What does the end of #stayhomeMN and beginning of #StaysafeMN really mean?

I have a PSA as a public health professional, a mom, a daughter and a Minnesotan. I am hopeful most everyone is aware of this but I am feeling protective of you.  This applies in many other states opening across our country as well – please read.

I want to be fundamentally clear: the virus has not reached its peak. Our state is gradually opening because we now believe we have the ventilators, PPE and ICUs available to treat those who will become ill. Minnesota is not opening because it is now safe. Minnesota is not opening because the worst is behind us. No model shows this. We are opening because of the economic, political and social pressures to do so.

We are opening because the state conceded they cannot restrict the rights of residents to operate businesses once we reach health care capacity to manage the level of morbidity and mortality projected.

This is a public health concession to other competing and important pressures. Public health metrics alone would suggest we #stayathome longer.

So, please:

Don’t: behave like business as usual (pre-COVID style).

Do: wear your masks, wash your hands, stay home when sick, social distance, stay home as much as possible if you are immune compromised or over 70. Plan your family’s approach thoughtfully.

Peace,

Shawna

PSA: Social distancing at the length of a small gator

Hey friends: as a public health professional, I’d like to offer up a video that I thought did a great job of explaining the purpose of social distancing.

Thanks for all you are doing to protect our most vulnerable friends, family and neighbors.

If you’ve ever felt called to serve but never had time, this is the moment! All we’ve got to do is work at home, keep kids learning, chill out, do a puzzle, get a little bored, watch some movies, go for walks with our household members, ride bikes, give each other 6 feet (as my FLA husband knows, about the length of a small gator) and generally behave like there are no hospitals available to you for awhile.

As I recently heard Minnesota’s Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm say, #stayathome means social distancing is no longer a suggestion, it is a requirement. It is specifically required of those who do not work in “essential service” to our community. For those of you who do not, honor those of us who do: #stayathome.

Tweens and teens are especially vulnerable to isolation – it is practically developmentally inappropriate to ask them to stay home with their families for weeks with no social contact with peers. Yet, we’re doing it. This is hard. In public health, we plan for some weak links. Let’s make sure, as grown ups, we are not the weak links. In fact, if you’ve never considered yourself a role model, this is likely something you can absolutely nail for our kids and their grandparents!

Children and youth need time outdoors to play in order to grow and thrive. We all need to exercise in order to boost our immune systems and care for our chronic conditions and mental health. Please do. At the length of one small gator or more.

At the end of this, I invite each and every one of you over for a visit on our front porch. For now, I’d like to invite you all to break out your drums, bells, noise makers and voices, step out onto your stoops, and hoot and holler together each Monday evening at 5 PM from wherever you are.

Please share!

Need help?

Remember: It is ok to keep the bar low right now – the kids are all right. If things are not all right in your household, we have to learn to ask for help. Here are some resources: 

Minnesota crisis textline and suicide prevention: 741 741

Children’s mental health and crisis response in Minnesota

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is only a phone call away: 1-800-273-8255.

If you are in need of assistance with medical care or health insurance, Community Health Centers are a trusted resource across the U.S.

At Minnesota Community Care, we have completely transformed in order to meet the essential health care needs of our patients, offer screening for respiratory illness, and provide resources via social media to families and youth on managing anxiety, isolation, and school at home.

United Way supports 211 helps people across North America find local resources 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Here are some great home-learning resources from Common Sense Media: Wide Open School.

World-wide Free Forest School has published tips on how to get your kiddos outside and learning everyday! 

 

 

My son has a super-power. Does yours?

“I’m here with your 3rd grader,” my son’s special education teacher explained on the phone.

I waited. Please don’t say he threw up. Did he swallow bits of his shirt collar again? Maybe it’s just a fever.

“Tomorrow he’s going to tell me what you did to celebrate. For the first time in 4 years, he tested at grade level in reading today.”

I had to pull over. I cried on Lake Street for the arguments we had before I learned he wasn’t being lazy or stubborn. I cried for the phone calls and the emails and the classroom visits and IEP meetings. I cried for the books we’ve read, the camps we’ve attended, the tutor we insisted upon-yes-even in summer.

