I Is Smart.

Back in the day…I scored well on standardized tests…I was a National Merit Finalist…I graduated close to the top of my high school class…I earned almost straight A’s in college…you get the idea. I am smart.

Or at least I was. One of the joys of being surrounded by teenagers all day long…not to mention the teenager and barely-not-a-teenager-anymore children who don’t live here but still text and call me…is their developmentally appropriate questioning of every single thing I say.

It’s good, right, and salutary that they should behave this way. I get it. They’re growing up, up, and away. They’re forming their own opinions about every single thing. And it’s good. It is. The problem is that there are six of them (and we’re not even counting the three little people, who are not exactly hanging on my every word either). So…even though each child is wonderful and inquisitive and thoughtful and only questioning me a few times a day…the end result is that I have been defending my opinions on issues big and small all day long. Some days, I can barely decide on my own wardrobe without somebody chiming in with a dissenting opinion.

I’m starting to doubt my own intelligence. I make myself read challenging books and do crossword puzzles, trying to make sure my brain cells aren’t dying off as quickly as these children seem to think that they are. It wears me out.

Which is why when Quincy’s boyfriend’s sister (did you get all of that?) had a baby…and I innocently suggested to Quincy that she send a gift for the child…and Quincy (who is one of my most compliant children)…when Quincy promptly told me that sending a baby gift didn’t seem like a very good idea to her…I almost wept. The poor kid didn’t know what to say. She just patted me on the back (just as you would for someone who is a few French fries short of a Happy Meal) and said gently, “Mom, it’s OK. I can send a gift if you really want me to.”

Good heavens. I need counseling. Or tutoring.

Repeat after me: “I is smart. I is kind. I is important.”

And the Skate Park! And the Skate Park!

Bedtime prayers are one of my favorite times of the day. And it’s not because we’re filled with incredible spiritual zeal at that particular moment. We’re not. More often than not, bedtime prayers are a relief, because after that, all that is required of us is to sing the bedtime medley, read the chosen Bible story, and tuck the little darlings into bed. After that, Jason and I are free to enjoy a couple of non-whiny hours with the big kids. It’s no wonder that bedtime prayers have a tendency to be a mumbled, “Thank You, God, for this day. Please bless us (soon!) with a good night’s sleep. Amen.”

But Feff will have none of that. With an impeccable recall and an I’m-not-tired energy, his mind rapidly cycles through his memory bank while we’re rushing through prayers. He shouts his additions from my lap, where I am vainly trying to massage his back into a state of sleepiness while Jason leads prayers.

Jason: Thank You, Lord, for Haley and Quincy and Zachery and Josiah and Hayden and Dillon and…

Feff: And the skate park! And the skate park!

Jason: Yes, Lord, and thank You for the skate park today. Thank You that the kids had so much fun. Now, Lord, please bless us with a good night’s…

F: And the car wash! And the car wash!

J: Buddy, we didn’t go to the car wash today.

F (enunciating carefully): On Sat-ur-day. The car wash!

J: Yes, Lord, thank You for the trips to the car wash. Now, please bless us with a good…

F: The swimming pool!

J: Thank You for the swimming pool.

F: In Mattoon!

J: Yes, Lord, the one in Mattoon…

F: And the sprinkler!

J: Yes, Lord, thank you for the sprinkler.

F: And the fire! The fire! And marshmallows!

J (rushing): Yes, Lord, thank You for everything. Now… (breaking into loud song) Jesus loves me! This I know!

Thankfully, Feff loves to sing (shout) the bedtime songs, so he lets the prayer end, even though we haven’t yet thanked God for Walmart or the playground or the bikes or yogurt or raisin bran or…his list goes on.

“Increase my own thankfulness, Lord. Help me see every little thing…even the skate park…as a reason to thank and praise You. Amen.”



For the Record…

So…for the record…I didn’t address it in my last post…not because I don’t think it’s important…but because I thought it was a given. Here it is: we believe in Lutheran education.

There. I said it. Yes, I realize we have chosen to homeschool our little family, but that doesn’t change the fact that we think Lutheran education (the largest Protestant parochial school system in the US) is amazing. Jason attended St. Andrews Lutheran grade school in Park Ridge, Illinois, and it impacted his entire life. I wasn’t introduced to Lutheran education until I attended a Lutheran college (Concordia University – Nebraska), which changed my life and convinced me to pursue Lutheran education as a career. Prior to having Quincy, I taught at Our Redeemer Lutheran School in Dallas, Texas. We’re believers.

