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Camping with Kids

We celebrated Andrew’s birthday over the weekend by going camping.

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The first night was–rough.  There were swirling winds, “Just go to sleep darlings,” I whispered frozenly at the children as Andrew and Maria pumped up air mattresses.  It was about that time, that the rain started to fall and I started dreaming of an uber with a blanket inside of it.  Poppy woke up in the middle of the night (So, like an hour after we fell asleep) crying, I think she was just confused, but then went back to sleep.

I was considering what a nice wife I was a couple times throughout the night when I woke up are various intervals.

In the morning, Andrew was up making a fire, brought me a warm drink, and we sat around the flames.  Maria pulled out the Johnny Tremain book we had reserved from the library, the kids ate instant oatmeal from water boiled over our fire, then strayed off to the trees and bushes to play.  There were no dishes to clean up, no laundry, as we slept in our clothes, now played in them, no streets or dangers for the kids, no toys or messes, we were just outside, together.

I called off the Uber.  I felt very relaxed.

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Andrew and I have spent many years of our adult life working with teenagers.  I know it’s not the most coveted age group to spend time with, but we love them.  We have been able to experience so many different lives over the years, and I think a big way it has effected our parenting to it’s kept the end in mind with our kids.  For us it would be so easy to get lost in the joys of early childhood, or kept swept away with the challenges and be more prone to tune out or avoid and check out due to the trouble of it.  But over the years our experiences have embedded different desires we want to infuse for the kids, some at the top are; a deep sense of self worth, family community, emotional intelligence and addiction prevention.

We approach some of these in such a variety of ways, and many overlap with each other.  Addiction prevention is very intertwined with connection, and being attuned to their inside world with safe connections to share their true feelings and self instead of the, “Stop crying!” or “Big boys don’t cry!” or “You’re OK!” approach, which could cause shame.

I also want my kids to feel the real world.  The smells, the sounds, the stillness to be, as well as the natural space for activity using their bodies.  I think the ability to connect to the natural world around us, to be comfortable with it can far out weigh some other things that tempt anybody.

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Even me, there are times when we are biking outside and I am just shocked at the intensity and beauty of the senses I feel, the peace, the connection, the smells, sounds.  I would love for my kids to know these early, even if it’s not easy to get there, know that it’s worth it.

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Even if I’m way off base in my thinking, just in this moment, these moments together in nature are good, are powerful experiences.

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Because of the rain California has had this year, we were able to find a rushing waterfall.

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As we hiked and explored down the river and falls, Poppy got braver and braver (Should have given her the middle name brave) and she got nabbed by a quick current.  Both Maria and Andrew dove to her at the same moment, fully clothed and grabbed her.  They pulled her out with hearts beating out of their chests, while Poppy was cracking up.  She was thrilled by the fun, and the fact that everyone was now soaking.

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That evening we made another fire and Andrew taught some of the kids how to whittle.  They were locked on and worked diligently on their craft.  After dinner, we played hide and seek and it brought me back to my childhood.  I had been outside for days, I felt free, running with the kids at twilight making my skin feel hot inside, but cool to the touch, without worry about what I was wearing or what would happen or if I had to be somewhere.  The sun had set, but the mountains around us were still glowing orange at their tips.  I crouched with Elijah under a huge bush, grasping each others hands, ready to spring at any moment, our hearts beating, catching each others eye in the joy of it, sage and oak filling the air.

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So, despite that first raining night with tears and wind, I have to say I now love camping.  It did something for me, for my family, for our hearts and mind.  It was not easy to prepare for it (It was a last minute decision) but it paid back 100 fold.

So, where do you recommend camping?  Where should we try to go?  We want to go more often.  Also any life changing camping tips we need to know about?  I’d love to hear!

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When Perfect Plans Are Broken

I walked the boys up to their kindergarten classroom, Finley leapt into a circle of children, his face glowing with laughter and new friendships.  But from behind, tiny fingers gripped the back of my hand.  I sat crossed legged on the cold concrete in the front of the school, children a zoo around me with every sound imaginable as his tiny body curled it’s entire weight onto my lap as if even one part of him touching the ground was too painful.  I rocked side to side with my torso.  He silently engulfed his entire thumb into his mouth and covered his eyes with pressed finger tips, blocking out the kids around him, blocking out every single thing.  Even Poppy, too young for kindergarten, was playing with everyone, but not him.  He was a speck of curled up flesh on my legs, making himself as small as possible, blocking out the world.

