Send anyone this way to read along, but for permission to reprint, please contact Gail.
© Gail Underwood Parker

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tame the Schol Paper Pile.... some refinements

In my last entry I gave the basics of my solution to staying dry in the deluge of papers and creations pouring out of backpacks each day  after school.  here are some little details that I have added along the way when I can.

1- Handprints: As each child gets a drawer I have them paint their hand and make a painted hand print on the front of the drawer.  As years pass the hands look smaller and smaller making it fun for them to see.  They also try fitting their hands into the prints of older siblings.  [They have asked if they could add a new print each year.  I decided that putting a hand print each year on paper and adding it to their file was the compromise.]

2. School pictures:  The inevitable leftover photos go in that year's folder.  I now try to put a photo of each child on [or near] the first day of school on the file folder for that grade. Sometimes I add another one on the last day of school as well. These are not necessarily the school pictures, more often snapshots I have taken, but school pictures could be used instead if that were simpler. [You could keep a separate folder just for the annual school pictures if you preferred.]

3. Special Education:  Since I have kids who are in special education [now called instructional support in my state] I have also added a folder for all the annual or triennial testing and another folder for the annual plans and reports. I find this is easier when I need to locate them rather than trying to remember which year's folder to search. 

4. Report Cards:  I keep the report cards in the grade level folder, but a friend who has adopted this system keeps the report cards all together in a separate folder from the papers. Whatever works is fine!

5. Testing/Assessment Reports: With so many states requiring standardized testing on a regular basis, the use of a separate folder for standardized assessments, similar to the folder I use for special education testing might be helpful.

6. Transitions: I use these folders to help the transition from year to year.  Part of the end of the school year tradition is emptying the current year folder. The only thing that stays in it over the summer is any "next year" paperwork [summer reading lists, supply lists for the following year etc.]. Part of getting ready in August is one last look through the previous year's papers, talking about the successes and progress of the last year and goals for the next year. [Sometimes the process even leads to more winnowing of the papers!] Depending on the age [and personality] of the child, school shopping may lead to a modeling of the "first day" outfit and a snapshot for the new grade start of school year photo. 

7. Independence:  At some point I start gradually turning over responsibility for the school file to the child. When varied greatly from child to child. Some ended up managing it almost by themselves, others needed my help straight through.  It is really fun if a year or so after graduation you can sit down with your 19 or 20 year old and go through their school years grade by grade, reminiscing. The end result can be a small file that is theirs to keep to perhaps show their children one day.  [Side note: For those of you with stacks of notes etc. from special education meetings or interventions over the years, it can be very healing to be able to pick just a few to show the challenges and the growth and then to let all the rest go.... maybe even have a small bonfire to celebrate!]
turn over at some point

I hope these ideas help some of you and spark more ideas you can share in return!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Tame the school Paper Pile ! ... the basic system

As I sort and purge things that somehow never got organized in my room it seemed logical to take today's blog to talk an organizing success. I have a super successful system for taming the avalanche of papers that come home from school with children. As the mom of five at a time, the paper seemed to spew out of backpacks like the constantly threatening stream of lava in the movie "Volcano." Given the previous discussion about the advantages of hindsight with repeated parenting cycles, I have finally hit on a solution that works... at least for us.

I use a four-drawer file cabinet [since I am currently raising a sib group of four. ] If you are starting with a new kindergartener you could even start with a single file drawer. Each child has their own drawer. In each drawer there are a series of file folders.... one for each grade of school plus an expandable pocket bottom file marked CURRENT YEAR which stays in the front.

Since I have kids involved in special ed [or instructional support as my school system now calls it] I also have a folder marked "Testing" and a folder marked "IEPs" [Individual Educational Plan]. I'm sure each state has their own acronyms and alphabet soup so adapt it to fit your family.

Whenever papers come home they are celebrated with the requisite enthuiasm, oohed and ahhed over, and then go one of two places: the refrigerator [generally only one is chosen for this honor] or the "current year" folder in their file drawer. When the next refrigerator worthy page goes up, the old exhibit goes in the "current year" folder as well. When the "current year" folder begins to bulge the child and I sit down together and sort through the papers, choosing usually 5-10 to keep in the folder and tossing the rest. [OK, I confess, sometimes I do a presort myself.] This process repeats throughout the year as needed. [Younger children generally need more frequent sorts because they bring home far more "treasures" than middle or high schoolers.]

Part of the end of the school year celebration is the last sort through.... choosing some of the best work, some of the favorite work, and sometimes a silly piece or two. The final [much smaller!] collection is put in a regular folder, marked with the grade, the calendar years, the school and the teacher. The "Current Year" stands empty and waiting for the fall. [It will need occasional replacing as it tends to get worn and beaten.]

That's it. Nothing elaborate. Nothing complicated. Nothing high-maintenance. But it works. And it has continued to work for close to a decade now. [Boy do I wish I could say that for all my attempts at organizing the house!] The kids enjoy the sorting and selecting and seem perfectly fine tossing most papers of their own accord when they revisit the file through the year. Give the school file a try and let me know how it works. Next entry I will share some of the little extras I have found helpful with this file system.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Hand Update

Thanks to all of you who sent me best wishes on my hand appointment. My hand is apparently going to need more surgery if I plan to have it really function as a hand. Now it works more like an artificial hand... the thumb and forefinger work moderately well, and the pinkie a bit, but no ability to close my hand to grip or hold things. Sooo... I am taking a month or two to gear up and get ready and then I will probably dive into it in early January and hope that at the end of their estimated 6 month recovery I have a more functional, more normal hand.

All in all, not what I wanted to hear, but the good news is that they feel it should work, and that I will be able to play piano and write/type more easily afterward which really is good news. The only nasty part is that I will need to do the extensive surgery and rehab to get there. -sigh- In the meantime I celebrate my new doctor-granted freedom from finger exercises, splints, and therapy between now and surgery.

On a serious note, I celebrate much more deeply the care and concern and support of friends and readers, and truly am grateful that this is an accident, nothing more, nothing less. It is not an illness or condition that threatens my life, my longevity, or anything even close to it. Besides, with my already stubby short fingers.. I didn't really have a chance for a career as a hand model anyway. Thanks again for your thoughts and prayers. I'll call on them again when I do go in for the surgery!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wish me luck

Small off-topic personal update.  Those who remember my fall last May... Despite the fracture repair and five months of intensive physical/occupational therapy I have not yet been able to motivate the formerly broken fingers to move as fingers are supposed to move.  Since my primary income is from writing and music [piano and organ], this is a significant challenge.  The docs here are now recommending an additional series of surgeries.  This morning I am driving to Boston to meet with an ortho doc at a Performing Arts clinic there for a second opinion.  I am still waiting for an appointment with a hand doc in NYC.  A non-surgical solution would be wonderful... so... wish me luck and those of you with fingers that can still cross on command, please do. Thanks.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Parenting Do-Overs

As an "experienced" parent and one with more than one "set" of children raised, I have the blessing of parenting hindsight.  Unlike most parents, I have the chance to "do it over again" and do it differently. I am still starting kids after having seen the outcomes with the earlier kids.  I do do it differently. Like the "Don't sweat the small stuff" guru, I now have a somewhat unusual set of priorities. This allows me to comfortably "give in" or "let slide" many things which other parents firmly grasp or compulsively enforce. Things which I grasped ever so tightly with my first crew and less so with my current cherubs. Predictably there are also things that I let slide with my earlier kiddos and stand firm and resolute now.  

If I had to summarize the difference I think it lies in a better ability at backward planning. I have a good idea now of what qualities I want my kiddos to have at 18, 28, etc.  I also have a better [though FAR from guaranteed] idea of how to get there from here.  So, I break the outcome into smaller and ever smaller increments and start working on them.  I think I work on them more consciously than the first time around, and with  greater confidence in the route than before.  

For most things I start working the plan earlier than the first time [like cooking and study habits]. Some things I do very differently [like the way I do rewards and privileges]. Some things are a mix of both [like teaching how to keep their bedrooms clean.] How much of this is because the kiddos I raise now come with more challenges and issues than my first set is hard to determine.  I am certainly glad that my early attempts were with more resilient, more natively able, healthier children. What I learned raising them has been hugely helpful in later parenting.  

One of the things I liked best about the teaching profession was the chance to reinvent yourself, your attitudes, your behaviors, your priorities each September.  Yes, students might notice a difference between what they had heard about you and what you were, but you could tweak your approach every year.  I didn't feel that freedom s a parent the first time around. I felt like "changing the rules" in midstream was unfair and likely to be unsuccessful.  I feel much freer now to change as it seems needed.  I feel much more comfortable letting go of a plan or a rule or a priority based on circumstances and needs.  I worry less about what the current thinking is or what the experts say and go more comfortably with what is actually working, cheerfully ditching that which is not working, regrouping and restarting.  

