Category Archives: Parents

Carter

It was the end of the school day and the second grade class I was a substitute for that day was packed up and waiting to be called for their individual buses. Some were talking, some were playing games and some were showing off a bit, as second graders sometimes do.

When I looked over at Carter, he had a piece of construction paper out and was drawing what looked to be a card. Curious, I walked over and asked him what he was making. He told me it was a card for his mom. I asked him if it was for a special occasion, her birthday or something else but he just shook his head, smiled a little and said, “I just want to make her a card, but I don’t know what to write.”

I kneeled down next to him and asked him what he wanted to say. He looked at me and said, “I want to thank her for what she does for me.” I told him that was nice of him and maybe he can think of two or three things to write that stand out the most. He turned away from me, stared out the window and said, “She does everything for me. I don’t know how to write that.”

Before I could answer him or suggest some words, his bus was called and he had to leave. As I was driving home behind a school bus, I was wondering how his card would turn out and what he might write. Then the school bus stopped and I saw Carter step off, run over to a young woman, wrap his arms around her waist and press his head against her.

Maybe he finished the card that night, maybe the next day. Maybe he found the words he needed or maybe he’s still working on it. I’m not sure. But I smiled when I saw him hug his mom, not because he wanted to write that card or how his words made me feel. I smiled because…

Carter was home.

 

It Shouldn’t Be That Difficult

Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.
Robert Fulghum

It doesn’t surprise me that this quote would come from someone who wrote a book called, All I Really Need To Know I learned In Kindergarten. Because children really learn, very early in life, the foundation of what should be most important to the rest of their lives.

Like all parents, I’m sure we made our share of mistakes. Parenting is a learn as you go experience so you do the best you can in situations you never imagined. Some moments require patience and understanding while some are simply common sense. Or should be.

For me, the Fulghum quote falls into the common sense category. It’s just so obvious that it’s painful to watch when it happens, and it happens much too often.

Most parents are big on discipline. They make sure their children say please and thank you. They try and teach them to be independent and they want them to respect their authority. They may punish them for disobeying their directives or not doing well in school. The list goes on.

But Fulghum takes parenting to another level of responsibility that parents sometimes ignore. The impact their own words and actions have on their children.

Are you teaching them what should be most important in their lives or satisfying your own desires because you’re unwilling or too lazy to do what’s right?

Is your language in front of your children what it should be? Children hear everything, even when you think they’re not listening.

Do you show the proper respect to others and ask that they do the same, explaining instead of ignoring or dismissing? Respect comes in many forms. Your lack of discipline should not become theirs. Continued excuses are unacceptable.

Are your prejudices on display in full view of your children? They notice and will react accordingly.

Do you attempt to influence their thoughts and actions instead of allowing them to try and make up their own minds?

Do you allow life to lead them or attempt to lead them through life without consideration for their own thoughts and interests.

Children hear what you say from the back seat of the car, from their rooms, during meals, while you think they’re preoccupied, while you’re on the phone or at the park speaking to your friends. They hear you at games, after games, during school functions and in every situation where your body language speaks louder than your words.

The absorb everything.

They recognize at a very early age what you think is most important and will follow accordingly. In many ways they will pattern their lives based on the influences your show them and the importance you place on certain things, and once it’s ingrained in their DNA, it’s hard to change. Next month or next year is too late.

Then one day they become a little older and you may not like what you see or hear. Discipline becomes a little harder until it’s not possible and then they’re on their own. A reflection of your words and actions.

Common sense stuff, right?

One would think so.

 

 

Stones Upon Stones

“Parents rarely let go of their children, so children let go of them.
They move on. They move away.
The moments that used to define them are covered by
moments of their own accomplishments.

It is not until much later, that
children understand;
their stories and all their accomplishments, sit atop the stories
of their mothers and fathers, stones upon stones,
beneath the water of their lives.”
― Paulo Coelho

There have been many things written about the relationship between parents and their children but these few lines encompass so much of that journey, simply because it moves across decades of change.

Parenting is a lifetime voyage and I don’t think we fully realize that when we’re young parents. We’re too busy being in the moment of day-to-day craziness to think about having twenty or thirty or forty-year old children.

Then, a couple of breaths later, we’re there.

How we handle that transition is encapsulated in the first line of Paulo’s words. More times than not, we have difficulty letting go. As young parents we don’t believe that will be an issue. Idealistically, we plan on giving our children roots and wings and encourage them to live their lives as they see fit. But twenty plus years of habits are sometimes hard to break. We have spent, until it’s time to allow them to move on, the better part of our adult lives guiding them, instructing them, encouraging them and caring for their well-being. Our emotional investment in our children cannot be overstated, simplified or pushed to the curb because a certain age or time in their life has arrived.

So what do we do?

We try to adjust. We sit on the side and watch instead of instructing. We attempt to bite our tongues instead of questioning or suggesting. We try to not offer unless we’re asked and even then we temper our comments. Because of our life experiences, we sometimes see the mistakes well before they do and while our innate reaction based on years of protection come to our lips, we understand the lessons of learning to ride a bike without training wheels apply to adult life as well as childhood.

