Goodbye, Esther. With Love.

Tonight, I held my eldest son in my lap, my 7-year-old big boy, as I let him know that his beloved pet tarantula had passed away. My boy burrowed against me, burying his face into me as I squeezed him tight and he cried. And I held him. And he cried.
Man. Man oh man. This was rough. For the first time in my life, I 100% understood why people lie to their kids about dying pets. Looking at that curled up spider was heartbreaking. But thinking that we had to tell our little boy about it, well, it was completely devastating.

I mean, we'd suspected something was coming. We weren't sure (we hoped she was just building toward a molt), but the spider's behavior had changed. Did you know a spider's behavior could change? She was definitely different, sluggish and skittish. So we had started talking to our son about it. Esther is acting different, Buddy. She might not be okay right now.

My little boy hasn't felt death before tonight. And as it turns out, his exposure to video games hasn't desensitized him to it. This was his first taste of real, permanent loss. And he felt the loss of that little furry spider about as acutely as any loss I've ever had.

I hated it. I hated holding him while his little body shook with tears as his mind wrapped around the fact that his first pet was no longer there to watch and love and enjoy. And yet, there was still grace there. He squeezed in tight and let me hold him so, so long. And his little brother came over to hug him too, once he saw that his brother was hurting. And later, when he wanted to go off and be by himself, his eldest sister went with him. Just to sit there, to be there in case he needed someone. And it wasn't long till he came back out, joined our family in our night-before-school rituals, and smiled again. And felt happy again. And continued feeling sad, but felt other things too.

Man. Sometimes I really worry about these kids. But other times, other times I know they're going to be just fine.
So with that, goodbye Esther. Thanks for helping us all to learn and love and grow. 

Alone in a house of boys.

We have 2 daughters. They are small and young and sweet and cute. Sorry, correction. We had 2 daughters. They are gone now. Gone, because we sent them away. 

That's right. We sent our daughters to summer camp.

At this point, I don't even remember what I was thinking with that. I guess it was something like "my daughters really want to go to camp, and now they are old enough to go to camp". But actually, only the oldest REALLY wanted to go, the younger one was unsure at first, and then talked herself into it, because apparently, in this family, the monkeys see and then they do.

And at the beginning, I thought it would be great. I thought they would have some amazing experiences, plus I would get a bit of a break from a couple of ladies who have spent this summer forgetting how to follow simple instructions. Win win, probably.

And we dropped them off. I mean, we actually drove all the way up there to drop them off instead of letting them ride up in the van like all the other kids. And I thought they'd be nervous, but... they were fine. We got them to their cabin, they found the other kids, and basically turned around to say goodbye. They. were. fine.

But now they're not fine.
The daughters I used to have, before I let them grow up too fast and go away to camp.

I mean, okay, I don't know that they're not fine. Like, technically, I have no idea how they're doing. But at the same time, I know they are not fine.

I just... do. Like, I know Madelyn has fallen back into her prepubescent crisis from a couple weeks ago wherein she assumes all kids are now judging her and think she is terrible. And I know Catelyn is stuck in her "I say weird things" thing that she was worried about, and probably the other girls think she came on a little strong and now no one wants to be her friend. And they miss their family desperately, and they're so lonely, and they're not even taking good care of each other. It isn't fun anymore. It is depressing and lonely and scary and far far longer than they expected it to be.
Masking their pain with silliness.

At least, it's far far longer than I expected.

So, okay, maybe I'm the one who isn't coping so great. I mean I started off pretty good this week. I've cleaned house. I've done my work. I've cooked meals. I've gotten back on my diet and exercised daily. I replaced a broken toilet seat. I took the boys to the library and out for ice cream. I bought an Instant Pot. But then we got to like, 3 days in, and I'm anxious and I'm tired. So maybe tired is the problem. Because I am completely and entirely convinced that the girls are miserable, and that I broke their tiny, fragile spirits by sending them off to camp when they weren't ready.

Oh, and there's this other part of this. What I HAVE gotten to do is spend extra time with my boys this week. But that turned out to be less fun than expected. Turns out boys are stinky and feral, and when you take all the girliness out of your home, you're just left with wrestling and farts and refusing to use a napkin. And none of that is as cute as it sounds.

In fairness, I had no idea this would be so hard on me. And my husband may or may not be avoiding me entirely because I've become annoying. But now all I can think is, is this parenting now? Do the kids reach toward their preteen years and suddenly life is just a series of experiments with sending your children into the world, hoping they don't fail, that they're nice and good and also protected from anyone who isn't, and dwelling on all the ways you failed to prepare them for the world, and then just like, never ever sleeping again? 

Because frankly, I got into parenting for the cute squishy baby stage. I don't think I'm up for this.

And if all this makes you look at me and say holy cow psychopath, overprotective much? Then please pause and remember that you already know I homeschool my kids. Scroll up to the actual title of this whole blog. You know I'm overprotective, and you know I'm basically a nutter. Old. Fracking. News. So ha. 


The Beginning of The End of Magic. Also Weapons.

How do you tell if your kid might be... dangerous? And to be clear I have no idea if I'm asking if this kid is gonna be a safety threat to all humans, or is just gonna know how to hold her own in a fight. Either way, as it turns out, Baby Girl don't play.