I don't believe there is any perfect set of parenting strategies or techniques to fit every child. Heck, we can't even find soap or cereal or shampoo to fit every child! But when I get tired of parenting, of dealing with homework  struggles or sibling squabbles for the umpee-thousandth time I celebrate the chances I have for do-overs, for mini or extreme makeovers, and for the blessings and focus of hindsight.  

Friday, October 23, 2009

Renovation and reorganizing... update

Hello again.  My name is Gail [still] and I am a packrat [still]. I have struggled to stay in recovery [this time] for 2 weeks.  

A few posts ago I stated my intentions to make some changes and keep you posted.  Since then I have made three trips to the dump [in my town you take your own trash... no automatic scheduled pickups].  In total I have removed 23 bags of stuff from my house.  Some has gone into the hopper, some to the recycling bins, and some to swap shops, Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc.  Before sending me cheers I must confess that for my rather large family 3-4 bags of trash per week is the base line before my new sorting resolve. So at least 6-8 of those bags are predictable.

I wish I could say that my house looked substantially better, but the truth is that I could probably remove 16 extra  bags  every two weeks for months and still not have reached the end state.  Mind you, the "public" rooms are looking better, but even they progress slowly.  For example.  I took four large grocery bags of books to my library's book sale from the upstairs book shelves. You would think I now have empty shelves.  

Au contraire!  The shelves don't look substantially different to the untrained eye.  How is this you ask?  The secret is that almost every bookshelf in my house [and I have more than most small libraries possess] is double shelved, with two layers of books on every available inch.  So now I have several shelves that are now merely single shelved.  Maybe not the end goal, but a good start.  I managed to release my old college textbooks [except for one written by a favorite professor]. I even freed two shelves of books on tape... my latest car has only a CD player and my walkman cassette player is dying. [Oh, all right... I kept the Katherine Hepburn and Christopher Reeve autobiographies.]  Progress is the key.   

Hello. My name is Gail. I am a packrat.... but I am still trying. 

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Rule of 5 ... some examples

In my last post I introduced our family Rule of 5. The Rule of 5 works for almost everything and almost everyone. I find that it often clarifies a choice very quickly. Here are two examples:

Grown-up Example:
I had to choose whether it was a good choice to go to the foster parent conference all the way in Nashville this past fall. Going meant I would not be home to help the kids through the first week of school. Going meant I would be able to attend many trainings on teaching successful independent living for kids transitioning out of care and that I would be able to present a workshop myself, as well as man an exhibit with my new book The Caring Heart Speaks. Applying the Rule of 5 it was clear that even in just 5 weeks, much less 5 months or 5 years, the negatives of missing that first week would have disappeared but the benefits of attending the conference would continue to provide positive effects.

Kid's Example:
One of my kiddos recently was considering whether to try smoking. A friend was offering [encouraging/pressuring?] him cigarettes and the opportunity away from home. Applying the Rule of 5 the getting in good with the friend might last 5 days, maybe even longer, but 5 months or 5 years down the road, the benefits of that friendship would have been far outweighed by the cost [finances, health, trust, etc.] of a smoking habit. Did it stop him from trying? No. But processing it afterwards he could see the long term impact and made the decision not to smoke again. Whether he will stick with it will partly depend on how effectively he uses the Rule of 5.

Is the Rule of 5 a miracle cure? No. But it does help you stop and think rather than simply give in to a quick impulse. Sometimes that is all that is needed. Sometimes all it does is make you feel guilty for giving in. No plan guarantees making good choices. But this plan, like many others can help you know what the good choice IS. After that it is always up to us.

Give the Rule of 5 a shot. Send me some of your examples to share?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Rule of 5....what is it?

When my kids are struggling with a choice, [especially on with good arguments for both sides] I teach them to use what my family calls the "Rule of 5." For each choice you consider what the resulting benefits and costs will be in 5 days, in 5 months, and in 5 years. When the kids were younger and time seemed forever I used to use 5 minutes, 5 hours, and 5 days which was more within their understanding.

The idea of the Rule of 5 is to teach kids:
1- to weigh the consequences [good and bad] of choices they make
2-to look beyond the most immediate results to longer term impacts
3-to use that information to recognize the better choice
If your children develop a habit of using the Rule of 5 [and if you are lucky] that will lead to.... 4- using that information to MAKE the better choice.

Sadly, with tough choices it seems to me that the option with comfortable short term results is often NOT the wisest choice . Take lying for example. When a child has done something wrong, lying and saying they did not do it makes life easier right then. The negative consequences kick in down the road.... a place hard for kiddos to see when they are facing immediate punishment. For older kids, the social pressure to make a poor choice often has lots of benefits in the short term [popularity, attention, etc.] so that kids need a habit of looking at the long term effects of impulsive choices.

Try the Rule of 5 yourself, or with your family. Let me know whether it helps !

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Renovations and reorganizing

Everybody's living space needs renovations after a while.  The newly fresh becomes the comfortingly familiar and then degenerates into the tired , closely followed by the dingy. Usually it happens slowly. There are the repeated incidents of spilled juice, the accidental marks from markers that turned out to be permanent rather than washable. A grape slips into a crease or crack unnoticed and slowly oozes into a raisin. It's a process.  

When you decide to renovate it always means sorting, cleaning, throwing out, and waging battle with piles.  I've also realized that inevitably when you clean, sort, and put everything back in place there is always a pile [hopefully smallish] of things that no longer have a logical place in the newly organized space, but need a place somewhere.  The challenge is to refuse to let those things become a stack or pile in a different room, on a different dresser, etc.  

Only rarely is someone born with the skills needed for cleaning and organizing. All parents have watched with horror the results of a young child deciding to rearrange their bedroom. Children tackle the project with great enthusiasm and energy, pulling everything out from corners, cubbies, closets, and more.. eager to reorganize their living space into their image of perfection. Unfortunately it is no surprise when the effort is larger than the energy supply, that the enthusiasm is gone long before the piles in the center of the room are gone. What often results is one or two small newly neat areas sounded like islands in the middle of an ocean of chaos and mess.  

There are tricks and strategies to cleaning efficiently and successfully. [One drawer, one area at a time... Match time and energy to task, etc.] Parents must teach children how to clean just as you teach them how to brush their teeth. The process is slower than dental hygiene, probably even toilet training, but faster than study skills. Much harder is the task of teaching them how to choose what to value, what to toss, what to keep.  How can we do that when it is so hard for us to do ourselves?  I sometimes think I was genetically coded, environmentally groomed, and encouraged by life events to be a packrat.  I hate the label of packrat.  But... I admit the truth. It is an inescapable conclusion for anyone walking through my home, especially beyond the "public spaces" most guests are limited to. 

I was taught the steps of cleaning.  I was taught the strategies of efficiency and success.   What I did not learn was a more practical sense of what to value, how to choose what to toss and what to keep.  Clearly.  I have saved baby clothes and toys for my children to show their children. But they now have children and don't really care about showing them.  I have saved toys and books to hand down, but it turns out rarely does anyone want the handed down.  So why am I saving things still for my current cherubs. Artifacts from kindergarten and middle school and high school fill box after  box.  For what? Why is it so hard to just toss them? There are lots and lots of justifiable reasons why I am/ my house is where I am/ it is.  But if that is not what I want, then renovations are in order.  So where does that leave me, other than in a house that I find overwhelming and often discouraging?  I have tried the one drawer, one spot approach and never get far enough to move ahead, only barely to keep the tide at bay.  So I will try something new today.  I will try beginning by admitting/ accepting the responsibility.  

Hello.  My name is Gail.  I am a packrat.  

[I'll keep you posted.]

Friday, October 9, 2009

Teen Driving

Wooo hoo! On of my cherubs passed the drivers test today! Now, when I first took on the last set of cherubs I said there were two things I would never do again... pull baby teeth out and teach another teenager to drive and parallel park. Well, one out of two is better than none. After failing the test a month ago, the test was overcome today and there is one more driver on the road.

Not all children can learn to drive a car. Not all children should learn to drive a car. Its not the end of the world to be an adult who can't drive. It means you must choose housing near a public transportation system or near where you work and shop. As I deal with fender benders, excise taxes, registration, repairs, oil changes, ad infinitum, I sometimes think that the non drivers are the smart ones. But for teens, it is a rite of passage that is painful to be excluded from experiencing. How do you explain to peers that your reading skills aren't up to the task of speed reading all the signs you must pay attention to while driving? How do you explain if your medical condition makes it impossible for you to drive? Or your emotional issues?

