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Nearly two weeks ago our house was broken into by someone to who took technology and sentimental jewelry.  This isn’t about them, this is about my specific actions regarding parenting (and what my child is showing me) because google didn’t really seem to have a plan or pointers or clickbait or anything about such things.

We looked at long-term and short term goals and started behaving as if those were the truth.  There were two easy short-term goals – get the entry route contained (they broke the glass on a side door) and find a way that felt safe for our 7 year old to sleep.  Dave took care of the former, and Jeff said he wanted to sleep in our room and that took care of the latter.

That identified a mid-range goal, the return to “normal” sleeping where our 7 year old hangs out in his room after bedtime rituals and sleeps there.  For the first night, that was clearly not an option but staying in the Emergency Situation Sleeping Arrangements would need to come to a swift end both for our sleep habits and to put perspective on the event in general.

First long-term goal – how do we process random bits of misfortune that are sad, or scary, but not tragic in a larger sense?  What does it look like when the adults model that in an out-loud way?

My mom, who lives in another state, was concerned and needed an update and I needed to re-order our bedroom so Jeff sat in the bedroom with the speaker phone and talked to his grandma.  That worked well because I trust that my mom knows the general parenting direction I point in and she is supportive of our communication style with Jeff.  He told her that he was unlikely to tell anyone at school the next day except maybe the counselor (who he has an established relationship with).  I was glad I was able to hear where he was in thinking about it and what his school plan was.

The basic rule in our house about secrets is that you need to find a way to share them if they make you sad, mad, or scared but that secrets that don’t feel that way to you can be kept private.  It separates “birthday present” and “I have a crush” secrets from the ones   we want to hear about immediately.  I talked to Jeff about it, emphasizing that we didn’t *do* things that brought this on us.

We slept

We went to work and school the next day and at the end of the day we worked on the second mid-range goal: normalizing internal craziness that happens after that much adrenaline.  While making dinner the three of us talked about two things that happened in common for all of us:

  1.  Even the nice, normal, well-meaning things that our friends said and did was … exhausting and made us wish that they were quiet, or faster, or …. something.  That we couldn’t focus on anything because it all just felt far away and strange.
  2. That it felt like our brain split in two pieces – the Imagination Brain that made up stories to fill in the gaps for the things we didn’t know (Why did they? How did they know? Why this and not that?) and kept running it past Thinking Brain that had to hold firm to the We Can’t Know That Because We Weren’t Here and We Aren’t THOSE Thieves Official Party Line.  The Thinking Brain had to keep separating what was known from the stories we made up to fill in the gaps.

We worked on the original mid-range goal and Jeff suggested that he would be able to sleep in his room in a normal way in three nights.  We agreed to one more night in the same room, and then two nights with a parent camping in his room with him.

We went back to learning a game we had gotten for Christmas.

We slept.

Thursday went fine but we had a setback on Friday when a bunch of generally un-alarming things happened and we all had a huge adrenaline rush when we wondered if they had come back (for what? Who the hell knows).

Friday night when I saw Jeff he asked, “When you heard, did it make your head funny and your heart pound fast in your chest?”  You betcha kiddo.

We didn’t worry about replacing technology the first weekend and it felt like things were heading back to a normal pacing.  It was nice because we were heading into a week that is a physical gauntlet for Dave and generally an emotional one for me.  I thought we were doing pretty well.

The second Friday after the burglary I was with Jeff at the end of his school day and he was in that head space where he was working hard to be the boy he wants to be.  He told me a couple of hours later that it seemed like we hadn’t seen each other in a long time, and I agreed.  Because of the nature of the weekend and the holiday I was able to confidently say that he and I could spend all of Sunday (today) together – with the help of having a Saturday to be ready for it.

You know how it feels when you look at a friend / lover / spouse / confidant and you are both stressed out (for different reasons or the same one) and your heart can only think, “You mean the world to me but you’re on your own for this one cuz my shit is barely managed and I just … can’t.”  Well I took Saturday to gain my own health points and woke up this morning with the singular goal of helping Jeff feel seen and filling his cup.

