Tag Archives: Boys

Hello, my name is…

He stepped into my kitchen and extended his hand. I smiled and greeted him. While shaking his hand I glanced around the room.

My son was surrounded by his friends. Some he hadn’t seen since they all scattered for college nearly a year ago. They resembled the boys he hung out with in the past, only taller, with deeper voices, and facial hair. But this one I had never met. So he introduced himself.

“I’m John,” he said.

“I’m Miss Lisha,” I replied. But the sound of that name felt strange.

I realize that naming traditions and salutations vary in different places, so let me explain how we do it here. In the South, most adults are referred to as “Mister” or “Miss” followed by their first name. “Miss Lisha” has been the name my sons’ friends have called me for their entire lives. It always seemed right.

ImageDuring our years in the military, my husband and I were referred to by our surname, his salutation preceded by his rank, mine my “Mrs.” In those circles, it seemed right.

But this felt strange. What do I call myself to my grown sons’ friends?

This is new territory for me, and I’m not really sure how to handle it.

If I were meeting this young man in the workplace I would have introduced myself as “Lisha” without hesitation. But he was part of my son’s posse, and that made it feel different. In this setting, it almost felt a bit creepy, a bit too familiar for a personal introduction.

Now, I’ve never had any hang-ups about titles or formalities. To be honest, the whole “Mrs. Fink” thing makes me feel either antiquated or pretentious. I accepted it as part of our military lifestyle, but I much prefer “Miss Lisha.” It’s my “mom title.” Which is, after all, how I’ve defined myself for over two decades.

But now, with grown kids, who am I?

Miss Lisha? Lisha? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s time for a cool nickname so I can avoid the whole thing.

I want my boys to continue to use these “courtesy titles” with the adults they have known since childhood. Neighbors, mothers and fathers of their friends, even teachers with whom they still keep in touch. It’s a sign of respect – for them and for our traditions. But what about new introductions?

I guess I’m going to have to give this some time. I should probably take the lead from the kids young adults themselves. It’s new territory for them, too.

–  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –

Good riddance.

The morning started like every other school day. Except this one was different. This was the day he was leaving.

As I went through the motions of getting my youngest son ready for his school day, I was preparing myself for my middle son to leave for college.

Amid the hustle of making breakfast and double-checking backpacks, I was trying to think of the little things he still needed to pack, and all the things I wanted to tell him. Time did not permit, however, and we hustled out the door.

But there was still so much I wanted to say.

I wanted to remind him to keep breakfast food in his room, because he likes to sleep til the absolute last minute. But there was no time.

We drove little brother to school in C’s car, with dad following in my packed SUV. Mr. Wonderful let me ride with my boy, allowing me to squeeze in the last few precious hours. After dropping his brother off, we rendezvoused for breakfast.

Once we settled in at a table my husband asked, “What Shakespeare play had that dad who gave the good advice to his son? ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be…’”

“Hamlet,” C replied.

Then he looked across the table with a smirk and said, “Dad, don’t be a Polonius.”

The moment looked a little like this, only at a Subway in New Orleans. (Source: theoldglobe.org)

The moment looked a little like this, only at a Subway in New Orleans.
(Source: theoldglobe.org)

His father smiled back in silent agreement.

But there was still so much more I wanted to say.

I wanted to remind him that I’d packed all the medicine he’d need if he got sick, and that his insurance card was in his wallet. And that if he needed anything, he had my credit card.

Instead we chatted about the campus, and its proximity to the beach. Then we got back in the cars and headed east.

For the next few hours, Slick and I chatted about many things. Some profound, some mundane. Some practical, some superfluous.

But there was still much more I wanted to say.

And before I knew it, we arrived at campus. We unloaded the car and unpacked his things. We discussed the importance of organization when mom wasn’t there to find things. We talked about the dynamics of living with a roommate. Not ready to separate, we went shopping for snacks and drinks and breakfast foods, and notebooks and pens and extension cords. We had lunch and laughed when he spilled ketchup on his shorts – and I wished I’d bought that stain remover thing I’d seen in Target. Then I remembered doing laundry with Mr. Wonderful in college, and smiled. He’d figure it out. And he’ll have the time of his life doing so.