Teens cannot always chose to hook a ride with someone else, and may not have ready access to public transportation. No teen wants to be driven by a parent, no matter how willing. And then there are other complications... dating for one. Teens who are unable to learn to drive may also lack judgment skills or impulse control. If they hook rides, they are at even greater risk of riding with an impaired driver.

So maybe I need to remember that when I groan inwardly [or perhaps frown and growl outwardly] about the hours of driving, supervising, trying to teach skills while hiding white knuckles during a too sharp turn, or the terror face after a g-force defying stop. I am lucky that this one can learn to drive, is now blessed with that new found independence that is another step toward independent living. Even more... I can be glad that I can go back to driving myself around... at least until the next one asks for a driver's permit and the cycle begins again. Woo hoo!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Parenting Burnout?

This is one of those weeks when it all just seems too much.  Too many small crises, too many obligations, too many unexpected blips, too many everything.  As one who is currently dealing with adolescents and teenagers at the age of 60+ I would like a half hour to chat with those 50+ women I see on the news who are starting families.  It might start with "Are you CRAaaazy?" It would also include " What job is more important or gives more to the world than to raise a caring, responsible future member of society?" It would no doubt be a rambling, blithering half-hour that convinced no one of anything.... except perhaps that I was the crazy one.  

All joking aside, at my age there are many days when I question the sanity of my undertaking.  There are many nights when I worry that I am just letting some things slide, not out of rational, intelligent choice, but out of fatigue and parenting burnout. I can't tell you how tired I am of school open house night speeches, pulling baby teeth, of 4th grade recorder concerts, middle school graduations, and [perhaps most of all!] teaching kids to parallel park. Shouldn't there be a maximum for some of those irksome tasks of parenting?  Some number that, once you reach it, you are excused from that job forever more????

Burnout is a particular problem for single parents, regardless of age.  The wish for someone who would just come and take charge, giving you a break for a bit, is always there.  No one to be the other half of "good cop, bad cop." No one to tell... "You get up with them this time." No other half to say "I'll pick up A from her soccer game, while you take B to his doctor's appointment." No X to have as in... "Just wait until X gets home!" True, when child A walks up for their diploma, or B achieves a long-fought-for goal... you can hold in your heart the part you played in their success.  But you also are likely to personalize and take on  the blame for any failings or challenges.  

When parenting burnout hits, I try to roll with it.  I try to relax about the out-of-sorts symptoms it brings, keep going on the crucial stuff, let the little stuff slide. I try not to take it personally and instead I treat the burnout kind of like a seasonal cold. Extra rest, healthy food, plenty of water, and when possible a little extra pampering. For all my fellow burnout victims... maybe consider parenting burnout a mild seasonal allergy? It arrives when a certain pollen is in the air and it will pass on its own in due time. The symptoms are annoying and tiresome, but they too pass.  They don't kill us, they rarely even incapacitate us, but a little care and pampering is a good plan.  

So, start a tub, watch a useless TV show, pick up a guilty pleasure magazine at the checkout, or go sit by yourself on the porch and soak in a sunset or full moon.  The pollen will pass. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Holding My Breath

A while back I wrote about setting the bar.  Today I am holding my breath as one of my kiddos is approaching... maybe at... a major bar.  We are in the place where you hope you are at the bar of success, but can't quite trust it yet.  Are we two steps ahead with a one step back about to hit us?  or maybe two steps back? Has the behavior really stopped?  For how long?  Dare we hope for a month?  Dare we dream forever?

All parents know this moment.  It begins the first time your child sleeps through the night.  It is such a blissful moment of joy... but you don't quite celebrate it full out, knowing the next night may be back to feedings every few hours.  How many nights in a row does it take before you go to bed confident of a full night's sleep?  

With infants it seems somehow infinitely easier to celebrate the small milestones and grant the child a pass when s/he backslides into the old patterns.  No knowledgeable parent expects a child to sleep through the night foreverafter that first blissful surprise.  Sure, there are a lucky few [I've heard of but never met] whose child sleeps through from then on, but it is rare.  No knowledgeable parent expects their toddler to be out of diapers forever after their first successful use of the "potty."  

Yet as our children grow older we [I] seem to expect the lessons to be learned more quickly, more efficiently, with steadier successes and fewer backslides.  It can be a simple task ["Put the dishes away, don't just stack them on the counter."].  It can be a family rule. ["You MUST call and tell me if you are going to go to someone's house after school."] It can be a moral choice. ["Just because you want it doesn't give you the right to take it."] But somehow after the first or second time the instruction is almost always accompanied by my exasperated comment [dare I say whine?] of "How many times have I told you...x,y,z?" or "Haven't I told you before...x,y,z?" or some variation of the rant.

Deep inside I know that no infant will be more able to soothe themselves back to sleep if I scolded "How many times have I told you to just close your eyes and you will go back to sleep?!" So doesn't it follow that no adolescent will be more encouraged or able to fight temptation [of laziness, carelessness, or moral dilemma] with me scolding an instruction louder or more angrily than the first, second, etc. times I said it?   

So now I am holding my breath.  Perhaps this IS the time of success.  But if it is not, then  please can I remember to enjoy the successful moments as they came, to savor them. Like that first night of sleeping through, let me use the unexpected respite to rejuvenate and re-energize, so that I can start again, calmly and quietly, encouraging and supporting rather than whining and barking. It would be better for me.  Better for them.  For all of us, I  am holding my breath and savoring this time. 

Monday, September 28, 2009

Setting the Bar

Success is measured differently by parents of children with challenges.  It really doesn't matter whether they are your children, foster, adoptive, or maybe alien children. If you are raising a child [or more than one] with challenges you either learn to adjust your definition of success or you go crazy.  Perhaps both. 

 If you have a child with encopresis [an inability to control one's bowels] then a week withonly 24 soiled underpants is a victory worthy of celebrating.  If you have a child with a history of severe trauma, seeing the child merely jump up to see where the ambulance that went by is headed may be a celebration of the fact they did not run screaming, and hide under something. If you have a child with reactive attachment disorder you may find yourself celebrating a day the child only pinched you instead of hitting or spitting. If you have a child with anxiety disorders seeing only one blanket nailed covering their bedroom window may be a success, or seeing them silent but shyly looking at a visitor, rather than hiding,  may be a huge cause for celebration.  If you have a child who refuses to eat, hearing them ask for an apple is monumental, but if your child is overweight seeing them stop at just one may be equally so. 

Which brings me to a saying for which I am well known... "It's all in where you set the bar."  People who first hear me say that at trainings sometimes become offended, jumping to the conclusion that I am not willing to set high goals for challenged children.  That is far from the truth.  The truth is that I try to understand what IS a high goal for a child with challenges. I offer you myself.  I am [if I stand very straight] almost 5 feet 2 inches tall.  I always say I am 5'2" because I remember when I was 5'1" and always assumed I must have grown another inch.  [All you tall folks out there, stop laughing!] In fact I am more likely 5" 1-1/2" tall at best.  Now, given that information.... if you were to see me try to dunk a basketball and come close would you not feel that celebration worthy?  Perhaps more celebration worthy than a similar result from Michael Jordan [considerably taller..and I might add considerably more athletically gifted than I]? Whether we like to admit it or not we DO set different goals and expectations based on people's genetics and training and natural abilities [or in my basketball example, lackthere of!]

Why should it be different for children who happen to be autistic, mentally retarded, anxious, compulsive, traumatized, etc...  even short?  Each person's bar of success is different, and each bar should be ever mobile, always moving up to reflect each success.  Look at your children, with or without challenges, as individuals with different bars.  Set the bar to fit the child. Set it at a place that is achievable with moderate effort. Then you have two wondrous opportunities...1- To celebrate with them a moment of success, of achieving a goal. 2- To teach your child that when you achieve a goal you enjoy the success, you set a new goal, and you start toward that one, etc. etc. always growing, always achieving, always celebrating, succeeding.  Teach them to live by their own bar of success, and to celebrate each success with a new setting of the bar. 

We all need successes to celebrate.  We learn from failures but we are motivated by success.  Look for ways and places to set the bar for your children so that they and you can celebrate together. You might even try it for yourself. 

It's all in where you set the bar. 

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Short Rant on Grammar

I hate pronouns. I seem incapable of teaching my cherubs pronouns.  As a veteran teacher I know the age that most children acquire the use and understanding of pronouns as part of language.  It is the transition from language to action that I can't seem to impart.  Towels go over the towel rod, not under the rod. Put the dirty clothes in the hamper, not on the hamper or beside the hamper. Hang your clothes up, don't lay them down. [I won't even touch the issue of up versus down regarding toilet seats!]

