Posted in family life, musings

holding Limerick through a meltdown

Tonight Limerick had a meltdown. He doesn’t have them as often as Rondel, but when he’s tired his big emotions can overwhelm him, and little things will push him over the edge. It’s par for the course when one is almost three years old!

When the meltdowns occur, there are two ways I can respond. First, I can try to reason with him in an attempt to make him feel better and stop crying. I have to admit that this is my default reaction, especially if other kids are awake, because I tend to be a logical problem-solver rather than a savvy emotional guru. However, it almost never accomplishes anything, especially with Limerick. He isn’t the most reasonable person at the best of times, and when he’s tired the sheer strength of his emotions renders his logical mind inaccessible.

The second response, which I’ve learned from parenting experts and cannot take credit for, but which I’ve found through experience to be far more effective, is to simply be present and available. With Rondel that typically looks like pulling him to me and hugging him until he calms down, because physical touch is one of his main ways of communicating love, but (as I’m discovering) with Limerick I usually need to sit a few feet away from him – say, on the floor beside his bed if he is in bed – and let him know that I’m there for him and that he can come sit with me if he wants. Slowly, as the emotional storm passes, he’ll scoot closer and closer until at last he is ensconced on my lap, rocking in my arms, restoring peace in his heart.

It’s becoming more instinctual to respond the second way, instead of remembering it only after I’ve reached the point of frustration and anger myself (I think the Zoloft helps me take that moment to stop and remember who I want to be as a parent, for which I am quite grateful!), and it is so rewarding.

Few things in parenting feel worse than going to bed having yelled at your exhausted and irrational toddler for acting out his exhaustion and developmental state, knowing that you’ve fallen so far short of your parenting ideals that it’s as if you ended up in a pigsty when you had intended to aim for the stars. But few things feel better than holding that toddler in your arms as he sniffles and hiccups away his final tears, gazing up at you as if you were their only solid ground in the middle of a buffeting ocean. No one enjoys a meltdown, but through it one can build deeper trust and connection than play and happy moments can provide on their own.

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Posted in musings

thoughts and worries of a distracted mind

I’ve been thinking a lot about a few topics lately, none of which have made for suitable blog posts.

First, I’ve been very actively consumed by an off-the-record project I’m attempting for my job (basically, I’m trying to develop a database and website for our team, for essentially no cost, using only my own skills and whatever products are accessible for free or close to it. It’s difficult, time-consuming, and addictively enjoyable).

Second, I’ve been noticing how my hormonal cycle still affects my depression even with the Zoloft. And when I’m exhausted and down for a week or so out of every month, I feel like I spend the rest of the month digging myself back out of a hole. Still, it’s much better than being continually tired and depressed!

Finally, I’ve been concerned – or maybe nervous is a better word – about Rondel. His quality of speech hasn’t improved over the past year or so (although his language development has, which would be a greater problem), and may have even declined over the past six months. For people who don’t know him, he is a challenge to understand at all, and even I have to ask him to repeat himself if I can’t see his face or the context of his speech. He’s also had some anxiety or behavioral issues – it’s difficult to tell which may be causing the other, or if they’re both just feeding each other – that have made it increasingly difficult to take the kids out. On a good day he’s sweet, loving, funny, imaginative, energetic, and helpful; on a bad day he’s impulsive, defiant, silly in a “let’s make breaking the rules into a game” sort of way, aggressive, and clingy. And the bad days seem to be getting more frequent, and I never know what sort of day it’s going to be. But in my mind I’m just endlessly walking the treadmill of worry, and that doesn’t make for great reading 🙂 So we’re waiting to have him evaluated, and hopefully that will be profitable. Actually, I wouldn’t mind prayers to that effect!

But it has been a while, and we’re finally starting to settle into the semester and the new house, so hopefully you will see a lot more posts on here soon! I keep reminding myself that I need to write things down or else I’m going to forget them all when the kids have their own families and are wondering how far the apple fell from the tree…

Posted in family life, musings

a tale of two mothers

She walks briskly down the path, then stops and waits, impatiently beckoning to her young son to hurry up. Her words are sharp and her tone irritated, as though his slowness is an almost unbearable weight for her. Oblivious to the beauties around them, the pair slowly make their way down the trail in fits and starts, both of them belligerent, frustrated, and stressed.


A boy and his mother walk down a trail through woods near a creek, the water making a background song to their hike. They walk slowly, noticing the diversity of plant life surrounding them, examining the different shapes and textures of the leaves. The mother isn’t trying to make her son walk faster, but to engage him more deeply in the moment and place.


What differentiates these two mothers? What leads one to put the immediate task (reaching a destination) at a higher priority, despite the frustration of trying to control another person and ending up at cross purposes? What makes the other choose connection and relationship over speed and accomplishment? Is it personality, or character, or circumstance?

It is purely and simply choice.

I was both of these mothers, in instances just five minutes (and a major apology to Rondel) distant from each other. All that changed was that I remembered who I want to be, and chose to change my course. I was still just as frustrated at his slowness, but realized that I didn’t have to let those things (his slowness, my irritation) hurt our relationship or prevent us from savoring the beauty around us. 

We will never be perfect parents, but we always have the option to choose a better way.

Posted in family life, musings, quotes

different (a full review)

Sally and Nathan Clarkson’s book Different didn’t exactly live up to my hopes and dreams for it – that is, I suppose, it didn’t give me a checklist to follow or an instruction manual to read or even a set of principles to live by which would ensure success in the endeavor of parenting a unique and uniquely challenged child.

