First Day of School for RAD Children

NOTE: As I enjoy my last few days with my younger son before he heads back to North Carolina,
I have tried to scale back my work a bit.
So today, enjoy a Tuesday/Wednesday combo blog!

We’ve talked all around this for the last few weeks about how to be prepared for the first day of school. But now that the first day is here…what are the best ways to make sure your RAD kiddos have a great first day? The first day of school for RAD children can be overwhelming. The first day of school for ANY children can be! Let’s talk about where the hurdles might be and where to run interference to ensure a great first day experience!

The night before is where you can make a huge impact on how the first day will go. Not only in preparation but in how you set the stage emotionally. As for preparation, consider these tips:

  • Create the “launch pad” (my favorite!) spot where everything for the next day is ready to go
  • Pick out that perfect outfit!
  • Set the alarm with your child (or two or three!)

But here are some other things you can do which can help your RAD kiddo with their fears and anxiety which may be weighing the night before. 

  • Ask them to describe what they imagine their first day will look like. 
  • If they have a friend who will be going to the same school, maybe a phone call or Facetime before bed.
  • If they are smaller, draw a picture of their first day of school.
  • Ask them what you can do that will help them the most. 

The morning of school might seem like chaos and overwhelming for all of you. The best thing you can do no matter what else happens is to keep calm. Focus on your children, keep your cool and make it about their comfort and calm. You can have your nervous breakdown later after they have successfully gotten off for the day.

Some things to plan for that first morning:

  • Make sure there’s a good breakfast (protein is important for good brain function!)
  • Ask them what they want you to do at school. They may want you to be with them all the way to the classroom. They may be ready just to be dropped off. Be OK with their choice.
  • Make sure the morning is about joy. Even if it’s pouring down rain. 
  • Make a plan to celebrate after school is over.

Here are some other fun ideas on of all things a marriage site! But don’t be afraid to let your children – even your RAD kiddo lead the way on what they need on that first day. 

 

Getting Out the Door!

If you are like me, one of the constant challenges with your RAD kiddos is getting out the door in the morning. And whether you have one, two or twelve children, the chaos and stress seems to be the same. Someone isn’t dressed. Another hasn’t finished eating. One might not even be awake yet. And don’t get me started on missing homework, projects, permission slips, pens, pencils, phones and other necessities of school life!

I liken trying to get our kiddos out the door to this sweet little one. Her mom took this picture of her before her first day of preschool. Which I call our dream of what our children would look like heading out the door:

Then she took a picture of her at the end of that same first day of preschool as she was coming home. Which I imagine is more the reality of how many of our kiddos look on their way to school:

Certainly it’s not for a lack of trying. If you’re like me, you’ve woken up early, and tried tons of tricks and bribery to get your children moving earlier and faster to get the day started with less stress and…let’s admit it, screaming. But more often than not, no one is speaking to each other by the time you hit the car. And there’s a lot of door slamming with no one hearing the sarcastic, “I love you” that you yell as they leave for the day and you breathe a sigh of relief. It’s OK to admit it. 

But we never want it to be that way. Children are little for such a short time and we would love to have these precious morning times. OK we’d at least love for them to be less tumultuous! I have found some ideas from the experts but here are my suggestions of things I think are sure-fire things to make mornings go smoother. If not at first, maybe in the long run.

  1. The Launch Pad: I have mentioned this before but it is the essential element of the busy family. And as I have aged it is also the essential element of the middle-aged mind! It is the one place in the house that everything that needs to leave the house must go. Maybe each of you has a basket by the door. Maybe that’s too chaotic a space and you find baskets elsewhere. But keys, phones, backpacks, school papers, lunchboxes, EVERYTHING that has to do with coming and going gets put here.

