The Story of Boy Part 1

I have permission to tell his story. It took a year and it took us coming to the understanding that while he wants to forget it, his mom can’t. Because it isn’t just Boy’s story. It is his family’s story. A beautiful and funny family who are far from perfect and who are struggling intensely while managing to keep their heads above water …

Until they no longer could and they crashed into an abyss.

I asked the oldest sibling if he minded if I told their story because even though it is Boy’s it is also his … He appreciates I considered his feelings, since many forget it is his story too. He doesn’t want to talk about it. He wants to forget and move on. I get that, but sometimes the story needs to be told for everyone to be able to move on. He grudgingly understands some can’t heal until they can tell their part. I respect his side won’t be told until he is ready. We have an understanding.

So what is this story?

It is the story of a boy unlike any other. A boy who is a super hero, his greatest strength also being his greatest weakness. That is his story … His strength becoming his weakness.

Boy was born on a cold winter day and with the great capacity to feel far more deeply than most humans. This may not seem like much, but don’t underestimate the power of feelings.

Boy’s empathy is so great that even as a tiny toddler he would cry and ask his mom to save all the orphans. Heartwrenching sobs for vague humans he never even saw a picture of, but knew existed.

Boy has struggles in life; his world is black & white but the real world is full of grey. He doesn’t understand grey, but he feels it into his bones and because of that he struggles. He is a warrior and his mother is his guide.

It is this deep empathy though that also created Boy’s biggest struggle because his feelings and emotions manifested so deeply into him that he would personalize it and own it in his soul. And there began the struggle …

You cannot speak words into Boy without his heart and soul immediately claiming them as truth. This means that as a child he was funny, loving, energetic, smart, and all the beautiful words parents tell their children. This also means that as Boy got older he clutched onto the words of others including stupid, slow, annoying, trouble, liar, gay …. words that weren’t true, but he owned them as his because in his black & white world why would anyone tell him things that are untrue?

The worst were the words from trusted adults. Yes. Adults. Adults whose only job was to love him and show him Christ’s love. The task they had wasn’t hard, yet they met him with judgement, unkindness, and even disgust. They believe so deeply in the lie of complete conformity that they were unwilling to see the beauty of differences. So instead of helping him blossom they crushed him over a period of months until he exploded.

During this time Mom saw and tried to make it better. She tried to get the adults to see. She tried to create positive change. What she missed was the internal struggle in Boy was terrible, like gnashing teeth against his soul. He became irritable, irrational, and even mean.

His brain finally told him “The world is better off without you.” And in that moment he walked upstairs, closed his door, and tightened a belt around his throat and pulled until he collapsed on his floor.

His mom was sitting at her desk. Something in the air was off. She could feel it. The aura of the house was different. Her heart was pounding and she didn’t know why. She got up and walked straight into Boy’s room, hitting his head with the door as she opened it because she didn’t know he was laying there. She remembers she felt terrible for opening the door on him. “Oh my gosh, Boy! Why are you on the floor? Are you ok?” And she grabbed his shoulder and turned him over and saw the belt.

And she screamed.

She screamed and screamed and screamed and her fingers fumbled horribly with the belt until she got it off.

He had a pulse still. Faint. But it was there.

And the oldest was next to her and she was screaming and he was pushing his sisters down the stairs so they wouldn’t see.

I won’t tell anymore of his story since he wants to forget it. I respect that. But know he was there. He saw it all. It hasn’t been an easy year for him. His story is his to tell if he ever decides he needs to and not for you to ask him about, but know he was there and he saw it all.

There were so many police and she just kept apologizing. She failed. She failed at protecting her family. She failed as a mom. She kept saying “I am so sorry.” Her husband came home from work and the ambulance took him and Boy away. And she apologized. “I am sorry we inconvenienced you. Yes the rest of the kids are safe. No we have never had a problem like this before. Yes we will get help. I am so sorry.”

She made her way to the hospital. She knows the roads well enough that she can’t remember how she got there, but she did …. And she apologized to the desk worker for not knowing where her son was and to the nurses who took care of Boy and to whom ever would listen to her pleading voice asking to be forgiven for failing.

