Are my kids normal? (a checklist)

*Please note that this blog post is about parenting, so that means there’s foul language in it.

Motherhood looks only a fraction of what I thought it would look like. Oh, I knew there would be bursting-heart moments of unexplainable joy and pride. I knew there would be mama-bear scary moments of fear and protection. I knew there’d be busy days and dull days and days that never seem to end, so help me God.

But then there’s all this other stuff I didn’t anticipate: Academic and social challenges, personality clashes, unforeseen habits, conversations I never thought I’d have, and the complete LACK of RESPECT for proper organization.

And body odor. Particularly boy body odor.

More so, there’s the emotional tug of always wondering if you’re doing the right thing, making the right decision, or being any sort of mother these boys need me to be. 

Real Mother's Day 2013
Mother’s Day 2013

Today, while transferring little boy laundry from the washer to the dryer, I contemplated a myriad of things about my specific parenting experience and whether or not my children are like most children.

Here’s a quick run-down of questions I’ve pondered. Do tell me if I’m all alone here:

1. Do all siblings fight over the most nit-picky shit in all the free world?

2. Do all children ask for candy every single solitary day of their lives, even when the parent explains that “treats aren’t treats if you have them every day”?

3. Are all children blind to the dirt under their fingernails and raging body odor, and subsequently, is their bath water incapable of removing them?

4. Do all children complain at meal time and bed time? Do they not realize that EATING AND SLEEPING ARE TWO OF THE MOST PLEASURABLE THINGS OF LIFE?

5. Do all children have an intrusive sixth sense, specifically designed to interrupt phone conversations, lengthy bathroom visits, and any sort of at-home work that requires concentration, since that seems to be their prime time for unimportant interruptions?

6. Do all children lose socks, books, pencils, papers, shirts, stuffed animals, LEGOs, shin guards, swim goggles, toothbrushes, toothpaste caps, and underwear on a DAILY – no, HOURLY BASIS?

7. Do all children negotiate for fewer school assignments, only one bite of peas, a later bedtime, one more television show, no bath tonight, for the music to be turned up, for the music to be turned off, for pizza for dinner AGAIN, for Sprite – or better yet, ROOT BEER instead of water, for dessert, for more money but no chores, for a new toy today (and then a new toy tomorrow), for more privileges, for better privileges, and to be treated like an adult at 11 years old?

8. Do all children have eighteen thousand urgent and necessary questions at the exact moment of bedtime?

9. Do all children stuff dirty clothes in every possible location in their bedrooms EXCEPT the dirty clothes hamper, which is located directly next to their dresser?

And finally,

10. Do all children make life one adventure after another, challenging you daily to be better, stronger, smarter, and more loving, adding flavor to a bland world and opening your eyes to how much life there is to live?

Did I hear a yes? Oh good. I guess that means my children are normal.


Diagnosis: ADHD and ASD

If you know us in real life, you know that our youngest son, Jackson, is a unique fella. He’s happy, giggly, and thinks the best of everyone. He’s sharp, affectionate, and a ferocious reader. In his dreams, he is a superhero.

He’s also in a world of his own, so much that Chuck and I decided that we needed some outside help with adjusting our parenting style. A handful of evaluations later, the psychologist confirmed what we already knew. Jackson has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and is on the Autism Spectrum – both mild but “clinically significant.”

Jack in Jacksonville

To be clear, this diagnosis is not upsetting. We’ve known from the very beginning that this kiddo is one of a kind. Along the way he’s had early intervention and other accommodations to keep him flourishing. We think carefully before involving him in one activity or another and take the extra step to make sure he’s safe in places where he’s not necessarily paying attention (large crowds, parking lots…). However, in the last year or so there have been areas of Jackson’s behavior that leave us baffled. We simply don’t know how to respond, such as when he’s physically attacked someone, going from Happy Jack to Hulk Mode in a nanosecond because his impulsivity took charge. We know he’s overwhelmed in certain situations but we’re not always sure how handle the come-down.

Jackson's birthday loot

So we sought help. As I explained to the psychologist during the consultation, I’m not looking for labels. Beyond this post, it’s likely I won’t mention them again. All kids are unique, some more than others, and we all have to do our best with the resources we have. For us, that means modeling appropriate social interactions and enhancing predictability in certain areas of daily living. It means keeping our cool and remembering that Jackson is already functioning at a high stress level.

