Tomorrow is a New Day {parenting kids who struggle}

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We walked into the parent-teacher conference today and were greeted with a sweet hello. Soon after, their faces turned grim.

“Has (this child) always been withdrawn?”

“Has (this child) struggled before?”

My husband and I did our best to answer their questions. To be honest, I felt like I was on the defensive. It was awkward. Most of all, it broke my heart. We didn’t have the same challenges that our kids do. We both did well in school, had friends and were active in various sports, etc. I’m sure our parents never had the type of parent-teacher conference that we had.

“It might be best to talk to (child’s) doctor about medication changes.”

“(This child) cannot make eye contact.”

“The issues you are describing can be a much bigger issue than what is known. You really need to talk to the doctor.”

“Has your child always struggled with interacting with others and with grades?”

As a parent to children who struggle, it takes a lot of restraint to NOT scream: “This is NOT all my child is about! My child is kind, wants to help others, and loves (his/her) family!!!”

However, at the end of the day, my husband and I know that our children must fit into this world. The world is not going to fit around them. And, to be honest, that sucks. There, I said it.

The misconception that “if you get a child as an infant, then the child will be okay“, just needs to stop. We got our children as babies. We tended to their needs. We celebrated their milestones and giggled at their curiosities. We did the best we could; like most parents do.

While all that helps, it does not (always) erase the problems that some children have. Instead, my husband and I must do the best we can…at this time…given the circumstances that present themselves.

To be honest, today was just a sad day for me. I wish I could just snap my fingers and all of these Earthly challenges would evaporate. I so wish I could exchange my children’s struggles for my own successes – to give them a life without diagnoses, social challenges and academic strife. Yet, in all of this…in all the daily junk…I know full well that the Lord has given me the exact children I am meant to parent. I know this, even on the hard days.

Parenting looks a whole lot different that I visualized it to be. My husband and I wonder what it would be like to be able to go out in the evening with our kids and not worry about meltdowns. We think about going to parent-teacher conferences and hearing, “You child is just the best student ever.” We long for our children to be given certificates and acknowledgments for being ‘good’. Yet, we also know that this is not the parenting journey that we are on. For me, my faith in Christ is what keeps me going. I know that Jesus hasn’t brought us this far to drop us on our heads. (My friend used to tell me this all of the time.) I believe it.

Today was rough. It’s not like any day is easy. The one hope that a parent with a child who struggles has is for their child to be understood and to have a life-changing breakthrough. When this doesn’t seem to be happening, it can surely dampen the situation, but it can never distinguish the power of parents whose entire world exists to create a better place for their children.

If you know a parent of a child who struggles, the best thing you can do is understand them, love on them and support them. Be a non-judgmental ear for them to pour their angst into. They know you can’t fix the issue, but they also know that just having someone who listens to them is vital. Let them cry to you. Allow them to tell you their story – even if they have to do it time and again.

If you are a parent of a child who struggles, please know that you are not alone. Seek out people who will listen to you. Don’t give up.

Tomorrow is a new day.

 

 

Dear Teacher I Barely Know

Dear Teacher I Barely Know,

I dropped my first grader off in your room yesterday.  Truth be told, I didn’t want to leave the room.  I wanted to sit with him, introduce him to some kids he didn’t know, and help him understand that first grade is different from Kindergarten.

I wanted to help him unpack his belongings, check his backpack again, remind him about his lunch, and stay with him.  I wanted to be with him on the playground during recess.  I wanted to stand up for him if I needed to, explain to the other kids how amazing he is, and fill them in on how he doesn’t worry too much about what others think about his interests, or lack there of.  I wanted to shout at the top of my lungs, “I LOVE THIS BOY!”

Dear Teacher I Barely Know, please help me understand how he learns.  Help me understand his struggles, his successes, and his potential.  In return, I’ll give you insight into his world.  I’ll share his talents, his interests, and his needs.  We need each other.  We have a lot to teach each other, but even more to learn from each other.