So, yes, with the current crisis with Dillon, we did consider both Trinity Lutheran School (where one of my best friends teaches) and Altamont Lutheran Interparish School. We considered them, but only briefly. After all, both schools only go through eighth grade. That would give Dillon one year to make friends and get acclimated before we would be looking for another solution again. That didn’t seem wise.

And, yes, we understand that MAPS (Dillon’s new school) is located in a Pentecostal church. After all, we visited. We researched. We talked to the principal and one of the pastors. And, no, we don’t want Dillon to become a Pentecostal. But when the principal assured us they don’t operate like that, we believed him. After all, many non-Lutheran children attend Lutheran schools, as well.

Do we think this is the perfect solution? No. No, we don’t. As far as we can tell (and trust me when I tell you there has been plenty of time spent on this issue), this is the best solution at this time. Do I think young Dillon is in for a rude awakening? Yes. Yes, I do. Am I confident this will do the trick for him? Not necessarily.

But here’s the thing: Zachery practically killed us. The turmoil he brought into our home is truly only understandable if you have raised a child like him. We can’t survive that again. Yet, here we are with a carbon copy. And we have to do something different. Since this is our second time through, we know what didn’t work: trying harder to be patient, compromising with him in order to win some peace, tightening the reins, loosening the reins, seeing a counselor, letting the opinions of others (since both boys are incredibly charming) erode our parental authority and confidence.

No one (except God Himself) loves Dillon more than we do. No one is more invested in seeing him succeed. No one is willing to sacrifice more to change his course. No one agonizes more over his future. No one hopes more that this will help. No one would be faster to put him in a Lutheran junior-senior high school if one suddenly sprang up.

So…for the record…there it is…

And Now For Something Completely Different…

I love homeschooling. I do. It has been such a perfect fit for our family. That said…the idea of homeschooling another five years makes Dillon want to run away (well…that and the fact that I make him do chores). Honestly, it makes me want to run away too. He isn’t happy. I’m not happy. It’s time for a change.

Earlier this summer, we actually started the process of enrolling him in our local junior high school. I have nothing whatsoever against public schools. I went to one, and look how awesome I turned out. Several of my children would have done splendidly in a public school setting. Dillon, however, is not one of them. Dillon (and I say this with all love) can find trouble, make friends with it, and escalate it in the time it takes for you to blink an eye (or close them for a night of sleep). Junior high school did not seem like the best fit.

We thought about military school (for obvious reasons), but it’s too costly.

So we’ve been stuck. And terrified. In every way imaginable, Dillon is riding the same train the Prodigal did. The only difference is that since the track is already laid out for him, he’s progressing down it much quicker. Ugh. We’ve wanted to do something to change this course, but we haven’t known what to do.

But the other night, as I was puttering around the house unable to sleep, I remembered a little Christian school that started in our area a few years ago. I dinked around on the internet until I found it: MAPS (Mid -America Preparatory School). It’s a small school about 40 miles from us. Yes, it’s a long way from home. Yes, it’s pretty pricey. But, after meeting with the principal this morning and touring the school, it’s what we’re going to do. Dillon will be in a 6th-8th grade class of 12 students. We are praying that this will derail the train ride he is currently taking, and he will attend this school until he graduates high school.

So…for the 2014-2015 school year…Haley and Zach won’t be in school, Quincy will be in college in Nebraska, Dillon will be at MAPS, the Fs will be in three different buildings here in town, and Hayden, Josiah, and I will be at home enjoying the peaceful learning environment missing them all terribly.

Let the games begin.

Mental Institution

“How was your day?” my sister asked tonight.

“I am living in a mental institution,” I answered.

Good heavens. Between Dillon and Fiffer (not to mention Feffer and Feff) right now, things are tough.

After a peaceful respite at the skate park this morning (when they were busy and happy enough to leave one another alone), they were in rare form.

SAM_0383 SAM_0384 SAM_0388 SAM_0398 SAM_0408 SAM_0414

Here are some snippets of conversation from today:

Fiffer: I farted.

Dillon (laughing): I know.

F (completely without malice): Ha, ha! I farted in your room, you @#$%^&*.


D (frantically): I need to earn some money!

Me: Why the big rush?

D: I need money so that when I decide to move out, I’ll have some.

M: So you’re still thinking about running away?

D: Yep.

M: When?

D: Definitely when I get a driver’s license, if not before.

M: Seriously? Why? What is the problem? You have a beautiful home, a loving family…

D: I’m just ready to live my own life.

M: I’m not helping you start a runaway fund.


F: Dillon, can you help me find my stickers?

D: Sure.

F: Hurry up and find them, you #$%&*


D: I want to live with Zach and Raven.

