Good Job, Little Cheater

My kid basically cheated his way through 8th grade math. And I’m proud of him.

Okay, that was a cheap intro to grab your attention, because, no, I’m not proud of him for cheating. Obviously.

He used an app to help him through his math homework for basically the entire year. And by “help” I mean to give him the answers.

Most assuredly, he is in the vast majority of teens today letting technology do their work for them in any and every possible way. As his parents, we can push back but it’s an onerous battle. The kid doesn’t even have a cell phone yet – as in, he may be the only 14 year old in his school (town, country…?) without a neck permanently bent over a gleaming little rectangle of all-consuming, electronic life. Short of homeschooling him on a Mennonite farm - wait, hold up, I think even Mennonites are on phones these days, make that an Amish farm – we must understand that he can and will live a life seeped in near-constant access to the Internet.

I seek not to decry the progression of technology or repudiate its advantages, (she types on her laptop, connected to high-speed DSL.)

Instead, I think we should not ignore any face of this integration into our and our children’s lives. Because there are A LOT of faces to this. Like a massive glimmering disco ball, there is applicability and integration of technology at every slight turn. Most parents have joined the conversation of concerned masses to keep their pubescent boys (and/or husbands) off of pornography and their pre-teen to teen daughters sheltered from cyber bullies, body shaming, cyber creeps and the like. But there are whole lot of additional faces to challenge their budding moralities.

In the first year back to in-person school, after a quarantined year and a half of 100% at-home/on-computer education, it’s either ironic or completely obvious that the blinding glint of this turn in the shiny ball that is technology today has me stumbling. 

Technology can also have a nefarious role in my kids’ education?

Straddling the chasm of pre and post technology, having been born in the very first year that classifies the Millennial Generation, I feel like it might be apropos to use “in the good old days” at least once in this discussion. So, here goes…

In the good old days, which I currently apply to the early 2000’s, you heard about cheating like you heard about teen pregnancy. There was shock-value, reprobation, maybe some reverence, and almost always degrees of separation. So-and-so heard that somebody’s cousin bought a term paper and turned it in as their own and got an A! Can you believe that?!

Now, however, the ability to cheat easily sits ever-present in our children’s back pocket. Literally.

So, when my 8th grader was showed an app that would not only give him the answer to math problems he struggles to understand at every level, but would also display the steps for him so his teacher wouldn’t be able to tell, he acquiesced into the world of present-day cheaters.

I was not oblivious to this. It took a few months into the start of the year, but then I began to notice something was amiss. We weren’t spending hours into the evenings trying to teach math and get through endless problems. Why didn’t he have more homework? Why weren’t we all trying to fall asleep frustrated and slightly hopeless every weeknight?

There was a progression of our pushing back: monitoring him, driving to tutoring, reaching out to his math teacher, de-incentivizing a good grade in math, etc. Suffice it to say, our efforts were generally fruitless. He could do the work in a mere fraction of the time – I mean, he may not know what a fraction is – but he could get through it quickly, with no frustration or arguments, and no fear of having to fail and repeat the class as a 9th grader – the ultimate shame. And so he did.

And a week before finals, he cheerily sat at the kitchen table sharing with his family Greek pita sandwiches and the news that he has an 86% in math. Inciting yet another lecture, and not at all the reaction he was irrationally hoping for, my husband and I reiterated we expect an honest grade, whatever that looks like. We expect to raise honest humans, whatever the consequences.

I will spare you the round-and-round details in which I mostly wanted to bang my head on the very table I should have been slogging through 8th grade math problems with him on, late into the night for the past ten months.

But I will tell you the details of today, because this is where I get to be proud of my difficult, obstinate, cheater of a son, who is occasionally surprisingly brave, gracious, and upstanding. He sent me and his dad an email from school (remember, kid doesn’t have a phone to text from) and said,

"I chose to have integrity and went and talked to the middle school principal and told her what happened."

He walked into the principal’s office and admitted cheating his way through a math class that he couldn’t understand. We told him this was the right thing to do – and then he actually did it.

I repeatedly tell this growing man-child all kinds of things… to stop leaving his dirty socks everywhere in the house, to get out of bed before 1 PM on the weekends, to get off his computer, to brush his teeth, to leave his sister alone, to clear any of the given 2-dozen dirty dishes out of the dark, stinky den that is his bedroom - to not do his math homework without me or his dad present… and he ignores every word.

But this he listened to. He actually went in on his own and admitted his wrongs and is prepared for the consequences that will ensue. That makes me proud.

One small victory in the ongoing war that is raising a moral human today.


Oh. OCD.

How do I tell you that there is something wrong with my child?

How do I explain my lanky 10-year old’s toddler-like fits, his crippling fears over mundane things, his lengthy, peculiar rituals, his exhausting conversations that go nowhere but span across multiple days, or the downright rude things that come out of his middle-schooler-bucked tooth mouth?