Other directional words are difficult concepts for my tribe.  The difference between open and shut, for example, is particularly challenging. I have found this especially true when trying to teach the concept regarding drawers, cupboards, and doors. 

Nouns can be part of the problem also.  The nouns "sink" and "counter" are easily mixed up if put in a sentence with "put" [as in "Put the dishes in the sink, not on the counter."] When taking care of clothes the confusion is generally between the noun hanger and the noun floor. [Well, actually the noun hanger is almost diabolical.. easily becoming confused with almost anything.... floor, desk, couch, chair, bed..anything!]

Even some verbs [such as stop] can be misunderstood and exchanged [one more time]. Which leads me to numbers, where 1 [as in the previous example] is interchangeable with almost any larger number!

Oh well... I need to stop, stand up, close my computer, watch just 1 television show and go to bed!


Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Melancholy Day and Foster Care

Ten years ago today my mother died.  I try to celebrate her birthday [which is in three days] rather than the anniversary of her death, but I can't seem to escape a moody melancholy as September creeps toward Sept 24 each year. Maybe if she had died three days AFTER her birthday it would be easier to keep the focus on the positive day.  Tonight I will go to a church meeting, not because I want to... I would rather not.  I would rather reread my mother's letters or go to her favorite restaurant, or something. But my mother was no stranger to church meetings that fell on days she wanted to do something else, so in a strange way it is fitting. Who knows.  I think about her and all that she gave me, taught me, showed me. I sometimes try not to think about her.  I try little tricks to distracts myself.  I try little acts to celebrate her.  I mourn her. 

I had a wonderful mother.  She had some habits for which she was teased, some of which she has handed down to me.  She had some habits which I admire and strive for, some of which I almost manage.  It makes me feel guilty sometimes that I have such good memories of my mother and father and yet as a foster parent I know how many children in this world do NOT have that wonderful bank of memories. I suppose some psychiatrist would guess that some of my push to caregive is connected, but I of course would say phooey.  Nonetheless, what are we to do [as a society] about all of these children.  These children who are growing up without a good role model of what a mother should be, or a father should be.  These children who mourn for a family they do not have, never did have, and yet want so desperately.  These children grow up... some of them.  Many of them grow up unsuccessfully.  The statistics about children who are homeless who have had contact with foster care are frightful.  The statistics about the percentage of incarcerated prisoners who were once in foster care is even more terrifying.  

Foster care is not as simple as having space to share in your home or even in your heart.  It is hard.  It does not come with guarantees of a good outcome.  But all around us there are children who have been robbed of a childhood, of a loving and caring family, who don't have a clue about unconditional love.  It is too big a problem for me to even wrap my head around.  Today I feel the loss of my mother in every cell of my body.  And yet, I celebrate that loss.  For I had something wonderful to lose.  And I weep for all of those children around my state and my country and my world who will not be gripped in sadness as a date approaches.  I weep because they never had much to lose, never received enough from their mother or father to miss.  You should miss your parents.    I am blessed because I do. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Two points and three cheers for fiscal planning

It is a tradition in my house to go out to dinner as a family on the first day of school. It began when I was teaching school full time and was a single parent with fiver small children. By the time I got my classroom ready, my kids ready , me ready and all of us up, dressed, fed, bags packed, and through the school doors on time, I felt spent ..and the day of teaching had not even begun. I could barely make it through the afternoon of each first day. My exhaustion left me totally uninterested in fixing a nice dinner for the kids who had also survived their first day of school and deserved a good meal. So, making lemons of lemonade, a tradition was born that continues deades later, even now that I am no longer teaching school and the children that began the tradition are now sending their own children off to school.

This year I was in Nashville at the conference on the kids' first day of school. I expected the kids to ask if I could leave money for the sitter to take them out that night. Instead they came to me with a different proposal. They suggested that since I had expected to take them out but couldn't... perhaps there was "extra" money in the food budget for that week. They proposed that the money I would have spent on dinner be divided among the children and put toward the cell phones they are trying to maintain. Mind you, I pointed out that I am not willing to trade all family events for their simple dollar cost. I reminded tham that not everything's value can be measured in dollars and cents. However, I agreed that this was a unique situation and I agreed to their proposal. Score one point for fiscal planning on their parts!

They also suggested that since I was going to be away, instead of the babysitter masking the meals, perhaps they could earn extra money by making the meals themselves while I was gone. Now, in the cold harsh reality of that week, not every child actually made the appointed meanl and earned their money. But that wasn't what made me happy. What pleased me was noticing with great joy this second sign of fiscal planning. This was the first time they have initiated a plan to earn money for a goal. Setting goals and breaking them into realistic plans is a crucial skill for future independence... especially in budget terms! Wooo hoooo..Score two points for the kids!!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Budding Chefs

I don't think I have ever mentioned one of my most successful parenting strategies... my first effort at teaching real independent living skills to my tribe. Years ago I suddenly found myself a single parent of five children from kindergarten up, a working mother with a full time job, and several part time job efforts. I didn't even have time that I could lose by being depressed, heartbroken, or even angry. I didn't have time for anything. Exhaustion was a constant state of being, reminding me of the years spent doing lesson plans in my head while doing late might and early morning baby feedings. None of my children seemed very interested in doing chores or housework, which was not terribly surprising since at that point, neither did I. Long story short, I began to be very deliberate abouot teaching my childrn to cook specific meals. My children may have missed out on some things, but they reached adulthood able to feed themselves and be competent in the kitchen. They were ecomfortable fixing full dinners as most of their friends were at baking brownies or rice krispie squares. I don't know if that had anything to do with two of the five becoming committed vegetarians or not, but that may have helped motivate them.

With my latest charges I began deliberately teaching them kitchen skills when the youngest was about 8. I began with makineg each child their own cookbook. I used 3-ring binders and my trusty [very low end] digital camera. Whenever we began a new recipe I would teach the child how to make it step by step and would take a picture of him/her doing each step. [I always include the first step of washing their hands and went through washing their hands when done, serving it to a happy crew and cleaning up the kitchen afterwards!] The next time we fix it the child follows the printed and photo directions while I watch [assuring success]. The third time the child makes it alone while I am at home in case I am needed. If it works the recipe goes in their "cookbook" binder and on their list of things they can cook independently. Now even my fifth grader can now cook at least five complete dinners totally by herself, and her brothers now have a repertoire of almost ten. [The older ones also track how much each meal costs in groceries and what you can make from the leftovers.] This helps with family responsibility sharing, teaching budgets, earning spending/saving money, and much, much more I can talk about another time.

If anyone readin wants a copy of one of the photo/direction recipes, send me your email and your kid/s age/s and I will send you one. Teaching each recipe takes time, but it is a great chance for one-on-one time and kids often open up more when cooking with you. Your children will have a great sense of accomplishment, will love cooking and showing off for their friends, and will be one giant leap forward towards successful independent living one day. And, trust me... the next time you are down flat with the flu and the kids can take over the meal duties, the time you have spent will be more than worth every minute!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Cell Phones and Utility Bills

I have been told that I am the last remaining parent in the United States who has not given their children cell phones. I have been told that for quite a few years. Sadly I confess that as of this week I have surrendered. Not happily, but nonetheless, all of my cherubs will head for school with cell phone in hand. I am slightly bitter because I feel the world [scratch that… the society here in America] has made it almost mandatory. It became clear when I drove all over the town where I live and discovered that there is no longer even ONE pay phone or public phone available in the entire town. Needless to say shop-owners do not make their phones available to my cherubs or anyone’s cherubs. Their friends are unhappy using their minutes to let my guys call me when the soccer bus is delayed beyond the planned pickup time. The field hockey coach has no interest in letting my kiddos call home on her cell to let me know the game has been moved to a different field than where I am waiting confused. I certainly don’t want them going up to strangers asking to use their cell phones! The tipping point has been reached, at least for me. I need to be able to know where the kids are. The community no longer provides public phones. Like a painful geometry proof I am left with the conclusion that cell phones are the only realistic, safe, and practical solution.

So… I considered having a spare family cell phone that would be available for whoever seemed likely to need it most that day. But, I opted instead for an alternative plan that I hope will both solve the communication problem and teach some fiscal responsibility. I used some old cell phones so that no one got a new phone, therefore no new contracts to sign extending my family plan. Therefore the only cost to me is $9.95 per phone per month. So, sitting my cherubs down [the youngest is 11] I explained that they could have a phone with a few strings attached. String #1- They needed to understand that any misuse of the phone would result in losing the privilege of having their own phone. String #2- Before they could have their phone they needed to pay me the first month’s fee [$10]. String #3- They would have to earn the $10 each month and give it to me BY the first of the month or they would lose the phone for that next month. Having signed a phone contract with me for those terms [which I showed them was similar to the phone contract I have with AT&T for the family plan] as soon as they paid their first month, they were good to go.

