No matter how many thumbs

It is my absolute delight and privilege to announce (for your enjoyment) my very first guest post here.

Just pause to absorb the moment. 

Not only is it my first guest post here, but the absolutely-the-best thing, is that it’s written by a pig-wrestling, family-taming, chicken-keeping, volleyball-playing wonder-woman, who I am constantly a little bit in awe of, and honoured to count amongst my friends.

Please all welcome Christine, from ‘A Fly On Our (Chicken Coop) Wall

Take another moment…


“When I can use my thumb, I will get to go to school.”
That sentence confused my husband and me completely when our oldest spoke it 11 years ago.  Fortunately, he went on to explain.
“When someone asks me how old I am, and I have to use my thumb to show them, I’ll be old enough to go to kindergarten.”
Aha!  Makes perfectly adorable sense.
Then: Phoenix at ‘one thumb’ old
Of course, that boy did turn five, went to kindergarten, and has now been all the way through elementary and middle school.  He needs to “use his thumb” three times now when someone asks his age.
Part of me so desperately wants to go back in time to when he was starting kindergarten.   I want to be able to hold him on my lap and read a book to him.  I want to be able to kiss his booboos when he falls.  I want things to go back to where the hardest thing he had to do was tie his own shoes. 
 
My boy started high school four weeks ago.  Already, we’ve had some Big Things to deal with, at least as far as Big Things go for a 15 year old.  When he was cut from the high school soccer team, oh how I wanted to hold him in my lap while he cried.  Unfortunately, he is 5 inches taller than me now, so holding him on my lap is out of the question.  
The second week of school, my boy started spending all of his free time in his room.  He stopped doing his chores unless I hounded him to do them.  I never saw him crack open a book, despite the fact other kids in his class were up until midnight or later doing homework.  He wasn’t smiling or joking around like he used to do.  He basically turned into a boy I didn’t know, and the only time we spoke was when I was getting on his case for not doing something.
I was really worried.  I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what it was, and he wasn’t talking.  Fortunately, one thing I had going for us was our community of friends I had built over all these years.  I was getting some information from my friends and the parents of his friends.  I was hearing about things that were going on in school.  I knew more about his days than he thought I knew.   People who care about him were keeping tabs to make sure he was OK. 
After three weeks of this, we hit a low.  We found out that he wasn’t turning in homework and was failing two classes.  The classes he was passing were barely passing.  On our lowest day, we had a pig emergency at home, and when I yelled for some help, he chose to go back to bed instead.  My patience was all used up.  After the emergency, I went to his room and let him have it.  At one point I told him, “I know something is wrong.  Either figure it out and tell me what it is, or give me some clues so we can figure it out together, because we cannot go on like this!”  I then stomped out of the room.
Later that day, I went back to talk with him in a much calmer manner.  We hashed it all out, talking about how overwhelmed he was, how much harder school was.  He has always been a very laid-back kid, never causing me any trouble by throwing temper tantrums or arguing with me.  That laid-back attitude was coming around to bite him in the butt.  His inability to think outside the box and figure out a solution to his problems rendered him immobile, and as a result, failing.
The biggest revelation in our talk, though, had nothing really to do with school.  The words, “I miss you” actually came out of his mouth.  Through all these weeks, he wanted desperately to talk with me.  He wanted to talk with me without interruptions from his siblings.  He wanted to talk with me without fear of being scolded for something he failed to do.  It never crossed his mind to simply ask me.  
Since our talk, things have gotten much better.  After the other kids go to bed, he and I have a bit of time together, just talking about whatever is on his mind.  He’s been working very hard to dig his way out of the academic holes he’s dug for himself.   Asking for help when he needs it has become the norm.  Too bad he doesn’t always realize he needs it.
He’s never really had to study before, and has never had trouble understanding the material worked on in school.  Last week, he got a zero on a math assignment, even though he had done it and turned it in.  He said he thought he knew what he was doing, so didn’t ask for help.  When I asked why he didn’t check his answers in the back of the book as he went along to make sure he was doing it correctly, he replied, “That would be cheating.   I can’t look at the answers!”  
Clearly, we still have a long way to go, but we’re on the right track.  Plenty more Big Things are going to come up, and we have things in place to help get us through them.  (I say get “us” through them, because some of these Big Things I’ve been dreading for years.  Namely, his interests in a girlfriend.  My husband and I met when I was a 15 year old freshman.  I am most certainly going to have to “get through” this.)
We can’t go back in time and do things differently.  We can only go from where we are now, and pray that we do it right.  
However, I am kind of going back in time without him.
While my oldest boy treads through the murky waters of high school, one of his younger brothers is of the “uses his thumb” age and has begun kindergarten.  Not only do the two of them look almost identical, they have very similar personalities.  You can bet your bottom dollar I will be doing things differently this time around.  I will most certainly be doing a better job of teaching him how to identify problems and come up with solutions.  I will be sure to prioritize a more consistent one-on-one time, so we can work through any difficulties he comes across.  
Now: Turken at ‘one thumb’ old
I will be sure he knows how to check his answers in the back of the book.
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39 thoughts on “No matter how many thumbs