Arrows up

We have a 30-page report detailing Jackson’s evaluation results along with recommendations on how to help him, which is exactly what I was looking for. Now we have a deeper understanding of the inner workings of Jackson’s brain. Sure, he snaps his fingers and flaps his arms and has an emotional outburst now and again, but he’s also extraordinarily creative and unfailingly affectionate. He wants to jump in with other kids, even if he doesn’t fully understand how to interact with them. His heart is big, and so are his efforts.

Jack Loves WALL-E

I suppose that’s all there is to say on the matter, so I’ll end this post with the haiku Jackson wrote this morning:

Ultron has come down
but the Avengers are here
they will save us all.

Iron Man in second grade

TBT: January 2007

Just look at these two. Jeremy was three and Jackson was seven months. TBT January 2007There are many things I miss about that that time – the sweetness, the discovery, the giggles. I even miss cloth diapering and making baby food.

Yet, while I hear many moms wishing time would slow down and how their kids are growing so fast, I keep wondering why I don’t feel the same way. Sure, there are moments when I look at Jeremy and think, “You are so grown up, so mature. You’ll be going off to college in minutes,” or I look at Jackson and think, “Everything you’ve just written is in perfect grammar, and there was a time when I wasn’t even sure you’d talk.”

But those moments aren’t overwhelmingly frequent, and for the most part, I’m not wishing for time to slow down or thinking this has all gone so fast. It’s been just right. 

Do I feel this way because the three of us are together all the time? I’m here for mornings, afternoons, and evenings, for school stuff and sports stuff, and I only miss those things if I’m the one who’s gone somewhere. I missed them when I was in Santa Fe and when Chuck and I went on an anniversary trip last year. Sometimes I choose to miss them on a random afternoon when my introverted nature needs a few hours alone.

Otherwise, I rarely miss anything. Rarely, hardly ever, and maybe that’s why I don’t feel like time has escaped me.

It’s a curious thing, this life we’ve created. When we became parents, I didn’t have a single thought about homeschooling or freelancing or writing a novel or even living where we live, but now I don’t wish for anything else. Some days are snapshots of perfection and other days I’m living in the bell jar, but on the whole, this life is grand and it’s a great privilege to be with these boys at every stage.

We’ll probably take a back-to-school photo on Monday, but we’ll probably be in our pajamas. Then we’ll start a new school year with fractions, creative writing, and going to co-op again. And then, a few years from now, I’ll look back at the photo and remember this time just as it was – a season of exploration, curiosity, and growth.

Maybe then I’ll think time has gone by too fast and I’ll wish for their elementary years again. Though I hope not, because living in the moment means soaking up enough experiences that you are fulfilled, like you can move forward to the next stage and not feel cheated.

So far, I don’t feel cheated. Time hasn’t been stolen from me, nor has it moved too fast. Each day has arrived and ended on schedule, giving me enough moments to savor and memories to cherish. This must be what contentment feels like.


Have fun with your kids

If you know us personally, then you know we take humor very seriously. We rarely do anything without incorporating something funny, or in most cases, adding some element of prank on the kids.

Take, for example, a simple thing like washing the car. The boys are really interested in earning money right now, so we had them help Chuck in the driveway on Sunday. They were good sports and super helpful. Fantastic! We made sure not to miss the opportunity to thank them properly.

Water prank1 Water Prank2 Water prank3 Water prank4 Water prank5 I’m not sure there’s a better photo than this next one: Jeremy is ticked and offended. Jackson is shocked and screaming. Chuck is having the time of his life.Water prank6Pissed:
Water prank7Crying:
Water prank8 Hysterically laughing:Water prank9 No worries. They’re fine. They’re used to it. In fact, they should’ve known better! Water prank10


My future grandchildren

Jackson: I’m gonna tell my wife that our kids’ names will be Clark and Peter.
Me: What if she doesn’t like those names?
Jackson: She will.
Me: But what if she doesn’t? What if you have girls?
Jackson: We’ll have boys.
Me: But what if you don’t? What if you have twin girls?
Jackson: Then we’ll name them Jennie and Natasha.

Superhero Cheat Sheet
 Clark (Kent) = Superman
  Peter (Parker) = Spiderman
  Natasha (Romanoff) = Black Widow

Jackson’s response to my door post:

Due to a particularly rough Thursday morning last week, I posted a note to my door. Jackson made his own note for his door. Despite his cheekiness, I found this completely hilarious. Jack's postTranslated: If my door is closed then do not enter or you can enter if you are bleeding or on fire or if Iron Man sends me a package. 