Boy survived. He got help (that continues even now) and some days are still rough, but he is a warrior.

Mom … well, some days we still wonder how her story will end …

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Huge Change

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This year, quite at the last minute, Marco and I decided to place the girls into public school. This is something we talked about ever since we moved into our current school district. When we first moved here we knew the school was a great school, Dee would be going into kindergarten so it would have been great timing. This is what stopped us:

1) Dee had massive anxiety. It was so extreme I was afraid putting her into school would be more harmful than good and I wanted her to love school.

2) The year prior had been awful. Marco lost his job, we lived in different states, and we were homeless. Mark slept on the couch at a friend’s place here and I hopped from place to place. I stayed at an empty house owned by a church, my parents’ house, and hotels. I dragged the kids and dog along with me. It was stressful. The unstable life we led made me want to create a bubble of stability for my kids. I wanted them home with me.

3) Debilitating fear of what the homeschool community would think of me for sending my kids to public school, the fear of being ostracized by homeschoolers and public school mommas since I wouldn’t really fall into either category exclusively, and the fear of being a failure. I feared I had failed at homeschooling my girls. Yes, I realize now that I hadn’t failed, but my fear was real and legitimate.

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We finally came to a breaking point. I was burnt out. Dee and I would fight every time I tried to teach her reading. Math and art and every other subject as fine, but reading? Oh my word. It was awful. Math came easy to her, but reading was hard and she would rather play than read. I cried a lot. She cried a lot. It was not how homeschooling should be. One would think the kid with learning issues and special needs would be the one I struggled to teach. Nope.

To make all of this all 100% worse we were in a homeschool co-op that was the worst experience ever. I loved the other moms there, but the leaders were terrible. They believe in 100% unbending conformity (when I told my therapist this he shuddered). They were not nice people and I hated the toxic environment I was in. I knew I wasn’t going to go back there, but at the same time I knew I couldn’t be home 7 days a week with all 5 kids because I was burnt out. Working at minimum 2 jobs and at maximum 4 jobs, I needed help.

All summer long I struggled with “The Great Debate.” Public school or homeschool? Then one of the kids had a medical crisis and I had to make a decision. The day before classes started I walked into the school and signed the girls up. That was a Tuesday. School started Wednesday. The girls first day was Friday. The entire time we never said a word to anyone other than a few very close people. We did not put up first day of school pictures or discuss it at all.

We lived life and no one noticed. This is a little sad because this means no one really paid any attention to subtle things I said or did. However, I get it. I can miss subtly at times also. My homeschooling friends had no idea the girls were gone all day. I mentioned school and they simply assumed I meant homeschool.

Why didn’t I say anything? I didn’t want to deal with the unnecessary questions and remarks. Remarks that are usually untrue and only hurtful.

“Why did you put them in public school?”
“You know public is not as good as it used it be right?”
“Aren’t you scared of bullies and your kids learning immoral things and growing up too fast?”
“They never really get free time or socialization in school. They will burn out.”
“You are being selfish because you are working. Maybe you should quit your jobs” (or what ever reason they come up with)
“They are at school all day and come home to do homework all night. Do you really want that?”
“You are at the mercy of the schools.”
“Why are you still homeschooling the boys?”
“Do you favor the boys?”

Oh the list of snarky remarks and questions is endless. I didn’t want to deal with them because it is no one’s business. Period. So we didn’t say anything. Mark respected my wishes to keep it quiet. Then the girls had school pictures and I posted them…

People were shocked, but the girls are firmly established in school so no one said anything. I could tell a few people really wanted to, but they held their tongues and I am glad they did. A few people were super happy for us. They understood the turmoil I must have gone through because they messaged me to tell me they deal with the same debate. I felt less alone, less like a failure, and more empowered.

 

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My gorgeous, thriving girls. They are world changers.