  1. Great post! I had a “real” conversation with James this week and now that he's approaching the school years, it terrifies me that I have to train him to be a healthy, functioning adult. I hope we're able to have these types of conversations when my kids are teens

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  2. The thumb thing was all him. None of the other kids did it.
    No, he did not get cut again. Sorry for the confusion. As a matter of fact, the coaches made him captain of the team.

    That's what's really funny about this whole thing. He is so, so confident on the field, taking charge and encouraging other players, helping them when they are unsure of what to do. And yet, off the field, he is wandering around like a lost duck.

    Jak, don't discount your ideas on the subject. I had the same ones going through my head. I really don't think it's Depression, though. Just a whole lot of overwhelmed.
    Even after the talk where we hashed it all out, he still had some problems on the homework front (forgetting things, writing the wrong assignment down, not taking responsibility for his own work). He never made the same mistake twice, but made so, so many little mistakes that added up to a big problem. We talked some more, about how he needs to be the one coming to us, instead of us hounding him. He responded, “But I trust your plans more than I trust my own.” Ugh. Getting his confidence back is priority #1 now.
    Happy to report, he's had 3 days of being proactive, getting all homework in, and even working ahead to really be on the ball. Things are looking way up.

    As for the rest of the kids, I am very doubtful we will have the same issues with the next three at least. Besides the fact they've seen what Phoenix is going through, none of them are anywhere near as laid back as our oldest. Which is good, considering we will have freshman four years in a row, with all four oldest kids in high school at the same time for one year.

    Thank you for your concern and your ideas. It's always good to hear from you.

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  3. This is a great first Guest Post! Though, I may be biased on the blog and the guest? 🙂

    I really like the thumb counting, it's cute and… interesting. Do all of the children do this then, or was the mainly specifically Phoenix and you just carry it over?

    The post was kind of troubling, because from all I hear about Phoenix this is definitely not the type of attitude or issue I would have imagined him finding himself in. I wonder what academic difficulties are causing it. My school was really small, so there was no real shift in difficulty of most work through the years (but really in comparison I think after the fact I realized our school taught well behind what those in the city did). It sounds like it's affected multiple topics/subjects, though, and not just one.

    I was afraid to hear that he was becoming increasingly depressed. I may have missed the cutting from Soccer — was this after being brought on when everyone stood up for him during those practices weeks ago? If he was brought on after all that, then cut (essentially again?), I could see that really bringing him down.

    I don't know, it sounds like you all meshed it out, and I really hope things get a lot better. It's just all of those things kind of scream depression and something bigger than schoolwork being more difficult, because its multiple classes, home life, and a complete shift in character.

    Perhaps it's just the not asking for help thing, and then digging himself into a hole. I know asking for help can be difficult, but it's important he learns he can (and should) if need be.

