one day at a time

This kid, our middle, has proved to be the source of more consternation and confusion and guilt than any other person in my life. Ever.

It started around the time we move into a new house. And his big brother started going to school. And his little sister was born thus rendering him the middle. That doomed spot in the sibling line up. Little wonder he started reacting to all the turmoil, right?

He's gone through phases of anger and acting out. Throwing and breaking things. Hitting and pushing and saying things we know he doesn't mean but still hurt as if he did.

Sometimes he is the most thoughtful, giving kid you'd ever want to meet.

We took him to a child psychologist who assured us his behavior wasn't abnormal (and that we were handling it in an appropriate way - our biggest worry.) We were relieved to find out she didn't feel it was something medical or psychological or something that he wouldn't eventually grow out of with patience and love and perseverance.

Still though. This is some tough stuff. One of our greatest sources of pride in this little wonder though, has always been, that at school, he excels. In every sense of the word. Academically, he surpasses every expectation. With every teacher meeting, we're congratulated on his behavior and rule abiding nature and desire to help his classmates.


And so, when he's at school, it's like a reprieve for us. Knowing that he's happy and successful and safe and challenged for a few hours every day.

This year though, he's had a couple instances. Minor in the scheme of things but evidence of a crack in our beliefs about when and where and how this "thing" affects him. He's not infallible. We should have known this. Why didn't we plan for this?

Throughout the past 4 years or so, we've worried so much. About the right way to approach different situations. About how long to stick with a course of action (trying to walk that fine line between "long enough to make and impact" and "this obviously isn't working.") But this kid; he is stubborn, obstinate, persecuted, blaming, manipulative, inflexible. And SMART, intuitive, curious, thoughtful, logical. He is so much bigger than his tiny little body would have you believe.

So these instances. They stem from insecurity, a little bit. Kids who can sense vulnerability in him and play upon his microscopic weaknesses when his strengths are so big. And he falls for it. We're working on it. He'll be a super star someday. It's our job to keep his heart safe in the meantime. So, to help him deal with his intolerance for those small-minded kids, we provide consequences for his bad choices. But more than that, we try to teach him that these are just tiny little blips on his radar. To be bigger and and act better. To take responsibility for himself because his choices dictate his success. Not their choices.

Each morning for the past few days, I've drawn a tiny Sharpie heart on the palm of his hand. Something secret and special that he can peek at when he's frustrated and needs guidance. A reminder that we love him. We believe in him. And we expect him to make good choices. All the time, not just when someone is watching. And so far, it's worked. He's gone to school with confidence and come home with a smile.

This kid makes my heart so full. And now I'm crying. Sorry for the ramble. Sometimes, you just need to get it out.


  1. What a precious and wonderful idea. I am going to do the same with my daughter. There are days when she just struggles to find calm and peace in her 7-year-old world. She has the same sort of all or nothing attitude that I have and it causes major melt downs. Thanks for sharing.

  2. love this. we've had some of the same challenges, and this is an awesome solution.

  3. good lord i love you.
    this post is amazing.
    YOU are amazing.
    what an awesome mama you are.

    (and as a middle-- i promise it's not so bad in the long run. it's a good spot to grow into in time.)

  4. Oh, I love this idea. Plus, I just wanted to stop by and give you some virtual hugs. This parenting thing is hard. I think it's even harder when our kids are going through things that we've never experienced, and that leaves us floundering because suddenly, we can't pull from our own experiences to figure out what to do. And isn't that such a parent thing, too, to want to fix things, to make everything better, even when we know that there are things we can't fix and that our kids have to learn on their own? We can provide the guidance, but for the most part it's all up to them. Those are the things I have the hardest time with.

  5. awww. sounds like you're doing for him exactly what he needs.

  6. that is awesome, as are YOU.

    i have a feeling L is going to be a "typical" middle child. i've never met anyone more stubborn. and she's way too intelligent for her own good...


  7. In my limited years of parenting, I have learned lots of things, but the biggest is that no matter now hard it all is (and man s it hard!!...but it is all so rewarding too. So many times I think the hard parts are going to send me screaming out the door, but then when it's happy, it's amazing :)

  8. Yep, parenting is hard.
    Sounds like you are doing a fantastic job.

  9. You are such an amazing mama! I was seriously in tears by the end when you wrote about making a heart in his palm. This was a rather trying day for me and my littles and I really enjoyed reading this. :)

  10. parenting is such hard work full of questioning, wondering, worrying, sacrifice and some days it feels like so little reward. erica, that you care at all and are so involved in his life and helping him shows just how amazing of a mama you are and how very lucky he is to have you. thank you for your honesty and for 'rambling' (please do more of it!!). it was so good to hear those words because so many days i wonder if we are doing anything right or if we are the only ones out here struggling away with our 2 very, very strong-willed children. these words were so comforting to me. thank you. you are awesome.

  11. Hello Erica. I came over here to thank you for your kind and complimentary comment on my blog and read this post which resonates so much with me. Thank you for sharing, and know you're not alone. This parenting gig is so challenging sometimes.

  12. you guys are awesome parents. I love that you're going the extra mile for your boy and not just hoping things will get better. I won't say I can relate as I'm not a parent, but it's clear that you're not alone and you have support! hang in there :)

  13. Finally, oh finally, new computer is up and working on being running. Almost there transferring stuff over. And now I can comment properly on this...

    You are seriously describing Gracie to a T... she is our middle, the one who was born ticked off and alternates on her Gracie rollercoaster every hour of every day of every week of every year... we've said from the very beginning that her highs are high and her lows are low. She had tremendous sensitivities to all clothing, tags, seams, etc. develop when she was around 2, to the point that we went through the eval process for occupational therapy about it; inexplicable rages, the whole nine yards. Had a great doctor in VA who helped us through some of it, and we didn't end up doing OT in the end. He recommended a book called Raising Your Spirited Child that brought me to tears when I read it because the author just *nailed* everything we were experiencing (and still do, five years later... we keep this book handy, always).

    Lately it's been little bouts of nasty compliance (she'll do something finally after pushing up against it but she won't do it nicely) or a little picking and pushing at kids at school when she is tired, grouchy, whatever. She is just so intense, and that makes her alternatively delightful and really, really hard to be around. Kids at school are sometimes less likely to see that you have to figure out how to manage through the hard to get the sunshine and humor and fun, and that's tough sometimes. We just had a another big talk about "tools in the toolbox," i.e. things that she can do to get through the stress and intensity when she starts to feel it (she used to describe it as bees buzzing in her body). I love the idea of the heart drawn on a hand, will totally use that one. She knows how to choose clothes that don't bother her anymore, and some days it's worse than others--but she can manage that. So, there's hope that she will learn to cope. Right now we're struggling with her teeth coming through—that is enough of an irritant to send her into a giant spiral. Ugh.

    I worry all the time what the future will be like for her, and if we're doing enough to build up her tools to face it. She is painfully smart, wildy sensitive, reckless and fearless all at the same time, and that is scary. But it's good to know we aren't the only ones, right?

  14. You sound like a great mom. I love the secret heart idea. I'm gonna remember it and apply it someday!

    1. Thank you :) And I hope it works when the time comes!



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