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One Cobble at a Time

Obstacles, Accommodations, and Finding Solutions

Sandra Tayler's Journal

responsible woman

A cobble by itself is just a small stone, but when many of them lay together they create a path . My life is made up of many discrete parts. I have to find ways to fit them all into place so that I can continue to journey where I desire to go. This journal records some of the cobbles that create my path.

Obstacles, Accommodations, and Finding Solutions

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responsible woman

“I’m sorry Gleek has been having a hard time at church. What can I do to help her?” The person on the other end of the phone was Gleek’s primary teacher. I had no answer to give her. I had no answer for the primary president either when she called. All the attention was triggered by Gleek breaking down into tears because she did not want to sit in a chair at church. She wanted to sit on the floor. In her classroom they let her, but in the large group meeting it created problems. Other kids wanted to know why Gleek was on the floor, and could they sit on the floor too. Keeping control of children in large groups requires more adherence to standards of behavior. It is necessary. Gleek threw a fit and ended up laying on the floor in the hallway crying. They came for me and I sat on the floor next to her. I coaxed the story out of her, hoping that the shape of the story would suggest a solution. It didn’t. After two weeks of illness in our family, during which I managed two birthday celebrations, guests in the house, and a baptism, the problem solving centers of my brain simply would not engage. I sat next to my girl and wept because she was having a hard time and I had no idea how to help.

The choices we make define who we are. Our family is religious. We believe church is important. Sunday is given over to church. We pray daily. We make time for these things no matter how busy our lives get, because Howard and I both believe that to be spiritually centered is the best way to chart a course through the stormy waters of life. We believe that there is a harbor waiting if we can only steer ourselves there. It is the duty of parents to teach values and beliefs to children. It is my duty to teach my children to value church attendance as a weekly appointment during which we refresh our spiritual connections. The structures of church are not always easy. Not for me. Not for Howard. Not for the kids. But when we manage to find a balance between appeasing our quirks and not distracting from the purposes of the meetings, the spiritual communication is invaluable. I needed Gleek to be able to love church despite the requirement to sit on a chair. Gleek did love church, she loved the calm feeling she got there. It was just for some reason the chairs had become intolerable in between one week and the next. I had to find a balance between accommodation and requirement.

Howard draws in church. This is not typical behavior, particularly not for an adult. People are supposed to sit quietly in church. I was taught that by age 12 it was time to stop bringing activities to church and instead focus on the lessons. I expected to teach my kids the same. Link sits and listens. All the others draw. Gleek and Patch bring small toys and play quiet games. I allow it, because they do listen. They learn things even while their hands are busy. I figure if they are being able to learn and no one else is being distracted, everyone wins. The trouble arrives when one of the kids’ hands-busy choices creates a distraction for others.

Gleek packs a bag for church. It is not a little bag. Today I weighed it and the thing was 10 lbs. It contained two scripture picture books, three notebooks, a sketch pad, an expandable file, a pencil case full of colored pencils, a box of colored pencils, a pencil sharpener, six mechanical pencils, two sharpie markers, three lip glosses, two nail files, two pens, a pair of scissors, and five tiny stuffed animals. She is well-armed against the possibility of boredom. I know that her bag-o-things has caused distraction problems in her class. Every week I try to get her to cut back, leave things at home. She fights me. She needs these things. I look in her eyes and know that her over-packing is one of the tools she uses to help keep her hyper behaviors in line. Her strategy works. I just worry that it will cause problems for others. Oh, and she also complains about carrying her bag and begs me to carry it for her.

Accommodation is a word familiar to any parent whose child has needed extra help at school. It means extra time on tests, or someone to write for you. It is supposed to be just a little leg up over the unimportant obstacles so that the important learning can occur. I see the value of it. I participate in it. Time and again I sit down to write the words Link tells me because he has trouble thinking out sentences and writing them in one fluid motion. I write for him and the assignment gets done. Obstacle surmounted. Yet I wonder if the seemingly unimportant obstacles are critical. The process of flowing ideas into writing will not become easier except through practice. He needs the struggle and practice. He also needs to not feel so overwhelmed that he stops trying. I’m not at all sure on any given day that my decisions to help or to not help are the right ones.