M: No.

D: But I want to!

M: I hear you. No.

D: How about if I live with them a week and then I live here a week? I could trade off.

M: No.

D: Why not?

M: Um, Zach and Raven have enough to do to take care of themselves. Plus, the baby will be here in January. Plus…that’s right…you’re our kid.

D: But I’m saying I would rather live somewhere else!

M: And I’m saying the answer is no.

D: You never let me do anything!


D: Are you coming outside?

F: Yes, you #$%&*.


D: Can you send me somewhere for a few days?

M: Send you somewhere?

D: Yes!

M: Like where? Camp? We don’t have the money for camp, dude.

D: It doesn’t matter… somewhere…for a break.

M (playing dumb): Oh, that’s OK. I’m feeling pretty good. I don’t really need a break.

D: need a break.

M (eye roll and sigh): No.


D: If I run away, you’ll get in trouble.

M: I’ll get in trouble? For what?

D: DCFS will come and take me away…and the foster kids…and you’ll face legal repercussions (this is straight from Zachery, by the way).

M: Because you run away?

D: Yes!

M: No, I won’t. If you run away, I’ll call the police, and they’ll bring you home. If you run away again, I’ll call the police again, and they’ll bring you home. Eventually, if you keep it up, the judge will send you to a juvenile facility where you can’t run away. If you think you don’t have enough freedom here, that place will really impress you. I will miss you, but those decisions are on you, not me.

D: You wouldn’t get in trouble?

M: Because you run away? No.


When Jason got home, he took the little beasts darlings on a bike ride. Since everyone hit the ground running this morning, I hadn’t even showered yet, so I decided to slip in the bathtub for a bit before supper. I had barely gotten settled and opened my book when Hayden came in. “Mom, Zach’s here. I told him Dad was gone and you were in the tub, but he says he needs to talk to you.”

Crap. Figuring it was something big and worrying that it was something with the baby, I hauled my tired butt out and got dressed. Coming downstairs, I asked him what was up. He had a cut on his finger. A small cut.

Z: Do you think I need to have it stitched or glued?

M: No.

Z: You don’t?

M: It’s not gaping at all, dude. It’s not even very big. No.

Z: But it hurts.

M: I’m sure it does. But, no.

Z: Oh, OK.

M: Was there something else?

Z: No.

M: You got me out of the tub for that?

Z: Aren’t you happy I stopped by?

M: Um, yes, OK. Why don’t you go pick up Raven and come over after while for supper?

Z: Nah, we have other plans tonight.

M: I love you, dude. Now get out of my house.


F: Can I go upstairs with the boys?

M: Seriously? You’ve been calling Dillon names all day.

F: I won’t. I promise.

M: OK, but you only get one chance. If you blow it, you’re done.

F (after running happily upstairs…to Dillon): Don’t worry, Dillon. I’ll be good, you $%#&*.

M: Get your butt back down here!


D: Why is F’s door open?

Jason: It is?

D: Yep.

Jason goes up to find Fiffer fast asleep with the alarm from her door in her hand. So helpful.

Good heavens.


Love Your Enemies

As I mentioned before, Jason and Josiah and Hayden were on a servant event trip last week. They had an amazing, life-changing time. I think all the kids did. Except one. One girl…we’ll call her K…did not have that great of a time. For one thing, she refused to work, which was obviously a huge part of the trip. For another thing, she seemed irritated with all the other people on the trip, especially Hayden. In fact, Hayden told me that K had evidently been drinking “Hayden Hate-or-ade” all week long. Despite the girl’s unfriendliness, Hayden tried to be nice, but it didn’t help. Here are a sampling of their conversations:

H: Hey, K, do you want to play Kemps?

K: Not really.

H: Are you sure? It’s really fun.

K: Are you playing?

H: Yes.

K: OK, yeah…definitely not.


H: Good morning, K!

K: Hayden, you’ve been irritating me this whole week!


Once, when they were riding somewhere, they had one more person than they had seats. Hayden agreed to scrunch her long legs up and sit on the floor, even though it was a tight fit. They had barely gotten on the road before K said, “Um, Hayden, your elbow is touching my arm.”


They were all headed into Dairy Queen when K said, “We’re such a big group. Everybody looks so nice. Except you, Hayden. You look ridiculous.”


A couple of things made the abuse bearable. First, K is a little…special. While she certainly could have been kinder than she was, it’s not always clear how much she can actually understand. Second, K’s comments were so ludicrous that they became an inside joke among the other kids. Hayden could count on winks and good-natured teasing to get her through the remarks.

