family, parenting

Why We Fight

This is why we fight for our children. We fight for a better world. My readers may remember the challenges that Carl was facing in middle school. There were children calling him a “taco.” They called him “brownie.” They threatened to send him “back over the wall” to Mexico.

Carl was bewildered. “But I’m Puerto Rican!” he kept saying. “I was born in Massachusetts!”

My husband and I went to administration. We asked if these children could be educated about racial slurs, racism, and the impacts of their insensitivity. Since the Vice Principal didn’t really understand the impact of the bullying (you can read about it here) we went to the Superintendent. In our state there are bullying laws, so we requested an investigation.

The director of pupil services got involved. The investigation substantiated that bullying had, in fact, occurred. A plan was developed to educate students about racism in every class. One was developed for the students involved in the bullying.

Another plan was made to educate administration about racism and cultural sensitivity. Trust me, they needed it. I was initially told that the VP would be educating staff about racism at an upcoming faculty meeting. Umm…no. He is not qualified.

After I explained to the director of pupil services why he was unqualified, she agreed to provide specific training for him. Our state’s leading school climate specialist is coming out to hopefully help him further. In fact, he’s also had 4 days out-of-school training. I hope it helps. Education is the only way to fight ignorance.

Two children continued harassment after the investigation took place. Everyone else stopped immediately after being educated about the impact of their words. One of the children continuing to bully is a white kid who believes what he says. He has been hearing these statements somewhere. The other kid is, sadly, part Mexican. He’s also scared to let anyone know. So he passes for white and targets my darker skinned son. This is fear, plain and simple. It is a little boy’s fear hiding behind a light-skinned face, hoping he won’t be discovered.

All I can say is that administration is handling the matter. The school setting needs to be a safe place for children of color. Changes are now occurring because my husband and I fought for our son.

Carl came home the other day and said he’d had a great week. He asked to visit a friend this weekend. He seems to be doing better. So this is why. He is the reason we fight.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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adoption, family

My Son is Not Your “Mexican Taco”


My 12-year-old son is not a “mexican taco,” and he is not going to be “deported back over the wall.” Unfortunately, some of the children in his middle school would disagree. In particular, a group of 8th grade boys that enjoy teasing my 6th grader during morning breakfast. Carl is one of the few Puerto Rican children in our town.

And then there was the boy on his football team who called him “n—er” after Carl tackled him in practice. Our son is a great linebacker and he always makes his tackle. He keeps pushing long after others have quit. Carl is an absolute football star. So when someone is upset in practice? They say the one thing they (think they can) can say about him. Middle school kids will pick out that one difference and exploit it.

My son is left with nightmares, headaches, and developing school-avoidant behaviors. Additionally, he has been acting out in school. For a child with C-PTSD, feeling unsafe triggers a fight/flight response. Our son is a fighter. He fights with lockers. He tries to be the class clown. He runs out of class. In short, Carl tries to be known for anything other than his brownness.

How on earth do I handle something like this? I’m a white mom raising hispanic kids in a mostly white town. In all honesty I can never really understand. I will never really know what this feels like. But I can tell you what it feels like to pick up my sobbing son after practice. It fills me with a fiery rage at the ignorant parents of these ignorant kids.

My husband and I complained to the middle school. We requested a full investigation. The following is the vice principal’s response:

VP: Well when I asked Carl about this he said it doesn’t bother him. The other children say he told them it was OK to call him “taco.” They admitted to saying some things but he told them it was OK.

Me: ……?!?!

VP: You know, this is Carl’s responsibility. If he feels uncomfortable with these comments then we would expect him to tell the other children why this makes him uncomfortable. Especially at this age.

Me: Excuse me? It is not the job of one of the few hispanic children in the school to educate the white children how to behave. This would be the job of the educators such as yourself!!!!

VP: Well then we would expect him to tell a trusted adult. He could have come to me, especially if this has been going on for months.

Me: You and I may consider you to be a “trusted adult.” But why would a 12-year-old assume that a white man would understand this problem and take it seriously? In fact, I don’t think you are taking it seriously at all.

VP: Well Carl has been saying mean things as well. It’s not just the other children picking on him. When boy X called him a “taco” his reply was, “Well at least my parents aren’t cousins!”

