Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The first


Another Christmas has come and gone. As anticipated, and true to the nature of our lives right now, this one was full of action.

 Our garbage can was exploding out on the sidewalk 2 days before the next trash day. Our house looks like it has vomited toys. It was, as it seems to be every year, deemed "the best Christmas ever!" by the 2 boys who were old enough to tell me. And if Greystoke could talk in fluent sentences, I am pretty sure he would concur.


He got his push car, some books with accompanying piano, some blocks that he can hammer. He wasn't that impressed with the unwrapping. He made his personal servant, Aquaman take care of that for him.
He also screams at his personal servant Aquaman to push him in the push car, because Aquaman pushes him wildly, banging him up and down at breakneck speeds, and turns my hair gray. I asked Aquaman at one point: "do you actually WANT to have a little brother who has to eat with a feeding tube and can never take care of himself?"



He wasn't terribly impressed.

We didn't get the kids much for Christmas because 1) we have no money,( I mean, actually scratch that we are doing very well financially, no debt, modest retirement and liquid savings, but we're not exactly swimming in income even with JT working 60 hrs a week, and we just can't justify going broke for a bunch of toys that are going to be broken in 5 minutes) and 2) every year the grandparents go crazy and we wonder why we bothered getting them anything at all.
And this year was no exception.





This year, the big boys each picked out a present for each other and wrapped it all by himself. And JT and I got the push car for Greystoke, and an Xbox for the big boys.
I discovered the day before Christmas that I didn't have the appropriate cord to hook the xbox up to our ancient television. Luckily, Santa brought Noni and Papa a new television and they gifted us with their older one. But even then, it took me 2 days, endless google searches, and an hour on hold with microsoft before I discovered that the reason the refurbished xbox we bought was so cheap was because it didn't have a hard drive. And without a hard drive we couldn't download the update that we needed to work the kinect, and incidentally I only bought kinect games. Luckily, after more googling, I was able to configure a memory stick we had on hand to work with the xbox and download the update. Though by then, Aquaman was much too busy with the new tablet his grandparents got him to want to bother much with playing the kinect.
It was kind of an anticlimactic Christmas present, but we tried.

JT got me a new phone. It's like a real smart phone that can hold more than one app. I kind of failed at getting him anything. I am a terrible gift giver. I scheduled a massage for both of us, maybe that counts. But he liked Aquaman's new tablet so much that I ordered him one so that he can listen to the audio bible app while he sits on the beach, so now I feel better.

We skipped the Christmas Eve service this year. They all say they are "family friendly" which basically just means they don't have a nursery which basically means we don't get to sit long in the service because my children don't sit quietly very long, and I don't think it's developmentally appropriate to ask them to, and I also don't think it's very nice to disturb everyone else in the church with their shenanigans.
So we had our own service at home with our families. We read the Christmas story and took communion (which resulted in The Dude's breaking down in tears because Aquaman got to take it and he did not), and then we turned out all the lights and The Dude led us in singing silent night in his earnest, hoarse little voice. It was beautiful.
The kids were passed out by 8:30 and Aquaman was dashing frantically up and down the stairs by 5:45 am.

JT worked 12 hours on Christmas day serving tables at the Crowne Plaza. He hasn't actually worked as a sever in like 10 years, so it was baptism by fire, but I know that he did great. He's a natural. We celebrated Christmas with his family the next day, though he was still mostly recovering.
Next shift for him: New Year's Eve. This will be the first New Year he will actually ring in since I've known him. I will be guiltily sleeping. If you can call what I've been doing lately sleeping. Waking up 4 times a night with a 4 year old who has a cold and is afraid of alligators and thinks I should always be holding his hand, and sleeping straight up with a toddler who just got over his 6th ear infection this year.
The pediatrician said they would probably be considering tubes right now, considering he has been on a lot of strong antibiotics already, except that his ears clear up nicely between infections, and Greystoke has great speech. He's saying way more than 50 words, and stringing some together, and having whole conversations with me sometimes like: Bye-bye Daddy, Daddy run!" or, when he woke up one morning and realized I had already gotten up: "Daddy? Want Mama!"
Granted, most people wouldn't understand him...his articulation is definitely less clear than his brothers...but his brothers were serious talkers.
Greystoke is working much harder on his fine motor skills than they ever did.