“He’ll get used to it,” we thought.  He did to preschool last year, he was wild at first, but he settled in with Mrs. Jill…

But this wasn’t preschool.

And he didn’t get used to it.

It was apparent he felt lost.  And when he feels lost it triggers an old map in his mind when lost meant his needs weren’t going to be met.  That his life was on the line, and that his own death was a possibility and he had no way to fix it.  So he needed to make sure he wasn’t lost.  Negative attention is better than no attention, no attention meaning deep neglect, starvation, even losing his life.

So the smallest boy in the huge class got called into the principal’s office, often.  He was throwing rocks, he was cutting hair, stealing food.  He could not control himself.

At home, he would cry in our arms, or be angry, then cry again.  “And no one likes me, too…”

He felt lost, and now disliked.

Andrew and I were done.  It’s one thing to act out, another when you start believing that it’s who you are when it. is. not.

We pulled him out of Kindergarten after four weeks.

This was to be my first year in many years with two mornings to myself since Poppy was in preschool for the first time.  We had even opted to start her early, age 3, just so I could have these windows as a mom to 4 children…

But Elijah would be home with me.  And since all the preschools we’d like were full, and he was too old for other options, he was my stay at home son.

At first I felt a loss for myself, I had waited so long to have some moments, some time, some stillness, some catch up…

The week after we took him out of school, we went to go pick up Finley, all the boys in the class rushed Elijah, “Elijah!  Where did you go?!  Are you going to another school?”

He shrugged his shoulders and said with a fire and edge of pride, “No!  I stay HOME!  With my MOM!” and he won that conversation.

I was listening to Bobbie Houston while driving with Elijah to yoga at the YMCA soon after it was just he and I on school days, and I looked at the one set of eyes in my back seat.  I thought about the hours and days and weeks that went into planning this school year, the clothes, the extended care to strategize pick ups between 4 kids at two schools.  It all seemed like a waste of time now.

Or was it?

Am I here to spend my days making my life easier?

Or am I here, me, one person, to make a legacy on this earth with my time, with my children, with my time spent.

This isn’t about school, or pick ups, but this is about a Legacy and Elijah’s Legacy would not be one of heart break or shame.  It would be much more.

There is only one child in my family who God has spoken something to me about, a very specific phrase.  It’s not my gorgeous hearted oldest, my tender hearted first born, or my dynamic baby girl who spills out joy, but my broken winged Elijah.  And he spoke to me words that were so opposite of everything that seemed possible in a time when everything was chaos in his heart and our home.

It was the day after mothers day last year, months before he started Kindergarten and the words were these:

“Elijah’s gentleness will draw people to him.”

Elijah’s gentleness will draw people to him

I spoke the words over him, and time passed.  Kindergarten started, rocks were thrown, we called specialists, “No one likes you…” was said, Finley buckled under the weight of people questioning him about his ‘weird brother.’

God was in the meantime doing some big things in my heart, which I hope to share later, and we found ourselves in many appointments, and without any schools for Elijah.

His psychiatrist, a rhino of a man with a fun spirit who works with foster youth prescribed him for meds and flagged him for ASD.  We ran out to the pharmacy and handed the slip of white paper to the man behind the counter, “Generic or….?”

“Oh, I don’t know.  This is our first time filling this, we had to go to a special psychiatrist because of his age….great day though huh?  Isn’t this a WONDERFUL DAY?”

He didn’t know how to respond, so he just raised his eye brows and filled the prescription.  I bought a bottle of water at the store and gave him the medication in the car.  Elijah said he was excited, the doctor told him it would help him feel calm.  He wanted it as much as anybody.

He played quietly for hours at home.  I completed tasks without needing to break something up, or call him from off some ledge.  It was surreal.