So to start with, backstory. Shane wrote another book. It's a middle-grade, coming of age story about a little girl in a world where pre-pubescent children have magic. Shane and I had a covert plan for this book. He wanted some honest prime-demo feedback, and luckily, he had a homeschool dork sample selection right under his own roof! So I read the book to the Weirdos, without spilling the beans that their dad had written it.

Anyway, so the kids in the story are able to choose their own items for their magical wands. We get some background on the lead's careful selection of the perfectly sized and shaped twig. The wands are beloved by these young magicians.

Later on, we find out another child has foregone the stick-wand, and instead infused his magic into a plastic toy light saber. This fact, as it turns out, was highly controversial in the Miller household.

The kids argued.
Madelyn: "A LIGHTSABER?? That's sooo dumb!"
Harper: "Nu-uh, that would be cool!"
Madelyn: "No. I would use a stick. It feels better. It's like nature."
Kaden: "I would use a lightsaber! That would be fun!"
Catelyn, looking at the other kids like they were nuts: "I would use a gun."

Welp. Sooooo that escalated quickly. Watch out kids, someone's magic is packing a little more punch this go-round!

And in case you're interested, The End of Magic is available for digital download on iBooks TOMORROW, June 28! In case the kids are looking for some summer reading fun with some strong pathos to boot, this book may be just the ticket!

How to Parent Out the Attitude. A Failure's Story.

So today was Day 2 of VBS week at church, and at our church apparently Day 2 is the day where all children turn into uninhibited psychopaths. Including my own. Four tiny uninhibited psychopaths. OOOOH AND LET'S GET TO THIS LATER: The oldest one seems to be having some sort of personal crisis wherein she thinks everything she does is "SO EMBARRASSING", and she's convinced everyone thinks she's an idiot and she doesn't want to grow up anymore because it's terrible. But let's save the pre-teen crises for later. I mean, I wish we could save them for the MUCH later, but alas. This is upon us now.
Any whosit, the kids woke up crazy today, and went to VBS crazy, and came home just a little extra crazy. So they got themselves some lunch and a nap and I nice long list of chores to work out those crazies. Because as it turns out, if you're crazy enough to pour jelly onto my kitchen floor, I'm just crazy enough to make you mop that same floor right up.

Well fun story, not all kids LIKE getting told it's time for chores. But to keep it interesting, they all respond a little differently. Like the eldest, the pragmatist, who immediately jumped on the chores she likes best (generally the ones farthest away from angry mama), so as to avoid the things she hates so so much. Or like the youngest, who immediately ran to his bedroom, slammed the door, and screamed out to the heavens for relief from the horrid fate which had befallen him. A fate, mind you, which involved

Oh. Oh the horror.

But then I have this other kid, a kid who shall remain nameless. I have this brunette kid who, probably, actually hates chores more than any human person has hated any single thing in the whole history of the universe. This nameless child whose name does in fact SOUND like Kaden, but whose name is in fact NOT Kaden and also it is spelled with a C. Anyway, this child has his or her, but probably her, own way of handling Chores. And that way involves, essentially, torturing mommy for asking her to do them.

Now torturing your parent for asking you to clean your room is not a new maneuver by any means. Many kids like the tantruming and the throwing of things and the screaming and the refusing. But please. That stuff is amateur hour. My kid is a table-turner. She has found out how to switch things back on me by playing Mental Possum. Basically, she pretends like yes she IS cleaning up the things, but has  undergone some kind of lobotomy, which has removed the part of her brain which knows where anything goes, or what anything is, or how anything works. It is so stupidly, frustratingly brilliant. Because what can I say? She's making a show of trying. And she's not screaming anymore. She just... doesn't remember how to use the trash can. Or what to do with her sock lying on the floor. Or how to return a book to the shelf. Not her fault, obviously.
I've developed a response to this, mostly, because I had to. More on that below. Today, child brings me a hanger and says "Mooooooooommyyyyyyyy, I don't know where this goooooooooeeees." And I tell her that she needs to start by being smarter than the hanger. That's what I say. Be smarter than the Hanger and you can figure this out. Well, I say this to her... a lot, to be fair, so she turned and stomped away in a huff. Directly into a wall. So... whoops. Guess we're not smarter than the hanger today.

 Oh yeah. If you're wondering about the last, kid. I wasn't going to mention him. I wasn't going to mention him because 1, he was the least crazy to start with, and 2, when he was asked to do chores, he just quietly went and did them. No attitude. No tears. Just did as much as he could, as well as he could, as fast as he could. Which is how, FYI, some rando middle child can suddenly become your favorite.

FOOTNOTE ESSAY: Ye olde response to "where does this go"
     It should be noted that Husband and I had a pre-kids response to this that may or may not get me reported to CPS so I'm trying to grow and change. Because when either of us asked where something, the other would quickly reply that the item should go in your butt. Because of all the class, I suppose. "Hey babe, where should I put this?" "Up your butt." I mean if anything, it effectively got us to stop asking each other where things should go.
     But then we had kids. And just because you are now a mature, responsible, grown up parenty person, doesn't necessarily mean that those old knee-jerk reactions go away. And suddenly we're surrounded by 57 small humans asking us where everything goes all of the time. I mean, let's face it. Failure was inevitable.
     And one day not that long ago, I was in such a failure-ish place. I was tired, and the tiny human troops were attacking from all sides. And then it came. The always whiney, always grating question. "Moooooommyyyyy. Where should I puuuuut thiiiiiiis?" And I jumped right in. "Up your... nose." Whew. Quick save.
     Eldest child coughs out a laugh. "Usually you say up your butt."
     So.... oops.