    I never liked looking in the back of the book >.> that's for sure, but I needed to know if I was at least doing the problems right. It's not cheating since you usually have to show your work anyhow (and at least when I was in school the answers were only given for odds or evens and assignments usually fell on doing the opposite of whichever was in the back of the book, short a few to check answers)

    Really glad to hear things have improved after you talked! I have to say you aren't someone I'd want busting down my door and confronting me lol 😉 Yep, no thanks… It's great you went and spoke together once calmer, though, and began to piece together what the issues are (aside from what was gleaned from others). I hope he is divulging all the feelings and concerns he has been having recently.

    You and your hubby will be good, and just think… there are what? Five more kids to help through this stage? It will be a learning experience that will help resolve the others all the better! I'm sure many readers that are parents faced something similar and can offer way better advice and words of wisdom than my paranoid hubdrub 🙂

    Great to see you doing a guest post on Lizzi's blog, Christine!

    Jak at The Cryton Chronicles & Dreams in the Shade of Ink

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  4. I'm sure you headed off all sorts of problems by telling your classes that little bit of info!

    True that first borns are guinea pigs. Only problem is, this first born doesn't act like a first born! Aren't they all supposed to be type A? 🙂

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  5. It is so tough when those boys grow up. Our oldest (now 20) was my little buddy for some many years. Then he hit puberty and didn't talk at all. Though it was hard when he went to college — our relationship has leveled out again. We talk and laugh. It's been wonderful to have that communication back.

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  6. Thinking that looking at the answers in the back of the book is cheating is very common–so much so that I had to teach a short lesson on it in my math class at the start of each school year! Hang in there, we all have a first born and they are always the guinea pig so to speak…He'll survive and so will you! 🙂

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  7. Thank you, Kristi. That thumb use is a big, big milestone, for the child and the parents. It does go so, so fast.
    No one is more happy than me! 🙂
    It was a huge aawww moment, though I couldn't aawww too much at the time.

    Getting breakfast together one morning, our youngest stated, “There is a pig in the yard.” We had three pigs roaming the yard, far away from the pen they were supposed to be in. And we have almost 8 acres of land. Where I'm from (Ha! That made me laugh. I'm not “from” anything close to a farm.) that is what is called a pig emergency.

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  8. I'm glad, and thank you.
    Oh, those first days of preschool. It is hard to see your child sad and confused about doing something new.
    Fortunately, we live through it and come out stronger and wiser on the other side.

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  9. Lizzi and Christine,
    You have outdone yourselves on the perfectness of a First Guest Post. I love the thumb measurement (and am also a little heartbroken by it, realizing that my own little boy will need to use his thumb for the first time in less than a full year and where does the time go?). I'm so glad that you and your 3-thumb-old son had such a lovely discussion and that he's back on track with talking to you and asking for help (and being reminded to look at the answers in the back of the book).
    I agree with Cyndi that having a teenager say “I miss you” is a huge aww!

    PS Dare I ask what, exactly, a pig emergency is? Yikes.

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  10. What an incredible guest post! I love, love, love it! I know the journey has been difficult, but mom and son seem to be doing much better and how freaking amazing is that? To have a teenager say, “I miss you” – aww. Awesome!

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  11. I absolutely love this. And it speaks so clearly to me right now, as I'm sending our babies off to preschool and asking myself every day if I'm doing the right thing. One of them likes it, the other doesn't. How do I help her cope when she can't fully express to me what's wrong. Thank you for sharing some of your insights for those of us just beginning this journey!
    And thank you, Miss Lizzi, for opening up your home to a wonderful guest!

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  12. Thank you, Josie. When in the throes of parenting, it's good to hear the encouragement and the “you're doing it right”s.
    Oh, the girl thing. With five boys, it worries me more and more.
    Now that there is a girl, I am a mess. I see everything differently. Things as simple as cross country meets, where the kids go off and cheer for their friends is no longer relaxing for me. I think, “There are woods. His girl is here. Must keep my eye on them!” Ugh!

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  13. Thank you.

    SENIOR YEAR!?!?! Ugh. I don't think my husband can handle this that long. I agree. The easy going kids are great when they are young, but good heavens, a frustration when they are older. My type A kids were more difficult as youngsters, but a breeze now that they are older.

