Tuesday, January 31, 2012

On Talking to a 7 yr old about Death

I'll admit, these events have really hit me hard. After spending most of yesterday trying not to cry at work, I actually managed to talk to Gavin without breaking down.

Of course, this morning at Spin class "Sweet Caroline" was the song that pushed me over the edge. Really?!? At least it was the last song, I was sweating so much by that point that no one noticed a few tears.

Back to Gavin. We snuggled in bed and I asked him what he had been told (two boys died) and if kids were talking about what happened. I told him that they killed themselves, which I don't think he really understood, and I wasn't going to go into the details. I told him that sometimes people are so sad that they think they don't want to live anymore, that no one will miss them. But that they are wrong, they are loved, and they are so missed. That no matter what, he is always loved, and nothing should ever be so bad as to do something like that. That it's ok to feel really sad, and it's normal, but it's never ok to hurt yourself.

We also talked about how sad the parents are now that they aren't going to get to see their boys anymore. That we need to be sensitive and respectful and it's not ok to gossip or talk badly about the kids. That if he hears something that he has a question about, he needs to come talk to a parent, teacher, or counselor.

He was appropriately serious. I asked him if he understood what death was. He didn't. I explained that it meant they no longer were alive. That they don't get to grow up, finish high school, go to college, get married. Their families won't get to see them anymore.

In my explanation, death doesn't sound sordid or scary. It's, simply, the absence of life. I wonder where, at what age, we start to make it scary and horrifying.

It's a strange thing, community. I remember a few years ago when SE Polk dealt with this, it was just a story on the news. And if Gavin wasn't in school, it would probably just be a news story to me. But now that we are part of the community, it feels like it's happened to all of us, even if I don't have a personal connection to the families involved.

Chad asked me last night, "How did they not know that the kids were sick?"

Isn't that the million dollar question. It's the question that has the anxiety churning at the bottom of my stomach, that has a slight panic started in the back of my brain. We try so hard to protect our kids from so many things, how do we make sure to protect them from themselves?

Please keep our community in your thoughts. I hope that the families can find some moments of peace and solace. I hope this brings awareness to parents. I hope that the nasty kids with their mean and awful Facebook comments are called out, that their parents get a clue and help them. I can't say that those kids are the problem, but they certainly weren't part of a solution. I hope kindness and compassion prevails.

Monday, January 30, 2012


Cancer, pedophiles, drunk drivers....there are so many things to fear once you have a family.

Today our school district was struck with the news that two boys committed suicide over the weekend. One of Gavin's classmates mom works with me, and one of the families lives two doors down from them. Great kid, responsible, involved in track. How does this happen?

If we can't answer that question, how do we prevent it from happening?

I exchanged an email with Gavin's teacher, trying to get a pulse on what the students were told, and what the environment is at school today. ITBS (Iowa Tests of Basic Skills) was supposed to start today, but is now postponed. At the elementary school, the kids were simply told that two boys died, but of course, stories and rumors are already flying.

Tonight I will hold my 7 yr old close and try to explain to him that two people took their own lives. As hard as that task is, it's so much better to hear the truth from me than from whatever sensationalized story he hears on the playground or the bus. He will sit there and look at me innocently, not understanding the weight of what's at hand. Or he will be deeply troubled by it, internalizing what I am saying. I don't know.

I will try to tell him that it's ok to feel sad, but never to hurt yourself. That there are so many people that love him. That it's normal to feel down, and that he needs to find people to talk to if he feels this way. He will ask me why this happened, and I won't know how to answer.

We'll finish with a conversation about rumors and gossip, about the importance to respect the families of the boys, and not to feed into the talk going around school. He'll probably hop up and go on with his evening, maybe a little happy that his tests were delayed.

But he'll be so slightly changed. Less innocent. More aware that bad things happen. I'm more aware that bad things happen.

This is the hard part of parenting you never think about. The part where scary things happen to nice people. I find myself searching the news articles for signs that these were bad parents, or kids with a troubled past, a history of mental illness. Something, anything, that allows me to say "well, this can't happen to me".

If you are the praying type, please say some prayers for these families. Pray that our community finds the right words to speak to our children. And that we find ways to prevent these senseless tragedies from happening again. It's becoming all too common in schools across the country.

Happy 3rd Birthday Samson!

