Love Is Not Perfect

After a stressful school day that just happened to occur on Valentine’s Day, my teen daughter suddenly announced that she hates holidays. Every holiday. Even Christmas…and Valentine’s Day, which appeared her current source of grief. Personally, I have fond memories of Valentine’s Day as a child, but I also know love isn’t perfect, so I guess I shouldn’t expect Valentine’s Day to be perfect either. Our kids’ struggle with holidays is nothing new, but it seems like every year we hope things will change, but there were some other factors making this particular Valentine’s Day a rough one.

First of all, to really make things challenging, I have the flu, so just surviving the day with a preschooler home for the entire day was a huge accomplishment for me. My husband helped out by taking him off my hands for a few hours, and then picked up the kids after their sports practices. This is when everything really started to go down hill.

It’s hard when mom is sick and routines are thrown off. The stress must have been brewing in the van ride home. Sitting and waiting for 45 minutes for my daughter to come out of practice is not ideal with a preschooler tagging along. A Happy Valentine’s Day greeting from my youngest turned quickly into a spitting episode. Then there was fighting and arguing between the older kids. When my older son finally arrived home and entered the kitchen he was steaming mad about the interactions on the horrible car ride home.

In my flu-altered state of mind I was lucky to just get the oven preheated for the take-and-bake pizza. To continue the chaos my youngest thought he would try to be helpful and transfer our homemade Valentine’s cake from the counter to the table without asking. In the process he dropped it and it flopped smack on the floor, breaking into pieces. All I could hear was the sound of my husband’s loud groan, and my little one’s crying. Oh well, I thought, love is not perfect.

My husband picked up Valentine’s heart pizzas for dinner. I made the not-so- smart decision to cook them together so they would be done at the same time. Well, the one on the bottom came out burnt and the one on the top came out soggy. Oh well, I thought, love is not perfect.

As we sat down to eat I saw a not-so-nice snap chat conversation on my daughter’s smartphone. She was embarrassed. She could see my disappointment, as it brought up my fear of who she is outside our home. She was mostly silent all through dinner, then took her cake dessert to her room. Oh well, I thought, love is not perfect.

My son was unable to join us because he continued to be so irritated by the simplest comments his younger brother would make, such as, “I get the first piece of cake!” He must have had a rough day too, because he just couldn’t seem to tolerate anything or anyone today. He ate his pizza by himself when everyone was out of the kitchen and opened his cards without a thank-you (so far). Oh well, I thought, love is not perfect.

We ate our soggy, burnt pizza. We ate our broken cake. It must have tasted fine because there were no complaints. We continued on and exchanged cards and gifts with each other, and slowly, the tension began to soften. Hearts were warming. There were tears of emotion for kind words written, and thoughtful gifts. There were moments of excitement, joy and gratitude. These are the moments I will hang on to; the rest I will let go.

Included in the evening was a discussion about what makes holidays hard, and one heart-felt reason, offered by my daughter, was the people who were missing. This is a common struggle for adopted children. There was a discussion about emotions and fears. There were apologies and more tears. There were long, strong hugs where you could really feel the love. Then I thought, this is the perfect way to celebrate Valentine’s Day. It’s a lesson to be learned. Love is not perfect, it’s messy. That doesn’t mean give up; it just means that growth is on the other side.

I hope my daughter will someday learn to be more at ease with holidays, which might come with a full understanding of why these special days can be hard for some people. Everyone comes to the table with their own backpack of “stuff” from the day, and personal experiences, accumulated over the years. Once we are finally able to unpack it all, we will clearly see that all that is left…is love.

Do Better & Shine

Flexibility

There is nothing more frustrating and exhausting than a child who is inflexible. I have a four-year old. I know we can all have our moments of inflexibility, but preschoolers can take it to a whole new level of insanity and make life extra hard. Consider yourself lucky if you only had to deal with the terrible twos or the tantrum threes.

When behaviors continue past a certain point you wonder what in the world is going on. Fear takes over and you decide its finally time to get some professional help. Once you have a better understanding of your child’s lagging skills you can more confidently make a plan and pray the craziness will soon come to an end.

The kids definition of flexible in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “possible or easy to bend” or “easily changed.” When you have a strong-willed child every interaction can feel impossible because the child completely refuses to bend. I wish I knew what it was like to easily switch from one activity to another with him, but transitions are hard every single time.

Something drastic finally needed to be done, so I decided no more outings. Every outing ended in a meltdown, which was his way of telling me the world was too big right now, I just needed to pay attention and meet him where he was at. When I stopped putting him in the same situations that kept triggering meltdowns I could see his body start to calm after a few days. He began to enjoy the safety of home as he had more time to relax and less reason to get upset. Surprisingly he also started to initiate play with us and even alone, which was a new skill for him. It’s amazing how fast the brain can change and grow when it is not always recovering from a state of stress.

After a full week of practicing strategies at home to help teach him how to be more flexible and seeing such great progress, I was ready to attempt to take him out in the world again. I decided on a quick run to Target. There was nothing important on my list so I was ready to walk out if I needed to. I told him my expectations from the start and he was warned that we would leave if there was a problem.

Right away he noticed the colorful candies on display. Some shiny red packages caught his eye and he said he wanted to look at them. As I walked on by I told him we would come back and look at those in a little bit. He was too tempted by the shiny packages and slowly walked away from me and towards the display. I motioned with my finger for him to come back and surprisingly he did. I was impressed that he actually came back and said, “Thank-you for being a listener.” He smiled and said, “You mean thank-you for being FLEXIBLE?” I just stopped and stared at him with big eyes. It was the first time he ever used the word flexible. I began to think everything was finally starting to sink in.

This whole week made me think about the children’s book Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus. The story is about a little lion who can’t seem to do all the things his friends are doing. The father can’t stop worrying about it, but the mother is not too concerned. Of course in his own sweet time he does bloom and learn to do everything his father feared he wouldn’t. Leo proclaims, “I made it!”

Every child will go through a challenge at some point in their life. It might be potty training, eating, sleeping, reading, writing, math, making friends, difficult behavior or something else. Parents don’t like watching their kids struggle, but it will likely be the struggle that will make them the amazing person they become. Be grateful for the struggle because it will help you learn and grow, even though it might be hard in the moment.

Remember that flowers bloom and close and bloom again. Blooming is a lifelong process, it’s not something that we ever arrive at, but something we keep working towards. My son had an encouraging week, but he still has a long way to go. Of course there will be more meltdowns and more struggles in the future. At the end of the story the little lion says, “I made it.” I don’t think we ever make it. We are all a work in progress. Our goal is to keep doing better and keep blooming.

If you are struggling with your child in any area don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Sometimes just having a better understanding of the problem can help you approach it from a place of love instead of a place of fear. This will make all the difference.

Do Better & Shine