This one is about Supreme Joy.

So for starters, Hi. How's it going. It's been a ridonkulously long time, and I apologize for my inexcusable absence because it is inexcusable and I know how nervous it makes you. All those sleepless nights you've endured. All those days you signed onto the interwebs, hoping to see that creepy picture of me, stretched out on a minivan in 80's mom clothes because that would mean HUZZAH! Someone is finally talking about parenthood on the internet!! And here I have, gone and left you alone for months and months. I am so very sorry.

Anyway, that part is done with now, and here I am, so you can just relax. Also? Your anxiety is not the point today. The point today, children, is GRATITUDE.

GRATITUDE people. Gratitude is THE BEST.

Now I am aware that kids these days are supposed to spoiled little wretches who think they're all definitely entitled to brand new iPhones and sports cars and European vacations, or, I don't know, whatever it is we use to spoil kids these days. And I also know that, as a mom to 4 lovely and annoying children, I want to give them things to make them happy and sometimes to make them be quiet. This is a natural phenomenon. It exists in the heart of every human parent.

But as it turns out, I don't know, I did some parenting wrong. And my kids didn't show up as entitled little Post-Millennial masters of the universe. My kids are broken. They are so broken, that they are, in fact, grateful. About, like, everything. I'm weirdly not exaggerating, guys. My kids get excited about Every. Single. Thing. In. The. Whole. Wide. World. I. Am. Not. Joking. Wow. It's. Hard. To. Write. Sentences. Like. This.

Maybe you don't believe me. Maybe you think I'm just bragging about my weird kids and their brokenness. But for proof, I have this list:

Things that will make my kids scream that they are having the BEST DAY EVER:

  • A trip to the park.
  • A large cardboard box.
  • A trip to the library.
  • A trip to Walmart.
  • Or DollarTree.
  • A McDonald's Happy Meal.
  • A "movie night" on the floor of the living room, bonus points for popcorn.
  • A funny audiobook.
  • Bubble Wrap.
  • A road trip.
  • Riding bikes in the front yard.
  • Pouring water of dry ice.
  • Blanket forts.
  • A cool looking bug.
  • Plus most video games.
  • And also most board games.
  • And every single game they've made up themselves.
  • And of course, the chance to play outside with the hose.
Obviously, there are much cooler, much more special things that also bring them mondo joy. Disneyland, for example. Or the beach. Or the fact that it's VBS week at church. These things straight up blow their minds. 

But as a mom who 1, cannot afford things like regular trips to Disneyland and 2, seldom has the time off from work to make it all the way out to the beach*, my kids aren't going to have loads of access to said cooler things. 

But if you're not turned off my lame mom-ness, and if you're interested, I think maybe I know how I broke my kids. And it's easier than you think. Because to break your kids into gratitude, all you do is... nothing.

At least, that's what we did.
Because, we didn't take them to Europe.
We didn't take them to Hawaii.
We didn't take them anywhere terribly fancy, to be honest.
We didn't buy them electronics.
We didn't take them to amusement parks.
And have only taken them to the movies maybe once a year. Maybe less.
We didn't buy them those super cute clothes, we saved money and bought them the cheaper ones.
We haven't given them their own rooms. Or a playroom. Or even sufficient square footage, probably.

See, turns out we haven't spent a ton to make their childhoods feel special. Instead, we tell them everything is special. This is a SPECIAL at home movie night. You should BE so lucky as to get these cookies. Yes I will LET YOU play outside once you've done your chores. You need to EARN your free time, or you won't GET your free time. (OH SNAP.)

Truth? I don't know entirely why my kids are so excited. I don't know why they seem to have a bent toward gratitude. Maybe it's because they don't hang out with enough cool kids to learn that everything in the world is lame and The Worst and UUUUGGGGGHHHHHH. (Although I'm sure I've got a good deal of that headed my way over the next few years.) 

But maybe it's also due to the fact that we are trying to teach our kids that they do not actually deserve anything special or fun. They weren't born with a contractual obligation to holiday trips or material possessions. And I have no problem telling them that a gift they want soooooooo muuuuuuuuuch is just outside of the budget, because mommy and daddy can't afford to spend that kind of money on 4 separate kids for Christmas.
Truth again: It hurts sometimes to say no to the kids. It hurts because even when I can barely stand them, I want to give them every good thing. And telling them no can actually physically hurt.

But then, I look at my kids. And they are happy. With their lame food and their electronics restrictions and their daily chores and their early bedtimes, they're happy. For whatever reason, they're happy. And I am grateful.

Oh quick note: Bedtimes don't count. No one is grateful at bedtime, everyone is a monster and life becomes insufferable. I just needed to make sure that was clear. Because right now, it happens to be bedtime. And I already forgot I used to like them.

*And 3, let's be honest, is old and tired and prefers to spend freetime on the couch instead of exciting adventures. 

The Fat Man Cometh.