Speaking of which, I am relishing the break from school life, and filled with a certain amount of dread about it starting up again in a week. All that rushing around and dropping off. And complaining and crying and arguing and angry outbursts.
Not that Aquaman has been exactly angelic since school let out. He still mostly wants to stay in the safety and comfort of home, and is easily stressed by being pushed out of his comfortable little bubble. But the difference in him since school let out is quite remarkable. I feel like I have gotten my sweet little boy back. I knew he was struggling, and I knew he was wound up tight, but I kind of just thought it was a phase or a problem he was having inside of himself. Actually, I was feeling a lot better about the whole thing after having dinner with a friend of mine whose oldest child is Greystoke's age. As I listened to her tell me her concerns about her toddler, I suddenly realized....the first child worries everybody. We've never been through it before. We don't know what's normal and what's not. We have no way of knowing what they will grow out of, and whether the way we are parenting them is working. It's stressful.
Each child has their own unique struggles of course. I mean, Aquaman used to dutifully march to time out when he was barely 2 even though he cried and screamed in protest, and he was never violent. While The Dude has been a raging machine who at one point I had to start locking in time out because he was so destructive and there was no way to contain him.




And granted, Greystoke is about a million gazillion times more easy going than either of them. But still, most of my laid back attitude toward him is because I realize that eventually they stop screaming at you to open the refrigerator all day. And pretty much all you have to do is grit your teeth and get through it and not be totally inconsistent and they will grow out of their weirdness and into some new strange behavior. Because they're kids, and that's what kids do.

But the undeniable fact is, school is a problem for Aquaman, and right now that's my first-child stressor because I don't know how it's going to come out. I suspect some of it is just a personality clash with his teacher. His teacher, who is obviously a fantastic teacher, doesn't get him, is not as sensitive as he probably needs him to be, and is pushing him too hard. Aquaman is finishing the last of the psychological testing today and the report will be available to share with his teacher shortly after school starts back up. And hopefully that will help to bridge the gap of understanding. Maybe it will document the discrepancy between Aquaman's intelligence and his ability to put it on paper, and his teacher will understand that, even though, as he relayed to me: "Aquaman is obviously very intelligent. He passed the first gifted screening. He can do better work than this.", he may NOT be able to better work than he is doing just because he is intelligent. I don't know. I am hopeful that it will help. I am tired of the homework battles, tired of seeing him all tied up in knots and talking about how everyone else is better than him and no one likes him. I know some of it is just dramatic effect, but I still don't like it.

How can we know? It is such a fine balance because our children must use their muscles, must stretch beyond where they are comfortable (and particularly Aquaman because he is just...very tight...his comfort zone is small), and yet tight little rubber bands can be brittle. They can break.

2 days ago, I came home from work, and The Dude was running and bumped his cheek on something. He immediately began to cry, but before I could get to him to comfort him, Aquaman was there. He hugged him, asked him where it hurt, and then kissed his cheek. This is the Aquaman I have known, the heart so soft, but not the Aquaman I was seeing 2 weeks ago when school was in session. That Aquaman would have laughed obnoxiously at The Dude's pain and maybe even told him he was clumsy or stupid.

For the first time since Aquaman was a toddler I've started wishing that homeschooling was an option. The socialization of Elementary school is so highly touted, as if home schoolers are a bunch of weirdos, but the public schools are saturated with weirdos too. For a child who naturally struggles socially, do I really want him learning his social skills from a bunch of immature 7 year olds? No. I am suddenly disillusioned, and I am struggling not to let it cloud my entire picture of what the school system has become, not to mention what it even used to be. Public school is not perfect. And I have a hard time with the idea of public school basically raising my very sensitive child.

Sigh. But for now, here we are. And maybe I will find out that he just needed a break, and he will dive back into school with gusto and not start freaking out again.

Regardless, the first child gives us all the more reason to reach out and cry for help. I was mulling all of these thoughts over and over in my head, and trying to sort them out when God said to me: "why don't you just let Me take care of this? Why don't you stop telling me what you can and cannot do, and what he can and cannot do, and let Me do it."

And all I could do was smile. Because that's life. With the first child, and with the third, and with the thirteenth if that's your thing.
You have to make the effort. You have to sometimes do the personally harder or counter cultural thing. But only God knows which one is the right thing for your child.

