Thursday, May 10, 2018

Dear Mom

Last night, as I was cleaning the kitchen and getting ready to go to bed, I found this letter. 

"Dear Mom, I need more breakfast. I am hungry."

Umph. As I wrote before, life has been fairly... busy... lately. 

OK. As a teacher, I totally would have had a child write this letter. The child complains that she's hungry during a lesson. And, to give her something productive to do about it, I'd tell her to write a letter. The writing distracts her from the hunger, gives her writing practice, and gives her a way to solve the problem. Don't just complain  - do something! As a teacher, I totally appreciate this letter.

From a parenting perspective...  OMG. First the guilt...  my poor daughter is hungry during the day! I'm not providing for her... then... wait a minute...  let's talk about this breakfast thing a bit, OK? There are two of us involved in this early morning scenario.

Dear Child,

I'd love to give you more breakfast in the morning. That sounds lovely. Here's our new plan.

1) I will wake you up twenty to thirty minutes earlier so you have time to eat the breakfast I make you.
2) You will immediately jump out of bed, put your clothes on, brush your teeth, brush your hair, and bound down the stairs without yelling at me, your father, your sister, or the cat.
3) You will quickly tell me exactly what you want for breakfast after I give you a choice between two options.
4) You won't change your mind after I've started making what you originally chose.
5) We won't fight about the fact that I'm not preparing a new breakfast for you because you changed your mind.
6) You will quickly eat your breakfast.
7) You will choose a piece of fruit from the beautiful fruit bowl that sits directly in front of you. You don't just pick the sticker off the orange and then hide it under the table, but you eat the orange as an additional part of your breakfast.
8) You will finish your food without announcing "you are full" after taking two bites so you can go play.

This sounds like an excellent plan. I don't want you to be hungry in school. Let's work together to solve this one, OK?

Today we started the new plan. It didn't go as expected. Or, as hoped. It kind of went as expected.

Dear Parents of my Previous Students,

I am so sorry for ever having a child write you a letter like this. I had no idea the amount of guilt/frustration it would cause. I had no idea how trying to get kids ready in the morning is like working a full day.  I did it out of love, as I'm sure my daughter's teacher did. But... yeah... I'm sorry.

Mrs. Lipstick

Missing Flowers & Life

I've neglected this blog quite a bit lately. Partly because I've been busy writing Joey's blog, partially because I'm still trying to figure out how to write about my new adventures as a special education consultant/DIR Floortime Practitioner, and partly because there has just been a LOT going on in my life lately. I like to think I've been balancing it all fairly well - despite the occasionally texts to my closest friends with "OMG why is life sooo hard??" and then "I swear I can do really hard things, but getting my children to brush their hair in the morning is a bridge too far."

On Tuesday I walked my kindergarten daughter to the bus stop and my heart sunk. Every student was holding a beautiful bouquet of flowers for their teacher. In all my "managing" I'd totally missed the memo from the PTA about teacher appreciation week. I mean, I knew what week it was, and I was planning to do something on Friday, but I didn't realize there were daily activities.

I eyed my neighbor's azalea bushes, but decided that wasn't the best example to set for my daughter (plus, there were way too many people around. People who had remembered to send flowers to their school.)

It's such a small thing - the flowers - but in that moment it seemed to represent everything that I wasn't doing this winter. As a teacher I loved the "bring your teacher flowers day" because you get to make a beautiful bouquet out of the variety of flowers children brought you. It's sweet to see all the flowers gathered together, in a way no florist would ever approve of, but also in a way that represents your class. Plus, I love my daughter's teachers and I want them to feel special.

Life in the Lipstick Household has been an adventure this past fall/winter. Last fall we learned that my husband had stage 4 Hodgkin's lymphoma. If you know about Hodgkin's you know it's the best of all the cancers and basically curable, but still requires a pretty arduous chemo regimen. It hasn't been an easy winter. Then, about a month and a half before it was all over - when my husband and my four year old already had the flu - I fell and broke my ankle. The break required surgery. Suddenly our family had two parents out of commission. Our family and friends have been amazing. My mother basically moved in with us for two weeks and every one in my family was commissioned to help out with our medical appointments.

Just in case you are wondering, moms should NEVER be on crutches. It feels nearly impossible to do mom with crutches. You can't actually get food out of the fridge, carry it across the kitchen, and put it on the plate, and then bring it to your children. And you should see our house. We may drown in clutter if I don't get off crutches soon. I didn't realize how much I straightened during the day until I can't move something from one surface and carry it across the room to put it where it belongs.

This mess is the cause of totally missing the "bring your teachers flowers day". I'm sure the PTA letter is under the massive pile of junk on my coffee table where things have been deposited over the last few weeks if I can't intercept first. And somehow, the flowers seemed to be my breaking point. We can make do and make do and make do, until we can't. All those overwhelming feelings hit me in a flood and everything else that hasn't been done - the mothers' day cards still sitting on the table unmailed, the cleaned but not yet returned food containers people brought us food in, calls to make, rooms to clean...  it's too much.

It always seems possible to do the hard things in life - it really is the little things that interfere sometimes.