Filling his cup isn’t about opening my wallet and closing my brain and letting him run roughshod over the place.  It is about not asking him to be the only one in the room that is accommodating others.  It is about showing that he is *known*.  So there was breakfast and video watching.  We picked a movie to see.  I had a couple of grown up errands to do and we talked through if we could do them on Jeff Day (they were not urgent but they were fast and handy – and they are done now).

Mainly though, we played Little Wizards.  Two things before I go on …

  1.  There is a quote of something someone said to Neil Gaiman years ago that I can’t find.  It was an author who said that the only person he has ever wanted to impress was the 7 year old version of himself.  The years where his imagination and reality we on equal footing in his mind.  A quote – that although unfindable – is the parenting mantra of this year for Jeff.
  2. Little Wizards is a role playing game for kids where he developed a character over the summer and I narrate an adventure for that character with dice rolls to see which way the action goes (D&D Jr or a Choose Your Own Adventure on the fly depending on your reference point).

For 2.5 or 3 hours today he and I told the story of the yellow, elephant sized dragon and his monkey having adventures with mysterious keys, strange girls named Emily, the cops, recently invisible iguanas used as magic wands, and the mystery of the birthday party 5 weeks from now.  We didn’t even make it to why Dr. Cornelious (chaotic good based on a dice roll for those of you who track such things) wants to see Tarphoon in the first place.

The level of engagement for that sort of story telling is how I know that I’ll never be a novelist but I finally understand when writers talking about a character surprising them.  Jeff brought Dr. C into the story … I had no plan for him or anybody like him so I rotated laundry and talked to Jeff about Dr. C and what relationship Jeff had that was like the one between Dr. C and Tarphoon (Mr. Mo it turns out – which helped a ton).

So, today, nearly two weeks past the burglary Jeff needed me in the way infants need food in the cluster feeding days.  We spent the morning physically tangled into each other or romping through adventures shoulder to shoulder as we built an enormous world where the cops cared about what the child said.  Where even the dragon wouldn’t go into a strange place alone.  Where even friends need to reconfirm their friendliness now that things are strange.

By the afternoon his cup had filled up, we went to the movie and did errands much more as ourselves than we had been in the past couple of weeks.  I was mentally exhausted because I still am drawn to being in my own head right now, but he had a different pace to his step.  Tomorrow he spends with just his dad – I suspect that adventures will abound.

 

 

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Fast version:

After two years of working part-time or less, it took less than a month of working full-time again before Aspirational Me said, “If I had a little bit more time I would definitely cook more interesting meals.”  Aspirational me is a total liar, that lazy bitch didn’t even come up with Munchie Monday.

Slow Version:

In January I had instated a Civility Bootcamp that had a troubling ending (tl’dr he was delighted when I packed up 90% of the stuff in his room and he never really cared if he got it back).  That is kind of coming to a head right now.

I think that it is a good thing to make sure my useful things have a chance to be useful for someone else if I am done with them.  To that end I’m a believer in consignment and my hometown has a vibrant (aka rabid) consignment system.  Now, it seems (in retrospect) that the spring consignment would have been a good time to make some money on the things Jeff didn’t want.  For reasons I don’t even fucking remember anymore I barely sold anything at the spring consignment.  It seemed right – and occasionally I am a Dumb Dumb – hard to tell what won here.

So now it is time to prep for fall consignment.  I have a new full-time job, and I won a scholarship to learn a TON of neat stuff about lung cancer (cool, given the fact that my 83 year old dad is handling a second occurrence in the last year right now), and ….

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I spent the weekend gathering up every place I had “Jeff’s room” tucked away and touching every damn piece of it.  Stuffies for goodwill (consignment won’t play that), every piece of “precious paper” in the trash can, every multi-hundred set of everything sorted the (OMG) out.  I didn’t clean it, or tag it, but at least I got it sorted.  I haven’t washed the clothing or found enough wire hangers, but it is sorted.

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Aspirational Me doesn’t think this is all headed to the goodwill.  Aspirational me thinks that I’ll work 12 days in a row, and then on the first day I’m home with my family I’ll be tagging 80 pieces of clothing and then heading to the 7 bins of toys.