To the boy giving me daily lessons in patience

You still like to sleep like this......on my chest

You want to be just like your big brother, even if you torture him endlessly


Your soft baby hair and tender curls are now gone, replaced with coarser, little boy hair

Your goofy antics always keep us laughing


You give the best kisses, grabbing my face with your two little hands and planting one on me

I love you, sweet boy. You filled a hole in our family that I didn't know existed before you.

Keep up the crazy (and peeing in the potty....please keep that up too!)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Oh, my......!

Sam, on the verge of turning 3, never ceases to crack us up with the things he says.

A couple weeks ago, he and Gavin were engaged in the nightly Battle. (Click here if you missed the post about this new activity in our house).

Gavin hit him in the fave with the Nerf weapon (no worries, softly and painlessly).

It was kind of his lower cheek.

Upon impact, Sam grasped his face and yelled:

OH, my NUTS!!!!!!!!!!!

This phrase is used all too frequently by the little monsters. But usually it's used in context appropriately.

It was a moment that you didn't want to encourage, but couldn't help but laugh.

Monsters. Moments.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Exceeding Expectations

Just got back from my weekly volunteer session, administering spelling tests in Gavin's classroom. The teacher has been working on district assessments, and was so excited to show me Gavin's results on his reading.

Little background - starting in Kindergarten, they are put into reading levels based on the alphabet - starting with letter A, and they progress up throughout the year(s). By the end of 2nd grade, they are expected to be reading at level M. Right before break, Gavin was bringing home level L books, so we knew he was on track for the end of the year.

This morning she showed me that he tested at Level N, so she is going to start him on Level O books! This is not only testing fluid reading skills, but comprehension, structure of the information, etc. Gavin has been a fair reader, but for a long time he was just reading words on a page. Comprehension was lagging. Now that this seems to have caught up, this means great things for him, because comprehension is critical to all areas of academics.

Plus that means that he has already EXCEEDED EXPECTATIONS for the year in reading! Trimester assessments are based on a 1-4 scale, 3 being "at grade level", 4 - "exceeding", 2 - "progressing", and 1 - not sure but you're at risk if you get a 1.

She also said that he had done really well one his double digit addition and subtraction assessments and that he has "been working so hard at math".

And you know what I am most proud of? Not just the accomplishments, but the genuine excitement and pride that I see on his teacher's face when she tells me these things. Gavin has this quality that just endears him to every teacher he's had. Knowing that they really care about him and are rooting for him and every bit as proud of his successes as I am - well that says a lot about both his character and the quality of teachers that we are lucky to have had so far.

Gavin has come a long way - Kindergarten we had a lot of 2's, 1st grade he was pretty avg with lots of 3's and some 2's in comprehension areas, and it looks like this year we will be seeing some 4's on the report card.

A tip for parents (whether you are dealing with a kid with potential issues in school or not) - one of the things I think has been critical in helping Gavin's success in school, has been making a connection with the teacher right away at the beginning of the school year. Gavin doesn't have any defining issues, but I did go into Kindergarten with serious concerns - not knowing the full effect of prematurity on his ability to learn, concerns over how young he was for his grade. I made those known right away to his teacher so she could keep an eye out and report back to me any red flags. I think teachers are more willing/able to spend that extra time to reach out to a parent 1:1 if they know they have a parent receptive to hearing the concerns that they see, and parents that are willing to work together with the teacher to find a solution. I think there are too many times that parents don't want to think it's their kid with the problem and want to just blame the teacher. Letting them know you want to hear what's going on in the classroom and drive towards a solution is key. I've just continued to do that with each new teacher, but with each year I have a little more information about specifically what areas may be of concern and what to continue to watch out for.

Sharing Gavin's story helps I'm sure. We all like an underdog story, right? But it also makes him a little more personal to them, not just 1 in 25 kids. I think the fact that he is just such a sweet kid and tries really, really hard also helps. When you see someone working hard, having to struggle a little bit, and sticking with it til they get it - well, you can't help but want to do everything you can to help them succeed.

Super proud of you, Gav. Thanks for making it look like I might know something about this parenting thing once in a while. (spoiler alert: I don't!)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Battle

Life with boys

The boys have been getting along really well lately. Don't get me wrong, they still have their moments, but for the most part really well. Like, I'm a little scared they are going to gang up on us well.