I need to hear from you about his time at school.  I want you to hear from me that my first grader is complicated, amazing, impulsive, creative, misunderstood at times, and deeply cherished.  I want you to know how much he has colored my world with every shade of love possible.  I need you to know that I would do anything for him, including holding him accountable for his actions.

I want you to see my son for who he is…all of him…not just the blonde-haired boy sitting in the front row of your classroom.  Do you know that there is no place he’d rather be than on the lake with his Papa?  Do you know that he really isn’t into sports, but excels at gymnastics?  Are you aware that he’d rather dig up worms, and watch fishing shows than sit in front of a video game?  Do you know that he draws pictures for me just about everyday?

Do you know that he has already cried, and described his day at school as being “hard”?  Do you know that his three best buddies from Kindergarten moved to another school this year?  Are you aware that he doesn’t have a lot of friends outside of school, except the girl down the street, and few at the lake who visit when he sees his Papa?  Do you know that he asked me the day before school started to remind him again of the kids who might play with him?

Do you know how much that breaks a mother’s heart?  Are you aware that I leave a piece of my heart at the door each time I drop him off at school?

Dear Teacher I Barely Know, I don’t expect you to invite the Lord into your classroom, but I have.  I’ve asked Him to wrap each child with arms of protection.  I’ve prayed that He would be in the midst of your interactions, your lessons, and your set of challenges.  I’ve asked Him to show kindness, gentleness, and love through the actions of others.  I’ve prayed for you, other students, and my son.

Dear Teacher I Barely Know, you have a tough job.  I don’t envy you, and I certainly don’t know if I could spend my days like you do.  I want you to know that I don’t expect you to treat my son better than any other child.  I know how deeply each child is loved by his or her parents.  I know other parents must wonder how their children are at school.  I’m sure other parents worry about friendships, peer pressure, bullying, and loneliness.  Surely other parents pray for their children, and desire more than anything that their children will learn, grow, and pursue happiness.

I trust you.  I know you must love children.  I know you have years of experience with kids just like my son, but I do not.  I’m still learning how to be a parent.  I’m learning that my kids’ needs change with each year, and that life doesn’t get easier as they grow up.  I’m still making mistakes, needing do-overs, and learning not to sweat the small stuff.

Dear Teacher I Barely Know, we share something very special in common.  We are teachers, models, and disciplinarians to the same child.  We are both set out to understand, shape, and encourage the same child.  We may barely know each other, but are now connected through this wonderful boy.   I’m here for you.  I support you.  I will back you up when you need it, but I will also defend my son when he needs it.

Dear Teacher I Barely Know, welcome to my world.  Welcome to my son.

The Gift of This Day

photo (36)Following a day that has shaken most of us, my husband and I decided to get the kids out of the house and visit the local nature center. We are trying to keep the news channels off our television, and to shield the little ears in our home from hearing about the tragedy that took place in Connecticut.  To be honest, we both can barely keep it together when thinking about the precious six and seven-year-old boys and girls whose lives were taken.  All of the children who died were born in 2005 and 2006.

Our son was born in 2006.  He thoroughly enjoys Kindergarten, and is learning so much.  He doesn’t know a stranger and says “hi” to every student and teacher he passes by.  Our walk in to the school building every day has become a ritual of sorts.  I thought about stopping this and letting him off at the door to save time, but after yesterday, I will continue to walk him into the classroom, say hello to his teachers and friends, hug him, tell him that I love him and to have a “blue” day (color card incentive for good choices), and walk back out greeting people along the way.

My husband and I cannot really talk about the school shooting without getting tearful.  The thought of losing a child; especially in such a violent way, is so unbearable.  The lesson that I was reminded of yesterday is not to take any moment for granted and to love our children for the incredible gifts that they are.

photo (40)As the day turned into evening, we baked up a batch of gingerbread cookies for the kids to decorate.  The smell of sugary comfort filled our home while our children gleefully awaited for the cookies to be done.  During this time, I was reminded again of the stark difference between what my day involved and what this day must have been like for the grieving parents, siblings, friends, and grandparents who all lost loved ones, and the sense of security they once had.

