The picture above is from this last weekend. We were asked by some friends to help them collect sap from their sugar Maples. Knut and the kids are riding in the back of the pickup with the sap. David is walking alongside. It's a fun picture. I'll hopefully get to show you some more this week...along with the chick pictures I promised.
I'm still surrounded by laundry, and a pile of paperwork to attend to. We had a victory, yesterday. I know it may seem trivial, but to me...to Knut and me...and David, it was so good.
I have written so many times about my son David, and haven't published so much of it, that can't remember exactly what I have told you all. I think we've alluded to the fact he's our strong willed child. I have probably mentioned that he's had a tracking problem with reading that we have worked through. I've probably mentioned we put him on a fish oil supplement that has helped him concentrate the last few years. The last few months we found out that he has trouble sleeping and staying asleep as well, and our doctor pointed us to a magnesium supplement that has helped him greatly. (His body was not making sufficient melatonin.) We've also learned that red dyes, and perhaps other processed foods triggers tantrums and confusion for him, and we have removed them from his diet.
It has been years of trying out various discipline methods, just to humble ourselves as parents and move beyond books to actual people to help us. Besides his small learning disabilities, we are realizing he has some sensory issues, and we are in the midst of figuring out what they are, and what we can do to help him. These processes are slow, and tedious, and involve offices and therapists with busy schedules.
For school, David has been thriving. He likes to work early in the morning, and prefers to stand up or move while doing school. He takes lots of breaks, every 30 minutes at least, though now that we've got his sleep issued figured out, I've been able to stretch him to 40 minutes sometimes. He thrives on work, and we give him lots to do outside. He's happiest when he's working. He's bright...crazy bright like his big sister. Though it shows up in very different ways.
He has a big heart. Last week I had some mom friends over, and without me asking, he brought in a couple of trays to us, with a teapot full of hot water, sugar, cream, and an assortment of teas. He just does stuff like that. Through all his tantrums, and fighting, he loves big too.
Honestly, we've climbed so many mountains here at home, with our David. The biggest change was when we stopped treating it exclusively as a behavior issue, and started dealing with it from a spiritual standpoint, and addressing the real, biological struggle he was wrestling with. Behavior is what all the books are about, but the soul and the body are pretty important too. When we switched gears, he started spilling more information, and as he is learning we are on his side, we are making big progress.
So it seems kind of silly to say that the hardest thing we still struggle with is church. We have come so far that instead of occasional good days like years ago, we have 5-6 excellent days a week with him, leaving Sunday as the big mountain. We go to a small church, but one that's like family. Families usually sit together. We only divide up for Sunday school, and we have about enough kids in our church to divide the kids into a big kids group and little kids group. David's teachers are super understanding, one is a father with a child who deals with similar issues. The other is a longtime friend of mine with kids of her own as well, and a third is Knut's cousin.
And yet, he gets so disruptive he has to be removed from class weekly. Sitting in church for a full hour is nearly impossible for him. It takes every ounce of his strength to do it. We're a family church, and it is relaxed, and he isn't that disruptive to other people, but it's terribly disruptive to Knut and I, and it's hard on the other kids too when David gets all the attention. This piece of the puzzle has been a tough one. We have been experimenting with ways to make church work for a few years now.
Yesterday, we came up for some air.
It all started with the first tap on our shoulder during adult Sunday school, with a usual motion of the head that either Knut or I needed to come. It was my turn this week to deal with David at church. Well sometimes we tag team in on an hourly basis, when daily isn't working.
It happens every Sunday, and I've asked David if he just wants to hang out with me during Sunday school instead of go to class. We sat outside of class one week, and he missed it. I could see on his face he wanted to be in there. He's determined to make it work. Honestly, he's a stubborn kid, because I would have given up sending him to Sunday School months ago. The last 2 years I was his Sunday school teacher, but I needed a rest from that. This year has been difficult for him in that way.
Honestly, when we first started homeschooling David, there were concerns voiced in our circle that he would never learn to sit. It is good to know how to sit. I won't deny it. I'm just not sure it's more valuable than all other knowledge. If I had to choose between knowledge of history, math, stories and writing, and the ability to sit, I'd say all those other things are more important. David told me once when we were having a reading lesson at home that when he sits, all he can think about is, "sit still, keep the legs still, don't move" and then it's hard to read his assignment. When he is standing, his mind is free to focus on his lesson.
And yet, we force him to sit in church, knowing that he can't sit and learn at the same time. Honestly, if I have to choose between him learning about God, and learning to sit, I'm going to want him to learn about God. It's not that learning to sit is useless, it's just not as high in priority for me.
When I got to David in the hallway yesterday morning, he started to tell me what happened, and was irritable and defensive like always. He is usually kicked out for kicking or pestering another student, (usually his sister) and for generally being out of control. Saturday I had to pull him out of his sister's choir concert, another hour+ long sitting activity. He was so worked up I couldn't settle him then, and only Knut was able to do that when we got home. Team effort, people. Team effort. A week ago we kept him home from church completely. I saw on his face and in his attitude we were on a road for trouble. He snapped out of it about 10 minutes after the rest of the family left and he realized that he and I actually weren't going to church. He was shocked. He was remorseful. We never skip church.