Me: (Using every ounce of self-control not to retort, “Well ARE they cousins?!”) Did he use a racial slur?

VP: No

Me: OK then. This matter is about racism. It is about a pervasive racial bias in the school climate. What are you going to do to educate these students about racism and racial slurs? In what ways are you attempting to educate staff such as yourself?

VP: This isn’t about racism. It is about respect. It is about respect from all sides.

Me: No. It is about addressing racist remarks and educating kids about racism and racial slurs.

VP: Well one of the boys making comments actually has some ethnicity in his background.

Me: Umm….?!?@%?@??? Yes I am aware. The boys is half Mexican and he is terrified to come-out as such to the other students. It is a school climate problem when you have a secretly Mexican child who feels the need to hide.

VP: Well I have to worry about all the students. Respect is my concern. Racism is only a part of it.

Me: I need to hear you say you will address racism.

VP: As a part of it, yes, we will address racism.

We went around like this for about 45 minutes. He believes that Carl’s own behavior is bringing this on himself. I asked him if women who are raped are “asking for it” based on what they are wearing. He had no comment other than to reiterate Carl should be directly telling the older boys to stop. I asked if girls who were the victims of sexual harassment were expected to immediately stand up to the aggressor lest it be “their fault.” He said he absolutely expected them to do so.

I. Have. No. Words.

Oh wait–yes I do have some words. I have enough to write this blog post. Then I have some leftover to bring to a meeting we are having involving the entire school team. I requested the d**n meeting and invited the superintendent, principal, and VP. No way, no how is this going to fly. I have enough words to tell them in tomorrow’s meeting they are violating state laws regarding our son’s civil rights. And I WILL file a complaint with the state department of education if this matter is not resolved.

I will always fight for my son. Do NOT cross this mama-bear. I may never have experienced this, it’s true. Only my Puerto Rican husband can truly (sadly) relate to this treatment. I never will experience it first hand. But I will do my best to ensure that my son doesn’t experience it either. I may not be able to protect him from the whole world. But so help me I will protect him from ignorant administrators!

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**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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adoption, family

Making Room for Bio Family 


The game of bananagrams is like Scrabble in the way that you make words out of letter tiles. It is unlike Scrabble in the way that each player is going as fast as they can, at the same time. Players are rearranging words to fit the new letter tiles they grab every time someone calls “peel!”

You start with 12 tiles. When you’ve connected all of them into words you can call a “peel” and everyone must add one additional letter tile into a word. You often have to break apart words you’ve already made and create something new.

Adopting our siblings was much like the beginning part of the game. We started with a bunch of unconnected letters and put them all together into a pattern that became “family.” Things don’t stay the same, though. When the two oldest disrupted and left for greener pastures, we rearranged our words once more into a new pattern. When my parents moved from Missouri to Connecticut to be with us, we added to our pattern.

Carl turned 12 last week. He wanted a few things. He asked for the usual things: Pokémon cards, Star Wars action figures, a card game called Phase 10 etc. Then he asked for something else. He wanted his biological father to come to his football game. I’m not sure if it was because he was a starter this year or because Bio Dad’s birthday card reminded him. Either way, it was his choice, and I was determined to make it happen, if I could.

A few days prior I had messaged Bio Dad on Facebook to remind him about Carl’s 12th birthday. BD forgets the birthdays unless I remind him. I think it’s more indicative of not living with the children, or having difficulties with organization than anything else. As soon as I remind him he sends a beautiful card and some money for Carl. The card says, “I hope you enjoy this day with your family.” Every card he sends reminds the children that he will always love them.

When I ask if he and his wife would be willing to make the one-and-a-half hour drive to attend the game, he immediately agrees. I give him the address to come to our tiny town with historic brick walkways and towering green forests. I’m hoping it looks nice and not boring compared to the city BD’s family lives in. After all, our “downtown” consists of only one street, albeit one with historical New England charm.

The game itself goes better than I could have imagined. It’s a close game, and we are up by one point until the fourth quarter, when the other team gets a touchdown and wins. BD comes with his new wife and a son he has from a different relationship named E. Luke is the volunteer EMT, sitting inside the fence, directly on the field. Marcus sits with him because he cannot stand Mary and Carl’s BD.