I know as the days go on, our family will go about our business of staying busy, gearing up for Christmas, and creating new memories.  I also know that we will get to a place where we can talk about the school shooting without getting tearful.  We will be able to discuss rationally (at least in our home) the pro’s and con’s of gun laws in our country.  I know we will return to a sense of normal.  For today though, I’m choosing to cherish the laughter I hear from the living room, the off-key singing of a boy in a bathtub, and the gift of this day with my children.

Every good and perfect gift is from above… – James 1:17

Moments Like This

I watched my first baby walk through the doors of Kindergarten today.  His backpack was nearly as big as him and even though he has grown so much over the years, he still seems too small to release into the big, new world of the school system.  I have written before in my post Motherhood Dreams about certain things that I worried missing out on if I never became a mother.  Well, sending a child to Kindergarten is one of those things.  It is one of my so-called Bucket List Items that I can now check off as having completed.

As someone who is barren, I truly never thought this day would come.  Now, as my mind is racing with a hint of sadness, nervousness, excitement, pride, and appreciation, I cannot help but think about the first time I saw him.  As his (former) foster mother, I did not know for sure if I would even have him long enough to celebrate his first birthday so thinking about sending him off to his first day of Kindergarten was just a dream.  Today, this dream came true.

I know sending a child to Kindergarten is not exactly the kind of action-packed, adrenaline-laced bucket list item that most people aspire to do.  I get that.  I too have wishes of high-flying adventures tucked away that I would like to experience in my lifetime.  But, at the end of my life, I want to be able to look back at moments like this and remember them.  I want to hear them, smell them, and feel them.  I want them to be the moments that leave my heart happy and that remind of the gift of life.

His birth mother came to my mind a lot today as well.  Another moment in time of great relevance has passed her by.  I am so glad that I was the one to kiss him goodbye and take one last glance over my shoulder as I walked out the door of his classroom.  Yet, at the same time, my heart felt a twinge of sadness that she was not able to.  In my post, I thought of you today birth mother, I wrote down my feelings about her on the day he graduated from preschool.  Today was no different.  I suspect every milestone in his life and in mine will remind me of who she is, what she is missing, and the grace that has covered the both of us.

Today was more than just sending my first baby off to Kindergarten.  It is one day that I am so thankful to have to cherish.  I get another chance in a few years with my daughter, but for right now, I am going to soak up this moment as much as I can.

This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Psalm 118:24

Best Teacher Ever

Here in my little corner of the world, school is getting ready to start back in session.  My son will begin kindergarten this year and, needless to say, I’m filled with excitement and a little bit of dread all wrapped up together.  We get to meet his teacher next week and I hope I see in her or him the kind of energy my son thrives on and that every parent desires for their children’s teachers.  I do know one thing though, the school district will be missing a great teacher and counselor this year.

Mr. Martin retired at the end of the 2011/2012 school year after 30+ years of teaching and counseling kids.  He was my 6th grade teacher and turned out to be one of the best teachers I have ever had.  I remember getting him for my 6th grade year and being so excited about it.  Male teachers seemed to be a little bit of a rarity back in the early 80’s.  Looking like he had just stepped off the college campus and into our classroom, it was always exciting to see how he was going to try to teach us.

I became ill early in the school year.  The morning that my illness struck, Mr. Martin noticed that my color was not right.  I was normally a talkative girl, but on that day, I was quiet and different.  He sent me to the nurse’s office to be checked out and the decision was made to call my mother.  Not long after this, I was in the ER and, of course, the rest of my story unfolded.

Mr. Martin came to the hospital nearly every day after school to check on me and keep me up to date on school work.  He was ever-present and truly wanted to know what was happening and if I was recovering.  He provided support to my parents and family members as well.  If it had not been for him I would probably have had to repeat the 6th grade.  After all, I was only in school less than a week or two before I became ill.  I ended up missing between nine and twelve weeks of school due to it.