The girls are thriving! Ry’s teacher refers to her as an “asset.” What an amazing word! She isn’t just a good kid or studious or smart. She is an asset. This means she is valuable to the class and they need her and greatly benefit from her! WOW! I am pretty sure no one ever referred to me as an asset. When I told Ry the compliment she was glowing. What an amazing confidence boost for a 10 year old girl who was trying to fit in to an already established class. When we went to Parent/Teacher Conference we could tell her teacher really loves her! What an amazing feeling! The confirmation we made the right decision is just what I needed.

Delaney, not surprising, is known as a sweet heart. Everyone loves her gentle and kind ways. Dee still has lots of anxiety, but she is coming out of her shell and developing her strengths. School was exactly what she needed in order to spread her wings and fly. The teacher works one-pm-one with her and the fact they all have gathered to be a foundation under her makes my heart swell. They want to see her succeed. They could easily not care, but they do. Adding these positive influences into her life has been only a blessing.

We have no regrets. This was exactly what needed to be done. The boys are thriving at home, Charlie is getting more in depth one-on-one with me; something he desperately needed. I am far more calm and far less stressed. I am able to better focus and I accomplish more.

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The days are calmer.

Every family needs to decide what is right for them and their children. Don’t let anyone ever make you feel like you are a failure because you didn’t do things they way they think you should. You do what you need to do and own it! Being supportive is always the better option.

~Andrea

My Top 10 Best Ideas

OK, so I really feel like even after 15 years of parenting, I totally stink at this gig. However, there are moments where I feel I out-shine my biggest expectations. Please note these are the best ideas for MY family! I am absolutely not telling you this is the best way because I am not stupid. I realize every family has to find there own groove. These are my hacks that have made life in the Gardner Household far easier.

Here are my favorite (in no particular order):

10. Teaching my kids to cook at an early age. Now that they are older they can cook dinner without supervision! Can I just tell you how awesome it is to not have to worry about making dinner every night.

9. Split the house into zones. I give them a number and they scurry off and clean that area. When they cooperate the house gets fully clean in under 30 minutes.

8. Use Perfectly Posh Gender Bender to remove stains … including nail polish! Posh makes no claims that the soap is anything more than a nourishing, tallow-free, moisturizing soap, but it worked wonders when a certain daughter spilled nail polish all over my carpet and hid it from me instead of telling. I found it 2 days later but Gender Bender and a little elbow grease got the polish completely out of our carpet!

7. Letting the kids pick their own extracurricular activities instead of imposing my own desires on them. If I had my way they would all be little theater buffs. To date, none of them are in theater. However, when they love what they are doing, they tend to try their best.

6. When shopping with little kids always bring a sharpie marker. Why? Because they can be used on mirrors in fitting room and wipe off easily with a baby wipe.
Why are you in a fitting room with all the kids?
*Baby wanted to breastfeed and you need quiet or they rip your nipple off while looking around and nursing at the same time because stores are exciting for them. So you pop over to the fitting rooms and settle with the baby and let the toddler create art on the mirror. Now if only they would deliver a coffee to the fitting rooms ….
*You have 3 little ones 5 and under and you need to hide while you cry because what the he** were you thinking when you thought that you could take 3 little kids to Target??
*You actually need to try on clothes and you really don’t want your toddler climbing under all the dressing room doors and scaring the sh** out of all the other women also trying on clothes.
*Because it is a great idea.

5. Push Ups. Forget time out. Time out does nothing if you aren’t going to teach your child how to cam themselves by taking slow deep breathes etc. Time outs make them mad at you because it is soooooooo unfair so they retaliate and draw on the walls when you turn your back. How do you punish that? They did it while in punishment! Instead make them do push-ups! Sure they grumble and complain, but they learn how to do proper push ups before the rest of their peers and, I kid you not, it becomes a bragging right. They get stronger and learn that positive physical activity can help them. When they are done we talk about what they did wrong and what they can do different next time. The push ups help them get into a clearer mind faster so the conversation actually sinks into their brains!

