Friday, August 15, 2014

The Summer I Failed

I work in several elementary schools. At the close of every school year, in the midst of chaos and joy and tears and hugs, the same question is always asked.

“What are you going to do over summer break?”

Ah, summer break. How I love thee. Let me count the ways.

So I answer, “Not much!” And what I really mean is, I’ll spend time with the kids ENJOYING THE BREAK. And my role will be to…
  • Entertain - trips to the library, movies, swim lessons,  Museum of Discovery, zoo – this is how the kids have fun and the mom keeps her sanity
  •  Educate – I have one child who has to have a detailed schedule of every day full of learning activities. I have another who doesn’t want to hold a pencil and write his name… even though he can. So we were in for a summer of educational enrichment.
  •  Referee – they’re 7 and 4 years old and both have strong personalities. You figure it out.
  • Relax – in the air conditioning, by the pool/lake – whatever it takes to beat the heat in Arkansas
As I type this, my summer break has been over for a week. And based on the above list, I failed. Pretty miserably, actually.

So what happened? Well, foster care training, CPR classes, appointments, walkthroughs, homework, paperwork, and home repairs happened. Then co-coordinating a VBS with only a 30 day notice happened. But what really made the summer interesting was a purchase. You see, there was this house – good price, good location, good potential if you could see past MANY, MANY necessary repairs. There was a family that needed a place to rent.  And there was an idea – what if we buy the house, renovate it, and rent it? Solid idea. What could possibly go wrong?! Well one thing - due to some holdups in the foreclosure process, we were left with exactly 4 weeks to completely gut, reconstruct and remodel the house before the family moved in. And there was the fact that there was no electricity. And no air conditioning. Sign on this line. And sold!

I want to preface the rest of this post by saying that I have ZERO regrets in doing any of these above things. We are truly excited about starting the foster care journey. VBS was ridiculously fun and I am still filled with love and gratitude for the many people that gave of their time, talents and energy to make it a success. And words can’t describe how much I enjoyed demolishing walls in a house. It was truly awesome.

But all of that did drastically change our summer. Instead of the kids being the center of my attention, they got to do a lot of tagging along. They had to sit and watch and wait. They had to play by themselves and (heaven forbid) play together.  They had to find ways to entertain themselves in a house with no air conditioning and no internet (oh, the horrors). And instead of trips to the pool, library, and zoo, my kids got trips to Home Depot, Lowes, and hours upon hours at a halfway constructed house.

But while covered in sweat, drywall dust, and paint, I started to realize something. The summer had NOT turned out as planned. But it wasn’t all lost either.
  • Instead of being constantly entertained, the kids learned to entertain themselves and to play together. A Lego city was built, drywall houses were constructed for action heroes, Frozen sing-alongs were belted out, jokes were told, Playdoh animals were created and plays were directed.
  •  Instead of working on reading levels and fine motor skills, the kids learned to cut drywall, use a sledgehammer to knock out a wall, paint trim, pull staples from a floor, and run a shop vac.
  •  Instead of having mom constantly intervene to break up fights, the kids learned to work things out for themselves. They compromised in ways I’ve never seen them do and also figured out when it was time to just get away. And when the rocky times were over, they played together for hours.
  •  Instead of relaxing in comfort, the kids learned what it really felt like to not have air conditioning and electricity... if only for a short while. They learned that hard work really does pay off – even sweaty, nasty, painful hard work.
Now it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. There was weeping and gnashing of teeth.  There were punishments – watching paint dry is no longer just a saying in our house. There was some yelling – from the children, of course. And also from me. There was even one time when my sanity was on the brink and so I shut the door and scraped a floor loudly so that I couldn’t hear the fighting. I only resurfaced later to make sure there was no blood. There wasn’t. And out of despair, I let Paxton watch Monsters vs. Aliens one too many times – as evidenced by his reciting of his favorite line, “Uh, set the terror level at Code Brown because I need to change my pants.” (Insert hysterical laughter)

But in the end, it was an adventure that none of us will ever forget. And I learned some important lessons as well. I learned that my kids are resilient and tough. I learned that when I get the “mom guilt” feeling that tells me I failed because I didn’t give my kids every last comfort this world has to offer, I may actually be giving them something better. And I learned that the best lessons I can teach the kids are often when I don’t say anything.
When asked what they thought about the summer, one child said it was “Awesome”. The other said it was the “Best Summer Ever”. 