We returned to the dorm and I felt a quiet satisfaction, knowing he was ready.

It was time for me to go.

Quickly, before he had a chance to see me cry.

I told him again how much I loved him, and how proud I was of the man he had become. And even though there was so much more I wanted to say, I simply said goodbye.

Good riddance, son. I hope you have the time of your life.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DyLOkbW9yCI
(Click the link, it all makes sense when you do.)

 

The New Normal

For everything there is a season.

And every season ends.

Giving us a new beginning.

All this philosophizing is my way of revealing something kind of big. Big to me, at least.

I’ve gone back to work. Five days a week. In shoes and business attire. (Cue sad music.)

For the last twenty years I’ve had the luxury of working part-time, pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors, and frankly, having time to myself. Now before you get an image of me eating bon bons and watching Oprah, let me backtrack. In that time I’ve had three kids, cared for ailing parents, managed our rental properties, run a business from home and kept up with my military husband, including a deployment. (There are no bon bons in my home and I’m not a fan of the Big O.)

But it was all done on our terms, and shoes were largely optional for most of it. It was a luxury we allowed ourselves, and our children and lifestyle were the beneficiaries.

Now, as we enter the next season – having two kids in college – that season is coming to an end.

So I find myself embarking on a new adventure. Trying to figure out how to continue doing all of the things that filled my days while managing a five-day-a-week commitment to an employer. Our tenants aren’t going away, and our elder care responsibilities have only changed a little. With two boys in college my laundry load should be lighter, and I won’t need as big a pot on the stove most days, but I’m wondering how that’s going to free up enough time for a job.

Are you ready to call the wh-ambulance for me yet?

Thank you for the royalty-free image, Microsoft.

Thank you for the royalty-free image, Microsoft.

I’m not really here to whine. (Well, maybe just a little.) But I am feeling the need to express just how terrified I am about the whole idea. The idea of failing.

Will I fail at the new job? There are technical aspects that I’ll have to learn. I’m starting to think of myself in the “old dog” category.  I don’t really want to learn how to use the new Tivo remote. So learning a new job where making a mistake costs people time and money is scaring the crap out of me.

Will I fail my kids? Will I have energy to help the Caboose with his homework? Will I have time to visit Slick at his new college out of state? Will I be able to help the Trailblazer settle in to his new house this fall?

Will I fail as a wife? Will I have time to fulfill my “wifely” duties? (Cooking Italian food, not the other thing.)

Perhaps I’ll just have to practice what I preach, and let myself off the hook for all of that, and remember why I’m going back to work. So my kids can have the futures we want for them.

The new normal will mean the house won’t be as tidy. But I already have a philosophy about that. I’ll just need to employ it. My garden won’t be as green. Not a tragedy. My youngest son, who’ll be the only kid left at home come August will have to become more responsible and independent. But it’s time for that anyway.

So it turns out it’s not really a big deal after all. Just a new season of my life.

Discovering his genius

Since my son’s diagnosis with multiple learning disabilities* four years ago, we have been on quite a roller coaster.

He is severely dyslexic. His ability to comprehend written words is practically non-existent. Oh, he can read. He can make the sounds in his mind or aloud. But his brain processes that information differently, making him unable to remember what he read when he’s finished.

So he learns differently than most people. He remembers by hearing. He masters by doing.

But despite this (or perhaps because of it?) he’s a bright kid, with a great vocabulary and a freakish memory. And while I have no doubt he will be a productive member of society someday, the challenge at hand is getting him out of 7th grade.

This has been on our fridge for years. We speak in terms of bird and fish often.

This has been on our fridge for years. We speak in terms of bird and fish often.

When frustration hits us, we talk openly about his differences. He knows he has a “learning” challenge, not a “knowing” challenge. What’s different for him is the way he learns, not the amount he is capable of learning. And once he masters something he owns it in a way that a neuro-typical learner does not.

He knows his genius is in there.

