Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The perplexities of my four year old enigma

My four year old son, Grayson, is going through a rough time. I wish I could pinpoint why, and exactly when it began, but perhaps it is simply the combination of a number of factors.

He's naturally extra sensitive to smells and sometimes to certain clothing. A few months ago, Daddy dressed him in a button down shirt for church and inexplicably buttoned it all the way to the collar. This resulted in a dramatic meltdown and it triggered a distaste for wearing shirts of any kind. Since then, he almost always takes his shirt off when we are at home (and other places when he can get away with it). When he does have to wear a shirt, he often stuffs his hand in the collar to pull the shirt away from his neck.

He also has the nose of a bloodhound and will complain of smelling things when no one else can. Until the last week and a half or so, these things were just little quirks about him. We didn't worry too much about the shirt thing, figuring he'd outgrow it. And the smell thing didn't seem to be a huge problem. He didn't like public bathrooms, for instance, but he'd use one if necessary, so it wasn't impeding his life, or ours, in any way.

Until a week and a half ago.

It was a Sunday and I made the mistake of putting him in a button down shirt. I kept the top two buttons open, so it actually was farther away from his neck than any other shirt he has. But he could not deal with the shirt. It escalated to a huge tantrum and he acted like he was going to throw up  (even long after we'd taken the shirt off him). He complained of smelling bad things and basically had an all-out meltdown. I wound up leaving him home with Daddy (who was staying home anyway) because I couldn't get him calmed down and we were late already.

Since then, he has had a number of similar incidents - getting very upset, saying he smells something bad, screaming, crying and gagging hard. It has gotten to the point where he doesn't want to leave the house because he is afraid he will smell something bad and feel sick. He says everything smells like poop. It is really hard to get him to get dressed and go when we have to go somewhere - it takes a lot of coaxing and prodding. It is become a big problem for the whole family.

I took him to the doctor, at the suggestion of his preschool teacher (he had a meltdown last Friday at school), just to rule out any physical causes. We didn't find anything. Ears, throat, nose, blood count, etc. - all normal. He hasn't been sick all winter, with the exception of a brief "almost cold" last week - he had a stuffy nose for about half a day but it never turned into anything serious.

Our doctor, whom I love as much for his mellow approach as the fact that he has 6 kids of his own and often approaches a problem with a, "When so and so (names one of his kids) did that, we....", said it was likely that something else was putting stress on his system and his natural sensitivities were being blown out of proportion. He may have been fighting a mild virus or not getting enough sleep and that was enough to push him over the edge - and now smells and shirts are the culprit for any discomfort he feels.

I think something deeper is happening, although I think my boys' after-bedtime reading sessions may be going on later than I thought. Grayson is largely an enigma to me. His personality is a lot like my husband's, which you would think would make him easy to understand. But he's not. He is this complicated little fella with so much going on inside, yet the exterior is usually one of a happy, easygoing little guy. He's not the best at communicating his feelings (even though his language is very good) and it is really hard to understand what is going on inside that little head of his. My older son, by contrast, will get in your face and literally demand attention when he is upset or not feeling right. Grayson will retreat into himself and make it nearly impossible to tell what is bothering him - or even that anything is bothering him at all.

A few things spring to mind, and I'm wondering if we're at the crux of a number of issues that have been building up inside him for a long time.

My husband started a new job in January with a very different schedule that has him away from home late two or three days a week, but working from home the other days.

He's rounding the bend in his preschool year and heading for kindergarten in the fall. He knows he'll be homeschooled, but he's complained that he wants to go to "real school" like David did. He's also probably hearing things about going to kindergarten at his preschool, and not sure where he fits in to all that.

While he accels in some areas (like reading), his maturity level isn't necessarily catching up. His preschool teacher has mentioned some behaviors that she feels might indicate he's not quite ready to move on to kindergarten. He's aware of that and it might be contributing to feelings of confusion. We will be homeschooling, so truthfully I'm not the least bit worried about it, since we can work on good habits simultaneously with academics. But I'm not sure how he feels about all of it.

His brother gets a lot of attention and one-on-one time with me, every morning, as we do school. I have made some attempts to get him interested in doing something alongside us, but he always refuses. So I've gotten in the habit of just letting him be. But as I think on it, I need to seek out ways to give him more attention and get him involved somehow, because he won't seek it from me, even when he needs it. He tends to retreat from everyone, rather than going after the attention he needs.