    Which means if your son hands you a permission slip to fill out and you don’t put it back in the launch pad? That’s on you, not them. If they come home and drop their phone on the couch and it gets lost in the cushions and can’t be found when it’s time to leave the next morning? That’s on them. When it’s time to head out, everything that needs to be had should be ready to go on the launch pad. Including your stuff.
  2. Picking out clothes the night before: I watched a friend argue with her daughter for 40 minutes over a dress for church. They were visiting and it was the only dress she’d brought. Her daughter was tall for her age and my friend was 6 months pregnant so it wasn’t very fun for either of them. Clothes can be a harsh battleground for some kids and not a hill to die on at 6:30am. Picking out clothes the night before can eliminate one potential morning battle. Even narrowing the choices to two can get you closer to the promised land. 
  3. Sleeping medicating: I talked about doing this with August. We used to give him his ADHD meds while he was basically still asleep. He’d take them then sleep for another 1/2 hour while they kicked in. It was, if I must say, a brilliant move on our part because the child that woke up was calm, engaged and willing to follow directions. Unlike the unmedicated child who would be difficult and aggravated by everything. I highly recommend it.
  4. Natural consequences: This is a biggie. Would it kill your teenager to have to go to school in PJs? Nope. They might think so. Would it kill your straight A student to go to school without that homework that they can’t find? Nope. But they are much less likely to make those mistakes again. And it doesn’t make you a monster parent. Some natural consequences aren’t worth it. But every now and then you can find those that teach the valuable lessons your RAD kiddos need to learn. They can learn while still knowing you always are there to back them up. Send an email to the teacher about why the homework isn’t coming that day with a picture that it was indeed finished. Bring clothes to school for later. 

Here are some other ideas which I thought were thoughtful (not just because they have the same first idea I did!) I think the key is to try your best to stay calm. One way or another you’ll get out the door. You don’t have to compare your kiddos or your parenting to anyone else. Success is what you decide. And remember, breathing that sigh of relief is OK!

Until next time,

Shannon

 

Changing Routines with your RAD

One of the things that it is hardest to make happen with any child is changing routines. But now that the start of a new school year is looming, big changes are about to come. If you’ve taken it easy this summer on bedtimes and wake-up times, on mealtimes and studying, then getting back in the groove will be challenging. But changing routines with your RAD kiddo will be even harder. Why is this? Because these children don’t like change and they LOVE control. They want to be in charge because it makes them feel better since they do not trust the adults around them.

So how you deal with changing routines with your RAD? If you’ve dealt with this for a while, you’ve probably got a long list of things that DON’T work:

  • Reward charts
  • Time outs
  • Negative reinforcement (traditional punishment)

So what will work for changing the routines so that school starts with ease for both your children and you? Here are some tips that I used when August was younger as well as some ideas I’ve gotten from friends and social media.

  • Start getting bedtimes moved to school times – I always start getting bedtime and wake up times moved to school times about a week before school starts. This was particularly painful when we lived in Oregon where it stayed light until 10:30pm! It seemed to stay light out forever after I put the boys to bed and did I hear about it! But sleeping was always hard for August. He took medication to help him sleep so getting him on the right schedule was important.
  • Practice morning routines – There is a lot more that happens on a school morning than a summer morning. Getting up and dressed, eating breakfast and getting out the door. Maybe you just head to the library or to run errands but it gives you all a chance to “remember” what getting out in the morning is like!
  • Get the kiddos involved in planning – Pick your “launch pad”. This is the place in the house where everything goes: backpacks, homework, keys, purses, lunches, permission slips, projects, ANYTHING that has to go to school. 
  • Try sleepy medicating – We did this with August and it was one of the best discoveries ever. In addition to RAD he has ADHD. We found that waking him up a half-hour before he had to get up and getting his ADHD meds in him and letting him go back to sleep while they kicked in made a huge difference. When he woke up he was calm and responsive. If he just woke up and started spinning, mornings were so much harder!
  • Make a short list of “Don’t come down here until…” – Depending on the age of your children, if they are old enough to dress themselves and brush their own teeth and hair, make a poster or a list for the top of the stairs that lists the things that have to be done before they come down. It may just be 3-4 things like: dressed, shoes, teeth, hair, make bed. Sometimes that’s all it takes to give them a little reminder of what needs to happen.

Here is a blog post from NetNanny on some other ideas for morning and after school routines to help diffuse the chaos!

As we get into the school year, making the routine simple and easy will go a long way toward making the learning go well. I wish you all good luck as the new school year gets underway!