I released the anxiety we have felt as we rapidly approach the end of the 3rd grade, knowing only 25% of kids who cannot read at grade level by then are predicted to graduate.

I cried with gratitude for the generous grandparents who have financially supported his needs, the hours of creative problem solving his tutor has dedicated to him, the kindness and patience his teachers have provided him and the skills his special education team employed to get him this far.

I released the guilt that we hadn’t done enough.

We knew going into kindergarten that something was different about him despite the fact his pre-K screening was normative. Come to find, he had all the hallmarks of Dyslexia. We asked about testing and our assistant principal suggested we wait–see how he does.

In Minnesota, kids without a diagnosis qualify for special education through the discrepancy model. They receive services if testing shows their ability level and performance level are disparate enough to suggest a “specific learning disorder.” Parents are often encouraged to wait until first grade to test because it is very difficult to qualify on the discrepancy model as a kindergartner.

The only other way to qualify for special help is a diagnosis and 504 plan. We were told by our pediatrician that Dyslexia, which we suspected, was an educational diagnosis. Insurance would not cover the $2000 neuro-psych testing. And guess what? School psychologists cannot diagnose Dyslexia because it is a medical diagnosis–an ugly catch 22.

So we had to let him fail first. This is what it looked like.

He was behind when he started kindergarten. He sat in a classroom feeling baffled while kids around him captured things he could not even see. He loved his teacher and she loved him but he cried before school everyday. He had tantrums after school. He chewed his clothes and his own lips to pieces. He had eczema. And honestly, I am fairly certain he had the best kindergarten teacher in this world.

By first grade he called himself “stupid” often. He told us he hated himself. He had emotionally “dropped out” of school and developed anxiety.

“Oh,” they said. “Now THAT is a medical diagnosis. NOW insurance will cover testing.”

Still at reading level A, the school then wanted to test him. His teachers knew he needed extra help. The educational psychologist described the findings and called it a “specific learning disorder.” Though he was in the 2nd percentile for reading, he scored in the 96% percentile for comprehension when stories were read to him. The psychologist looked me in the eye and nodded his head as he said, “I cannot make a diagnosis of Dyslexia.” Consistently in this process, the school appeared to be going above and beyond what they were allowed to do for him.

He would now be removed from his classroom for two hours a day of specific instruction in reading and writing.

He also received accommodations. Our school has coordinated assistive technology, shielded him from unnecessary standardized tests, placed him in classrooms with student teachers and provided him extra support. Unfortunately, with a classroom of 30+ kids, this often just means expectations are lowered for dyslexic kids and they are excused from some activities, like spelling tests and reading aloud.

Though his teachers were incredibly supportive and skilled, he made very little progress in reading or writing in first grade. The primary skill he learned was pretending to understand.

He had delightful friends but they accidentally hurt his feelings daily. “Why can’t you can’t read that?” Some laughed at him, not understanding. He developed strategies to avoid attention. He got amazingly good at deducing what was happening in books and worksheets from the context. He became more and more introverted and more and more creative, also hallmarks of a dyslexic brain.

His special instruction had a ratio of one teacher to five kids at most. The tools that our wonderful, big-hearted, special education teacher had were blunt instruments for a group of kids with a wide variety of challenges: lower IQs, ESL, Dyslexia, ADHD, unknown. She was not provided adequate resources or training to meet the disparate needs of all those children. This is happening across the country–our situation was not unique.

We found a grant for her to attend an Orton Gillingham reading instruction training. This is a sharp tool. OG is one of many evidenced-based strategies for teaching struggling readers that is multi-sensory, going beyond Response to Intervention models. Within months the following school year, she told us her training was creating change for kids who were unresponsive to everything else she had tried–it worked.

She helped us find him an after-school tutor and introduced us to Grove’s Academy, a school that incorporates evidenced-based practices like OG into the classroom experience for neurologically diverse learners. I asked him if he would be willing to spend six weeks of his summer at reading camp. He looked at me, blue eyes welling tearfully, cheeks blown out and angry red under a flop of white hair. My mini Einstein. He shook his fists and stomped his foot and screamed, defiantly, “FINE!” and walked away. Another hallmark of Dyslexia: our son is tenacious.