You turn around and BANG. There it is. December again. The tree is trimmed, the cookie jar is filled, and the air is laced with the scent of fake pine and the dulcet Christmas tones of Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney. 
Despite the fact that the cookie jar is actually filled with red-stuffed Oreos instead of home baked something-or-others*, and despite the fact that the 2000 piece Christmas puzzle laid out on the floor is giving my husband pretty severe heart palpitations, I gotta admit. The Millers do Christmas RIGHT. Christmas is a super sacred season here, filled with lots of traditions that are incredibly meaningless but which are actually fabulous and important because they are in fact OUR traditions. So we’ll re-watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy, wear our brand new coordinating Christmas pajamas, and drink hot chocolate while we examine the neighborhood and convince ourselves that our lights are better than anyone else’s lights. Because TRADITION.

Oh yeah, and apparently, we’ll Santa Claus.

I swear guys, I had NO IDEA that, at this age, my kids would still believe in Santa. I mean personally, I was like, 5, maybe 6, when I figured it out. And as of last weekend, ALL of my kids are at least 5. The oldest is 9. Just, not a very intelligent 9, as it turns out.

I remember my mom telling me years ago that she had to be careful with her 4thgrade class around Christmastime. Because there were always a few kids who still, at that age, believed in Santa. And I remember thinking, WOW. What kind of Weirdo child still believes in Santa Claus in 4thgrade?!?

And then, yadda yadda yadda, I went on to immediately raise those exact kinds of Weirdos.

When we had our first, Husband and I made a decision about Santa Claus. And that was this: We like Santa. We’ll do the Santa myth. But we WON’T lie to the kids outright. We’ll talk about Santa in a way that is obviously mythical and silly. Like we talk about Batman. And all these years later, I feel pretty confident that we kept our end of the bargain. Unfortunately, our kids didn’t keep up their end, by being minimally intelligent and picking up on a freaking clue already holy cow.

A couple of weeks ago Madelyn, who we venture to hope is starting to clue in, told me that she has some friends who don’t believe in Santa anymore. They’ve told her that they think their parents are Santa. But she doesn’t believe them. Later, she told her father and I that she thought, when she was an adult, she would KNOW if Santa was real. Because then she could test it. She could put out a stocking and see what happened. Her snark-master father responded, “OR, you could use a little deductive reasoning, and figure it out NOW.” Luckily, due to the fact that, again, they are not such intelligent children, they did not understand what he meant, and went on about their days.

Later that same day the kids got grumpy and all kinds of out of sorts. I shouted down the hallway, “KIDS. GET IT TOGETHER, OR SANTA IS GOING TO DISOWN YOU.” 
Once again. Still didn’t get it. Point of all of this is to say, I MEAN it. We find weird ways to tell them all the time that Santa is a pretend thing. I’ve read them stories about the beliefs about Santa in other cultures. I told them that, with the Operation Christmas Child boxes, we got to “be Santa” for kids who otherwise might not get presents**. 

I do have a theory as to their totally unsupported belief in the Fat Man. I think, at some point, they’re doing it on purpose. To begin with, although my daughter told me her friends think their parents are Santa, she never actually asked me. She didn’t ask what I thought, or ask if I was Santa. She threw it out there. Then changed topics. They persist in their belief, ignoring things like “Stocking stuffer” sections at the store. They ignore their friends’ doubts, and their parents’ teasing, all too obvious comments. Because in truth, they would rather live in a world where, just one month out of the year, childhood is still honored, and magic still exists.

So we’ll let it go. We’ll let them believe, if just for a little longer. Stay young, crazy little Weirdos. We’ll save that deductive reasoning for another day.

*It was a half effort, admittedly. You're welcome family. I kind of tried.
** They responded by freezing for a second and then convincing themselves it was cool, Santa would visit the poor kids too. Whew. Close one.

Birthdays. Cats. Tantrums. And Urine. So. Much. Urine.

Wednesday went very goodly. Wednesday went very goodly in a way that made me super reflective about our whole life and the last three years and seeing  only the growth, only the good. Because when New Addition moved in, "special days" were hard. Special days brought out sadness and disappointment that were, (if I'm gonna smoke my therapist pipe for a moment) probably based in the conflicted emotions that plague a lot of people on special days. It's something good. But it's also a reminder of a loss. It's a reminder of all the other special days and all the loved ones who were once there and aren't there anymore. Special days are a surprise stab of emotional pain for a child who has fair reason to feel unsteady and unrooted.

Of course, a 5 year old can't come out and say that. And a 6 year old is not going to sit you down to discuss her traumatic and unstable history. Instead, she's going to complain about the decorations. She's going to open her presents and look at them and kind of half smile and say, ".... so is that it?" And then reply "Oh." when you let her know that yes, the shiny new bicycle was the "big" gift, and nothing else would be coming after. Side note? It's not funny, it's sad. BUTATTHESAMETIME, her father and I survived a good deal of that era by anticipating and then mimicking her "Debbie Downer" responses to every nice thing. Not in front of her, so we're clear. That was for us. Don't judge me. You don't know my life.
This is what Good Birthday looks like.
Anyway, Wednesday was SUPER GOODLY because it was New Addition's 3rd birthday in our home, and like, she was EXCITED. She loved everything about it, she was grateful for her gifts, smiling ear to ear and running up to give us hugs. She was in a sweet and friendly and GOOD mood all day and it was refreshing to my soul. Last year had been better, for sure, but this year was even better, and it came at a time that I was needing that. I needed to say that we were growing. And I saw it. And dang it all, it helped.