So there you go. The bar has been set. Watch out, next summer. We may just have to fail again!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

My Rant

I know you’re all waiting on pins and needles to hear what I have to say. Because really, a 30-something year old wife and mother who is ranting about something? That NEVER happens. But alas, you will have to be a little patient because I have to address a very pressing issue first…

Yes, this is my blog. Yes, I’ve neglected it for 3 years now.  Yes, I’m sorry. My few sweet friends who “followed” my blog are turning on their computers right now and thinking they’ve been hacked because a blog post from this blog address showed up in their feeds.  Unbelievable, I know.  I really did like to blog back in the day. But then I entered the interesting and extremely weird world of Facebook. And let’s be honest – it’s just faster.  Throw up a picture, make a sarcastic comment and BAM – done.

So why return to the blog? Because this rant simply can’t be contained in a few characters on Facebook. This is something that has bothered me for some time now and I feel the need to fully sort through it by writing it down. This isn’t necessarily meant to inspire anyone or state a truth that no one has ever discovered before. It’s more of my release; my catharsis, if you will; and my resolve. And as a result, it’s also… wait for it… the Return of the Bowsman Family Blog. {dum, dum, dum!}

So let’s get to the rant already. What am I ranting about? For a long time, I’ve referred to this as a “ridiculous sense of entitlement in our world”. I saw it everywhere and it drove me crazy. I saw it in adults on the road who cut me off at the last minute when the lane ended even though the “Merge Now” sign was TWO MILES BACK. I saw it when our church hosted a FREE DINNER for our community and a woman got upset and flat-out belligerent  because we ran out of chocolate cookies and she had to settle for a vanilla one.  And I saw it in kids that I worked with in the schools who could not handle it if they did not get EXACTLY THEIR WAY, THE SECOND THEY WANTED IT.

A defining moment in my career came at the hands of one of these kids. One of my first years in the schools, I was called in to do “social skills” with a kid who had a massive meltdown anytime he did not get to be first in line, first to the carpet, first to a center, first to the bathroom, etc. And when I say meltdown, I don’t mean he pouted or quietly cried in the corner. He screamed, hit, kicked, threw, cursed, bit. You know the term “ankle biter”? He actually bit an ankle one time. It was fantastic. So he and I met often and we practiced social skills such as “waiting your turn” and “accepting the word no”. We went far beyond the 75 positive practices that a kid should get to internalize a skill. We used pictures. We used words. We recited. We role played. We modeled. We went in the classroom, the gym, the cafeteria, the hallway and we practiced until it made me nauseous to think about practicing again. Then later that afternoon, I would get an email detailing the fit he threw less than an hour after I dropped him off because he did not get his way. As I was closing in on my breaking point, I had the rare opportunity to meet his mother. And suddenly it all made sense. In a thirty minute conference, this woman made demands of the school that I could never have fathomed, cursed us out for implying that her kid would ever do anything wrong, blamed every person and entity for the behavior her child was exhibiting and threatened to call a lawyer, the state department, and finally George W. Bush (because we were leaving her child behind, of course). Light bulb moment for me:  maybe this problem wasn’t something this and other “out of control” kids were born with – maybe it was what they were learning. And they were learning it from the adults.

This may be an extreme example, but it’s not that extreme. It’s a prevalent mentality.  We live in a world filled with entitlement. And it crosses all lines – socio-economic, gender, racial, religious. We have much and we expect much. I’d like to say I was immune to it. But I’d be lying. I expect things. Electricity, a working car, clean water, prompt service at restaurants, and the blasted home button on my iphone to work (don’t even get me started). So I’ve come to a conclusion.  It’s not really WHAT we feel entitled to. It’s what we DO when we don’t get those things. Do we pout, yell, call names, blame others? Do we leap mosh-pit style, kicking and swinging, into group of grown men who are cheering for an opposing team? Do we sue someone for everything they’re worth…and more? What is our reaction?

