Thoughts on a Snowy Day

“Stormaggedon?” Hardly.

Woke up this morning with both kids and the dog in bed with us, excited beyond words about the prospect of a day at home with mom AND dad AND no school!  Woof.

It’s almost over now. A pork pie is simmering in the oven, scenting the kitchen with rosemary and garlic. The picnic table on the back deck glistens with a thick blanket of white stuff; the birds all but disappear as they land to pick up the bits of bread scattered across the table top. They look cold, but clearly hunger is more compelling than warmth.

The kids storm in from outside, pink-cheeked and exuberant. Maddy’s muzzle is white from diving into snowbanks for her precious tennis balls. She flops on the towel near my feet to pick the ice out from between her toes, then jumps up to go out again as soon as the kids warm up. After about three hours of this, the kids finally have had enough, and gobble a plate of nachos while I scronk Christopher at Monopoly. Finally they retreat to their rooms to (imagine this!) read a couple of chapters before dinnertime.

Not the most productive day of my week … but I’m sure this feeling of contentment will stay with me.

Thank God for snow days!

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For Parents Who Wait: St. Thomas More, Patron of Adopted Kids

The other day a friend of mine was asking me about St. Thomas More, the patron saint of adopted and foster children. His feast day is June 22 — but as Advent is a time of “waiting,” and adoptive and foster parents are prone to wait, I thought I’d share this little true story with you today.

Before our children came to us, Craig and I visited London and saw the Tower where St. Thomas was held prisoner by Henry VIII. As part of the tour, the guard took us to the crypt where the head of St. Thomas was interred. Craig and I knelt before the ornate box that bore St. Thomas’ name, and asked the saint to pray for us, and for our children’s angels to protect them until it was time for us to receive them.

Watching us silently for a few moments, the guard finally admitted that the head wasn’t in the box – that to protect it against vandals, it had been buried in a space in the wall behind us. I placed my hand on the wall, and told St. Thomas that if we had a son, he would be named Thomas.

As it turned out, Craig later admitted that he wanted his son named after HIM, or at least to have his initials, and I honored his request … But Christopher knows he has his confirmation name already picked out for him!

Foster and adoptive parents need to be especially flexible and open to changes to “the plan.” And yet, like St. Thomas, we also need to be prepared to stand for truth, and to guard against the negative influences of society. As foster parents, we are often called upon to mitigate the negative effects of our children’s early experiences. Loving discipline, combined with large doses of patience (of which I am naturally in short supply, but God provides!), will help to ensure that however rocky their beginnings, our children will blossom to become God originally created them to be.

Photo credit: This image is available for purchase here.

The Ghostly Minds of Middle-School Boys

This morning I took a carful of fifth graders to the Detroit Science Museum. I didn’t know any of them well (apart from my son, that is). And so I was a bit floored when the two sitting immediately behind me started talking about the fact that they regularly hear things going “bump” in the night. If you catch my meaning.

One of them, who happened to be from another faith tradition, lost his father a few years ago as well as several other male relatives. The other was Catholic, and said that he regularly wakes up hearing someone walking up and down the stairs outside his room. Even though no one is there.

My son has told me from time to time he’ll wake up and sense that someone is in the room. So he tells his guardian angels to protect him, pulls the covers over his head, and goes back to sleep. I’m starting to wonder if this is a middle-school thing, something in the development of their brains.

I was a little floored at first, knowing what to say to the child who had lost his father. He has a teenage brother, and it sounds as though the two boys are often on their own as the mother supports the family alone. He mentioned that he regularly sees movies and television programs that are … well, let’s just say the content is more mature than I’d want my 10-year-old to see.

This boy didn’t really know me, and I was pretty sure if I just said, “Don’t WATCH stuff like that. It will rot your brain!” He wouldn’t listen — and it wouldn’t really help. Nor did I think his mother would appreciate my issuing an altar call right there on the freeway. So I racked my brain for something that would be consistent with his world view.

“Sweetie, you must miss your dad so much, and it must be comforting to think of him right there beside you. He will always be a part of you, living right inside your heart. And I think if he were here right now, he would want you to focus on what a gift life is, and to enjoy the good things every single day.

“You know, sometimes I have scary thoughts at night, and I let my imagination get away with me, thinking about the future. When that happens, I ask my guardian angel to help me, and to bring my prayers straight to God. I know for a fact that all three of the great monotheistic religions believe in angels — Hagar and Ismael, Abraham and Isaac, the stories of the apostles, all of them include stories of God’s messengers who intervene when we need it. Maybe next time you feel scared or worried, this little prayer might help you.” Then I taught them all the “Angel of God” prayer.

“Thanks, Mrs. Saxton. I like that — I’ll try it.”