But let's be honest. A good day for me is great. But it's boring and it's not helpful to anyone else. Because why do y'all care if I had a good day? You want to hear what came next.

You want to hear about the NEXT day, when I had 3 kids on a sugar hangover. You want to hear about all the screaming, and the crying and the emotional shutting down, and about what happened when I tried to make the boys have a quiet time. That's the fun stuff. And because I'm cool, I'll give up the goods.

So the boys were in quiet time. And it mostly wasn't going great, based on the sounds of the talking and the laughing and the random loud bangs emitting from their room. So I walked in to check on them, because Hashtag Great Moms do stuff like that, and find the 4 year old standing at the door, looking... guilty. Yikes.

As you may know, there's a spider in the boys' room. A spider, living in a terrarium, and when he showed up at the door looking at me like, "I just did something you're really gonna hate," my first thought said they destroyed the spider's house. I was expecting broken glass and dead or loosed tarantula. But luckily, or unluckily, that's not what I found. Instead, there was a 6 inch circle of moisture on the carpet in the middle of the room. I look back at the boy.

"You. Peed. YOU PEED?!?!"

SO WE ARE CLEAR, the 4 year old has been potty trained for about 3 years now. I don't carry a change of clothes or remind  him to use the toilet because that mess was handled YEARS ago. But on the other hand, said child did urinate all the heck over himself in class a couple of weeks ago because he is new here, and he didn't think his teacher would let him go to the bathroom, so he was trying to hold it instead*. This sounds sad. It is not sad. The child was not sad. He was matter of fact and then super flummoxed by things like, "my socks are wet?!? WOW!" He is fine. But he's peeing everywhere now I guess so ew.

Now I'm looking at this spot on the floor and thinking maybe this kid has a medical problem, but he quickly informs me that this is NOT a medical problem. It is a BRAIN problem. A brain problem, because what happened was, his brother told him he should go pee on the floor, because it would be hilarious. So then he did it. So obviously brain problems. From there, I look up at Big Brother who is sitting up on his bed, trying hard to hide his smiling face behind a blanket. Let me assure you, I made sure those boys did not finish the day still under the impression that it is hilarious to pee on the carpet.  Tiny jerks.

But I should've seen it coming, probably. The night before, the kids were brushing teeth and using the restroom when I hear one of the girls yell "Mooooooom, Harper just drank his own peeeeeeeeee!" And then he said it was yummy and told her she should try some and I ignored it and sent them to bed because there's some things in this world that I am not emotionally cappable of dealing with. And as it turns out, my precious, tiny, 8 pound, 5 ounce baby boy, my Momma's Boy, my sweet little cuddler purposefully drinking his own urine, well it was just past my limit.

Tantrums and Urine. That is my life now. But just the same, Wednesday was still a good one, and I'm calling it a win. WOOT!

Quick send off: I tucked the kids in to bed tonight, and as I leaned down to hug my 4 year old, he smiled and said, "Good night, Cracker!" I.... gonna be honest, didn't know how to respond, so I moved on to his brother. But apparently, little dude was not done. "I called you a cracker, because you ARE a cracker!"

So a part of me is wondering where we are picking up these racial slurs, but the other part is wondering if maybe this was just a really conveniently accurate weird joke on his part (he recently started calling my mother peanut, maybe he's on a snack foods kick?) but either way I mean... it's not like he's wrong. And maybe he's not weird. Maybe he's just super Woke for a four year old. Because the truth is, I AM a Cracker. And I see that now. Way to put my in my place, tiny white male.

*Pro Tip: The teacher will always prefer you use the toilet. Always.

The best day ever. Plus, back to school!

Today, I. Am. Soaring.
Well alright that's a lie. Today, at this particular moment, I am half conscious and slumped on the couch, every fiber of my being aching with exhaustion. Mostly this is because my kids were so stupid excited about starting school today that I woke up to the sound of them talking. In the living room. In the dark. At 4:30am.

Part of me knows I should be grateful that my kids are so excited that they feel the need to wake up before the sun just because we're starting homeschool today*, and I am, I definitely am. But the thing is, I'm not grateful for anything at 4:30am. I am Only Grumpy. But my kids are not Only Grumpy. My kids at 4:30am Excited. So my Grumpy self kicks them all back to bed, because good heavens this is not healthy, but turns out they don't want to go to sleep, so instead they make their beds, get dressed and then proceed to "play quietly"** in their rooms until the sun came up. So we got up. Made the coffee. Did the hair. Took the pictures. And made the pancakes.
But even for a first day of school, this one was weird. Because on Monday, I found out the my search for a Worthwhile Doctor*** might have gotten some traction, when I got an appointment reminder (for an appointment I hadn't yet been informed of) about our first meeting with New and Highly Recommended Doctor. So there ya go, Homeschool Day 1 Field trip to the doctor it is!
Side note here: Thank you times a million to those of you who walked through this stuff,  who made recommendations and phone calls and helped us get to this point. Your heart for my family has been humbling. I am immeasurably grateful. God gave me you when I needed you.