But it’s hard for the rest of the world to see it. Sometimes, it’s even hard for me to see.

Last night, for the first time, I really, really saw it. So  indulge me while I share.

He’s working on a computer assignment for school, and using a program to develop a computer animation. (His school is very tech-advanced.) After school, I heard him on the phone. I stuck my head in to see what was going on, and I saw him with his iPhone propped up facing his computer screen. He was explaining to a classmate how to do the assignment while showing the steps via Face Time. I recognized the classmate’s voice, and I was stunned. He was helping one of the “smart kids” do his homework.

A couple of hours later, I heard him discussing it again. Once more I stood quietly and listened. This time he was explaining the steps to the process in a linear manner – something he has NEVER been able to do. You know, first you do step 1, then step 2, and so on.

This ability – processing information in a logical, sequential manner – is one of the hardest things for a dyslexic to do. (To understand this better, click this LINK. This is the best explanation of how a dyslexic brain processes information that I’ve ever seen.)

The woman in the video is Diana Vogel, The Kid Whisperer from Australia. The first time I saw it I was finally able to understand how this seemingly disorganized brain had an ABILITY, not a disability. That BECAUSE of the way it worked, not in spite of the way it worked, he would be able to accomplish great things. That this challenge was a K-12 problem, not a life-long problem. That my vision of him was accurate, not just a mother’s dream.

In the video linked above, Vogel confirms my theory. “This [dyslexic] brain, if we can get it through school, has the ability to shape and change our world. Whereas this [normal] brain, while also having the ability to shape and change our world, has been trained to only look at the information that was demanded, and not all the information that it contains.”

What I saw last night, the thing I’ve been waiting for years to see, was his genius beginning to appear.

Not long ago I wrote about my longing for the world to see my son the way I see him. Last night I got my first glimpse of it. And my heart soared.

A LITTLE MORE INFORMATION ABOUT DYSLEXIA AND FRACTURED THINKING:

For more information on non-linear thinking click HERE: http://www.akidjustlikeme.com/id79.htm

To see a video with dyslexic simulations:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwZLFTW4OGY

*Their word, not mine. 

_____________________________________________

Do you have a story to share about someone who learns differently? Do you learn differently? Please share!

Rediscovering Beauty

A few days ago, I slowed down.

While this might not sound like much of a news flash to you, it was a big deal to me. Because I rarely do it.

Our days are full. We wake early and start hustling to get out of the house on time for school and work. While the kids are in school, I run errands, go grocery shopping, do housework, work on our rental properties, visit nursing homes. Afternoon carpool usually comes before my list is checked off, leaving the undone tasks for the next day. After school it’s homework, dinner, often more homework. (If you’ve been around for a while, you know my son is dyslexic, so he needs more assistance than most kids his age. So I’m not done til he’s done.)

Baskets of laundry often line the walls upstairs, and piles of mail await attention. I have a hard time overlooking all the undone work and relaxing, so when I’m home I’m usually in motion.

I tell myself that it’s this phase of my life. That I will be able to slow down one day. One of my boys is in college, another heading off in the fall. That’ll leave just one kid at home. And before I know it, he’ll be grown, too, and I’ll have all the time I need to finish my to-do list. But for now, I’m just too damn busy.

Busy

Too damn busy to notice what’s going on around me. Too engaged in action. Too full of distracting detail. Too preoccupied to notice the beauty around me.

In a slower time, I was very good at “everyday beauty.” I’d linger at the corner to take in the field of clover or pause to admire the clouds. I took pride in my garden and home. I helped neighbors. I sent hand-written birthday cards, baked cupcakes, did good deeds.  I made it my mission to see beauty in every day, and to share it with others.

But I’ve become so busy I’ve forgotten to pause and see it.

I’ve reduced myself to a “get it done” life.

And it has taken a toll on me.

So last Sunday, I was forced to slow down. My son had a choir concert, which is a very big deal to him. We kept our church clothes on (which made it feel like an even bigger deal) and went across town to hear him sing.