Grove’s was able to say out loud what public school psychologists could not, “the findings of his test results are consistent with Dyslexia and Dysgraphia.”

You may be against labels. So are lots of parents and educators and therapists and pediatricians. But let’s be real–Dyslexic kids without a diagnosis have labels for themselves and they live with the labels others assign them: stupid, lazy, stubborn, defiant, disturbed.

Nothing, NOTHING, has helped his crumpled heart more than when we told him, “You have Dyslexia.”

“Buddy. You know all that testing we did? And you know how it is hard for you to read like some of the other kids? Well, we found out there is a reason that you’ve been struggling. Your brain is unique. The way you learn to read has to be unique too! They call it, “Dyslexia.”

He jumped up into my arms and crushed me in a hug. He was wearing a cape. He said, “I have a super power!”

Unless you have a child with Dyslexia or another learning difference, I can’t imagine you can truly understand the significance of early illiteracy on your self-confidence and sense of wonder. In grade school, we go from learning to read to reading to learn. Wilder entered school excited to use his gifts and talents to learn. It took him less than a school year to realize that there would be destructively little time in his school day for what comes easily to him: creating stories and art, reasoning scientifically, empathizing with others. Grades one through three are really all about reading.

But he is getting better over time at advocating for himself. His support team in school works together to ensure his days contain successes and opportunities to use his assets. He understands that despite the fact he has to work harder to do a lot of things, he is exceptional at some things. He is also getting better at failing with self-confidence.

Let’s go back to that phone call. She knew it was a significant moment. She knew how hard he worked to get there. She was determined that we celebrate him. His teachers are incredibly committed and skilled–they offer multi-sensory approaches, individualized instruction, relationship building, positive reinforcement, high expectations. When we celebrated that night, we toasted the educators he has on his team and the resources they have been able to engage on his behalf. I want kids with dyslexia everywhere to have these opportunities and from what I have learned from other parents, we are very fortunate.

A group of parent volunteers and teachers have spent thousands of hours at the Minnesota state Capitol attempting to get lawmakers to insist public schools provide kids with reading disabilities an equitable and appropriate education: Decoding Dyslexia Minnesota.

This week I sat before a Senate committee asking them to provide the Minnesota Department of Education a Dyslexia Specialist. We would like to see: early identification that avoids early school failure, classroom instruction in reading that incorporates strategies which will work for all learners, and grants for teachers to access professional development in Dyslexia.

They only appeared moved by this…

I’d like you to picture something you learned to do for the first time recently. Do you have any new hobbies? Professional skills? Anyone trying Twitter?

Now imagine your first attempts. Was the learning curve steep? Did you ever doubt your abilities when your colleagues learned faster? As you experienced success, did consistent progress keep you engaged?

At the beginning of 3rd grade my son was at the same reading level he was at when he entered kindergarten. If you had made no progress in 3 years, would you have kept going? Would you feel anxious? Depressed? Might you act out?

  • Nearly 1 in 5 people have Dyslexia. ​(Connecticut Longitudinal Study)
  • 50% of adjudicated youth tested were found to have undetected learning disabilities (National Institute for Literacy, 1998)
  • Approximately 80% of people with learning disabilities have Dyslexia which makes it the most common learning disability ​(American Academy of Pediatrics 2011)
  • 3rd grade reading proficiency scores can be used to predict the number of new beds needed in prisons 10 years hence ​(OhioHigherEd.org)

I am hopeful these upstream efforts will reduce the emotional burden of Dyslexia, especially for the most vulnerable kids who may or may not be identified because the expectations on their learning and behavior were unjustly low from the beginning. There’s no reason to let these kids fail when we have the tools available to enable their success. Despite limited resources, our child’s school is effectively supporting him. I can’t stop there. All these kids deserve to know that they have super powers.

 

Heavy hearts, hands full: what to say to children when the bully wins

I am sharing my Facebook update here from last night at 2am. I’m broadcasting it wider because I have had so many uplifting  “thank you’s,” “shares,” and comments since then. If I can bring a little light and solace today, it will warm my heavy heart:

It’s 1:57 and I’m thinking about what to tell my kids in the morning. Here’s the plan:
1) Trump is now our President but it does not make him your role model.
2) It is now, more than ever, important to be kind to others, respectful of women and inclusive to differences.
3) I told you love wins and now you are seeing someone who acts like a bully win. People pick bullies to protect them when they feel weak and afraid. If there are lots of people among us feeling that way, we have work to do.
4) Sometimes grown ups make mistakes. I think as grown ups we’ve made a mistake by giving an important job to someone who bullies others.
5) You are safe. It will be ok. The world is full of good people.*

*I am afraid for us all.