But it’s difficult to watch sometimes and even more difficult to remain silent because, as with most relationships, you just never know how a positive suggestion or comment might be interpreted. With children, those feelings or concerns are magnified to the highest possible levels for all the obvious reasons.

When you become a parent, it’s a lifetime commitment. It never leaves you, it just changes direction, places you on the sidelines instead of on the playing field. Your concerns/worries are always with you but your voice during those times are sometimes held in, and I suppose that’s how it should be. Still, it’s hard to not give in to your natural instincts, of protecting and defending, regardless of age..

There is an old Yiddish saying, “LIttle children disturb your sleep, big ones, your life.”

 All children who become parents understand at some point. It never goes away.

Happy Mother’s Day

 

When your mother asks, “Do you want a piece of advice?”, it’s a mere formality. It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway.
Erma Bombeck

But there’s a story behind everything. How a picture got on the wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother’s stories, because hers is where yours begins.
Mitch Albom

Happy Mother’s Day!!!!

If Mom And Dad Only Knew

The vocabulary word for they second grade class I had today was Putrid. 

We talked about the word as an adjective, how it sounds and the meaning. On the board I wrote, if something is putrid it is rotten and smells awful. 

When we were done I asked them to write the word in their journal along with the definition and then use the word putrid in a sentence.

Michael is one of those little boys who’s as cute as can be but can turn you into an alcoholic in a matter of hours. He wrote the following in his journal…

When my mother wakes up in the morning she smells putrid.

I stared at the sentence, then at him, then at the sentence again before asking him why he feels that way. He said, because it’s true, she smells putrid in the morning when she wakes up and looks like an old lady with glasses.

Part of me wanted to explain that it wasn’t a very nice thing to say and part of me wanted to walk away and avoid any additional information about his mom. I chose option B. I walked away. Call me a coward if you like but you weren’t there. You didn’t see the look in his eyes. You don’t know.

Of course when I was done with Michael I walked over to Holden who wrote, my father’s farts smell putrid. I nodded my head and kept on walking but Holden kept following me around saying, you don’t understand, they really do. 

It was only 9:15. The day was still young.

Welcome To Holland

Even though she has won 17 Emmy awards and has been nominated an additional 14 times, you may not recognize the name Emily Perl Kingsley. She has been a writer on the Sesame Street team since 1970 and has written over 20 children’s books in addition to contributions on numerous other videos and shows.

In 1974, her son Jason was born with Down Syndrome. The doctors told her he would never walk or talk, that he should be institutionalized and they should tell everyone he died in childbirth. They didn’t listen to the doctors.

In 1987 Emily wrote Welcome To Holland. Since that time it has been set to various music formats and been printed on t-shirts, aprons, cards, calendars, posters, dolls, stained glass and numerous other surfaces.

If you’ve never read it or if your life has been touched in some way by a special needs child, her words are an inspiration to all.

 

WELCOME TO HOLLAND

by
Emily Perl Kingsley

images

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this……

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.

Fight Like A Kid

Dear Matthew,

Where do I begin? The details are all in front of me; done with chemo, scans are clean and your port has been removed. Based on how you responded to treatment, the doctors don’t expect this to ever come back again. You’ll still have to go for scans every three months for a year and then a little less for five years but that’s part of the deal.
So this nightmare that began four months ago but feels like a year is behind you. Still, a part of me wants to try and make sense of what happened, to transfer thoughts and feelings into words. But we both know that’s not possible. Words like that don’t exist for people like us.

I can’t explain what we felt the day we found out that the simple surgery you had to remove what we all thought was a hyperactive lymph node, was much more serious. You were still sedated as we drove home in silence. Your dad carried you into the house, your grandmother went with him to get your sister and I sat in the car with your mom. For as long as I have breath, Matthew,  I’ll never forget the sound of pain that came from somewhere inside her. All these months later and I can still hear it.

A few days later your parents told you that you had (Batman) Jokers in your body and they had to be removed. I can still see you coming down the stairs and walking toward us with your shoulders slumped saying, “Tomorrow’s not going to be a good day, I have to go to the hospital in New York because I have Jokers in my body.” Then you went to sit with your sister and watch television. We couldn’t help but look at you and feel guilty for not being able to tell you everything. As you sat there and laughed at the TV, you had no idea there would be radioactive liquid to drink the next day, more anesthesia, a lumbar puncture, an IV line and a series of PET and CT scans. You had no idea you were going to be thrown into a world you couldn’t possibly understand. In your mind you were healthy, had a motor that never turned off, were enjoying the summer and had just celebrated your seventh birthday the month before. We were at the beach a few days earlier and you had plans for us to go back the following week. We never did but we will soon.

I know you must have been confused, Matthew. The truth is, we all were. Like you, we didn’t understand how this could happen. The thing is, adults eventually find answers to the questions they ask; but children ask questions that adults have no answers for. And so it was with you. The question of why had no real answer, at least not one that made any sense to you. So the first several weeks and beyond were especially rough for everyone. You see, there is no segue into this world of chemo. Your parents sign release forms that clearly explain the risks and side effects, both short and long-term. It’s not pretty but there are no choices. Time is not a friend. It owns you and you have to find a way to buy it back. You were given a schedule and a dozen different kinds of pills. Sometimes you had to take as many as twenty a day. Some tasted really horrible and no matter how small it was crushed or how much ice cream or pudding you put around it, it was hard to disguise. The pills were constant, as was the negotiation with you to swallow them.

