Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Hot Chocolate Memories

We were outside on Sunday and the air had a frosty nip to it and smelled like snow. I didn't know I remembered what snow smells like. It didn't snow of course, but the Littles would have been so, so happy if it had. It would never be what they really want, of course. They want the kind of epic snows I had as a child; they want the 4 foot drifts and the snowmen and a snow fort worthy of a cowboy. I don't know if anyone gets that kind of snow anymore, but it is as much a part of my childhood as Barbie dolls and Lincoln Logs.

In Colorado, when it snows, you still have school.  I remember my mother forcing me to put pants or snowpants under my dress because we had to walk 3 blocks to school and it was cold and snowy out there!  People shoveled their sidewalks, of course, but we took quite a few "short cuts" through snow drifts. We had recess too. No one had ever heard of "indoor recess." I don't believe we had a single time when the weather was too inclement for us to go outside.

(This picture isn't us, but it sure could be!)

It was a different world. I loved waking up to see the world blanketed in white. I doubt if Mom loved it. We'd put on our school clothes, then bread sacks over our shoes to keep our shoes dry and so the boots would go on easier. Then a sweater, snow-pants and snow-boots. Then hat, scarf and mittens and finally, a coat. These manipulations required adult assistance. It's hard to put on boots and it's even harder to zip your coat with mittens on . Little kids never had gloves back then. I think you were a teenager before you had gloves. Nothing fit 100% either; my snow clothes were once my sisters and my brother wore my cast-offs. I'm not sure where my sister's came from!
When we got all of that on, we could barely walk. It was a stiff legged, robotic walk at first as my knees learned to bend under the snow pants and my ankles got used to the boots. We would venture out and I still can taste that first whiff of fresh clean snow air. I loved how quiet the world was, blanketed in snow. We were often quiet the first few minutes as we listened to the loud sound of our own breathing in our scarves.

If it was a school day, I'm sure Mom closed the door and collapsed with a cup of coffee. If she was unlucky and it was a weekend, she probably braced herself for our inevitable and too fast return. When we came home, she always made hot chocolate. This was before "mix" and packets so it was yummy. One of my favorite childhood smells is the smell of scalded milk!  I make this for my kids on cold days still.

Hot Chocolate

1/3 cup dutch processed cocoa, unsweetened 
1/2 cup sugar
pinch salt

Stir all above together to break up the starch in the cocoa

3/4 water

Heat over medium high heat until the cocoa simmers 

3.5 cups milk, slowly, 1 cup at a time until heated then add more.

Top with marshmallows, (lots).

You can also add a pinch of cayenne and a teaspoon of cinnamon; that's our current favorite way to enjoy it.

What's your favorite hot chocolate memory?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Importance of Being Earnest

I am keenly aware that like most bloggers, I post mainly bright news, the happy stories. If you know me "in person," you'll know that's pretty true to me; I tend to lean optimistic. My motto growing up came from a Sunday School song: "Brighten the corner where you are."

That said, it's important to also be frank. I know our family is not the only one struggling but families tend to keep these struggles private. That sinister voice whispers, "It's all your fault; you're a terrible parent" and when we listen to that inner lie, then human nature is to hide it, to cover it up, and try to look good.  No one is helped by this.

Thus, here I am with a true story of three adorable children and how hard life  sometimes is with them. I am hoping that my talking about it might help other families who are struggling. 

Our "Littles" came with baggage: hundreds of toys, plenty of clothes and many books . . . as well as,  tox screens, prematurity, neonatal drug exposure, past head injuries, PTSD, learning challenges, and more. Their paperwork is literally over a foot high. I am the constant recipient of parenting advice. I have read more books and articles on parenting in the last 5 years than most people read in a lifetime. We talk about parenting every day. We try it all. It all helps a little . . . and nothing "works."

Foster kids are different. People cannot understand it because it's not a world most have lived in and it's not talked about. They have baggage. And lugging all that baggage around as a very young child changes them. It doesn't just change their attitudes, it changes their wiring. Thinking can be changed, hearts can be moved, but beliefs -- especially the ones formed when one is pre-verbal -- are very hard to change. Their little hearts have been broken in ways we cannot -- and do not want to -- know.

So they do what they do.

