This is Why

“You need to go play,” I told Raine again. She hovered around the entrance to the kitchen. When I shooed her away, she ran down the hall to the other entry point.

Her booming voice listed off all the details of her imaginary horse, Sarah. Dr. Phil was rolling on my laptop and the radio was playing in the background.

“Go play upstairs,” I’d said more than a few times. Up there Athena and J were building dragons with Lego. Raine refused, remaining close by and vying for my attention. I ended up giving it more than I should. Her complicated story line drew me in.

The enchiladas took forever to make. But were met with shouts of joy when the kids arrived at the dinner table. After a few bites they were strangely quiet.

“What’s wrong?” I asked from the kitchen where I was trying to tidy up a bit before sitting down with them.

“It’s spicy,” J answered.

“It’s fine. Eat.”

I sat down and had a taste. It was spicy. Eating a few more bites, I wondered why. I’d not done anything different. It was the same brand of enchilada sauce we always bought. But it was definitely spicy.

The kids pushed things around on their plates. I loaded them up with more sour cream and glasses of milk. They picked at what is usually their favourite meal. I gave up on encouraging them to eat. Clearing the enchiladas, I gave them apples and cereal.

After dinner, putting the empty sauce can in the garbage, I discovered it was hot sauce instead of mild.IMG_20150923_172957

After a good laugh, I told the kids, “This is why you need to be quiet in the grocery store when I ask you to.” Our trip to the store had been particularly frenzied as three ADHD kids shouted endlessly, “Look at this!” What they pointed out had nothing to do with what I was actually trying to find on the shelves. Seems I accidently grabbed the wrong sauce.
“And Raine, you should have gone to play upstairs,” I added. Seems I’m not as good at multi-tasking as I need to be.

“Otherwise we end up with a spicy supper,” J commented, through peals of laughter.

“Exactly. This is why I need you to be quiet sometimes.

I’d like to say, ‘lesson learned’ but that’s unlikely.

We are Not at War

“We are not at war,” is something I find myself saying quite often. It was my 9yr old foster child who introduced the concept. She was sent to her room for being very disrespectful to me one day. With a history of explosive behaviour, it’s best to have her in the safety of her room when this sort of anger starts to bubble up.

In her room, we talked about why she was upset. Her response to being removed from the game she was playing with the other kids was, “Now you’re going to pay. You’ve blocked me from doing what I want so I’ll block you from doing things.”

“That’s not how it works. I’m the parent and you’re the child. There are consequences to how you behave because it’s my job to teach you the right way to interact with people,” was my explanation.

J disagreed, informing me, “We’re at war. You do something to me and then I do something worse to you.”

“We are not at war,” I assured her. “We’re not enemies. We’re really on the same side. We’re both trying to make your life as wonderful as it can be.” The truth is, being a child in foster care who has suffered a great deal of trauma, there is a limit on just how wonderful things can be. J is often overwhelmed by emotions that are far from wonderful. But there’s still the possibility of carving out a degree of wonderful in the midst of what she’s going through. There’s always that possibility for each of us.

“No,” she argued. “We’re not on the same side. We’re at war.”

“I am not your enemy,” I answered. But in the moment, we certainly seemed to be on opposing sides. I was struggling to pull her out of the darkness wanting to overtake her. J was adamantly opposing my efforts. In truth, we are not at war. We are not enemies. Yet so often I find myself in the midst of a battle zone as I fight against fear and insecurity. It arises in the children; it comes out in me. There’s a fear in loving, in being together. That’s what we’re fighting against. But we are not warring against each other.

Raine was quick to pick up J’s philosophy. And my new mantra has become, we are not at war. We are not warring against each other as J and Raine suggest when they find my correction unwelcomed and, as far as they can see, unnecessary. It’s not something to put on a plaque but something I say more than you can imagine – like when Raine is sure she needs to put on underwear from the dirty clothes bin when it’s time to go to church. We’re all on the same side and we’re all fighting against the things that seek to derail us. As I say it, taking a deep breath, I remind myself we’re not enemies. We’re working together on something wonderful.

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For the Love of Carrots

Saturday mornings, I have a booth at the local farmer’s market. In hopes of getting some extra money for a newer vehicle (which you’re welcome to help with), I sell tea, granola, muesli, and organic bread. 029

Intending to buy a bunch of fruit from one of the vendors, I didn’t pack very many snacks for the kids this week. The regular fruit vendor, however, did not show up. That suited Raine just fine. The vegetable farmer beside us has carrots she really likes.

I sent her over to buy a bunch. But she came back with two. Raine spent five hours either talking about her love of carrots, eating them, or caressing her face with the carrots. Freshly picked, the dirt from them smeared all over her face and hands. But she didn’t care. Didn’t even want to wash them before eating them. Bags of chips were turned down as she begged for another bunch of carrots.

The grower of these carrots, in his mid-20’s and childless, kept commenting, “I’ve never known anyone to love carrots quite that much.” He flippantly invited Raine to come pick some this week. She, of course, thought him to be serious and asked me to fix an exact date and time.

He tried to explain the toil involved in harvesting carrots, mistakenly thinking this would deter Raine from wanting to come. It didn’t. She assured him, she’s very strong and certainly up to the task.  “I can even pick up my sister and she’s much heavier than a carrot,” Raine explained.

She took his business card, promising to be there because “I really love carrots.”

As most people are, the man was completely overwhelmed by Raine’s tenacity. He gave her a bell pepper as a parting gift.

The entire drive home, Raine continued talking about her love of carrots until Athena finally shouted, “We know! We know you love carrots! Stop telling us!” Yes, for the love of carrots, could you stop talking about them for a moment, I thought to myself. But out loud agreed to think about taking her to the farm to pick some.

The Gift of Concentration

Although Athena has not been formally diagnosed, I’m certain she has attention deficit disorder 012like her sister – and practically every child who has been in foster care. Sitting still is not becoming common as it should the older she gets. So we’re using a light weight (bean bag neck warmer) to keep her from jumping around during meals.

The early learning kindergarten program perfectly masks Athena’s lack of concentration. She moves from one activity to another without much investment in anything she does. Next year, I plan to homeschool her. But this year it’s nice to send her off to school on occasion so I can work with Raine.

Still, Athena ends up staying home at least one day a week. The main focus is on concentration. Shortly after she came to me at 20mths of age, the pediatrician said Athena needed to be taught to concentrate. “Put her in a high chair and give her some toys to play with for a little while.” I did. And did things like putting her in the high chair when meals were not quite ready. Athena would have to wait. She also stayed in her high chair when she was done and the rest of the family still ate.

Now, she stays in her room playing Legos each morning while I shower and dress. She’s making necklaces as part of her at home schooling. In addition to concentration, this helps with her fine motor skills which I wonder about sometimes.

I’ve been reading The Believers by Janice Holt Giles. It’s a novel about the early Shaker movement in America. Living communally, each member is given a monthly task – working in the garden, laundry, meal preparations, etc. For a month they devout themselves to this job. Then move on to another posting.

I worry I’m not up to the task of teaching concentration. I bake cookies while doing dishes, watching Dr Phil, and giving instructions on how to create button art (in hopes of occupying the kids for a few minutes). My house is a series of started projects. My room is forever turning into a disaster. I’m not overly organized or great at concentrating.

The Shaker lifestyle is becoming increasingly appealing as I evaluate my own way of doing things. There’s a great deal I disagree with in their theology but I enjoy the concept of being fully devoted to a single task. It’s something I’d like to incorporate into my own life.

Fail as I may, concentration is still a gift I’m working on giving my children and myself.

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