And although we had a great first day, my soaring has nothing to do with our math lesson or How to Eat Fried Worms. Because I am all about that doctor appointment baby. Because that appointment rocked my friggin world.

A few years ago, I didn't have emotions about doctor's appointments. Or (LIES) if I did, those feelings capped out around having to step on the scale or worrying a doctor would insinuate I had a weight problem****. But really, I didn't have a lot of feelings. And I don't think I realized how many feelings I've developed now. Not until today at least.

I was scared about this appointment. I was tense and anxious. I was mentally preparing myself, steeling myself so that I could confidently and bullishly state what I felt needed to be said. Because I've gotten used to arguing. To being called wrong. I knew I had to be prepped in my head for everything I needed the doctor to hear, because he is going to be busy and he is going to talk over me and I need to go FAST because Medi-Cal doctors don't wait.
But this guy... he waited. He asked good questions. He listened. He spoke to my daughter first and gave her room to talk so he could get a sense of her. He empathized. And when we'd spoken long enough for him to get a comprehensive look at her, he offered assessments, and referrals, and scheduled a follow up appointment for 3 weeks out. I could have cried. I shook his hand long enough to creep him out and told him thank while staring deeply into his eyes. I wanted to kiss the man on the face.

This doctor, who is already overbooked, who is already only seeing Medi-Cal patients 1 day a week, working out of a small clinic and making less money than he otherwise could, because he actually truly cares about these kids, he put my daughter on his schedule within a week. He stayed into his lunch break to get a comprehensive look at my child. He saw her. He made her a priority.
Oh yeah, and to top it off? Technically, before this day, the only person to ever diagnose my daughter with Reactive Attachment Disorder, was me. It was never in her file. Her last therapist thought it wasn't worth mentioning, and no other doctor has seen it. This doctor, on the other hand, saw it immediately, and thinks it is probably the unifying factor in all the symptoms we came in for. So he's referring us to "an excellent specialist in RAD".

Now this: I had an AWESOME day with my kids. They are great, and despite that whole 4am mess, the day was loads of fun. But some days, being told, "you're not crazy, I see this and I'm concerned too, and by the way, this is how I can help," well, some days there's no better feeling in all the world.

*Dorks. Big huge dorks. No other explanation.
**Big Dorks. But not quiet Dorks. Cute that they thought "playing quietly" was within their capacity though.
***Worthwhile, defined as:
      - Doesn't immediately decide child abuser.
      - Has some basic understanding of children from complicated backgrounds.
      - Doesn't talk over me or totally ignore my child.
      - Maybe, for a bonus, doesn't tell me I have to stop homeschooling immediately.
****Truth: This has almost never happened. Not never, never. But almost never.

To Do Listing. Because the time is NOW.

School is starting soon. I mean, yes obviously it started already for everyone else in the known universe, but as homeschoolers, we reserve the right to be lazy butts and push our education back a week or two later than everyone else's. Also, I had a bunch of meetings and stuff last week so, yeah. We skipped it. Which officially makes this Wednesday our 5th-First Day of Homeschool. Pictures and traditions and a little bit more "aww look how they're growing up, it all goes so fast, don't blink, yada yada" mess to come later this week.

In the mean time, I've been trying to think of something amusing and insightful and inspiring to write the last few days and, as it turns out, I can't get myself there. Because like many other times when I've slipped out of the writing routine, the only thing my brain is capable of formulating right now is a To Do list. 
So here it is. My To Do List, brought to you by my brain:
#1- Write an amusing and insightful and inspiring blog post...
#2- Also you have that report to finish.
#1- Hmm. Maybe you should finish that report first actually. Deadline is coming soon.
#2- Also, probably time to throw dinner in the crock pot.
#1- I'd like another cup of coffee too.
#1- Wait, did I read my Bible today? Gosh, and I think I forgot yesterday too. Definitely need to grab a cup of coffee and sit down with my Bible.
#1- YIKES. Dishes. Just real quick I'll get those done.
#2- Did I write that meeting on my calendar? I can't forget that. Better make a note.
#3- Good point. I should schedule out my week real quick. What days are practices now? Gymnastics? Ballet? Are their clothes clean?
#4- Okay, throw in a QUICK load of laundry. Then dishes/dinner/coffee/Bible.
#5- Also, when does Karate start? Wait, do I need to find karate clothes for city classes? And where the heck do they sell Karate clothes? I need to remember to call that teacher about Karate clothes.
**Side note: Why is someone having a tantrum right now? 
Meh, forget it. I think I'll practice that Cry It Out method. 
Seemed to work when they were babies.
#6- Work is starting soon. Did I call everyone I need to? Gotta make those calls so everyone knows I'm coming.
#7- I don't think I'm wearing deodorant yet. Handle the deodorant thing. That's on the list.
#8- Also, I have to leave in an hour. Forget it. I don't have time to straighten my hair. Guess it's a bun or braid day again.
#9- Oooh, gotta remember to run by the store after work and pick up the toothpaste and the.... the something or other that I forgot to get at the grocery store yesterday. (NOTE: Figure out what the something or other is. This feels important.) 
#10- ALSO! Make sure to pick up crickets. Spider looks hungry. No one wants that.
#11- Have I even brushed my teeth yet. Gah. No. I am gross.
#12- Hey heads up, we're starting school in 2 days. Dooooo... I know what that entails?
#13- Make sure the camera is ready. Cuz at the least, it entails pictures.
#14- Do I have supplies?
#15- Did I choose a handwriting curriculum?
#16- MARSHMALLOW ROASTING STICKS!!! The something or other was marshmallow roasting sticks! HA. Nailed it. Hashtag winning at life.
#1-   Wait. What. Is. That. Smell. New #1. Address the smell.
#17- So besides pictures and marshmallows and handwriting… maybe I should sit down with my planner and bang out a plan for the first day or something. Yeah, that’s a good one. That’s definitely on the list. 
#18- Why do I still have this headache. This is annoying. Medicine? Or water? Or suck it up? Uh forget it. All headaches go away eventually anyway.
#19- I mean unless it’s a brain tumor.
#20- Ashley, don’t. Don’t do that. That is dumb. Just… take a Tylenol and go to work.
#21- I should post those couches for a lower price, we need to get those couches out of the garage asap.
#22- Schedule time to get that report done before the deadline.
#23- THEN Write an amusing and insightful and inspiring blog post.
#24- Then, of course, lose 20 pounds.
#24- Meh, split the difference. Lost 10 pounds, and call it Good Enough. 

