Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Lost Causes

Monday was gift delivery day for us on staff at The Chapel.

Every Christmas season, The Chapel steps into a a list of ways to give during the season. Watching the generosity of my community provides me with consistent restoration in my views of humanity. I used to be, what some may call, a cynic. Taking things at face value was a trait that sometimes I wished I possessed with more abundance. It was hard for me to imagine that people could see past the end of their noses. This is likely because I had a very long season that was very focused on me. If I struggled to see the world around me, why should I expect everyone else to? (Yes, I just ended that question with a preposition.)

When I began at The Chapel, I came from a workplace that was built upon the misfortune of others. If there was not a buck to be made, there was no place for us there. The more pained, poor, and despondent an individual was, the more money we made. I was surrounded by people who were either trampling, or being trampled upon. I ask you, how do you I think I felt going home every night? Was I enchanted by the generosity of people? Their compassion? Their love for their fellow man? So, needless to say, the culture of The Chapel created a bit of a shell-shock. Now, every day, I see people sharing with each other, holding each other, praying with each other, and loving each other. I see people sacrificing for their community and complete strangers. I see people stepping out of their Suburbia Box and getting messy.

So this season, a season that is supposed to be about Giving and the Greatest Gift ever given, has been exactly that for me. On Monday, the lot of us Chapel folks piled into 4 different cars filled with presents for local school children. We had been working over the past month and a half with the local school counselors and principals about finding real and tangible needs of the kids that they see every day. These are kids that go to school with my kids, in one of the most affluent towns in the world, who still don't have a winter coat. They still don't have a pair of shoes without holes. Their Christmas mornings were looking bleak. These counselors were able to, without naming children, tell us what the families at their schools need this winter. Once we had that list, we put it forth to the church and the most amazing thing happened. All of a sudden, there were no more needs. People were coming up to me in hoards wanting to buy a coat, or shoes, or gift cards for these kids. I had someone donate an entire Lego collection to a child that had said he liked Legos. We filled over 80 giant gift bags with brand new hoodies, jeans, socks and sweaters.

Monday was a tough day for school administrators. After recent tragedies on Friday, these people were aching. They were raw and destroyed, and doing their best to keep a positive face for our kids. Friends, I cannot tell you what it was like to see their reaction to the gifts we bore. For some, it was a breakdown. Like when you see your best friend after a terrible break up. For some, it was a physical uplifting, like a light had finally turned on in a really dark room. For others, all we saw was a small, quiet, genuine smile. A smile that had likely not been seen in 4 days.

My favorite moment was the gift delivery to a local elementary school. We had the opportunity to see the school counselor and the principal all at once. This happened to be the school to which we were delivering the giant Lego collection. Both women were filled with so much happiness when they saw the gifts, but nothing could have paralleled the amount of joy when they saw the Legos. The counselor had told me over email how much the family receiving the Legos will be grateful for it, but when she saw the boxes, she almost leaped. Her conversation with the principal went something like this:

Counselor: "Look over there, do you see those bins?"

Principal: "Yeah, what are those?"

C: "Legos."

P: "No. Way. You have got to be kidding me. That. Is. Amazing."

C: "What is even more amazing is who it is for. You are going to be so excited."

P: "Is it for...'QA'?" (child remaining anonymous even in conversation)

C: "And his brother."

P: (silence) "...Wow." (more silence as she stared at the bins) "That could not be more perfect."

C: (almost jumping up and down) "I know, right?!? They are going to be SO THRILLED!"

Friends, I don't know about you, but THIS is what restores my faith in people. These women knew their students SO well, knew their needs and their likes, knew their stories and their families, that even in the midst of an extremely dark time they are able to shout and celebrate in the victories of one kid.

This last weekend was so rough. It was rough for every person who loves a child. Who wouldn't want to keep their child a little closer to them? Who wouldn't want to put up that extra barricade around their kid? Who wouldn't want to do anything, and I mean ANYTHING, to keep their babies safe?

