Advice?

OK, fellow parents and teachers and deep thinkers and armchair psychologists…here’s a poser for you…a behavior that Dillon is exhibiting…that Zachery did too. We have our own theory about it, but I won’t share it with you, because I don’t want to cloud your genius judgments.

Dillon was ridiculous yesterday. Ri.dic.u.lous. I don’t want to bore you, so I won’t go into details, but think of the most inane conversation you’ve ever had…quadruple that…and imagine it going on (in various forms) all. day. long. After losing my temper first thing in the morning (because…stupidly…I’m always amazed when a child gets up on a Saturday morning ready to fight), Jason and I were calm, but firm. We refused to be sucked into his mood, we went on with the planned day, we gave him several, several chances to rejoin society. All to no avail. Finally, finally, because he had given us absolutely no choice, we lowered the atomic bomb on him. Again, without going into details, we took away something near and dear to his heart, possibly forever.

And that’s all it took. He was “happy” for the rest of the evening. Almost manically happy. When we sent him to bed at his weekday (early) bedtime (because we were so weary of him), he practically danced to bed. He woke up this morning as if nothing had happened.

So…what the what? This is a behavior that is repeated ad nauseam with these two boys. Why push and push and push? Why give us no choice but to take virtually everything away from them? And then why the frenzied “happiness” afterward?

I’m waiting for your wisdom. Ready, set, go.

Think About Everything

This is my niece, Ellie. This flattering shot was a selfie she sent me last week, after she pulled another tooth. She’s seven years old and in the second grade. She is athletic and smart and hilarious.

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This is a note Ellie wrote to her mom (my sister, Amy) yesterday.

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In case you’re having trouble translating (although isn’t that awesome writing for a second grader?!), it says, “Love you so much. I’m crying. I hate school. Please take me out so you can homeschool me like Aunt Kris. Please. For gosh sake, you two are sisters! For work you can do it at home, and when you have meetings you can video chat. And can we have a pool? Think about everything.”

Cracking. Me. Up. And, don’t worry. The kid loves school, so the whole request to homeschool…I don’t think she’s serious about that. Now, the pool, on the other hand…

Feeling Inadequate?

I’m 44 years old, but I haven’t outgrown the recurring dream. I still have it every once in a while, although the characters switch around on me.

As always, I’m in school. This time, there was a definite college-feel to the place, although I was walking around my old junior high (with a few additions). It was finals week (it always is), and I had just discovered that there were three classes that I had never even attended, yet I was supposed to be taking final exams.  In a debut performance, Mrs. Ayers from my junior high (Where did she come from? What did she even teach?) was detailing to me how badly I was about to screw up my life. Evidently, for the entire semester I hadn’t gone to Geography (for the record, I’m not sure I’ve ever taken a geography class), Aural Skills (a class Quincy is in right now…that I’ve never taken either), and something else that had escaped me by morning. In my dream, I was trying to psych myself up (“How hard could this test be? Surely I can bluff my way through.”) as I wandered aimlessly around the junior high building looking for the right classroom. At the same time, I was panicking about confessing my failure to Joey (my deceased mother) and Haley (our oldest daughter).

I woke up in a cold sweat. It took several minutes for my mind to convince my racing heart that I’m not in school, it’s not finals week, and I’ve never been that completely unprepared for a final exam…except…well…maybe Astronomy…but that’s a story for a different day:)

“Just” Trails

“Where are we going again?” Feffer (five-year-old boy) asked yesterday from the backseat.

“The Nature Center,” I answered. A rare fluke in our schedules had opened up a couple of hours on this cloudy, mild, almost-autumn afternoon.

“And there’s no park?” (He meant ‘playground.’)

“Nope.”

“Just trails?” He asked, dubiously. (How young these people start expecting constant entertainment!)

“Just trails,” I answered.

Ah…yes. Just trails. And so much more…

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).

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“Then God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.’ And it was so. The land produced vegetation; plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning — the third day” (Genesis 1:11-13).

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“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth; their words to the ends of the world” (Psalm 19:1-4).

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“Those living far away fear your wonders; where morning dawns and evening fades you call forth songs of joy. You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it” (Psalm 66:8-9).

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“The grasslands of the desert overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness. The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing” (Psalm 66:12-13).

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“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).

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“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground'” (Genesis 1:28).

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Four-year-old Feff isn’t quite ruling over the earth…yet. But he’ll get there.

Just trails?! Indeed.

Meanwhile…

In and around Dillon’s recent shenanigans…

Jason, Josiah, and Hayden sang and played “I Will Rise” for church on Sunday (this is them practicing). I love when they make music together…it makes my heart happy.

