sale of this book go to Passage Home (a 501c3 non-profit) to continue their mission of helping to lift people out from the grip of poverty. (A special thank you to all the talented authors who generously donated their stories for this anthology, for such a great cause.) A great read anytime! It’s a gift that keeps on giving.”

My own story in the collection is called, “He Knew” about a young woman who has a mystical experience that heals her of her sexual history.

Help launch this new fiction genre and get yourself a copy! All proceeds go to charity.

To learn more about the genre, visit the Edgy Christian Fiction website here.

 

Alfie is a Wake-up Call

Jude Law Alfie

Jude Law’s Alfie is a Wakeup Call.

[This is another blast from the past, a post from 2009.]

I watched Alfie for the second time.

The first time hurt. It hurt badly. It was 2004.

It hurt because I had dated and loved an Alfie. He was neither blond nor English, but he was Alfie on the inside through and through. And I was the Marissa Tomei character but without the kid. Alfies ‘love’ women and never stop picking them up, flirting, or devising ways to be with as many as possible. They’re voracious and they don’t consider it bad. They always have another woman in their back pocket, they juggle and they charm. Non-answers are their normal way of handling the ones that turn into relationships. Evasion is their skill.

Tonight, it made me want to write. To tell stories that give women clues like this movie gave me.

I’m happy now, safe from Alfies, loved and taken care of, cherished. Smarter, too.

But I still want to write to protect girls from men like that. Men who are promiscuous and leave carnage of lives and hearts and relationships in their wake. Men who damage others and themselves. And it doesn’t matter if they have remorse, they will still do it again and again. Promiscuity damages a person’s ability to bond, so these guys can’t even commit when they want to! Or they commit and cheat.

I can write a million novels, but they’d all be from the female vantage point.

Alfie is from the man’s view. It’s accurate. I knew my Alfie well enough to know he could say everything Jude Law said in the movie, and I dated enough semi-Alfies to recognize that there are a lot of them out there. During the movie, as the action is going on, Alfie stops and has “asides” to the camera…he tells you what he’s up to, what he’s thinking, etc. Play-by-play, you get into his head as the scenes unfold.

Every single girl out there should see this movie. It’s a wonderful warning and a lot of insight. See the movie, and you’ll recognize the next Alfie to come your way. Through Jude Law you can look into the heart of these guys. And if any of them have left you in their wake with no explanation, now you’ll know. Here is your explanation. Watch it and you’ll get your “why.” See the consequences their actions have, on them and their friendships and even on their women.

My parents warned me about guys like this. They really did! But they were cliches, trite two-minute conversations that didn’t seem to hold any water. When I have a daughter, I’m going to watch this movie with her and show her the mind of an Alfie, the methods of operation, and how to run in the opposite direction…no matter how tempting he is.

Seriously, girls, watch it. Tell your friends to watch it. And walk away from Alfies.

PS – I think it’s crazy that the movie is considered a COMEDY, especially if you see the end. I have it filed under drama in my house.

Have you ever seen the movie Alfie? Have you ever dated one?

Posted 6/18/2009 at 7:55 PM

Still Happy With These Supplements

Not only did the first 8 lbs come off fast, but I’ve been able to maintain. I was not eating on the plan for 1-2 meals a day all last week because of Thanksgiving, but I kept up with the supplements, and I only gained a tad over 2 lbs. I am so impressed that the products kept me that close to where I was before Thanksgiving week! Now I won’t be as worried when my in-laws are here for Christmas. I’ll eat on the plan all day and have dinner with everyone.

The weight loss is good, but it’s the energy that I am most thankful for. I’m not just taking the boys places they can play. I’m actually playing with them. I’m a lot more fun for them. I felt the difference in less than a week, and things got steadily better for another week. I’ve maintained that energy level since. It’s also helping with mental clarity…I’m a much more productive writer.

I tried a new supplement this week. It’s an immune booster and anti-inflammatory among other things. My alignment has been messed up and I’ve been too busy to get to the chiropractor. I was resorting to ibuprofen to get me through the day. I started this supplement on Monday or Tuesday last week and haven’t taken ibuprofen since Thursday! I didn’t even realize it until Sunday. My alignment still needs the chiropractor, but the anti-inflammatory has made me comfortable again. I’m amazed at the efficacy of these products.

I spent this year trying various protein shakes and looking for other sources of protein. No shake tastes as good as this one. And if I’m craving sweets, it fits the bill. It’s not overly sweet, but just what I want. It’s vanilla…I’m not a chocolate person. And I’m not hungry after it, so the protein content is really good. If I’m too busy to stop for a meal, this shake buys me a few hours without losing physical or mental energy until I can get to some real food.

Because of the extra 2 lbs I gained and the fact that I’m 8 lbs heavier than my goal weight, I started another 8-Day Challenge yesterday. I woke up this morning 2 lbs lighter. Woo hoo!

Ponytail Happy Dance (repost)

Ponytail Happy Dance

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This entry should be subtitled, “Sometimes My Life is a Romantic Comedy.”

[This is a happy memory post from 2009]

Last night, I went to wash up for bed as Steve started his nightly PT. He does this ab machine thing and then does toning exercises that I like to call “Man Pilates.” Sure looks a lot like pilates to me.

Anyway, as I approached the bathroom mirror, a thought struck me. “Hmmm. Do I finally have enough hair for a ponytail?!?”