It is hard for me to believe, however, after seeing first-hand the love on the faces of our school administrators, that schools are no longer a safe place to send our children. It is true that no place is going to be 100% perfect. It is true that things happen that we cannot control and that we could not ever plan for. It is also true, however, that at school (yes, even...gasp...public school) our kids are cared for, nurtured, loved, and growing. The hands of people that used to be strangers are now investing in our children's minds and hearts. There is NOTHING that the men and women I saw on Monday wouldn't do for our children. Schools are not a lost cause.

People are not a lost cause.

I believe in the good in people. God has made us all in His image. There are things that happen that I cannot explain. How could anyone explain them? I am a human and not capable of explanation. But I can't un-explain the outpouring of prayer, support, love, and action in the midst of tragedy. That is very simple. We pray. We support. We love. We take action. We do the best we can for ourselves and for others. As we all gather around to lean on one another, there is a special presence. Some people call that community. Some people call that common good. I call that God.

I look forward to holding hands with our neighbors, our schools, our communities, our cities, and our nations. I look forward to seeing how God presents himself in the wake of great tragedy and of great victory. I look forward to being reminded over and over again about the goodness of people.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dash it all...

My Dash is a seriously excellent boy. Anyone who has met him is incredibly fortunate. It seems he has gathered all of the good parts of me, added some of his own, and wrapped them all in ridiculously handsome packaging. This is how a typical encounter with him usually plays out:

Dash: Hi there, buddy/friend/stranger/new friend/Gramma! Guess what?!?

You: Hi dude! What's up?

D: You'll never guess. This is SO cool. C'mere. I'll tell you in your ear.

Y: (after collapsing into a 4 foot high version of yourself to reach his whisper) Okay, what do you wanna tell me...

D: (whispering in a juicy, raspy smoker's voice, so close you can feel his breath) I. Um. Did. Uh. Um. You'll never guess. I. Did. Um. A. Real. Cool. Thingatschooltoday.

Y: (wiping your ear clean) What did you do?

D: I. Did. A. Waycool. Um. Ready? DANCE!!!!!!!!!

Y: You did a dance? No way! Can I see it?

D: (cautiously, and with legitimate concern) Um, sure, but be careful. It is really cool. And super speed.

Y: Okay I'll be careful.

D: Okay. Here I go. Be Ready.
::He now rolls on the floor, stalls, tries to spin on his head, lands in some quasi-playboy pose, and waits for an enthusiastic reaction::

Y: Wow! That's pretty impressive!

D: (bursting with false modesty) Yeah. It's pretty awesome. WOW! THAT PHONE IS WAY COOL! Can I play Bubble Ball on it? (immediately walks away from you, due to seeing a shiny thing or a bug)

He is social, kind, friendly, encouraging, and enthusiastic. He loves making people smile. He loves to hold hands. He loves to run like the wind. He loves to snuggle.

Dash has been fortunate enough to always be surrounded by strong adults who love him. I had Dash when I was single and in college. My parents, extended family, church family, school friends, and everyone I came across immediately knew he was special. When I moved the two of us from Oregon to Georgia, he and I were adopted by the singles community at the church we attended. When I married Big Love, the first thing he insisted we do is go through a step-parent adoption. Dash has been cared for, watched out for, and loved by every Sunday school teacher, preschool teacher, Auntie, Grandma, and friend that has crossed his path at every year of life, every city we lived in, and every community we belonged to.

So when we begin to hear from multiple influential adults in his life that he needs some extra attention, we listen.

Some of Dash's little colorful intricacies, as it happens, do not seem to appear in many children. For one, he was extremely quick to emote. The slightest thing would either send him into a fit of rage, or a waterfall of tears. He did not conceptualize direction. He assumed that if someone would tell him not to run into the street, it is because they like to say words, not because they wanted him stay safe. He did not know the names of children he played with consistently, nor did he know what happened during the day. He did not appear to understand certain social norms, nor be able to follow them when requested (sitting down, walking in line, waiting his turn).

Now, much of this is because he is a boy. He is also younger, by a significant amount, than the other kids in his grade. But after a certain amount of trustworthy adults come up to you and talk to you about early education, special education, and autism, you start to wonder if there is something different you should be doing for your child.