Yes, we have a ton of work to do.

img_0001 Hello this is Shawna and I am calling from the Hillary for President campaign. No I’m not a “jerk.” Nope not an “intruder.” No it’s not “illegal” to call at your kids’ bedtime but I feel your pain. Oh nice, you voted already? Woot Woot! Waited for 70 years? You cried? You’re crying again. Yes I understand. Yes I believe my grandmother would too. First time voting? Exciting! I hear you, but I’d still pick a candidate. Well, which one best aligns with your hopes for the future? Congratulations and thank you for choosing to vote! Standing Rock? I can imagine. So disheartened. Let me find out…Ok how about 9 volunteers Saturday morning? Meet you at Little Earth? Absolutely. Well, I suppose because I want to look back on the first campaign for a woman President and feel I was a part of it. I definitely think door knocking is still worthwhile. Minneapolis, yes, but it’s a big state. I believe her candidacy has merit–I’m not just voting against him. Yup. Totally understand. The emails concern me less than the lawsuits. No but I am raising boys. I don’t want to have to tell them our President is an inappropriate role model. Pot roast? No I can wait. Most important to me? Access to health care. I’ve been reading her policy for two weeks. His? A 10 minute read. Yes the whole thing. Do you know where to vote? How about this weekend? Vote early and the lines are shorter. No, legally your employer has to both allow you time and pay you for that time. I’m not kidding. It’s a misdemeanor. Yup. Text me and I’ll report them. Our kids’ school is a polling place and this is the first time I’ve ever wondered if they are safe there on voting day. Right? Sad. I’m glad we know more about our country now too. Yes, we have a ton of work to do. More than I’d hoped as well. Yes I’m with you. Yes I’m with her.

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I’m with her. No, really. I’m with her.

I get it, duck mom.

This morning I passed through my fence, lunch bag, brief case, computer bag, errand bag, birthday gift, dog leash (yes attached to dog), coffee cup (somehow) in hand, and reached the other side slathered in bird poop.

It was as if I traveled through a bird shit portal. So not J.K. Rowling-cool.

I ditched my stuff in my car and pursued my five-year-old on foot. He was picking flowers off our crab apple tree for his daycare “mom.”

That was the lovely moment. The one I will remember. The one that will lead me to say things to young moms when I am sixty like, “Oh, the days will go so fast. Cherish every moment.”

I washed off the poop at daycare and headed out for the day: this was 9 a.m.

Before that, I had checked my 11 y.o. child’s throat and breath for signs of strep (you know that smell), rummaged through piles of dirty laundry for pants skinny enough for my 8 y.o., and dressed and redressed that 5 y.o. cutie pie three times before he was satisfied, including face paint.

I also scrubbed the toilet naked and had to get back in the shower after my hair made contact with God-knows-what. I sent myself a mental note to scrub the toilet before showering in the future–as if I hadn’t already learned this twenty times over.

I plucked an unwieldy hair from my husband’s nose as he drank his coffee. So satisfying.

I clipped the 30 finger nails of said children.

And fed them chocolate cake for breakfast.

Yes I did. From a box.

I delayed: breakfast, vitamins, probiotics, skin care, exercise, hair-do and make up. Seriously, what else are the stoplights on Hiawatha for? Furthermore, what are those vents for if not blow drying?

After 9 a.m. I helped neighbor moms rescue some toads. I returned a run-away dog. I changed out of my white pants–who am I kidding? I dropped off  forgotten lunches and homework at school. I sent the emails for the important school committee thingy. I called my legislator and my mom and dad. They are all fine, aside from the Alzheimer’s and such.

As I approached my office, I saw a mama duck cross a busy street with seven ducklings. Once safe, she jumped up a six-inch embankment they could not mount. She did not look back. She fed herself in the grass on whatever ducks eat in grass.