This leaves me in the stands with BD, new wife, and Little E. Eventually my mom comes to watch the second half. We all sit together. We all cheer together. I explain some of the plays (poorly.) Every time Carl’s name is announced on the loudspeaker all 7 of us go wild. He has the biggest cheering squad of anyone here.

The day is remarkably pleasant. Some of the interaction is strained but not nearly as much as I had assumed. They love the game. They love the town. Marcus and BD do not interact and therefore no one is required to break up a fight. BD and family compliment our little town and tell us they took pictures everywhere. I point out where Carl goes to school so they can see this too.

At one point I actually hit BD in the arm. Well it’s more of a back handed smack on his arm. Ok more of a series of rapid back-handed smacks on his arm. It isn’t my fault! I was so excited about a tackle that Carl made! I was overexcited and cheering and it just happened. Luckily he just laughed it off. I mean, what is the worst thing I could do in this situation? Hitting is definitely in the top 5 of things you should NOT do to your child’s biological family.

After the game Carl is studious about hugging every person who came to see him. He glows with pride over our compliments. Even though the team lost, he played very well. I leave Luke to handle the visit, exchange of presents, and good-byes. It’s time to drive Marcus back to his girlfriend’s apartment. The one she loves in with her mother, who is also Little E’s mother. BD seems unaware that Little E and Marcus live together. He asked me if Marcus lives with us. To make matters worse, Marcus’ BD and this BD do not get along either and Marcus is back in contact with his BD. Throughout the game, Little E kept giving me details about Marcus like his age and favorite color. Awkward.

Needless to say, I hasten our exit. I know how aggressive Marcus can be when he is angry with someone. The next night my Facebook messenger is flooded with pictures. BD has sent me baby pictures of Mary and Carl. Some alone, some with him, and some with Bio Mom. This is a treasure trove of items we have never been able to give them. I am overwhelmed with gratitude. BD did not give his children up willingly. But BD is forging this new relationship willingly. I am beyond grateful.

I’m pretty sure this contact means Carl is rearranging the pattern of his family. He is adding new tiles and fitting them in where he can. I don’t know where things will go from here. Two successful visits make me feel optimistic.

 

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

 

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adoption, family

Dear Teacher…


I often struggle with how to explain my child’s trauma-related behavior to new teachers. Being a teacher myself, I know that we don’t have time to review much at the start of the school year. We are too busy reading your childrens’ IEPs and 504 plans while filling out mountains of paperwork. I don’t have all the answers, but here is what I wrote to introduce Carl to his teachers. Please comment with anything YOU use at the beginning of the school year.

The Talented and Amazing Carl !

If you are reading this, you have the tremendous honor of teaching the death-defying, brave, and fearless (except for spiders) Carl! Congratulations! (Picture a crowd going wild.)

I’m his mom, and believe me, we got lucky too. I guess you’re in good company. We met Carl when he was 8-years-old and in the foster care system. We adopted him, and his younger sister, Mary.

Carl is an amazing kid. He hates spiders and vegetables despite what his mother tells him. He is sensitive to gooey materials, bugs, and the dark. When Carl first came home he couldn’t read that well. After a lot of practice, and the Wilson reading program, he is now an avid reader. When it’s time to pull him out of a Harry Potter book we generally employ the use of a fishing line or long cane to retrieve him.

In addition to being an avid reader, he loves history. Carl is a history buff with a strong interest in Betsy Ross and all things colonial America. Every season Carl plays a different sport. He’s a linebacker in football, a “middie” in lacrosse, and something-or-other I can’t remember in basketball. He’s very athletic and it’s a great way for him to manage his ADHD and blow off some steam. It’s also a great excuse for his dad to yell loudly at sporting events and wave his arms all around.

As a family we are active supporters of child labor. To this end Carl is now able to wash his own laundry, mow the lawn and vacuum like a boss. He can also brew me a mean cup of coffee on the Keurig machine! We pay him a small pittance for his efforts, of course, because…child labor.