We have all these pictures for how our lives are supposed to go, but God's picture is more beautiful, and it's always unfolding. What looks one way today may look totally different in 3 days, and we have to trust in eyes that see much more clearly than ours do.
I am painfully aware of my shortcomings and my failings, as a servant of God, as a friend, co-worker, sister, daughter, mother and wife these days. But it only hurts a little. Because filling the gaps of all those times when I can't be it all, when we show up with shoes on backwards, or no shoes at all, or I have curry on my pants, or my hair is sticking up or I don't make the time for someone who matters, is Grace and Mercy and....the greatest of these....Love.

"Oh, and I've seen many searching
For answers far and wide.
But I know we're all searching
For answers only You provide.
Because You know just what we need
Before we even say a word.

You're a good, good Father.
It's who You are, it's who You are, it's who You are.
And I'm loved by You.
It's who I am, it's who I am, it's who I am. "
-Chris Tomlin

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Magic

It's 5 days until Christmas, and the season has gone quicker than I ever remember it going before.
I have been trying desperately to get into the "Christmas Spirit", but for whatever reason it hasn't been easy this year.

So far I think one of my favorite Christmas activities this year was Christmas caroling.
The Dude absolutely loved it, and I loved watching him.
He sang so seriously, with his mouth a perfect "o" during the Gloria part of Angels We have Heard on High. Swaying in usual carried-away-by-the-music fashion, especially to what he referred to as "his song", Silent Night. I could just eat him up.
I enjoyed the singing part too, since music isn't a big part of my life anymore, but is still such a big part of my heart.
Greystoke was a little in awe of the whole thing, but he was glad to be in the arms of his Papa.
A few nights ago we went to the Space Coast Lightfest for the usual hayride through the lights, but they hiked the price so high that we ended up just driving through.
With one stop to see Santa.
As usual, the older boys refused to come anywhere near Santa. Like frightened wild animals, they darted forward, grabbed their candy canes, and backed quickly out of the room.
Greystoke didn't get off so easily.
I had to get the traditional McVicker-baby-crying-in-Santa's-lap photo.
We enjoyed the lights in the car, though it wasn't quite the same as the hayride.
Friday I let the boys both skip school. Aquaman's class was having a Polar Express party, and he is scared of that movie. We sat under the tree and read Lego Ninjago books, because that is the closest I could get them to doing anything Christmasish. They're not into Christmas books like I used to be. Sigh.
It's hot this year....been in the mid 80s almost every day until it finally cooled down yesterday. But it's going right back up. And maybe that's why it kind of feels like Christmas has snuck up on us. Or maybe it just always feels that way.
This would have been the best picture ever but something was on my lens....
Judah had his Christmas show at school. He was quite the singing angel.
Greystoke has been sick again, with croup and then another ear infection. But all things considered we have really done pretty well this season. Aquaman seems to be starting to age out of all the fevers, and has barely even had a cold this season. I shouldn't actually write this down, since a healthy Christmas would be nice....

Last week I took the boys to Christmas on the Parkway....an event in Merritt Island where a church brings in snow and lets the kids have snowball fights and slide down a huge toboggan hill.

The boys were so excited about the snow that they didn't even drive me that crazy waiting in the loooong lines for everything.

It's been a fun couple of weeks, this is such a wonderful time of the year. JT has been working too much still, and I've been tired and a little sad. I've spent a little time dreaming about what I would like for my birthday....an entire day of no one asking anything of me. No dropping anyone off of school, no making anyone lunch. I would like to lay in bed most of the day, and when I get tired of that I want to take a long, totally silent walk on the beach.
364 days of the year I embrace the noise and the chaos and the fun of being a mom of 3 boys. But 1 day a year, I would like to be totally alone. I am really going to try to make that happen.
In the meantime, I am finding ways to take care of myself without JT's help since most of the time I don't have it. I call it "nurturing my soul", borrowed from Sally Clarkson's book "Own Your Life" which I just read and mostly enjoyed.
I only mostly enjoyed it because at times it made me feel a little annoyed.
Sally's children are grown, and she likes to talk about how well they turned out, and how that is because she was so intentional in parenting them.
But there is a cynical part of me that knows that sometimes you can parent children to the best of your ability, and they will still choose their own way. And sometimes I want to tell her that.
 I know she is just trying to be encouraging. 
But she also talks a lot about making your dinner table inviting. Lighting candles and putting on pleasant instrumental music.
And to be honest, as much as I would like a peaceful dinner, that is a pipe dream in my house. In my house, JT only eats with us about once a week because he is either at work or Trinity Fitness. It is me and 3 boys with our broken table, and barely enough chairs, and an oldest little boy who complains about everything I give him unless it is buttery pasta. I have to remind them 30 times to use their silverware and remember to sit down in their seats, and not to shout, and by the time it is all over my nerves feel completely shot and I wonder what is so great about a family meal.
But nurturing my soul, I do understand. Putting the oxygen mask on your own face first, that part I am beginning to make a bigger priority. Sometimes when the older 2 are at school and the little one is sleeping, I light a candle and turn on Christmas music while I clean the bathrooms, and sometimes that is enough to turn my whole day around.

