Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Monster Mom

I am, for the most part, an even-tempered individual. I rarely feel the need to raise my voice to any of my children . . . or husbands . . . except the first and he had it coming. My parents didn't yell; I didn't yell; my kids don't yell.

Please don't misunderstand. I distinctly remember shrieking at my 17 year old son the day I put him out of our house. More than a few regrettable words exploded viserally. When I ended my diatribe my throat was raw, my voice dropped an octave, and I sounded like I was channeling Marlena Dietrich. The calm, quieter approach has not been so effective with TJ who is strong-willed, bull-headed, cantankerous, ornery, etc. Take last Sunday for an example.

Sunday morning 7:15 am
"OK Momma. Bye"
"I'm not leaving yet. TJ. Listen carefully. I will be at Grandma's and Pawpaw's helping Grandma while Pawpaw goes to church."
"Do you remember where we put your church clothes?"
"Where are they?"
"I dunno."
"You picked out your red ploka dot dress and hung it on my door. Don't forget to brush your teeth, comb your hair and help
"One more time TJ. Where is your dress?"
"I dunno." I repeated it all once again and left for my parents.
10:30 am
I met Bob, Anna, and TJ in the church parking lot and noticed immediately she was wearing her very wrinkled, green, flowered dress. "What happened to the polka dot dress?" TJ was out of ear shot. "She couldn't find it," Bob answered quite calmly. Apparent to me was Bob's lack of understanding that TJ had picked that red dress out. I ironed out, very meticuously, every wrinkle in that cotton frock, she hung it on the door, I reminded her twice this morning where it was and she has the audacity to come to church in her crumpled, green flowered dress!

1:00 pm
We arrived back home from church, ate lunch and then, the coveted Sunday afternoon nap.

2:30 pm Anna went to her room, Bob to the couch, and I to my bed. TJ went to her room which is directly above mine. I laid down on top of the covers, pulled a pillow over my eyes, and settled in for a quiet hour.
Thud! 'What was that,' I wondered.
Thump! 'This is not good.'
Thump thump thump in rapid succession.
Too tired to rise, I laid there for a few more minutes hoping . . . quiet. THUD! 'One more thud and I'm going up there!'

An hour and a half later I had forgotten about the thuds and thumps and set about shooing everyone out to the pool while I worked on some dinner.

7:30 pm
Because TJ has been considerably grouchier then normal, I have moved her bedtime back to 7:30. She doesn't seem to mind. Turning off the TV is a bit of a stumble. "Bedtime, TJ." Ever so slowly she lifts the remote in the air, points it at the TV and holds it there. . . holding . . . holding . . . . But this time: "Bedtime, TJ." She snapped that TV off, ran past me, through the living room, up the stairs and all the while her arm extended, hand out, palm facing me, saying, "Momma! you can't come up yet! I have something I have to do! I'll let you know when you can come!" Whirls of thuds and thumps thundered back. Oh my goodness! What has she done?

7:45 pm
From the top of the stairs comes a confident, "OK Momma. You can come up now!" Then, as is our ritual, she runs to her room, closes the door and waits for me to knock.

Knock, knock, knock.
"Come in." Cautiously, I opened the door. Wow! her room was surprisingly neat!
"Why TJ! Your room is very nnnnnnnnnnn . . .," my searching eyes spotted the blue velvet case, open and empty, under the crib.


TJ, terrified, scrambled to get into bed, pulled the covers over her head, and burst forth in shaking and sobbing. Callused to her wailing, I got on my knees, hunkered under the crib to retrieve the empty case and there, pushed next to the wall, were the three peices of my flute. I gathered them into my arm, squeezed back into open space, righted myself, and noticed the quivering covers. I found my center once again.

"Are you ready for your Bible story?" Monster Mom asked her quivering child.
Pulling the covers back down, revealing a reddened splotchy face, TJ spoke in her most mature voice, "Well. You didn't have to scream at me, Mom." I shrunk to this (.) big. I had been out matured by my 5 year old daughter.
I drew in a deep breath. "I am very sorry,TJ. Will you forgive me?"
"Yes, Momma. and I'm sorry for getting into your stuff."
I explained why I became so frustrated (because I repeat the same things and she keeps doing the same things) and she explained why she played with the flute (because it was there). We finished up our routine as we always do: a Bible story, hugs, kisses and tucks into bed.
"Goodnight TJ. I love you to the moon."
"Goodnight, Momma. I love you to the moon and back."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Score One for Momma!

"I hate that!" TJ screamed at me from the living room. "I DON'T WANT TO!"
"Go to bed,TJ. Your day is over."; I raised my voice over the irritating sounds of Sponge Bob.
I could hear her twist her head, roll her eyes, and throw her hair as she thought she beat me to the punch. "I already was!" she shouted. She stomped up the stairs, slammed the bedroom door and I, right behind her, stomped louder and harder. She slammed the door in front of me. I was fuming!

