December 22, 2010

On November 28th, Graham turned six.  Six??  It seems that just in the last six months or so, he has shot up and started looking like a bona fide boy.  His build is exactly like that of my brothers who are 6’4″ and 6’1″ and slim.  He looks less like the baby he was and more like the boy he will become.  I’m not sure I’m ready for that.  (See his right ear?  How it sticks out just a bit?  My brother Michael has been saying, since he was a baby, that girls will go crazy over that ear.)

Life with Graham has felt different in the time that he has become a big boy.  He is more defiant – something he has never ever been.  He is still incredibly compliant and eager to please, but we are getting more attitude.  Considering he is still just about the happiest person I have met, that he still has never had a melt-down that lasted longer than 10 seconds, and that in the past 10 days he has lived through stomach flu, an ear infection severe enough to puncture an eardrum (without ever telling us his ear hurt), and a pneumonia diagnosis with a smile on his face all the while, I think we are due a little attitude.

We have so much to be thankful for and so much to be proud of.  Graham is thriving in kindergarten.  Randy and I could not have dared hope for the success he is having.  Because he often struggles with things that other kids seem to grasp effortlessly, we kind of thought that school – the reading, writing, math – would be hard for him.  In fact, according to his teacher, his resource room teacher, and his report card (!), he is right on track, even for the typical kids in the class.  And he is excelling in some areas.  True to his nature, those areas are “works well on a team” and “respectful and kind to others”.  He is starting to read and to do addition and subtraction.  It is incredible to see him do so well.  And perhaps most importantly, he is loving school.  He loves the kids, he loves going to the library and checking out books and he loves loves loves Mr. Roberts, the P.E. teacher.

To have him do so well in school and yet still be the child who can drive me to distraction by not understanding the difference between his birthday party day and his actual birthday day, or who cannot comprehend that is is not night time even though it is dark, is a continual source of frustration for me.  I tend to hear the same question over and over again, or respond to a question only to have him say the exact opposite.  Every conversation I have with him, every request I make of him, I can feel myself gathering my patience, steeling myself, because so much of what I say he doesn’t get.  He hears me – his hearing is fine – he just doesn’t process what I say in the same way that a typically developing child would.  Often I feel that he still needs so much from me and that sometimes makes me want to bang my head against the wall.

And there in, once again, lies the problem.  Me.  I feel like my patience is constantly at the breaking point and my tolerance for the noise level of these two oh-so-very-noisy boys is constantly low.  Is this Graham’s problem?  Of course not.  He is doing the very best he can, just as he always has.  It is not his fault that he doesn’t process language the way that, say, his brother does.  If anything, he is trying extra hard, being a child who is so eager to please.  I have spent so much time thinking about my reactions to him and even writing about them here on this blog, and I feel like I am doing worse with him rather than better.  It is a terrible way to feel.

Of course, I know I am a good mother.  I tell him regularly how wonderful he is.  I tell him how proud I am at least ten times a day.  I applaud his efforts in school and cheer him on when he tells a mean kid, “I don’t like that!”.  I kiss and hug him and hold him and I read to him and feed him healthy snacks.  I beam with pride when he tells the grocery check-out person to be careful with the eggs because they are fragile, and then praises her with a heartfelt, “Good job!” once they are in the bag.  I feel so very fortunate to have such a nice and delightful child filled with kindness, someone who adults beam at as he yells hello to them and introduces himself as Graham Cracker.  I take him places and I try very hard to bite my tongue when he loses yet another jacket or says something that makes absolutely no sense.  But I get in bed each night and feel guilty about how I have not really stuck to my guns and tried to be patient.  And I have yelled – a thing I promised myself, in my days before kids – that I would never do.

It’s not that I want a mother of the year award.  I certainly don’t want a different child.  I think what I really want is to raise a child who is kind, self-confident, and generous.  A child who gives back to the world, forms bonds and friendships with all different people, and I can definitely see that Graham, already at age six, is that kind of person.  This past spring, I attended an amazing birthday party where the birthday girl asked each of us to submit our favorite poem.  Her sister’s choice is the one you will see below.  I cry every time I read it.  I want to be that mother.  The one who inspires a poem as beautiful and moving as this one.

The Lanyard
by Billy Collins

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly-
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a box
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift – not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.


  1. Thank you so much for your wonderful stories and recipes. Thank you especially for this one. Just what I needed! ;)

    Comment by Tiffanyy — December 22, 2010 @ 6:57 am

  2. I feel similarly about my boyfriend and his son, who is ten. There are days that I have no patience whatsoever. And it breaks my own heart. I wish I could have endless amounts of patience. The love is there, the nurturing is there, but the patience is suffering. I guess we will all find our way, after repeated attempts. As long as the love and devotion is there, the rest will eventually fall into place.