I didn’t realize until Sunday morning, though, how great Hayden had handled it all. Each person on the trip had a “Happy Fun Bag.” The kids were supposed to write kind and encouraging notes to one another to keep morale up. These notes went into each person’s “Happy Fun Bag.” For Sunday’s presentation to the congregation, Jason read aloud one favorite note from each person’s bag. The note that K wanted read said something like this, “I love your humble spirit. Your servant heart is an inspiration.”

Later, the other kids were laughing a little bit about that. One boy commented, “You gotta hand it to Johnny and Janae (two of the chaperones)…making up crap about people so everyone had a nice note in their bag.” Hayden stood there smiling, but she didn’t join in the conversation.

After all, she had written the note.


Putting Together the Pieces

I hesitate to write this. I do. I’m so sick of having another episode of the Rensner Ridiculous to publish. But so many of you have been so kind about Fiffer…telling me you’re praying for her and for us…that I feel obligated to fill you in on the latest puzzle piece.

Fiffer’s behavior has been outrageous. There’s no doubt about that. We need to get on top of it, and we have some opportunities to get some help with that tomorrow.

However. Part of my anxiety/panic about Fiffer’s behavior this past week has been Dillon’s reaction to it. My son has been stony-faced and silent, irritating and irritable, angry and anxious.  I have tried to build some special things into his days, including the freedom to ride a new seven-mile cycling route that the two of us mapped out, but still his general fussiness has continued. I have been concerned about him, and I have thought that Fiffer’s behavior was responsible.

Well. Zach and Raven came to church with us this morning, which was a welcome surprise. In the few rushed minutes between Sunday School and church, Zach told me that he was concerned about Dillon. Surprised, I asked why. Here’s the Reader’s Digest version:

1. Dillon has not been riding the agreed-upon cycling route (even though he has been bragging to me every day about beating his time). Instead, he has been riding around town and stopping by Zach’s apartment. He has told them that he wants to run away and live with them. In fact, he has a plan.

2. The plan involves a young hoodlum-looking guy that lives across the street from us. He’s nineteen years old, and Dillon has stopped and talked to him when he’s been out walking Sunshine (I had no idea). Evidently, several times, late at night, Dillon signals this guy with a flashlight from his bedroom window. The guy comes over and talks to Dillon, and they agree on a time. At the appointed time (midnight), Dillon sneaks out the sunroom door, gets into this guy’s car, and they go…wherever. One night this past week, the guy took him to Zach’s apartment. This was Dillon’s runaway plan. He would stay at Zach’s, and I would wake up to find his empty bed in the morning. And it would have worked except that Dillon couldn’t remember which door was Zach’s apartment, so he opened the wrong one, got freaked out, and had the neighborhood hood bring him back home. He came back in the house and went back to bed.

Can. You. Even. Imagine? Although I have said more than once that I am past being surprised, I was completely taken aback. I had absolutely no idea. I had about thirty seconds to process all of this before it was time to go into the sanctuary. I bawled through the whole service, but it was the youth group mission trip presentation day, so I had a good cover. Un. Be. Liev. A. Ble.

So. Suddenly Fiffer’s issues seem manageable again. We will go through the previously planned steps, and we will figure it out.

As for Dillon…for once in my life, I am speechless. I can’t even fathom what to say to this child. Even today, when he was so clearly busted, he was arrogant and sassy and telling me it was no big deal. He was not sorry. He was not sad. He was a little angry at Zach for ratting him out and a little nervous that we were going to turn the house into Fort Knox.

We’re not. We explained the dangers of him being out on the town in the middle of the night. We told him that if we found him missing, we would have no choice but to call the police. We asked him to share with us the reasons he is so unhappy. We walked across the street to talk to his partner in crime, assuring him that our fingers can and will dial 911 the next time he takes our 13-year-old son on a middle-of-the-night joy ride.

For the record, Dillon does not live in a hellhole. Neither did Zachery a couple of years ago. Our house is similar to most people’s. Our kids do some chores and some school (we school somewhat year-around) and some bike-riding and some swimming every day. We read books and play games and practice instruments and run errands. Our lives are completely normal.

Except when they’re not.

One of the youth group’s theme songs this past week has been “Do Something” by Matthew West. The lyrics include these words:

If not us, then who
If not me and you
Right now, it’s time for us to do something
If not now, then when
Will we see an end
To all this pain
It’s not enough to do nothing
It’s time for us to do something

Thirteen years ago, we became foster parents. We felt then (and we feel now) that this was work that God wanted us to do. We wanted so badly to “do something.” Sometimes, on these dark days, I wonder if we’ve done anything at all.