Pulling Back the Curtain

Life with kids is mentally exhausting.  Not only is it exhausting in the moment, but as they get older, I replay conversations in my head, and try to think of new ways to get messages through to them.  Saturday was a day of big ups and downs with our son, David.  He had mostly great moments, with some loud, door-slamming/stomping ones sprinkled in there.  I was hoping Sunday would be so much better.  He did great getting up, but the moment Knut asked him to bring the kitchen slop out to the chickens, he melted down.  Right before church.  Again.

It comes out of the blue.  I suppose sometimes we see it coming.  Getting David to do basic things our other kids do is either easy as pie or like pushing a boulder uphill.  You don’t always know which scenario it will be when you ask.  But once you ask, you are committed.  You give in once, and he will push hard every other time tenfold.  It’s just exhausting.

After our roller coaster of a day emotionally on Saturday, I spent some time just sitting on the couch after the kids were in bed, and just reflected on our situation…again.  I thought about all the words that David had yelled at me during the day, and how it was so hard to make him understand that some things just need to be done.  I felt like I just couldn’t get through to him.

I thought about how we had never sat down and fully explained to David all of his diagnoses.  He knows about his food issues.  But does he know why he visited a psychologist and therapists?  Does he understand he has learning disabilities?  We’ve just always told him, “you just learn differently” or “your brain just works differently.”

Have I ever acknowledged to him fully that things just aren’t different for him, but they are harder for him?

I was thinking that he’s getting old enough that maybe I should tell him the name of all that he’s dealing with.  Maybe I should lay out the choices that the doctors gave us, and the ones that his dad and I picked, and why.

IMG_3996I realized I was trying to shelter him for so long about these things, because I didn’t want to make him feel stupid (because he’s not), or make him feel like he had any excuse to not do his best.  I was texting a friend about this earlier last week, and she texted something back along the lines of, “Yes, but Gretchen at some point don’t we all have to face our limitations?”  Wow.  I’ve been thinking on that a lot.

So Sunday morning, he was melting down before church…again.  Knut had talked with him, and then was letting him have some alone time to calm down.  It was my turn to go in and try to snap him out of his mood and get him in the car.  I went in with a little yellow notebook and a pen.  I just sat down and started writing.

ADHD

SPD

Dyslexia

“David, I need to tell you something about yourself.”  He looked up.  This was new.  I asked if he remembered when he went to the “head doctor” and took all those tests and how they were all so nice.  Yes, he remembered.  I explained to him that he didn’t just have Alopecia.  He had some other problems that he also dealt with everyday.  I wrote down each diagnosis, and explained what about each diagnosis made his life hard.

I gave each of his daily struggles a name, and it was the first time he had heard these names.

I can’t believe he’s never heard these terms.

I could see his wheels turning.  Under that I wrote out all of the treatment options that were offered to us, explained which one we chose, and why.  I said that when he was 18, if he wanted to pick a different treatment option, he certainly could.  He nodded and said, “But I like the one you picked.  That makes the most sense to me.”

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(FYI, David does not have autism.  We were just talking about how kids with ADHD and Autism have SPD in common.)

I showed him the things the doctors predicted he would be able to do, and what he’s actually been able to accomplish because of his hard work and diligence.  Here he had thought that he was always behind, and not very smart, and he realized that his hard work had brought him further than anyone could have imagined.  I told him how the world doesn’t always understand diagnosis’ like this, and some of the obstacles that will come down the road that he’ll have to figure out.

I then told him that we can either do 2 things as his mom and dad.  We can treat him like he is disabled.  That would make sense, because it is a disability.  Things are legitimately harder for him.  Things are hard for him all day long.  We could tell everyone around him to treat him differently, bend to not upset him, and make his life easy.  I called this the “disability land.”  I told him this land was kind, and it was fair.  It treated everyone according to their abilities.  Not everyone understands disability land, or even wants to understand, so it’s often full of pity and misunderstandings, instead of respect.  Sometimes it’s okay to stay here, and just take a breather.

The other place is the “real world” land.  There he is expected to sit in Sunday school just like all the other kids.  He will get hired for jobs because he’s clearly the best worker.  He will get graded and compete with other students, on their level, not on his handicapped level.  This path matches the things that he dreams about, his goals, and wishes.  But this is the harder path.  This is the path that will require we continue doing some occupational therapy at home, force the brain to make new pathways, and work hard on self control, and explaining social cues that his easily-distracted brain doesn’t always pick up on its own.  It is the big work-intensive path.