Tink acts inappropriately a lot of the time; she laughs too loud, talks too loud, acts suggestively, breaks things, drops things, runs into things, and generally seeks attention almost constantly. Her teacher kept complaining about her behavior but would not try the interventions we recommended. Finally, I spelled it out. "This child is not like other kids. She never gets enough love and attention. She didn't walk until she was 18 months old because she survived life in foster care by eating. She was huge. She was in foster care because when she was 8 months old, her mother's paramour threw her across a room and into a wall. She had brain damage that healed but her heart is broken in a way we can't begin to understand. She will do anything to make you love her. Please try to love her."  The letter helped. Things got better. She's the "easy" one.

The Blitz, generally a loving and happy boy, wants to have friends, but doesn't really know how to. He's smart as a whip but motor skills are such a challenge. He has tantrums the likes of which I've never seen. They are doozies. They may last 5 minutes, but 30 minutes to an hour is more common. A century ago, someone seeing a fit like his would call an exorcist.  It's terrifying; he looks (and acts) likes he possessed. His common refrain is, "No one loves me; no one cares about me." And it's devastating; it breaks your heart. There is nothing we can do to stop or shorten it. So far he has not done this at school but it is  only a matter of time. Their frequency and intensity is increasing. He has a 90% happy, wonderful life, but the 10% is very, very dark and terrible.

The Captain has serious learning challenges and he is in a tough position; he knows he's not like other kids. He's an amazing athlete and very good at making friends. Yet, he knows he can't do what his peers can do. His PTSD flares up when least expected. The oddest things set him off and he can be very scary.  He has a very fierce and hot temper. He tries hard to control himself, but he just is not able to. He is a brooder and will stomp and slam for an hour after the most minor correction. He has learned skills to help him cope but anyone who has lost control can tell you, it is a very tough thing "in the moment" to force yourself to call upon those skills.

Our house is a mess. They are chewers: they chew their clothes, books, bed sheets, fingernails, toenails, anything that doesn't bite back. They'd probably chew on the dogs if they dogs would let them. They're "pickers" too and bits of wallpaper are missing all over the house. They've flooded their toilet a dozen times. Their carpets are destroyed. Their toys are in pieces; we could have named them all "Bam-Bam." We teach, we correct, we re-teach. They are slowly improving. This destruction is somehow in them and hard to root out. Personally, I think it is a form of self-destruction.

Yes, of course we are doing things to help them. All we do is talk about how to help them. Our pediatrician is trying to help us find a new therapist; none of the dozen I've contacted will call me back. Medicaid therapists who treat children are few and far between and most have a waiting list.  Both the boys see the developmental pediatrician but we can't miss an appointment; the waiting list is a year long. The Blitz may be on the Autism Spectrum; that would explain his tantrums but not do much to impact them; stay tuned on that one. The Captain has just finished a long and intense series of tests to narrow down his learning disability and in January, he will finally begin receiving more and  -- more appropriate --educational interventions. Tinker is finally in a good place, behaviorally at school; we have to stay on top of it. Academically, she rocks.

Do not misunderstand: I love these three with a ferocity I'd have not believed possible. I will move heaven and earth for them and I would not trade them for the world. They are my training ground.

Nonetheless, life has irrevocably changed.When the school calls, I pray that it's a fever or a field trip form not returned. I never thought I would be "that mother" dreading calls from the school, but I admit that I am now that person.  The big, happy family I'd dreamed of looks a lot different than I thought it would. Almost no one asks us over; we're  too big a challenge. We don't have much company here either; life is too volatile and unpredictable. I thank God every day for big sisters and grandparents who love you no matter what. [Add to that cousins, Aunts, Uncles and shoe-string relations; our families have been AMAZING.]

Speaking of sisters, life is hard for the older girls. I try not to raise my voice but do, at least once, every day. Daddy, more often. The Littles can be naughty. Sunshine's friends are very understanding but you really never know what is going to happen. Both the Bigs have sacrificed a lot for the Littles. One person told me I'd ruined the older girls' lives. I disagree. It has changed their lives, certainly and in ways I never could have predicted. The calm, sweet life they had as little children is not the life these kids have and it's not the life they have anymore, either. It's raucous, it's crazy, it's loud and it's chaotic.. It's what it is. It has been hard for them but I have faith that it has also been instructive for them in ways books can never teach. They are self-sacrificing. They have a sense of family and responsibility that I never could have taught them. They know what it means to love. It comes from having to work at loving another person. When you fight for that love, it never leaves you.