So anyway, yesterday at church:
"Come on, bud. Let's find a quiet space. We'll reset there." I put my arm around him and he put his defenses down. We spent years disciplining him for this behavior. Years. I still see the fear in his eyes from it. I've come to realize, that he needs equipping more than punishments. Equipping is another form of discipline. It's a Biblical one, even.
He followed me to an empty classroom. I looked him square in the eyes.
"I love you, you know." I said.
"I love you too, Mommy." He says.
"Remember this is a battle." I say.
David thinks a lot in 3D. I'm learning to apply this a lot to his schooling. He loves the battle image for times like this. It came to me a few months ago during a church service, and he and I have been talking about it since. We talk about how we go to church to worship God, be encouraged, and encourage other believers. We study the Bible. All those things make Satan mad. He will whisper promises that if we do wrong, we will be happy, but it always leaves us feeling frustrated and angry. So Satan will set traps... try to rob us of joy. The battle is for joy. The battle is for worship. We have to fight distractions like we are in a battle. We have to fight for joy, because something will always happen, as any parent who has ever attempted to take a child to church Sunday morning knows. My mom always said that Satan works extra hard Sunday mornings.
"I want to go back." He says. "But I'm afraid that I'm going to get kicked out again." I feel the fatigue in him.
"You don't have to go back." I say. "I'll stay with you again. I don't mind."
"I want to go back." He says again. "But I'm scared of messing up again." Where on earth did this kid get so determined?
"Well, there's 3 things we need to do. You know them?"
"First, we pray." I say.
He steps closer to me, and puts his hands in mine. We bow our heads together, and we pray. We pray for wisdom and strength. We pray for joy, and for clarity to always see the truth. We pray for victory over the battle.
"Step 2" I say.
"Putting on the armor." He says. He knows this one by heart. He told me a few weeks ago, that sometimes he puts on the armor even before he comes down to breakfast, just to help make sure he has a good day.
Together we quote Ephesians 6:10-18 (we actually shorten it to verses 14-18 for this exercise), and pretend to put armor on our bodies:
-the belt of truth buckled around your waist.
-the breastplate of righteousness
-feet fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace
-shield of faith
-helmet of salvation
-the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God
Once we are outfitted with our invisible armor, I look at him and say: "Step 3."
"Obey the rules" he says firmly.
"Can you do it soldier?" I ask?
He nods, but not with as much certainty.
"Don't let evil win." I say. "Don't let anything steal joy that comes from God. There is blessing for you in there. God intends you to be a blessing too. You cannot be bugging other people. Be a blessing to them. Don't hurt them. Don't fall into any traps."
"Can you come and sit in the back?" He asks.
"If you want me to." I say.
I walked him back into his classroom. He joined the rest of the kids and I took a seat out of the way.
He did beautifully.
After Sunday School, and a little snack during the "fellowship time" the church service started. David was so excited he didn't get kicked out of Sunday School again he was riding a high and felt he could do anything. We pick our seats carefully, and loud sounds bother him, and we've realized that a seat too close to a speaker could mess up the whole morning. We don't have loud and crazy music at our church. We do a fair number of hymns, and mix it with praise music.
Knut and I spent years taking David out of church for being disruptive. It happened pretty much every Sunday with very few exceptions. We started realizing that he wanted to leave, though not the church...just the sanctuary. He liked sitting in the back fellowship hall, where he could still hear, but it wasn't too loud. We've talked about getting him earplugs, but David says he just doesn't like the crowds of people. Like I mentioned, it's not a large church, but I suppose we can fill up the seats that are there from time to time.
So the last few months we have been training him to try to stay with us as long as he can, but if he needs a break, to just excuse himself to the fellowship hall for a few minutes, and come back when he's ready. It doesn't always work. Sometimes he gets into trouble out there too.
But yesterday, during the sermon, he whispered in my ear that he was having trouble sitting still and needed a moment outside the sanctuary. I nodded. I should have been listening to the sermon, but I was straining my ears to see if he was fine out there. Nothing terribly loud happened, and about 10 minutes later, he slipped back into the service without us having to check on him. He had a smile on my face and squeezed my hand. I heard later it wasn't all perfect out there and another adult asked him to stop doing something, but he stopped immediately. So even in that, there's victory.
Both Knut and I got to stay in the whole service at our church. I'm not sure how many years that has been. I know it may seem like a small victory, but it was big to me. I love our church and it's family atmosphere. I love how everyone pitches in to help. I love how the distinction between family and friends fades there.
Sometimes training takes years, not weeks. Not hours. Years. I've grown tired of all of the obedience-quick parenting books out there. I suppose that's why I've latched onto the Clarkson books. They're actually have experience with out-of-the-box...no-system-works-kid. They remind me I'm blessed to have one of those. They are the future leaders, movers and shakers. They remind me what we are striving for as parents when we finally get to the realization that perfectionistic obedience is unattainable. What is attainable is grace. What is attainable is life when we feel dead, and strength when we feel weakness. If I can't teach totalitarian obedience, I can teach those things. And really? Those things are so much better anyway.