How has it gone so far? Well, all of them have paid their first month and have in fact earned the money and paid for the next month early. Yes, there have been a few wrinkles on phone etiquette [“No, you may NOT call you friend’s mother at 7 o’clock on a Saturday morning to see if they can come over and play!”] and lots of conversations I did not enjoy [“Nana, what is this sexting thing they were talking about on the bus?]. But I have had them calling in to check in after school, and perhaps best of all, they now have their first real “utility bill” to learn to manage, to perhaps mismanage, and to learn consequences when they are still safe at home. Laying those tracks toward successful independence with fingers crossed firmly and prepared for the bumpy ride….

And aware that the "last remaining holdout in North America" has fallen.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

When you have to go away.... Loveys

One of the challenges of going out of town as a single parent is how to keep the little and not so little ones from feeling abandoned, especially if that is part of their past. I've tried framed pictures of me by their beds, little pics tucked places with notes from me for them to find, daily phone calls, an envelope-a-day for them to open from me. Books to bond are plentiful. The Kissing Hand and Love You Forever are two favorites of my kiddos. How about yours? Send me your kids' favorite comfort books and maybe we can get a list going? Anyway, given the anxiety my kids often experience when I leave, you name it, we've tried it. All of those have helped at various ages and stages.

Here's an activity I like that the kids really surprised me by loving year after year. Before I leave we do a craft project, making what we started calling "Loveys" when they were younger. Using felt or fleece you cut out two hearts or even just two squares. Gather cotton, some glittter, a few trinkets and some pieces of paper. Together write little notes on the paper ["I love you" "Your smiles make me happy" "I will be home soon" etc. ] Have the child pick out some trinkets [beads, shapes, mini-animals, whatever the child likes and picks]. Using yarn sew up three sides [or 3/4 of the heart]. Then very lightly stuff the shape with the cotton. Then fold the mini-notes and put inside the cotton [My guys like me to put a kiss on each note before I put it in]. Then add in the trinkets. Finally sprinkle in the magic glitter. Stitch the Lovey closed making a mini-pillow filled with love, messages, and kisses. They can keep it under their pillow, in their backpack, even in a pocket, while you are gone. Sometimes having something tangible to touch and remember the two of you sitting together making it, makes all the difference.

So, that's my strategy to offer today. Try it and let me know how it works.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Back home from Nashville

Well, I made it. I had my choice of morning wakeup calls by Travis Trit, Carrie Undewood, and quite a few in between. Certainly a far cry from my usual morning wake up..... "Nana, get uuhhhhpp! Now, Nana!" Another difference is that at the hotel I could program and choose the time for that recorded musical wake up call. Not so the paintive Nana wake up call from my little gremlins. Those tend to come before the sun is fully up. But home I am, Nana wakeups and all. It was a good conference although not quite what I had expected. I had misjudged [read failed to ask] the percentage of kids vs adults and foster parents vs agency staff. Nonetheless I met some wonderful people and some amazing kids.

For any of you foster parents out in blogdom.. there are more agencies than you can imagine that specialize in the transition to independent living... often referred to as "age-ing out" of the foster care system. I learned much that was new to me about that area of foster care, things that I am more than willing to share if there is any intetrest out there.... just sing out and let me know!

Over the next weeks I plan to sprinkle in more about the conference, but for now I am content to be excited that I have finished unpacking, have caught up on the mail, have filled in all the crinkled and creased parent papers that were sent home for me while I was away, and spent some quality time with the at -least-momentarily-cherubic gremlins. I guess they really did miss me... a very good sign! Time to tiptoe down, check on their sleeping status and plant a kiss on each head. Then I will head to bed so I can be ready for my not-so-Music City wake-up call tomorrow morning and for the race to be ready before the school bus arrives. Good night!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Off to Nashville....Wish me luck

Well, dear blog followers, tomorrow I leave for a week, well a school week anyway. Five days away from my cherubs and their challenges and their joys. I am headed to Music City....Nashville, Tennessee. Why? you ask? I am headed for the only national conference on independent living. It focuses on the needs of children aging out of foster care into the wild world, and how to equip said kiddos for a successful transition. Sponsored by Daniel Kids of Florida, I found it online and decided to attend this one rather than the regular foster care conference because of its focus. On top of that, I am actually presenting a workshop there. The workshop is called "Build Your Own Parachute" and will [hopefully] teach foster parents how to use independence trunks, independence notebooks, and practice apartments to prepare their charges for a successful transition. Getting everything ready and set for presenting has kept me busy and offline for over a week, but I think I am ready. I even managed to put all my workshop handouts in pdf form onto CDs so that participants can carry home a CD rather than a stack of papers. Wheee... score one for the trees and the environment!

I am going with the world's scariest looking splint still on my hand. I am sure its wires and contraptions will make the airport security people scurry about and will set off countless alarms. Getting ready and going would be much simpler if I had the cooperation of that still pretty useless hand. The porters and bell boys will profit from my inability to pull the bags of books etc. that I am taking.

This will also be the debut of my new book, The Caring Heart Speaks. Hot off the press I am hoping that it is well received. That is something like hoping everyone thinks your baby is cute. Of course, you aren't trying to sell your baby. All the locasl folks have made the appropriate oooh and ahhhhs about the book, but this will be the first roll-out not in home territory. All in all, a slightly intimidating looking week. I'll be out of touch until I get back. Wish me luck...see you soon...and if any of you happen to be going to the same conference...Say Hello!!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Memories of Car Travel

When I was a child my family traveled by car about 10 hours to our annual vacation spot.  We usually broke it into two days since my grandparents lived 4 hours along the way.  My parents used the suitcases for our one month stay to fill the well between front and back seats. They were carefully wedged up to the level of the back seat with pillows to soften the hump between the two sides.  [Yes, there was really spacious leg room between seats in those days of long, tank-like cars.] Covering the whole thing with blankets created a bed across the whole seat and space.  As children we stretched out and could sleep away some of the long hours.  When there were three of us, two could sit [either cross legged, or facing each other with our backs to the windows] while one got to "sleep" or at least stretch out. We were completely untethered in those days before seat belts, much less should belts and safety seats! The only "air bags" we had were inflatable pillows to cradle our heads from bouncing against the window. One truly lucky young child might get permission to stretch out on the back windowledge... a space far wider than in today's cars.  It was like sleeping and resting in the viewing bubble-top of touring trains...the ultimate window seat.  I loved it!

We traveled along the spanking new New York State Thruway perched precariously on wooden toy boxes with painted-on names.... the safety polar opposite of today's car seats!  No one had yet figured out that a child sleeping on the back windowledge [the prized spot] risked becoming a flying projectile.  No one noticed that the toy steering wheel [mounted on the front of the baby seat] could impale, and the baby seat [which hooked over the top of the back of the front seat so the child could see out the windshield] could propel forward at windshield height. Not that my parents were not safety minded. We were never allowed to play with pointed objects in the car...crayons, no pencils [through crayons left on said rear windowledge invariably melted into colored pools of wax.]. We had accident "drills."  If Dad hollered "Down!" we all immediately threw ourselves onto the floor sheltered between the front and back seats. 

When I think about it, I wonder that we all survived.  The danger seems so obvious now.  Actually, it's kind of funny that the same people who were so worried about atomic war that many scrambled to build basement fallout shelters [totally inadequate against nuclear war] were oblivious to the easily prevented dangers of daily car travel! And yet, I admit to a bit of melancholy that none of my children got to experience that freedom of movement, the privileged views, ..... the innocence  and lack of fear.  

Monday, August 17, 2009

Memories of Car Travel #1... fighting

Riding in a car can be a challenge with kids. I was the middle child of three in the days before mini-vans and DVD players for the backseat passengers... when we still looked out the windows for amusement. I do remember admonitions of "Keep your hands to yourself," and "Yes it IS your turn to sit in the middle," but for the most part I don't remember much fighting.  Perhaps that is selective memory.  Perhaps the same endorphins they say make women forget the actual feeling of labor pains also numbs the memories of childhood fights. I only remember my father actually pulling the car over to the shoulder once. We were fighting in the back and repeatedly had been told to quiet down with the barest of temporary response.  Dad never said a word, simply pulled over and tuned the car off.  There we sat as big trucks roared by.  As car after car passed on their way, we continued to sit at road's edge. Eventually we figured out that these cars must be filled with better  behaved children and we quieted... nothing from the front seat. Then we pledged cooperation....still nothing, no motor restarting, no comment.  