Until next time,

Shannon

RAD Self-care Sabotage

As parents of trauma-affected children, we live in a constant state of awareness. All our efforts are focused on taking care of them, their siblings, our partners, our jobs, the house and often last and least, ourselves. But what are our RAD kiddos focused on? Sometimes it seems like they have one goal and only one goal: sabotage. 

I know this sounds like an evil plan hatched by a demented Dr. Frankenstein. But there were occasions when August was little where it seemed just that devious and planned out. And  yes, I know it wasn’t. But when you’ve waited all day for a bath and a little quiet and that’s the time he chooses to pee all over the plastic kitchen set in his room, you just have to wonder!

So I want to talk about RAD self-care sabotage. What it might look like. What it might mean and how we can react to it when it might feel so personal to us. 

  • Does it feel like they only need you when you’ve gotten on the phone?
  • Do they talk to you through the door while you’re going to the bathroom?
  • Do they refuse to eat what they ordered at a restaurant but your food looks awesome?
  • Does the one sound they know drives you nuts get louder as soon as you ask them to stop it?
  • Has your favorite shirt, sweater, necklace, scarf been ruined by an “accident”?

I’m by no means implying that all RAD children are lying in bed plotting and planning. However, two of the most recognizable characteristics of reactive attachment disorder are that these children are control freaks and manipulative. They want to push our buttons. They want us to react and explode and get mad. Because that reinforces their beliefs that we don’t love them and we don’t want them. And to sabotage the self-care moments that we most treasure in our chaotic lives is pushing a very big button, don’t you think?

So why do our RAD kiddos choose these moments to inject themselves into our lives? Why are they so skilled at finding the times that we need the solace and relief of our daily grind and pick that time to ramp up their behavior? Because it’s when we’ve let our guard down. Our defenses are weak. Think about it. When is it easier for you to respond to your child having spilled a gallon of milk on the floor, when you are loading the dinner dishes into the dishwasher? Or when you have sat down for the first time all day to read a book for 30 minutes?

Now again, I can’t say for sure that all the times that August did those things that made my head explode, he’d waited in the tall grass for me to relax and look the other way. But there were more than enough examples for me to think it was more than a coincidence. And I think if you look back you might find the same is true for you.

So what do we do? Self-care is vital to our well-being as well as the success of our family. So not doing it is not an option. But making sure it happens even if your children are home might mean making some changes. Here are my ideas:

  • Tag team with your partner. Make sure one of you is covering the kids so the other can get in the needed self-care time and then switch. This may not be an option for everyone but caring for special needs kiddos needs to be a team sport as much as possible.
  • Depending on the age of your children, try and help them understand your plan, your timeline. Just a warning, sometimes this can backfire. But try to phrase it like, “I’m going to relax for 30 minutes and then we’ll go to the park so what would like to do until then?” Because this way you’re giving them control over that 30 minutes (within reason). Not just go away until I’m ready for you.
  • Let them self-care with you. Again, this is one of those that could backfire. But maybe you and the girls could all paint your nails or do mud masks. Or you and the boys could all go for a walk. I know the real point of self-care is time away from the children but the main point is that it is stress-free time and these are activities that for the most part shouldn’t end up in arguments and yelling (I hope!)
  • Confront them with the truth. If they’re old enough, they may know exactly what they’re up to. They know you can’t talk to them or help them when they’re on the phone or in the bathroom. They know how little time you take for yourself. Sitting down and having an honest conversation about your needs and the benefits to the relationship between the two of you and the entire family might just clear the air and get a different attitude going forward.

So take some time to think on whether your RAD kiddo is doing some self-care sabotage in your family and think on some ways you can intercept those efforts to make sure you’re getting the quality care you need. Please feel free to share your stories and ideas. I don’t know everything and we all benefit from everyone’s input!

Until next time,

Shannon

Outside Isn’t Punishment!

When did “getting” to go outside turn into “having” to go outside? When I was young we couldn’t wait to get outside. Now growing up in Ohio it seemed like winter lasted forever when I was young and sometimes bundling up to go out just wasn’t worth it. But doesn’t it seem like kids these days see going outside like going to the dentist? How do we change that? How do we help them see that outside isn’t punishment?