But that really wasn’t the point of the book. As Sally writes, “…don’t try to use our family’s experience as an exact template for your family. Every child is unique and requires a unique approach.”

And the story they told together, of struggles, pain, faith, and triumphs, was just as beautiful as I thought it would be. While they shared specific aspects of their personal lives, they made those intimate and individual stories relevant to a whole range of readers, drawing out empathy for both the challenging child and the challenged parent (or in other words, for both the different child and the parent who longed for normalcy). As there are in my close family many people on both sides of this dynamic, it spoke to me on a number of layers, and both encouraged and convicted me about several of my relationships.

(For example, it is easiest for me to apply the need for patience, acceptance, and understanding to my children, while failing to give that same grace to my husband, parents, siblings, or in-laws. Different, while primarily about that parent-child relationship, continually challenged me to scrutinize my motivations and intentions in my other relationships as well, and to try to bring them also into a more open, gracious, and loving posture.)

My primary take-away from the book in this season of my life is the value of making a home in which everyone in the family can feel at ease and accepted for who they are: a place where each one of us can truly feel that we belong. When my children are losing their tempers over trivial affronts, or melting down for inexplicable reasons, or refusing to answer a simple question when everyone else is waiting for their response, or taking out their frustrations on each other; when my husband is tired, preoccupied, or worried and speaks more sharply than typical; when I am moody and irritable and impatient – in those times, it is very hard to accept each other, to love each other, to give grace to each other. It is tempting to construct a narrative of the people in our family using only those negative moments, to focus on their immaturity or sinfulness, to attempt to fix and correct them with annoyance and frustration for their present state. But Sally addresses that temptation directly (emphases mine):

“…creating a welcoming home also includes the choice to accept the unique design of our families and the limitations of each family member. We have to learn to lean into life as something beautiful even if it is not exactly what we expected. Trusting that God works all things together for the good despite the challenges we face is a gift of worship we give to God. Acceptance with humility must eventually come to each of us if we are to please God and not always fight against the limitations of our own family pattern.

If Nathan had grown up in a home where he was constantly put down and corrected, I think the oxygen of God’s love would have been strangled from his heart, which needed a wide berth of unconditional acceptance. Love is the food our hearts need to grow, and so I had to figure out a way to give it in a way he could feel.”

I can choose to be impatient, irritated, frustrated with the imperfections I see in myself and my husband and the immaturity inherent in my young children – or I can choose to see the beauty and value of who we are and what we are building as a family. Only one of those choices will fill our home with the love our hearts need to grow, and the welcome we need to feel that here, at last, is a place where we – no matter how different – can truly belong.

Posted in musings

a moment of play

There were eight of them, boys and girls, from five to twelve years old. I watched them on the beach, as they scrambled up and down the sandy slope and splashed into the shallow water, as they dug and molded the sand and filled buckets of water, as they strategically laid down sticks and removed stones. Without a blueprint or a guide, without a leader giving directions, the structure they were building took on form and function. They shared ideas, gave each other space to innovate, collaborated without quarrels or criticisms, helped each other test their creations for soundness, and negotiated the course and scope of the project to come to a mutually acceptable solution. Occasionally they took a break to swim or start an independent project, but came back to help with the community endeavor.

When we impose our adult ideas of fun, we shut down this natural cooperative and creative play – along with all the learning and joy that accompanies it. Fortunately, all we have to do to encourage it is to give our children the freedom and opportunity to simply be.

Posted in family life, musings

learning together

Rondel and Limerick are near-constant playmates these days, and the presence of another child to play with is doing amazing things for each of their social play skills! Every day I see them create and play elaborate games together, both physical games or pretend games, with agreed-upon and negotiated setup and rules; I hear them get into arguments and fights and resolve conflicts independently of adult input; I watch them learn to observe and take into consideration the things that are important to and enjoyed by each other even if their own inclinations are different; and I see them choosing freely to share their toys and cups and take turns with coveted items. (It’s pretty adorable to hear your 2.5 year old ask his brother to “please move Rondel”, and even nicer to see said big brother make room for the little one – and best of all to see both of them accepting “no” as an answer and offering other options in the attempt to find a solution that leaves everyone happy.)

I don’t force them to share and take turns. If they seem stuck I might suggest those as possible solutions, but unless they’re overtired and getting physical about their conflict, they usually do better without my input, and can come up with solutions that seem “unfair” to me but result in them playing happily together – successful in resolving their short-term conflict with the added benefit of gaining diplomatic skills and confidence for the long run. Honestly, my interference can often make things worse, it seems!

I also don’t try to make them play together. When they want to, they can play alone; but they almost always choose to play in the same room even when they are doing independent activities, for the shear pleasure of showing each other their creations and telling each other their ideas and plans.

In short, they are friends, and they are learning the skills by which friendships are strengthened and maintained.

If they can learn these social skills so well just from each other, with minimum parental guidance for safety and advisory purposes, simply because they are intrinsically motivated to maximize their mutual environment, what else might they learn through that same motivating power? Forcing them to memorize and drill phonics or addition would be as effective as enforcing my ideas of fair play on their interaction: in other words, it would likely lead to resentment and poor skill acquisition. But when they are ready to learn, motivated because they are interested, caught by the beauty or use of a thing, they will learn with the speed and power of a wildfire in drought.