Sister time helped a lot too.
Aunt K brought Christmas ornaments for the boys to paint.



Greystoke was so inspired that he used our brand new door as a crayon canvas while I was taking a shower and thought he was watching Barney.....thank goodness for Magic Eraser.
And our favorite tradition....making Christmas cookies.
Over the years we have developed quite a system for it.
And last night, Aquaman declared it his favorite Christmas tradition, since he's decided that the previously named boat parade is not exciting anymore.
Apparently to hold his attention, traditions must involve colored sugar.
Aquaman has suddenly become a teenager, and I think that has been the most difficult part of this season for me. I thought elementary school kids were supposed to be fun and happy about the Christmas season, but he has bah humbugged over the whole thing. He complains so loudly when I turn on Christmas music that I end up just turning it off. He unplugs the Christmas tree. Christmas caroling hurt his ears and smelled bad. Judah's program was "dumb". The snow was ok, but the lines were too long. The boat parade was boring.
He is only happy sitting at home playing Legos.
And don't even get us started about school. I am so happy we get a break from that for a couple of weeks, though it means more time of his walking restlessly throughout the house wondering what to do with himself. He just can't seem to get comfortable inside of himself, and it's one of the first extended times in my motherhood in which I cannot seem to help him. It almost seems to make him angrier when I try.
I have come to the conclusion that the main culprit is anxiety, but when I met with his teacher to ask him to back off on pressuring him, he didn't seem to agree. He thinks that Aquaman is not trying, and he doesn't get that Aquaman is not trying on his schoolwork because it is much easier not to try and miss perfection than to admit to anyone that he simply can't be perfect.
He is in the process of having testing done by a private psychologist and I am hoping more formal recommendations will get through to the teacher.
He passed the initial gifted screening, but has a more extended test in February. He also completed his IQ testing with the psychologist. He said they asked him to draw a tree and he drew a trapezoid and said the tree had been cut down.
I wonder if he loses or gains points for that?
I love this boy.
He is so unique and beautiful and has so much potential. And that is why I am not willing to let him flounder through it alone. This is only the beginning of what will be a long road for him. The pressures of life will increase, but so will his ability to manage it. But I believe in being proactive.
I was, quite honestly, a negative child too. I spiraled down quickly and became hopeless. And there are days I still struggle like anyone else. But I believe all those struggles I had as a child are what helped me become an overcomer today, and I have that hope for him. But I don't think you can get there without facing it, and I also don't think you can get there without a lot of deep dark days.
It is one of the first of many times that I have to help him the best I can and then place him in the hands of the Father who loves him more than I do. He has good plans for him, I know that.

I ran into last year's teacher a couple days ago and she asked how he was doing. When I told her, she said "Oh poor Aquaman! He is such a brilliant little boy", and I could have hugged her. My mom heart needed to hear that. Not "he's fine. He'll get through it." Not, "he's a total mess."

 Just, he's a brilliant boy who is hurting right now.
He's a diamond in the rough.
We all are.
And now we head out into our Sunday. JT has the day off, but he'll need to sleep a while since he worked from 9 am to 2 am yesterday...luckily our church has a 1 pm service today.

Off to breathe in the magic.
I was watching one of my favorite childhood Christmas movies with the boys yesterday, and I found myself getting tears in my eyes at the magic of Santa. I laughed at myself for a moment until I thought about it and realized that the reason the world is so captivated by Santa is because we all need to believe in something bigger than ourselves, something beautiful, and someone who loves us generously and wants to bless us.
My kids can't really get into Santa because I have always told them that he is just fun to pretend, but they don't see the point.
But the real story of Christmas is so much more beautiful and magical anyway.
Not a a fat man dressed in a creepy suit sneaking into our houses if his elves report that we have been mostly nice all year.
But a baby wrapped in cloths sneaking into our hearts because we have nothing nice inside of us on our own and He wants to save us.
That's the Christmas magic I'll be holding onto this week.