Mom came and went. It was wonderful and amazing having her with us, and my kids enjoyed every moment. I took so many pictures of my mom loving on Rory. It felt SO SPECIAL to see how much my mama loved my kids. Ruby and grandma had such a special bond. It was really hard to see her go, and absolutely made me re-think living so far away from my family.
We lived our best summer. I built my first garden. All three of my big kids learned how to swim without swim-jackets on, and loved being at the pool.
Rory turned one in the sweetest, and most unassuming way. It was hard to say goodbye to that stage of babyhood… but he was just SO DELIGHTFUL! Everything he did was amazing. It was so incredible to watch him learn, grow and blossom. His siblings loved him immensely, and their love was returned full force. Rory brought out a special tenderness in Brock, and they were more connected than he had been with any of our other babies.
Ruby and I started taking mama-girl dates. Ronan started acting out in unexpected ways, and we realized that we really weren’t spending a lot of time or energy on him. He was the oldest, and the “easiest” and often he was asked to just rely on himself. He started lying – often – and stealing occasionally. Both behaviors that caused immediate and intensely huge reactions in his mom and dad, garnering him all of our attention. After a few incidents, I sad down and thought through what was going on. Why is he stealing? Why is he lying? Of course there must be some pay-off… what is he getting out of it?
The inspiration hit me like a lightening bolt. Us. He’s getting direct connection to us. I’ve always known that kids want attention, and if they aren’t getting it positively, they’ll start seeking it negatively. Here was complete, physical proof of the matter. He didn’t need punishment or admonishment or shame. He needed time. I immediately moved his bedtime to exactly one hour later than that of his younger siblings, and implemented one hour of one-on-one time with Ronan. Every single night. We also started trying to do weekly one-on-one dates with each of the other kids in order to prevent the same from happening with them. It didn’t turn around over night, but within weeks we were seeing fewer and fewer issues, and eventually they entirely disappeared.
Ryder taught himself to ride his bike at three years old. I was attending births several times each month as a photographer, and began training to be a midwifery assistant. Rory fell off of the couch one afternoon and sheared off one of his lateral incisors, and I immediately spiraled down into panic, depression and shame. We had him treated in the next week with “Silver Diamine Fluoride” which halted the decay, but also turned his teeth black. We weighed the pros and cons of fluoride exposure and our experience with Ryder’s incredibly aggressive decay, and decided the risks were worth him retaining his teeth. Then, Ryder fell and knocked out one of his “robot teeth”. I paid him 5 bucks for it out of guilt.
We spent our days inside and outside and together. It was loud, happy, crazy, sad, frustrating, loving, and beautiful. Rory started figuring out what sorts of things he could get into. We had the entire kitchen gated off, and it didn’t prevent him from figuring things out. His siblings often helped.
Ruby started Kindergarten at the Montessori school where Ronan had been, and Ronan moved up to first grade. Ryder, Rory and mama stayed home together and adjusted to our new normal. I hung a swing up in our living room, and it became an immediate favorite. Every day. Every day was it’s own specific and special mix of hard and perfect.
I shaved my head because of scalp issues. My kids played soccer. I started meditating as a part of building a practice of mindfulness, walking towards my dream of being a midwife, knowing there was more to it than just learning anatomy and pathology. The kids dressed up for halloween. I started shooting family photos for Fall pictures. Time passed, and time passed, and time passed.
In October, Ronan’s behavior started changing. He was becoming short tempered, aggressive, and mean. His fuse was so short. I noticed it and couldn’t get him to talk to me – he was just so angry. Until, one night, I laid in bed with him and we just chatted. I didn’t ask him what was going on, I just talked with him, and listened to what he had to say. Suddenly, he burst out with something that was clearly building up within him for weeks. “Mom. I don’t want to go to school anymore. I don’t have any friends. Everyone hates me. The kids are mean to me. Please don’t make me go back.”
He went on for a while. He described several specific incidents of bullying, naming certain boys by name and sobbing while he told me. I hugged him, and listened to him, and told him I was so sorry he was hurting. I asked him if he told his teachers about the bullying and his response was, “I’m not allowed to. They told me I’m a tattle-tale.” I was calm and caring with him, but inside I was on fire. Raging and burning and mad. After he had cried himself out, I got up and wrote an email to his teacher. I wrote a long, very detailed email with all of the examples I could remember. I sent it off, hoping that it would be addressed immediately and taken care of completely. The next morning, I was called into the school. The principal told me that I needed to come immediately and didn’t give me any other details. I was falling down the slippery slope of panic, trying to figure out what was going on – was someone hurt? Sick? What happened?
When I arrived, I was led to a meeting room with several teachers that I did not know, the principal, and Ronan. I sat down and Ronan was asked, “Ronan, would you like to tell your mother what you did?”
Apparently, the day before, Ronan had been in line with two other classmates who were being unkind to him. Ronan lashed out and threatened the other children with violence. It was not witnessed by any teacher or adult, but the other children told their parents, and the parents called the school. Ronan was immediately suspended, and I was informed that because of the nature of Ronan’s threat, they also had to file a police report. We were fucking blown away by the reaction and response to Ronan’s behavior, and the way the behavior of the other children was glossed over and ignored. It was one of the most blatant and obvious cases of victim blaming I’d ever seen in my life. Ronan was bullied and pushed to the brink of his ability to deal with it, and lashed out back… and was swiftly punished, while the bullies weren’t even addressed.
Brock and I talked about it for hours. We raged. We cried. We hemmed and hawwed. And then we withdrew him from school – we agreed that bullies don’t get nicer, they get sneakier. We agreed that Ronan was already clearly pigeon-holed as a problem student. We agreed that it was clear that no one seemed interested in helping Ronan, only punishing him.
So. We pulled Ruby and Ronan out, and we became homeschoolers. We joined a homeschool co-op with friends that we loved. Ronan started playing chess. Ruby started painting. Ryder continued nursing once or twice a day. We introduced a chore chart. Rory started showing signs that he was ready to potty train. We spent Thanksgiving with Brock’s parents even though things were still strained between us. We had our family photos taken. Ryder turned 4 and weaned – mostly. Everyone got sick. Then it was December. Ruby lost another tooth. Brock started putting Rory to bed every night, and just like that, Rory was night-weaned. All four kids went to the dentist and we had no active decay or cavities.
We wrapped gifts and got the pukes and opened presents and spent time together. We were sick for weeks with the pukes and some sort of belly bug. The entire month of January was a blur of illness and movies and cuddling on the couch and tons of nursing. Rory was 18 months old, and blossoming into the most beautiful little human. He played with his siblings, and figured out problems, and learned more than I could ever have imagined. He didn’t talk much, even though knew a handful of signs, but managed to communicate his needs well. We were keeping a running list of all the words that he spoke frequently. He LOVED food, and ate like a full grown adult at every meal. We bought plane tickets to go visit my family in Canada because most of my family hadn’t met any of my kids yet, and I couldn’t wait to bring my kids to my home.
We took passport pictures. We nursed a lot. And we loved a lot. And we cuddled a lot. We lived. Brock made plans for us to go over to his parents house the following weekend. He’d been promising them for ages that we would get our stuff out of their garage, and we’d put it off and put it off. It was time. It was February.
Guys. You know what’s coming. It’s coming. I’m sorry.