After we arrived, I fumbled with the program to make sure my son’s name was spelled right and resisted the urge to pull out my phone and check Facebook while we waited for the performance to begin. I just sat. Still and quiet.

I looked around at the church and admired the architecture. I stared out the window at the clouds. I looked at my nearly-grown son sitting next to me and marveled at how handsome he has become. Things slowed down.

The children took the stage and started singing. And the words that flowed were the very words I needed to hear at that exact moment.

“Let me know beauty in my mind, in my sight, let it brighten my daytime, let it comfort my night. Let my mind know the beauty that the world has to give, O let me know beauty for as long as I live…”                                                             — Allan E. Naplan

I needed to be reminded of this. I needed to be reminded that beauty and joy and happiness are out there for the taking. But they don’t come to you if you aren’t open to receive them. Whizzing by in a hurry leaves them sitting there, waiting for the next taker. 

So I’m going to slow down, recognize the beauty around me, and let it become part of me. I’m going to look out of the window more. Admire the architecture more. Listen more intently. Take it all in.

Because beauty is out there. It’s up to me to slow down and discover it.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Do you find yourself too busy to see the beauty around you? If not, tell me your secrets, please.

And do you check the program to see if your kid’s name is spelled right?

 

Through My Eyes

Image

He even rides a unicycle.

My youngest son is twelve years old. He’s small for his age, with a high-pitched voice and tiny hands. He looks out of place among his peers.

He’s different in other ways, too. His small stature means he can’t compete physically with other boys his age, so he sits on the sideline for team sports, chosen last at pick-up games.

He has a quirky personality. He gets lost in his thoughts sometimes, unable to articulate them to others, coming across as goofy and aloof. His short attention span often gets him in trouble.

He doesn’t care about clothes like a lot of kids his age. He has a handful of favorite t-shirts and shorts, and wears them when he wants to, regardless of how they look.

He has trouble organizing his thoughts. Information doesn’t line up in his brain in a linear manner like it does for most people. Instead, his mind is a kaleidoscope of ideas, whirling around in a manner that makes sense only to him.

He doesn’t handle stress well. When he’s anxious, he’ll pull the right side of his shirt collar into his mouth and start chewing. When I see him doing that I’m grateful that he’s moved on from his other nervous habit: hurting himself.

.  .  .

This is how the world sees him.

.  .  .

This is how I see him.

He’s small, just like his brothers. He’ll probably be a late bloomer just like they were, but he’ll catch up to the crowd eventually.

I’m glad he likes running cross-country. It’s a team sport where you compete against yourself. Your own improvement is what really matters, at least at this level. He’s growing stronger, running faster, developing self-discipline.

He comes up with the most impressive thoughts. Really out-of-the-box things – like designs for machines, concepts for movies and lyrics for songs. He has taught himself sound production and movie-making on his own. Someday he will create something really amazing, or invent something new, because he thinks so big.

He’s attached to things that mean something to him. The t-shirt he bought when we saw The Lion King in the theater is his favorite, and he loves the shirts from the races he’s run. He wants them close to him as often as possible.

When his mind starts racing, I wish I could get inside it with him, because I know he’s coming up with some pretty amazing stuff in there. He’s getting better at expressing himself verbally, but the words still fly out faster than I can grasp them. Written expression is still miles away, but he’ll get there. I know he will. Because I won’t give up until he does.

He’s still afraid of failure. Who wouldn’t be if they walked in his shoes? He can’t read on grade level, can’t make a decent oral argument, has handwriting no one can read (not even himself). He stinks at sports and doesn’t have many friends. But he’s handling anxiety better now than he used to. I  tremble when I think of the days he used to bite his arm until it was purple, or hit his head on the floor out of frustration. I will always watch him closely, because I fear he’ll be the one who cuts himself.

For the rest of the world, my boy wears a lot of labels. Labels like ADD, dyslexia, dysgraphia. Runt, girly, immature, weird.

But to me he only wears one.

Son.

My son.

And I long for the day when others see him the way I do.

______________________________________________________

Is there someone in your life who is often misunderstood?