In a few minutes, she jumped back down into the quacking fuzzy mess. They swarmed, and she led them away again.

I get it, duck mom.

By 9:30, I arrived at “work.” I put down my bags. I sipped coffee. I greeted co-workers that smelled good and had clean faces. I got an update on our hurdles for the day. I was very glad to step up to each and every one of them.

To women of my generation: so strong and able

I’m tired. My throat hurts. I’m scattered. Hungry. Irritated. Parking ticket kind of day.

I’m going home for cooking

I might stop for groceries.

I am going home for hugging and playing.

I might even do nothing

I dare you too.

Not to do list

  • I will not return phone calls
  • I will not return texts
  • I will not worry about, everything
  • I will not work (it never actually just takes a second)
  • I will not volunteer
  • I will not pay the bills
  • I will not make plans for October (in April)
  • I will not “want a new” anything
  • I will not pick up
  • I will not clean up
  • I will not catch up
  • I will not say “just a minute sweetie”
  • I will not even plant seeds, though it is time for spinach

I am going home.

There is something I have got to find.

Something I lost.

You too?

Join me.

I dare you.

 

This Gentle Helper

Photo on 1-16-16 at 10.04 AM“Mom, are you are a princess or a queen?”
“I’ll be the Queen. What is dad then?”
“He can be the Prince until you retire. Then he can be King.”
“Sounds fair.”
“And I am your Royal Wizard,” replies my enrobed seven-year-old.

He pulls out a satchel.

“I have here my wizarding goods. An extra wizard robe and hat. Two magic bandages. A pack of magic pills. Super magnifier. Enchanted sponge. Dark magic. Coconut oil. Mint oil. Wizard crystal. A flaming mirror. A bonker. An oil I made – you should smell it. Petrified wood. Enchanted petrified stone. A cork. Fire in a bottle. And last but not least, flexipotion. If I attach this to the medicine and my ears, it will warm me up.”

His collection is adapted from my childhood Fisher Price doctor kit. He appears to equate wizardry with healing. I inquire further, “what are your plans for our kingdom, Royal Wizard?”

“I am thinking I could help those homeless refugees. Fresh food, fresh water, fire in a bottle and some other potions. A house in a box. You need magic. Unfold it. Tap it with a wand, say “pigtail” and out pops the house.”

What would the Queen do without her Royal Wizard?

It is zero degrees outside today with a -20 degree “real feel.” We are discomforted only by the cancelation of plans to ski. We do not anticipate homelessness, ever, for ourselves or our offspring. We have no need of wizard’s work. But this wizard has big plans.

Across the globe, other families do need his help. They are homeless and growing colder everyday. Or they are in refugee camps. Some are housed among inhospitable neighbors and cannot find work. Others have faired better and are creating new lives. But they are not home. It is unlikely they will ever go home. According to World Vision, “the crisis in Syria affects more than 12 million people,” well beyond the scope of a seven-year old Royal Wizard.

Yet he doesn’t turn his back. He’s thinking, “what could I do?”

O that men like this gentle helper, who saved a wounded man and treated as his neighbour an unknown stranger, may be found all over the world.
Disease is spreading, war is stalking, famine reigns far and wide.
But when one mortal relieves another like this, charity springing from pain unites them.

This prose, translated from Latin to English, is lifted from Benjamin Britten’s Cantata Misericordium and tells the story of the Good Samaritan. In September, I listened over the shoulder of my choir director as he played the haunting chords and read to me from this score. Our choir, MacPhail Center for Music’s adult ensemble, Sonomento, had just begun rehearsing this piece for our January 31st concert. It was the week stories of children drowning and boats capsizing and families walking hundreds of miles began to break our hearts. Through wet eyes, I said, “This is about Syria.” He agreed. “You know who our neighbor is…” He looked up, uncertain where I was headed. “The American Red Cross. We can’t sing this without singing for them.” Surprised, Craig revealed, “Britten actually composed this Cantata for the 100th anniversary of the International Red Cross in 1963.”

In that moment, the opportunity to do something on the behalf of the refugees presented itself to us. MacPhail sits a few short blocks from the American Red Cross in Minneapolis. The International Red Cross has been tirelessly involved in refugee relief efforts across Europe, the Middle East and the United States. Our January concert became a collaboration between MacPhail and the International Red Cross.