This was all feeling really overwhelming and I was so unsure of what to do and how to handle it all. I've watched some good friends navigate some very treacherous waters with their children as they dealt with perplexing behaviors, some leading to actual diagnoses being made. My kids have always been healthy and typical, with no real concerns for their development or behavior. Suddenly, I've been looking at my poor little boy, and wondering to myself, "What on earth is wrong with you?!?"

Today I feel a bit more peaceful, and although I don't really know exactly what I'm doing, I do have one major theme that will guide how I approach this time with my fella - I'm going to love the crap out of him. He's a middle child, he's not an attention seeker (and he has an older brother who IS an attention seeker and a 2 year old sister who takes a lot of my attention), and even though I don't always know the best way to love him so he really knows it, I'm going to try. I read an old thread on a message board and someone said something about "filling up our children's emotional bank." That's exactly what I'm going to do. I'm going to love on him as much as I can, making sure he knows that no matter what, I love him. I'm going to hug him, kiss him when he'll let me (which isn't often), talk to him, ask him questions, read books of his choosing, sit by him and let him warm his feet under my legs. I'm going to stop what I'm doing during school time and do an activity just with him. I'm going to make eye contact and smile at him and tell him how much fun I'm having with him. I'm going to ask him questions and make him laugh and squeeze his hands and feet.

I'm going to love him through this because damnit, I don't know what else to do.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I already messed up

I broke my Lenten fast... already.


I really want to write about how justified I am in doing so. I want to say that it isn't my fault, what else could I have done! We were at my son's Cub Scout Pinewood Derby race and beforehand there was a pizza potluck. I figured I'd have water, but there wasn't any and my choices of beverage were limited to Hawaiian punch, Sprite, root beer and my husband's diet coke. Rather than drink a glass of sugar, I took a few swigs from the diet coke.

See, how bad is that, really? I mean, what's a girl to do?

I guess in reality it isn't the worst sin I could have commited. I should have planned ahead, like my friend who is in the same boat as me, giving up diet coke, and brought a big bottle of iced tea. But I didn't, and I caved.

Fortunately for me, my 7-year-old didn't seem to notice, or I'm certain he would have called me out on it. I got an iced tea the other day and he thought it was a soda, and he started giving me a hard time about it. Little stinker - but he sure keeps me honest.

I may have failed today, but I guess the best I can do is pick myself back up again and recommit to this very, very simple, very, very tiny sacrifice. I mean, good grief, I live in a lovely home with a wonderful husband who has a steady job and provides a comfortable living for our family. I don't have the tiniest fraction of the worries and concerns of so many mothers around the world, so my longing for caffeinated fizziness should not be that big of a deal. I don't have to sacrifice anything real. My children are healthy and life is really, really good.

Heavenly Father, please forgive my utter weakness. Only with your grace can I hope to come anywhere close to what you want of me. As I stumble along, feeling half blind, please look kindly on me and my feeble efforts. I offer this tiny bit of suffering (as minuscule as it is) to you and pray that you will help me grow in faith, love and charity. Amen.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lent and diet coke

Today we spent some of our school time talking about Lent. I did my best to explain what Lent is (this is what a bad Catholic parent I am, that I have to explain this to him at age 7), and he grasped it quite well. Of his own volition, he decided to give up candy for Lent. I was pretty impressed. I had explained how it was traditional to give up something we love until Lent, sort of like fasting - a little sacrifice to remind us of the big sacrifice of Jesus. That really resonated with him and he very solomnly declared he would not eat "even one single bite of candy AT ALL," until Easter. We'll see how he holds out with that one. I'm not sure whether to really make him stick to it if push comes to shove, but I'll encourage it. I do want it to remain his choice.

Of course, the next question on his mind was, "What are you giving up for Lent, Mom?" Oh shoot. Yes, I should probably be the one setting the example, shouldn't it? I had been mulling it over for a few days (yes, still undecided on the morn of Ash Wednesday), but inside I knew what I should give up. I typically try to give up something that I feel is enacting too strong of a pull on my life at the time. One year I gave up TV. Another year it was Facebook. This year the answer was easy, I just didn't really want to do it.

Diet coke.