My husband is back to work today after finishing his last chemo treatment, and I should be off crutches by next week. Things are looking up. In a few weeks, hopefully I'll be able to see flowers as just flowers, and not a symbol of everything I'm not doing.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Processing Their Process: Trying to understand the developmental stages of grief

If only parenting was as simple as writing a beautiful (yet boring) novel, where we could decide exactly what our child will experience. Or even like a choose your own adventure, where we could have at least some control of what our child comes across. Yet it’s not, and often the hardest part of parenting is being aware of our own emotions and how they influence our actions and our children. My daughter’s kindergarten class recently experienced the loss of a classmate. This has rocked most of us as parents, in so many ways, as we try to understand what happened, help our children understand what happened, and in turn, understand how children this young developmentally process death.
In the beginning of the school year, three small cards fell out of my kindergarten daughter’s backpack. They each contained neatly drawn pictures of her and a little boy, with “I love you” written on them. Not in my daughter’s handwriting. Her line number and his line number were included, as was her lunch number. My husband and I were a bit surprise by this development so early in her school career, but decided at least she had attracted the attention of a boy who had such neat handwriting, whose drawing skills were clearly advanced beyond that of a typical five-year-old, and one who seemed to have a head for numbers (And were a bit concerned that anyone would know her lunch number, but that’s another discussion). They were friends, our daughter said, and left it at that. So we did too, not wanting to make a bigger deal of her first love letters than needed. We saw him occasionally at school events and birthday parties, and found ourselves often asking about him. He was one of the kids we were given updates on when she returned home from school.

We heard about when he was first absent, and our daughter was concerned. He’d missed their field trip, and we assumed he’d gotten the flu because it seemed that everyone else was getting it. She continued to be worried about him, asking if he’d be back to school each morning and then reporting that he was not in the afternoon. We assured her he’d be back soon, but this flu season was rough and a lot of kids have to miss school for full weeks.

On Monday, my husband called me as I drove home, and asked me if I’d checked my email.
Her friend,""he almost whispered, "passed away."

I can’t begin to tell you where my head went in this situation. Utter disbelief, sadness, protectiveness, along with a million questions swirled through my head. How does this happen? By five and six we think they are invincible, or almost invincible. We’re past the point of worrying about SIDS or choking by eating a stray lego. They are sturdy, brave, and independent, and we forget just how sacred every moment of life is. Just imagining the mother’s pain leaves me unable to speak. There are no words to begin to describe such a pain, even one that I can only imagine.

And then there was the immediate situation of having to explain this to our daughter. The email from the school said that they were not going to address this in school, but instead were leaving it up to the parents to talk about with their children.

After dinner, we sat our daughter down, and when we brought up her friend, she looked hopeful for answers. “Is he coming back tomorrow?” she asked. I couldn’t finish the sentence, and so my husband stepped in and explained it to her. We braced ourselves for the worst, as this is the child who cried real tears when her doll’s legs popped off, or when we throw away old art projects, or when her playmate across the street moved away. She attaches to people, objects, and concepts, and has always had a hard time with change or transition.

“Oh,” she said. “So he’s not coming back?”

“Do you understand what it means to be dead?” I asked. She’d lived through the loss of three of my grandparents, so it was something we talk about on a certain level.

“Not really,” she said. “Can I go to bed now? Why are we down here?”

Her answer seemed to smack our grief in the face. How could we be so saddened and distraught about a boy we barely knew, when it was her playmate who was gone.

Years ago, when I was a classroom teacher, a girl in my class lost her mother. A counselor gave me a copy of a book on the developmental stages of grief to help me understand how the girl may cope with death in school. So early in my career I was surprised by what the chapter said – children of this age are so literal that they may even ask questions if the worms were going to eat the dead person’s body. Or want to know what it would be like to be buried, or what would happen to the person’s stuff. They do not yet have the full understanding of what death is, and so approach it as they may approach learning about any new concept- with any questions that come to their mind, with no concept of what may or may not be appropriate to ask.

This information helped me greatly when I talked to my daughter about my grandparents passing away, and even more when she came home from school one day and asked if we could dig up my grandparents to see what their bones looked like. That was a hard one to swallow, but I returned to that chapter to remind myself that this is a part of development.

I’m re-reading it again now, and continue to be reassured at the “textbook” nature of how my daughter is processing her friend’s death. Little comments come out randomly, from out of nowhere, and then she runs off to play, only to return later with another question. “Mommy, kids aren’t supposed to die, right?”

“Mommy, he was supposed to be a grandpa, right?”

“Most kids get to become grandparents, right?”

“Mommy, the teachers aren’t talking about him, but the kids are. Everyone says he’s dead.” “What else do they say?” I ask, wondering what’s going on behind the teachers’ backs at school.
“Just that he’s dead. Everyone says it.” Perhaps for them, there is nothing more to say right now.

“Can babies die?”

“Will you live to be 100, Mommy?”

I answer honestly, but when I try to open to a larger conversation she runs off.

I’m trying hard to walk the line between showing her my concern and my own grief, but also not pushing her to be sad about something she does not yet developmentally understand. In a few years, she may look back at this time and feel a true sadness for the situation, finally processing what happened this winter. But for now, she’s still grappling with what death means, its gravity, and permanent-ness.

More than anything, I’m aware of my own helplessness. Somehow, if she was sad I could comfort her, and then feel as though I was doing something about the situation. But it’s not about me, and I can’t push her to feel something in order to comfort myself. And it does not mean she is unfeeling or lacking empathy with her mater-of-factness, although it can appear that was from our adult lens of the world.

So I wait, listen, answer, and pray. Pray for the family, for the teacher who has a class full of 24 literal children dealing with such a confusing concept, for the community, and for the mindfulness to be aware of my own emotions and separate them from my daughter’s.