4. The girls are terrible at cleaning their room. They can literally take a full day to do a 5 minute job. Ground them, take away dessert, etc and nothing changes. Heck, I have even thrown away their toys! Yes, in the trash, not into a bucket to earn back. Doesn’t matter. They could care less. Do you realize how annoying this is?? I want their rooms clean. It is a safety issue and, to be honest, I hate messes. It overwhelms me and makes me irrational. So how did I finally get them to clean and in a timely manner? I bet them they couldn’t clean their room in the time it took the Mission Impossible theme song to play. I blasted the song and stood at their door and watched (because I didn’t want stuff shoved under beds etc). I have never seen them move so fast. The song is 3 minutes and 28 seconds long. I think this is a new cleaning record. I don’t mind losing this bet.

3. No screen time during the week. Period. I have a basket and phones and tablet go in there unless I give the say so. Bored? Go play a game or ride your bike. Read, write, or be bored. Just stay off electronics. I am watching a terrible trend of disconnect. Humans are losing empathy and I really think it is lack of real human interaction that is the cause. Maybe I am wrong, but I know this isn’t hurting them and may benefit them. If this doesn’t work for you, I totally get it. I promise we do not judge. To each their own, but I promise you this has made our lives more pleasant and far more simple.

2. I took Facebook off my phone. It is still on my tablet and that goes with me everywhere also, but I am more likely to not check it 500 times a day. I also took Snapchat, Twitter Tumblr, etc off my phone … the only thing I kept was Instagram because I do like to post pictures easily. All of these are on my tablet, so I am still connected via social media, but I am on it far less and much happier for it. Bonus, my kids have also noticed I am not on it as much and they are also happier.

1. Everyday I tell myself “You are doing the best you can in the moment. Give yourself a break.” OK, so sometimes I then call myself a liar and tell myself I am terrible at this parenting thing and I may even cry ugly tears, but if I keep telling myself I am doing my best then maybe I will one day believe it and maybe my kids will see I tried and refused to give up on myself. Maybe it will help them to learn to never give up on themselves. If that is the one thing I succeed at, then I did well.

~Andrea

Crossroads

This year has been emotionally hard on me. One really big reason why is I have had more days than not when I feel like homeschooling 4 kids and caring for a toddler is just not for me. The only person I have mentioned this to is Mark so this is probably going to surprise those who know me best.

I struggle nearly everyday. I am worn from it. I really feel like the 2 girls would benefit from at least a year in a formal school setting. They are so much fun to be with, but I think they both need to find some independence away from their big brothers. I would like to see them blossom into their own beings. Their brothers, bless them, hold them back a little. I know they do not realize it. They are just protective.

My oldest is also going to “officially” be in high school this next year. I would like to focus more energy on getting him situated so he can achieve his very lofty life goals. My sweet 12 year old son would stay home with me also. He struggles and over the years we have discovered the best ways to help him learn and retain information. They are very nontraditional methods so a traditional school setting really wouldn’t be in his best interest.

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Elf is turning into a bookworm. She loves books as much as her eldest brother!

What do I do? I really do not want to send the girls to public school. I am not criticizing public school at all. My oldest went to public school for 2 years and Elf went for half a year until we changed school districts. My objection is personal to our family dynamics, beliefs, and goals. These are things that each family must personally decide on. For me, public school isn’t really an option at this time. I say “at this time” because I am not so bold as to say I am 100% against it. I am open for a change of mind and heart so long as it is the right choice for US.

That leaves private school. Who has money for that though? I have searched local schools and scholarship options. I actually have one place bookmarked that we may be able to make a reality. I have yet to get in touch with the school, but I plan to. There is also online school. That would keep the girls home without having to worry about planning their school days. That doesn’t help with my wanting them to develop themselves away from their brothers though.

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Princess making a cake while Zen watches. 

I really have no idea what I am going to do. Although Mark and I are a team, this is ultimately my decision since I am the one who is home all day with the kids. I know I have my husband’s support and that does make it easier. I know that when I make a decision he will back me up. That is a good feeling. Right now though, I am torn. I am not 100% convinced either way. I am no closer to an answer than I was in October. Time is not on my side. I need to make a decision sooner rather than later.