I don’t know. I’m new at this.

I mean, I’m not new at having a child with abnormal tendencies. He’s shown glimpses of an obsessive level of stubbornness since infancy. I’m just new at understanding them – at understanding him, I guess.

Over the last couple of years, his… differentness… has shown itself with increasing vigor. This summer, the months before he will start 5th grade, have been the (so-far) culmination of difficulties. Instead of weeks or months between fits of strange behavior, there suddenly is almost no “normal” reprieve. I feel like I’m losing him behind a wall of… of… badness.  

My son has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

            He is plagued with obsessions and compulsions.

                        You do not have to repeat things to make them "feel right."
                        You do not have to wash your hands 4 times, for 45 seconds each.  
                        It is okay to use a school or public bathroom.

            He overestimates danger and so is tormented by bouts of intense fear.

                        You do not need to double lock every door and shut every window.
                        Your water bottle is not "contaminated."
                        No one is going to get into your bedroom with a grappling hook.
                        You do not need to sleep with the covers tightly over your head.
                        Please - for the love of God - stop coming into our room in the middle of the night asking to sleep on our floor and proceeding to scream about it for 30-75 torturous minutes.
            He craves absolute certainty and is crippled with stress in the absence of such.

                        Yes, I’ll be at the bus stop when you get off. Just like every previous 492 days of school.
                        Yes, those shoes match/will be comfortable/are weather-appropriate.
                        Yes, Dad will be home around 6 PM. Just like I told you 3 minutes ago.

             And to boot, his OCD sparks oppositional defiance that is frequent and persistent. Basically, he's almost always irritable, angry, or straight-up deifying instruction from adults with authority over him (ie. all adults) but particularly me.

I’m a fairly hard-lined parenter. Like: I already gave you an answer, there’s no discussion kind of parent. Like, you want to complain about that, now you can do this too kind of parent. (And, for the record, I call this good parenting.)

But my son is pretty much turning any shred of intuition, success, or aptitude I may have held as a parent into crap. It-doesn't-work, there-is-no-logic crap.

From the humbling ground of square-one, I am having to learn how to parent OCD. And it's way, way less intuitive and more time-consuming. It is smash-your-head-against-the-wall-difficult.

It feels like everything I've been fighting for parentally for the last decade is lost behind a wall of my son's irrational fears and emotions I have to help him (a) recognize are not real and (b) learn to fight against. 

It used be like, hey kid: use polite language and gracious manners. Apologize. Look a person in the eye and speak up. Struggle to think of others. Lying is unacceptable.

Now, it's like: you will drink out of the same cup twice. Yes you can.

I don't know where it goes from here. I don't.

My husband and I are constantly fighting for our gentle, agreeable, funny child trapped behind these struggles with thoughts stronger than he has learned to fight and emotions bigger than he has learned to sort. 

We go to therapy. He does. My husband and I do so we can parent him - and hopefully not lose our minds in the process. There are books for us and workbooks for him. We're talking about medication. And really, we're struggling every day with him. 

Oh, so, I guess that’s how I tell you there is something wrong with my child.

The mental illness in my son's brain is the new Terrible in our lovely lives. But onward we plod, fighting for the greater Lovely. Fighting for our boy.


Summer With Kids: Have a Plan

What do you do with your kids during the summer?

Do you ever get that question? I certainly do. Give them a popsicle and lock them outside. Uh, just kidding. The answer in our household is often routine. When nothing else is scheduled, we use a schedule.

Because I work full-time and also put in a lot of volunteer hours, I’m no stranger to using careful scheduling and time management to stay on top of an otherwise overwhelming amount of tasks and information. It can get crazy otherwise. Can I get an amen?! I also have a child with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder who does better when he clearly knows what to expect.

Basically, because I prefer a sane household, I enforce a schedule.

There’s a lot of summer schedule suggestions for kids floating around out there. In case anyone may benefit from ours, here’s what we do:

A lot of the summer we are traveling. Or there’s the occasional day-outing or play date. This schedule is not for those days but for all the others. It's for the normal, in-between, kids-bickering, kids-bored days.

May you enjoy the time with your littles this summer, Mamas. Godspeed.

And when all else fails, don’t be afraid to give them a popsicle and lock them outside.


Parenting Through the Failures and the French Dressing

Good God, parenting is hard.

(I mean that less as an expletive and more as an actual cry out to God. But both work here.)

At times it’s so difficult it sucks. Like, sucks the life out of you.

If you're new here, I have two children. And ya, ya, they're basically the meaning, joy and all that stuff in my life; blah, blah. Also, I am often convinced by their actions, non-actions, and words that I am an incompetent, haggard, imbecile. The latter of which has been more common of late.

These two darlings of mine are opposites in nearly everything. 