It’s the path we picked.  I told him, that when he gets his standardized test done every year, I can choose to give him the ADHD handicap, or I can have him test like a normal kid.  I pick the normal kid test every year.  I told him that’s because I knew deep in his heart, he would want to compete for a job someday without a handicap.  I knew deep in his heart he was an overcomer.  (He thought about this and said, “Well, I’d rather push to learn a lot of stuff than to just get good grades.  Learning stuff is much better than just getting a good score.”  That made this homeschool mom’s heart jump for joy to hear.)

I basically told him that his dad and I had picked the harder path for him, but this other world was still available.  We just didn’t think he’d want it.  He agreed with us.  I told him that decision we made has consequences just like all decisions.  It means that life will just be hard for him.  Simple things will not be simple for him.  He was going to have to work twice as hard as everyone else.  But the good news was, each year would get better, easier, and in the meantime he will develop a work ethic that will surpass many of his peers.  His work ethic is one of his greatest gifts.  And if he ever wanted to pick a different treatment plan, just to try it out, or even just to get a break, we would be willing to consider it.  But as of now, we were picking the path of OT prescribed activities to open up those neurological pathways, and hard work.

I told him that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t need to go back to disability land to rest.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t have to consider that some of his needs are different than other people’s needs.  It means that we are choosing which standard he will go by, and we choose the standard of real world land.  We will just have to work harder and with more creativity to reach that standard.

David was quiet the whole way to church.  He was deep in thought.

He made it through Sunday School for the first time in a month, and then he and I were assigned to the nursery duty during the main service.  There has been a lot of kids in the nursery in past weeks, but there was only 2 in there this time.  As we played dollhouse with the little toddlers, he just asked questions, and I answered the whole run of them.

We talked about how he not only has disabilities, but he has abilities that not many other kids have.  For instance, he is testing nearly 4 years ahead of grade level in math.  He’s just started computer programming and is fantastic on it.  I told him that it was very likely that my smart phone was developed by someone who had the same diagnosis as he did.  He has great abilities.  We talked about the skills he would have to learn to go to college.  We discussed different strategies to developing those skills with which he struggles.

All of a sudden he understood all that Knut and I have been trying to do.  He understood why he got certain chores, why we made him do things in a certain order, why most of the rules in his life exist.  He understood why we made him do things he hated like go to Sunday school once a week, do school subjects that he didn’t like, do certain exercises every day.  It was like this big lightbulb went off in his head.

“You’re preparing me for the real world, not disability world.”

“We are.  But we know it’s not an easy path.  It’s really hard on you.”

“Mommy?”

“Yeah?”

“Thank you.  It’s what I want too.  I’m so sorry I’ve been so mean to you guys when you were just pushing me to do my best, because you believed I could.”

And I grabbed a tissue.

Favorite Family Devotionals

I have a pet peeve for most kids’ sections of Christian bookstores.  Oh, I like VegiTales, but it feels like there  is a totally different theology to a lot of it: works.

Be good to your siblings, obey your parents, love your neighbor, God loves you when you are good.

So many of the family devotionals out there are based on this premise.  Don’t misunderstand me.  I think character training for kids is one of the most important things parents do.  It’s good to teach them right from wrong.  It’s just that as a good Lutheran, I like both the law and gospel to be preached, and I’m not a fan when the law is preached and the gospel is ignored.

I feel like we need to up the theological standard for kids’ books.  Apparently I’m not the only one, because there’s some good ones out there.

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Leading Little Ones to God  This is appropriate for preschool on up through elementary school, though I have to admit I got something out of it too.  This book covers the basics of our Christian faith from talking about who God is, what are his qualities, what is sin, and how does God address our sin.  The lessons are very short, using simple language, and surprisingly it’s full of depth.  The illustrations are quite dated, but if you can get past that, you’ll find a ton of treasure there.

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Jesus Storybook Bible This book is as good as everyone says it is.  It does not have daily readings.  It does have chapters/individual Bible stories that you can read to your kids.  Like many other parents, I cried when I first read this book with my kids.  OK, I sobbed.  This book is so beautiful in so many ways, and lays out how deeply God loves us and the great lengths he took to rescue us.  I would read this book by myself, but the kids are crazy about it too.  I love this family devotional.