Toilet Water with a Wine Chaser

Yesterday we left the youngest home alone for a little while. Upon returning, I notice a spill on the kitchen counter, on the opposite side from the sink and fridge. Not a spot where we usually pour drinks or spill ice cubes, so it was a bit unusual.

And, as everyone knows, in order to clean something up effectively, you should know what it is. For example, if it was water, I would have wiped it up with a paper towel. If it was Sprite or some other sugary beverage, I would have used a wet rag. If it was wine, I would’ve probably used a straw.

But the location of this had me puzzled, and I really didn’t know what it was or how it got there.

So, like any crazy practical woman would do, I dipped my finger in the spill and tasted it. Water. Good. Wipe it up and go on, and no point wondering for too long how it got there.

But a few minutes later, there was more water on the counter, so I looked up. I noticed some water on the bottom edge of the upper cabinet. My mind is trying to figure out how water got there. Did someone smack a cup or bottle of water on the counter, causing it to shoot up? Had it been a carbonated drink, the kid might have had a gusher, but it was water. Where was water coming from?

I looked further up, and there it was. Water dripping through the ceiling. Must be the water heater. Mr. Wonderful and I dash up the stairs and into the attic, but that’s not it. We move into the bathroom.

But the bathroom floor is dry. So we check under the sink. Dry. Then I feel the wet rug, and all the pieces of the puzzle fly into place in an instant. The boy overflowed the toilet. The boy tried to clean it up so we wouldn’t know. I just tasted potty water. Dirty potty water.

Yep. I drank what came out of one of these. (Thank you, Microsoft, for the royalty-free image.)

 

So now I have a new item on that list of Things I Never Thought I’d Do.

I drank a glass of wine to sanitize my mouth calm my nerves.   Then I got out the mop and bleach and cleaned it up. And now my kitchen and bathroom smell Clorox-fresh, and I’m out of wine.

*  *  *  *

This post was submitted to Yeah Write!

A Big Win for a Little Boy

Last night I had the great pleasure of judging a speech competition at a local elementary school.

To fully understand this, I need to tell you a little about the public schools in my community. They’re not great. (Apologies to those who disagree.) I live in Louisiana, where our schools consistently hover between 48th and 50th in performance nationally. (We get excited when Mississippi sucks worse than we do.)

And I’m sure I’ll catch some flack for saying this, but I’m going to say it. Except for the bright kids in the magnet schools – most of the kids in our public schools are those whose parents can’t afford private tuition and those who require services that private schools don’t offer. We’re talking the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum and the Special Ed kids. It is what it is.

In the years I’ve worked with speech competitions, I’ve coached kids for whom English isn’t their first language (sometimes it’s not even spoken in their homes). Hearing-impaired and autistic students. Children whose parents couldn’t afford to buy a costume prop so their child could look a little like Abraham Lincoln when delivering an excerpt from the Gettysburg Address.

But they practice and work hard, and a lucky few score high enough in their classroom competitions to make it to Speech Night.

So last night, when Rick (not his real name) stepped up on the stage, I took a breath. He embodied every stereotype of a bullied kid – heavy-set, pale-skinned, lumbering on the stage awkwardly. While the other boys had costumes or trendy attire, he had his collared shirt neatly tucked in, and was wearing a belt. Fifth grade boys don’t tuck their shirts in and wear belts when they have a choice. He looked out of place. He looked different.

He approached the microphone and introduced himself and his speech. He would be delivering a passage from Ronald Reagan’s “Tear Down That Wall” speech in Berlin. Big shoes for an awkward kid.

The Gipper would have been proud.
Photo via Wikipedia.

He paused after his introduction, and words started pouring out of his mouth with an eloquence I cannot describe. His clumsiness disappeared, and chills ran through my body.

All of the awkwardness was gone, replaced with confidence and conviction.

He delivered the speech, and applause filled the room. And I realized that moment just might be a defining moment in this boy’s life.

The other contestants delivered their speeches, and the scores were being tallied while the nervous students waited. It was the moment of dread, where a handful of students were to be declared winners, and others would go home trophy-less and disappointed.