As he got older, and was expected to take on more responsibilities (walk across the street without hand-holding, put his dirty dishes in the sink, etc) we began seeing how difficult it was to keep his attention. We would have to repeat directions and questions 4, 7, or 12 times, and each time it was like he was hearing it for the first time. He would constantly eat crayons, paper, and sticks. If we asked him to put his shoes away, we would have to describe to him what his shoes were, what they looked like, walk him to where they were, help him pick them up, and show him where his shoes belong. This, as you can likely imagine, is very taxing to us as parents. And as you know about me, I am not known for my high levels of patience. Needless to say, a frustrated and impatient mommy is not the best mommy a boy can have.

So Big Love and I have decided to figure out how to understand our son better. We have taken large steps in a journey that has been in the works for a long time. We feel like we are exhausting our bank of knowledge as far as parenting tactics go. We feel like we have followed the advice, structured our home life, and provided him with an astounding array of variations on supervision vs. independence. Tired are we of not succeeding. Tired are we of not helping him be the best boy he can possibly be. We want his life to be a success.

So, a week ago, we decided to ask his pediatrician about ADHD. I don't know a ton about it. I do know that there are some people whose lives are vastly improved after a diagnosis of ADHD, not necessarily solely because of medication, but because they understand how a person with ADHD thinks. I want that for my son. I yearn to know how he thinks. I long to be able to follow his lines of logic, and hear whatever it is that he hears.

His pediatrician gave us a bunch of copies of the Vanderbilt Test. I knew what this was when I looked at it, but if you are interested in what the Vanderbilt Test is, check out She asked us to fill it out and give copies to his teachers to fill out. So I did. I now hold a copy of the filled out Vanderbilt test from his first grade teacher, school counselor, and Sunday School teacher.

Reading these assessments is like looking into a crazy vortex world that tells me in numbers and graphs who my son is. I feel like the people who read computer codes. Looking at a computer program is colorful, interactive, and invokes emotion, but looking at the coding is just a set of numbers. This paper does not describe the sensitive, energetic, loving boy that I know. This does not show that yesterday he wrote his name for the first time using appropriate upper- and lower-case letters. These numbers don't show how stoked he was when he lost his first tooth. They are just numbers. Have I changed my son into a number?

Do I think Dash has ADHD? Does it matter? No. It doesn't matter. What does matter is that I don't get my son. I need to be able to get a better grasp on who he is. How am I supposed to be expected to set him up for success in this world if I am trying to fit him into a middle-class, suburban, white kid cookie cutter shape? How is he expected to succeed if no one hears him? I'm tired of not hearing him. He deserves better than that. If that means he needs to be helped with medication, so be it. That may not be my favorite idea, but if that is what will make his life better, then that is what we do. If all we get out of this are some additional parenting education, great. If he needs some additional tutoring, therapy, or mentoring, let's do it. He deserves the best he can possibly have. He deserves every opportunity he can be afforded. And, darn it, I will be his biggest and baddest advocate.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Guilty and Not-So-Guilty Pleasures

Guys, today was rough.

Sundays are typically rough around our household. We are blessed with an amazing church community that we get to see every week (well, I get to see them every day), and I cannot tell you how much we need that extended family. Especially on Sundays.

I have hooligan children. They are kind and sweet and all, but my goodness. I liken them to the Banshees in Darby O'Gill and the Little People. They spirit around, screeching, leaving destruction and desolation in their wake. This is probably due to a combination of a number of things:

1. They are boys. Snips, Snails, Puppy Dog Tails and all.

2. They are 3 and 6.

3. We live in very tight quarters. Not the environment for releasing productive energy. And everything they bring out makes our house look like the ceiling crashed in.

4. It rains here. All. The. Time. Therefore, we don't play outside unless I plan on doing a bushel of muddy laundry.

5. We probably don't have the best household consequence/reward system in place. Unfortunately, what we do is what we have always done, and it is hard to teach this ol' dog any new tricks.

6. My children have short fuses. You can thank my genes for that, kids. You're welcome. Now stop yelling. Mommy's head hurts.

7. I have one boy as stubborn as a mule and one boy as sensitive as a decrepit butterfly, so their constant bickering often adds decibels of noise to the level of general disarray.