Aspirational me is kind of a dumb ass.

We’ve been working a bit on not shouting across the house at each other so much. We don’t always remember but it is getting better. We started a couple of weeks ago, because I was frustrated with the fact that each of us preferred the person we wanted to talk to stop what they were doing and come TO US so we could impart whatever random word of wisdom we thought of.

I was feeling pretty good about how we were talking about it, and what we were doing. Then I started talking about the way we treat our stuff with my son. The only requirement for his room is that there be a clear & wide path to his bed, and about quarterly we “snatch a knot in it” and get it organized.

Christmas seemed to have brought a tipping point in the ability for the room to stay ok for awhile after it got cleaned. We still have a huge percentage of toys that he had two or three years ago, because he uses them just often enough for them to stay in rotation. So, in a room with limited storage, it had gone to bursting. It made me mad twice a day because it was so chaotic. It made it nearly useless for him to try and put stuff away. It was bad.

Yesterday, I had enough.

Today I packed up 90% of the stuff in his room.

He kept:
Imaginatrex
Lego
Gifts from this Christmas
1 other toy.

Not All of It

So here is the problem ending —

He is relieved.

He happily helped me pack stuff up.

When I missed an area he reminded me and gathered stuff up.

He isn’t willing to make a deal for their permanent removal (yet?) but he likes that they are gone. I had thought that he would want to earn stuff back, that he could regain things as he proved that he could actually take care of stuff. Or something.

What I think is going to happen now is that he’s going to forget about most of it, and I’ll need a new plan for what to do with the stuff in every.spare.corner of my house.

Suggestions?

Something to know — throwing away isn’t part of what I set the whole thing up, and doing it sneaking isn’t how we roll here.

But his room looks great now.

I think about Jeff’s internal voice a lot. I think about the ways that his dad & I influence that voice and what I really want it to say to him years from now when it is the middle of the night and he is a little bit sad. I know that the final echoing words aren’t going to be my choice, but I try and be mindful of my real goals most of the time. This weekend is proving out to be one of those times.

Things I want his internal voice to know.

1. Never lie to yourself about what you like. You can (and sometimes should) choose to be … selective … about who you share information with. That is fine, just NEVER lie to yourself about it. In public he is distancing himself from his favorite color — because he wants to. At home it is still his favorite, but now out in the world … less so. I’m ok with that, I want his favorite color to feel good and not be attached to the words of those around him who don’t understand.

2. Curiosity is enough to take action. One day last year he said, “I want to play basketball at the Y.” My first step was to say “OK, we’ll figure that out”, my second step was to follow up with Dave and my mom to find out if they knew how Jeff even knew that basketball was a THING … because with no cable and with us as parents we just don’t talk about basketball – at all. He learned to play a little basketball. He went to a free class yesterday (which I pushed a little bit to get over one of those maternal “I IMAGINE” moments), he loved it and wanted to do more — so now he will, until he is done.

3. Ask for anything as long as you can be gracious when the answer is no. So much passes by while people wait to be asked to participate. So many opportunities are lost because people just can’t find their voice fast enough. You can ask for anything – but if someone says no then be a gentlemen about it. Today I asked if he wanted to go shopping with me (and it wasn’t a ‘had to’ – just a genuine either answer is fine).

“Can I get a toy?”
“Sure, if you bring your own money.”
“Can ya toss in a little [eyebrow wiggle] sumpin’ sumpin’?”
ok dude, you have my attention. “What kind of sumpin’ are you thinking about?”
“Nutella and sticks?” (This is our current favorite shared snack, and pretty much a given on a trip to Target).
“Yeah, we can do that.” and off we went.

I didn’t need to say no today (except to spending my money on a toy) but his ability to negotiate is developing (and so is mine frankly). There are many stages (1) Yes. (2) You can earn it for yourself. (3) We can take a picture so that we can tell people you’d like it as a gift. (4) Hahahahaha. No.

I just want him to feel free to see and act on options. Not more, or less, than anybody wants for their kid – but I’m thinking about it a lot today.