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24 Family Ways This is not the book that spells out the gospel to the kids, and yet I love it.  It’s more a rooting of one’s identity.  We are God’s he has saved us, you are part of this family, and in this family, these are the things that are important to us.  It addresses so many issues common to families, and gives the Scriptural support for why we do things the way we do them.  There are some great discussion questions in here.

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The Young Peacemaker This book is very good for upper-elementary, and into jr. high age, though I did it with all my kids and they survived.  The kids’ favorite part was the hilarious comics in the workbooks I printed off the CD that came with them.  My favorite part was how it digs into the nitty gritty of grace and forgiveness.  So if God calls us to forgive, does that mean we should forget?  What about trust?  What does God call you to do if you were the injured one?  What about if you are the offender?  What if the other person doesn’t want reconciliation?  When we forgive, are there still consequences?  Why is it if you break a window, and ask forgiveness, that you still have to pay for the window you broke?  This is a Biblically grounded book on conflict resolution, and I can’t think of a single family that doesn’t want more of that.

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Heaven for Kids This book isn’t as much about law and gospel as much as it is fact vs fiction.  Various cultures have influenced what we think about heaven.  I think this is especially true of cartoons, and the idea that we will all sit on clouds playing a harp with angel wings.  This is a book that walks kids through what the Bible actually says about heaven, and what the Bible does not say about heaven.  It just takes the kids right to the source.  Although, this isn’t as foundational as other books listed, my kids really enjoyed this book, because…they want to know.  They found it really interesting.  It’s broken into chapters, not daily readings, and it might be best for older elementary through jr. high as well.  It’s fully acceptable for younger ages, though perhaps not as engaging.

I would love to hear from you all.  I’m always looking for new quality titles.  What are your favorite family devotionals?

 

When You Have No Support

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Motherhood should never be done alone.  It should never be an isolated job.  It requires a support system of some sort, whether friends, grandparents, church family, cousins, neighbors, etc.  Sometimes I look around, and I see all these moms doing it alone.  And when they look for advice, and they look for help, and they look for encouragement, (because they are keenly aware that they are sinking), people tell them that they need some support, instead of actually offering support.

Having trouble in your marriage?  You two need some time alone, without interruption.  You should have a date night. (Um, thanks.  Care to watch the kids?)

Having trouble getting any rest?  Someone should come over every once in awhile and let you take a shower and a nap.  (So…when can I schedule you.)

Feeling overwhelmed?  What you need to is to go out with some friends and just get away.  (Sounds fun.  So can you be the friend or the sitter…or something?)

Feeling lost on how to deal with a child stuck in an attitude?  Are you having trouble just liking this child?  You need a mentor who has walked in your shoes.  (Great…so where do I sign up for a mentor?)

I’m not sure if it came with the onset of the “women’s choice” movement, where the culture shifted to “you chose this child, you deal with it” mentality.  We all see the thread of truth in that.  These are my children.  They are my responsibility and no one else’s.

But speaking directly to the church, we are called to hold each other up.  We know that, but there’s an issue with that.  Lean close, because I’m about to share with you one of Satan’s most basic battle strategies:

Make people feel isolated and alone.  Get a sheep away from the flock.

He knows we need community.

The strategy goes even further than that.  It’s not just getting anyone separated and alone.  He picks the people caring for the least of these.  He attacks the women and children.  He often attacks the children by attacking their caretaker.  It’s like getting 2 birds with 1 stone.

Have you ever been in that position, where you feel like you have no support system?  I have, for sure, during various times of my last 12 years of motherhood.  If you feel alone, here are some steps.

Acknowledge it’s a spiritual battle and treat it as such.

There are a few things that give away the spiritual elements of this.  They are Satan’s fingerprints, if you will.  First, there’s a bit of lie mixed in with it.  Sometimes we feel like we have no friends, when we do.  We feel like we can’t ask when we can.  We feel unloved when we are.  Satan loves to twist our feelings into disbelief to things that are true.

Another one of Satan’s fingerprints is your battle position in the home, taking care of the little ones that are so precious to God.  Let’s face it.  You’re wearing target on your back having a job like that.  Ask anyone else who is in ministry, whether a pastor or elder, or missionary, if they have ever felt spiritually attacked when they took their job.  You’ll get the same answer pretty much across the board: yes…of course.  When you recognize the importance of your position from a kingdom perspective, it won’t be so surprising that you feel like you’re falling apart.