So Sundays consist of morning worship service, in which my kids attend the children's programming. They also choose to take that time to roam the halls, play with the electrical equipment, search out new friends to meet, help themselves to the the communion elements (aka snack time), and run between the rows of chairs playing hide-and-seek/marco polo/tunnel tag/you-can't-catch-me/etc. It is IMPOSSIBLE to get them to follow direction. No matter how many pep talks we give, no matter how clear our expectations are, no matter how much they understand the rules, no matter how we deny them their privileges or reward their acheivments, we still have an issue. Unfortunately, I am supposed to be working at church, so the blessed task of Kid Rodeo falls upon Big Love. Big Love, who functions on about 4 hours of sleep on Sundays, is a champ. But, even as a champ, the morning is enough to send him to live with the crazies.

Sundays usually continue with a fight for what we eat for lunch, a fight against Quiet Time, a fight about what we do in the afternoon, a fight about dinner, and a fight getting to and from Life Group.

Guys, I tire of fighting.

So this is what I will do to combat a Sunday. I will saturate my mind in the things that really calm me down. So here is my guilty pleasure list, and some of these I feel not guilty at all about:

1. Hot baths. I mentioned this in my "thankful" list last post, but hot baths are made of the sundrops from angel wings. There is something about stepping into scalding hot water that releases me from the buildup of the day. There is a pure intoxication you get while sitting back, listening to a good book (yes, I listen to books on tape. Feel free to judge), and allowing the heat to lighten your weight, relax your back muscles, and sweat out the stress manifesting in your skin. Books will be written about hot baths. And I will listen to said book while in a hot bath.

2. TV. I wish this wasn't so, but it is. I can't do anything while I watch TV. I care WAY too much about what is happening. So I, therefore, allow myself to invest in un-reality (because most of what I watch I would never categorize as fantasy), step back from my own world, and look back on it with fresh eyes. My shows that I watch? Tuesdays: New Girl and Parenthood. Thursdays: Glee (no. I have no valid excuse to watch Glee). Fridays: Grimm. Sundays: Revenge.

3. Reading. I have been known to frequently read books of substance, like Christian self-help stuff, biographical stuff, historical stuff, blah blah blah stuff. But that is all just stuff. What I really like is a good British comedic novel. P.G. Wodehouse is my favorite author, and I could read his books until doomsday. There is something so refreshing about hearing the quarrels, tiffs, and conflicts of the likes of the British upper class. I have no choice but to believe that everyone from England is endlessly amusing and my best friend.

4. Boy Band music. None of this Jonas Brothers, One Direction, Justin Bieber nonsense. Nay. I mean 90's boy bands. The REALLY embarrassing dudes. 'NSync made my kind of music. I used to have a crush on Lance Bass, the bass of 'NSync. I had a crush on him because no one seemed to like him as much, and I heard him talk about his church once on a Disney Channel special. Then he came out of the closet. That pretty much shut the door on our inevitable romance and future children (Toby and Taylor). I realize now that he was likely the weakest link of that group vocally, but in matters of the heart, talent has no bearing when boyish southern charm and dashing good looks are on the table.

5. Musical theatre. There is not one bit of me that feel guilty about my love affair with musical theatre. I feel like our world could, if we tried, be a big musical. We could sing our feelings, it would all be in the right key, and everyone around us would do snazzy dance moves in the background. I think there is a secret musical theatre lover in all of us. I can't think of a single person who sees a video of a flash mob and says, "those people are the most ridiculous humans I have ever seen". No. They look at a flash mob and say, "I want to do that! I want to erupt into 9-part harmony and synchronized dance moves in public!" Oh wait. Now I know why I watch Glee.

6. Baking. I have never been able to cook very well, but if I set my mind and my stomach to it, I can bake like a champ. I can bake REALLY well when I feel the need to eat my emotions. Sometimes the only things to drown the stress of a rough day is to fill your body with fudgy, chocolatey, peanut buttery calories, fresh out of the oven.

Now that I am in a place of mental indulgence, feasting on brownies, vibin' to my jams, and about to draw a bath, I leave my computer and my stress of this day behind. Goodbye frown lines. Goodbye whining kids. Goodbye gray hairs. The dulcet tones of of mediocre book narrators are about to lull me to a blissful slumber.