    I told him something very similar. We were angry because we loved him. If we weren't angry, that would be the time to worry.

    thank you for the support and prayers that our son figures it out and gets into full gear earlier than yours. 🙂

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  14. Thank YOU! It can get very confusing, that progression from Little to Big things. For everyone. Ten is always a rough age for my kids. They all went through about 6 months of just being angry a lot. Start of hormones, I guess. We're at the tail end of that with our 4th child. Can't wait until it's over. 🙂
    Good luck with the coming Big Things. Sounds like you already have a good read on him. You should be just fine.

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  15. Thank you, Kristi. As they get older, it is most certainly the case that we don't always know what the problem is. When they are 3 and 4, the problems are usually pretty clear cut. Not so with kids 11, 12, and older.

    Me, too!! Are you speaking from experience?? 🙂

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  16. ” “I know something is wrong. Either figure it out and tell me what it is, or give me some clues so we can figure it out together, because we cannot go on like this!” I then stomped out of the room.”
    Beautiful:) Straight to the point, emotionally charged, a mother's instinct taking over…

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  17. I enjoyed your having a Guest Post and your choice of First Guest Author.

    I enjoyed reading your Post, it said so many things about so much that we all, no matter what our family demographic may be, have experienced or (even more better) might at some time in the future experience. To share an experience is not just to tell a story, it is to offer an insight into life.

    v cool, yo

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  18. You're such an awesome mom, Christine! I am so thankful to have friends like you who are navigating thess waters ahead of me. And not only that, you are taking the time to share your experiences so the rest of us can learn from them. Which doesn't mean we'll do it perfectly but we have information at our fingertips to draw from. You're the best!

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  19. The high school years are the very hardest. I wasn't sure if I was going to kill my daughter or she was going to kill me, yet somehow we muddled through them together and now we are closer than I ever imagined possible. You've worked so hard to build wonderful relationships with your children and show they the right way to go, Christine. Phoenix is blessed because he has a mom who cares and is there for him, to help him sort it out. I have no doubt he'll find his way and be stronger for the learning. Now Mom getting thru the “there's this girl” years, that's another story. How hard it is to see our babies grow up so fast before our eyes! Beautiful post, you are doing it right and God will surely bless you for your efforts. Parenting is becoming a lost art, you make me believe that it hasn't gone extinct yet!

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  20. This is beautiful, Christine. You worried for nothing.

    Phoenix reminds me a lot of my son. He won't ask for help, I think because he thinks he will appear weak. We had to monitor his grades to make sure he didn't let something slide, because he's pretty laid back, too. I will tell you that he finally kicked into gear his senior year, although his dad and I nearly each had a stroke getting him there. Those laid-back, easy going kids may be worse than the Type A ones.

    Proof of your excellent parenting skills is that you knew something was wrong, you did some research and found out your hunch was right, and you talked it out with him to find out what it was and how to make it better. And there will be some yelling. And frustration. And tears. Because you love him and he loves you.

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  21. What a great first guest post! Thank you so much, my oldest boy is 10 and I'm already dealing with “Little Things” which in a couple of years will be “Medium Things” and later “Big Things”. I do some yelling until I realize that he too misses me or sometimes just wants to be asked about his day, lay together in bed to talk about whatever, watch a movie, you know, just find a way to share a moment with him. Thank you again 🙂

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  22. You are a great Mom! There are so many moments in parenting when we don't have the answers–we might not even know what the problems are–but with prayerful consideration and lots of love and concern, we can work through the situation.

    By the way, Phoenix isn't the first child to consider checking answers as cheating. I'm glad you were able to have this talk only 3 weeks into school!

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  23. I can't say enough how much I loved your first guest post. And Christine, I was practically crying reading this and sometimes as much as we think we are doing all can with our children, we could still always do more. And give you so much credit for doing more here and not giving up. Just so glad it has turned out for the better now and thank you seriously for sharing this here with us.

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