August loves the outdoors. It was a calming place for him. He’d spend hours outside just hanging out. Playing with sticks or rocks or bugs. I think that might have had something to do with not experiencing it much as a toddler. Or growing up 125 miles north of the Arctic circle! In any case,it wasn’t much of problem to get him to go out. Coming in was another story. That was until video games came long.

But there are ideas that can get your kids interested in the outdoors without coaxing or bribery. And maybe you all can have some fun times with these last few weeks of summer.

Bubbles
I know right? How on earth could bubbles draw a kid away from Minecraft? Well have you seen some of the ways you can make bubbles? It’s amazing what you can do! One of my favorite memories with August is with him in the bathtub with my grandmother. She would get her hands all soapy and blow big bubbles through her thumbs out the backs of her hands. Just with her hands. She said that’s how they did it in the olden days. And she said if you sat on a wool blanket the bubbles would come down and rest. They wouldn’t pop. Ah, such simple times.

But I cut out the middle of paper plates to make big bubble blowers, use string loops and put the blowers in front of fans to make tons of bubbles. You don’t have to spend a ton of money and get all the fancy motorized gizmos that wear out after one summer (or less!) For some bubble mix recipes and ideas, check this out. And try the wool blanket thing.

Outdoor Movies
Okay this might be cheating just a bit. But it’s still technically outside so it counts. I have a friend who regularly does a “Drive-way Drive-In”. He sets up a movie every weekend at his house and invites his neighbors over. A sheet on the garage door and a projector hooked to his computer and he’s in business. The projectors used to cost a fortune but now they’re very reasonable. You might even be able to borrow one from work! The grown-ups get some social time and it’s a kid-friendly movie so it works kind of like a neighborhood babysitter.

But you can make it much more active. Get out the sidewalk chalk and make a hopscotch board for before the movie starts. Let the kids run around and play flashlight tag during an “intermission”. There’s bound to be some wiggling and running around no matter what! If you’re an overachiever, checkout this amazing setup for movie night here.

Service Project
It’s possible there’s a senior citizen in your neighborhood that needs help with some yard work that’s more then they can manage. Maybe it’s weeding flower beds or raking leaves. Maybe it’s some painting or spreading mulch. Depending on the ages of your children and their abilities, you might be able to provide some help to a neighbor and spend the day outside. I found that August had absolutely no interest in helping out at our house but was incredibly generous and helpful at other people’s houses. When I was homeschooling him our church did a painting project at an elderly woman’s house and I took him. He worked like a trooper and never once complained.

I think the sooner and the more you can convince your kids that outside isn’t punishment, the more they will seek out opportunities to explore all that the outdoors has to offer. It’s a great big world and children should see as much of it as possible!

Until next time,

Shannon

How to Put Yourself First.

As a parent we are trained from day one that our children come first. We feed them, then we eat. When getting in the car we make sure they are securely buckled in before we fasten our seat belts. We make sure they are all tucked in at night (no matter how long it takes!) before we close our eyes. All our focus revolves around the needs of our little ones.

But think about the instructions before you take off on an airplane? The flight attendant is very specific to tell you that if those oxygen masks fall from the ceiling and we’re all scared out of our wits that your first job is to put on your mask and then help that child sitting next to you. Most likely going against every instinct and fiber of your being. The best course of action in this situation is to put yourself first. What do they know that we don’t?

How to put yourself first? For those of us with RAD kiddos we hardly ever see an opportunity for that. But being able to put ourselves first every now and then even for a bit is critical to sustain us for the long journey of caring for these special children.

There are lots of big and little ways to put ourselves first. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. I think the best thing to do is to remember the airplane analogy. And remember that you’re only worth something if you’re healthy enough to take care of your RAD kiddos. So here are some ideas of how to find some easy ways to put yourself first:

  • If you find a few minutes in the house alone, put on some music and sing loudly or dance around the house.
  • Take a bath (if you’re like me, when your children were little, you couldn’t remember the last time you bathed or went to the bathroom alone!)
  • Sit outside at night after the kids are in bed and listen to the night noises, even for five minutes
  • Ask for help from someone you trust. Could just be running to the grocery store.
  • Say no.
  • Read a book.
  • Unplug-no phone, no computer, no TV.
  • Eat breakfast first. Have your cup of tea or your toast or whatever. The kids won’t starve and there’s a chance you’ll actually eat.