There is a lot I don't do any more. I don't live in a clean house or even a tidy one. I don't put up Christmas lights. I don't write a lot of cards. I don't scrapbook. I don't even try to talk on the phone during "awake" hours We don't -- or rarely do -- go to restaurants. I don't go to the gym; I exercise at home. I don't stay up late; I go to bed early and get up at the crack of dawn because I don't have much left at the end of the day. We don't go to church every week and the kids don't go to Sunday School because last year was basically a disaster. I don't take them anywhere for play dates; I have only very rarely dared to leave them in that way. And, I don't give up; I can't.

I do get tons of advice, all of it honestly well-meaning, I do keep trying different things. I do keep hoping and praying, reading and making calls. I do advocate for them and their special needs and I am well known at their school. I do keep trying to clean and organize and one day, we'll get there. I do play with them and correct them and tell them every day that I am very glad they're mine.

Perhaps more relevant, I do thank God every day for these three beautiful souls. I thank Him that I am able to see that beauty in them and that, in fact, I love them more every day. I thank God that they love me too and can see beyond my impatience and -- at times -- my hopelessness. I do surrender; I finally get that I am not in control and I am not in charge. I can't change them, but I can love them and love does change people, in Love's own time.

I have said all this because you probably know a family like ours. Their kids came from Russia or Louisiana or the next county. They are adopted kids or they came the "usual way." They are "That Family." They make a ruckus at church. Their kids misbehave in school. Their house is a mess. The parents look stressed and you whisper to your kids, "Don't play with them. They're naughty."

That is the family you need to reach out to. Meet them in a park. Take Mom a cup of coffee.  Pray for them. Kiss your own kids and thank God that they have had YOU all their lives. You are the best gift you can ever give them.

God bless them; God bless you.

PS -- Please check out this link offered by my friend Sue Sneed:

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Back to School for Anyone and Everyone

Blink! Summer's over. Wow, that was fast!

It's my fault it went so quick. Did I mention at any point in my last post I was taking teacher certification courses over the summer? Well, now you know. And I got a teaching job; a great job in a Title 1 School with an amazing staff. So school has started and we all went back. Here's the proof:
Tinker Bell - 2nd Grade

The Blitz  - 1st Grade

The Captain - 2nd Grade


Special Ed Faculty at Voigt Elementary Yay!

In addition to being back to school, we are back to ball. I should have some photos to post next week but here's one little cutie to warm your heart:

Happy Labor Day Weekend!!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Life in the Fast Lane

Oh, the lazy days of summer!  (This is where you insert that sound of a record scratching to a halt.)

Okay, they haven't exactly been lazy days! If you saw my post on organizing the family for all-day out-of-town sporting events, you have a pretty good idea of how my summer is going.  Here's our schedule:

Monday - recover from the weekend and do a mountain of gross, sweaty laundry (see Saturday and Sunday). I exercise. Take the kids swimming. Reading. Math.
Tuesday - boys have therapy and other appointments; try to squeeze in cleaning the house. I exercise. Reading, Math.
Wednesday - Weight Watchers, I exercise, take the kids swimming; more errands and appointments. Laundry. Try to spend  quality time with husband. Reading, Math.
Thursday - I exercise (see a trend here?, Spend the day finishing the laundry, grocery shopping, prepping snacks and packing for the weekend. Reading, Math.
Friday -  Hit the road early with Sunshine, Tinker and the Blitz. Check into our hotel, head to the ballpark. When we drag back to the hotel late at night, swim the Littles, bathe everyone, get them in bed. I exercise. Meanwhile, Dear Hubby, Pepper, and the Captain stay at home to do the same ball playing with The Captain.
Saturday - Just like Friday without the driving.
Sunday - Just like Saturday except the driving comes at the end of the ball playing and Mama gets a day off of exercise . . . well, after I get in at least 10K steps, that is!

It is a wild and crazy life and I wouldn't have it any other way. There is nothing I love more than watching my kids play ball. And the exercise, well that's about leveling up my own life, so that has to hit the top of my priority chart.

We are also having a lot of fun, so that's what summer's about, right?  Sunday I called Pepper to let her know we were headed home to celebrate Father's Day, and not only had she organized a Father's Day meal, she had also organized a picnic to Barton Creek for Monday!  So much fun and something I'd probably not have gotten to without her support. 