So there it is. There’s my sort of, most of, list for the day. I have done some of the things so far. And some other things I spared you from. And I had my kids do chores and practice piano and do another page in their summer workbooks (seriously, amazing how fast summer just LEAVES and the workbook is like, not even close to done). But as we stand now, the hair is still a frizzy mess and the teeth are as of yet unbrushed, and I am not inspired. Or inspiring. And I am still practicing the cry it out method for a child who is mad at me because…. Reasons. She is safe and healthy and I love her. And soon(ish) she will stop screaming, and decide to take 5 minutes and finish the small, already explained, not-new-information assignment in front of her, and all will be well. 

Or I’ll leave for work and this will be her father’s problem. 

Either way. It’s all good. 

Unless you are said father. In which case, sorry bro. Better luck next life.

LAST: If you found this list difficult to follow, say, scattered and overwhelmed and outrageously disorganized, try having this list for a brain, played over a background track of a child screaming for your death. Then, take a second and be glad you are not me.

If, on the other hand you found this list horrifyingly relatable, and it reminded you that you also haven’t yet planned for dinner or brushed your teeth, then I raise my ice cold cup of forgotten-about morning coffee to you. Fight on, super friend. You are amazing. You can overcome. And dude, smile. Cuz you’re totally gonna CRUSH IT today.

Here, piggy piggy piggy....

Last night after work I hit the grocery store and picked up a big fat chunk of pork shoulder to throw in the crock pot for pulled-pork sandwiches tonight. Which was great. $11 bucks. 9 pounds of meat. Which means easy dinner and lots of left overs. Family of 6 WIN.

But then I open the pork this morning and realize that, as far as I’m concerned, it has a little too much nature attached. Because here is Babe’s actual skin. Because little Wilbur here is practically still squealing.

I’m gonna be clear here. I am a carnivore. Or, technically I’m an omnivore but that sounds so much like I EAT ALL THE THINGS, FLEE BEFORE MY INSATIABLE APPETITE and lends itself to the kind of fat jokes I’m not in the mood for right now so I’m gonna stick with Carnivore because it sounds cooler. Sleek. I’m a tiger. Growl. 

Point is, I don’t have a problem eating meat. Plus, I lived on a hog farm as a child. Plus, I currently live in Dairyland, USA, and in Dairyland, USA we drink milk and eat beef and swat flies and eat more beef. I’m not at all creeped out by eating animals. Hashtag sorry animals. 

You can even see it in my parenting. We have discussions about the animals we’re eating while we’re eating them. We think people who say you can “adopt” a pet are insane. (You adopt a human child, you acquire a pet. I will fight you on this. And I will win. Your puppy is not your baby. Granted, your puppy might be cuter than your baby, but that does not make the puppy your baby.) And last year when we thought the cat might be on her way through those pearly gates, my kids actually laughed at the thought that she might go to heaven when she died. I believe, “Um, NO. She’s a CAT.” Was their exact response. 

So I’m not super precious about animals and I’m not against cooking or eating them. Sorry if that hurts your Porky-loving feelings.  But all that to say, I’m still having a moment this morning, staring at the skin of this pork shoulder and considering how to word the Google search “Should I skin my pig before or after cooking him?” Which is basically  an exact search I’ve made before, only substitute FISH for PIG. So that’s what I’m seeing here. A 9 pound, skin on, Fillet of Pig. It is not my favorite thing.

Alright, whatever. I stuck the whole beast in the crockpot, put it on low, and crossed my fingers. Then the internet said to get a sharp knife and do this kind of cross-hatch cutting pattern thing so… I tried that too.
NOTE: I’ve watched a lot of Mythbusters. And in Mythbusters, you always learn that pig flesh is the closest thing we can get to human flesh, so for all these fun shooting slash cutting slash punching slash exploding activities they ever did, they would use a pig. But I gotta say, I’m kind of an expert at cutting my own human flesh* which is how I can know that, were I to take my own moderately sharp knife to my own arm, I would have been able to create a neat cross-hatch pattern with very little effort. Penelope here was an ENTIRELY different story. The force I had to use to barely scrape through her skin would probably have sawed through my actual bones. So, something’s wrong here. That’s all I’m saying.