    Thank you for this post, and for sharing your character and vulnerability. You’re so “real”. It’s a pleasure knowing you, Dana.

    Comment by Jackie Baisa — December 22, 2010 @ 7:35 am

  3. Oh, and Happy Birthday to Graham Cracker! And yes, that ear is ADORABLE!

    Comment by Jackie Baisa — December 22, 2010 @ 7:36 am

  4. You know, parents have report cards, too. Only they aren’t called “report cards.” They are called children. And by all measures, you get straight A’s.

    You are not the problem, you are the solution. Children need to experience the full gamut of human emotion and interaction, from frustration to joy and everything in between. Despite conventional wisdom, I believe that patience isn’t always a virtue, especially when it comes to raising kids. Better to learn lessons of boundaries and limits, expected behavior, and human foibles from loving, attentive, responsible parenting than from the school of hard knocks.

    P.S. If you wanna hear noise, I know some twins who would absolutely blow you out of the water. But, I know their father, and it’s in the genes.

    P.P.S. Having raised children in a prior life (who are now ADULTS of college age (!)), not to mention the twins, I believe with all my heart that patience is over-rated and yelling has its place when it comes to children. My parents (and I bet yours, too) weren’t always patient and LORD KNOWS there was yelling, but I turned out pretty well–even though I sometimes comment without invitation on other people’s blogs–and so did you. In fact, if it weren’t for my parents’ impatience and yelling, I might still try to push my brother down the stairs just for fun. I’m just sayin’.



    Comment by HorseKnuckle — December 22, 2010 @ 8:23 am

  5. Dana, the poem made me cry. Thank you for that.

    Comment by Kate Bertram — December 22, 2010 @ 11:25 am

  6. Beautiful story. I recently read this blurb, and even though I’m not a mother, it really resonated with me. Maybe you’ll enjoy it too?
    The lines “what a four year old should know and it doesn’t have anything to do with how well your kid can spell. 1. She should know that she is loved wholly and unconditionally, all of the time” get me every time!

    Comment by Cynthia — December 22, 2010 @ 2:06 pm

  7. You have all the rights in the World to feel that way. Everyday you live a life that many people will not understand. You really have to be in a situation, like yours, to really feel the pain that you feel at times. You are not a bad mother, you are someone that has pain inside and that is not easy to live with. Every mothers wants their kids to be perfect. Just to talk about it will probably relieve some of this pain. And I don’t think at all that the problem is you. Motherhood, at times, is really hard. I’ve never met a mother that did not loose it, once in a while. Maybe joining a group of mothers that are in the same situation as yours may help. I wish I was your neighbor and could give you a hand. Sending warm thoughts your way today :)

    Comment by Helene — December 22, 2010 @ 3:40 pm

  8. Thanks for posting this, Dana. Graham sounds similar to my Aiden in many ways.

    Comment by Kathy — December 22, 2010 @ 3:46 pm

  9. Beautiful post Dana. And a very Happy Birthday to Graham Cracker. (That reminds me so much of my nephew when he was 5/6 and he would say his name was Harry Potter Burns because he was so in love with Harry Potter and his name is Harry.) Thanks for so eloquently expressing the joys and frustrations of day to day with small boys. It sounds like you are doing a fantastic job. I have a book called Parenting – the Long Journey by Joe Rich and it is all about doing the best you can today. And if today wasn’t so good, try and do better tomorrow. And thanks to the commenter for recommending the miraculous childhood article.

    Comment by Charlotte — December 22, 2010 @ 4:53 pm

  10. Dana, you’re writing and sentiment are beautiful, as always. I lost my own mom two months ago and I can promise you that when it comes down to it, your boys will only remember the good things about you and that they will know you are trying your best. Our moms are the most amazing, special people on the planet, and when they are gone the hole can never be filled. I miss my mom every single day, literally, and I wish I could go back and be a less rotten teenager (!) and take back all the horrible things I did and said when I was young and just replace them with love for her. Don’t be so hard on yourself because I know you are better than you are giving yourself credit for! And your boys are very lucky ;)

    Comment by brooke — December 22, 2010 @ 5:38 pm

  11. I agree with HK – you’re the most wonderful kind of mother, Dana. Straight A’s all the way. I think moms of any child get the patience thing, to some extent…Graham is lucky to have you!