I was in a foul mood today. My husband looked at me and said, “Do you need to go away?” … in the most loving way.

About 1pm this afternoon I brought out my pet project idea. Spurred on by Adam Savage and the Maker’s Faire in Chicago I had missed (and the one in Atlanta I still hope to attend) I brought out an old VCR/DVD, my tool box, a piece of cardboard to work on and my son.

Game on.

The cover came off first, I was akin to a G-d for I had opened The Technology (time out for DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME…. WELL, WITHOUT ME).

The VHS side was, not surprisingly, more interesting than the DVD side (40 years of development between the two will do that). Every time I found another screw we whooped with joy – screws meant opening new things. We found the magnets, we found the laser, we found the gears and the grease and how the doors opened (different for each). We found the circuit boards and how the power cord plugs into the rest of it.

Jeff pulled his own mini circuit board, and kept it as a souvenir. Tonight, with Husband’s help, we started looking at resistors and whatnot. A friend on fb is telling me what I can do with the motors (Dear American Science and Surplus … please send me anything to help this make sense). There is a dead vacuum in the house as well …. I suspect it is likely going under the chopping block as well.

It was great.

Still, I know. It isn’t long. Soon being A Man will make my adventures less interesting. Being right, and understanding (or pretending to) will be more important than the wide eyed wonder that is my specialty. Colors and sizes. Shapes and similarities. All of that won’t matter in a couple of years, or 5.

I like wide eyed wonder, my heart is full of it. We can dance and jump and spin. We can do math and write the last page of The Great Gatsby. We are amazing – even if it is only for our devotion to finding the perfect mac & cheese.

In having a young son, I have someone who will get down on the ground with me to look at the broken rocks and try and figure out how or why or monsters? or big trucks or or or or or….

When I talk about being able to sword fight at 6:15 in the morning, if I’m honest, I’m not sure what I’ll do when he doesn’t want to anymore.

Dear Son,

I promise to care about swords at 6:17 in the morning.  To care enough that if we both throw on shoes we can go outside and fight if you try not to get to loud because everyone on the planet is still asleep.

I promise to look at your day, through your eyes, because getting bossed all the time is no fun if you don’t get the chance to boss back every once in awhile.

I promise that your job is not to be a third adult in this house, even when you look like you can do it.

I promise to try and get you around other kids a lot because being able to look people in the eye is important.  For your mind, for your neck, for your imagination, and because that is what it takes to move around in the world.

I will play in the rain and snow with wild abandon because that is how you do it.

I will pour my hopes and dreams into myself, so as not to crowd out your hopes and dreams with my own.

 

I made choices about how I would use my body to have kids.  One and done.  That means that I promise to take on the responsibility of demonstrating joy, and lighthearted exploration.  Kids with siblings have someone to slay the dragon with. I promise that as well as I can, I will put on my helmet, grab my shield, and head into the woods.

 

“Jeff?  If you can stay patient and pleasant for the store, you can pick an Easter candy to try from the big wall of candy…”

We had a great trip through the store and he chose pink bunny Peeps.  At the register the young woman joked about putting them in the microwave (she suggested NOT doing that).  I talked about our soap adventure (Ivory – totally do it) but I started eyeballing Jeff and he was eyeballing me…..  LET’S GET HOME.

Zoom to the car, throw the food in the cabinets, eat one Peep just to have the normal experience (like either of us tasted it) and saddle up – let’s NUKE this sucker.  We kept it from exploding, we de-foiled two Hershey Kisses and jammed them in the middle and swirled them around until it was a sticky mess.

Yesterday I was on a plane.  Today Husband was on a plane and son, frankly, doesn’t get why he isn’t collecting airlines miles as well.

We are in divide and conquer mode as we enter the home stretch of LLV with to do / to decide / to resolve / to be rid of lists a mile long for each of us, and none of the lists overlapping very much at all.

Our reward and reconnection at the end of the first of many strange weeks was a pink sticky sweet hot mess of a moment together.

I’m pleased (and a bit zoomy from the sugar).

Ivory Soap