Also, the feeling of defeat is a very common sign of spiritual battle.  When you are tempted to resign yourself to the fact that you will always be alone, that your marriage will always be bad, that no one will ever help, that you just won’t see your friends until your kids turn about 18 or so…you’ve given into defeat.  You’ve stopped trying.  And that’s exactly where Satan wants you.

Therefore…

Pray, because that is your biggest weapon.

Pray that God would bring you a mentor.  Pray for your marriage.  Pray for your kids.  Pray for your attitude. Cry out to God.  Speak Jesus’ name.  Get in the battle.  Fight back.  Pray when you don’t feel like it.  Wrestle with God if you need to.  He can take it.  Tell God you don’t feel like it.  Don’t come up with something pretty and fluffy that you think God wants to hear, tell the most gut-wrenching truth to him that you can muster.  The truth is powerful.  Pray it.  Sometimes when I pray what I see is real, and really wrestle or cry out to God, He ends up revealing the most life-changing truths that I refused to acknowledge, or showing up in ways I didn’t think were possible.  It’s worth it.

Keep your eyes open for opportunities for compassion.

I think that people who have experienced the most pain in their lives tend to have the most compassion.  It’s like they have this radar for people who are hurting.  They know what to say, because they’ve lived it.  They know how to show up because they know what someone’s presence can mean to someone who is hurting.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have it’s full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”  -James 1:2-4. (ESV)

When we go through those deep dark places, we find ourselves uniquely qualified, dare I say chosen, to be an instrument to help others.  I heard a story once from a friend of mine who worked in refugee camps of Syrian refugees traveling to a refugee camp that was already full.  The UN had no more supplies in this location, and 600 or so more people were just going to show up because they had no where else to go.  So it was the Syrian refugees who were already living at the camp who took up a collection of food, blankets, and tent space so that these 600 newcomers would have food and shelter when they arrived.

Those who are poor can’t stand seeing someone go without.  One of my best friends and I connected in a place in our lives when we both felt lonely, and it was a huge connection for us to see that the other one truly understood what we were going through.  Keep your eyes open, because you have something in your vision that others may not see.  Look out for that other mom who looks like she’s sinking.  Say something encouraging to that stranger with the toddler screaming on the floor of the grocery store.  Love on others the way that you would want to be loved.  It could be that is the purpose in all of this hardship and if it is, then don’t miss it.

Keep asking for help even when you hate it…but wait for God’s timing.

So you’re praying for help.  Your eyes are open for those who can help, and for those who need help.  Now it’s time to be vulnerable…again.  When I move to a new place, or my old mentor moves away or moves on, and I need a new mentor, I usually get turned down 5 times before someone says “yes.”  I’m finding that’s pretty normal.

As far as physical help, I’m not sure if it’s the midwest culture, or if it’s just general pride, but asking for help is often frowned upon where I live.  Whether or not that’s true, it feels that way.  Where I live, you wait to be offered help.  When you are offered help, you should politely turn it down at least twice.  If they insist on helping a 3rd time, it’s okay to accept, as long as you show reluctance.  At least that’s an old family joke.  You don’t just come out and say: “Could you help me?”  I have even asked for help once, after my big car accident.  The woman who was asked stayed for about 30 minutes, explained to me everything that I was doing wrong as she sort of helped with something on the table, and then left, basically saying she was glad I didn’t look hurt at all, and if I could get more organized and my kids better behaved I’d be good to go.

Wasn’t that helpful?

This is why you pray about it first before you just start asking people for help willy-nilly.  You need the person with a servant’s heart.  You need the right person to help you, the prepared person.  You need to have a prepared heart, and they need to have a prepared heart, and God is in the prepared heart business.

On the other hand, when I started praying about it, a woman in my homeschool group called me up and said, “Gretchen, I’d love to come over to your house and chat with you on how you are doing.  When would be a good time?”  She came over, we chatted and before long I started crying as I told her how I felt like I was drowning and couldn’t keep my head above water.  She talked with her 17 year old daughter, who then came over every Thursday afternoon to watch my kids so I could rest and clear my head, and maybe even get some work done in peace.  She did this for months.

She was the person God had prepared.  And God had prepared me to open up when I wanted to appear strong.

I’m so thankful that I have a great support system now.  It has taken a long time to build, and as people move to different places, or just move on, a support system can end up being a very fluid thing.  I’m also thankful for the lonely times (in hindsight) for all that they have taught me, and it has given me the ability to recognize the need in someone else that I would otherwise be oblivious to see.