At that moment a state trooper pulled up behind us and the tallest man I had ever seen stepped up and asked my father what the problem was.  Dad explained that he had pulled over because the noise in the backseat had made it impossible for him to concentrate on driving. He had pulled over until he was confident that he could drive safely.  The trooper shone his flashlight into the backseat when we sat frozen in its beam.  "Three kids?,"  he asked Dad.  "I have two young ones myself....They sure can make a racket sometimes."  The two exchanged a glance, no doubt of sympathetic understanding one dad to another.  "How much farther do you have to go?" "We're headed another four hours to the shore," Mother answered wearily.  The trooper nodded again and then peered back into the backseat.  "Be nice if you could get there in time to sleep tonight wouldn't it Sir? ....Shame if you had to stop too often along the way.... You might be too tired tomorrow to drive to the beach." With one more stern look at us, and [I later was told] a conspiratorial wink at Mother and Dad, he stepped back and said... "Take the time you need, then you folks go ahead and drive safely."  

After he drove off,  Dad started the car back up and pulled back onto the highway blessed by peaceful quiet in the back seat, and a spirit of desperate cooperation that lasted  for the remainder of the trip.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

School Morning -Not-so-Routines

Anybody else out there hate the morning hassle getting kids ready?  With school starting soon I am getting my kids ready for the morning routine yet again.  My kids ride the bus to school so being ready on time is essential.  Unfortunately, done independently they would manage it by skipping some part of the routine I consider "normal." Basics I am trying to teach as essential, [such as brushing your teeth and at least running a comb through your hair], become the things they see as time-permitting. This is of course means that on a rainy morning when choosing between rolling out of bed and getting started OR turning over for another 5 minutes and cutting corners.... unbrushed teeth, uncombed hair.  

Experts say that if you do an action every day at the same time, in the same way, for 17 days in a row, it will become a habit, no longer needing the effort of reminders.  The experts clearly have never met my crew! However, I have found one thing which has helped a LOT. I started doing it several years ago after seeing this approach used to help students with autism spectrum.  

Use your digital camera and take a picture of your child DOing each step of the morning routine.  Then download the pics to your computer and shrink them.  Paste them into a document checklist of the desired morning pattern. [If your child can read, add brief captions. If your child can tell time, add goal time captions.] I put mine on a clipboard hung in each child's bedroom. I got the kids involved in getting them ready... making a game of estimating then timing how long it took for each step.  The younger ones chose the fonts and colors before I printed up the charts. The kids also chose the order they would do things [with a bit of guidance so that teeth were brushed after breakfast for example.] 

In my house using photo checklist/charts saved some of the morning hassles, reduced arguments, and made the list be the bad guy instead of me. I did them low-tech before digital cameras and computers, but it sure is a lot easier now.  Try it and see how it works for you. 

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Monkey List

Today I hope to cross a very big item off my monkey list.  Or at least change it to a small item farther down my monkey list. What is my monkey list, you ask?  Do you know the old expression "monkey on your back" that refers to something that is clinging to you and you can't seem to get rid off? My monkey list is a running list I keep of all the tasks or obligations that are feeling like monkeys on my back.  Some of them are beloved monkeys, some of them not so beloved.  They are some of those jobs that we list under "Urgent" or "Must Do" that we never seem to fully complete, sometimes barely get to.  Sometimes we spend hours and hours and hours, but they are still there.  

Today I hope to usher in and welcome the first official, paying, lease signed, tenants to what used to be my mother and father's home.  I have spent inordinate amounts of time over the last year and a half changing it from their home to a rentable oasis for other families.  Today is the first test of how well I have accomplished that task.  At the very least, it will mark the beginning of the first week in that year and a half that I will not, CANnot go over there and work on the house.  That alone lessens the monkey grip.  Like any house, there will always be things I could do to improve it or the yard around it.  But it is now ready for renters.  

Yes, there are a few things left yet.  I have a box of newly sewn curtains from my sister, just arrived yesterday via UPS that are not yet hung to replace some of the less attractive ones now up.  Yes, there is a new double curtain rod in my car that will not be up over the sliding doors for this tenant.  But... the house is ready.  God has blessed us with a beautiful blue sky and sunny clear forecast to add to the welcome and the ocean view for the tenants. I am ready to be the gracious hostess and then leave!.....

Or at least I will be if my clothes will just finish drying so that I can get dressed and get over there!

Friday, August 14, 2009

24-7 seems not enough

Whose idea was it to have 24 hours in a day? For the last few weeks I have had an especially hard time prioritizing responsibilities. All parents are familiar with that struggle, especially other single parents. My physical therapist an doctor think my first priority must be rehab on my hand [at least 30 min an hour]. My kiddos think I should drop everything the moment they are bored and amuse them. The writer in me is desperately eager to get publicity stuff ready for the book. The presenter in me is panicking that in 17 days I will be presenting at a national foster care conference and do not yet have all my presentation materials done. The sibling in me is eager to have my dad's home really finished to perfection and ready for tenants [lst set arrives Saturday!]. The devil in me wants to curl up on a glider and immerse myself in pillows and a book. The mom in me wants my house to be tidy and ready for a daughter to enjoy when she arrives this weekend. [At the moment the best-seeming solution alternates between starting with a front loader or with a small bomb.] Sound familiar to anyone reading out in cyber space?

The only solution it seems would be for me to have a few "days" of biblical proportions....If God created light and dark and separated the into day and night in one day, perhaps little old me could actually get MY room cleanly organized into separate areas in a biblical day? If in one day God created all the creatures of the sea and sky, surely in one biblical day I could teach my four not-so-small land creatures to get along?

But, I along with the rest of us mere humans, only get a 24-hour day, and only 7 of them per week. So I am back to prioritizing. If I ever find a system that really works, you won't read about it n my blog, because the sound of my ecstatic celebration will no doubt be heard all the way to wherever you are. If you have already found the solution.... stop hiding it from the rest of us! Share!!!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Listening and Hearing

I am feeling guilty. Feeling guilty seems to be a lifestyle for me and I suspect for most parents. Now that I have a blog I have a new guilt on my list. I feel guilty when I haven't made an entry in a few days [or more]. On the other hand, sometimes I feel that blogging is like a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear. Are my rants, raves, thoughts and ideas going out to an empty field? If so, they is an irony here, because when I speak thoughts, ideas, rants, and even rave [positive that is] to my kiddos I also feel like it is speaking to an empty field. If any of you are fans of Broadway musicals.... perhaps you know "1776" which also became a movie. In it a tired and battle weary George Washington ends one of his hundreds of battlefield reports to the Continental Congress.... "Is anybody listening? Does anybody care?"

My blog is hardly the equivalent of an army general's report to the leaders of his country. [And, if I had hundreds of readers, which I clearly do not, then my guilt would be higher when I get busy and fall behind my personal blog goals.] So, today I started by thinking about blogging and debating whether it is more diary/catharsis or more communication. But it quickly became thoughts about our parenting communication. More often than not, one is tempted to feel that much of our parenting is falling on deaf ears. That is, ears that have chosen to tune us out. But like the Continental Congress, the children are hearing even if they try not to listen. And as for caring... well we know that they don't often care now. But I think the only reason we want them to care is so that what we say makes a difference. And for that I have come to believe that what we say does make a difference, even if they don't listen, even if they don't care.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Almost a real book

Woo hoo! The proof copy of my newest book arrived via FedEx this morning. Easy proofing this time around, because the pages were provided to them camera ready so pretty much all I have to check is the cover [which I adore], so I just need to make sure it looked the way it should and then get it sent back approved.

This book has been a special project for me because it is the first I have written specifically for foster, adoptive and kinship parents. It certainly is not limited to them, but has grown out of my experiences and those of other adoptive, kinship, and foster parents I know. Titled The Caring Heart Speaks, it is a collection of almost 200 meditations on the milestones, hurdles, and celebrations of that parenting journey. From the first day a new child arrives in your home, through the many ups and downs, and beyond when they leave your care and influence, I have tried to put into words the whoops, whines, giggles, sobs, and cheers of our hearts and minds.

Hopefully the final books will be shipped and in my hands before the end of the month and I can start sharing it with those who are interested. If any of you know of an individual or especially an organization that might be interested in info, or reviewing it, etc. please let me know. Stay tuned for a pic of the cover and more updates as publication date gets closer! Cross your fingers for me..

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

There are worse things

Yesterday I was reminded that my challenges with my kiddos are not the worst thing that can be. The challenges you are having are not the worst. We all know that in our heads. We even know it in our hearts. But when we are dealing with tantrumming, or soiling, or stealing, or lying, the ragin hormones of puberty, or even just the summer whines... we just forget. We forget that we are blessed to have the time to experience ordinary [or even unusual] challenges with which we struggle as parents.