“One more thing. Have you ever considered why some movies are labeled ‘R’, so that you have to be 17 or with your parent to see them? Or why some movies are PG-13? Your brain is developing really quickly right now, and some images are so powerful that they can be permanently etched in your mind, and not in a good way. If you’re having trouble sleeping, and find yourself often thinking about dark things — death, and demons, and ghosts — then you really need to watch what you are feeing your brain. That means making grown-up decisions about what kind of movies you watch with your brother. That way you can be in charge of your thoughts and your dreams.”

Both boys got quiet on that one. I wondered how much their parents knew about their viewing habits. Clearly they both had a lot of time on their hands without supervision … and so someone needed to encourage them to think like little adults, instead of sneaky children.

This little boy had been through so much. He needed someone to give him permission to be a child as long as possible.

Heavenly Father, watch over all the children in my community whose parents aren’t there to influence their daily choices and habits. Give these children wisdom beyond their years, to protect their hearts from the evil one and his schemes. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!

When Good Parents Make Tough Choices

The other day I came across this post from Michelle at Scribbit, telling of how she and her husband had decided to move their middle-school son from his chosen school back to the school his siblings were attending.  It was a tough decision, and one that was not going to be welcomed by their son . . . and yet they realized that good parenting sometimes means making the tough calls.  I especially appreciated her five parenting guidelines:

1.  Observe, interact, and love. Not necessarily in that order.

2.  Kids need reasons. (Besides, “Because I said so.”)

3.  Tackle problems early on — don’t procrastinate hoping it’ll go away.

4.  Remember that positive outcomes come from painful experiences.

5.  Don’t be afraid to make hard calls — it’s what you’re “paid” to do.

I could totally relate to her story. Although my kids are younger than Michelle’s, I’ve already had to make these tough calls on more than one occasion:  an association with a neighbor kid whose knowledge of “birds and bees” was far more developed than I could stomach. The time we had their sister placed in another home. The time I had Sarah get blood drawn, even after I’d mistakenly told her that she wasn’t getting a shot that day. (The effects of the last one were not as far-reaching, but the immediate unpleasantness was just as bad.)

Down the line, the results of these choices may turn out to be better or worse than anticipated. Chris finds it hard to make friends, at least partly because he’s worried that the attachment won’t last for long (not unreasonable, since he has already lost one set of parents, two siblings, and several friends). Their sister, however, has turned out to be a beautiful young woman who has positively thrived in her new home. And the iron levels in Sarah’s blood, it turns out, were absolutely normal (that  is, she didn’t need the blood draw). 

Which brings me to one more guideline of my own creation, to add to Michelle’s original five:  Once you’ve made a call, don’t second-guess yourself. Just ask God to help you make the best decision possible, with all the information you have. Then leave that choice in God’s hands, knowing that — for better or worse — you have done the best job you knew how, to be the best parent you could be. In the end, that’s all any of us can do.

Lord, sometimes our world is very black and white. Other times, there are seas of gray.
Help us be faithful, in good times and bad. Grant us courage to love and obey.

When Good Kids Do Bad Things

Last weekend Craig and I took some friends to the Halloween party of our kids’ godparents. It’s an annual event, and Katy and Todd spend weeks getting all the stations set up throughout the woods bear their house. We’ve enjoyed it so much, we wanted to share the experience with this family, too.

It’s two parties, actually — a kid-friendly one during the daytime, with a scarier version (complete with spooky soundtrack) in the evening for the exchange students in the area. Unfortunately, when Todd when went to check the sound that afternoon for the evening party, he discovered his MP3 player was missing.

Long story short, one of the kids had swiped the player. His mother found it in his bedroom two days later.

Yes, there were extenuating circumstances. Still, this was a “teachable moment” of monumental proportions.

What would you do in a circumstance like this?

I remember swiping a handful of candy from the corner drugstore when I was the same age as these kids are now.  My parents made me pay for it out of money I earned by doing a MOUNTAIN of chores. I had to put the money in the manager’s hand, and told him what I had done.  And that man, bless him, asked me why I did it, and whether it was worth embarrassing myself and my parents this way. Then he said something to me that guaranteed that I would never do anything like that ever again:

“You are old enough to decide what kind of person you want to be – for good, or for bad.  Bad choices have a way of snowballing into WORSE choices later; each time you make a bad choice, it becomes harder and harder to hear the little voice inside that tells you right from wrong.   

“Now, everybody makes mistakes, and this is yours. I hope you will remember this moment, and promise yourself NEVER to let something like this happen again. Your parents didn’t raise you this way and you know better. It’s time to grow up.”

What would you do, if your child stole something?