Dad and Reva came for the weekend. We didn’t get any pictures, but we had a good time.

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Josiah and Hayden played in a guitar recital Saturday afternoon. More music. More happiness for my heart.

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Since Reva and Amy (my sister) had been shopping, Dad and Reva came with a stack of gifts for the baby. Zach and Raven joined us for supper Saturday and then stuck around to open presents. Feff volunteered to help from the very beginning…

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and Feffer soon joined them. Zach and Raven (and the little kids) were thrilled with all the goodies.

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Feffer has been having a rough time lately…especially with Jason. These are the first foster kids we’ve had who have “daddy issues” to resolve, so some of their resentment and anger is actually directed at Jason too (instead of just me). Even so, they crave his attention and aren’t above going on our bed after baths to “fart” on his side of the bed. A happy “butt whupping” follows…

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with even Fiffer getting in on the action…

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Also in the meantime, since we’re into our full-swing school schedule now, Josiah and Hayden and I have a blessed five hours of peace and quiet Mondays-Thursdays. It. Is. Amazing. We study Bible, do memory work, learn history (Ancient Civilizations this year), read literature together (The Great Divorce this week), and then do math and science (Hayden and I are working on Saxon Advanced Math and Apologia Chemistry; Josiah is taking Thinkwell AP Biology and Thinkwell Calculus). And we do it all without anyone fussing or screaming or pouting. Then we get little Feff off the bus and enjoy a few more hours with just him…time for the kids to finish school while Feff and I do chores…and time for all four of us to go on a walk or play a little tennis or practice our juggling. These days are truly gifts…times of peace and learning and harmony…thank God!

And…I’ll tag this on here…even though I don’t have a picture, and Josiah might be embarrassed. He got a call from Concordia today while he was in guitar lessons. Not only has he been accepted (yippee!), he’s also being awarded a President’s Scholarship, which is a pretty big deal (both the prestige and the money). We’re so proud of him…not only for his academic success, but for his response (captured in a text he sent me as we “discussed” this honor): “God is good to me.” Indeed, He is, my son. Indeed, He is.

Not My First Rodeo

Those words were spoken to me in jest this weekend (from the music store owner, as he slipped a shiny new guitar into Hayden’s hands…to “borrow”…since hers “wasn’t working”), but they’re the perfect words to sum up our lives right now. For those of you who have been following along, you know all about the Prodigal…our oldest son…the one who left home at seventeen…diploma-less…to begin a string of jobs he couldn’t keep and laws he couldn’t obey. The kid (who seems to be doing really well now, but that’s a story for a different day) put us through the ringer. There were days that I wasn’t sure my sanity, my marriage, or my family was going to survive his adolescence.

Well. Say what you will about nature vs. nurture, but we are looking at a 13-year-old carbon copy of the Prodigal…with a few differences. FIrst of all, Prince Charming (we’ll call him PC today), is much more vocal than the Prodigal ever was. On the one hand, that’s good…less rage all pent up inside. On the other hand, seriously. I’ve been thinking about removing his vocal cords myself. With a spoon. Second, PC has “learned” a lot from the Prodigal. With all of his “wisdom,” we are seeing (and hearing!) behaviors at least two or three years earlier than we did with the Prodigal. Third, with this much of a head start, I’m afraid PC is going to make the Prodigal look like an Eagle Scout before we’re done. 

So. Because this isn’t our first rodeo, we’ve tried to make some changes. PC goes to school now, since he told us over and over that was the desire of his heart. While we knew that school wouldn’t solve all of his problems, he was convinced that it would. At school, he would find more friends and easier standards.

Of course, it hasn’t quite worked out that way. It turns out…surprise, surprise…school is hard. The academics are tough, the kids are fickle (this is middle school, after all), and it takes so. much. time. Even the biggest critic of homeschooling can understand that homeschooling takes a lot less time. After all, you’re working one-on-one with a kid. Plus you’re not dealing with all the classroom management stuff. Back during his homeschooling, Dillon would be irritated if his book work (not counting hands-on stuff) wasn’t done by noon. Well. Now, he leaves the house a few minutes after 7:00, gets home a few minutes before 4:00, and has a couple hours of homework most evenings. (Actually, the homework doesn’t always take that much time, but you have to factor in the pouting, stomping, yelling, crying, and fussing that precede it…I told him that soldiers have come back from Afghanistan with less post-traumatic-stress than he seems to have from eighth grade…he wasn’t impressed.) And all that time isn’t producing stellar results. After he failed a science test yesterday (he said the teacher didn’t even have to grade the back page to know he had failed), I asked (to try to prompt him to take it seriously) if he was flunking all his classes (because he’s failed tests in all of them). He snorted, gave me a look of total disgust, and said, “Mom! I’m not flunking art!” Good heavens. My bad. 