Two colleagues of mine raised two sons through the minefields of adolescence, the trauma of a classmate friend's suicide, the struggle to succeed in college, and had a lot to celebrate about their boys. Monday afternoon their 21 year old was swimming at a nearby lake with friends, suddenly went underwater, and never resurfaced. His father, who worked for years of summer vacations as a lifeguard, and his mother waited for confirmation and yesterday afternoon their son's body was recovered. I didn't get the news until late last night, too late to call my grown children and tell them yet again how much I love them, or to wake my little guys to hold them tight.

I know when I go to see my friends today I will hear people saying "No one should outlive their child" and similar things. I can't imagine anything more painful. But I also know that it has not been long, even in this country since parents could expect to outlive at least some of their children. Wars, epidemics, even infant mortality of years past. So today I have a new, renewed , more palpable appreciation that I live in a country and a time when parents can realistically hope to raise all of their children and see them live full, long lives. Enough so that we feel betrayed and angry when a tragedy strikes.

So today, no commiserating about the challenges of fostering, no hints on surviving the hurdles, or easing the burdens. Today I invite all of you to join me in my personal goal. I am challenging myself to respond to each behavior or issue FIRST with celebration that I still have time to love them and talk to them . To be consciously grateful that they still have time to grow and to love. Chances are we will have plenty of opportunity for discipline. But there are no guarantees. So, First let us celebrate time.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

What do you mean it's August?

It's August. I'm not quite sure how it got to be August. I'm quite sure that it was just June, so how can July be done and gone? There must be some mistake!

Perhaps part of the answer is that July was NOT done.... just gone. Here in Maine, we have not had very typical summer weather. A day here and a day there, but not enough days in a row to make you really feel like it was summer. So how can "summer" be half over? Also, I had plans for things to do in July and another list of things for August. I have barely dented the July list, so again my mind starts can it be August?

If I feel this way, it certainly shouldn't surprise me that my kiddos are so cranky. So, here's to a sunnier August, to a full month more before the school routine begins, to the remaining days that we can enjoy, relax, explore, and maybe even learn to look past the weather and too-long-lists and enjoy what is left of the summer.

Friday, July 31, 2009


Yikes, I just scrolled down and realized that somehow the opening of yesterday's blog about leaky faucets didn't come through. Don't know how I messed it up, but it certainly makes the post confusing.

I am going to try to reload it WITH the opening explanation and then repost, so if you were confused by yesterday's entry, go back and see if it makes more sense now. Sorry 'bout that!

Stepping past doubts

This morning I booked my flights and hotels and paid my registration fee, so I can't back out now. I am going to Nashville, Tennesee!

Quite a while ago I found a Florida organization online named Daniel Kids that works with foster children. When I saw they were doing a national conference on independent living for kids coming from care I was intrigued. My support people encouraged me to apply to do a workshop on the independence notebook I created for and use with my kiddos. Long story short, I did apply, they accepted the proposal, and now I am actually going! With the mouse click that confirmed my ticket and hotel I of course began to get the traditional cold feet. The questioning doubters in my head set up all kinds of arguments. Who am I to offer advice to others? How can I leave my kiddos for the five days of the conference? Especially how can I go when it is the first four days of school!? What if the workshop attendees think the notebook is stupid? What if they feel they wasted their time in my workshop?

Though painful, I think anxiety like this is a good sign. It means I am taking a risk, not playing it too safe. It means I am determined to do things well. It means I am looking for answers. That's what I would tell my kiddos. Wish me luck!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Turning off the faucet

This morning I saw a bumper sticker with the same slogan I saw on a sticky-note years ago. It reads:
"Too busy mopping to turn off the faucet!"
The sentiment always stikes a chord within me, but also mixed feelings. I recognize the futility and apparent short-sightedness of mopping up water, rather than getting up to turn off the faucet that is causing the flood. But I also know and recall many times in my life, when all by myself I felt overwhelmed by the water, I was torn between protecting and saving what was already getting wet and what would get ruined while I was searching for the leaky faucet.

Foster care "floods" are kind of like that. Of course we would turn off the faucet cause of the flood IF we knew what it was! But how can we guess. Like a plumber checking one pipe at a time, we don't even know if there is just one break or many. Is it the loss a child feels? Is it some previous trauma that still looms in their minds? Is it a memory that has come back to frighten them? The possibilities are almost endless.

For traditional parents it may be the mood swings of an adolescent that sparks the searching for the leaky cause, or a sudden change in a child's pattern of behavior that raises concerns. Any parent can find themselves torn between mopping and searching when unexplained illness hits a family member. While the professionals hunt for the reason, the cause of all the symptoms, the parents are often busy beyond words frantically mopping, trying to manage the symptoms, or keep the house running despite them, or both.

Fortunately most traditional parents only run into leaky pipes occasionally. Foster parents all too often find themselves finding one leak only to discover there is another... and another... and another. Sometimes the water seems to be rising faster than you can mop.

So what to do? Call a plumber. Often you are right... you CAN'T stop mopping long enough to find the leak or turn off the faucet. Call a plumber, two plumbers. Get a team of plumbers. For parents this may be a good therapist, doctor, support person, mentor, friend, or a mix combination of all those and more. Anyone who can help you mop or help you search is a person you should put on your team. Some floods are too big to handle alone ...don't hesitate, don't tell yourself you should do it on your own. Get a team. Get people to help. Call a "plumber."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Fingers crossed

Today I woke up when I woke up.  Not when my youngest woke up.  Not when my crankiest woke up.  When I woke up.  What a glorious luxury!  How did I manage this?  My three little and not so little guys are all at camp this week.  I tried this once before and it didn't work by one they were sent home by the camp nurse with flu or cold [or maybe just Fate spiting me?]. Yesterday I caught up the dishes and laundry and picked up the living room, dining room, and hallway.  Guess what.  Today when I woke up.... it was still picked up!  What a treat!  I have talked to my grown children and several friends on the phone.  Guess what.  Noooo interruptions.  No whining children in the background, no fights to break up, no feuds demanding intervention... uninterrupted conversations.  Is this what an empty nest will one day be?  If so, I am confident that when that day comes I will adjust just fine.  Do I miss them?  Yes I do.  But it is nice to discover that I miss them.  Especially since I know they are doing fine, they too are having fun, enjoying a change.  As a single parent, breaks from the routine weight of parenting are incredibly precious and painfully rare.  So, my fingers are crossed that they all stay healthy and at camp until pickup on Saturday.  Wish me luck... I'm going back to enjoy my living room.  

Monday, July 27, 2009

I'm baaaaaaack

Hello.... to any of you who are still checking in on my blog.  I am finally determined to get back to regular blogging.  My left hand injury has proven much more challenging than I expected and so I have been absent far too long.  But I'm back!  My entries may be shorter since my typing goes slower, but entries there will be. To those of you who sent cheer-me-ups.... thank you soooo much!  I can't believe that it has been over two months since I fell.  Such is life. Anyway.... starting tomorrow I will be back with my stories, suggestions, and musings to share.  See you then...

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Surgery over

Just a quick update... Surgery yesterday to realign the broken fingers,,now all wired in place and hopefully on a healing path. I have now purchased voice-recognition software so once I am ofdf these mind-addling painkillers I will be back online. Till then...thanks again for your support!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Tempting Fate

Hi there-
Remember yesterday when I said "You never know when...etc.?  Well I will be taking a hiatus or at least making shorter, less frequent posts. A few hours after typing those words I fell and badly broke the two middle fingers of my hand. So, now I am reduced to slow hen-peking with one hand while I wait for the long weekend to pass so that I can meet with a hand surgeon.  [As a pianist and writer I prefer to have all my fingers pointing in the right direction!]  So, if you're reading this --please think good, straight-finger thoughts and wish us luck.  Single-parented families don't have much wiggle room [no pun intended] for the parent being even partly out of commission, much less unable to drive for a while.  On the good side, I have spent far too many months of my life in wheelchairs due to knee injuries, so I am exceedingly grateful that I am mobile. I don't know how much this will improve, or how long it will take, but I know it will be better than yesterday or today, AND I am mobile-- AND it is not my dominant hand. So keep me in your thoughts and I will keep the blog up as I can.  Thanks!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Heat Is On

Yesterday hit 90 degrees. Now for any readers in the South I'm sure that is a walk in the park.  But here in Maine it is rare...and obnoxious because our buildings etc are not built for it.  And in MAY???? ...We had a frost warning three nights ago for crying out loud!  