I found these couple of blog posts from other moms who’ve seen the need and written about it. Check out this one about a mom who tried it for just one week! And then this article with a video on the benefits of putting yourself first from Forbes magazine. As always, I’ll add these links to my resource page if you want to go back and review them later. 

I know putting ourselves first goes against everything we believe as parents. We immediately thing we’re doing it wrong. But maybe if we put the oxygen mask on first, we will be able to spend more time doing it right.

Until next time,

Shannon

Early Childhood Trauma in the News

I am writing about this because I know that anyone who’s been awake over the last year and has a RAD kiddo has been thinking the same thing I have been. What is going to be the fallout of the family separations that are taking place at the Southern Border? How will this early childhood trauma show up down the road? I am not writing this as political commentary but purely from the standpoint of the psychological aspects of what the children are going through.

It is not part of their plan for these families to be separated. The children are not aware of what is happening and why. The main difference between these children and those in an orphanage overseas is that they aren’t given up willingly. However, the separation from a primary caregiver at a crucial time of bonding without knowledge of when or if they will be reunited is the same.

I found a couple of articles which discuss the short- and long-term effects of this separation on the children. I think as you read them you’ll see astonishing similarities between how the psychologists describe the children and our own RAD kiddos. The first is this one from The Washington Post. What I find most striking is the description of the pruning of the dendrites or nerves of the brain. This is almost exactly how the psychiatrist who diagnosed August with reactive attachment disorder described what the lack of bonding with a primary caregiver did to his brain. Exactly! I couldn’t believe it. So much of the description of the symptoms is spot on.

The second one I wanted to reference is this one from The New Yorker. It’s much more recent having been written just three days ago. The psychologist in this article talks about the effects on both younger and older children and how they are different.

One of the important parts of this article is how it discussed the effects not just to the brain but to all the body systems: the immune system, the cardiovascular system and others. August is small for his age and has hung on to the bottom of the growth chart most of his life. Now we don’t know his genetics so there’s no way to know if that’s just how he is or not. But his psychiatrist told me early on about a condition called psychosocial dwarfism. It’s where children are able to actually will themselves to stay small in an effort to try and keep from having to become independent or take on more responsibility. As soon as I read that part, its immediately what I remembered!

If you Google “effects of separation on immigrant children” you can read lots of other articles on the subject. I am sure you will see your RAD kiddos in the descriptions as well. I hope there will be time for these relationships to be repaired and these children to be healed.

Until next time,

Shannon

Fun and Easy Family Staycations

As it gets toward the end of the summer and the start of school is approaching, you might want to get in one more vacation with the family. But maybe the budget or the time just doesn’t allow for a big excursion away. Or maybe the idea of taking a trip away with your RAD kiddo feels you with fear and dread. So here are some ideas for fun and easy family staycations which will give you some quality family time but won’t break the budget. And may be easier on the anxiety level!

Now when it comes to staycations it doesn’t require going out of town or even out of your house! Just maybe a little creativity and some planning. So here are some ideas and some resources for finding some fun and easy family staycations.

Backyard camping is easy and fun!
  • Backyard Camping – Maybe you don’t fancy yourselves big campers. But everyone can survive one or two nights in a tent in your own backyard! And if you don’t own a tent, I’m sure a neighbor can hook you up. Set up the tent (or get help from the neighbor), fill it with pillows and blankets and grab some flashlights and let the spooky stories fly!
  • Explore Your City – It’s easy to overlook what’s right in your own town with all the hustle and bustle of daily life. I haven’t even been to one of the museums here in my tiny little town. And Facebook is constantly offering events and other kid-friendly attractions, often for free.
  • Dine out – Now this may seem like something you do fairly regularly but if it always comes out of a bag with a golden arch, that’s not what I’m meaning here. Pick a restaurant that you might not have thought about going to before, get dressed up and have a fabulous night out!
  • Stay one night in a nearby hotel – My boys love staying in hotels. They don’t care if it’s 5-star or not. Though they are fond of a nice breakfast! But maybe a night at a close hotel will be a fun distraction. Find a place with a pool and a breakfast the next morning that provides a break for mom and everybody wins!
  • Make a City-Wide Scavenger Hunt – Some cities have these already available. But if you don’t live in one of those places, it’s not hard to figure out a fun scavenger hunt that will get you moving around your town. Here in Terre Haute, we have painted rocks which are fun to paint and hide. Maybe you can do that! Or maybe it’s just walking through town trying to find all the letters of the alphabet!
  • Movie Night – Always a winner! You don’t have a drop a ton of money to have a fun movie night. Hit the grocery store for popcorn and snacks, create a comfy space with blankets and pillows and find a movie everyone will love. Then cuddle up and get your movie night going!
  • Unplug – This might be the last thing you want to do as a RAD parent but it is a great way to connect as a family. Maybe it’s a hike at a local nature preserve or a pool day. Whatever gets you off your phones or games and spending time together.