You are not alone.  God has not left you.  Pour your heart out to him, and keep your eyes open.  He has so much in store for you: blessings that will come in the most unexpected forms.  Sometimes he sends help.  Sometimes he’s just working something in us for the purpose of his kingdom.  Sometimes it’s both.

But you are not alone, and you are not forgotten.

Homeschooling With Toddlers Part 2

Homeschooling with Toddlers

When I am collecting toys for the toddlers to play with during school time, they can’t be any old toy.  Noisy toys are obviously out.  I don’t want my little ones to just be entertained, but I want them to have quality play during this time.

This is the big difference between leisure and amusement.  I recently learned that the root word of “leisure” is the same as for the word “school.”  It means to pause to study, ponder, wonder, consider.  Leisure time is a time for development and reflection.  “Amusement” on the other hand, comes from the root word “muse” which means “to think/to be inspired” and has the prefix “-a” which means “no, or not.”  So basically amusement is the act of not thinking, and leisure is the act of deep thinking.  Pick toys that bring leisure to your toddlers, not amusement.  Amusement only keeps them occupied for so long.  They were designed to soak in information like a sponge, and will be much happier for longer if they can study their toys.

Pick toys that make them think.

So here’s my school toy list.  There are more temporary things like a huge cardboard box we had delivered and a bunch of crayons to design a house or rocket on the box.  The kids like those too.  But they’re in the “1 week toy” category, so it doesn’t clutter up our space long term.

These are often birthday or Christmas gifts.  This is a collection built over many years, with various kids, not just a fun shopping spree I went on.

  1. Crayons and color books.  Keep the best crayons and the cleanest, newest color books for this time.  Make it special.  Our youngest has a history with markers and coloring everything in sight, so those are basically banned from the house for this stage of our family.  Crayons are good.
  2. Wood or block puzzles.  I love block puzzles so much!! I like ones like this best.  It just can be played with so many ways.  Plus they don’t end up lost between couch cushions as easily.
  3. Magna Tiles.  Hours of fun.  Even for grown-ups.  This was a big birthday gift for one of my kids, and none of the kids get sick of it.  We need to add to our collection.
  4. Paper Dolls (OK, this is more for my 5 year old.  My 3 year old will destroy it.)
  5. Homemade play dough.
  6. Alphabeticals.  I made these for the kids last year, and the little ones like to play with them the best.
  7. Tea Party Table (They have kitchen toys, but this is a little tablecloth for their school table, and a special tea set for just school time.)
  8. Pattern Play Blocks.  It comes with cards with patterns they try to do.  My 5 year old plays with it differently than my 3 year old, but the both love it.
  9. Ball Maze
  10. Memory Games.
  11. Box of buttons and muffin tins (I got this idea from my husband’s grandma.  Each of the little girls has a little muffin tin, and they get to go through my button box and sort them for awhile.)IMG_3828
  12. Small plastic animal bucket.  (I’m just shocked how much they play with these!)
  13. Scale and colored bears (This came with Saxon Math Manipulatives for kindergarteners.  The little ones like to play with them and weight the bears against each other.)
  14. Watercolors on paper (Messy.  Rare.  They love it.)
  15. Paper and scissors.  They could just sit and cut colored construction paper into confetti for hours.
  16. Hole punching shapes (hearts, circles, etc.)
  17. Transferring/sorting items into containers with tongs. 2 mason jars per child, 1 pair of tongs, puff balls or something else to move from one container to the other.  Tongs made for tea bags or lemons in kitchen stores are good for this.
  18. Scoop and transfer beans into ice cube tray.  Same concept as above.  Beans work good for this with a little spoon and ice cube tray.  They love sorting.
  19. Letter/number cards.  I love this set.
  20. Magnifying glass and shells/pieces of nature.
  21. Fort with stuffed animals and blankets set up.  Again, this isn’t a toy I keep from them, but if I set it up a few key items, they will stay busy “making house” while I teach the morning hour.
  22. Wooden fishing game
  23. Stacking blocks.  I love these ones.

I think the more fanfare, the more special you make it, the more they grab onto the projects.  I have these little wooden  trays that came with the packaging of some Melissa and Doug food sets the kids got for a Christmas gift.  They love when I try to set up their morning hour activity on this tray for each of them.  (It doesn’t always happen, but they are delighted when it does.)

For those who want to read Part 1 to Homeschooling with Toddlers, it’s right HERE.