Sometimes, due to his history of complex PTSD, Carl has trouble controlling his temper. His brain goes into fight/flight mode and it’s best to give him some space. If he feels cornered or pursued his body reacts as though he were in actual physical danger. If he needs a consequence or a reminder, it’s best to have him take a bit of space first. This way he can be calm enough to process what you’re saying. If he appears agitated or fidgety you may want to send him on an errand. I strongly suggest sending him to make you a cup of coffee in the teachers’ lounge. Or maybe to wash your car. Because…child labor.

In addition to athletic talents and the ability to work in harsh conditions, Carl is extremely empathetic. He loves animals, younger children and his grandparents. Papa is his best friend and they are always up to no good. Maybe if you ever meet Papa, you should preemptively give him a detention. Just trust me on this. Papa is naughty and has probably already pushed all the buttons on your school intercom.

Finally, Carl comes as part of a package deal. When you get him as your student (again, the crowd goes wild) you also get his family. He has Nana and Papa in town. He lives with Mom, Dad, and his younger sister Mary. He has 3 older teenaged siblings that come on weekend visits. We are all here to work with you in any way necessary. This is going to be a great year.  Trust me, I’m his mom!

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**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved

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family, politics

Ice Cream and The N Word


It wasn’t until I became the mother of brown children that I truly saw the racism in this world. I mean, yeah, I’m against racism, I don’t tolerate racial jokes at social events, I support diversity, I support #BlackLivesMatter.  But did I ever really know racism? Did I feel it on a personal level? As a white woman, probably not.

My son was berated as an “N-word” at camp this week. Some of the kids have been asking him if he is Mexican and if he is here “legally.” Carl is much darker than I am so sometimes kids ask “how he came out like that.” This kind of ignorance permeates our society today. I have no problem gently educating people that our nation is made up of all kind of different people. Some children are born into families and some are adopted. Not all Mexicans are “illegals” and not all Hispanics are Mexican. Yada yada yada. At this point I realize my lip service is doing nothing whatsoever.

Carl was thrown up against a metal fence and choked at camp on Tuesday. His head was pushed back over the back of a metal fence by a 12-year-old boy named T. And this boy screamed at Carl for being a “N–!” Why? As it turns out Carl had bested him earlier during a sporting event. The camp staff intervened immediately and the rest of the day was spent trying to contain T (who turned on them) while waiting for his mother to pick him up.

I honestly expected the boy’s mother to address the actions of her son. I expected that she would reprimand the boy, educate him, give him consequences and ultiuhave him apologize for his actions. I thought this because I am naive. I am white. This has been my experience so far and in my naivety I expected the same.

Instead, the woman yelled at the camp counselors. According to the other campers she later came back and screamed at the staff some more. This baffles me. There is video of the incident. Clearly her son did something wrong.

Only, according to her this action was justified. Because my little boy is brown. She proudly wears neo-nazi white supremacist emblems on her jacket. She decided not to put her children in Lacrosse last season because my Hispanic husband was the coach. So I guess a bit of strangulation means nothing to her, so long as the victim is a child of color.

I went to the police in town. Of course I did. The state trooper was busy heading out for a narcotics raid. He gave me the email of our local officer instead. Then he gave my son a certificate for free ice cream. So I dutifully sent an email describing the incident, whom to speak with at the program (staff witnesses) etc. I simply asked that the T be spoken to about hate crimes and their repercussions. I thought education was the way to go before this boy became a hate-filled teenager. It seemed reasonable to me. That was on Tuesday. On Thursday I re-sent the email “just in case.”

I was naive again. Almost 2 weeks ago I left my cell phone in a cab. The driver attempted to steal it by stating everything in the cab belonged to him. An officer was at my house in 10 minutes and went to retrieve the phone for me. I baked him a pie, I was so happy he went out of his way for me.

Today is Sunday. It is the Sunday following horrible atrocities committed in Charlottesville VA, in the name of white supremacy.  Have I heard anything from the police about the incident with my son? What do you think?

But I suppose we should be happy with his ice cream.

 

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

 

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adoption

Bio Dad Visit Success!

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We finally did it! We pulled off a bio-dad visit for Carl. It started with a closed Facebook group where I posted pictures and report cards for Carl and Mary. I invited bio family into the group, when I could find them.  Bio mom joined, but only looked at a few pictures. She hasn’t watched the video I posted of Marcus graduating high school. It breaks my heart.