These are just a few ideas that I liked. Lots of other people have lots of other ideas. Check out Today’s Parent list here. And there are 40 ideas listed from Cafe Mom here.

And as always I will put the links on my resources page.

Enjoy the last few days of summer! Connect with your families and get out and play!

Until next time,

Shannon

Top 10 Signs of Reactive Attachment Disorder

Way back in the beginning of writing this blog, I posted the DSM-IV criteria for Reactive Attachment Disorder. But that was a long time ago and in psychology speak. So I thought it would be helpful to do a more plain spoken list of what behaviors children with RAD exhibit.

Kiddos with RAD don’t even know most of the time they are doing some of the things they do. It’s all reaction to the very early trauma they suffered and how they protect themselves now from further hurt. Here are some signs your kiddo might display:

  • Failure to smile and avoids eye contact – This may make your child seem like they are angry all the time but it is part of the resistance to connection. They aren’t unhappy but they are constantly stressed and on edge. So it is hard to ever relax.
  • Becomes agitated when adults try to comfort them – They may recoil when they are upset and an adult tries to hug them or comfort them. They don’t want to think of a caregiver as someone they can depend on or someone who will make them feel better. They don’t trust anyone and they resist any attempt to count on someone for assistance.
  • Doesn’t seem to notice when parents or caregivers leave them – Separation anxiety is something that parents face regularly with their children. RAD kiddos don’t notice or care when their caregivers leave because they don’t see them as needed. The connection and bond isn’t there so there is no fear they won’t return, no anxiety about who will care for them.
  • Spends a lot of time rocking or comforting themselves – RAD kiddos firmly believe they can only count on themselves. They are control freaks. They develop incredible skills in self-soothing because they do not trust that anyone else can do it for them.
  • When distressed, they may calm down more quickly without the attention of an adult – You’d think an adult would be helpful when a child is upset but for RAD kiddos it’s anything but. An adult or caregiver getting in their face most times will only make it worse. They have learned coping strategies from their past traumas and they know how to help themselves.
  • Unaffected by the movements of others – RAD kiddos tend to seem very stand offish. They do not want other people in their lives. They do not feel that people affect them no matter how close the relationship. So they will not usually be rattled at all by what other people do.
  • Doesn’t reach out to be picked up – Because RAD kiddos don’t need affection they will not seek it out. For parents that can be one of the most heartbreaking aspects of having a RAD kiddo. It isn’t something they will seek from any adult in their life, no matter how close the relationship.
  • Isn’t interested in playing interactive games or playing with toys – Group games like tag or hide and seek will not be popular with RAD kiddos. They are not great at playing with toys that are “group” toys. Because they aren’t good “joiners” this isn’t something they will ever be drawn to.
  • Cries Inconsolably – Because RAD kiddos are not able to process their emotions in a healthy way, sometimes when they begin crying, the tears won’t stop. And because they won’t allow anyone to help them be consoled, getting a handle on their emotions is even harder.
  • Withdrawn Appearance – There is often a mix-up between RAD and autism. RAD children are emotionally and developmentally stunted in a way that mimics autism. They might appear not to be “with it” to what’s going on around them. Again, it’s not that they are unaware, it’s just that they are in a constant mode of protection.