Why am I bothering telling you all of this if I am at a loss for what I am going to do? Well, writing it all out makes it more real. I need to see how I will react once I start getting feedback, because I know there will be feedback. Also, I feel like I can’t be the only parent struggling with the decision on what type of schooling is best for their child(ren). I want others to know they aren’t alone. The struggle is real. We are all just trying to do what is best and it is OK to doubt through the process.
~Andrea

Grocery Store Positives and Parenting Mistakes

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Here is a new picture of me and my guy. Picture by Zachary Maricle Photography

Earlier today (at the time of publishing it was actually last week) I was at the grocery store shopping and a woman stopped me to tell me I am “stunning.” She was talking to a friend and interrupted her conversation to tell me this. She wanted to make sure I understood just how beautiful she thinks I am. The conversation was only about a minute, but she said a lot in a few words and it impacted me.

Today I am not wearing make up and my hair is simply back in the same bun at the nap of my neck that I put it in every single day. I have only my wedding ring on for jewelry. I am wearing a simple black maxi skirt and a black tank top and flip flops. I blend in. I am completely average, yet she noticed me and felt I needed to hear that I am beautiful.

The thing she did next is what got me. She turned to my daughters and said “Your Momma is beautiful and you look just like her. You are beautiful children.”

Their faces glowed with pride. They smiled so beautifully at this stranger. They went from average children shopping with their Momma to beautiful angels in the matter of seconds.

Elf is dressed in her low-maintenance shorts and t-shirt with a simply pony tail. Princess is wearing a simple sundress that cost me a whole $1. Her hair is down and disheveled (the look she sports by mid day). They are clean, but they certainly aren’t “at their best.” They look like average children.

There are times I look at their freshly washed hair and their nicer clothes and I think “Gosh they are gorgeous.” Rarely do I think this when they are at the normal appearance. This isn’t because I do not think they are beautiful; they are. They are incredibly gorgeous. They have thick dark eyelashes and eyes that twinkle so prettily. Their smiles beam joy. When they are at their average I just don’t really fully appreciate these things.

Worse is I never, ever think I am beautiful. There are times I think “OK, I look well enough.” I never think I look great though. In fact, I am downright critical of my appearance. Some days I just do not care, but other days it bugs me. My hair is frizzy, I have wrinkles forming, I need to color my hair, I need to lose this blasted baby weight.

I know this self-criticism annoys my husband, but I can’t seem to stop it. I could go into details of my childhood and teen years, but that isn’t necessary to know I have self-image issues.

Today was a bit of an eye-opener. When this stranger complemented me and then turned to my girls and made sure they saw my beauty in them I realized I kind of stink at making sure my girls don’t grow up with self-image issues. I never, ever refer to them in a negative way…well, except when they have morning breathe. Gah, that is awful stuff. However, they see me and hear me criticize myself. This has GOT to be impacting them.

Sigh, I thought I was doing so good. I tell them they are smart and funny and creative. I dropped the ball at showing them how to love themselves by loving myself.

They never hear me embrace my strengths. I am not just talking about physical appearances. It is hard for me to even think about what my talents and strengths are. Do they even know what I am good at besides wiping snotty noses? Do they know I used to have a fully functioning brain, as opposed to the auto-pilot I seem to currently function on.

Not only is all of this impacting my girls, it is impacting my sons. I want them to marry strong people. I want the people they marry to have confidence. I want them to be successful in whatever they chose to do. However, they spend all their time with me and I am not showing them these qualities why would they look for them in their partner? I need to make some changes before it is too late.

Who was this woman? How did she know that I needed to hear these words when I didn’t even know I needed to hear them. I wasn’t feeling badly about myself at all. I was feeling average. Just a mom out shopping with 3 of her kids. Nothing spectacular and nothing really worth noticing, but she did notice. She noticed and made sure I knew and for that I am thankful.

Maybe we all need to start noticing those around us more. We don’t know what their struggles are. We don’t know their self-doubts. They could be having a perfectly fine day, but does that meant they aren’t deserving of a little extra positive also?