When Choices Spiral out of Control

These past few months I’ve been working with a local family, trying to help them gain some control of their lives. One member, “Dan,” is a 21 year old male, has a daughter and a record. But he is also working toward his GED and had a job interview this week … until he missed a meeting with his PO and got 90 days.

“Dan’s” mom is heartbroken. “Out of my three boys, he’s the one I thought would make it. When the police showed up (years ago) to say my son had been arrested, I thought they were kidding me. Not Dan. I knew he was hanging around with this one guy, a bad guy. But I never thought it would come to this.”  Bad guy (who already had a record) talked Dan into carrying the drugs for him; Dan needed money — and got the time. So missing an appointment with the parol officer has far-reaching, serious consequences.

As a mother, I can appreciate how impulsive choices — wrong choices — early on can have devastating, life-long consequences in the lives of youth whose decision-making faculties are not yet fully formed (or who did not benefit from the positive role models that are essential to good moral formation).

This is not to say young people should not be held responsible for the choices they make. Recently at AnnArbor.com, I wrote this article about how the little rules we allow children to break when they are small can have far-reaching consequences. The comments I received (as you can see) are pretty evenly split. Some thought it was much ado about nothing — but other parents got it.

And so, when my kids came home, I talked with them about our friend Dan. We drive by two prisons on our way to school every day, so the kids understand the concept of “jail.” I told them that Dan would not be working on the yard this week — that he was in prison because he made some bad choices.

“What did he do?” Christopher wanted to know.

“Well … It all started because he made a bad friend, who encouraged him to do something he knew was wrong. And he needed money, so he made a very bad choice.”

“Why did he need money?”

“He stopped going to school and couldn’t get a good job. And he has a daughter whose mommy needs money to take care of her.”  As you might expect, this raised a whole new set of questions, which I fielded as discretely as I could.

“We’re sad for our friend, and we need to ask God to take care of him while he’s in jail. But what I want you to remember is how important it is to make GOOD friends who encourage you to make GOOD choices. And I want you to remember to thank God every day for your school, and for a family who loves you no matter what. Every day that you go to school and do your best, you make us proud.”

Lord, please watch over my friend today. He was just starting to dig his way out of some very bad choices. Help him not to be discouraged, but to be even more determined to turn his life around. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Where has Heidi been?

Hello!  Did you think I’d gone away?  It’s been almost a month since the last time I posted, which as you probably know is not the best thing for a blogger to do. Tends to diminish traffic considerably.

However (and I suspect many moms can relate to this), there are times when life kind of takes over and squeezes out all the “extras.” This, compounded by the fact that I’ve been dealing with some things in my own life that — until I had processed them a bit — I didn’t feel ready to write about.  Even now, I’m not sure it’s “soup yet,” but as someone pointed out to me recently, I tend to be someone who processes things best in writing. So here goes.

Some weeks ago, I met up with a young woman and her five adorable children. The “how” is less important than the fact that she and her family have gotten me thinking a great deal about how we as a society treat the poor and marginalized in our society. On the surface, “Sherry” is someone who made some bad choices early in life, which are still weighing her down.  She has no job, few resources, no car . . . and her friends and family have precious little to spare.

She loves her kids. She dresses the warmly, and feeds them even when she herself is not eating. She has shown great ingenuity in finding public resources to pay for food and shelter. But without a car, even the simplest task such as registering the children for school becomes an exercise in frustration. Her two cousins moved closer to her, to help her out . . . but neither of them has been able to find work, and one of them is still trying to get his GED.

Now for the part I’ve been trying to figure out:  What does charity (in the best sense of the word) look like in this situation? My own resources are not infinite, my time is also limited … and, as cute as they are, these children and their family are not my responsibility. So, what is the Christian response?

Surely not, “Well, she made this mess … let her clean it up herself!” (I’ve heard that one already.)

Possibly, “Let her ask you for what she needs.” (Which allows her to control her situation — but could create an unhealthy dependency.)

Possibly, “Just be a friend, and listen.” (This is easier than it sounds, when you find five children living in a trailer with empty cupboards that reeks of feral cat urine.)

This is a situation long on drama and short on answers, I know. Even as I write this, I keep coming back to the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall inherit the earth.” Jesus always expressed a preference for the poor, the fatherless and the outcast. He especially loved the children.

At times like this, I wish I could sit down with Blessed Mother Teresa (our priest gave a homily about her life today, tying it in with the parable of the mustard seed and the faithful servant). When she looked around and saw those hundreds of children who could not be adequately cared for, how did she prioritize?  In a word . . . she kept her eyes on Jesus.  Each day was an opportunity to dispense moments of grace. She could not solve the problem entirely. Some could argue that she was unable even to put an appreciable dent in the need.

But oh, how she loved. “Do small things with great love,” she’d say.

Lord, let me be like that.