“Hate me,” I want to say to her. “Go ahead. It’s OK. Just please, please watch him walk. It’s one of the few things he really wanted. For his family to see him graduate.”

But I say nothing. It’s not my place. Bio Dad, however, has been as involved as he can. He has looked at everything I posted. He’s made comments and asked questions. He isn’t Marcus’ biological father, but he watched the video and congratulated him. Bio Dad sends cards if I remind him about a birthday or holiday. He was very open in asking me to tell him when their birthdays were. That’s OK. He’s trying.

I’ve asked the kids if they would like to write a letter or make a phone call. The response is usually “no.” But I float it out there, just in case. Luke and I often say however the kids feel is fine. We support them. This is their biological family. It’s their choice. It’s fine to have more than one set of parents. It’s good to have many people who love you. The door is open.

Finding Bio Dad was tricky. The address he gave to DCF for the open adoption agreement isn’t valid anymore. Nothing we sent to the department got picked up. He had himself listed under an animal on Facebook. Let’s face it, I was looking under his name, not searching for something like “The Stallion.” Eventually I skipped through the “Friend” lists of enough relatives to find him. Waiting for him to respond was the most nerve-wracking thing I’ve ever done.

Bio Dad’s response was amazing. I couldn’t have even hoped for this. He wanted to do whatever he could to contact the kids. He thanked us for taking care of them, which he didn’t need to do. He opened up about the bad place he was in when DCF was involved. He told me about his own family history, and why he didn’t have any support when he lost his case. He never mentioned why he stopped coming to the visits at DCF. I never asked. It’s not important.

The only important thing is what kind of relationship, if any, the kids want to have with him.

Bio Dad was very nervous about the visit. He kept texting me about how nervous he was. How emotional he was. After all, its been 3 years since he saw Carl. He was so open and emotional, I started to feel like I maybe accidentally adopted a 40-something-year-old man.

“He’s going to hug you, you know,” I say to Luke, “just you wait!”

The visit, itself, was amazing. We all sat together at a McDonald’s in the mid-point of our 2 addresses. When Bio Dad saw Carl, he practically ran to him. Carl got swooped up into a big hug and Bio Dad shook with tears.  He silently cried behind his sunglasses many times. We stayed right there through the visit in case Carl needed us.  I’m happy to say that he didn’t. We got to meet Bio Dad’s new wife of a month. She was lovely. He says that meeting her and becoming religious are the things that made a difference in his life. I’m glad.

He also brought Carl’s little brother from another previous relationship. The little guy is 5 and was terrified of the whole situation. He burrowed into his stepmom’s side. He was meeting Carl for the first time he could remember. He had a little yellow cast on is left arm. Stepmom and Bio Dad both rushed to tell us it had been an accident from riding a bike. We told them we know all about little boys playing rough. Carl broke his leg playing soccer 2 years ago. They looked relieved.

After eating lunch and talking, we encouraged Bio Dad to take his boys out to the playscape. He almost hesitated to take them on his own.

“It’s fine,” I told him, “We will stay right here.”

That’s all he needed to take the two kids out and play a rousing game of tag. This was a much better visit than sitting in a DCF visit with a social worker watching. Stepmom chose to sit inside and chat with us. It was pleasant and eye-opening. She had been in foster care as a child. She was happy that Mary was getting treatment. She told me about how they always prayed for the children. She told me they prayed Bio Dad would see them again someday.

“I have a question to ask you,” Bio Dad said over ice cream. They boys came in sweating and happy for some ice cream before we left. Bio Dad looked nervous as he asked me, “Would it be alright if I posted some of the pictures we took? Can I share them with anyone?” I was dumbfounded. Luke and I looked at each other.

“Your camera, your pictures, your kids. Yes, Of course! Do whatever you’d like!”

It wasn’t all puppies and roses, though. To be honest, the kids have a history of being hurt by this father. And they never forget. He has since apologized, but some things can’t be wiped away. Yes, Carl had a good time at the visit, but he was relieved to go home. Although we were open about the visit with Mary, she adamantly did not want her own visit, and did not want to see pictures from this one.