Music is not a house in a box, but it has magical healing properties, bringing people together and expressing what we fall short of in words.

Misericordia translates, “mercy.” The Cantata concludes,

Who your neighbour is, now you know.
Go and do likewise.

Be a gentle helper. Consider a donation to the Red Cross. Learn more about the crisis. Consider volunteering on behalf of refugee families in Minnesota with a church based or nonprofit program.

And on Sunday, January 31st at 7pm in Minneapolis, come hear us sing for our neighbors near and far.

Aliens are eating the moon

11707549_10153466072893762_5651498996068497509_n6:30 in the morning: The room is dark. I attempt to fish earrings out of my jewelry (and miscellaneous junk) box. I get one on and the other’s backing will not take hold. I peek at it in the light of the glowing alarm. It’s not an earring backing. It is someone’s baby tooth.

Parenthood is so weird.

At a recent interview: My interviewer, a pregnant thirty-something in a nice maternity suit, asks me about the “five year blank” in my resume. I tell her I was home full time with my kids, but as she can see, I chaired committees, fundraised thousands of dollars, spoke professionally at hearings and rallies, wrote a blog, coached, managed, scheduled, entertained, taught, multi-tasked, created, evaluated, led and negotiated like a boss during that time. She responds, “It’s not that I don’t respect what you were doing, it’s that while you had the privilege of taking time off, other people were working hard.”

Parenthood is so easy.

An hour into my workday: My boys’ school calls me to retrieve my sick son. Two of three have thrown up in the past week–it is his destiny. We make it home. He has the best aim of all of them–I am weary of scrubbing and grateful he is last. We read some Magic Treehouse. I snuggle kids with sore throats and fevers. I do not snuggle pukers. I make up for it with Sprite on crushed ice and a straw, popsicles, saltines and unlimited screen time. Until he actually felt sick, I am pretty sure this kid was jealous of sick 1 and sick 2. He’s attempted fake-sick everyday since I first made jello. We get a nice rotation going of couch, porcelain, shower, couch. After a long rest and two vomit-free hours, my husband takes over while I go for a run. Upon my return, he is quite proud of getting a full glass of water into the child. Post run and shower, I approach the bed to check my cutie-pie’s temp. He projectile voms a full glass of water and orange jello straight onto my chest and down to my feet.

Parenthood is a puke train.

I am singing my favorite song. My youngest starts to sing along with me. “Mom, do you want to be a rocket star when you grow up?” I say, “Yes–of course.” He inhales sharply, “You can sing and play your guitar and I can play my…” he trails off and returns strumming his ukulele. We sing. He stops thoughtfully and looks at me; “Wait but mom you already growed up and you are not a rocket star.” He suggests that if I make my hair crazier, perhaps I could still be a rocket star. He asks, “what are you then?” I say, “I sing in a choir. I am a mom. I write and I work for schools.” He says, “That is so sad.”

Parenthood–damn. I’m doing my best here, small man.

After a long week home with sick kids, I take the dog for a walk. I generally follow the rules but it is about as good a day for bending them as I’ve had in awhile. No one is around–I let her off leash. She runs toward the willow fort the neighborhood daycare kids built. She poops just outside the door. I realize I’ve forgotten a bag so I pick it up with two large leaves. Even green leaves crumble in the fall. Dangit. It is then I realize two things. One, I do have a bag. And two, she pooped on a dead squirrel. What the hell? Unfortunately, I care about the daycare kids. Dangit dangit. The thing has adhered to the ground in some sections so I have to dig a little with a stick. I first decapitate it (not my intention). Bit by bit I bag the squirrel. I have not flinched nor faltered. The doorway of the willow fort is clear.

Parenthood is so rewarding.

The school district sends home a letter: “If your child misses three more days of school this semester…asking you to be responsible…could result in a hearing…your child’s education is important to us.”

Parenthood is gratifying.