We worked closely with his OT and counselor who ripped my mom guilt away, “I can’t just leave him at night if he’s crying!”  “At this point you can, because you’re just teaching him to cry…”  Oh, well then… I guess….

Weeks passed, months passed.  I emailed his old, magical wonder preschool a few times, checking on openings because of course they had been full all fall with a lengthly wait list, even years long.

He was triggered less.  He sat through things.  Everything.  Meals, even meals out.  He slept better, his true, real heart started coming out, and it was golden.

Then we got the email, 5 months later.

“We have spot for Elijah in preschool.”

Elijah pulled out a piece of paper the morning of his second first day of preschool, “I need to write to my teacher from last year, Mrs. Jill…”

On the first day, he didn’t go into his new classroom, but silently found his old one.  Mrs. Jill was still getting her classroom set up for the day.

Elijah walked up to her with his head down and hand up, offering his envelope.

She knelt down next to him, “Oh Elijah!  My goodness!  I’ve missed you, what is this?”

She pulled out the piece of paper with blue marker that he had written himself,

“Dear Mrs. Jill,

Thank you for always being so kind to me.

I love you.

Love,

Elijah.”

She hugged him close and thanked him.  She spoke to him, but he only nodded silently looking down peacefully,  holding her hand gently.  He said nothing until he whispered, “You welcome, k bye,” and took my hand.

In his new class, we put everything away.  I suddenly felt overwhelmed leaving him.  He’d been with me everyday for months.  My buddy, my sweet boy.  The best helper, a heart to serve.

I went on one knee, he leaned into me and gently kissed my cheek, “I love you mommy.”

“I love you, buddy, I’m going to miss you so much.  You’re so kind, so good, so special.  These guys are lucky they get to know you and spend the day with you.  I wish I was,” and I meant it.

Not above a whisper, looking out from beneath his lashes, “Thank you mommy.”

“Don’t forget that special thing God said about you,”

“I know, gentleness…”

“Will draw everyone to you, everyone.”

He kissed me again, put his hands so lightly on my shoulders, “I love you mommy.”  My other kids usually wave a quick over the shoulder goodbye as they run to their friends.

“I love you sweetie, I’ll see you soon.  You have a great day, ok?”

“Ok, bye.”

He hugged me gently one more time, kissed me on the mouth, raised his hand slightly to say one more goodbye.

 

We had made Finley a reading chart, “Read ten books and get a special toy!”

All year Elijah has been watching Finley read, but couldn’t do it himself.  Finley did it fine, but would rather be playing toys.

“Mommy–can I please read?”

“Yes, sure, we can make you a chart, too.”

He sat next to me and read.  And read.  No coaxing on my part, even when I was distracted, he was reading, he’d work on a word until it sounded right.  He didn’t give up and run for his toys.  He read book after book.  It didn’t take him weeks to read, he got through 10 books in two afternoons with a steel like determination.

When he closed his last book, Andrew and I lost it.  We cheered and grabbed him, he doubled over, his mouth open, his eyes wide like he was flying, soaring.

We ordered him his special toy.  A Snap Circuit Jr.

A couple days later we were driving home, “Oh, I hope my Snap Circuit is here!”  He folded his hands, “Dear Jesus, thank you that my Snap Circuit is here…

We pulled into the driveway and a brown, cardboard box leaned against the front door.  All the kids flew out of the car and stared at it.  Elijah was silent, trying to close his lips over the smile he couldn’t contain.

We watched a video about circuits and electricity and open verses closed circuits and volts and he remembered it all.

Then he opened the toy he had earned himself.  The toy he thanked God would already be there, because it was.  Like God knew what he needed this whole time.  This entire short lifetime since he was born, left, forgotten, hurt, found, broken, rebuilt slowly, so slowly, God’s own Spirit breathing life into him with the foundation of gentleness.

Our Elijah.

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I don’t believe for one instant he was put on this earth to limp along, to survive.  But to flow like a powerful river from the depths of his soul.  To flood this earth with his gentleness, his kindness, his brilliance, his humility, his heart that God saw and God is redeeming each and every day.

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Christmas 2016

Christmas Memories

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