Yes, I am a hopeless (well, maybe not entirely hopeless) diet coke addict. I'm telling you, that stuff has more addictive value than just the caffiene. I have had plenty of caffeine today (I was drinking black tea until this afternoon), and boy was I grumpy. I warded off the worst of the caffeine headache with the tea, but I still did not feel right this afternoon. My head still hurt and I was extremely annoyed at how much I wanted that fizzy fix. I am so glad I never started smoking - I'd probably never be able to quit.

Despite my annoyance at the addiction, it has never been enough to get me to quit drinking it entirely. It is difficult because my husband (who I completely blame for my present diet coke junkie state) is worse than I am. He drinks little else lately - which is terrible, I'm sure, but trust me, that man is not the type to be nagged into changing his habits. (And thank goodness HE never started smoking - oh man).

So Lent seemed like the perfect time to put aside the ridiculous addiction I have to diet coke. I figure being headachey and annoyed for a few days is probably good for me right now. Every time I think about how much I want a can of the darned stuff, I can think of why I'm doing this - to focus more on my faith during this time of preparation and to offer this teeny, tiny, insignificant sacrifice to the Lord.

It is funny how my son brought it out and will keep me honest. The last thing I'm going to do is drink a diet coke now, since I told him I wouldn't. I sure grumbled to myself about that this afternoon, but in a day or so I'm sure I'll feel normal again - probably better.

In the meantime, someone pass me a latte!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The crazy world of homeschooling philosophies

As I work my way through our first homeschooling year, I have done a lot of reading. Before I started looking into homeschooling, I had no idea there were different methods. I figured you could choose resources, books and curriculum, but I didn't know anything about the different educational philosophies. Over the last six months I've read a lot about different philosophies, trying to narrow down resources and figure out the best options for my kids.

I find myself feeling a lot like I did when my first son was little and I started reading about various parenting topics. It's easy to read all kinds of articles, blog posts and books espousing a particular theory or method, and they might sound rather convincing. Then you read more articles, blog posts and books about a completely different method. Both are completely convinced they have it right, that their method is the way to go.

Homeschooling is the same way. You can look up "homeschooling methods" and find all kinds of catchy phrases, like "Classical," "Unit Studies," "Traditional," "Charlotte Mason," and even "Unschooling." They all have their own take on how to educate children, and they are all a bit different (some vastly different). And the proponents and experts in each will tell you that their way is clearly the *right* method. But they can't all be right, can they?

Now here I am, an intelligent and educated woman, doing what every parent does, trying to do what is best for my kids. And I have all these voices telling me their way is the best. This isn't some grand experiment where I feel that I can just try something out for a while and see how it goes. These are my kids minds we are talking about here! I can't just take a chance that something might work as well as a book says it does and hope for the best.

It leads me to really wonder how people decide. How do you decide to embrace classical education versus focusing on unit studies? What is it about a particular educational philosophy that pulls someone in and convinces them to actually try it out on their kids? I suppose a lot of it is simply what feels right. Some people embrace a method of education because it resonates, it speaks to them, it makes sense.

Then there are people like me, who research and overthink the heck out of everything until it is all swirling around in their heads like a bunch of glittering colors. Perhaps this is why someone invented the term "eclectic homeschooler."

I am a terrible overthinker. There's value in research and preparedness and in making intentional decisions, especially when it comes to important things like your children's education. But I do need to curb my crazy list making and rampant excel spreadsheets just a little. In some ways, I am experimenting. We've changed and adjusted and learned a lot as we've gone this year and that is to be expected. In practice, I know I can't (and don't want) to do things by the book - any book. I know that I will take what works well for us and apply it and make the best decisions I can for my kids.

And maybe there's something to be said for a lot of the approaches. I'm sure there are those who follow a method religiously (those who wrote the books, perhaps). But most of us out in the trenches are probably adapting ideas and making them our own - applying a philosophy of education that resonates and feels right and seems to work well with our kids. I suppose that's the best we can do.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Making sense out of tragedy

The news this week has been filled with the story of the murder of two sweet boys, Charlie and Braden Powell. If you haven't followed the story, their mother, Susan Cox Powell, disappeared a bit over two years ago and her husband was a "person of interest," but her case is yet unsolved. The children were in the custody of their father, who had moved home to Washington after his wife's disappearance. They lived in my neighborhood, until in a very troubling twist of events, their grandfather was arrested for child pornography and voyerism.