“We missed Kiki on Wednesday.” This is from Kiki’s youth group leader. Kiki has been skipping many of the church youth activities. I never missed activities when I was her age. Going was expected. Kiki ought to be going to learn, to have fun, and to support the efforts of the people who put the activities together. In the last three months she has missed far more often than she has gone. Then I come face to face with this woman, who misses Kiki and worries about her. This woman is my friend and a good person. I have to explain why Kiki missed yet again. My excuses feel thin. Kiki was swamped. She was sick. She had homework. These things are all true. They are why I condoned Kiki skipping. I let her stay home to sleep, to have quiet, to rest, to get work done. Yet I wonder if the real reason was because making her go would require an argument. Perhaps all of my logical reasons are simply covers for the fact that I was tired. I spend myself on work, house, food, and family. Eventually I run out. Often it is before all the Good Parent things are done.

When I find moments of calm I see so clearly all the things I could/should be doing for my children. Sometimes I weigh these things against the business work I do and ponder if the kids would be better off with a mother who did not work. My mind whispers that perhaps then I would be able to accomplish all the things on the Good Parent list. Except the Good Parent list is infinitely expandable and constantly changing. Making good use of the resources at hand is more important than scrambling to acquire different resources.

Sometimes the answer is the one that I don’t want. Sometimes the right thing to do is not to help a child over an obstacle, but instead to increase the child’s motivation to clear it themselves. I have to say “No video games until the essay is done.” I have to say “I know you’re tired. Go anyway.” I have to say “If you can’t manage to sit on a chair at church, I’ll have to make you practice chair sitting at home.” I have to be the bad guy. Then my children search my face to see if I could possibly mean it. They get angry with me. Then their anger carries them right over the obstacle. The essay is done in record time. The youth activity is attended and enjoyed. Church is enjoyed despite the horror of having to sit in a chair. They’re off and running to the next thing. Sometimes I rejoice with them. Others I sit, weary, because being mean uses far more emotional energy than being nice.

So the chair issue, the absences, and the essay are solved. Or at least begun to be solved. This leaves the bag of things at church, the not practicing clarinet, the reading requirements, Math homework, history homework, Japanese study, German study, house chores, Scout merit badges, Cub Scout patches, and dozens of other daily challenges. I must guide my children through. I must decide when to help, when to goad, and when to stand aside. There is no guidebook for any of it.

Fortunately I am not alone. I spoke with Gleek’s teacher again on a day when I was less tired. We have a plan now, not just for chairs, but for many things. Three of the girls from Kiki’s youth group have vowed to come and shanghai her if she doesn’t show up for activities. I’ll call Link’s English teacher tomorrow. I may not have a guidebook, but there are people out there who know the territory. I have help. I am endlessly grateful for all of this help, although I sometimes fear that I will be judged for needing it. My mind fills up with all the awful thoughts that I imagine people are thinking about my decisions. Worrying about what the folks on the bench behind me think of my row of drawing children is not productive, but sometimes my brain goes there. This is the same part of my brain which believes in a Good Parent list. Periodically I have to call it out and really listen to what it has to say. The arguments get really flimsy when they are spoken aloud in the middle of my consciousness rather than muttered in the dark corners of my mind.

I wish I had neat conclusions or solutions. Sometimes the only closure provided is determination to keep going because the journey matters.

Mirrored from onecobble.com.

  • My son stopped bringing drawing supplies to church a couple of years ago. I'm not sure why, maybe he was embarrassed? But now he brings books to read, and I leave him alone. Church services were not designed to engage children, and it seems a bit unfair to demand undivided attention for something that is, objectively hard for a kid to relate to. My hope is that later in life he'll remember church as a place where he can take life's problems and find some answers. Having grown up unchurched myself, I find it hard to buy into the whole catechism/youth group culture. If we don't have time for it, and if he doesn't want to do it, why should we invest the time?
    • The trouble we have is that I can see all the community benefits for Kiki's participation. Kiki wants to participate. She plans to go right up until the hour of departure. Then we are distracted, or tired, or in the midst of yet another homework meltdown. Afterward she feels guilty about not going.