So you take a happy and energetic seven-year old, pull him out of his world, tell him something is wrong with him even though he feels fine, stick him with needles, force disgusting mood altering pills down his throat, sew a port in his chest, put him in the car at 5:30 in the morning for a  four to five-hour round trip ride to the hospital, spend anywhere from 8-10 hours there, hook him up to drip lines that make him feel even worse, cause him to have sores in his mouth and a fever, then do it all over again the next day. What would any seven-year old do? Pretty much what any adult would do. They rebel.

You rebelled until you came to an understanding. Until those walls became your life. It took time and lots of tears, but you adjusted your old life to fit your new one. Not an easy thing for a seven-year old to do. By the time you were done, you took needles without complaint or support, walked into your treatments with an attitude, spoke your mind and asked your own questions. You came to accept what you fought and made us laugh in the most difficult moments.

When a doctor, in the middle of your treatment came into your room and asked if there was anything they can do for you, you would reply, “Yeah, get me out of this place.”

When you had to stay in the hospital for a few days and your mouth was swollen and filled with sores and you couldn’t eat and were hooked up to morphine and antibiotics and in obvious pain; the doctor would come in and ask you to rate the pain on a scale of one to ten. You would always say zero because you thought they’d let you go home.

You would never admit to pain or feeling tired or weak even when we knew your blood counts were close to nothing, even when the sores in your mouth made the doctors cringe. You pushed yourself to do things when you had no business being upright. When you were in between treatments and found a little more energy, you’d always want to go outside and play soccer or baseball or basketball. It was hard to watch you labor through those moments, to see you out of breath, to listen to you ask for a rest. But that was your way of fighting, of letting this disease know that it slowed you down but it hasn’t taken you out. So I wasn’t surprised. That’s just who you are. You don’t back down. You fight like a kid.

But you know, no one goes through this alone and you were no exception. I really don’t know what to say about your parents. Aside from watching their child go through this, they had to learn a different language, one that included medicines, tests, protocols, surgeries and scheduling. There was no class to take, no instructional video to watch, It was on the job training and they were relentless with you. When you pushed back, they pushed back harder. When you fought, they fought harder. When you cried, they held you.
They stayed together, asked all the right questions, developed relationships and never left your side. Not for a moment. Not once. They were amazing.
Your sister who is four years old was confused at first but eventually understood you were sick and made it a point of taking care and defending you whenever you were home with her. She took care of you in ways only a four-year old can and you understood in ways only a seven-year old could.

You know, I’ve always believed there comes a moment in any relationship when you find out all you need to know about someone. People will show you who they are without a word. That’s what happened here, Matthew. When people found out you were sick, they responded. People you know and some you’ve never met. They responded with prayers, and food and gifts for you and your sister. They didn’t ask if there was anything they could do, they just did what they felt needed to be done and made this difficult time more bearable. They called and checked in, letting us know they were still praying, asking how you were doing. So many people took time out of their lives to let us know they cared about you. We will never forget their kindnesses or their concern for you and our family. You can’t repay those gifts of love, you just count them as blessings and file them away in your heart.

When expressing our thanks, how can we possibly forget the amazing doctors and nurses at Memorial Sloane Kettering in New York. They deal with children who face uncertain futures every day.  Quite honestly, I don’t know how they do it but I thank God there are people like that in this world and that they were part of your life when you needed them most.

It’s safe to say that we’ve all been changed by this. None of us will ever be who we were before. How can we? We’ve seen and experienced too much. We’ve become vulnerable and more cautious about tomorrow. It’s hard to explain, just as it’s hard for you to put into words how this experience has changed you. But it has. I can see it. You see things differently and you’re more vocal about expressing what you see. You never had much of a filter but you have less of one now. In some ways you’re much more mature, not in a boring kind of way, but in a way someone who knows you has to see to understand. I think, in your own way, you see life differently. But then you’ve seen and experienced things many adults never have. You’ve grown up quicker than most seven-year olds and you’ve become even more sensitive to the feelings of others.  Thankfully you’re still inappropriate, which I appreciate and you think I’m the same way, which you appreciate. So it’s a mutual admiration society of two in that respect. We know it makes people around us crazy but that’s part of the fun, right? So let’s agree never to change in that respect, regardless of how old we get.

But you’re still you. Your cousin Jake reminded us of that. He was coming to visit you one day during your treatments  but hadn’t seen you since you began losing you hair and decided to have it buzzed. Your aunt prepared him before they walked in, telling him you would look differently and may not be as active as he remembers you being just a couple of weeks earlier. Your cousin listened to what his mom had to say and then asked the only question that meant anything to him. “But he’s still Matthew, right?”

Yes, Jake, he’s still Matthew.

God Bless you, Buddy.