Happy Tuesday. Oink oink.

*In case that was creepy: NOT an emotional problem. Just a klutzy problem. I assure you.

Parenting A RAD Kid. With love.

I'm sitting here, about to start another year of school, and I'm burned out and I'm exhausted and I'm frozen by indecision. How do I decide whether adding ballet to the schedule would be a helpful bit of structure and guidance, or would be one more burden to our lives? How do I know which doctor to choose? How do I know where to push and where to lay off? How do I know if she needs medication or just better parenting? Or maybe counseling again? Or maybe I need counseling? What aobut speech therapy? Occupational therapy? Physical therapy? Or maybe it's time for more reinforcement instead of consequences, even though the presentation of a potential reinforcement used to cause immediate shut down? Maybe she has too much stuff? Maybe she has too many distractions? Maybe she feels like a failure or a bad kid and can't get past that enough to make any kind of different decision? How do I get over my own frustration in order to love and forgive and move forward? How do I help her feel secure so she doesn't need to control this relationship anymore? What do I do? What do I do? 

First off: don't panic. I didn't write this for you. I wrote it earlier, and posted it in a support group I'm a part of for parents of children with attachment disorders.

I am a parent of a child with an attachment disorder.

I need to start off by saying that, if you met her, you'd probably like her. She is sweet. She is adorable. She is full of smiles, she loves to laugh, and she loves everything that is female and pretty and girly. She gives hugs. She holds hands. And the first day I ever met her, she called me Mom. She told me she loved me.

A lot of people hear that last part, the part about the instantaneous declaration of love, and give a deep, heart-felt "awwww". They think it's sweet. Like it was a sign we were meant to be together. Like she was just so happy to be with us. But the thing is, it didn't feel sweet. It didn't feel like love. It felt like brokenness. Because no healthy, healed child would cling to a woman she had never met and call her Mommy. Whisper statements of affection. Instead, it was our first indicator of the deep hurt in this child's heart: The fact that, deep down, she didn't really know what it meant to love someone at all.

So for the uninitiated, Reactive Attachment Disorder happens when, during early childhood, for various reasons, an emotional bond is not made with a primary, trusted caregiver. While this disorder is considered rare, it exists with relative frequency among children who have been passed around between caregivers, such as children who grew up in orphanages or in the foster care system.

Many kids with this disorder become withdrawn, angry, aggressive, and destructive. But not all. My child, in fact, may seem overly affectionate. She sits on people's laps. She hugs constantly. She holds peoples hands and pets their faces and their hair. But if you're around her long enough, you maybe notice it feels... off. She doesn't like you to hold her. She wants to hold you. Because this behavior is not about showering loved ones with earned affection. It's about her desperate, deep, yearning need to control the feelings of actions of those around her.

Emotionally speaking, I once described it this way: It's like you're on a first date. You're trying to get to know this person, to see if you like each other, and she's making copies of your house keys and filling your drawers with her undergarments. You're testing the water with a toe, she dove in head first.
Along with this come another host of behaviors. Lies. Manipulation. Sneaking. Direct and repeated disobedience. Unwillingness or inability to follow simple daily routines and instructions. And screaming tantrums, that last long, but not nearly, not nearly as long as they used to. Along with this, although she is very upset when she is visited with a consequence, she hasn't, that I've noticed, ever displayed what might be considered true remorse in response to something she's done. She hasn't cared if she hurt some one. She hasn't cared if she was cruel, or dishonest, or disrespectful. And on my bad days, I am petrified that my child will not be able to develop a sense of bondedness, connection, or empathy.

Please don't hear me say that I think she's a terrible child. Because by NO MEANS is that the case. But raising a child who lies to you, screams at you, and then minutes later showers you with physical affection, it's emotional confusing. Your actual body, my actual body, can reject it. Can cringe back in response to the touch of my child. Which means that on some days, on some very hard days, it can take an actual force of will to engage in positive physical contact with my sweet, adorable, 7 year old child. I'm pretty sure there's no thing else in this world I'm more ashamed of than this.

I am ashamed. But I am not alone. Support groups and family and friends and many more amazing people have helped me along these 3 years. Have loved on my daughter, have loved on me, and have shared their own families, their own stories of struggle and clumsiness and the amazing labor it can sometimes be to turn a group of people into something that is a family. Which means even after my emotional breakdown earlier today, I had people to talk to, people in the trenches who reached out and shared their love and support and assistance. Good Lord, I love those people.

Oh right. And today, as I sat over my computer, shaking slightly and crying silently as I typed out the fears and questions that had overtaken my brain, my little girl walked up to me.

I saw that you were crying Mommy, and I'm sorry.
I'm sorry that I've been lying to you.
I'm sorry that I'm being someone who makes people cry.

I brought her to me, and I held her. Tightly, and for way too long. I am a parent to a child with an attachment disorder. But I am the child of a God who can heal all things, even those things as shattered as we are.
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Parenting A RAD Kid. With love.

I'm sitting here, about to start another year of school, and I'm burned out and I'm exhausted and I'm frozen by indecision....