My first child came into the world after a grueling 2-full days of pain-filled, epidural-failing labor in an uncomfortable hospital with shared recovery rooms. There was no sleep - or recovery - to be had in that loud, hot room with someone else's screaming newborn and crass family members on the other side of a curtain. Twice a day the cafeteria delivered prison-quality food that consisted primarily of iceberg lettuce with French dressing. (Ugh. WHO eats French dressing?)

Regardless, I was enamored with the life entrusted to me. That long-awaited, tiny, beautiful baby was mine!

As our days together grew, along with the bonding and immeasurable love, he confounded me in ways I assumed were due to my parenting inexperience. It was only some seven years later, I started to see these traits as part of who he is. He has obsessive compulsions. He struggles with anxiety. He is complicated.

Conversely, a few years, a few states, and some major life changes later, my second child came into the world in a miraculous, perfectly-timed flurry of ease and joy. [More on that here.]

In a cool, beachy town, she arrived quickly and with forgettable pain. We laid together in a quiet, cushy room to ourselves with no French dressing in sight and the world felt easy and good with her in it.

The five years of her since then have been largely easy and good. Where our eldest often confounds and exhausts us, our youngest comes along with receptiveness and reason that restores our sanity.

I don’t know who these little people will become - which is the outcome that drives the very purpose of parenting - but in these early years with them, they certainly have already niched out distinct traits and qualities.

One of our offspring, my husband says, struck the genetic lottery. She is smart, good at everything she tries, and likable, as though the very tranquility she came into the world with still emanates from her. Our other offspring, not unlike the way he came into the world, is... complicated. Many of his good qualities are quieter, take more time to see and appreciate. And, his character requires much more correction. (This is in part due to his older age, to be fair.) Parenting him takes more patience, humility, and time.

It is easy to grow weary or frustrated parenting any child … to wonder what you’re doing wrong and gosh-darn-it what’s wrong with them?!

It's in this onslaught I've forgotten something.

In the struggle and the self-doubt, I forgot that I’m the one for both of my children. My husband and I are meant for these two specific children; we have what it takes to to raise them into moral, just, kind humans; to take these blessings and cultivate the good within them as they grow.

In the words of Lysa TerKeurst, a wiser woman than I:

...God gave me this specific child. God sees within me the ability to be the one He’s perfectly designed to raise this child.

Through the normal difficulties or the unique ones, the sunshine and rainbows or the arguing and dejection, may each parent among us be encouraged and reminded that we are perfectly designed to raise the child or children we have.

Whew. And may God help us in the process. (Especially when puberty hits.)


Don't You Cry.

“Ding, ding,” goes her Hello Kitty bell as she peddles hard around the track. Her bike flops lopsidedly from one rickety training wheel to the other. She doesn’t want to take them off yet. The sun is hot on our backs and the air is painfully dry.

This is where we live now. It still doesn’t feel like it.

My phone is in the purple and white basket clipped onto the front of her bike; it’s playing Guns N' Roses' Don’t Cry as we circle the track, waiting for her brother's practice to be over. I’m humming along and pretending Axl is singing to console me, (and also pretending that the lyrics are not largely a bunch of relationship garbage – I mean genius – I mean garbage.)

She is excited to have the important job of carrying my phone, especially whilst it blares music. Happily, she dings her bell along like the 6th member of the band. We just need some tight American-flag biker shorts and a lot of pomp and then we'd be all set out here.

The months since moving to this place have been long and difficult; the changes have been a constant struggle, launching me into yet another "difficult phase" of my adult life. Has there been anything but a succession of difficult phases? 

Well, so, this is what I’ve come to... “bumping” a 1991 hit from a four-year-old’s bicycle when I really do feel like crying at 4:00 in the afternoon?  

I fear I keep repeating myself, but gosh life is hard. It’s hard with really, truly big problems at a lot of times, and a lot of other times we take our small problems and inflate them into bigness.

Today, I am tired of this sadness so biting. And while I’m at it, I’m tired of limping for the last six years and ending every day in pain. I’m tired of nerve damage and hot flashes and treatment side effects and…  and parenting failures, and... I’m tired.

We all grow weary of our own burdens at times, don't we? I know so many of you, dear friends, struggle with your disappointment, your loneliness, your heartache, your stress, your pain. Maybe you also need someone to tell you today, “don’t you cry,” or hey, “go ahead and cry” - whichever it may be that you need.

So while I ironically seek some console from infamously self-destructive, hedonistic 90's rock-stars, I know it's actually humility, realistic expectations, and outward focus that will push me through.

I hope it will for you too.

I hope you still walk; peddle; ding your bell; play your music.

And of course, even though sometimes it doesn't feel like anything, would that we remember “There’s a heaven above you baby.”

Sometimes that's all there is.

Guns N'Roses: Don't Cry. Written by Duff Rose Mckagan, Izzy Stradlin, Matt Sorum, Saul Hudson, W. Axl Rose • Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group