I wake up to my eleven-year-old making pancakes before school this morning. He tells a joke I genuinely get and we laugh. Later, his best friend stops by while biking home (alone) from the library–wait–didn’t I just pull you two there in a wagon last week? I can’t keep up. I secretly liked it when my son was sick and we watched big-kid movies and played monopoly all day. He now smirks during movies when there are scenes with girls. We’ve talked about “stuff” including whether he relates to those moments? Yes, he says, but it seems unrealistic that boys in movies never have boyfriends and girls in movies never have girlfriends. How would someone feel? Whoa–empathy–didn’t you just learn to share toys?

Parenthood is ephemeral.

We are outside under an eclipsing moon. As it grows darker my “baby,” age four, reaches up as far as he can stretch. “Pickle me up” he says because he knows I cannot resist. When I situate him about my waist, he has to stretch himself down to my shoulder to rest his head. I hold him a little lower. I think, trying not to think, I can barely hold him. Arms shaking slightly as we stand very still, I ask him what he thinks of the eclipse. He says, “aliens are eating the moon. Let’s go inside.”

Parenthood is heavy.

A friend shares with me decisions she’s untangling about her career and upcoming changes. She exhales and gestures toward her daughter who is laughing with her friends one hundred feet away. “You know, at the center of so many choices I make is something that is constantly changing and will someday, “poof,” leave my home forever. It goes faster than I ever expected.” I relate. “Poof:” it will feel like a fleeting shadow to have woven an entire career, lifestyle, finances, emotions and even our physical space around. If I am the moon, they are the aliens.

Parenthood is being eaten alive.

Our children come along and make everything look as different as night and day. But they never stand still. In practically the same moment we are eclipsed, we reappear.

Parenthood is knowing the moon will survive.

Eleven Years of Tennyson

Last week I asked my oldest son to complete a chore with me. As he jumped from foot to foot on hot concrete, flies swarmed around us. He offered, “it’s stinky over here,” and “perhaps what you need, mom, is a kitchen shears instead of garden pruners.” But he stayed with me, humming, hopping and smiling. We finished the project, high fived and walked into the shade. He put his arm around me and said, “That was fun.” I laughed as tears rose in my eyes. He noticed, “Mom—how could that possibly choke you up?”

I have witnessed him accomplish remarkable things in eleven years that made me feel proud: piano recitals, choir performances, artwork, inventions, brotherly kindness, acts of compassion. But, I have never felt more optimistic a great future lies before him than when we cut the ropes off our old baby swing together next to the stinky garbage can on a simmering summer day.

Tenny is bright and likable. He has a winsome smile and an easy way with people. He excels in school and inventing things. He is a creative and quick learner. But resilience and willingness to face adversity will do more for him than any talent born or nurtured. I summed up my tears; “I am just so happy for you.”

Which, of course, made him giggle all the more. His giggle renders me weak at the knees with love and adoration. One of my favorite advances in our relationship this year is laughing together. We suddenly seem to crack each other up. Raising Tenny has been one of the greatest gifts of my life. I was prepared to miss each stage as he grew (ok not all of them). What I was not prepared for was how much more interesting, fun and unpredictable he is at every age.

Furthermore, how could there be a pre-teen living in my house? How could he know more than me about computers? And pancake batter? Solar power? How could this be the same little guy who could not sleep anywhere but attached to his parents his first eighteen months? How could he so surprise me? I once knew him better than he knew himself. Everyday, Tenny is less and less kid and more and more his unique self.

IMG_7824We have engaged a tradition for our boys called the “Ten Year Trip.” Instead of a birthday party or gift, they will each choose (within reason) a destination. Tennyson’s selection was an overnight Amtrak trip with mom. He did not care about the destination; only that we slept at least two nights on the train. It speaks volumes of him that he selected a timeworn journey with a balance of exploration and quiet. We had a remarkably good time on our ramble from Seattle to St. Paul, he in awe of the train itself and me in awe of my companion.

This is what the five of us had to share about Tenny at his eleventh birthday dinner:

“He is a great brother.”

“He makes me feel special.”

“He is adventurous.”

“He is confident.”

“He gives great hugs.”

As he said to me earlier this year, “Do you know what I try to do? I try to be optimistic. Just let it roll. Don’t fight the current.” After eleven years of Tennyson, I am certain of one thing. No matter where or how he lands, Tenny will find adventure and purpose in every leap forward.