♥ Best six year old in the world ♥


After spending 20 minutes cleaning up dog vomit and wrangling the barking beast in his cone of shame, I crated Major so I could take a shower and start my Thursday morning all over again. Jackson was playing in Webkinz World on the computer and Jeremy was in his room studying for an Astronomy test. Everyone was in his place.

Upon getting out of the shower I heard frantic banging on the bedroom door. Great, I thought. The dog pulled out his stitches, or Jackson has a nosebleed, or there’s someone at the door, or…

I wrapped a towel around me and hollered to the little person who was banging on the door.

“What’s the matter?” I yell, dripping wet on the bedroom carpet, frantically trying to dry off.

“Can I play on” Jack yells back through the closed door.

“Are you kidding me?”

“No! I really want to!” he yells back.

“I thought something was wrong since you were about to knock down my door!” I say. “It scared me half to death!”

“But it was really important!” he insists.

Officially posted:
Bedroom door sign

Photoshop Relieves Tension

things that nearly killed meOf course, this is all just whining. After reading reports about the explosions at the Boston Marathon, I feel very small regarding the things about which I’ve complained. It’s just life. In fact, it’s a good life. And tough times only make the good parts even better.

Reality, checked.


I’m currently reading Love Wins by Rob Bell. His writing style is not my favorite (in fact, it’s a bit obnoxious), but he’s controversial and thought-provoking, which made him perfect for my Lent book list.

Yesterday I was trudging along on page 22 when I was suddenly stopped by this:

My wife, Kristen, and I often talk about raising our kids in such a way that they have as little as possible to unlearn later on in life.

In this particular section he’s talking about our image of Jesus, the stuff we’re taught as children compared to the stuff we learn as we get older. However I immediately expanded this thought to a much broader scale and in turn felt the weight of everything I’m teaching my boys – intentionally or unintentionally. Then I started thinking about all the things I’m unlearning now, and then I got a headache.

I am very intentional about driving home the essentials with my boys – love God, be kind, be thankful, eat the food Mom puts on your plate – with the hope that these are the umbrella values that encompass the rest. For example, if you learn to be kind, then you won’t need to be taught all the things you’re not supposed to do that aren’t kind.

[By the way, no one tells you that this is the meat of parenting. NO ONE. And if they did tell you, then you weren’t listening because you were too preoccupied picking out cloth diaper patterns.]

After pondering the concept of unlearning, I heard this from Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements, first thing this morning:

You cannot give what you do not have.

Sure, that sounds pretty simple. For example, I cannot give you ham sandwich if I do not have a ham sandwich.

But what about –

I cannot give you patience if I do not have patience, or

I cannot give you perspective if I do not have perspective, or

I cannot give you calm if I do not have calm, or

I cannot give you laughter if I do not have laughter, or

I cannot give you God if I do not have God.

Yes, now I see what he means. And therein lies the weight of raising these boys. If I want to teach them things they won’t need to unlearn later – love, kindness, God – then I better make sure I already have that stuff to begin with. If I want to parent in confidence and not out of fear, if I want to show them everyday what is really important, if I want to equip them with everything they need for productive living, then I have to start with me and my own heart.

And that sounds too overwhelming for words.

“Fair does not mean equal.”

This comment, made in our Sunday School class yesterday morning, came to life in my head with flashing lights and sirens. It wasn’t just a lightbulb moment. It was a fireworks show. Never before had I connected these words to explain fairness so simply. I realize this concept is not new to most of you. In fact, you’re probably thinking, “Really, Jennie? I learned this 20 years ago.” I think I learned it 20 years ago too, but for some reason the concept left me. (It’s probably the Ambien.)

Anyway, I had share this idea with the boys first thing this morning because “that’s not fair” is repeated regularly around here, as it pertains to school work, gifts, chores, and so on. My responses have usually involved some drivel about life not being fair and it’s hard to understand and a bunch of other filler language. To my own discredit, I never sat down with them to teach fairness.

Behold, this morning, I had better words to use. I used the teaching opportunity first thing as we built a superior Lego castle.

“Let’s say I agreed to pay you one dollar for every A you earn this year in school,” I began. “And in May, when I tally your grades, we discover that Jackson earned six A’s and Jeremy earned four. That means Jackson will get six dollars, and Jeremy, you’d get four. Is that fair?”