Rick was the winner. First place. He seemed a little stunned, and not quite sure how to handle himself with all the applause and praise.

You see, Rick is autistic. The playing field for him runs uphill. But last night, on the big stage in his school, he was The Best. Better than the athletic boys, better than the well-spoken girls.

As I looked over at the chairs where the kids who didn’t win were sitting, I saw a boy with his face in his hands, crying in front of his classmates and teachers. His speech had been from his idol, a professional athlete from our home town. And he really thought he was going to win.

Then I saw Rick. Beaming.

That other boy will have lots of trophies before he grows up, but this might be one of the only big wins for Rick. This trophy that he earned in fifth grade might be the motivation he needs to try harder, to overcome more. This trophy will mean the world to him.

Because a little validation goes a long way, even for kids. And last night, the judges, his teachers, and the world (at least the world as he knows it) said he was The Best.

I hope today he greets his classmates with a new-found confidence. I hope today he takes on his schoolwork with a little more energy. I hope the smile that he left the auditorium with last night doesn’t leave his face for a long, long time.

I hope he remembers what it feels like to be The Best.

Life is Good Enough.

Good enough.

I used to hate those words. They always seemed like a cop-out.

Then I had three kids. And we bought an apartment building. And got a dog. And I started taking care of my in-laws. And I just couldn’t keep up with my old standards any more. I started to feel inadequate, and beating myself up regularly over the things I couldn’t get done.

But I found a solution. A way out of the self-imposed guilt. I’ve turned over a new leaf.

I’ve embraced mediocrity.

And now, good enough has become . . . Good Enough. Not just a measure of acceptance, but a whole new philosophy for life. A new mantra.

Here are a few excerpts from the Good Enough Manual:

Good Enough Laundry = clean (for the most part). The kid who hasn’t yet gone through puberty may occasionally wear shirts more than once. Folding is optional. And you already know how I feel about sorting socks.

No more shame!

Good Enough Dinner = everyone eats something. Most nights I provide the meal. Most nights we eat together. But if we can’t, we can’t. My children are now old enough to handle sharp knives and prepare food. They know the way to Subway. They won’t go hungry.

Good Enough Housekeeping = a reasonable standard of hygiene in the bathrooms and kitchen. Enough said.

Dusting is now optional.

Good Enough Landscaping = the weeds will die once we have a cold snap. Probably. If not, they’ll bloom in the spring and I’ll call it a garden.

I’m no longer envious of my friends with their picture-perfect homes and spotless cars. They can hop in with me and we can go to lunch. Or we can drive out to the lake and eat Cheerios off the back seat. It doesn’t matter to me.

This weekend we’re going to a cross-country meet in Baton Rouge. Instead of rushing home as soon as The Caboose crosses the finish line, we’re going to go visit The Trailblazer at LSU. We’re going to enjoy a little October weather and I’m not going to worry about housework.

When I get home I may print up some membership cards to the Good Enough Club. Who wants one?

 

 

A study of cause and effect: If you give a boy a paintbrush

Image source: Microsoft.

Image source: Microsoft.

If you give a boy a paintbrush, he’ll want to help you paint.

If you agree to let him help, you’ll have to give him a bucket of paint.

If you give him a bucket of paint, he’ll spill some on the floor, and you’ll have to give him a rag to clean it up.

When he has a rag to clean up, he’ll make a bigger mess trying to wipe up the spill, and he’ll get paint all over himself.

When he gets paint all over himself, you’ll send him to the bathroom sink to clean himself up.

While cleaning himself up, he’ll splash paint-water all over the bathroom mirror, and you’ll give him paper towels and window cleaner to clean the mess.

After cleaning up the mirror mess, he’ll get water all over the floor.

When he gets water all over the floor, he’ll need more paper towels to clean it up.

After cleaning up the water on the floor, you’ll tell him to go chill out and listen to his iPod for a little while.

After listening to his iPod for a little while, he’ll get bored.

And when he’s bored, he’ll ask if he can help you paint.*

          * Inspired by actual events.