Hopefully this can be a reference guide for friends and family to understand why your child may not look or act like they might expect them to. And knowing may help in not judging your RAD kiddo unfairly. I would love to hear your comments on what you see with your children and which of these behaviors have caused you the most stress!

Until next time,

Shannon

Curious Life Lessons

This isn’t the subject I had planned to write on today. But a couple of things happened this past week and weekend that affected me so greatly that I found myself dwelling on how many curious life lessons we get when we aren’t paying attention. 

August has a gambling addition. He has some other potential addictions, but the the one he can feed at the moment is gambling. Because he looks for connections and control that he never got from his birth parents, gambling gives that. And he feels like he can control the outcomes. When he gets up, the high is incredible. When he starts to lose, he believes he can control winning it back. And of course, that doesn’t happen.

Now money can’t change hands while they play so that’s where it gets complicated. Because it then involves friends and family to pay off his debts. Charming and conniving from friends and begging from us to send money to the commissary accounts of those he lost to. His father and I won’t do that but his friends will. The begging always comes with life or death pleas that he’ll get beat up if this doesn’t happen immediately.

He will stop for a while…then it will start again. He knows it’s wrong, he knows he shouldn’t do it. But the addiction is fed by the Reactive Attachment Disorder which is very common. You can read more about that here. It’s sad to hear him call and talk about this with such sadness in his voice. He feels so helpless and so ashamed. He should suffer the natural consequences…the life lesson…of his actions. It’s a hard thing for a mother to think about what that might be, you know?

The other life less learned this weekend was mine. As long as I can remember, my grandparents have had my family over to their house on Independence Day weekend for a family reunion. At its height there were 45+ people at the house, sleeping throughout the small 3-bedroom 1.5-story house on floors inside or porches, and outside in tents and RVs.

We ate so well, cooking on one of the three stoves, with food from one of the three fridges or three freezers and eating on long re-purposed school lunch tables and patio tables in the garage and driveway. Everything just happened when I was little. Including the miraculous reappearance of 40+ homeade lemonade icees made every night and amazing homemade sourdough pancake mix every morning. 

So this home is my home now and I have tried my best to keep that tradition alive. Busier lives have meant that fewer family can come but we were still a great bunch of 17 this weekend. Going into the weekend, I worked as hard as possible to get the house and land ready but got increasingly frustrated with how run-down the house has gotten and how much work I hadn’t gotten done.

The house was built in 1932 and is showing its age. It sits on 6.5 acres and the grass grows fast! In my mind, the weeds were always pulled and the gutters cleaned and the house never needed painting when I came to visit. All of that needed doing when the family showed up! 

But once everyone got here, I kind of forgot about all that…

My sister finished mowing the yard which hadn’t gotten finished because of the rain even with my partner Billy mowing well past sundown Thursday night! My cousin Jennie’s husband Sean cleaned the gutters on the outbuilding and repaired the roof and he and my cousin Bryan stained the gazebo. Everyone pitched in on cooking and cleaning and we had homemade lemonade icees and homemade sourdough pancakes. Kids from the neighbor’s came over to play because we were the place to be!

On Sunday as people were getting ready to leave, Bryan’s daughter who is only two was so sad. She did not want to go. She clung to me and hugged me for what seemed like forever. Rachel had brought her partner Jake’s teenage son and he’d put up a good front but had said on Saturday that he wanted to come back. And Blake, a boy from a few houses down who was up from Florida visiting his great-grandpa came over to say good-bye when they were leaving. He ran over to where I was on the porch and gave me the biggest hug with tears in his eyes. 

When my grandparents first moved to that house in 1969 they started measuring us grandkids out on the porch wall. You can see some of the faint lines with our names and the date of the measurement. I’m not even on there anymore because the pencil lines have long since disappeared. Yesterday we measured my cousin Bryan’s daughter, and Jake’s son and Blake after he got done hugging me. Two of them aren’t even related to me but they are all a part of why I bought that house and why I keep this Independence Day weekend tradition.

Those moments were my life lesson. It wasn’t about the perfectly fixed house or the mowed lawn or the weeded sidewalk. It was about making those kids feel special that weekend and the names and dates on that wall.

I wish someone had put August’s name on a wall.