But we could deal with all that. We could (and are) help him figure out how best to schedule his time. We could (and are) work with his teachers (who are wonderful) to figure out how to help him succeed. We could (and are) give him time to settle in to the new routine. We could do all that…except we can’t. Why? Because of the hatred. The relentless (every. single. day), mind-blowing hatred that he has for us right now. Every day there’s a new litany of things that we aren’t doing well enough for him. We’ve never given him what he needs and/or wants. We should have never adopted him. He and Zach and Haley all hate us and always have (although I pointed out that we talk to and/or text with Zach and Haley several times a week, all of which is happy). When he has kids, he’s going to have different rules (they will get to play video games and ride their bikes as often and as long as they want), because he wants them to have memories of a happy childhood…unlike him. He still can’t understand why we won’t “let him go.” His plan is to live with Zach and Raven until the baby arrives and then “find somewhere else” to live. He wants to quit school but not to go back to homeschooling…he’s just done with school…it’s ridiculous anyway. He shouldn’t have to read God’s Word with us in the evening…and we shouldn’t call it God’s Word, since we’re just trying to make him feel guilty…because he needs time to himself. On and on and on and on.

I have made it my personal goal to not engage in these battles with him. I. will. not. raise my voice (although I have…don’t kid yourself). When I feel like I’m going to lose it, either I leave the house (which is rarely possible, with the little kids), or he goes to his room. So he’s spending a lot of time in his room, because even Mother Teresa would yell at the kid, and I ain’t no Mother Teresa. As he sat at the table the other night, ignoring his spelling words to inform us once again of how we’re failing him, I gazed into his hateful eyes and understood for the first time why animals eat their young. Good heavens. 

Even things that we have tried to compromise on (like bike-riding and Wii-playing) have only increased his angst, so we have gone back to our original rules on those (the Wii is gone for good, and the bike is relegated to the weekends…in the country out by church…since we’re pretty sure he’s using it to find trouble here in town). When he wondered why the changes in policy, I just told him that his last little speech about how we never do anything for him hadn’t been all that motivational for us, and we’d decided that if he was going to be mad anyway, we might as well stick to rules that made more sense to us. 

So. He’s wearing us out. To continue the cowboy theme, we find ourselves humming the Garth Brooks classic, “I’m much too young…to feel this d*&% old.” 

But (and there’s always a “but”…praise God!) we read in our devotions last night…from God’s Word…about Joseph…and how God brought incredible good out of all the troubles that happened in Joseph’s life. We read and re-read Genesis 50:19-21, where Joseph tells his brothers, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives…” We talked about how sometimes the evil seems ready to overtake us, both world-wide (think Middle East and Nicaragua) and family-close (think teenage angst and little-abused-kid fallout), but God will use it to accomplish good things. We were reminded of James 1:2-4, which says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” We’ve got the trials, for sure. The perseverance and maturity must be right around the corner, right? Right?

Sleep

We want it. We need it. We’re not getting it. Or at least not enough of it. 

Problem #1: Josiah usually gets home from work about 11, which is such an awkward time. An hour earlier would be no problem. An hour later and we would already be settled into deep sleep. As it is, we piddle around and end up still being awake to visit with him a bit about his evening. So our start time is about 11:30.

Problem #2: Ironically, 11:30 is about Feff’s start time too…the start of his new night-time wanderings. Sometimes he hears a train. Sometimes he “hears” non-existent thunder. Sometimes he’s convinced Sunshine threw up on him (I have no idea). Sometimes he’s convinced he’s sick and needs some “dult medicine” (adult medicine…I have no idea about that either). Sometimes he has to pee, and he screams bloody murder while he empties his bladder. Oy. Usually, he’s up a couple times during the night, but it’s a pretty quick turnaround until he’s back in his own bed snoozing. Last night, though, it was like he had a revolving door on his room. Finally, in desperate exhaustion, I made him a little pallet beside our bed. I was already pretty confident it was a mistake, but I knew it for sure when he flashed me a big grin and said, as he settled himself in, “Oh, Kris! This will be much easier.”

Oh, dear. I’m afraid “much easier” is in the eye of the beholder. On my to-do list for today: find some sort of small oh-boy-you-stayed-in-your-own-bed-all-night rewards for Feff. Also on my to-do list: squeeze in a nap.