He tutored me while in the hospital and at home while I was recovering.  I laid in bed the whole time while he read the lesson plans to me.  He would stay at least an hour at a time twice per week.  I was so ill that I do not specifically remember each time he was there, but I just knew he was.  It is like my subconscious has always known.  The image of this teacher sitting by the bedside to teach a gravely ill child brings tears to my eyes.  How lucky I was to have him.

During my recovery, he gave me the book “The Littlest Prince” by Antoine De Saint-Exupery as an assignment to read and write a report on.  Inside the front cover, he wrote a note to me that this book had always been special to him and to make sure I paid attention to what the fox says.  I remember reading the book and writing my report but to be honest, I really did not understand it fully.

Many years later, I found the book among the trinkets of my childhood and reread the conversation between the fox and the little prince. “Goodbye,” said the fox.  “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret:  It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”  “What is essential is invisible to the eye,” the little prince repeated, so he would be sure to remember.  “It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” “It is the time I have wasted for my rose” said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.  “Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox.  “But you must not forget it.  You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.  You are responsible for your rose….”  “I am responsible for my rose,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember. 

A few years ago, I met with Mr. Martin at his school.  It had been nearly 30 years ago since everything happened.  I had run into him from time to time throughout the years, and gave him the standard and very brief update that I was doing well and what my job was at the time, but I really did not discuss much.  This time though, I purposefully sought him out.  He is a part of my memories of this time in my life.  It would be an incomplete history without him.

I asked him why he assigned The Little Prince for me to read.  He said, “It is a book that was always special to me and has meaning that translates to different moments.”  It is not just a book about survival, but a book about overcoming and transcendence.  I get it.  I may not have gotten it as a child, but I get it now and what great insight and foresight he had to assign this book to me.  I now see the great meaning behind seeing truth with the heart and not the eyes.  My rose, the one that I am responsible for, the one that I have spent time on, the one that I have tamed is really not a rose at all.  It is the way I have handled my life – the goodness and the tragic.  I am responsible for all of it the rest of my life.  My rose is myself.

I learned that the other children asked about me and were told I was recovering from surgery, but were not aware of all the details.  He described me as being girly, but like a little tough bull and seeing me one day like this, and the next minute close to death was difficult.  He recognized that I had to deal with adult issues and that “strange time” of my life was taken from me.  By strange time, he meant when our bodies are changing and puberty is starting.

The most important thing for me to accomplish when meeting him was to tell him that he was the one teacher I will never forget.  He was the teacher who showed care, kindness, and empathy to me and my family during a very difficult time.  We all have that one teacher who inspired us, who mentored us, or who held us accountable.  Mr. Martin was all of these things, but for vastly different reasons.  I could see how it would have been easy to either totally disengage while I was in the hospital or to just pass me along out of sympathy, but he did not do this.

He got paid a stipend for tutoring me and with the money he bought a clock for his mantle. He told me he would have never let anyone else teach me, and regardless of where I needed to go, he would have followed me.  The clock, kindly referred to as “Caroline’s Clock”, still sits on the mantle of his fireplace.  His family knows this and refers to it by my name as well.

Mr. Martin’s teachings were more than just academic.  His actions showed more to me than any school lesson he could have taught.  When we talked about this time back in our lives, both of our eyes welled up.  I had been wanting to reach out to him for years and let him know how thankful I was and still am for what he did.  When I told him how I felt, he responded “a part of teaching is showing your heart and once in a while a person or kid comes along that is special that you share your heart with, and you were one of those persons.”

I think he basically summed up why he was the best teacher I ever had and why he has left an endearing imprint on my heart and life, and I am sure, on the hearts and lives of many other children he has taught.

Happy Retirement, Mr. Martin.  Thank you for the positive influence you have made in the lives of hundreds of children throughout the years.