“No!” protests Jeremy, highly offended at the example. “That’s not fair at all!”

“It isn’t? You both had the opportunity to work hard and achieve your grades on your own. Knowing what the reward was, you put forth your own efforts. If Jackson earned six A’s and you earned four, why isn’t that fair?” I ask.

“Because he gets more money than me,” he says. “And my work is harder anyway.”

“Yes, your work is harder, but you are also in third grade,” I say. “You were once in first grade and had the same work as Jackson. But you two aren’t doing the same things at the same time with the same abilities and talents. You are two different people who’ve both been rewarded for what you accomplished on your own. Besides, I treated you fairly by keeping my word with both of you.”

Jeremy looked disgruntled, on the verge of pouting, as if we’ve agreed to this financial arrangement. (We haven’t, by the way.) So I try again.

“Let’s say I give both of you a handful of garbage bags and tell you that I’ll give you five dollars for every bag you fill with leaves. At the end of one hour, you have filled five bags and Jackson filled one,” I say. Jeremy quickly multiplied the numbers to discover what he’d earn.

“That’s 25 dollars!” he said. “But Jackson would only get five.”

“So what if I said, ‘Aw, Jackson, good try! I’ll give you 25 dollars like Jeremy because you tried so hard.'” I could barely finish the sentence.

“But that’s not fair!” said Jeremy.

“You’re right. It isn’t fair to pay you both equally for unequal work, plus that meant I would’ve changed our agreement and not kept my word. I would pay you what you earned individually, especially because you knew in the beginning what the deal was,” I said. “You are in the same family but you are not the same person. Your abilities and my expectations are different for both of you. If something doesn’t seem fair to you that’s only because you are expecting it to be equal.”

I could see the lightbulb flicker in Jeremy’s eyes. Jackson, in his sweet simplicity, left the conversation minutes prior, focusing instead on the Lego castle.

“So even if Jackson and I don’t have the same stuff or get the same money or whatever, it can still be fair?” asks Jeremy.

“Exactly,” I said. “And if you felt especially generous, you would be welcome to share your extra money with your brother.”

“Yeah!” Jackson pipes in. I guess he was listening all along.

A Day of Testing

Nobody told me there’d be a test, but I suppose there has to be. How else will you find out if you are parenting correctly? It’s only 11:50 a.m. and I’ve already taken a handful of tests, failing two of them, I’m sure.

The only child who’s being perfectly fantastic today is the furry black one. I think the brass fixtures bring out the gold in Salem’s eyes, don’t you? I love that he doesn’t talk back or whine or argue. And when he gets sassy, I throw him outside.

SinkingKnow this: I love my boys. I INSANELY ADORE THEM. They are EXACTLY what I wanted.

HOWEVER, if you see me running for the hills later this afternoon, you will know they’ve won. Send help.

On attending pity parties

Once a year, or sometimes twice, I’ll listen to an audio series by James McDonald about raising kids. I believe what he says to be true, so I listen intently, refresh my memory about discerning ignorance, discouragement and rebellion in a child, and perform a lengthy self-evaluation on where I’m good and where I’m not.

But in that audio series no where does he address the subject of pity parties. I rarely – if ever – attend a pity party, because I believe they are self-centeredness and manipulation all wrapped into one. Lately, however, I’m wondering if I’m too harsh, too cut-and-dry. I tend to look at the surface behavior, glance at the emotional drive behind it, and quickly dismiss the sulking as unacceptable. And while I still won’t attend a pity party, I wonder if my abhorrence for the act renders me unable to fully understand and empathize with the emotions behind it. I don’t easily look past the “whoa is me” behavior to analyze the actual heart issue. Frankly, the sulking is too distracting.

One particular child is a master at throwing pity parties, and I’m concerned that the more that I ignore them the fewer opportunities I’ll have with him to explore the heart of these matters. Am I babbling or does any of this make sense? I’m a tough, intentional mother and that’s because I want to raise men not children, but that often means I’m short on compassion with foolishness, which might result in a regrettable distance between me and my son.

But I digress. These are things I’m mulling over and seeking wisdom to manage. I’ve long since learned that while things like love, affection and boundaries are the same for each child, everything else isn’t so cookie cutter.

In much lighter news, I adore this photo of Jack and a meerkat. This picture is just itching for speech bubbles.