I learned three things:
1) Stop being self-critical, especially in front of the children. Instead embrace the qualities that matter and focus on that.
2) Notice people around me more and let them know they matter.
3) Apparently the grocery store is where life changing events happen for me. Maybe I need to start hanging out there 😉

The Chair

I am not sure why but Zen has been restless in his sleep this past week. On an average night he starts out in the cradle and then makes his way into bed at half past very late to nurse. He usually then stays cozy in my arms until about 7:30. No, I do not sleep until 7:30, although that would be awesome. I sneak my arm away Ross-style (if you have ever watched Friends you should totally understand the reference. If you haven’t, well, maybe you need to) and he stays asleep for about an hour or so after I get up.

This past week he has not stayed cozy in my arms. He has been restless. He has tossed and turned, flipped, rolled, sat up (yes while asleep), laid on me, laid on Mark, and sleep crawled…into the wall.

The crazy thing is he keeps doing it. Seriously one would think that even in your sleep if you crawl into a wall you would stop trying to go forward. He keeps it up while we clumsily try to stop him in our sleepy-eyed state. I can’t decide if I am amused by this or not. He isn’t hitting hard enough to hurt himself, but one would think it can’t be great for him either. However, if you could see the silly lad crawling on our bed straight into the wall you would probably chuckle.

It was 2 AM.  Zen flipped, tossed, flopped onto Mark’s face (yes I laughed), and then sleep crawled into the wall yet again I decided this was ridiculous. I gathered him up and he and I sat in the living room in The Chair. It is our sanctuary. The Chair is where we sit when it is time for some snuggles, drive-by loves, breastfeeding snacks, breastfeeding meals, and naps. I always put him to sleep in The Chair. When Zen is done with me it is where Mark puts him to sleep. The Chair is magical. OK, maybe it really isn’t magical but Zen knows it and associates it with coziness. It is an old beast but The Chair is a part of the family.

Sure enough as soon as I got settled into The Chair Zen slept peacefully in my arms while I dozed. Thankfully The Chair is large and soft so sleeping in it isn’t as bad as it could be. I was fine until I got cold. By then it was nearly 7. I made my way back to bed and was greatly annoyed that Elf was in my bed. I kicked Mark’s foot to wake him so he could removed the child (read “the child” with a note of disdain because I was so not amused that she was in my bed. The rule is she is welcome in our room but she has to stay on the floor.)

I climbed into bed which was no easy feat as C-Dog was on the floor on my side of the bed. Apparently Zen wasn’t the only restless child in the wee hours of sleep. I laid down and not a minute later Zen became restless again. ERG! I did doze until about 7:30 while Mark tried to deal with Zen, but I finally just got up. I brought him back to The Chair. The Magical Chair. He settled into my arms and I could feel tension slip away from him. At this point it was late enough in the morning that he was not going to go back to sleep so we simply cuddled for a bit and I looked into his saucer-wide blue eyes.

He is now happily crawling and playing. He has been all over the house. He has even stopped for a drive-by snack as I sit and type this. I am exhausted. I have no idea where his energy is coming from. I am slightly jealous and sightly in awe.

I have no clue what is wrong with Zen. I have no clue why he sleep crawls. Weirdo. The only thing I know is that at 2 AM I was not annoyed. Sure being tired sucks. Having a restless baby is no fun. However, I love this little guy. He is the product of something beautiful. I hate to see him not getting the rest his little body needs. I was grateful for his warm snugly body. I was thankful The Chair worked. This is a short season. I will treasure it. I know too well how fast the years go. It seems only yesterday Bug was snugly in my arms and now he rolls his eyes and wears trendy cloths. Sigh.

To the new Mommas out there, you are not alone. We understand you are tired and frustrated. It is so cliche, but it it true that the days are long and the years are really short. Deep breath. You can do this. To all the Mommas whose babies are grown, take a moment and appreciate the fact you made it! Congratulations! Now go get some sleep! To all the women who do not have children, please be patient. We understand you cannot fathom our lives but please still be a part of our lives. Parenting takes a lot of energy. We need you to be there for us to remind us that there is a whole entire world beyond The Chair.

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