The day began much like it ended. TJ woke up cranky. Cranky morphed into defiance; defiance mutated into belligerence and belligerence got her sent to bed.

With fervor I grabbed the knob and thrust that door open. TJ stood beside her bed, arms crossed, brow furrowed, head bent just enough to maintain her glare, eyes welled up with angry tears . . . and I softened.
"You were very disrespectful to me tonight. You screamed at me and I did not deserve that. You were disobedient, too. Because you refused to put on your pjs, you may not wear them to bed tonight."

Meltdown. She flung herself across her bed, her face buried in one of her many pillows, and wailed, "But I want to wear my jammies"

Not only today, but this entire, long week, had been profuse with 'no! I don't want too's' and  'I'm not going too's' punctuated with mocking sarcasm and sassiness. Flashing her a disapproving look or enunciating her name ever so cleanly received a pleasant, but insincere, 'Oh. I'm sorry, Momma.' 

Now I am taking charge!

I rubbed TJ's back and explained one more time that it was she who decided not to put on her pajamas and that was the way it would be. Her crying settled into sniffles. She rolled her head over, blinked back some tears, and asked if she could take off her jeans.

"I'm sorry, Momma. Tomorrow I will be a good girl."

"You are a good girl, TJ and I get upset sometimes, but I always love you." With that, she pulled off her jeans, found her Bible and we finished off our day with prayers, hugs, and kisses.

The next morning, TJ woke up still in her clothes from the day before. Score one for Momma!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Anna's Jam

"I'll do it!" Anna exclaimed, excited at the prospect. "You go! Take care of Grandma tomorrow and I'll make the jam!"
'This could be bad,' I thought. 'She breezes through instructions, leaves out ingredients, walks out of the kitchen leaving things cooking on the stove.' Visions barreled through my mind: peach parts fallen in layers to the floor, splattered on the counters, stools, cabinets and frig, froth spilling over the pot, onto the stove, gooey streams oozing down the sides of the stove caught by the wall.
"This could be ugly," I said quietly.
"Anna, I just don't know. You've never done anything like this before. You've never helped or even watched me make the jam." But then I looked at the breakfast bar with layers of tiny 2nd year peaches almost too ripe to use. The jam had to be made or little peaches would be pecked to the pit by chickens. In reality, I thought, it would take Anna at least four hours to skin, pit, and chop four cups of those minuscule fruits. "OK." It was a very reluctant concession.
"Alright, Mom!" Anna quickly found pencil and paper. "Tell me what to do." I recited the short list of ingredients, a set of cooking instructions and brought seven jelly jars out of the garage and into the kitchen. I reviewed the instructions again. "MA! I GOT IT! I'LL BE FINE!"
The next morning, while Anna still slept, I left for my parents. Since I was not at home, I assumed Anna would probably sleep until 11:00 am. I would probably be home close to 1:00 pm. What could happen in two hours?
11:30 . . . the dreaded call from Anna. Is she hurt? Scalded? Cut off a finger? Was there a fire? Is the house still there?
Trying to sound calm, "Hi, Anna. How's it going?
"Hi Momma!" She sounded as if she hasn't seen me in days and was excited just at the sound of my voice. "Everything is fine, Ma. I just have one question."
Here it comes.
"Why are the peaches turning brown?"
Is that all? Brown peaches? I sucked in some oxygen, slumped in a chair and gave her a short answer to her question. "I'll be home in an hour, Anna. Be careful," and I hung up the phone.
An hour and a half later I was on the way home. Thirty miles seems interminable when one's imagination has no limits. I buttressed myself as I entered the house.
There at the stove stood Anna . . . stirring . . . stirring what looked liked 5 cups of sugar. I glanced around the kitchen and, yes, there was a mess, but nothing unusual. She had followed directions to the tee. She had just begun the cooking and I was as proud - and relieved -  as could be. I helped her sterilize the jars, check for jellying, fill the jars, and process the finished product.
Anna's jam is a success and so is Anna, who beams with pride every time someone asks for jam for their biscuits.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I Can't Tell Her the Truth