The latest primetime event in the living room is "The Battle". Gavin was given this Nerf thing for his birthday - I'm not sure what it is - a battle axe or something. It's soft. It sat untouched for months until recently.

I think that Chad and Zach taking Sam to a wrestling show while we were skiing may have had something to do with this.....but maybe not.

At any rate, every evening, the boys put on baseball hats - a new cap we bought in Breck for Gavin, Gavin's old Etnies hat for Sam - and The Battle begins.

Sam holds the battle axe and Gavin just tries to defend himself. They bounce off the couch, throw in some breakdance moves on the floor. And pretty much Sam tries to beat the crap out of Gavin.

He'll cut a *****

The best part is? They are actually getting along. They have so much fun, and while it is loud, there is no screaming or crying. They even pick up the living room in preparation for The Battle. They get some aggression out, get some exercise, and spend time playing together.

Monday, January 16, 2012


I should have taken a picture - so proud!

When it comes to pretty much any concept in school, Gavin is a little slow when a new one is introduced.

Case in point - spelling. The first few weeks of spelling were brutal; he had a hard time memorizing and learning how to spell the ones that he had missed on the pre-test. But after just a few weeks, he was getting 100% on his end of week test, even though he may have missed up to 50% of them on the pre-test. His brain started building those connections.

School isn't just about learning stuff. It's about learning how to learn.

Math seems to be even stronger in this way. Helping him with homework on new math concepts is frustrating. For one, he wants to rush through the work and not listen to the explanation. He doesn't fully grasp the concept, so he rushes to the wrong answers. They have these new fangled methods of teaching math that I can't get through my old school "black and white" way of thinking. Usually our math homework sessions end in him crying and me declaring "we're hiring a tutor!". I wish I was kidding.

This weekend I did the routine backpack clean out.

Math paper. Double digit subtraction (second graders do that??)

30/30 - with a big note from his teach - "Awesome!!"

So proud of that kid. It doesn't always come easy for him (or us), but as we continue on this school journey together, as I start to understand the way his mind works and how he learns, I hope it will only get easier.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Love Letter

God help me when Gavin discovers this blog. Let's just keep it between us all right??

This should go without saying, but DO NOT repeat most of these stories I share on here with him. It creeps him out that everyone knows all these things, and this story, is particularly embarassing to him.

Before winter break, I was doing the nightly clean out of Gavin's backpack. I found a large piece of contruction paper, with a drawing of a snowman.

Along the side of the paper:

Dear Gavin,

Merry Christmas.

Love you!

You are like a warm, cool snowman.

Sabrina M.

Just who is Sabrina M? I don't know! Even though I am in the classroom every week, I can not for the life of me place her. I'm not there tomorrow due to a work conflict but you know I will be checking this chick out next week.

I asked Gavin if this girl liked him or if he played with her or if he had a girlfriend. He rolled his eyes at me and said he didn't know why she gave him that.

I believe him. He's going to be one of those oblivious boys. He's also super cute, with eyelashes that make strangers swoon, funny and quirky, nice and kind to others, and sweet.

All traits that I am so proud he possesses......except when it comes to girls. Girls are awful. I know. I was (am?) one. Although I like to think I have outgrown the awful. Mostly.

I hope he remains oblivious to their advances for a long, long time. And after that, I just hope he doesn't get his heart crushed. He I couldn't take it.

This isn't the first time either. As early as Kindergarten he had girls telling him they loved him.

Watch your backs, ladies!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Festival of Trees 2011

This is the third year that I have served on the Children's Area committee for Blank Children's Hospital Festival of Trees. This event runs the week of Thanksgiving, just celebrated it's 28th year, and proceeds from the event fund the Child Life program for kids at the hospital. It's my small way of giving back for everything the hospital has done for our family. The boys look forward to going every year, starting about July when they are hauled on errands with me to pick up various donated items that get stored in the garage until the event kicks off.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

This Man

We love you and miss you "Farmer Joe". Some days I watch the boys playing and it hits me in the gut, just how much of a kick you would get out of watching them grow up. Sometimes when I let my mind wander off into hairbrained ideas territory, I can just picture your face if I was telling you what was going through my head at the moment - the way you would just sort of shrug your shoulders, and the corners of your mouth would turn down a little. A small sign of disagreement, or that you had no idea what I was talking about, but knowing how much you loved me and supported me no matter what.