Eventually custody of the children was given to Susan's parents. Sunday, they had a scheduled visitation with their father. The CPS worker took them, and when they ran into the house, their father blocked the CPS worker from coming in. She went to her car to call her supervisor to report what had happened, and he blew up his house, killing himself and his two boys. I read more about what they found this morning, about what their father did to them, and it is so heartbreaking, I honestly can't bear to type it.

I've seen those boys walking to the school my son attended last year. Today, I drove by the school where there are balloons, stuffed animals, flowers and posters all over the sign in tribute to those two innocent lives. My kids don't know about this tragedy, and it was all I could do to stop the tears as we drove by the school. Purple ribbons adorn the trees of our neighborhood and there's a sense of shock and horror that you can see on my neighbor's faces.

I don't know any of the people involved personally. But the fact that it happened nearby (I saw the firetrucks and ambulance as we left church on Sunday) makes it somehow more horrible, more real. Passing the school, knowing why those flowers and balloons are there, it just hurts. It hurts something awful and I didn't even know them. I cannot fathom what their grandparents are going through right now, losing their daughter to an unknown fate and now this.

That man, that monster who, from what I can tell, seemed to think that if he couldn't have his kids then no one could - he had no idea what his actions would do. He had no idea how far the pain would spread. He didn't just hurt his wife (who I personally believe is probably dead), or his family or his wife's family. He devastated the CPS worker who witnessed the explosion. He hurt the firefighters and EMTs who responded to the disaster. He hurt his neighbors who had to witness the horror of what he did. He hurt the friends of his sweet children, the little boys and girls whose parents have to explain why their friend won't be coming back to school.

He hurt complete strangers. People all over this area are crying for these boys. For the tragedy of losing their mother, for the pain they have suffered, and for their horrifying death at the hands of their own father.

Sin isn't isolated. This is a big, obvious example of how the effects of sin range far and wide. Something this dramatic and evil has a ripple effect across an entire community, probably the entire nation. People everywhere are reeling from the shock of such a terrible, terrible crime.

It reminds me that, even smaller sins have the same effect. They don't just hurt my relationship with God on a personal level and that is that. Sin has the power to hurt people you don't even know, in ways you can't even fathom. This man's utter selfishness is an obvious, glaring example and it is easy to shy away from it and refuse to recognize how it could be applicable to our own lives. But while his sin exploded out and rocked a community, our own sins trickle forth and taint the world just the same.

My consolation in watching this tragedy unfold is in God. Only He offers hope in such a completely horrible, evil deed. I don't know what that hope is, really. That those innocent children are in the arms of God, and possibly with their mother? Maybe. But I do know that God makes things right and that their lives were not in vain. As far reaching as the sin of their father has been, God's reach is infinitely greater and He can work in the world in ways we can't possibly imagine. And I take comfort that those innocent children are with Him now. For this world that we see is not the end. Tragic as it is to lose two precious lives in such a terrible way, they offer us the hope of Jesus in their death.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Little Viking children

Recently, my son and I were reading about the Viking explorations of North America - Leif Ericson and so forth. The topic came up at dinner, and Daddy proceeded to tell him all about Viking beserkers - men who would go into battle in a dramatic rage, often charging into the fray with nothing but a helmet and a sword. It must have been quite the spectacle really - imagine a great big, naked Norseman, charging at you full speed with a sword bigger than you are! They must have been rather good at striking fear into the hearts of their enemies.

In any case, a few days later, out of nowhere, my 7 year old comes running down the stairs, yelling at the top of his lungs, wearing nothing but a dress-up Viking helmet and brandishing a giant nerf sword.

It was seriously funny.

My husband and I could not stop laughing. Enough time had passed between our dinner conversation about Vikings and his little display that it seemed really spontaneous, and therefore even funnier. He ran around us in circles a few times while we laughed, yelling all the while, then ran back upstairs whence he came.

We heard him a few minutes later, excitedly loud-whispering to his brother, clearly trying to convince him to do the same trick. After some discussion, we heard our 4 year old begin yelling, but it took about 15 seconds for him to actually come down the stairs (which was funny in and of itself - it was like he was gearing up for something). When he appeared, he had the sword and helmet, but also had on hid underwear (which is what he wears around the house most of the time anyway - the kid is apparently allergic to clothes). He did a lap, laughing more than yelling by that point, and ran back upstairs to the excited giggles of his brother.

Ah, our little Viking children.