Dinner had been unusually late so it was not long afterward when we all began our nightly routines. Anna decided upon enough videos to keep her up until the early morning hours. Bob took his final stroll to the chicken house looking for that egg-eating snake. TJ and I stood in front of the bathroom mirror brushing our teeth. Soon, Anna retreated to her room, shut her door and began her movie marathon. Bob returned from the chicken house snakeless and eggless, and TJ and I climbed the stairs to her bedroom and continued our nightly ritual.
"Now, Mom, remember - don't come in my door." She scurried ahead of me, closed the door and left me standing in the hall.
Knock, knock, knock.
"Come in, Momma." Inevitably I enter her room with an enthusiastic comment such as 'Oh  TJ! Your room is so tidy tonight!,' or 'Oh TJ! You are already in bed!,' or  'My goodness TJ! Did you let a tornado visit today?'
I opened the door to see her standing in the middle of the room. "Oh TJ! You have such wonderful manners!"
"I know, Momma. Here's my Bible." She held it out for me to take. "I have paper where you need to read." A folded, folded, and folded again scrap piece of paper marked the next Bible story to be read tonight, 'Jesus Walks on Water.'
We sat next to each other on the edge of her bed, each of holding one side of the over-sized book. I read while she studied the pictures. After reading I tucked her in, said our prayer, and as always, added 'And God, heal TJ's head, her heart, and her spirit. Amen.'
Tonight, after hugging and kissing and re-tucking, TJ securely put her arms around my neck and said, "I never want to leave foster care. I love you and I love Daddy so much. I never want to leave."
I drew her close, held her tightly, ever so gently rocked back and forth, and whispered in her ear, "You are my TJ and I love you! I am not letting you go!"
She laid back down. I studied her profile against the pillow. "Good," she said.
I can't tell her the truth. Our home is only temporary. When she is 15 I will be 68. She deserves better. Someone will come along and want to adopt her. When that happens it will break her heart.
It will break mine, too.

Monday, July 5, 2010

My Tongue has Great Eyes!

Meatloaf with baked potatoes, sugar snap peas, and fresh corn - all vegetables from our garden - made a delectable dinner. Bob, Anna, TJ, and I finished the our meal and relaxed around the table. There was no conversation, only sucking sounds as each of us struggled to get minute pieces of corn from between our teeth.

"WOW!" TJ exclaimed, "My tongue has great eyes!" Our heads turned to her and cocked, unsure of what we just heard.
"What was that?" I asked.
"My tongue has great eyes. It knows just where to go to get that corn out of my teeth."
Laughing on the inside, wowed on the outside, we all looked at TJ with great envy of her very smart tongue and wishing ours had good eyes, too.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

"Anna! Come down here. We need to talk." I hollered up the stairs and waited for a response. Anna hesitated. "Yes ma'am." Reluctantly she walked slowly down the stairs and met me at our breakfast bar. Knowing she was in trouble, Anna thoroughly cleaned the downstairs, upstairs, even scrubbed all the bathrooms. She hoped this would ameliorate the inevitable lecture. "Anna," I paused and took in a deep breath, "You have been begging to go to this church for months. You looked up the time the services began. We have had this same conversation THREE times this week about getting up by 9:00 am everyday, earlier if we have harvesting to do." Anna sat on the stool swiveling 90 degrees back and forth, fiddling with her fingers and eyes fixed on the floor. "TJ and I left this morning at 10:15 and you still were not up. I left a note for you to have listed three goals you want to accomplish and to note how you plan on attaining those goals. Let's take a look at that list." Silence. Very quietly Anna responded, "I don't have any goals." I have known Anna for two years and she is right; she has no goals. She dreams about going to college and becoming a pediatrician, but having failed all her core classes and ART tells another story. She was on the school basketball team, but could not stay out of trouble and so was removed from the roster. She reminisces of her days on the elementary and middle school track teams, but lacks the self discipline to do daily runs so she could make the cut. She wants a weave, new clothes, have her nails done, but has not done chores in 8 weeks to earn any money. Frustration painted itself on my face and oozed from my voice. "That's the problem Anna, you have no goals, no passions, nothing interests you. There is nothing you are willing to pursue. You cannot continue to depend on others to support you and give you what you want for the rest of your life. YOU have to work and work hard. YOU have to put gas in your car. YOU have to pay your rent. YOU have to buy your clothes." Anna has a kind sweetness to her that compels people to want to help her. 'I don"t have money for lunch,' she'll say softly and before you know it she has food and money setting before her and she is set. "Why bother to make my lunch when I can get it for free?' Her teachers give her extra points because 'poor Anna is a foster child who has had such a hard life. She will soar if she just had a break.' And breaks Anna has had. She has been given clothes, jewelry, MP3's, PSP, CDs...you name it she'll get and I seize every little bit of it. Is there any good reason why she should have to work... food stamps, low income housing, medicaid. The foster system will get her a car, a laptop, provide housing, pay for college, and more. She doesn't need any goals! As far as she can see down her life's path there is a shortcut - the system or people are there to take care of her. Resignation replaced frustration. Tension released through a very heavy sigh. "Anna, do you have anything to say?" Ever so slowly her head wagged no. "OK. Well . . . I'm done. You can go back to room." She sauntered back, leaving me leaning against the breakfast bar, my elbows on the counter and my forehead heavy in my hands.