    Comment by Jess from Hogwash — December 22, 2010 @ 5:40 pm

  12. Oh Dana, although I am sure that I cannot truly understand how you feel, I want to reach out and hug you because I KNOW that you are an amazing mother. And you should not be so hard on yourself. I think every mother feels their shortcomings more than their child does. And the fact is, that from what it sounds like you have a raised a charming, beautiful, kind boy. One who will do really amazing things in this world. And that is worth more than never yelling or always remaining patient. For, I don’t think that any mother can truly say that she has ever achieved that kind of sainthood.

    Comment by Joanne — December 22, 2010 @ 5:45 pm

  13. In the midst of what has been a difficult, heartbreaking morning, when – despite my best efforts – I am feeling very much like a failure as a wife and mother, I came across this post. Thank you for sharing. I think your boys are very lucky. I wish a very Happy Birthday to Graham.

    Comment by Dawn — December 22, 2010 @ 5:57 pm

  14. I’d love to give you a big hug right now, Dana! You are a wonderful mother and while I have no idea of the difficulties that any mother would face, I know you are facing them with grace and goodness and heart. You’ve got a great kid there by the sounds of it. And that poem? Beautiful beautiful beautiful.

    Comment by kickpleat — December 22, 2010 @ 6:42 pm

  15. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could be saints, and endlessly patient with our children? Sadly, we are human. With flaws and foibles and a tremendous capacity to love, as this post demonstrates. Happy birthday Graham Cracker.

    Comment by Kate @ Savour Fare — December 22, 2010 @ 6:57 pm

  16. ugh, that poem! I am not a mom, but I am a daughter, and that poem gave me the chills. You, my friend, are so honest and admirable. I love this post so much- may life continue to exceed your expectations of it.

    Comment by Sara — December 22, 2010 @ 7:33 pm

  17. You are an exceptional mom. Don’t ever EVER doubt that. You have so much love to give, and it totally shows. When I was around you and your boys, you made me want to be a better mom/person. We all could use a little patience. You aren’t the only one!

    Teehee! Graham Cracker. He is the dickens! Such a handsome boy. I especially love the second pic- melts my heart.

    Comment by tracy — December 22, 2010 @ 7:54 pm

  18. OK, now I’m crying too. What an amazing post and an amazing poem! I have talked to you before Dana about our son, who is 2 and has a few developmental (physical) issues. I often worry that I’m not doing enough to help him along, although he does therapy twice a week, and we are constantly talking about how to do better. I think a mother’s heart is so deep, almost bottomless, that no matter how much we do, it just doesn’t ever seem enough. And on top of all of it, we need to have something left for ourselves and the rest of our family too. How do we make it all work? I don’t know, but I can tell from this post (and from Graham’s happy contented eyes in those photos) that you are doing a spectacular job.

    Comment by Kelly — December 22, 2010 @ 8:07 pm

  19. Gorgeous poem. Thank you so much for sharing. I immediately sent it on to my mom. Best, Brooke

    Comment by Brooke — December 22, 2010 @ 10:36 pm

  20. What a great story! Love your blog.

    Comment by Delishhh — December 23, 2010 @ 5:00 pm

  21. He’s growing up so fast! I’m sure you inspire poems and more every day.

    Comment by lisaiscooking — December 23, 2010 @ 8:55 pm

  22. That poem killed me. Thank you.

    Comment by Sage — December 24, 2010 @ 8:09 pm

  23. I first read this on a day that I had spent yelling at my kids, and I had actually told them I wasn’t answering any more questions. My oldest daughter has developmental and physical issues (we went to Boyer and Greenwood too!), and I find myself at the end of my rope almost every day. She doesn’t have a clear diagnosis of _____ syndrome or disorder, but she also doesn’t comprehend things like other children. She has a little brother who is crazy loud and a handful himself, but I sometimes hear him try to explain things to her, or even yell at her to stop bothering him (she tends to ask the same question over and over).

    Sometimes I yell, and I told myself I would never yell. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I wonder and worry how she will do in this crazy harsh world of ours. Will she be able to make real friends? Will people make fun of her? Will it crush her when someday soon she understands that she is a little different? How do I protect her, and love her, and help her grow up to see herself as I do?

    I have spent countless hours worrying about kindergarten next year. It gives me hope to hear that Graham is doing so well. Honestly, we don’t know many other parents with kids with similar delays, and I am always encouraged to hear that others struggle too- but we are all surviving. And our kids are flourishing.

    Thank you for sharing your journey. I pray you all continue to grow in it, and that you can enjoy those precious moments with your boys.

    Comment by Heather — December 27, 2010 @ 8:24 am

  24. I am so behind on my blog reading, that I did not see the great post with your assistants! They are adorable! Big kisses to them for me!! And big hugs to their mom, wishing you all a brilliant 2011!!

    Comment by Chez Us — January 11, 2011 @ 3:45 am

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