Because our reaction does matter.  I’ve worked in the public schools now for 9 years. I’ve encountered a lot of parents who feel that their kids are entitled to a particular program, intervention, or way of teaching. And guess what? Many of them are right. But the interesting part has been watching the reaction of the teachers to these parents. It hasn’t seemed to make a difference whether the teacher is young, old, new, experienced, strong, weak, knowledgeable, or completely caught off guard. What HAS mattered has been the way a parent has approached the teacher about the problem. There are parents who come in grateful to the teacher for what they’ve done, desperately wanting to work together to fill in any gaps, and open to any suggestions that could help their child. And those are the teachers that have bent over backward to help the child. I know teachers who have spent hours of their own time researching strategies, attending professional development sessions (even paying their own way), and tutoring during their lunches, planning times, and before and after school hours. All for ONE child. It’s truly awe inspiring. But for the parents that come in angry, making demands and blaming anyone with any relation to the school for their child’s difficulties? The teachers of those kids do exactly what is outlined on the formal plan…and not much more.

I’ve been blessed with four of the most amazing grandparents (this relates – stick with me). I recently asked my grandmother to record a challenge in her life and I’m going to give you a short summary here to sum this rant up. Mema was born during the Great Depression. When she was two years old, she had a freak accident that left her with severe blood poisoning and then osteomyelitis in her leg. Multiple times, doctors said she would not survive. She had several surgeries and “drainings” between the ages of two and five. When she was five years old, she was admitted to the Scottish Rite Hospital. Her parents had to leave her there alone (hospital rules) and travel back home…many hours away. FIVE YEARS OLD, people. She remembers watching her mother literally drag her father off of the grounds of the hospital because he was crying so hard. She saw her mother for 2 hours every Sunday during visitation through the entire summer but spent the remainder of the time in a bed alone or having the bone in her leg scraped to get rid of the decay. This continued every summer of her childhood. She had her leg purposely broken to straighten it, her ankle fused, and her “good” leg operated on to stop the growth. Feeling sorry for her?  I should also mention that she learned to play baseball (on crutches), played in the school marching band, was the valedictorian of her high school, and was a member of the Tyler Jr College “Apache Belle” dance team in college. She married, had two children, got her bachelor’s and master’s degrees and taught school for 23 years.  This woman has more energy at 80 than I have now, even as she works through what has now been a lifelong pain in her legs and feet. And if you ask her about the Scottish Rite Hospital, she’ll tell you that they saved her life. There is no bitterness. She and my Papa were recently interviewed by their local newspaper about their many moves (17, I think) and countless travels. The last paragraph of the article reads, “’We’ve been happy wherever we’ve lived,’ Margaret said. ‘It does not matter. You have two choices in life, you can be happy, or you can be unhappy. We’ve decided to be happy, and that’s worked well for us.’”

I don’t know if this entitlement thing is new to our generation or not. I’m guessing not. But I am fearful of how I’m seeing my generation respond when relatively minor things go wrong. And I’m fearful for what we’re teaching our children with those responses.  Of course, I know I can’t control the world. But I can control me. And I can try hard to teach my kids by setting an example that they’ll want to remember. So instead of just ranting about it, here are a few things I’m committing to work on…
  • I will not get sucked in by the advertisements that say I need the newest and best of everything. Unless there is a new phone that can cook dinner or fold laundry, I’m out. I’ve tried to simplify my life lately and it takes far more effort than just mindlessly consuming. But I will give the effort. Because maybe the less I have, the less I’ll expect. 
  •  I will not get concerned when my kids complain because they don’t have something that EVERYONE ELSE does. I will, instead, silently pat myself on the back. Job well done. 
  •  I will realize that while my kids are everything to me, they are one of many in a classroom, on a team or in a group. So I will not lament when the teacher or coach doesn’t see everything I see. I will instead thank them for dedicating their time and effort to children they did not bring into this world, but love enough to work with. 
  •  When my kids don’t get what they want and throw the fit to end all fits, I will stand strong - even when I am beyond tired and don’t feel strong. Because if they don’t learn NOW that a fit doesn’t get them what they want, when will they learn it??? 
  •  I will remind myself often that this world does not revolve around ME. Not everyone has to ask my opinion, do things the way I do it, or like what I like. I’ll do my best to roll with that.
  • When I’m relying on someone else to do something and they don’t, I will practice what I preach to the kids I work with. I will take a deep breath and count to 10. And I will use “nice words” when I speak.
Most importantly, I’m going to start taking my Mema’s advice. I’m going to decide to be happy despite the circumstances.  When things I think I’m entitled to don’t work out, I can still be content. And maybe, just maybe, the list of things I think I have to have will lessen and that contentment will come even easier.  

To those of you who have stuck with me through this ridiculously long rant (yes, both of you); please keep me accountable to what I’ve just resolved to do. And in return, I promise not post another blog this long…ever. :)