Mary says that she is afraid of Bio Dad, but that she likes him “as a person.” For now she only wants to get letters and cards. She does not want to write back. We never lie to our children about their Bios. Everything is an open book, including the reasons they came into care, which oddly enough, social workers never told them. No matter how uncomfortable to us, we share whatever information we have. We offered Mary a visit when she gets to the weekend pass stage of her program at the therapeutic treatment facility. She declined. She isn’t ready, she tells us. That’s fine.

This visit went better than I could have hoped. Even if it didn’t, we’d still offer another to the kids. Carl had fun. We were all safe and I think our families built some mutual trust.

And of course, before walking off, Bio Dad clasps Luke’s hand and pulls him in for a hug. As they walk away I arch an eyebrow at Luke. “Told you so!”

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**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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adoption

Parenting With Puke: and Other Food Issues

c.boardgame

Our children have some pretty significant food issues. It’s fairly common for children who come from an environment where they often went unfed. To this day we have to explain to doctors why Mary doesn’t know how to drink a beverage. She will hold a bottle or cup to her lips and chug until the entire thing is gone. Then she gasps for air and clutches her stomach, feeling sick. We have to portion out water or give her straws to encourage sipping. Because of the way she attacks drinking, Mary hates liquid and assumes it will make her sick. It’s like pulling teeth to keep her hydrated on a hot day.

When Marcus and Sean lived here they each had to know they had their own food available. For Marcus, we bought him a huge package of Clif bars at Costco. He kept it under his bed and never touched it. It was helpful just to know it was there. Sean, on the other hand, had a mountain of perishable food items under his bed. He had half eaten tubs of frosting, boxes of crackers, uncooked pasta that he ate raw. We found a molding tub of cream cheese with a spoon cemented to the middle. Sean could, and did, throw up at will. He was always eating or holding food in his hand. We never knew how severe the problem was until we cleaned out his room and found the food. Having a box of non-perishables did not make him feel safe.

For Carl, the issue is a bit different. He scarfs food down like a baby velociraptor. He shoves bite after bite into his mouth without stopping to chew or even swallow. His cheeks are puffed out to the max and he eats everything within a few minutes. If you aren’t careful he will try to move on to your plate next! When he is upset it’s impossible to slow him down or stop him. Carl will eat 5 helpings if we let him, and then promptly get sick. And then eat some more.

This is how Carl ended up with a tear in the lining of his stomach. It caused him to vomit everything, even ice chips. We took him to the pediatrician, and later the hospital for tests. I won’t lie, it was really scary. At first we just thought it was his trauma-eating. As it turns out, over time, this kind of eating can do some serious stomach damage. We try to give him small portions a little at a time. We space out snacks, meal courses, etc so he has time to digest. We make a big deal to count his “chews” and encourage him to chew really well. It’s very difficult to re-teach the eating habits a child learns in the first 5 years of life.

So I was home with the little guy all of last week. He’s 11 now, but when he’s sick his emotional age is somewhere around toddler. Because of this he was extra sweet and snuggly. He could only eat soup, jello, tea and other clear fluids. I made him tiny meals and gave him medication throughout the day. The poor guy missed field day, but no way could he go.

Call me a terrible mom, but I loved it. I got the opportunity to take care of my little guy. I wasn’t just providing care, I was providing care that was working! I can’t tell you how good that made me feel, especially with what’s going on with Mary right now. I felt like I was being a good mom. I could see my efforts pay off. And best of all? Carl and I got to hang out stress-free, and without physical danger. I’m not happy Mary is at RTC but I am happy that Carl seems so much more at ease. That’s right. Vomit is not as scary as murder.

Even with all of the vomit, Carl and I had super fun! We played CLUE, and Beat the Parents and Monopoly Deal. Papa came for a playdate and taught Carl to play Yahtzee! We read books and watched the Harry Potter movies. I rubbed his back and kept him hydrated. He is such a neat kid to spend time with. Although I love and miss our daughter, I am truly grateful for this one-on-one time with Carl. I hate the fact that it took puke to get me some individual parenting time with him.

As he grows up he will want to spend more and more time with his friends. But while we are on the cusp of adolescence? I’ll take all the parent-time I can get.

Not even puke could keep me away!!

 

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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