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You see, last summer, I got all my hair chopped off. I had two reasons: 1) I wanted to find out what my real hair color was under my blonde highlights and 2) Steve and I were about to go on an adventurous vacation where hair might get in the way. So I chose an adorable haircut. One that would work well with my hair type and my face/neck. It was Audrey Hepburn’s pixie cut. I took it in, my hair dresser studied the picture closely, and proceeded to give me an entirely different cut with even less hair than the cut I wanted. I thought the new cut was sort of cute for a couple of days, but then we out to dinner for our anniversary, and there at the restaurant were 3 or 4 women with my same haircut. Not a single one of them could have been under 70. Yes, I was pissed.

So back to last night. After that initial observation, I opened my hair drawer and pulled out a trusty scrunchy. I pulled my hair back and, “Voila!” All the hair fit into the scrunchy and it all stayed! Sure, the ponytail is a mere stub. Somewhere between these two shots:

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But the point is that I can now pull my hair back if I want! A ponytail opens up a whole world of possibilities, like sleeping in an extra 15 minutes and just putting my hair in a ponytail instead of the whole wash/blow-dry routine.

Woo hoo! I was elated.

I started to do a happy dance and pranced into the bedroom where Steve was crunching away at the ab machine. I danced and I danced and I told him how happy I was.

That’s when I realized that Steve is a guy and, therefore, not “getting it.” He was enjoying my dance. But he had no clue that it was all in honor of the ponytail that was still intact on my head! I pointed. He didn’t get it. So I told him. “Look! Look at me! I have a ponytail! I have ENOUGH HAIR for a ponytail!”

His happiness for me was somewhat diminished. I guess he doesn’t realize the level of suffering sine July without enough hair for a ponytail. But he was still pleased for me.

So I got ready for bed and then got into bed to read my Scriptures while he went into the bathroom to brush his teeth and all that.

I was just wrapping up my prayer time when Steve came dancing into the bedroom. He gyrated in silly ways and I realized he was imitating me. He waved his hands in front of his face, did some dancy-head-nod moves, and then got in really close to me. “Look!” he said, “Look at me! I have a ponytail! I have enough hair for a ponytail!”

And there, on his forehead, was a teeny tuft of military-cut short hair gathered with a twist-tie. He had a 1 cm ponytail.

Of course, I laughed myself silly. I was laughing so hard that Steve had to leave the room from embarrassment.  God, I love silly men. Especially this one.

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Posted 6/25/2009 at 4:19 PM

Well-Being

I didn’t notice the benefits of energy, mental acuity, and mood enhancement right away on the supplements. I was more concerned last week about my self-discipline with food. I mean, my mom is from the Netherlands. I was raised on cheese. How does one live without it?

By the weekend (Days 5-7), I found myself better able to chase after my preschoolers. My sons are high-energy, and are a major motivation for my pursuit of my own well-being. I’m an older mommy in my forties, and they’ve been difficult to keep up with. I found myself getting less cranky when they had their meltdowns.

I started playing with them more and staying on the sidelines less. This is a good sign!

Then on Monday and Tuesday, I needed to juggle being mommy with my writing deadlines. My hopes about these supplements helping my level of alertness have been met. I was the revision queen yesterday. I was really on it in my writing class Monday night. This class isn’t just helping me renew my Virginia teaching license, but it’s honing my writing craft. But the time of day after a full day of Mommying can be a challenge. Not this past Monday. Perhaps I talked too much…I was that much into it.

I admit that the promise of mood enhancement made me skeptical and cautious about the supplements. I’m not after a pill-popping lifestyle. However, it was worth a shot. The ingredients are natural. I’m not sure how to measure something as subjective as mood, but we all know the negative side of PMS. In trying to assess the value of the supplements, I asked myself: What’s the direct opposite of PMS? That would be a positive mood enhancement. I seem to be more even-keel with my boys when they misbehave, have a more positive outlook, am more ready to be the go-getter I was in the past. I am myself, but with more pep than I’ve had in recent months. Here’s the main thought I had yesterday:

I am more fun. 

Really, I jump into the boy meelee more readily and initiate being silly.

So I have a stronger sense of well-being and the supplements are good for my parenting and my writing career. 

Yesterday was the first day of the new eating/supplement schedule, less strict than the 8-day challenge, but still enabling weight loss. I sort of let my hair down.

I didn’t monitor my water intake as closely, and figured I’d still drink a great deal, but perhaps not the gallon-a-day of the challenge. By eleven, my body was craving the water. I drank a ton to catch up, and probably had a gallon or more by the end of the day. It’s inconvenient to go to the loo that frequently, but I’m going to listen to my body and keep up the water consumption indefinitely.

I didn’t read the recommended food list closely yesterday and ate grains on the wrong day, had a lot of a non-recommended vegetable, and added some dairy to the home made soup. I ate the recomended quantities of food, and was full after each meal.

I expected a little weight gain due to my lack of attention to detail.

I lost another pound.

The more I live out the plan and supplements on this system, the more I am sold on it.

The picture above is my “after” picture from yesterday morning. I ordered some silly yoga pants recently, and they arrived on Monday. They show the slimming results of what I’m doing. The photo also shows that I need to wash my bathroom mirror. Doh!

Today is Veteran’s Day and my husband has the day off. I get a morning of writing and an afternoon date with the man I love. Talk about celebrating well-being.

Have a great day, all!