It made me revamp my schedule to decide that Monday will be FUN Day after our busy ball weekends. Yes, the laundry must be done, but so must FUN!

The saving grace in all of this is I do have a master schedule for the week days, so most days we are getting in the kids reading time, sight word games and math. At least we are managing to preserve their brain cells and hopefully avoid the "summer slide." 

This is our last week of our summer round of well-checks, dental appointments, etc., so that will be several hours back in my day. I can finally stop emergency cleaning and get onto decluttering! Yay. In July, we have only Sunshine playing ball so may get some camping in. That said, I am also on the lookout for fun, free family activities, so if you have any ideas for us, send them my way via comments or Pinterest!

Have a wonderful weekend.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Surviving All Stars and Select Tournaments! (In Comfort if Not in Style!) WIth FREE Printable lists.

It's Select and All-Stars season.  For us, that means every weekend we are watching one or more tournaments in the Texas heat and humidity.  Half of the time, we're away from home and staying in a hotel. Special preparations are required to save our lives and our pocketbook!

In true Dreena-fashion, I made a couple of checklists to help us not only survive but thrive during tournament season.  Keep in mind that there are one to three youngsters in tow who are not playing ball so some of these preparations cater to them. My goal is to keep everyone well hydrated and reasonably well fed so that when we have a long enough break to go eat, we are able to make healthier choices. Certainly this strategy would apply to lots of hot-weather activities; think: 4th of July, swim meets, soccer matches; the list is endless.

Here is my packing list for tournament weekends, printable in PDF format. It's two pages.

In case the embedded link doesn't work, here is a direct link.
Here is my shopping list for tournament weekends:
If you include other items in your comfort/survival packs, let me know! I am always working to improve our process.  You too can look this relaxed at the ballpark!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Spring Break Photo Fest

Here are a few photos from our Spring Break camp-out at Galveston Island State Park:

It was verrrrry cold the first day

We woke up to a display of hundreds of these interesting webs.

There is a small cold boy regrouping under here.

The Silly S'more Selfie collection

Pleasure Pier

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Parenting 101: Behavior does not Cause Reactions!

I am reading an interesting book about play therapy. Attachment is an ongoing issue around here. These little ones brought some baggage with them and attachment seems to be the only way to unpack and organize it.

I know all three would benefit from formal attachment therapy, but at what cost? I realized that in order to get even one or two of them in regular therapy, it would necessitate giving up T-ball for the boys. With school, there are simply not enough hours in the week; we barely scrape by as it is, timewise, during ball season. So then comes the necessity of deciding which will benefit them more, play therapy or "play ball."

This book, The Parent Survival Guide: From Chaos to Harmony in Ten Weeks or Less, offers me a chance to do both. I am in the stages of assembling my kit and making my plans, so "special playtimes" haven't started yet. The Captain, on the other hand, is undergoing some sort of new metamorphosis that is not sitting well around here. He has become extremely stubborn and has realized I will not physically make him do anything so is experimenting with simply not doing anything at all -- and or having a giant tantrum -- when I get too directive with him.

I, on the other hand, no candidate for parent of the year, am trying to remember to use the reflective technique the author, Theresa Kellam, teaches in the book. Basically, I am to narrate his behavior, without sarcasm, meanness or irony in my tone. "Oh, you are laying on the floor," "You're pretending you can't hear me," etc. Once I've done that, the next step is to narrate his feelings. "You are angry because I said you can't watch TV."  This part is trickier than it sounds because I don't honestly always know what precipitated the behavior. In that case, it has to be simplified to "you are angry, you are afraid," etc.

It is very hard to remember to do this when a child is pushing my buttons. When I can remember, it works very well. It takes some self discipline too; my first impulse is to push back. A mark of adulthood is having the maturity to regulate my behavior. It seems so obvious but it is so easy to blame the child for my reaction. I cannot control my emotional response but I can control my reaction/behavior. To me, the real irony in all of this is that this is exactly what we are asking our child to do and hoping to teach them. Your emotions/feelings are real and valid; nonetheless, you have to control your reaction.

I have said all this as much to remind myself as to enlighten you. So step one is for me to get very good at the technique just described and, step two, is to gather the tools I need for the therapeutic playtime and implement it as soon as reasonable. I am aiming for getting it started during spring break.

This is a good book with sound principals and no "tricky" parenting. I recommend it for anyone in the trenches.