      I worry about how easily life overwhelms her with small things. After the declaration from her friends, Kiki has a new-found dedication to going to activities. It is nice to be missed I think. Hopefully she will discover that the activities function as an invigorating force in her life rather than a draining one.

      I see your point though, which is why I've let her skip so often even though it probably wins me the disapproval of her leaders.
    • When people become very excited about and involved in an activity, it can be easy to forget that others may have barriers or other priorities in life that don't allow them to invest the same energy. I find that happening to me, too, sometimes, wondering why I can't seem to rally any enthusiasm in whatever kind of worthy project I've plunged into.
    • Since you've written in the past that Kiki's an introvert, I thought I'd share from my personal experiences with the hope that you might find something useful from them.

      As an introvert, I have sometimes found it difficult to balance my social activities with my need for solitude. This can be compounded by friends encouraging me to do various activities with them; their enthusiasm can be catching.

      However, I've finally learned that I need a certain amount of solitary down time and everything suffers when I don't get it. I've also found that I need down time more during stressful times.

      Therefore, I have to be careful to cut enough time out of my schedule. This can be painful at times since I sometimes have to say no to good things that I would like to do but would adversely affect my schedule. At other times I have to do some elaborate juggling to manipulate my schedule into a form that will allow me to participate.

      It's not always easy, but when I get the balance between social activity and solitude correct, my life has greater emotional calm than when it's out of balance.
      • Thanks for your thoughts. They are a good reminder. The need for solitary time is very real. Unfortunately it is hard to explain sometimes. "Kiki couldn't go to this big activity you spent hours planning because she really needed to stay at home and play her video game." It is truth, but doesn't sound good.
      • I don't think that it's necessary to say how Kiki spends her solitary time. If you have her approval, you could just briefly describe her need for solitary time in general terms and leave it at that. That's how I've handled the times I decline because I need down time and I've found people to be understanding. My impression is that non-introverts usually don't realize that introverts need solitude unless they are told in some way.

        Of course, it's usually better to figure out in advance when an activity will be too much instead of at the last minute, but even with my planning, I occasionally had to drop an activity with many apologies when college assignments became bigger than I anticipated. Fortunately, that only happened a few times over several years.
      • No, but saying that she needs time alone to recharge her emotional batteries sounds okay.

        I can easily get overwhelmed in social settings. Even ones I like where I am surrounded by good people. The more I am expected to interact, the harder it is.

        I also have social anxiety, so when I don't feel like going to something I have to ask myself if it's just anxiety and I'd be better off going, or if I need time alone to recharge.
        • Mostly I've been saying she doesn't feel well, which is true.

          The advent of spring weather seems to be helping quite a bit.
  • (Anonymous)
    You are such a thoughtful parent. My own kids are small but I know I will have those challenges, esp. mutual, when they get older.

    The artist James Christensen was bishop of my singles ward for a while. He drew in church every single Sunday. On the back of the ward programs there was a blank box labeled "Bishop Christensen's doodle box."--Emily M.
  • I think good parents make decisions based on the needs of their children and their own needs. These needs and therefore the decisions are ever changing and inconsistent from an outside perspective, because the outside person cannot see the needs.

    I think bad parents run their children's lives (like their own) based on outside expectations, constantly expecting their children to live up to some external standard, rather than balancing their lives based on their own well-being and the well-being of those closest to them. They refuse to bend based on the needs of an individual child or an individual circumstance.

    What I'm saying is that the Good Parent List, when applied as a general standard, quickly turns people into Bad Parents. Good Parents are the ones who are aware of the list, but discard or alter it as needed.

    That makes you a Good Parent.
    • Oh good perspective. I shall have to ponder.
    • I like what Janci says. Combined with the introverted thing, which is important for Kiki (and really, your whole family, right?), taking those needs into account makes you a good parent, most definitely. It's hard to explain that to extroverted activity leaders, though.
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