So there we were, sweating and grumbling, unprepared for the heat.  My hall closet still has winter coats and boots and mittens not packed away. [Yes, even in Maine we do actually pack them away for a bit!] So with the kids home from school yesterday because of a teacher workshop day, I was confronted by red, sweaty faces, with one unhappy voice after another building a crescendo that would rival a symphony orchestra....... "I don't have any shorts!  Can we go buy me a bathing suit?  Have you seen my tank top?  Where are my basketball mesh shorts? I can't find my flip-flops!  Can we go swimming?  I'm gonna die in these jeans if you don't find my shorts!" etc. etc. etc. I thought my head was going to explode!

Where is everything?  In the attic crawl space of course... where it is at least 20 stifling degrees hotter than the rest of the house and no air moves!  So ... that hints at what my yesterday was like. Now it is a new day and with the temperature down to a more seasonable 65 degrees I am reflecting on how often in life we [alright...I]  fail to prepare far enough ahead. I/We pack things farther away than makes sense.  I/We don't always keep what we need handy.  Yes we usually have the things we need, but they may be buried beneath other things we think we need more or will need sooner.  It reminds me of an essay I once wrote about faith and summer fans.  For many people faith is assumed but not guarded, nor tended. Put aside like a summer fan once the heat has passed.  Packed away for "when it's needed."  When a crisis hits, they go hunting for it, to ease the heat of the moment, with its calming breezes. Unfortunately if they haven't used it in ages, it may be out of reach in the attic, or the cord may be broken, or the fan blades rusted, the switch bent, or some similar state of disrepair. 

I did find the shorts, the flip-flops, the tank top and the mesh shorts [though some no longer fit]. But I felt like I went through the firey reaches to find them. Yesterday would have been much simpler, much more peaceful, and far more pleasant if the summer clothes were kept somewhere easily accessible when needed.  If I hadn't had to struggle up the fold-down stairs in the mid-day heat to move things aside to locate the summer box.  if  If IF. Just as you can cool yourself with all kinds of fans, spirituality and faith come in a wide variety as well. But whatever your style or brand of refreshment and renewal.. keep your fan of choice ready. Yesterday was a good reminder for me to make sure that my emotional cooling fans, my fans of faith, are in good repair and right at hand.  Sometimes the heat in life comes at unexpected times and you never know how long it may last.  

Friday, May 22, 2009

"Tell him you're sorry"

"Tell him/her you're sorry" is another common parental command that I don't like. In fact, it is one of the many topics in a book I am currently working on with A. Pat Miller. [The book addresses the problems parents, particularly foster and adoptive parents have with raising children who are chronically dishonest...lying and stealing]. 

The assumed intention of requiring a child to say they are sorry is to build/teach remorse for wrongdoing.  Unfortunately, in our experience, it seldom does.  More often it seems to encourage, sometimes even require, a child to lie.  We have all heard a child spit out a sarcastic... "sor-reeeee" or a barely audible, mumbled "sorry", or a four syllable epithet..."soo-ooo-ree--eee."  None of those even remotely demonstrate remorse.  And almost certainly all are lies.  They don't indicate a child sorry for doing wrong.  They show a child, if anything, sorry they were caught doing wrong.

The irony is that the same parents who struggle to teach their children to tell the truth, in the same household, often insist that children lie by requiring them to say they are sorry. My dictionary says that "sorry" is to "express a feeling of remorse or regret." The same dictionary gives that dictionary as the first meaning of "apology." However, it also gives a second definition of apology that is the one I try to use in parenting. The second definition of  "apology" is  to "acknowledge that something is not as it should be, especially if you are embarrassed or guilty."

So, in my house, I do not require someone to say they are sorry. Further, if they do not demonstrate remorse, but give an insincere "sorry" they are punished for the lie.  So what DO I do?  I require the second definition of apology.  I require them to acknowledge the wrongdoing.  Only when they truly are sorry are they allowed to say they are sorry. What they do instead is tell the person they offended: "What I did was wrong."  This is a true statement.  It does not require the child to be remorseful, only to acknowledge their wrongdoing.

In the beginning it meant me being sure that the children knew that what they did was wrong, and exactly how or why it was wrong. Even with older children I sometimes have to check to be sure they understand what they did that was wrong.  But once they got the hang of it, and I adjusted I really like the benefits of this approach.

1- By saying "What I did was wrong," the child is required to take responsibility for what they did in a more concrete way than with a simple "I'm sorry."  

2- By saying "What I did was wrong," the child is being required to tell the truth rather than being tempted or coerced to lie to make things easier. [NOT a lesson we want to teach!]

3- By not allowing them to lie by saying an insincere, inaccurate "I'm sorry," the household standard of truthfulness is reinforced.

4- By providing them a truthful alternative to the easier, commonly stated lie, the children can begin to learn that it is possible to find truthful alternatives to common social lies

5- Once this practice is consistent, when a child truly is sorry and you hear those words, they actually have meaning.  [In my house children are required to do kind acts for the person they wronged. This is to teach them to SHOW that they know what they did was wrong.  It is an apology in action before there is an apology in words. I'll talk more about that in some later entry.]

Unless you are starting fresh with a child, it takes time to switch from "I'm sorry" to "What I did was wrong."  At first it may seem a bit circuitous and awkward, but I think you will find that the above advantages pay off in huge dividends.  Besides.... it eliminates most of those annoying, sarcastic, "sorry" retorts that can be flung around so casually. Try it!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

"Look at me"

How many times have you heard a parent say to a child they were scolding.... "Look at me when I'm talking to you." ?  Maybe you say it yourself.  When I first began parenting years ago I myself said it more often than I would like to admit.  I no longer believe it is a somewhat mean, and probably unrealistic, and not useful  thing to ask of any child, and particularly if you are raising a foster child who may have been exposed to abuse. 

Think about a time that you as an adult were in the wrong.  Try to recapture the way you felt when you found out that your wrong had been discovered. Maybe it was something you messed up at work and your boss called you into the office.  Do you remember what your stomach felt like? your knees? your hands?  Did you want to meet or avoid the boss' eyes? I know that for myself  one of the hardest things to do is to apologize to someone when I have really screwed up. To do it while looking them in the eyes?  Pure torture. 

My change in heart came when I was a young, beginning teacher and had made some error that ended in a "Please see me as soon as you can" note from my principal.  To this day, over 40 years later, I cannot remember what my "sin" was.  I remember that it turned out not to be anything so awful, but I don't remember the specific error.  I do remember that the principal felt it necessary to "make me sweat" as a teaching tool so that I would learn from my mistake... or at least that is what he said to me years later when I received recognition as a master teacher.  What I DO remember even 40 years later is how horrible , how long, the morning was until I had a break to go see him, how I felt heading down the hall, and waiting to go into his office.  I felt so very small, so humiliated, and wanted to just disappear. When the door to his office finally opened I went in on wooden shaky legs. I remembered how often he bellowed "Look at me when I'm talking to you" to students in trouble  and knew I had to look at him.  Nonetheless my eyes seemed glued to the floor, and almost impossible to raise.  Even now I remember thinking that meeting his eyes was one of the hardest things I had ever done, and even when I met his eyes, they would keep looking away almost of their own volition. It took all my energy to keep bringing them back to meet his eyes and his disapproval and anger.  I can still close my eyes and see his face and when I do, it is the angry face of that one moment more than the relaxed faces that I saw all the other times we chatted. It is burned in my memory.

Later that afternoon I found myself scolding my foster daughter for doing something dangerous [she had run toward the road] and I heard my self say "Look at me."  Suddenly I recognized in her eyes all the things I had felt that morning.   I realized how I must have made her feel, what her insides were going through.  She had been through abuse and neglect and had a right to be fearful of an upset adult.  I, an adult and one who had never had reason to fear for my safety, had felt fearful that morning in the face of an adult's anger. At seven she had survived years of previous abuse and neglect.  She had a right [a need even] to be fearful of an upset adult.  So what was she feeling?  What was I doing???  I remember how when I met my bosses eyes, it felt like an ocean roaring in my head, blotting out everything he was saying. I barely heard a word he was saying it was so hard to get past the embarrassment and the effort to meet his angry gaze. Yes, I needed to correct her. What she had done was dangerous.  But what I was doing was not helping her learn the lesson I was trying to teach. In fact, it was probably getting in the way. It was a pivotal moment.

I can't say that I never said those words again.  I did.  But I tried not to say it.  I tried to remember that my children were hearing my words regardless of whether they were looking at me.  In some ways they could hear my words better if they weren't using all their emotional strength to meet my eyes.  I tried to make it okay to not meet my eyes when they felt embarrassed or ashamed.  I tried to teach myself to make it easier and safer for them to meet my eyes, to make those talks less punitive, more communication.  When I say "Look at me" these days, I want it to be because there is a big smile on my face.  I want them to be able to close their eyes and see a smiling face.  I want to use it not when I am angry or disappointed in them.  I want them to "Look at me" when I am proud of them.  That's the image I want burned in their memories!